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"" and "Uranianism" were early terms denoting homosexuality. They were in English use primarily from the 1890s through the first quarter of the 1900s and applied to concurrent and overlapping trends in sexology, social philosophy, and poetry, particularly in Britain.

"Uranian" was a British derivation from "Urning," a word invented by German jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in the 1860s. In a series of pamphlets Ulrichs proposed a scheme for classifying the varieties of sexual orientation, assuming their occurrence in natural science. He recognized three principal categories among males: "Dionings" (heterosexuals), "Urnings" (homosexuals), and "Uranodionings" (bisexuals), based on their preferences for sexual partners. (A fourth category, , he acknowledged but dismissed as occurring too infrequently to be significant.)

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Ulrichs further subdivided Urnings into those who prefer effeminate males, masculine males, adolescent males, and a fourth category who repressed their natural yearnings and lived heterosexually. Those who applied Ulrichs' system felt the need for analogous terms for women, and devised the terms "Urningins" (lesbians) and "Dioningins" (heterosexual women).

The term "Uranian" also alludes to the discussion in Plato's Symposium of the "heavenly" form of love (associated with Aphrodite as the daughter of Uranus) practiced by those who "turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent nature." This type of love was distinguished from the "common" form of love associated with heterosexual love of women.

In Britain, Uranianism developed into two related intellectual trends. One was a late Victorian movement in poetry that lasted into the period between the world wars and celebrated the love of male youths, echoing the ancient Greek tradition of .

The other was an ideology articulated by intellectuals such as Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds, who were greatly influenced by Walt Whitman's ideas on radical democracy. They advocated not only toleration for homosexuals, but also the breaking down of class and gender barriers in Victorian society. Their ideal was a comradely love among equals in a true democracy, which for Carpenter would unite the hitherto "estranged ranks of society."

However, such sentiments were at odds with another current of popular thought, which associated same-sex male love with the corruption of youth and the decay of social mores. The sensational and condemnatory press coverage of the Oscar Wilde trials (1895) had riveted public attention on Wilde's transgressions with young male prostitutes. Social critics linked male homosexuality with decadence, forcing Uranian writers into a defensive and circumspect stance, especially in light of the overtones the term came to acquire.

The term "Uranian" was eventually replaced in popular usage with terms such as "invert" and "homosexual." The brief flowering of Uranianism among turn-of-the-century intellectuals in Britain can be interpreted in part as an early modern attempt to define gay identity and link it with a forward-thinking social philosophy.

Ruth M. Pettis


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Top: Edward Carpenter.
Center: John Addington Symonds.
Above: Walt Whitman.

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   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Decadence

Nineteenth-century Decadent literature either describes aspects of decadent life and society or reflects the decadent literary aesthetic.

social sciences >> Overview:  Etiology

The earliest etiologies--or theories of causation--of homosexuality date from European antiquity, but the search for a universal etiology has intensified as homosexual behavior has come under the scrutiny of science.

literature >> Overview:  Uranian Poets

The Uranian poets, who lived and wrote from the close of the Victorian era to the middle of the interwar period, celebrated love for adolescent boys.

literature >> Carpenter, Edward

Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation, was one of the great socialist visionaries of England at the turn of the twentieth century.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

social sciences >> Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich

Nineteenth-Century German activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was both the first modern theorist of homosexuality and the first homosexual to "come out" publicly.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Carpenter, Edward. The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women. New York: Kennerley, 1912.

Cavell, Richard, and Peter Dickinson. "Bucke, Whitman, and the Cross-border Homosocial." American Review of Canadian Studies 26.3 (Autumn 1997): 425-48.

Plato. Symposium. Benjamin Jowett, trans. Project Gutenberg Release #1600, January 1999.

Schulz, David. "Redressing Oscar: Performance and the Trials of Oscar Wilde." TDR 40.2 (Summer 1996): 37-59.

Sell, Randall L. "Defining and Measuring Sexual Orientation: A Review." Archives of Sexual Behavior 26.6 (December 1997): 643-58.

Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich. The Riddle of Man-Manly Love: The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality, Michael A. Lombardi-Nash, trans. Buffalo, N. Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Uranianism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 17, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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