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Posts for May, 2008

Today In History: The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name Gets A Name

Jim Burroway

May 6th, 2008

One hundred and forty years ago today, on May 6, 1868, the word homosexuality was invented.

Before then, there were very few value-neutral words to describe people who experienced romantic or sexual attractions toward others of the same sex. Pejoratives such as “bugger,” “molly,” “sodomite,” or “pederast” were common, words loaded with condemnation and shame. But as the budding science of sexology began to grow, and as same-sex loving defenders began to speak out about what same-sex love was all about, their first problem was with how to name it. “Abominable vice” wouldn’t do. A new word was desperately needed to describe their lives and feelings.

The love that dared not speak its name couldn’t. It didn’t have one.

The first to try to name this love was the German gay-rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. In the 1860’s, he described the urning as a “male-bodied person with a female psyche,” who is sexually attracted to men and not women. An Urningin was a “female-bodied person with a male psyche,” and Urningthum came to mean homosexuality itself. Ulrichs devised an entire system of classification based on different combinations of attractions and gender roles. Some of these words gained usage in English, although the less foreign-sounding sexual inversion and inverts to describe homosexuality and homosexuals respectively fell more naturally to English ears. But in a few short years, those words would become obsolete, replaced by the creation of an aspiring Hungarian writer.

Karl-Maria KertbenyKarl-Maria Kertbeny (or Károly Mária Kertbeny) was an Austrian-born Hungarian journalist, memoirist and human rights campaigner. Kertbeny reportedly became interested in homosexuality when a close friend committed suicide after being blackmailed by an extortionist. Kertbeny later said that this, combined with his “instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice” — as a Hungarian, he knew what it was to be a minority in Vienna — drove him to advocate for civil rights for gay people.

Kertbeny’s own sexuality remains unclear however: He described himself as “normally sexed,” but his diaries reportedly document his appreciation for the male form. When he moved to Berlin in 1868 at the age of 44, he was still unmarried. It was at around this time that Kertbeny coined the word Homosexualität — “of the same sex” — from the Greek prefix homo- (same) and the Latin root sexualis (sex). His first known usage of this word is documented in a letter he wrote to Ulrichs on May 6, 1868.

Karl-Maria Kertbeny’s letter

Karl-Maria Kertbeny’ pamphletHomosexualität made its first known public appearance the following year, when Kertbeny anonymously published the pamphlet Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code and Its Maintenance as Paragraph 152 of the Draft of a Penal Code for the North German Confederation. This pamphlet advocated for the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws, saying that private consensual sex acts shouldn’t be subject to criminal penalties.

Homosexualität gained usage as other German advocates began putting forth the idea that homosexuality was inborn, a “medical problem” which placed homosexuality as a form of pathology or illness. Today of course we recoil at the abuses which arose from this “homosexuality as pathology” mindset, but in the nineteenth century this “medical model” represented a significant improvement in attitudes to homosexuality. Before Ulrichs and Kertbeny, homosexuality was viewed as a mere wickedness or moral degeneracy to be severely punished — often by pillory or death.

But Kertbeny appeared to understand the dangers behind the “medical model.” He not only saw that the “innate” argument was potentially dangerous, but that it was also irrelevant. In that vein, his advocacy for gay civil liberties was remarkably modern:

To prove innateness … is a dangerous double edged weapon. Let this riddle of nature be very interesting from the anthropological point of view. Legislation is not concerned whether this inclination is innate or not, legislation is only interested in the personal and social dangers associated with it … Therefore we would not win anything by proving innateness beyond a shadow of doubt. Instead we should convince our opponents — with precisely the same legal notions used by them — that they do not have anything at all to do with this inclination, be it innate or intentional, since the state does not have the right to intervene in anything that occurs between two consenting persons older than fourteen, which does not affect the public sphere, nor the rights of a third party.”

Kertbeny had another thoroughly modern idea about homosexuality, and this one is probably the most salient for understanding homosexualität’s triumph over urning and invert. The word homosexual doesn’t refer to any assumptions about gender roles or attributes. An urning, remember, was a “male-bodied person with a female psyche.” This of course bore a direct reference to effeminacy, a presumed hallmark of all gay men. And urningin, a “female-bodied person with a male psyche,” referred to lesbians’ perceived innate masculinity. (The English term invert carried with it similar assumptions of “inverse” gender characteristics.) But in writing about homosexuality, Kertbeny pointedly noted that homosexual men were not necessarily effeminate, citing several heroic historical figures as examples.

In 1880, Gustav Jäger used Kertbeny’s homosexualität in his book Discovery of the Soul. That book also included Kertbeny’s other useful word heterosexualität. Then the German sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing borrowed those terms for his highly influential 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis. Homosexuality appears to have entered the English language at about 1895, which is when Charles Gilbert Chaddock translated Psychopathia Sexualis into English. And when Sigmund Freud used it in his books and lectures, he propelled its use among psychologists and psychoanalysts as well as in popular culture.

But admiration for the new word wasn’t universal. English sexologist Havelock Ellis, whose 1897 work Sexual Inversion became one of the first widely published English texts to deal with homosexuality, hated its bastardization of Greek and Latin. “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word,” Ellis wrote in a footnote. “It is, however, convenient, and now widely used. ‘Homogenic’ has been suggested as a substitute.”

