In the 1860s, a remarkably brave German, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, set out to change society’s attitudes towards what would in later days come to be know as homosexuals.

Ulrichs became aware of same-sex desire in himself at about the age of 20, but rather than conceal it, he set out to try to decide where such desires came from.

Impressed by the latest scientific knowledge of human foetal development, he became convinced that there were three kinds of people in the world – men, women and Uranians. Uranians (Urnings in German) were those who, although having the bodies of men, were in important ways more like women – most obviously in their sexual attraction to men. They were, in a phrase that was to become famous, and which is still heard today – women trapped in the bodies of men.

There was nothing wrong with this in Ulrich’s view – it was no sin, no illness. More of an oddity, really, like left-handedness.

And if such desires were natural, he argued, it was unfair to punish those who had them. Between 1864 and 1879, he published twelve booklets on various aspects of what he called the ‘riddle of love between men’ and paid to print and distribute them.

He was, sadly, well before his time and found little but mockery and outrage. He retired to Italy and his work was largely forgotten until unearthed by gay historians 100 years later.

Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Posted in History Bites.