Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Homostudies: Paradigm Two: Nomenclature

One approach to gay studies reflects a striving towards classification and nomenclature: the Nomenclature Paradigm for short. First, some background.

The eighteenth century in Europe saw the rise of a trend in many disciplines for careful classification (taxonomy) and nomenclature. It was recognized that the two go hand in hand, and that the expansion of the realm of science and rationality. a prime Enlightenment desideratum, depended on the advance of this dual endeavor.

An influential example is the taxonomy of the Swedish physician and botanist Carl Linnaeus (1717-1778), as set forth in his Systema Naturæ (1735) and subsequent works. The taxonomy of Linnaeus comprises three kingdoms, divided into classes, and these, in turn, into orders, genera (singular: genus), and species, with an additional rank lower than species. In this way, the items are arranged in rank order, descending from the general to the specific. In broad terms, this concept goes back to Aristotle and is not original with Linnaeus.

More telling was his system of nomenclature that fostered the careful study of each type of organism under a distinctive binomial name. The binomial aspect of this system required that each organism being given two names, a “generic name,” which is called the genus, and a “specific name,” that of the species.

Having a universal system of binomial nomenclature allows scientists to speak the same language when referring to living things, avoiding the confusion of multiple common names that may differ based on region, culture, or native language. It is thus a kind of Esperanto of biology.


Following this general line of thinking, the term “bisexual” first came into prominence through its use by nineteenth-century botanists, who applied it to hermaphroditic plants, that is, those endowed with both male and female sexual organs. More recently, the sense "capable of attraction to both sexes or genders," without any suggestion of distinctive physiology, has become common with regard to human beings.

As this example shows, there is an understandable tendency to apply terms derived from biology to human behavior. This procedure, however, can lead to the pseudo-precision sometimes known as scientism; this approach tends to elide the cultural element that is an inescapable feature of human affairs. Some critics have also alleged that such terminological transfers from the biological realm to the sociological and psychological sphere are essentialist, tending as they do to suggest that behavioral patterns are monolithic and unchangeable.

Some terms derive from individuals who are held to personify the behavior in question. In French the term “sadisme” comes from 1834, when it was first used in a somewhat general sense of debauchery, strongly condemned as monstrous, antisocial, and unnatural. However, in keeping with the reputation of its namesake, the Marquis de Sade, the the expression quickly acquired the more specific meaning of sexual cruelty, in which the victim is required to submit the desires of the sadist. The sadist’s partner was at first unnamed.


This situation changed when in 1886 the famous German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing introduced the term “Masochismus” He derived the expression from the Austrian novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895), who wrote several works about the humiliation and suffering endured by those who were attracted to the femme fatale type (an example is Venus in Pelz, “Venus in Furs,” of 1870).

Krafft-Ebing’s works were the starting point for the treatment of "abnormal" sexuality by Freud and Jung, to cite only two of the major figures who came after him. During his career he held professorships at Strasbourg, Graz, and Vienna--then the locus of the world's leading medical school.

A synthesizer, Krafft-Ebing's speculations on homosexuality reveal the influence of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs' concept of the "Urning" and Karl Westphal's discovery of "contrary sexual feeling" (1869). He began to develop his theories on the manifestations and etiology of homosexuality in the wake of a survey of the recent publications on the subject of sexual psychopathology that he compiled in l876. In the following year he published an article in which homosexuality was defined as "an absence of normal sexual feeling, with compensatory attraction to members of the same sex." His proclivity for schematization on the basis of the current Darwinian notions of evolution led him to insert every known variety of abnormality of sexual attraction, gender, and constitution into a global framework.

To his credit, Krafft-Ebing recognized that the subjects of his inquiries were basically happy with their lot and that their distress stemmed from society's laws and attitudes. He was even prepared place their love--as an emotion-- on a footing with those of "normal feelings." However, he clung to the belief in "degeneration" as a cause of such mental illnesses, and it was with disturbed individuals in prisons and insane asylums that, as a forensic psychiatrist, he mainly came into contact.

