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Sexual inversion (sexology)

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Sexual inversion is a term used by sexologists, primarily in the late 19th and early 20th century, to refer to homosexuality.[1] Sexual inversion was believed to be an inborn reversal of gender traits: male inverts were, to a greater or lesser degree, inclined to traditionally female pursuits and dress and vice versa.[2] The sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing described female sexual inversion as "the masculine soul, heaving in the female bosom".[3] In its emphasis on gender role reversal, the theory of sexual inversion resembles transgender, which did not yet exist as a separate concept at the time.[4]

Initially confined to medical texts, the concept of sexual inversion was given wide currency by Radclyffe Hall's 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, which was written in part to popularize the sexologists' views. Published with a foreword by the sexologist Havelock Ellis, it consistently used the term "invert" to refer to its protagonist, who bore a strong resemblance to one of Krafft-Ebing's case studies.[5]

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  • ✪ Rare Bites: Sexual inversion by Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds (1897)
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  • ✪ How to Be a Sexologist - 11
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Well so Sexual Inversion by Havelock Ellis and John Addinton Symonds is the edition I will be mostly focusing on but it has a chequered history which I'll tell you about. So just to be brief Havelock Ellis in case you haven't heard of him, was a doctor who wrote about sexuality. He also wrote about many other topics in Victorian Britain. Born in Britain. And John Addington Symonds, his co-author, was a poet, a historian, a classicist and he was also a homosexual rights activist. Sexual Inversion was the first English medical text rather published on homosexuality. It's published in 1897 in English but it has a fairly chequered history. The first edition was published in German actually, translated by Hans Kurella in 1896 as Die kontrare Geschlechtsgefuhl, but the 1897 edition which has Symonds name on it was published and circulated very slightly. Only six copies still exist because most of it was bought up by Symonds' family who didn't like the fact that his reputation might be that he was homosexual. And so they had them all destroyed. The next issue of the book starts to appear in The Studies and the Psychology of Sex, the large collection of works that Ellis produced between 1897 and 1928. And this work was unfortunately banned as an obscene work and tried as part of the Bedborough trial in 1898. And finally in this edition over here is the one which was published in America. By F.A. Davis and company from 1899 onwards. The Edition you've got there is the 1922 third edition. Now the book is interesting for us because it occupies a fairly fascinating place in the history of sexuality and in the history of psychiatry. It does two things which are interesting. Firstly it pathologises homosexuality in ways which I am going to discuss. But secondly also it's a very important work in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England. And this sort of makes it a fairly unique text because there while there were other homosexual rights text around prior to Sexual Inversion, this is the first one which is both published by doctors and is actually actively trying to do something politically. It medicalises homosexuality and categorizes it amongst the so-called sexual perversions. Some of this effort among psychiatrists ultimately led for people trying to cure homosexuality by about the mid 20th century onwards. And there were some early attempts than that. This book is interesting because it doesn't at all try and cure homosexuality. In fact it argues that it shouldn't be illegal at all. And this is why it's also interesting because of its decriminalisation issue. Sodomy in England had been illegal since 1538. It had a death penalty until 1861 and it wasn't actually decriminalised in England until 1967. Not all countries were like this. In Holland for example, and all of the other countries that adopted Code Napoleone, from 1811 homosexuality wasn't illegal. Whereas other countries which had been previous British colonies, for example New South Wales, kept homosexuality illegal until well after that. In New South Wales it was 1984 that it became legal. In some countries still haven't adopted it. About 76 countries currently homosexuality is illegal. So this book sort of interesting because it's trying to intervene in this debate about the legal situation around homosexuality and trying to use scientific evidence to sort of change the situation. It's interesting because this has to happen effectively in England at least within the fields of medicine and psychiatry. Other people who have been trying to publish about homosexuality prior to this, why they're so heavily marginalised or their books were considered obscene, they weren't very effective. Whereas Ellis is trying to do this in particular ways which differ from these other texts. The other texts were often written by classicists or people with a classical education and they were trying to develop