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The Riddle of 'Man-Manly' Love
By Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Book Review by Jack Nichols

The Riddle of 'Man-Manly' Love: The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality, by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, translated by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash, Foreword by Vern L. Bullough, Ph.D., Prometheus Books, 2 volume set, 712 pages, cloth, $120.95
On August 28, 2000, people from around the world are expected to gather at the grave of a man they consider the first known gay activist, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, celebrating the 175th anniversary of his birth in 1825.

Ulrich had been mocked by the leading Marxist theorist, Friedrich Engels, for promoting a "gross unnatural vice" after he'd attempted to repeal Germany's sodomy law. In a letter to Karl Marx, Engels wrote: "Really, it can only happen in Germany that such a no-good (as is Ulrichs) can transform lechery into a theory and invite us to 'enter.' " Gay pioneer writer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

According to Edward Carpenter (1844-1928) Ulrichs, was Austrian-born. Author Neil Miller says he was a native of Hanover.

Like the psycho-biology theorists of today, Ulrich believed homosexuality to be an inborn characteristic that could not be eradicated. And, as certain gay activists in the early 1990s insisted, Ulrichs had argued that certain physical traits offered unmistakable proofs of this so-called biological origin. He invented a name for those attracted to their own gender: Urnings, or Uranians. This word is reported to have been chosen because at that time, before the discovery of Pluto, the planet Uranus was farthest from Earth, and, therefore, like manly love, in Plato's terms, closest to heaven.

Ulrichs' pioneering German gay activist successor, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) had agreed with his predecessor's biological theories, and had pointed to gay male hips—as present day psycho-biologists point to fingers, penises and hypothalamuses—which he believed to be typically larger than those of heterosexual males.

Ulrichs, who was a gay lawyer, wrote—at first using a pseudonym-- the first of his many gay advocacy pamphlets in 1864. There are current-day activists, and I'm among them, who argue that not only were Ulrichs' theories open to question, but that given the fact that he first wrote under a pen name, Numa Numantius, he was not, in fact, the first openly gay activist.

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The great American poet, Walt Whitman, using his true name, had preceded Ulrichs as an advocate of same-sex love and affection —in three editions of Leaves of Grass published between 1855 and 1863. Whitman, however, didn't regard homosexuality as a biological variation. "The germ is in every man," he'd written, a radical conception. Whitman said that until he saw it commonplace for men everywhere to walk hand in hand, he would not rest. Though he'd published and promulgated his views in advance of Ulrich's pamphlet, Whitman did not, as Ulrich had done, attempt legalistic solutions. He was, after all, a poet.

Ulrich's theory insisted that gay males were female souls in male bodies and that lesbians, in reverse, were male souls in female bodies. He developed this theory upon learning that human embryos—during early stages in the womb—have both male and female genitals, losing one or the other as they develop during a later stage in the uterus. He postulated that in certain embryos, the shedding of the opposite gender's sex organ was not accompanied by a prerequisite change in the brain, a change that regulated sex drives.

He believed, therefore, that male homosexuals possess the personality characteristics of women, and that the reverse was true for lesbians. Thus, his theory accounted, in his mind, not only for sex-object choices, but for a whole range of personality characteristics.

German sex theorists—who did found the first gay rights movement as such—promoted Ulrich's perspective during the early years of the 20th century, namely that same-sex love can only be experienced by members of "the third sex", and is therefore strictly a biological outgrowth.

Inasmuch as this perspective runs counter to Walt Whitman's vision, namely that society's fear of same-sex love bespeaks religious taboos, I am not a proponent of Ulrich's views. But this is not to denigrate The Riddle of 'Man-Manly' Love, however, a work that has great historic value.
Walt Whitman preceded Ulrich, but they differed on the biological definition of homosexuality

Whitman's earlier vision encompassed Democracy itself, which he believed could not find completeness if men continued fearing emotional attachments among themselves. Ulrich's biological theory, on the other hand, unnecessarily corrals and limits same sex love, thus making its pleasures available to only the biologically-predisposed few.

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