You’re Welcome, Heterosexuals
On behalf of homosexuals everywhere, I accept your gratitude for our sexuality making yours possible.
Allow me to explain.
The year was 1868. Karl-Maria Kertbeny (who we now suspect was heterosexual) was inspired to write a pamphlet about human rights violations towards certain individuals in Europe. These individuals had no broadly accepted name- they were called inverts, paraesthesiacs, Urnings, pederasts, sodomites, Uranians. But they did have one thing in common- sweet, illegal same-sex loving. And they could (and did) go to the guillotine for it.
Kertbeny’s pamphlet protested the Prussian law that made this persecution possible. In an attempt to find a single word to describe its unfortunate victims, he coined the term ’homosexual’. A few years later, Doctor Baron Richard von Krafft-Ebing chose this term when writing about same-sex activity in his influential book Psychopathia Sexualis. The awesomeness of this book overwhelmed just about everything on the subject preceding it, making ’homosexual’ the consensus term.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, sexual orientation was not a concept. You did who and what you did in privacy… it was erotic, it was sex, it was romantic, whatever, but it wasn’t an orientation, nor did it define who you were, as it kinda does now. Social norms dictated that you marry and have a family, but that certainly didn’t confine individuals then, nor does it now, in their explorations of sexuality.
Well, Kertbeny and other anthropologists and doctors saw the human rights of same-sex lovers being violated, and they felt they needed a word. But hardly anything exists without its opposite. They needed a word to describe homosexuals’ “opposite”. Homos is the Greek word for same, so they predictably chose the Greek word for different, heteros. Presto, Kertbeny and his followers created straight people from the rib of gays.
Heterosexuality has taken on a life of its own in modern times, though it is a very recent addition to the English language. It wasn’t until the 1934 edition of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary that heterosexual was defined as we know it today: “manifestation of sexual passion for one of the opposite sex; normal sexuality”.
Before that, Merriam-Webster defined ’heterosexual’ like a disease: an unwholesome, preoccupying “sexual passion” for the opposite sex.
(c) idyllicmollusk 4/2/08