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Karsch-Haack, Ferdinand (1853-1936)  
 
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Ferdinand Karsch-Haack's most significant contribution to the sexual emancipation movement in Germany consisted of demonstrating the occurrence of same-sex sexual activity throughout the animal kingdom, among the so-called primitive peoples, and in all non-Western cultures.

His zoological and ethno-historical arguments were intended to enable a deeper understanding of human sexual diversity and to promote the acceptability of same-sex love in Western societies.

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Although the sexual emancipation movement became increasingly divided between a group centered around Magnus Hirschfeld and the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and another with more elitist aspirations known as "Die Eigenen," both groups recognized the intrinsic merits of Karsch-Haack's work and were eager to publish his essays in their journals.

Not surprisingly, he is depicted, along with Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Havelock Ellis, as one of the "great authorities" in the area of sexual science in the book Homosexuelle Probleme [Homosexual Problems] (1902) by Ludwig E. West (pseudonym of Johannes Gaulke, friend and collaborator of Magnus Hirschfeld).

Life and Works

Ferdinand Karsch-Haack was born on September 2, 1853 in Münster, a city in northwestern Germany, the son of a physician. He pursued advanced education in Berlin, where he presented his dissertation on the gallwasp in 1877. Eventually, he was named "Privatdozent" for Zoology and became Curator at the Zoological Museum of the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin.

Despite being an entomologist by profession, Karsch-Haack was best known for his ethnological and cultural treatises on same-sex love and for his critical studies of homosexual personalities in European history. Unlike most non-medical authors on homosexuality such as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs ("Numa Numantius") or John Henry Mackay ("Sagitta") who published under pseudonyms, Karsch-Haack either kept his own name (Ferdinand Karsch) or, from 1905 on, almost always added to it his mother's maiden name (Haack) on all his publications.

Two important texts by Karsch-Haack are not part of his zoological or ethno-historical works, but are frankly emancipatory: Beruht gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe auf Sozialität? Eine begründete Zurückweisung [Is same-sex love based on sociability? A grounded Rejection] (1905) and Die deutsche Bewegung zur Aufhebung des § 175 und zur Beurteilung der Ächtung gleichgeschlechtlichen Verhaltens [The German Movement for the Abrogation of Paragraph 175 and for the Assessment of the Ban on Same-Sex Conduct] (1906).

Seeking to create a forum for his scientific and emancipatory ideas, Karsch-Haack--along with René Stelter--also published Uranos. Blätter für ungeschmälertes Menschentum [Leaves for Unimpaired Humanity], a short-lived magazine, from 1921 to 1923.

In 1933, the year Hitler seized power, Karsch-Haack published his last important essay, "Die Liebschaften des Prinzen Heinrich, Bruder Friedrichs des Grossen" [The love affairs of Prince Heinrich, Brother of Frederick the Great].

He died three years later, on December 20, 1936.

The Sexual Diversity of Animals

The most significant writings by Karsch-Haack may be read as a twofold reply to the typically fin-de-siècle objection that same-sex love is the regrettable product of "overcultivation" or excessive civilization [Überkultur].

Karsch-Haack contended in a first set of arguments that homosexualty is not a product of civilized refinement, but a phenomenon frequently observable at different levels of animal evolution. Consequently, his seminal text "Päderastie und Tribadie bei den Tieren auf Grund der Literatur" [ and among Animals based on Literature], published in Magnus Hirschfeld's Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen [Yearbook for Sexual Intermediaries] in 1900, is intended to dispute the unwarranted assumption that homosexuality is absent from the animal kingdom.

In time, Karsch-Haack amplified the scope of his argument to include the sexual complexities of the plant world. Not surprisingly, he underscored in his later work the idea that human homosexuality is grounded in a "natural disposition" [Naturanlage], which humans share with other complex life forms.

Karsch-Haack's assessment of same-sex love within the broader context of the history of life inaugurated a biological approach to homosexuality that focuses on the analogy between the polymorphism of human sexuality and the sexual diversity present throughout nature. Arguably, the most rewarding result to which this approach has led is Bruce Bagmihl's compendious treatise, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (1999).

Sexual Diversity among Primitive People

In 1901, Karsch-Haack published another seminal essay under the title Uranismus oder Päderastie und Tribadie bei den Naturvölkern [, or Pederasty and Tribady among Primitive Peoples]. In this work, he introduces a second set of arguments against the idea that excessive civilization fosters homosexuality.

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