A Gender Bender of a Post

History plays an integral role to the understanding of human bodies, genders, and sexualities. Through tracing the use of an idea throughout historical periods, we can gather a sense of what caused such an idea to become a part of a prominent ideology today. From the Jonathan Katz article entitled “The Invention of Heterosexuality”, we are presented with the history of the term “heterosexual.” How was the term invented? How did heterosexuals come to be considered “natural” and “normal” and homosexuals as deviant?

“True” Manhood and Womanhood

“The idea of heterosexuality is a modern invention, dating to the late nineteenth century” (Katz 83). The term is not even two centuries old. Prior to the 19th century, the concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality were non-existent. Hence, we can see how the phrase “heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common” applies. Katz traces the history of heterosexuality from the 1820s to today. At the very start, we see that the dominant ideology was to maintain a sense of “purity” while maintaining strict gender roles – “True” Womanhood, Manhood, and Love. Sex was purely an instrument to procreation. Sex without procreation was considered a monstrosity.

Sex sells, Doctors advise

Because of the large consumerist culture that developed, sex became a selling point and our bodies transformed from these instruments of production into bodies of consumption and pleasure. People began to focus on this sexual turning point and doctors turned their attention towards promoting a healthy sexual life between men and women. One such doctor (Dr. James G. Kiernan) invented the term “heterosexual” in 1892. The difference between today and then is that heterosexuality was not considered normal by any means. It was a mental condition:

“Heterosexuals… were defined by a mental condition, ‘psychical hermaphroditism.’ Its symptoms were ‘inclinations to both sexes. These heterodox sexuals also betrayed inclinations ‘to abnormal methods of gratification,’ that is, techniques to insure pleasure without procreation” (Katz 86-7).

On the flip-side of the same coin, Kiernan defined a “homosexual” as a person whose “general mental state is that of the opposite sex” (qtd. in Katz 87).

This historical view dictated that homosexuals deviated from the gender norm, while heterosexuals deviated from both gender and procreative norms.

It was Dr. Krafft-Ebing who put forth different views of heterosexual, homosexual, and psychosexual hermaphroditism. A heterosexual referred to an erotic feeling for a different sex, while homosexual, for the same sex. Psychosexual hermaphroditism referred to desires for both. In the same breath, Krafft-Ebing suggested a “naturalness” to the term heterosexual, that it is a biological instinct to desire the other sex. This lead to the development of a new norm: “The heterosexual category provided the basis for a move from a production-oriented, procreative imperative to a consumerist pleasure principle – an institutionalized pursuit of happiness” (Katz 88).

The Hetero/Homo Duo

Heterosexuality came to imply gendered standards on what it is to be masculine and feminine. It became the “normal” and authoritarian. It was a human “need.” Homosexuality, on the other hand, came to be regarded as a monstrosity, a mental illness, an issue of development. It wasn’t until the 1960s that heterosexuality came to be critiqued by women and homosexual rights activists. Rather than being natural, “heterosexual designates a word and concept, a norm and role, an individual and group identity, a behavior and feeling, and a peculiar sexual-political institution particular to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Katz 93). Both heterosexuality and homosexuality came into existence before they were labelled and categorized. However, men and women most likely did not lust after each other with the same normalcy we see today.

Categorizing is not a natural process

What all of this tells me is that categorizing is not a part of human nature. Not even 200 years ago, there were no terms to distinguish homosexual from heterosexual and vice versa. To categorize an individual into one group and another into another group is no natural phenomenon. Our world is socially active and ever-changing. What we acknowledge today as “true” and “universal” may not be the case in 100 years from now.

This classification of heterosexuality has been imposed upon the male/female dichotomy, human reproduction, the political economy, our understanding of sex and pleasure (Katz 95). The very idea that biology influences our sexual attraction has been challenged as of today. To understand bodies, sexualities, and genders, it is important to look at how the classifications of them came about and to deconstruct the “natural” principles that tagged along with them.

History is useful for the removal of the term “natural” from our everyday understanding of social creations. Humans survived for thousands of years without categorizing people into two different sexualities. The invention of a consumerist culture assisted in this creation of a “natural” heterosexuality and a “deviant” homosexuality.


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