Krafft-Ebing's classic work, Psychopathia sexualis (1886), focussed atten­tion on four subgroups: "psychosexual hermaphrodites" (= bisexuals), homosexu­als, effeminates and "viraginites" in whom the psychic disposition corresponds to that of the opposite sex, and androgynes. His etiological scheme differentiated sharply between "inborn" and "acquired" homosexuality in keeping with the forensic bias of his work.
After studying Magnus Hirschfeld's writings at the turn of the century, Krafft-Ebing revised his views in 190, stating that homosexuality was not a manifestation of degeneracy or pathology, but could occur in otherwise normal subjects. But this retraction written shortly before his death could do little to alter the tremendous impression made on the public by the many editions of his best-seller Psychopathia sexualis (12 in his lifetime) that was translated into other languages and achieved an authority no previous volume on abnormal sexuality had ever enjoyed; and his definition of "every ex­pression of the sex drive that does not correspond to the purposes of nature, i.e., reproduction" as "perverse" (= unnatural, hence immoral) greatly shaped the notion of "abnormal" sexuality.

Krafft-Ebing remains an outstanding example of a common profession: a “normal” expert classifying “abnormal” subjects. This asymmetry accorded with the Linnaean prototype. No one would expect a tree or a lion to offer it own self-classification.


But that is what happened when gay scholars themselves began to enter the fray. In this they realized that it was necessary to enter into the contemporary discourse of labeling. Together with some heterosexual allies they discovered that this gambit could be employed for positive purposes. This led to the Naming Paradigm in the specific sense of understanding same-sex orientation.

The inception of the Naming Paradigm in this vein began with the German scholar and activist Karl Heinrich Ulrich (1825-1895). Beginning in 1864, Ulrichs forcefully advocated the term “Urning” for individuals that we would now term male homosexuals, This he did in a series of five booklets which were later collected under the title Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe ("Studies on the Problem of Love between Men"). Ulrichs referenced his term to Venus Urania, the heavenly Aphrodite extolled by Plato and other Greek writers. Hence the term Uranismus and, subsequently (in English), uranian.

The term “Urning” served as the cornerstone of a more elaborate system, for Ulrichs developed an elaborate typology, with the following components: 1) Urning: a male-bodied person with a female psyche, whose main sexual attraction is to men; 2) Urninde (or occasionally the variants Uranierin, Urnin, and Urnigin): a female-bodied person with a male psyche, whose main sexual attraction is to women; 3) Dioning: a "normal" (heterosexual and masculine) man; 4) Dioningin: A "normal" (heterosexual and feminine) woman; 5) Uranodioning: a male bisexual; 6) Uranodioningin: a female bisexual; and 7) Zwitter: a hermaphrodite, or intersexual.

Urningthum, "male homosexuality" (or urnische Liebe, homosexual love) was elaborated with the following terms: 1) Mannlinge: very masculine, except for feminine psyche and sex drive towards effeminate men ("butch gay"); 2) Weiblinge: feminine in appearance, behavior and psyche, with a sex drive towards masculine men ("queen"); 3) Manurning: feminine in appearance and behavior, with a male psyche and a sex drive towards women ("feminine straight man"); 4) Zwischen-Urning: Adult male who prefers adolescents. ("pederast"); 5) Conjunctive, with tender and passionate feelings for men; 6) Disjunctive, with tender feelings for men but passionate feelings for women; 7) Virilisierte Mannlinge: male Urnings who have learned to act like Dionings, through force or habit ("closeted gay") 8) Uraniaster or uranisierter Mann: a dioning who engages in what later came to be termed situational homosexuality (e.g. in prison or the military). While linguistically the terminology is in large measure of indigenous German origin, Ulrichs work was nourished by his extensive knowledge of primary sources in Greek and Latin that derived from his humanistic education in the Gymnasium. In this he differed from the autodidact Hössli, the initiator of the First Paradigm.

