What Goes Around Comes Around: The Invention of a Sexual Minority
Daily, July 2, 2003
By Warren Throckmorton
Karl Ulrichs and Karl Kertbeny would approve. The Supreme
Court’s decision (Lawrence vs. Texas) overturning the nation’s laws
against sodomy closes the loop on the quest for decriminalizing homosexuality
that these men started a continent away and over a century ago.
Who are they? Kertbeny and Ulrichs popularized the
invention of a fixed, inborn homosexual trait in the mid 1800s in Germany.
In fact, the word “homosexual” was first used in 1869
in the campaign against the proposed enactment of sodomy laws in Germany.
Kertbeny was a writer who invented the word homosexual as a preferred term to
the common pejorative term “pederast.” He wrote that Germany’s paragraph
175 was unfair to those he labeled homosexuals because the cause of their
behavior was inborn.
While Kertbeny’s effort did not prevail, his prolific
writings, along with those of Ulrichs, came to the attention of the German
psychiatric community. Psychiatry then furthered the invention of homosexuals
as a group but saw them as deviant and in need of treatment.
And so the term invented to describe people who prefer
same sex relations is barely over 100 years old.
Prior to this time, many people viewed homosexual acts as
occurring for a variety of reasons including a lack of opposite sex
availability and moral corruption. Even in Greek times, homosexual behavior
was common but ordinarily existed side by side with marriage. It is hard to
imagine but true that at one time there was no such thing as the concept of a
gay identity. It was the 1860s and political activity by Ulrichs and Kertbeny
to remove criminal stigma from such behavior that was the impetus for the
invention of the homosexual.
Now comes the Supreme Court ruling concerning sodomy
moving very close to validating the Kertbeny and Ulrichs invention:
homosexuals as a minority group. While the ruling to strike the Texas law was
widely expected, the Court’s basis for rejection seems based in viewing
homosexuals as a group distinct from heterosexuals.
In her concurring opinion Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
wrote, “While it is true that the (Texas) law applies only to conduct, the
conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being
homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas’ sodomy law is targeted at more
than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class.”
So again opposing sodomy regulation leads to the
validation of a sexual minority that now has a liberty rooted in the
Constitution. Could this case impact the regulation of marriage?
Dissenting Justice Scalia thinks so. He noted in his
dissent that there is now no rational basis for the court to uphold laws
limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
Currently marriage is organized around gender, a
biological given and unchangeable, save through the most extreme of medical
procedures. Organizing marriage primarily around a shared preference for
certain sexual behaviors has the unfortunate potential of making marriage much
more transient than it is now.
Are these inventions valid?
Despite the dogmatic proclamations of gay and lesbian
political groups, the science of sexual orientation is really quite unclear.
Although advanced as a theory over 100 years ago, we are no closer to finding
a plausible pathway from genetics to same sex behavior now than Kertbeny and
It is quite clear, however, that sexuality is fluid for
many people with changes in sexual attractions occurring throughout the life
span. In a June, 2002, paper published in the APA journal Professional
Psychology: Research & Practice, I reported a study by K. Schaeffer and
colleagues that found nearly 95% of a sample of participants in Exodus
International affiliates were either in the process of changing or already
believed their sexual orientation had changed.
Moreover, repeatedly in surveys of gay men, lesbians and
bisexuals, researchers find that the sexual preferences of many research
participants change over time. As a counselor, I see this kind of change
frequently in my practice and research.
How then can activists invent minority status surrounding
such a fluid trait?
Perhaps, we shall have to wait for the next legal
development to find out. With the Congress considering a Constitutional
amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman, no doubt other inventions
will be made in the name of homosexuality.
Kertbeny and Ulrichs would be proud.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Director of College
Counseling and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grove City College.
Professor, counselor and columnist, Dr. Throckmorton is the producer of the
Truth Comes Out, a spoken word CD geared to young adults concerning sexual
orientation. [He is an ex-gay movement promoter. -Bob]
Send Feedback To Warren Throckmorton http://www.drthrockmorton.com.
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