concepts around homosexuality that was basing it on its past in ancient Greece in particular where it wasn't considered a problem. And suggesting that this sort of noble sort of understanding of homosexual behaviour is one that should be adopted in Victorian England. But of course most people in Victorian England didn't see it like this. Now Symonds, who is a classicist, wrote Ellis because he wanted to collaborate on a book about homosexuality and they did a lot of collaboration between 1891 in 1893. They never met. Simmons unfortunately died before the book was completed and they were using this work in order to change the legal situation in England. To understand sexual inversion it needs to be placed in a sort of a particular intellectual context. In that context I'm going to argue here today is in the emerging field of sexology. Which develops out of as a sort of sub specialty within medicine. Before Sexual Inversion there was quite a lot of medical writing about sex in different fields. Sometimes this touched on homosexual issues but usually it didn't. For example there was writing about venereal diseases and this was mostly because of the large numbers of people with syphilis in the British army. But also lots of attempts to control things like sex work or prostitution. And medicine in many ways can be seen as a form of social control here. There was a lot of discussion within forensic medicine. So people could actually try to establish whether or not a sexual crime had taken place. And this focussed mostly on rape when it comes to sexual issues but also on the issue of sodomy. And usually as a subsection of the end of any chapter on rape within a forensic medical text, there was some sort of discussions on the signs of sodomy. Which might be detected. There was also a lot of medical interest on things like masturbation. This was because throughout the second half of the 18th century at the 19th century and well into the 20th century, people believed that this would have some sort of deleterious effect on the person masturbating. Particularly that you would catch a disease called spermatorrhea. There was also a lot of discussion that you might get a form of masturbatory insanity if you masturbated too much. And this had been a part of the medical landscape since about 1760 when Samuel Tissot, a Swiss physician published a book on spermatorrhea. The interesting thing though for us with regards to sort of ideas about masturbation and the way that they linked to sexual perversions, is that the imagination was involved in it. So largely this focus on a bodily practice started to frame sort of sexuality in terms of a mental process. And it raises the interesting question of why it is that it's psychiatrists who focus on sexuality, when it's something that's mostly physical in the first place. They've sort of coopted it and made it into a sort of more psychological kind of issue. But there is quite a lot of other approaches to sexuality which wouldn't have adopted this sort of model. Also within a related field of evolutionary biology there was quite a lot of writing about so-called degeneration theory. This sort of fear that society was degenerating and that somehow this would lead to the downfall of society. The same sorts of arguments you see occasionally even appearing now, in sort of codified forms but this is done mostly by people like Jean-Jacques Moreau in France or Henry Mosley in England. None of these works are specifically sexological but out of this field that was emerging with issues to do with the physical aspects of it, the mental aspects of it, and the sort of more biological aspects a field of sexology emerged within mostly psychiatric disciplines. Since about the 1870s. A little earlier than that in some places like Germany. So sexology, which Ellis' book is a part of is a field which largely has some kind of theory of sexuality. Particularly as a theory of what sexual perversions are and why they exist. It spends a lot of time demarcating and categorising different kinds of sexual activity. For example homosexuality being the key one that they focussed on first. But there was also a lot of attention to things like sado-masochism or fetishism. These are concepts which developed amongst the sexologists in the late 19th century. Some sexologist proposed using hypnosis as a way of curing sexual perversions. Particularly curing homosexuality but most of them didn't and were quite happy just to categorise and explain the sort of biological background. All of these medical sexological works basically had case histories as well. They had some sort of small vignettes of the lives of sexual perverts that they could use in order to explain and illustrate what it was that they were talking about. And homosexuality as a sort of psychiatric problem emerges within these texts. Now that's not to say that there wasn't same sex activity happening well before this. That's obviously true but somehow in these texts the medicalisation of homosexuality creates a set of criteria that would classify somebody as homosexual and makes them into a kind of person and this emergence of a kind of person is quite significant. I'll discuss that a little bit more in a moment. Important Sexologists, in case you want to chase them up are people like Richard von Krafft-Ebing. You may have heard of him. He's a psychiatrist who wrote a book