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social sciences

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Etiology  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

Significantly, some of the initial answers to this question came from ostensibly "homosexual" people. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German jurist and agitator for the abolition of sodomy laws, published a series of pamphlets in the 1860s and 1870s that were later collected as The Riddle of Man-manly Love. In this lengthy and detailed work, Ulrichs puts forth a theory of an irrefutable, innate, congenital disposition to what was just beginning to be called homosexuality.

Ulrichs calls his protagonists "Urnings"; these are male persons who possess a female soul. They are in search of "Dionings"--male persons with male souls; only from these persons are Urnings able to derive sexual fulfillment. Ulrichs's theory hearkens back to the Platonic explanation outlined above with its dualism of body and soul and the compulsion of disjointed, complementary halves to seek out and to unite with one another; sexual object-choice remains differentiated at the level of the soul, if not at that of the body.

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Ulrichs's theory also engenders the stereotype (made visible by the effeminate men who frequented public places for sex with other men in nineteenth-century Europe) of homosexuals exemplifying behavior contrary to their apparent biological sex. Ulrichs and his successors made the radical claim that this was because Urnings and men were not members of the same sex.

Ulrichs's intertwining of gender identity and sexual object choice, and particularly the designation of practitioners of homosexual behavior as belonging to a separate sex, has close parallels in the etiologies of homosexual behavior current in many non-European societies, notably among certain native North American populations.

Magnus Hirschfeld took Ulrichs's theories to what, for this Berlin physician, was the next logical step: not only were male homosexuals constitutionally feminine (and female homosexuals masculine) at the level of the soul or psyche, the stigmata of this inner gender identity were made manifest on their bodies.

Homosexuals of both sexes, in Hirschfeld's clinical experience, displayed signs of of both primary (genitalia) and secondary (breasts, hips, body and facial hair, Adam's apple, tenor of voice) sexual characteristics. Such a complex of physical and psychic characteristics came to be known in the voluminous studies produced by Hirschfeld and his contemporaries as "sexual inversion."

While Ulrichs did speculate as to the possibility of embryological causation, neither he nor Hirschfeld advanced convincing theories; the deviations were purported to engender a corresponding deviant sexual object-choice, and that was the limit to the explanatory powers of these theorists' writings. For their purposes, no further explanation was necessary, and indeed might have proven deleterious to their cause.

Certainly, their opponents' explanations of homosexual behavior were likewise undetailed. In their quest for legal reform, Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, and others contended with specialists in the emerging field of criminology who argued that homosexual behavior could be tied to a social identity only insofar as it could be tied to criminality. To criminologists, criminals as a group were a distinct class of persons, typically of the lowest echelons of society, who had either never achieved the same level of social sophistication as their betters or who had lost it through a process known as degeneration.

The degenerative theory of crime was a largely tautological one--crime is committed by degenerates who become degenerates by committing crimes--but one which nonetheless had widespread appeal to many nineteenth-century Europeans.

Homosexuality, like other forms of sexual licentiousness, was characterized as atavistic, representative of an earlier and lower stage of human development; since middle-class European society was seen as the pinnacle of a global historical advancement, the symbolic linkages between criminality, the European laboring classes, and the subjugated inhabitants of Europe's colonial empires were easily made.

Criminality (and thus homosexuality) was worse than simple "primitivism," as it was a willful, cultivated pattern of behavior. Indeed, some sexologists saw homosexuality as the capstone on a series of sexual perversions that ratcheted ever upwards; once the thrill of the others had passed, otherwise "normal" men could find sexual satisfaction only in violating boys.

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, most sexologists had managed to reconcile two seemingly incompatible etiologic models of homosexual behavior: the congenital model, advanced by Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, and others; and the degenerative or "cultivated perversion" model, preferred by criminologists. These were believed to be two fundamentally different, mutually exclusive kinds of homosexuality.

So long as they did not attempt to dishonor others, sexologists argued, congenital homosexuals could not be held criminally liable for their actions, given their peculiar constitutions; "cultivated ," on the other hand, had no such excuse and should be subject to the full rigor of legal prosecution.

Sexologists believed they possessed the necessary expertise to tell which kind of homosexual was which, and made their careers doing so as witnesses in high-profile cases.

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