Karl Heinrich Ulrichs


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs quite literally wrote the book – or twelve books, as it happened – on homosexuality. He pioneered the idea that sexual orientation is inborn, and accompanied it with calls for civil equality. His term for gay men (‘Urning’) was coined in an effort to separate sexual acts from the actors and emphasize the centrality of sexual orientation as a part of an individual’s identity; although it was later replaced by ‘homosexual’, ‘Urning’ (derived from a portion of Plato’s Symposium) was the first term of its kind.

Although his belief that gay men had inherently female minds would read as curious (or offensive) to modern audiences, ‘anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa’ (‘a female soul trapped in a male body’) became a popular paradigm. Noting that hermaphroditism was possible in animals, he theorized that the only way for ‘natural’ opposite-sex attraction to be interrupted would be if (for example) a gay man wasn’t really a man at all, but something in between. (While it is possible that Ulrichs truly did have a ‘female soul’ – that is, was transgender – and used his own gendered experiences as a theoretical foundation, there is little evidence save for the above phrasing and a childhood insistence that he was a girl. As a result, this blog uses male pronouns; however, it is impossible to be sure either way.)

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