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History & Politics

This year, the Pride is dedicated to the history of the before and after of the Stonewall riots (end of June 1969), which many gay - and straight - people view as the beginning of the gay movement. In the Netherlands, we are proud the fact that six months earlier, on January 21, 1969, young homosexuals and lesbians protested at the Binnenhof, the square in front of Dutch parliament in The Hague.

by Gert Hekma - 16 March 2019

length: 9 min. Printer Friendly Page  
Standing Up for Male Love, from Sade to Hirschfeld

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 9 minuten

demonstrating against public repression of homosexuality in front of the White House, 1965
Incidentally, on April 17, 1965, American activists demonstrated against public repression of homosexuality in front of the White House, and they say something similar has happened in Berlin, where homosexuals have demonstrated as early as 1933. As is often the case when people speak of a “first,” it appears that there were more than one “first.” The first homosexual, pedophile, fetishist, gay and straight sex, the first transgender surgery: who’s to say when it happened exactly?

In this series, we discuss that history, including the words, meanings, interpretations, actions, opinions, and so on that are associated with it. It is about a view of that past in a series of articles: where do we come from? Are we the creatures of Sade, Kertbeny, Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Schorer, Kinsey, De Beauvoir, Blaman, Reve, Sengers, Burnier, Foucault, Butler, Swaab, or someone or something else completely?

De Sade as prisonerEarly on, the famous Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) spoke out in favor of equal rights for homosexuals (although that word did not even exist yet, he used the biblical term sodomites or the Greek term for pederasts). Until 1791, sodomy (homosexual or heterosexual anal sex or sex with animals, and sex outside of marriage was also a crime) still came with the death penalty. Sade himself was sentenced to death for having anal sex with a man. The punishment was only symbolic, as he had fled the scene with his servant and sexual partner. Instead, he served a prison sentence at a later date.

He wrote his plea for gay sex in “Philosophy in the Bedroom” (1795) that reads as a lesbian novel. It is about the sexual education of a girl by a lady. Pleasure and pain go hand in hand, abstinence is nonsense, as sex and lust are part of life, not reproduction. Sodomy is not an offence against nature at all. Sade had more texts in favor of sex and against god, he was a libertine and an atheist and was locked up for his behavior and work. His books were banned but released in secret, also in the Netherlands. Sade was the most famous and radical of the defenders of gay sex, but too extreme for some.

Sade was innovative because he did not have one but three theories about pederasty/sodomy - we would say homosexuality. It could be a social construct and congenital or a principle - as dykes in the 1970s said to prefer being lesbian because they wanted to sexually distance themselves from men. Rather lesbian than “#Metoo.” It was nature versus nurture versus principle.

A Murder as Inspiration

After 1800, the death penalty for sodomy wasn’t abolished yet, and in the Netherlands existed until 1811. In 1804, for instance, the Schiedam court sentenced a homosexual to death. This also occurred in other countries, such as Great Britain, the United States and elsewhere. In 1817, the court in Bern, Switzerland, sentenced the lawyer Franz Desgouttes to death by strangulation for the lust murder of his secretary Daniël Hemmeler, with whom he had fallen in love.

Heinrich HössliThe case was all Sodom and Gomorra: fornication, alcohol and drugs with a perpetrator who had lost it, believed in God, felt guilty and wanted to die a sinner.

The case of a double crime passionel homicide shocked the hatter Heinrich Hössli (1784-1864), which led him to write a plea for same-sex love. Initially, he had asked a professional author to undertake this, the enlightened writer Heinrich Zschokke: “Eros, oder über die Liebe” (Eros: or About Love; 1821). The book did not convince him and consequently he started working himself, with “Eros: Die Männerliebe der Griechen” (Eros: the Male Love of the Greeks; two volumes, 1836-1838) as a result.

Based on his knowledge of the ancient Greeks, he argued for tolerance for male love, the same tolerance that had become mainstream for witchcraft (which was persecuted in Switzerland shortly before his birth) and the naturalness of a sexual preference. Hössli was married and the father of two sons. Given the passion that speaks from both his books, it is plausible that he loved men himself. He intended to write a third part solely on the sexual side of things, but that was never written. One of his books was forbidden, and the second one went up in flames in a fire. He became disillusioned.

Hössli began his struggle in defence of male love because of this horrible case and the resulting death penalty. We shall encounter that more often - how violence leads to resistance. It must also have been the reason for Sade to start writing. However, Sade went a step further. When he heard that in his absence his “effigy” (his image) had been burnt, it prompted Sade to start writing with haste.

A Physician and the Pederasts

Claude François MichéaClaude François Michéa (1815-1882) was a doctor who appeared on a register of pederasts of the Paris police, alongside ministers, deputies, aristocrats, officers and many others from all walks of life. He lived with a befriended doctor who also appeared on the list. He was involved in a new discipline - forensic psychology (which sought explanations and evidence in court cases). In this position he was researching a notorious 1848 case of necrophilia: sergeant Bertrand had unearthed bodies of girls and others, and had sexually abused and mutilated these bodies.