Who in fact was Ulrichs? Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born in Aurich, in the state of Hanover, on August 28, 1825, to a middle-class Protestant family. He studied law at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin (1844-47). After several years as an attorney in the civil service of the Kingdom of Hanover, he voluntarily left state service to earn his living by writing and related activities: he was for several years a freelance journalist and private secretary of a representative to the German Confederation in Frankfurt am Main.

During his stay in Frankfurt, Ulrichs built on current advances in embryology to develop a theory of homosexuality that he presented in a series of five booklets (1864-65) under the umbrella title of Forschungen über das Rätsel der mann­männlichen Liebe; the series was later extended to comprise twelve booklets, the last appearing in 1879. Assuming that a love drive that was directed toward a man must be feminine, Ulrichs summed up his theory in the Latin phase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa (a female soul trapped in a male body) and he coined the term "Urning" (uranian) for such a person. As we have seen in the typology above, the theory also applied mutatis mutandis to women who love other women.

This so-called third-sex theory furnished a scientific explanation for same-sex love drives that showed them to be natural and inborn. It followed that Urnings are neither criminal nor sick. Encouraged by his conclusions, Ulrichs began to intervene in criminal cases and sought to organize Urnings to promote their own welfare. Already in 1865, he drafted a set of bylaws for an "Urning Union" and by the next year he was planning to publish a periodical for Urnings. (He finally realized this plan in 1870, but lack of support allowed only one issue.) This activity was interrupted, however, by the Prussian invasion and annexation of Hanover in 1866. Ulrichs spoke out publicly there against this action and was twice imprisoned.

Exiled from Hanover on his release from prison in 1867, Ulrichs went to Munich to resume his earlier fight. At the meeting of the Congress of German Jurists on August 28,1867 he pleaded for a resolution urging repeal of all anti-homosexual laws. Even though he was shouted down, the occasion was historic, for it marked the first time that a self-proclaimed same-sex advocate had publicly spoken out for homosexual rights.

Further efforts by Ulrichs also had little effect; indeed, with the unification of Germany following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the harsh Prussian anti-homosexual law was extended to all parts of the county. In despair, Ulrichs migrated to Italy in 1880, to spend his last years in L'Aquila, where died on July 14, 1895.

In its English-language dress of “uranian,” Ulrichs' term quickly found favor among English-language advocates of homosexual emancipation in the Victorian era, such as John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter, who used it to describe their enthusiasm for a comradely love that would bring about true democracy, uniting the "estranged ranks of society" and breaking down class and gender barriers.

The term also gained currency among a group of Oxford and Cambridge graduates who studied Classics and dabbled in pederastic poetry from the 1870s to the 1930s. The writings of this group are now subsumed by the phrase Uranian poetry. The art of the painter Henry Scott Tuke and the photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden is also sometimes characterized as "Uranian."

Voguish for a while, the terms Urning and uranian did not prove lasting, because a much more influential rival appeared: ‘homosexual.” In 1869 K. M. Kertbeny introduced the term in print. (“Heterosexual” followed a decade later.) “Contrary sexual feeling” and “inversion also came along at this time.


Until about a century after its appearance (1868-69), ”homosexual” ranked as the dominant formal term to designate same-sex orientation. Beginning in the 1970s, it briefly yielded to “gay,” until that word was itself found to be problematic. Etymologically, homosexual is a hybrid: he first part homo- being the Greek combining form meaning "same"; the second, (late) Latin. The mistaken belief that homo- represents that Latin word for "man" has probably contributed to lesbian resistance to the word.

Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882), the inventor of the word “homosexual,” was a German-Hungarian writer, translator, and journalist. He bore the surname Benkert until 1847; then the police of his native city of Vienna authorized him to use the Hungarian noble name of his family as his sole name.

