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The Daily Agenda for Monday, May 6

Jim Burroway

May 6th, 2013

Karl-Maria Kertbeny’s letter to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs with the word “Homosexualität” (Click to enlarge)

145 YEARS AGO: The Word “Homosexuality” Coined: 1868. On this date, an Austrian-born Hungarian by the name of Karl-Maria Kertbeny (or Károly Mária Kertbeny, see Feb 28) wrote a letter in which he used, for the first time in recorded history, a new word of his creation: Homosexualität.

The letter was to German gay-rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (see Aug 28). Ulrichs was, more precisely speaking, an urning-rights advocate. Ulrichs defined urning as a “male-bodied person with a female psyche,” who is sexually attracted to men and not women. In fact, he had complex taxonomy to describe the many combinations and permutations of gender, gender role, attractions, and degrees of affection. In addition to urning, there was dioning (a heterosexual masculine man), uranodioning (a male bisexual), mannlinge (very masculine man with an attraction toward effeminate men), manuring (effeminate man who was attracted towards women), and virilisiert mannlinger (a “straight-acting” gay man) — and that was just for men. There was also a list of counterpart words for women. It was all very complicated to try to keep track of.

In English, the terminology was very simple — in fact, too simple. The word invert described gay men and women as embodying an inversion of sex-role behavior. But that term depended on a description of sex role behavior rather than sexual attraction, which meant that masculine men and feminine women who were attracted to the same sex fell outside of the definition.

And this is what set Kertbeny’s homosexualität apart. Hor the first time, here was a simple word that went straight to the heart of the matter: the object of sexual or romantic desire was separated from the gender role — but not the gender itself — of the subject as part of the definition. This eventually allowed for the discussion of everyone who was attracted to the same gender, men and women, masculine and feminine.

Homosexualität made its first known public appearance the following year, when Kertbeny anonymously published a pamphlet calling for the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws. Other German advocates picked up the word, and it eventually made its English appearance as “homosexuality” at around 1894, which Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis was translated into English. Adoption in English was slow however. The famous English sexologist Havelock Ellis (see Feb 2) hated it on linguistic grounds: its mixture of Greek-based (“homo”) and Latin-based (“sexual”) roots were anathema to him. In his groundbreaking first volume of Studies in the Psychology of Sex published in 1897, Ellis clung to his favored term inversion, writing in a footnote on the first page of the text, “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it. It is, however, convenient, and now widely used.” But even as he saw the writing on the wall he resisted and suggested an alternative: ” ‘Homogenic’ has been suggested as a substitute,” he added.

His suggestion of homogenic never caught on, and even he declined to adopt it. Invert remained a common term, but its usage continued to diminish until it finally met its demise in the 1920’s. That’s when when the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, who preferred the word “homosexuality” and its counterparts “heterosexuality” and “bisexuality” became popular in the English-speaking world. We’ve been homos (or bi’s, as the case may be) ever since.

Students of the Deutsche Studentenschaft parading in front of the Institute of Sex Research.

80 YEARS AGO: Nazis Storm the Institute of Sex Research: 1933. The great German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (see May 14) established the Institute of Sex Research in 1919. Located in Berlin’s Tiergarten it became a major center for gay rights advocacy and research, with a massive research library archive. The Institute included medical, psychological, and ethnological divisions, provided marriage and sex counseling.

But when the Nazis came to power in January of 1933, the Institute quickly became a target of official ire. On May 6 of that year while Hirchfeld was on a lecture tour of the U.S., students of the Deutsche Studentenschaft began parading in front of the Institute. That night, Nazis attacked it and looted the archives. Four days later, those archives served as the fuel for the famous book-burning rally, where some 20,000 books and journals, and 5,000 images, were destroyed. The Institute’s groundbreaking work came to an abrupt end. Hirschfeld remained in exile, first in Paris and later in Nice, where he died of a heart attack in 1935.

Rudolph Valentino: 1895. Known as the original Latin Lover, Italina-born Rodolpho Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla’s appearances in films like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle and Son of the Sheik established him as one of moviedom’s earliest male sex symbols. When he died suddenly at the age of 31, his public viewing prompted near-rioting among his female fans. Valentino had married twice — once to a reputed lesbian actress (according to their divorce papers, they never consummated the marriage), and then to Natacha Rambova, the artistic director for an early film they both worked on. That marriage also ended in divorce.

Neither marriage did much to quell rumors of Valentino’s “effeminacy,” which critics believed they detected in his sensitive and stylish portrayals on the silver screen. One Chicago Tribune editorial blasted his androgynous image as the “Pink Powder Puff.” Wrote the writer, “When will we be rid of all these effeminate youths, pomaded, powdered, bejeweled and bedizened, in the image of Rudy–that painted pansy?” The evidence behind those rumors remains both skimpy and controversial. Oh well, his birthday is noteworthy regardless of whether he was gay or not. I mean, just look at him!

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?



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