called Psychopathia Sexualis which has like 400 case histories in it. He first used the terms of sadism and masochism as well. There's Albert Mohler who does a lot of work on child sexual development from the 1890s onwards. Theres Iwan Bloch, who's a German dermatologist but he also focuses on the anthropology of sexual variation. There's people like Alfred Binet who is mostly now associated with the development of the IQ test but actually developed the concept of fetishes in the 1880s. And there's someone like Magnus Hirschfeld who set up an institute of sexology at the end of the 19th century and who did a lot of work on homosexual emancipation but also in gender variation. And whenever you see images of books being burned in Germany in the early years of the Nazi period they're usually the sacking of Magnus Hirschfeld's library which is being shown here. So the Sexologists were considered sometimes very political although often they weren't. Often they were just operating within psychiatry generally. And between the period of 1870 roughly to about 1900 there would be approximately a thousand articles published within medical texts which discuss homosexuality and generally these are of a fairly negative nature. Havelock Ellis came on the scene at the end of this period in his book Sexual Inversion and as a part of his studies in the psychology of sex as I've mentioned, and he adopts a slightly different, much more encyclopedic approach to homosexuality which tries to argue different things about it and ultimately tries to decriminalise it. So Ellis uses all sorts of material, he doesn't just rely on the sort of case histories that you would find within mental asylums. He uses history, literature as well as medicine, biology and psychiatry and also does a significant amount of work in anthropology. And it includes lots of original cases in all of his works. All of the different sort of sexual variations that he talks about. He was inspired to do this work on sexuality partially because he had sort of some interesting sexual tastes himself. He wasn't homosexual. But also because he'd been inspired by a sort of mystic sexual radical called James Hinton to go and do further research on sexuality from the 1870s onwards. And actually he discovered Hinton while he was in Australia. He used to be a school teacher for four years in the Hunter Valley. And he went to Sydney regularly in the school holidays basically to read up about sexuality as much as possible. You can find all of his notebooks in the State Library of New South Wales which he kept detailed bits of the sort of wide ranging reading that he was doing. Because there was no really established sort of sources that he would go to to discuss sexuality the way that Ellis could. Well you could after Ellis rather. One of the key things he was arguing in his works is that basically the sexual impulse is natural, that it be it that it was somehow shaped by the moral conditions where it was developing. So he was basically critical of Victorian sexual morality and this is one of the key reasons that he thought it was important to do a scientific study of sex. So that people can actually get the facts about it rather than just relying on of Victorian values which have been passed down through the church and through the law and through the family. He was also heavily involved in other kinds of radical politics. I'll just briefly mentioned those. For example he was a founding member of the Fellowship of the New Life, which later splintered into different groups including the Fabian Society. And he was also considered in the period to be one of the foremost feminists of the late 19th, early 20th century and he was in close contact with many other feminist writers like Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger people like that. He also, interesting for us I guess, matriculated to the University of Sydney medical school but he didn't study medicine here. After he went back to the UK he went to St Thomas' Hospital where he trained as a doctor, took the lowest possible qualification, didn't actually do much practice in medicine. He was occasionally a locum, but rather used his training as a doctor to afford him some kind of right to have a voice about sexuality. Because other people who wrote about sex were often considered you know sort of fringe lunatics or were basically banned. And sometimes arrested for writing about sex. There's a lot of sexual trials in the 19th century were you can follow this sort of thing up with. Ellis believes that sex is a natural process. Because it was shaped by the moral codes of the society that he existed in he wanted to try and get beneath those moral codes and actually using the scientific, a natural approach to sex, somehow change Victorian sexual morality. And that's basically what he becomes famous for. Just a quick sort of overview of the sorts of ideas that come up in his 3000 page studies on the psychology of sex. He emphasised that there was a lot of variation to what was normal sexuality. He suggested that sexuality existed on a spectrum and that there were certain behaviours which was sort of mild and considered normal, whereas others which were more extreme and started to tend towards abnormal. An example that often gets used for this is within his writing about sadomasochism he speaks about love bites as being somehow normal