The draft of a private letter to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs of May 6, 1868 contains for the first time the expressions “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” At this point the latter term remained a mere tentative suggestion.

In 1869 Kertbeny wrote two pamphlets that were published anonymously, demanding freedom from penal sanctions for homosexual men in Prussia and the Prussian-dominated North Ger­man Confederation. They were entitled 143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs und seine Aufrechterhaltung als 152 des Entwurfs eines Strafgesetzbuchs für den Norddeutschen Bund (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) and Das Gemeinschädliche des 143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuches ... (The Social Harm Caused by Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code ...). Here for the first time the word Homosexual­ität is found as a substitute for the designation Urningthum that Ulrichs had introduced in 1864. Instead of Urninge Kertbeny used the word Homosexualisten¡ instead of Urninden (lesbians), Homosexualistinnen.

In these published works (in contrast to the letter), Kertbeny did not use the term heterosexual, preferring “normalsexual” instead. How then did the term heterosexual make its way into public awareness?

Gustav Jaeger (1832-1917), a zoologist who resided in Stuttgart, authored a book entitled Die Entdeckung der Seele (The Discovery of the Soul). The second edition of this popular book (1880) incorporates parts of a text that Kertbeny had written on the sexual instinct, in which the term “homosexual” occurs repeatedly (contrasted, however, with “normalsexual”). A continuation of this text, which Jaeger had at first thought too offensive, appeared only in 1900 in Hirschfeld's Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen without mentioning Kertbeny's name. Jaeger designated the author only as "Dr. M.," a pseudonym that fostered the common but erroneous belief that Kertbeny was "a Hungarian doctor." This in turn contributed to the unwarranted assertion that the word homosexual was originally a clinical or medical term. As a writer Kertbeny was chiefly concerned with literature; he wrote nothing on medicine or the natural sciences.

Kertbeny claimed that he himself was a Normalsexualer, hence not homosexual. However, there is no proof of that assertion, or for the hypothesis of his homosexuality or bisexuality. However that may be, he ranks alongside Heinrich Hössli and Ulrichs as one of the most important advocates of homosexual emancipation in the nineteenth century.

Why did the word homosexual ultimately prevail? Ulrichs’ terms had too much of a baroque and cultish flavor to find acceptance. Westphal’s expression was doubly isolated: it was usable only in German and lacking the matching terms of the other series. By contrast, the set homosexual / bisexual / heterosexual that finally emerged efficiently defined the semantic field. The words Homosexualität / Homosexualismus, which Kertbeny also devised served to denote the condition. All these forms, being based on Latin sexualis, had no difficulty in gaining international currency.


We turn now to another term that enjoyed a certain popularity at the time. “Die konträre Sexualempfindung” was a German designation proposed by Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal in an article published in the Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten in 1869. Westphal regarded the phenomenon as the symptom of an inborn pathological condition, an alienation from the feeling proper to one’s anatomical sex. He confused attraction to the same sex with compulsive transvestism, an error that was not to be corrected until fifty years later. Westphal did, however, make the forensic distinction between exclusive and occasional homosexuality.

The adapted form "contrary sexual feeling" found some favor among English and American physicians and alienists, generally those with German connections, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Romance-language countries, the term quickly yielded to the more elegant inversion(e), which was invented by Arrigo Tommasia in Italy in 1878. For a time "inversion" flourished as the international term of choice.


The period is also characterized by the survival of a curious earlier theme: the notion of the Third Sex. The terms third sex and third gender describe individuals who are considered to be neither women nor men, as well as the social category present in those societies who may be inclined to recognize three or more genders. Ways of thinking about this matter vary. A third sex or gender may represent an intermediate state between men and women, a state of being both (such as "the spirit of a man in the body of a woman"), the state of being neither (neuter), the ability to cross gender barriers or to change gender, or another category altogether independent of male and female. This last definition is favored by those who argue for a strict interpretation of the "third gender" concept.

