Thursday, September 23, 2010
Who's That Queer? [Karl Heinrich Ulrichs]
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs - the first modern theorist of homosexuality - is seen today as a pioneer of modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movements.
Ulrichs was born in Aurich (Kingdom of Hannover), Germany in 1825. Using the pseudonym Numa Numantius he published in 1864-1865 five booklets under the collective title Forschungen über das Rathsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (Researches on the Riddle of Male-Male Love). They set forth a biological theory of homosexuality, the so-called third sex theory, which he summed up in the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa (a female psyche confined in a male body).
Using his real name in his next booklet, Ulrichs described his appearance at a Congress of German Jurists in Munich, where on August 29, 1867, he urged repealing the anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down and not allowed to finish, but this was the first time that a self-acknowledged Urning/homosexual spoke out publicly for his cause. Thus Ulrichs was not only the first theorist of homosexuality, but also the first homosexual to 'come out' publicly.
Ulrichs's series of twelve booklets continued until 1879. His goal was to free people like himself from the legal, religious, and social condemnation of homosexual acts as unnatural, and for this he invented a new terminology that would refer to the nature of the individual and not to the acts performed.
Twice imprisoned for his public protests against the invasion and annexation of Hannover by Prussia in 1866, Ulrichs fought not only for the equal rights of homosexuals, but also for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as for the rights of women, including unwed mothers and their children.
But his one-man campaign against the legal oppression of homosexuals was unsuccessful. Indeed, the harsh Prussian anti-homosexual law was extended to the unified Germany in 1872.
Ulrichs left Germany in 1880 for voluntary exile in Italy, where he devoted the last years of his life to promoting Latin as an international language through the publication of a little Latin journal (Alaudae) written entirely by himself. He died on July 14, 1895 in Aquila, Italy.
Ulrichs's original biological theory of homosexuality has since been abandoned, but for more than a century some form of biological determinism has prevailed, both in the popular mind and in scientific circles; it has been adopted by both homosexual liberationists and their enemies.
Ulrichs will be best remembered for his courageous stand for the equal rights of all and, as Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, 'as one of the first and noblest of those who have striven with courage and strength in this field to help truth and charity gain their rightful place'.
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