but the extreme version of them some sort of hardcore sadistic behaviour he would consider the other end of that spectrum. But he sort of shows that they all come from the same kind of sexual impulse that all individuals have and that is shaped according to their individual psyches, the context which they grow up in, the education they had, the sorts of other factors which influence sexuality. And he's sort of important here because this is much in contradiction to this sort of understanding of sex which was either you were normal or you were perverted as a sort of black and white issue. He was much more sort of sophisticated in his understanding of this. And as a result of his fairly positive attitude towards sexuality, where he emphasized that it was natural and it was universal. The instinct was that you would find across time and in lots of different cultures. Many people who identified with the kinds of categories he was talking about would write to him detailing their sexual lives and they would end up ultimately being the people who would appear in his books later on. Now as I said Symonds wrote to Ellis because he'd read a review of Havelok Ellis's. Ellis had written something about Michelangelo the artist and Ellis it actually suggested that Michelangelo was homosexual. Symonds had already written a book about Michelangelo, knew full well that he was gay but hadn't been able to say anything about this because of the Victorian views of the time. As a result of this sort of first hint that Michelangelo was gay, they developed his two year correspondence. I detail it all in my lovely edition of Havelock Ellis and Symonds' Sexual Inversion here. And they basically go through all of the existing sexual theories, mostly the Italian stuff from Symonds but also the German stuff from Ellis and discuss their views around this. Symonds emphasises of course the classical views of homosexuality because he's fitting it into a framework that fits sort of Victorian middle class respectability where classical educations were key. And other homosexual rights activists, for example Edward Carpenter, had also used the same sort of classical view of sexuality. But Ellis emphasised that homosexuality was a natural variation that will be found across time across cultures and also across species. So you get all these little anecdotes about gay chickens or gay pigeons as well as people from ancient Greece and people from different tribes around the world. All showing that basically this isn't something which was peculiar to the British society degenerating because the cities were growing and people were living in close quarters and people were drinking too much and all as usual regenerationist arguments. Instead he was basically saying that this is something that is natural, it's normal and it shouldn't be illegal. And the sort of take home message from them. A bit more detail about the work. It emphasises congenital cases. People who are born with homosexual tendencies and he does this firstly by emphasising things like their early manifestations of their sexual instincts, the kinds of dreams that they had and also the sorts of family relations whether or not they had for example gay uncles those sorts of things. The same sorts of arguments actually still get used today in epigenetic discussions of homosexuality in some ways. Like I said he enrols a lot of historical anthropological accounts of homosexuality. This is in order to make it not just a Victorian English problem but actually to make it into something which is universal. Whether or not this sort of gay behaviour is universal we can discuss later maybe. In the same sort of way use the biological evidence to show that it is natural and he has 33 original case histories. Six of these are women. The important things about the case history is that he uses, and this is true of all of Eliss's case histories, original case histories anyway because he sometimes records other people's ones. And that is that most prior sexological writing, when it had case histories in it, they were always from asylums or from prisons because the people who were writing them were psychiatrists and the sort of information they had access were to the people who they were treating. The people that they had incarcerated. Ellis deliberately tried to get around that by having cases where the people had not been in prison or been in a mental asylum. And the reason for this is that he was trying to argue that not only is it something which is natural and normal and therefore shouldn't just be framed in this legal law, psychiatric framework. But he also is emphasising in his cases that the people are very cultural, they're artistic, they're often very musically accomplished and they're generally very positive people from Victorian society. This is a fairly interesting, radical move for Ellis to be doing. It is in great contradistinction to other psychiatrists who are writing about homosexuality at this time. And they're still constructed, these cases are still constructed in terms of gendered norms. For example it is in an earlier book called Man and Woman in 1890, Ellis had suggested that there was a lot of variation between these two masculine and feminine poles, and somewhere in amongst this he would put sexual inverts. People who had adopted basically the sexual tastes of the other gender. So we still got this