The term has been used to describe Hijras of India and Pakistan, Fa'afafine of Polynesia, and Sworn Virgins of the Balkans, among others. At various times in the Western world, lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people have been described as belonging to a third sex or gender. Needless to say, many have objected to this characterization.

The term "third" is usually understood to mean "other." This leads to a further question. Is there only one alternative to the standard male-female dichotomy? Some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth, fifth, and indeed many, genders.

A cultural construct, the idea of a third (or third gender) should not simply be accepted as a given. The concept is a distinctively Western artifact.
In the myth discussed in Plato’s Symposium the androgynous beings are described as a "third race," the irony being that these are presented as the archetypes of heterosexuals (as we would now term them). Later the third-century CE Roman emperor Alexander Severus spoke slightingly of eunuchs as the tertium genus hominum (third class of men). The idea is modeled on Latin grammar, which recognizes three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Some scholars (preeminently Randolph Trumbach) hold that a third gender emerged around 1700 CE in England: the male sodomite. According to these writers, this development was marked by the emergence of a subculture of effeminate males and meeting places (molly houses). As these manifestations became better known there was a marked increase in the general society in hostility towards effeminate and/or homosexual males. The expression third sex was not common then, however. It first became common in early nineteenth-century France (le troisième sexe), an expression used by outsiders to describe "exotic" creatures. About 1860 Europe saw the rise of individuals who adopted the expression third sex for themselves with the writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, and continuing in the late nineteenth century with Magnus Hirschfeld, John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, Aimée Duc, and others. These authors described themselves and those like them as being of an "inverted" or "intermediate" sex and experiencing homosexual desire. Their writings argued for social acceptance of such sexual intermediates.

As biological explanations for sexual orientation declined, however, the idea came to seem old-fashioned. The rise of the gay-liberation trend in the 1970s saw a growing separation of the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result of these developments, the term “third sex” fell out of favor among LGBT communities and those who were sympathetic to them. For the general public, it survived mainly in the titles of sensational novels and films.


The Second Paradigm is an important stage in the understanding of same-sex attraction and behavior. However, its role must not be overstated. The tendency to overstatement has given rise to two myths: the “invention of homosexuality” and the “invention of heterosexuality.”

During the 1980s some historians of sexuality began to draw far-reaching conclusions from the introduction of the term “homosexual” in 1869. These scholars, who included such figures as Mary Mackintosh, Jeffrey Weeks, and Ken Plummer in England, termed their approach Social Construction (SC). Challenging the validity of any "transhistorical" definition of same-sex behavior, the SC scholars hold that sexual behavior is, in all significant aspects, a product of cultural conditioning. By contrast, biological and constitutional factors were deemed unimportant or nonexistent. Thus same-sex behavior would have an entirely different meaning, say, in ancient Egypt or Tang China from what it would have in nineteenth-century Europe. In the view of some proponents of this approach, the "modern homosexual" is sui generis, having come into existence in Europe and North America only around 1869 or shortly thereafter. Because of this radical break in consciousness and behavior, it is vain to conduct comparative research on earlier eras in the West or in the context of non-Western societies.

The SC scholars deemed the rise of the “modern homosexual” in the latter part of the nineteenth century to be of epochal significance. Some denied that there was any homosexuality prior to this great shift. To be sure, there was same-sex behavior before, but no such thing as “homosexuals.”

A fuller discussion of SC, its strengths and weaknesses, must be deferred until Chapter Seven below. Here one should point out that changes in sexual patterns and conceptualizations generally occur gradually. Sometimes a great disaster, such as World War I, can propel change in this sphere. However, the second half of the nineteenth century saw no such general upheaval in Western Europe. Except for the interlude of the Franco-Prussian War, there was a steady and peaceful progress of industrialization.

