The Benkert family moved to Budapest when he was a child — he was equally at home in Austria, Germany and Hungary. Hungarian writer and literary historian Lajos Hatvany has described him in these terms: "This moody, fluttering, imperfect writer is one of the best and undeservedly forgotten Hungarian memoir writers." He translated Hungarian poets' and writers' works into German, e.g., those of Sándor Petőfi, János Arany and Mór Jókai. Among his acquaintances were Heinrich Heine, George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
As a young man, while working as a bookseller's apprentice, Benkert had a close friend who was homosexual. This young man killed himself after being blackmailed by an extortionist. Benkert later recalled that it was this tragic episode which led him to take a close interest in the subject of homosexuality, following what he called his "instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice."
After a stint in the Hungarian army, Benkert made a living as a journalist and travel writer, and wrote at least twenty-five books on various subjects. In 1847, he legally changed his name from Benkert to Karl-Maria Kertbeny (or Károly Mária Kertbeny), a Hungarian name with aristocratic associations. He settled in Berlin in 1868, still unmarried at 44. He claimed in his writings to be "normally sexed," and there is no direct evidence to contradict this, despite the skepticism of subsequent writers.
Nevertheless, from this time on he began to write extensively on the issue of homosexuality, motivated, he said, 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 North German Confederation. An Open and Professional Correspondence to His Excellency Dr. Leonhardt, Royal Prussian Minister of Justice.
A second pamphlet on the same subject soon followed. In his pamphlets, Kertbeny argued that the Prussian sodomy law, Paragraph 143 (which later became Paragraph 175 of the penal code of the German Empire), violated the "rights of man." He advanced the classic liberal argument that consensual sexual acts in private should not be subject to criminal law. Recalling his young friend, he argued strongly that the Prussian law allowed blackmailers to extort money from homosexuals and often drove them to suicide.
Kertbeny also put forward the view that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable, an argument which would later be called the "medical model" of homosexuality. This contradicted the dominant view up to that time, that men committed "sodomy" out of mere wickedness. Homosexual men, he said, were not by nature effeminate, and he pointed out that many of the great heroes of history were homosexual. With Heinrich Hössli and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, he was among the first writers to put these now-familiar arguments before the public.
During 1869, in the course of these writings, Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual" as part of his system for the classification of sexual types, as a replacement for the pejorative terms "sodomite" and "pederast" that were used in the German- and French-speaking world of his time. In addition, he called the attraction between men and women "heterosexualism", masturbators "monosexualists", and practitioners of anal intercourse "pygists".
After publishing his two important pamphlets, 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.
The German sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in his Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), 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 Ulrichs' word Urning.
Kertbeny did not live to see the wide acceptance of his terminology or his ideas. He died in Budapest in 1882 at age 58.
His gravesite was traced in 2001 by sociologist Judit Takács who conducted extensive research on his life. It is located in Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest, the final resting place of numerous prominent Hungarians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The gay community set a new tombstone on it, and since 2002 it has been a recurring event at Hungarian gay festivals to place a wreath at his grave.
Burial: Kerepesi Cemetery, Budapest, Budapest Capital District, Hungary
Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics, and Theory of LGBT Liberation by Sherry Wolf
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Haymarket Books (June 1, 2009)
Amazon: Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics, and Theory of LGBT Liberation
Sexuality and Socialism is a remarkably accessible analysis of many of the most challenging questions for those concerned with full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Inside are essays on the roots of LGBT oppression, the construction of sexual and gender identities, the history of the gay movement, and how to unite the oppressed and exploited to win sexual liberation for all. Sherry Wolf analyzes different theories about oppression—including those of Marxism, postmodernism, identity politics, and queer theory—and challenges myths about genes, gender, and sexuality.
Transgender History (Seal Studies) by Susan Stryker
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Seal Press (May 6, 2008)
Amazon: Transgender History (Seal Studies)
Covering American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today, Transgender History takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings, and events. Chapters cover the transsexual and transvestite communities in the years following World War II; trans radicalism and social change, which spanned from 1966 with the publication of The Transsexual Phenomenon, and lasted through the early 1970s; the mid-’70s to 1990—the era of identity politics and the changes witnessed in trans circles through these years; and the gender issues witnessed through the ’90s and ’00s.
Transgender History includes informative sidebars highlighting quotes from major texts and speeches in transgender history and brief biographies of key players, plus excerpts from transgender memoirs and discussion of treatments of transgenderism in popular culture.
The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz
Paperback: 305 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 15, 2007)
Amazon: The Invention of Heterosexuality
“Heterosexuality,” assumed to denote a universal sexual and cultural norm, has been largely exempt from critical scrutiny. In this boldly original work, Jonathan Ned Katz challenges the common notion that the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality has been a timeless one. Building on the history of medical terminology, he reveals that as late as 1923, the term “heterosexuality” referred to a "morbid sexual passion," and that its current usage emerged to legitimate men and women having sex for pleasure. Drawing on the works of Sigmund Freud, James Baldwin, Betty Friedan, and Michel Foucault, The Invention of Heterosexuality considers the effects of heterosexuality’s recently forged primacy on both scientific literature and popular culture.
“Lively and provocative.”—Carol Tavris, New York Times Book Review
“A valuable primer . . . misses no significant twists in sexual politics.”—Gary Indiana, Village Voice Literary Supplement
“One of the most important—if not outright subversive—works to emerge from gay and lesbian studies in years.”—Mark Thompson, The Advocate
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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