polarised understanding of gender, but there's a lot of fluidity amongst all of this. And he draws on that in his Sexual Inversion and in many other works. He describes sadism and masochism in the same kind of gendered polarity which is fairly typical of that time. Now Ellis Symonds both did acknowledge that homosexuality could be acquired and they do have discussions of homosexual behaviour in prisons and in amongst tramps in the German edition in particular of the Sexual Inversion. But later on these have moved away from this and sort of push the congenital argument more and more. And this is because it has some sort of political value. In a context where homosexuality is legal, it's not enough just to say well some people might choose to do this sort of thing with their body. It becomes important to actually argue that people are born like that so you can make an argument against the law. I'll just touch a little bit on the law in England at this point. Because one of the key purposes of Sexual Inversion was to challenge this law. So although after 1861 there was no longer a death penalty for sodomy. Which there had been, although it wasn't enacted very much throughout the 19th century. In 1889 there was the so-called Labouchere Amendment of the law amendment act, which argued that indecent acts, either in public or private, should be criminalised. Now this wasn't just about homosexuality. It meant that bestiality would be illegal. It meant that the age of consent was raised from 12 to 16. But for our purposes importantly it meant that not only was sodomy illegal, but also indecent acts was expanded to include things like mutual masturbation, fellatio, all sorts of intimate behaviour between people of the same sex or in most instances here as between men. That would prevent them from being able to enjoy each other sexually. This was the law rather that was held to persecute homosexuals in England until about 1967. Oscar Wilde being one of the key sort of early people who was tried under this. And this law was what Ellis and Symonds were challenging. It was also it should be pointed out a reaction to some sort of crisis in masculinity in the Victorian period and it meant basically that homosexuality started to get characterised much more as effeminate, as predatory, as paedophilic, as diseased and as degenerate. All of these sorts of tropes which you clearly can still see in even contemporary media account sometimes of gay behaviour starting to circulate much more as a part of this sort of crisis, where the church sees that fewer people are coming to church, that the cities are breeding sin, all these sorts of things. The reaction of course is to point out that the gays are at fault for this. Sexology is also a part of this movement. Both uses these same sort of tropes and also, in some cases like Ellis's case, it challenges them. So Ellis and Symonds therefore produce a book which is one of the early instances of trying to challenge this law. They're criticising it by saying that you know if something is natural and normal it shouldn't be illegal. But they're also doing so by classifying it in a way which makes it into some sort of pathological case. Now if you jump forward a few years this sort of pathological understanding of homosexuality which became much more entrenched within psychiatry, starts to have real effects. In the early period it's just the sexologists classifying what kinds of behaviour there are, how it exhibited, you know how you can find it developing in early cases in people. But after the 1830s people started to actively go after it and trying to cure it in some ways. If it was illegal why were people still practicing it. So they started to develop different methods for this and ultimately by the 1950s, for example within the prison system, there were sort of conversion therapy being used. Where people were, gay men were basically being put in rooms, given apomorphine which makes them vomit and have diarrhoea, given amphetamines, methamphetamines to keep them awake and then shown gay pornography. So they associate this sort of really horrendous feeling of being left in a room with their own shit and vomit. Basically associating that with gay imagery and then being taken on like nice little dates with nurses later on. This happened quite a lot across the world, these sort of conversion therapies. Even though nowadays all the major psychiatric and psychological regulation bodies around the world have distanced themselves quite actively from conversion therapies. This is the sort of thing which grew out of this sort of medicolegal understanding of homosexuality. And by the time you get to the 1950s there is a big sort of panic around sort of sex crimes and there's a huge effort in order to try and understand them and to persecute them in particular ways. In amongst all of this of course the homosexual rights movement was growing and it sort of relied on people like Ellis in some ways but not so much. By post 1950s period, in order to argue that you know homosexuality shouldn't be illegal. And ultimately this is what happens in many countries but not all. And we still see this tension going on. Ellis and Symonds's book is a significant entrance into, this because it offers a political stance. It's a medical book written for a political purpose largely. The whole volume actually is, one might argue, is