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

Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:00am ETC by Andy Towle
in Books, News