This case in a turbulent time of revolution aroused the curiosity of other forensic doctors. Like his colleagues, he found no explanation, but in the article he wrote about the case, he also wrote about other “deviations” - like his own. Shortly thereafter, the Berlin forensic doctor J.L. Casper wrote that they should find better words for same-sex-lovers than sodomite and pederast - because they did not always practice anal sex or have sex with boys. Michéa came up with one, “philopédie”.

Later on, the French doctor Pouillet introduced the term “andrérastie” (the love of other men). Michéa was the first to come up with a new, biological explanation for the phenomenon. These men had a female rudiment in their bodies, which made them female, and their sexual preference focused on their own sex - men, just like women. Michéa did not start a movement, but with his theory he laid the foundation for just that.

Heavenly Love or Perverse Sex Drive?

Karl-Heinrich UlrichsThe most important advocate for homosexuality was German lawyer Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895), who dedicated twelve brochures to “uranism,” a word that referred to heavenly love. An “urning” (or “uranist”) was a female soul in a male body and an “urninde” the male soul in a female body. The man was a woman on the inside and a man on the outside, and as a woman was attracted to (straight) men.

Lesbians were attracted to real women, butches. It was a natural phenomenon, which Hössli and Michéa thought as well. The difference that Ulrichs made was that he gained worldwide recognition for his work and not only in Germany but also in Great Britain, France, Scandinavia, and the United States.

Donkersloot In the Netherlands, psychiatrist N.B. Donkersloot reviewed some of his pamphlets in 1870 and wrote: “they sometimes speak of the silent treatment, and perhaps this is better than to kill.” In 1883 he wrote about the “clinical-forensic meaning of the perverse sex drive,” in which the first anonymous doctor from the Netherlands showed his colour in defending Ulrichs (in a reaction to the earlier review).

He wrote: “I am an Urning, not a Päderast.” He assured Donkersloot that “By speaking out we will overcome,” so he did not want to remain silent.

Ulrichs defended uranism as Germany consisted of several states that were on the verge of uniting. All these states had their own sex laws. In 1870, Prussia came out on top, and Bavaria, Saxony lost on most accounts, including sexuality legislation. In 1871, a new law was introduced with the notorious paragraph 175, which existed for another century and made unnatural illicit sexual acts punishable by law. After the law was passed, Ulrichs fled to Italy like many other Germans before and after him, such as the poet Von Platen.
Ulrichs came up with words about uranism, but the Hungarian journalist Karoly Maria Kertbeny (1824-1882) came up with the most important renewal in 1869.  He conceived not only the word homosexuality but also heterosexuality, monosexuality and variations on the theme.

Kertbeny came from Budapest in the double monarchy Austria-Hungary. He was a European Károly Mária Kertbenyintellectual who also resided in Germany, France, and Belgium, and wrote two pamphlets speaking out against the upcoming German law.

Although his work should be seen in the much wider context of sexual preferences, he made the point that for the question of equality of rights it did not matter whether homosexuality was natural or not: “The modern constitutional state... has no reason to become involved with the question of sex where the rights of the others are not injured.” We still hear that gay people must have rights because it is “natural.”

This is first and foremost unproven and, as Kertbeny said in 1869, a liberal state should not be concerned with the sex lives of free citizens, an interesting lesson for the Nashville believers and their opponents. It seems more sensible to read “natural” as self-evident. It is remarkable that “religion” is never seen as natural or congenital.

Psychological Weakness

Richard von Krafft-EbingIt was Ulrichs who put psychiatrists on the trail of perverse sexuality. They did not only write about homosexuality but also about psychic hermaphroditism, androgyny, fetishism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, lust murder, S&M, paedophilia, necrophilia, zoophilia, copromania, and other preferences that did not reach the alphabetic term GLBTQI. While in 1886 homosexuality was included in the perversions of the “Psychopathia sexualis” by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the primary textbook of modern sexology with dozens of editions and prints to date.

Not only were sexual deviants getting attention from psychiatrists, politicians and lawyers but also through celebrity scandals. In the year that Krafft-Ebing published his book on perversions, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the man of the castles and Wagner, was removed because of insanity and homosexuality.

He had gotten into a fight with psychiatrist Von Gudden because he did not want to be locked up as a crazy person, with the result that both men lost their lives.  Von Gudden had said of the king that his “unnatural urges” were not proof of his insanity, as this “expression of psychological weakness” also occurs “in many others.”

German spoof card Phili: Fairy Tale about Prince Philip

Lastly, it is the homosexuals themselves who started naming, and creating theories and interpretations as Sade, Hössli, Michéa, Ulrichs and Kertbeny show. There were more scandals in that period of time, such as around Oscar Wilde (1895), Dutch author Jacob Israël de Haan (1904), and, the greatest of them all, that of Prince Philip zu Eulenburg, friend of the German Emperor (1907/8).

The last step in this difficult emancipation history came from a physician, Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), who founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in 1897, the first gay rights organization in the world.
More on that subject next time.



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