In addition, one should not place too much emphasis on changes of terminology. Words are important, but they cannot in themselves trigger social change. And Heinrich Hössli’s research in 1836-38 showed that no particular innovation in terminology was needed to undertake a fundamental study of same-sex behavior.

It appears, then, that one must reject the thesis of the “invention of homosexuality” around 1869 or shortly thereafter. However, an even more extraordinary claim has been advanced by Jonathan Ned Katz, an American historian of homosexuality. In his 1995 monograph entitled The Invention of Heterosexualtiy, Katz seeks to go his Social Constructionist colleague one further. Just as homosexuality is a social construct rather than a natural, unambiguous given, so too is heterosexuality--according to Katz.

As we have seen, the term “homosexual” was introduced in 1869. It was not originally paired with “heterosexual,” but with “normalsexual.” This situation changed to the one we now largely as a result of the work of Richard von Krafft-Ebing. With his passion for terminological symmetry, Krafft-Ebing (beginning with the fourth edition of his best-seller Psychopathia Sexualis, 1889) promoted the contrast between homosexuality and heterosexuality. It seems to have been chiefly from this source that the pair of terms spread into other languages, a process well under way by 1900.

So far, so good. However, Katz goes further, contending that the notion of heterosexuality as a universal, presumably normative ideal was created, more of less out of whole cloth, by such men as K. M. Kertbeny, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Sigmund Freud. Prior to the late nineteenth century, he maintains, the social universe was not polarized into "hetero" and "homo."

In the view of many critics, the examples Katz cites in support of his thesis--ancient Greece, the New England colonies (1607-1740) and the United States between 1820 and 1850--do not substantiate his claims. One need only think of the famous parable that Plato introduced into the Symposium to realize that even in ancient Greece it was quite possible to differentiate among heterosexuality, male homosexuality, and lesbianism. Of course Plato did not use these terms, only the concepts. As noted above, however, one must not make a fetish of nomenclature. It is concepts that matter; the words that serve to designate them are secondary.

Still, that remark must not be the last word, for the study of historical semantics remains a useful undertaking. In the field of human sexuality terms have often served as vehicles for judgmentalism and condemnation. To redress this tendency the search for a new terminology was launched in Germany in the 1860s.


After the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 there was considerable pressure to abandon the use of the word homosexual in favor of gay. With the growth of the world-wide movement for homosexual emancipation, the word gay spread into Spain, Italy, Latin America, and parts of Asia. Sometimes, though, it served to designate a form of same-sex love that was perceived as new-fangled and "Western," as distinct from indigenous forms.

In North America lesbians and their supporters objected to the straightforward use of the term gay, saying that it designated men only. Accordingly, the compound "lesbian and gay" became de rigueur for a time. In due course this fomula yielded to "queer" and "LGBTQ"; for further discussion, see the Conclusion (Part Seven) of this series.

Social workers and others who have contact with persons in non-Western countries find that the terminology we are accustomed to is not effective in oommunicating with their clients. They report that it is often more useful to refer to such people as men who have sex with men (MSM) and women who have sex with women (WSM). Some detachment from the more usual range of terminology is found among African American men in North America. Some of these men prefer the expression "on the down low" or simply "DL."


Courouve, Claude. Dictionnaire de l'homosexualité masculine. Paris: Payot, 1985.

Féray, Jean-Claude. "Une histoire critique du mot homosexualité," Arcadie (no. 325), 11-21; (326), 115-24; (327), 171-81; (328), 246-58 (January-April 1981).

Oosterhuis, Harry. Stepchild of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry and the Making of Sexual Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

NOTE; I explored a range of terms in my 1985 monograph [Wayne R. Dynes] Homolexis: A Historical and Cultural Lexicon of Homosexuality. Over the years I came to realize that this little book was just a first attempt. I have therefore created a much enlarged and improved version, Homolexis Glossary, available electronically at; and This "Homolexis Glossary" contains a number of bibliographical indications.



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