Homosexuality as a Disease

History of Homosexuality - Hemosexuality as a disiease

The transition from a religious model to a medical model began in the eighteen century, continued through the nineteen century, and finally took firm hold during in the first half of the twentieth century. Abnormal sexuality or sexual deviance was no longer understood primarily in terms of sinful and moral behavior, but increasingly categorized as either natural or unnatural: healthy and sick, normal and pathological, were the new measurements in the latter half of the nineteen century. It was the doctors, replacing the ministers of religion who stimulated this new awareness. Whereas before questions relating to sexual behavior were previously negotiated in the domains of theology, law and philosophy, and assessed with recourse to notions of sin, crime and moral failure, sexual deviance gradually became a concern of physicians and psychiatrists.

tumblr_nj45f4y4jw1taiwgzo1_1280The term ‘homosexual’ derived from medicine and only slowly replaced the traditional “sodomite”. This new medical analysis of homosexuality helped demarcate a clear boundary between normal and abnormal sexuality. The category of the homosexual derived from medicine was defined as a product of disease, degeneracy and moral inversion. The homosexuals were seen not as sinners or criminals, but as abnormal individuals who were in need of a cure. Now the emphasis was placed on his psychological makeup, his looks, and bodily structure rather than a simple practice of individual unnatural sex acts.

“While homosexual behavior can be found in all societies, though with very different cultural meanings, the emergence of ‘the homosexual’ as a cultural construct can be traced to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in urban centers of north-west Europe (Trumnach 1989a, 1989b) and also linked with the rise of capitalism (D’Emilio 1983) medical and psychiatric discourses provided the concept and labels of homosexuality and inversion from the 1860s, . . .” (Ballard, “Sexuality and the State in Time of Epidemic,” p.108 in Rethinking Sex: Social Theory and Sexuality Research by Connell and Dowsett)

Nude male body - gay theme“Several years ago my colleagues and I reported the overwhelming definitional and sampling confusion that pervaded research on homosexuality (Shively et al, 1984). That confusion only deepens the farther research on homosexuality moves away from homosexual acts and continues to engage in the futile task of searching for the “causes” of a defective condition or a status or a personal identity or an enduring, ineffable emotional inclination revealed in fantasy, none of which is accessible to observation. Once we understand that the biomedical and psychological research is looking for the cause of “acts”, which are largely circumstantial, then its futility is clear. If we return to the focus on homosexual acts, as in the original Kinsey reports, then we can arrive at some agreements as to what “it” is that we are attempting to describe or explain – an ancient axiom of historical and scientific research.” (De Cecco, “Confusing the Actor With the Act: Muddled Notions About Homosexuality,” p. 412)

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“For not until he sees homosexuals as a social category, rather than a medical or psychiatric one, the sociologists can begin to ask the right questions about the specific content of the homosexual role and about the organization and functions of homosexual groups. All that has been done here is to indicate that the role does not exist in many societies, that it only emerged in England towards the end of the seventeenth century, and that, although the existence of the role in modern America appears to have some effect on the distribution of homosexual behavior, such behavior is far from being monopolized by persons who play the homosexual role.” (McIntosh, “The Homosexual Role”, p.192)

“Historians underscore an important distinction between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity. The former is said to be universal, whereas the latter is viewed historically unique. Indeed, some historians hold that a homosexual identity is a product of the social developments of late nineteen-century Europe and the United States. Any event, it seems fair to say that a unique construction of identity crystallized around same-sex desire between 1880 and 1920 in America.

The modern western concept of the homosexual is, according to some historians, primarily a creation of late nineteenth-century medical-science discourses. In the context of elaborating systems of classification and descriptions of different sexualities, as part of a quest to uncover the truth about human nature, the homosexual is said to have stepped forward as a distinct human type with his/her own mental and physical nature.” (Seidman. Embattled Eros: Sexual Politics and Ethnics in Contemporary America, p.146)

“Homosexual identity emerged reactively to the new claims of late nineteenth century science, and the state, in relation to the classification and management of human sexuality as a whole.” (Watney, “Emergent Sexual Idenitties and HIV/AIDS” in Aggleton, Davies, and Hart, AIDS: Facing the Second Decade, p. 14)

