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Where Did the Terms 'Heterosexual' and 'Homosexual' Come From?

Salon's Thomas Rogers talks to Hanne Blank, author of Straight, a new history of heterosexuality, about where the term came from:

StraightHeterosexual” was actually coined in a letter at the same time as the word “homosexual,” [in the mid-19thcentury], by an Austro-Hungarian journalist named Károly Mária Kertbeny. He created these words as part of his response to a piece of Prussian legislation that made same-sex erotic behavior illegal, even in cases where the identical act performed by a man and a woman would be considered legal. And he was one of a couple of people who did a lot of writing and campaigning and pamphleteering to try to change legal opinion on that matter. He coined the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual” in a really very clever bid to try to equalize same-sex and different-sex. His intent was to suggest that there are these two categories in which human beings could be sexual, that they were not part of a hierarchy, that they were just two different flavors of the same thing.

How the terms spread, AFTER THE JUMP...

And how it spread:

Psychiatry is responsible for creating the heterosexual in largely the same way that it is responsible for creating the various categories of sexual deviance that we are familiar with and recognize and define ourselves in opposition to. The period lasting from the late Victorian era to the first 20 or 30 years of the 20th century was a time of tremendous socioeconomic change, and people desperately wanted to give themselves a valid identity in this new world order. One of the ways people did that was establish themselves as sexually normative. And it wasn’t the people who were running around thinking, “Oh, I’m a man and I like to sleep with other men, that makes me different,” who were creating this groundswell of change; it was the other people, the men who were running around going, “I’m not a degenerate, I don’t want to sleep with other men, I am this thing over here that is normative and acceptable and good and not pathological and right, that’s what I am. That’s what I need people to understand about me, because I need people to understand that I am a valid person and I need to be taken seriously.”

Check out much more over at Salon...

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Comments

  1. Actually, the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are adjectives, not nouns. You cannot say "I am a homosexual". You can only say "I take part in homosexual behavior".

    The twisting of adjective to noun came about because of the politicization of the gay rights movement and the identity politics that flowed from it. Same thing applies to the word "black". A black person cannot say "I'm a black" but they can say "I'm a black person".

    Posted by: jason | Jan 23, 2012 9:24:33 AM


  2. I checked four different online dictionaries and all four had definitions of both homosexual and heterosexual as nouns and adjectives. So, yes you CAN.

    Posted by: Paul Keckonen | Jan 23, 2012 9:45:04 AM


  3. Nice try, Jason. But Kertbeny actually coined the terms as part of the gay rights movement and identity politics in Germany, and his "homosexual" was a competitor with Ulrichs's "Urning" -- which is obviously a noun and not an adjective.

    There is some question as to what Kertbeny himself meant by "heterosexual" -- it appears to be closer to something like "bisexual" or even "pansexual." He used "normal sexual" to refer to straight people.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Jan 23, 2012 9:57:42 AM


  4. Maybe its the scientist in me but homo = same and hetero = different and sexual is sexual. I think its pretty self explanatory. The nerd in me pulls the example of when proteins homo or hetero dimerize with other proteins. They either dimerize to themselves or with a different protein.

    Posted by: andypharmer | Jan 23, 2012 11:08:58 AM


  5. Actually I am kinda pissy this book is getting press when countless academics have been talking about this text and even more importantly a text that predates this from a French scholar does a better job not to mention Jonanthan Katz's work.

    Posted by: A_gay_guy | Jan 23, 2012 11:08:59 AM


  6. Quite right A_GAY_GUY. Katz's book is required reading.

    The dude who invented the terms was a JOURNALIST (note: not a medical authority of any kind) with two names: Karoly Benkert and Karl Maria von Kertbeny. The "von" addition is indicative of the fact that he was a con artist.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 23, 2012 11:18:28 AM


  7. If you're interested, check out Byrne Fone's Homophobia: A History for a really good explanation of the terminology and its history. It's a pretty great read, too.

    Posted by: Jesus | Jan 23, 2012 11:31:57 AM


  8. Before one looks for any of the many pearls in the writings of Katz, he/she should innoculate themselves against the swine flu of "social constructionism"—that disease of disordered thinking with which his otherwise brilliant mind has become willfully infected which asserts that no one ever engaged in same sex acts thought of him/herself as having any "identity" different than those who did not UNTIL AFTER the "modern" words such as homosexual, and, particularly later, "gay" were coined/redefined. And the quickest way to do that is by first reading "Mother Clap's Molly House" and "The Myth of the Modern Homosexual" by Rictor Norton in which he documents multiple examples of people naming themselves different in various ways centuries before Kertbeny first used "homosexual." Molly houses were the gay pubs of London as far back as the early 1700s where men known as "mollies" to each other "sang and danced and sometimes withdrew into a more private room to 'marry' one another, resulting in several hangings and pilloryings."

    Excerpts from books can be read online at: http://rictornorton.co.uk/homomyth.htm

    Of course, the remarkably both laughable and sad fact is that Katz, particularly, writes chapter after chapter of ever new evidence he uncovers that obviously proves Michel Foucault's folly [just how many times and how hard was MF's head hit in those serious S&M games?] and the absurdity of trying to force the square peg of socialist theory into the round hole of sex (e.g., in "Love Stories-Sex Between Men Before [sic] Homosexuality")—then dismisses the meaning of his own evidence.

    And for those disinclined to pursuing the subject further in books, just think of the number of times you've heard someone say something like, "I knew when I was six years old I was different." No Ph.D. or pseudo intellectual course in "Queer Theory" required.


    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Jan 23, 2012 12:40:26 PM


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