The One about THE "G" WORD.
I hate the word, “GAY.”
Good. I've got that off my chest. In the English Oxford dictionary the word GAY means, “Light-hearted and carefree.” When did “gay” as homosexual begin its journey of 'saving' grace to a class of people? Let’s look back.
Historians believe the first use of “homosexual” was by Karl-Maria Kertbeny, born as Karl-Maria Benkert (1824-82), an Austrian-born Hungarian journalist, memoirist and human rights campaigner born in Vienna. He first coined the word ‘homosexual.’ Mr. Kertbeny, wrote passionately in opposition to Germany’s anti-sodomy laws, Paragraph 175, in the 19th century.[i]
Karl-Maria Kertbeny (Benkert)
As a young man, while working as a bookseller's apprentice, Karl-Maria Benkert had a close friend who was homosexual. This young man killed himself after being blackmailed. It was this tragic episode which led Benkert to take a close interest in the subject of homosexuality, following what he called his "instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice".
Benkert claimed to be "normally sexed" and there is no evidence to contradict this, despite the skepticism of some writers. Nevertheless, he began to write extensively on the issue of homosexuality, motivated by an "anthropological interest" combined with a sense of justice and a concern for the "rights of man."
In 1869, he anonymously published a pamphlet entitled 'Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code of 14 April 1851 and Its Reaffirmation as Paragraph 152 in the Proposed Penal Code for the Norddeutscher Bund. An Open and Professional Correspondence to His Excellency Dr. Leonhardt, Royal Prussian Minister of Justice.'
What was Paragraph 175?
This was the anti sodomy law against homosexuals enacted in Germany since 1871. The provisions were vastly expanded by the Nazis in 1935. The 2 Germanys retained the law much after the war, and it was finally repealed only in 1994.[ii]
It saw the first public use of the word ‘homosexuality’, although he had used it in May of the previous year in a private letter to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the German gay-rights advocate.
Before then, there were very few neutral words to describe people who experienced romantic or sexual attractions toward others of the same sex. Those used, such as “bugger”, “molly”, “sodomite” or “pederast”, were loaded with condemnation and shame. But as the budding science of sexology began to grow, and as same-sex loving defenders began to speak out about what same-sex love was all about, their first problem was with how to name it: the “abominable vice” wouldn’t do. A new word was desperately needed to describe their lives and feelings.
The first to try to give it an acceptable name was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. In the 1860’s, he described the Urning [“homosexual male”] as a “male-bodied person with a female psyche”, who is sexually attracted to men and not women; the opposite form was Urningin (“lesbian female”] Ulrichs devised an entire system of classification based on different combinations of attractions and gender roles. Some of these words gained usage in English, but they quickly became obsolete, replaced by Kertbeny’s new creation.
Kertbeny also believed that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable, an argument later called the "medical model". This contradicted the dominant view of the time, that men committed "sodomy" out of mere wickedness. Kertbeny pointed out that many of the great heroes of history were homosexual. He was the first writer to put these now-familiar arguments before the public.
Once self-identified homosexual men, such as Ulrichs, began to campaign for homosexual rights, Kertbeny faded from the scene. If he was homosexual, he was never prepared to say so. In 1880, he contributed a chapter on homosexuality to Gustav Jäger's book Discovery of the Soul, but Jäger's publisher decided it was too controversial and omitted it. Nevertheless, Jäger used Kertbeny's terminology elsewhere in the book.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
In his Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), German sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing, borrowed the terms homosexual and heterosexual from Jäger's book. Krafft-Ebing's work was so influential that these became the standard terms for differences in sexual orientation, superseding Urning.
Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Having established the ‘birth’ and surroundings for the word, “homosexual.” I now come to the word, GAY.
Masculine Women, Feminine Men[iv]
It was called, “Pansy craze.”[v] For a brief time in the late 1920s and early 1930s, a relatively open gay culture thrived in Chicago, with gay cabarets and nightclubs proliferating throughout the Near North and South sides. By 1930, Variety reported, there were 35 “pansy parlors” in Towertown, the neighborhood named for its proximity to the Old Chicago Water Tower.
A place called Diamond Lil’s, at 909 North Rush Street, was packed so tight with partying gays that people were turned away.
“African American drag entertainers performed for racially mixed audiences at some of the South Side’s most famous ‘black and tan’ [cabarets]. Mexican ‘queers’ carved out a space for themselves along Ashland Avenue, and ethnic working-class ‘queens’ from the city’s North, South and West Sides met at private parties and public drags throughout the city.”
The nighttime entertainments did not attract just gays. High society and the middle class flocked to the cabarets to gawk or to experience the prurient thrill of dancing with one of the “homos.” The so-called Bughouse Square in front of the Newberry Library was such a well-known pickup spot that the Chicago Gray Line Sightseeing Company included it on its Chicago-By-Night tour, advertising the promise of “the unusual, strange and different” in “gay night life.”
Prohibition, Jazz, speakeasies, and bootlegged liquor are only a small portion of what makes this era so fascinating. The period of the 1920s and early 1930s changed the way society viewed homosexuality–a relatively new term at the time. It was a time of exploitation yet cultural growth for the gay community.
With its wildly relaxed attitudes, Chicago’s Pansy Craze, as the brief phenomenon has come to be known, emerged from Prohibition just as homosexuality first came to be recognized in this country as a distinct sexual orientation. The outburst lasted only until the mid-thirties. “The Pansy Craze was part of the same phenomenon that produced the Negro vogue in Harlem,” says the University of Chicago history professor George Chauncey. “Massive waves of immigrants from Europe and the American South were arriving in American cities so that white middle-class urbanites became fascinated with exploring the new communities taking place in their midst, whether immigrant, bohemian, black, or gay.”
First published in 1968, DSM-II (the American classification of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, transformed it from sin to mental disorder.
In 1973,[vi] the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it. The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with "sexual orientation disturbance" for people "in conflict with" their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its ICD classification with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carries the construct of "ego-dystonic sexual orientation." In this condition, the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual preference, but "wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioral disorders".
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual. But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative.
“ ‘Homosexual’ has the ring of ‘colored’ now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn’t been recuperated in the same way,” said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture.
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word “gay” in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates.
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put “homosexual” on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.
Franklin E. Kameny, a gay rights pioneer, coined the phrase “Gay is Good” in 1968 as a way to help strip away some of the negative association. By then, gay had become the preferred term among gays and lesbians. But it would take decades for the rest of the country to catch on.
The New York Times resisted the word gay until 1987, preferring homosexual (now, it prefers the word gay in most contexts). The Washington Times set off in quotes the term gay marriage until 2008. The newspaper also updated its standards that year to say the term was preferred over “homosexual marriage.”
“Gay doesn’t use the word sex,” he said. “Lesbian doesn’t use the word sex. Homosexual does.” [vii]
Still, I think the word, GAY, instead of homosexual is: Just. Plain. Queer.
Credit Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images [viii]