a fairly political text. And on the one hand this is a good thing, medical texts can be political. But on the other hand when they get enrolled into this psychopathologisation of homosexuality and other kinds of sexual variation, we see that there are sort of problems which can stem from this. I think it's important to appreciate Ellis and Symmond's efforts in this but I think it's also significant that they be held up and held accountable in some ways for that kind of contribution. So thats Ellis and Symonds Sexual Inversion. Any questions? Sorry, I could Google this later but what is spermatorrhea? It's the excessive leaking of sperm caused by masturbation. It's a sort of weird situation because lots of doctors in the 19th century spoke about it and treated it like it was real and actually treated people for it, they would cauterize the penis. It does really exist but its from say things like a stimulant that people chew in East Africa called khat. If you chew that too much you actually do start involuntary leaking of semen. But the idea was in the in the Victorian period, where they weren't doing and Kenya you hadn't really been colonized, it was thought that this was basically leaking away of vital fluids, which would ultimately undermine your productivity, your manhood, your ability to produce children. It would have a deleterious effect on your psyche on these sorts of things. But then from the 1920s onwards it almost disappeared from medical discourse when it was associated with masturbation. How old was Havelock Ellis when this was published and what how did the rest of his career pan out? He was 38 when this version of it was published. Well amazingly well actually. I mean he wrote 40 something books. He wrote hundreds and hundreds of articles, not all about sexuality. He wrote about criminology, health reform. He's one of the first people in England to propose the NHS or something like the NHS. He was active eugenicist. I read a lot of sort of general works and heaps and heaps of literary criticism as well. And he managed to live off his writing quite successfully so he did fairly fairly well in that respect. He was a household name for a significant period. If you read novels from the 1930s and 40s there are often, characters often read Havelock Ellis to show how enlightened and advanced they are. So you sort of get a little sense of him like that. By the way even though he took the absolute minimum medical requirement, which was a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, which was basically a Diploma in Medicine. In order to be able to write about sexuality. At the end of his career he was nominated and accepted to be a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. When Freud writes about sex, he is one of the key people that Freud cites. He cites him second or third most out of all of the other sexologists. And he's still being cited heavily by Kinsey, Masters and Johnson. Lots and lots. Even now you'll occasionally get, if people looking at something really obscure within sexual research you'll still sometimes get references to Havelock Ellis, even though the works are coming up to 100 years old. Yes I think pretty successfully on the whole. Certainly within the English language he was the most important writer of our sexuality at this period. And you say you said that Ellis used original case studies and six of those were of lesbians. So I'm just wondering what conclusions he drew that may have been different to the conclusions he drew for gay men. It's a good question. Not a lot actually. I mean he doesn't emphasise the sexual parts of the lesbians as much I would suggest. He looks much more at their effectiveness in society, their personality tropes get emphasised a little bit more. They're often very industrious women. One of them actually was his wife. One of the longest cases. So they're not exclusively lesbian but there's a lot of you know and then it was I think quite a few of her girlfriends were the other cases. It's hard to track down who these people are largely. And also I'm not sure if that's necessarily the right thing to be doing. Interesting though because he emphasises different sorts of character tropes about them. So while on the one hand he's saying that it's a biological thing, he's interested in showing that the women often were successful at business or successful in the arts and these sorts of things. Whereas the men were being portrayed as you know much more sensitive kind of characters you know. So they were being given ultimately different kinds of gender tropes which he uses to confirm their sexual identity. So that's the key difference. You learn lots more about the sexual practices of men in their cases than you do of the women. I mean there's a lot. And he seems to emphasise actually the emotional aspects of the female cases much more than the male cases. That's also because the cases, even though they seem to be following a sort of set of questions because they all have the basically the same structure. They're written often as a first person cases because the people are writing back to him following some sort of questionnaire. There's no copy of the questionnaire left. So in a sense they're the same sort of case but the sorts of things that get emphasised are slightly different. There's a very good book actually by a colleague of mine called Chiara Beccalossi