Homogenic never caught on, and Ellis ended up using the word homosexual himself more often in his text than the terminology found in his volume’s title. By the 1930’s the homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual had almost completely erased the Urning and the invert for describing an individual’s sexual orientation.

Kertbeny’s graveKertbeny however didn’t live to see his Homosexualität in widespread use. He died of a stroke in Budapest in 1882 at the age of 58, still unmarried. He was buried in Budapest’s Kerepesi Cemetery. In 2002, members of Budapest’s gay community placed a new tombstone over his rediscovered grave, where it is now customary to lay a wreath during Hungarian gay festivals.

“Refried Freud” — Psychoanalysis and Ex-Gay Therapy

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2008

Christine BakkeBeyond Ex-Gay co-founder Christine Bakke is truly a delightful woman. I got to spend a little bit of time with her again last February in Memphis during the Beyond Ex-gay Mid-South Regional Gathering. Not nearly enough time though — she was exceptionally busy putting together the art show for the weekend.

Last Friday, Christine posted a very thoughtful essay inspired by Peterson Toscano’s comments that ex-gay ministries are still depend on the developmental theories of Sigmund Freud — “Refried Freud” he called it. Which, when you think of it, means that the ex-gay movement is stuck in a very peculiar time warp. Most of their operating theories are founded on some rather ancient Freudian theories that the rest of psychology has largely abandoned.

Sigmund FreudSome of us are old enough to remember when Freudian psychoanalysis was all the rage back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Everyone who was anyone, it seemed, was seeing an analyst. And everyone who was anyone was just as messed up after seeing their analyst as they were before. It’s no wonder that Freudian psychoanalysis has largely fallen by the wayside. As a discipline, they remained too wedded to a narrow set of untested and untestable theories, while the rest of psychology and psychiatry honed their methods and understanding over generations of research and observation, throwing out old theories when they were disproved and adopting new ones as they came along.

Meanwhile, Freudian analysts and their ex-gay therapy counterparts, undeterred by the march of time, continued to press forward with their oft-parodied opening gambit: “So now, tell me about your mother.”

Christine Bakke knows where that leads all too well:

The fishing expeditions (a friend started to believe he didn’t feel his father’s love after being badgered with, “did your father say he loved you? It doesn’t matter if you knew; did he say it? He didn’t say it? Then you didn’t really know it, did you? Of course you didn’t know it; didn’t feel it. How can a child know it if they’re not explicitly told it?” and so on) and leading questions and suggestions (one pastor’s wife suggested I make up abusive things that might have happened to me, so that I could break the curse of satan, just in case I didn’t remember specific things that might have happened to me in my life. I forcefully refused.) I was even told that sometimes women can be gay because they have not been able to grow out of the stage of penis envy.

I knew one women whose therapist gave her assignments to flirt with men. An ex-gay guy who went on several dates to try to learn how to be with a woman (without disclosing that he identified as ex-gay), on the recommendation of his therapist. A woman who was counseled by the leader of the ex-gay group that women should wear makeup (“need to put some paint on the side of the barn”). A man who changed his last name because his ex-gay therapy led him to believe that his parents were to blame for him being gay. A woman who insinuated that she had been abused because she felt like her story didn’t “fit” the ex-gay model without some kind of a root cause. A young man who said that after he got out of the ex-gay movement and was finished with reparative therapy, that’s when the real repairing began. He had to repair the relationships with his family after buying into the belief that they were distant from him and made him gay.

The American Psychological Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. In doing so, they relied on non-psychoanalyitic studies like those of Evelyn Hooker. But the American Psychoanalytical Association dismissed non-psychoanalyic studies as “superficial.” This created a strange closed-off echo chamber where evidence that ran counter to a theory was thrown out because it didn’t fit the theory. In fact, the APsyA remained hostile to homosexuality until 1991, when openly gay candidates were for the first time allowed to apply for acceptance by the APsyA.

Since then, the APsyA has begun to consider the implications of research in a whole host of mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which today are regarded as being at least partly physiological disorders. This would have been anathema to psychoanalysts a mere generation ago. Last year, the APsyA issued a statement supporting same-sex marriage. That’s quite an improvement since 1991.

But ex-gay therapies continue to rely on the same outdated theories that once threatened to make psychoanalysis a historical footnote. While the APsyA are allowing nonpsychoanalytic research to inform their work, ex-gay ministries remain stuck firmly in the past. But the problem with relying on untested and untestable theories is that they are no more scientific than any other folk remedies or superstitions. And some of these remedies may be damaging. Christine Bakke contrasts her experience with therapists and misguided religious-based lay leaders, and concludes:

Of course, like in my case, even licensed therapists who have an ex-gay mindset and agenda can be just as damaging as the lay leaders. Sometimes I can’t decide which is worse. Counseling by a therapist we think should know the best because we think they’re the experts and we trust them more, or lay leaders who we think love us more because we are not paying them. No matter what, ex-gay counseling done by therapists or lay leaders, many poorly equipped through books, Exodus conferences, Living Waters training programs (one week long), Love Won Out day-long conferences, on-the-job training, or for some, nothing more than being ex-gay themselves, mixed with refried Freud, is a recipe for disaster.

I highly recommend you read her entire essay.