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“The biological model of sexuality saw homosexuals not as sinners or criminals, but as abnormal individuals who were in need of a cure. Although some sexologists, including Ellis, saw homosexuality as inborn but not a disease, much of sexual science has been preoccupied with problematizing and investigating these “marginal’ sexualities, and with thinking about how to ’correct’ the perceived pathologies through therapy, and chemical and surgical interventions, including castration.” (Mottier, Sexuality A Very Short Introduction, p. 39-40)

“In modern western history the category of the homosexual originates primarily from late-nineteenth-century notions, derived from medicine, that defined same-sex desire as the product of disease, degeneracy, and moral inversion. These notions created an imagine of a woman trapped in a man’s body or of a male body with female brain – a third sex apart from the rest of humanity.” (Herdt, Same Sex, Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians Across Cultures. p.18)

“In the late nineteen-century avatar homosexuality was a psychological and medical phenomenon with pathological mental and physical underpinnings. From the turn of the century, Freudian psychology and American psychoanalysis portrayed it as a mental state caused by early childhood trauma, one that led to the individual’s failure to achieve adult genital heterosexuality. With the advent of gay, lesbian and bisexual studies, particularly in the last two decades, homosexuality has been investigated as a historical, political, social, and cultural phenomenon. More recently, as seen in the articles in this collection, it has been revisited as biological state.” (De Cecco, and Parker, editors. Sex, Cells, and Same-Sex Desire: The Biology of Sexual Preference, p. 19)

“The sexological ‘discovery’ of the homosexual in the late nineteen century is therefore obviously a crucial moment. It gave a name, an aetiology, and potentially the embryos of an identity. It marked off a special homosexual type of person, with distinctive physiognomy, tastes and potentialities. Did, therefore, the sexologists create the homosexual? This certainly seems to be the position of some historians. Michel Foucault and Lillian Faderman appear at times to argue, in an unusual alliance, that it was the categorisation of the sexologists that made ‘the homosexual’ and ‘the lesbian’ possible. Building on Ulrichs belief that homosexuals were a third sex, a woman’s soul in a man’s body, Westphal was able to invent the ‘contrary sexual feeling’ Ellis the ‘invert’ defined by a congenital anomaly, and Hirschfeld the ‘intermediate sex’; the sexologists definitions, embodied in medical interventions, ‘created’ the homosexual. Until sexology gave them a label, there was only the half-life of an amorphous sense of self. The homosexual identity as we know it is therefore a production of social categorisation, whose fundamental aim and effect was regulation and control. To name was to imprison.” (Weeks, Jeffery. Sexuality and Its Discontents Meanings, Myths and Modern Sexualities. p. 92-93)

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“Sexology’s legacy for homosexual rights was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it offered promise in terms of naturalizing homosexuality as a biologically based or developmentally determined variation of human sexuality. It therefore followed that homosexuals should be accorded equal rights. Indeed, medical specialists generally supported homosexual rights activists in campaigning for repeal of penal laws against homosexuality. On the other hand, biologizing and pathologizing homosexuality established a distinct medical classification, akin to categorization of physical and mental diseases. And medical nosologies were created to identify disease entities that, once differentiated, would lead to appropriate treatment. . . . Moreover, biological and psychological reductionism masked the cultural, social, and historical contexts of homosexuality. . . . The sexological discovery of homosexuality was both a response to and a source of constructing gay and lesbian identities. Self-defined homosexual men and woman existed before the sexologist labeled them. In fact, physicians appropriated the label “homosexuality” put forth by Kertbeny in 1869. The sexologists learned about homosexuality from what they observed in their patients and read about in police reports, judicial proceedings, and newspaper accounts. The medical classification, in turn, produced effects on the people who were objects of inquiry. The very act of classification reinforced the grassroots sense of group identity among those who were part of the growing gay and lesbian communities of the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries. Not only did the work of the sexologists reify existing identities and cultural patterns, but it also served as sources for redefinition and resistance. Sexual subjects used the scientific discourse for their own purposes.” (Minton, Departing From Deviance p.13)

“The terms homosexual and homosexuality did not exist until the second half of the 1860s when they first appeared in Central Europe. They were invented by a German-Hungarian publicist and translator who opposed German sodomy laws, K. M. Benkert.

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  • I am loving this series of posts! Thank you so much Aleks!

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