September 16, 2020
Imagine being gay in the 1850s. Now imagine being a pro-homosexual activist in the same era. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is one of the first gay activists who came out to his family more than a century ago. And a few months later, he also came out to the world.
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ today is hard as it is. And to learn that gay activists have been striving for centuries to emancipate the community is a powerful motivator. And what a star Karl Heinrich was. Political speeches, gay-centric proposals, and even writing powerful pamphlets that eventually left him broke, Ulrichs did it all.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, The Gay Activist
Popularly known as the German Lawyer and journalist, Ulrichs was among the first to present a scientific theory of homosexuality. The theory was elaborated in five writings published in 1864 to 1865 and was based on homosexuality being inborn. He also tried to present that homosexuality was natural and this must result in social and legal equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals.
Losing his father at the age of 10, his mother and he lived with her grandfather. He eventually managed to study law in Göttingen and Berlin. After which Ulrichs joined the civil service of Hannover in 1848. Back in the day, as you might presume, being homosexual and performing homosexual activities
In 1854, he worked as an assistant attorney for the Kingdom of Hanover, when his superiors learnt of his sexual orientation. When Ulrichs realised it, he resigned from the company so that he wouldn’t have to be fired. He then went on to freelance as a newspaper reporter and a personal secretary.
Journaling the Homosexuality
As a journalist, back then or today, one has the power to influence and create conversation. Creating a conversation about homosexuality is difficult even today.
In 1864, he published his first-ever pamphlet under a pseudonym, Numa. The piece was titled “Researches on the Riddle of ‘Man-Manly’ Love”. And with this began his trial to educate the masses and seek acceptance about homosexuality. Ulrichs was clearly not a man who would easily back down. And luckily he had the privileges that backed him up. He had the platform, a theory, and the education that allowed him to speak and to be heard.
He was the first to begin the series of pamphlets that discuss homosexuality. And he is considered the first to formulate a “scientific theory” of homosexuality. A theory that would eventually be shared by many. Ulrichs also wrote that he believed in “third gender.”
Ulrich’s theory provided the groundwork for many theories that came after. Even though it was over 157 years ago, it is still pretty relevant to how we perceive and understand the LGBTQ+ community. And specifically homosexuals and homosexual relationships.
Here are a few things that Ulrich stated in his theory.
- A belief that men who are attracted to other men are born with a “woman’s spirit” in a male body.
- Women attracted to other women have a “male spirit” in a female body.
- An individual attracted to both men and women had a bit of both.
- All of their feelings were inborn. And the state must not consider their actions as criminal.
A few terminologies that he used to refer to gay, lesbians, and bisexuals. We could probably bring this back into a trend just if we could pronounce it right.
- “Urning” a word referring to men who are attracted to other men
- “Urningin” and “Dioningin” and a few other words referring to women who are attracted to other women.
- “Uranodioning” for individuals who feel attracted to both men and women.
The Civil War
The American Civil War ended in the year 1865. In the same year, Ulrichs came up with the first gay organization! He called it the “Urnings union,”. A written proposal sent to the Congress of German Jurists next. The proposal requested the annulment of laws against same-sex acts. Congress declared the proposal “not suitable to be considered.”
He was eventually got the opportunity to speak in front of Congress and explain his proposal. His theory backed the proposal. But as soon as the Congressmen and other attendees unraveled what Ulrichs wanted to discuss, they asked him to only speak in Latin. This was to ensure that the less educated delicate ears.
And as a result, the confiscation of his proposal.
This did not mean that Ulrichs stopped writing. He wrote over 6 pieces and started his own periodical after a few years after the Congress Incident. Unfortunately, the number of subscribers was very few, and the periodical left him broke.
The police not only confiscated most of his pamphlets, but they also charged him with violating statutes. Statutes that were against degrading marriage or the family, and defending illegal acts. And not to forget obscene speech. Fortunately, the judge found him innocent. And thank god for us, they returned the pamphlets.
In conclusion, his theories and ideas don’t coincide with how we perceive homosexuality today. But thank god for his brevity. His theories have given us the foundations of equality and social and legal rights, unbiased on sexual orientation.