who looks at the female sexual inversion cases much more and who that in relation to the Italian material she does some great work on that. So from from a contemporary point of view can you point out some of the limitations of his views and what are some of the views that are still applicable today. Thanks. I think one of the key interesting things about Ellis is that he is putting so much effort into trying to show that it's a biological fact, that homosexuality is a biological fact in this book and the other sort of so-called perversions that he looks at in the other works, he's trying to ground them in biology so much, that he's sort of ultimately constructing a model for same sex behaviour which only relies on biology. And people have since done a lot of research in that area. There's a lot of genetics around the sexual identity, sexual orientation and epigenetic work around this as well. And these because they're emphasising something about the biological aspects of it end up essentialising using what homosexual behaviour is. So as a result I think that he doesn't have a very nuanced understanding of the differences between homosexual behaviour over time. Like the kinds of things that happen in ancient Greece. There are some similarities because it involves two men but there's also significant differences too. For example what you would find in the backstreets of Erskineville or something like this. Nowadays there are very different kinds of homosexuality I would argue depending on the context and Ellis wouldn't really. He would ignore those differences and emphasise the similarities. Whereas I think sexual behaviour between people of the same sex is much more context dependent and doesn't have to be so essentialised. That's one of the key things I would think that's different about him although a lot of people would also still argue the same kinds of things. He's interesting though because even though he does argue that you know it has different manifestations in different cultures. He's doing so to get to the essential similarities rather and washes away these surface differences. His work even though it's very ethical in the sense that he basically thinks that any behaviour between people who are able to give consent shouldn't be criminal if it's happening in the privacy of their own homes and no one else is going to be offended by it. His ethical understanding of this isn't as a developed as it would be I think if he was writing today. I mean look he was a extreme political radical for the 1890s but by the first and second decades of the 21st century that's a little bit out of date although not for everybody. So I mean he'd still hold a fairly radical voice if he was writing today I would argue but. Yeah he could do a lot more with that sort of thing. He also, I think one of the limitations of his work is that he's got a very essentialised understanding of gender even though he puts it on a spectrum. It's very polarised around masculine and feminine types which are narrowly constructed because they're polarised. Nowadays we've got a much better and broader understanding of gender which I think informs these sorts of things significantly differently. Yeah there's lots of his different works will obviously throw up different kinds of similarities and differences with the present. If there's no questions we'll wrap it up here. Please feel free to have a look at the books up here. Thank you for coming.


According to this theory, gay men and lesbians were sexual "inverts", people who appeared physically male or female on the outside, but felt internally that they were of the "opposite" anatomical sex (according to the binary view of gender). Therefore, same-sex desires and attraction were explained as "latent heterosexuality", and bisexual desire was known as psychosexual hermaphroditism – in other words, gay men and lesbians were really just heterosexuals who were "born in the wrong body", and "bisexuals" were what modern-day sexologists would call intersexuals (formerly hermaphrodites) by this theory (the bisexual person's "male" part supposedly has attractions towards females, and the "female" part have attractions towards males).[6]


  1. ^ Havelock Ellis's definition was "sexual instinct turned by inborn constitutional abnormality toward persons of the same sex". Ellis, 1.
  2. ^ Doan, 26.
  3. ^ Taylor, 288–289.
  4. ^ Prosser, passim.
  5. ^ Prosser, 133; Taylor, 288–290.
  6. ^ Eisner, Shiri (2 Jul 2013). Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. Seal Press. pp. 8–9. ISBN 9781580054751. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  • Doan, Laura (2001). Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11007-3.
  • Ellis, Havelock (1927). Studies in the Psychology of Sex Volume II: Sexual Inversion. 3rd Ed. Project Gutenberg.
  • Prosser, Jay (2001). "'Some Primitive Thing Conceived in a Turbulent Age of Transition': The Transsexual Emerging from The Well." Doan, Laura; Prosser, Jay (2001). Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 129–144. ISBN 0-231-11875-9.
  • Taylor, Melanie A. (1998). "'The Masculine Soul Heaving in the Female Bosom': Theories of inversion and The Well of Loneliness". Journal of Gender Studies. 7 (3): 287–296. doi:10.1080/09589236.1998.9960722.
This page was last edited on 30 March 2019, at 00:42
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