Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

Perhaps Kertbeny’s coining of the homosexual was a mixed blessing. The word was quickly used to label various types of social deviance. In religion, the homosexual was sinful. In medicine, the homosexual was sick. And in law, the homosexual was criminal. So how does our continuing exploration of essentialism and constructionism dovetail with the creation of the word? Consider the realms of religion, law, and medicine. But consider, too, whether this new social identity was a necessary first step in the creation of what we know today as gay and lesbian culture, history, politics, and entertainment.

Hey, please make more ideas and try not rely more on other people’s quotes. Thank you.


It may come as a surprise to learn that the word “homosexual” has a very specific and well- recorded history. It was coined in 1869 in Germany. That fact is a major point to raise in the essentialist / constructionist contrast. It also impacts linguistics, and the intersection of thought, action, law, and identity. Of course we can assume that homosexual sex existed before 1869. English alone is filled with archaic references to “buggery,” etc. But the invention of “the homosexual” was a profoundly important moment in politics, medicine, and religion. A new kind of person had been created, and a new way of seeing humanity was born. What you do became who you are. The world was never the same.

Read Matthew Johnson’s “Homosexuality” at

Karl-Maria Kertbeny (1824-1882), the journalist who first coined the word homosexual in 1869

The 19th century invention of the homosexual is not meant to imply that those who partook of same-sex relations were respected, ignored, and/or tolerated in earlier times. Byzantine Emperor Justinian (483-565 a.d.) was among the first in history to scapegoat men who engaged in sodomy. He believed in a link with such behavior and famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. (Nothing survives on his feelings for female same-sex acts.) Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

Consider, too, the Dutch witch hunt of 1731. Dutch society was ripe for a panic. King William III had led the nation to economic and military successes during the late 17th century, but he died in 1702, and by 1713, the Dutch had suffered humiliating losses of colonial territories. By 1730, Holland was considered to be in decline. The Calvinist clergy found its explanation for decline in a growing laziness and complacency in society, along with a supposed increase in gambling, prostitution, and sodomy.

Over two years, any man suspected of sodomy with another man was arrested. Interrogation, torture, and forced confessions were the norm. A secret language was revealed. “Going to the office” meant cruising a public bathroom. To “dance and jump” was to have sex there. Though there were witch hunts in 1764, 1776, and 1795, the worst occurred in 1731, when 22 men and boys were executed.


Note the profound irony being played here. Today the Netherlands is arguably the most socially and politically progressive nation in the world when it comes to equality of rights for gay men and lesbians.

Above are two episodes among many in an all too predictable pattern of history. Times are hard, and there must be a reason. Societies are loathe to find the explanation in their own institutions, since that would imply greed, corruption, environmental exploitation, top-heavy bureaucracy, sexism, or some other ill requiring fundamental social reflection and reorganization. It’s much easier to demonize, stigmatize, point fingers, and even purge the society of the easy targets. It’s a familiar story, and famous examples might include the Jews, immigrants, post-menopausal women, and, of course, sexual perverts of any stripe.

The cast of Showtime’s popular TV series The L Word (2004-2009). What, pray tell, is the connection between Karl Maria Kertbeny and the personal dramas of gorgeous 21st century Los Angeles lesbians? (And isn’t this photo already dated, considering the absence of any ink on all that exposed skin? But that’s another story…)


Recommended Film: Different from the Others (1919)

Different from the Others is an astonishing film that explores the injustice of the German penal code’s Paragraph 175 that sent thousands of men to prison for “unnatural vice.” The film was a collaboration between director Richard Oswald and psychologist Magnus Hirschfeld, now recognized as a leading pioneer in the international cause of gay and lesbian emancipation. There are missing portions filled in with stills and intertitles, but that any of it survived the Nazis and World War II is miraculous. It is available at Netflix and at

For Further Reading:

Carpenter, Edward. Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk: A Study of Social Evolution. London: Allen and Unwin, 1914. Reprinted New York: Arno, 1975.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1995. Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

Crompton, Louis. Homosexuality and Civilization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Davison, Arnold. The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Duberman, Martin, et. al., editors. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library, 1989.

Ellis, Havelock and John Addington Symonds. Sexual Inversion, 1897.Reprinted New York: Arno, 1975.

Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Hatheway, Jay. The Gilded Age Construction of Modern American Homophobia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Ibson, John. Picturing Men: A Century of Male Relationships in Everyday American Photography. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Mayne, Xavier (psuedonym of Edward I. P. Stevenson.) The Intersexes: A History of Similisexualism as Problem in Social Life, 1908. New York: Arno, 1975.

Miller, Neil. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: Holt, 1986.

Plato. Symposium.Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff, translators. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989.

Rowbotham, Sheila. Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love. London: Verso, 2009.

Sappho. Lyrics in the original Greek with translations by Willis Barnstone, pages xxviii-xxxi; 70-71; 96-97; 28-29. Garden City: Doubleday, 1965.

Weeks, Jeffrey. Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present. London: Quartet Books, 1977.

Assignment Week 2: Inventing the Homosexual

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