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The Unsolvable Riddle

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Cole Matthews


The Unsolvable Riddle


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a reporter and lawyer, began writing a series of tracts which when finished in 1879 was called “The Riddle of Man-Manly Love.” In these booklets, he discusses the nature of sexuality including the innate quality of some men to love other men exclusively. As with Karl Kertbeny, Ulrichs wasn’t happy with the common references to gay men such as pederast or sodomite. He created some Greek referenced terms for sexual identity, Dioning for straight men and Urning for gay ones.


Hubert Kennedy has written extensively about Ulrichs and his writings. Below is a link to one of his papers and it’s a fascinating read if you’d like. Ulrichs opines about “animal magnetism” of the draw between two lovers as well as about Urnings and Dionings. Here is a quote of his as he struggles to explain his idea of the innately Urning man.


“This outwardly recognizable female essence I call the female habitus of the Urning. . . The female habitus is quite particularly in us in our childhood, before we have been reared into an artificial masculinity, and before we have had the depressing experience that every expression of our female essence will be ascribed to us as a disgrace (!) by our playmates as well as adults, before, that is, suffering under this external pressure, we began to carefully hide that female trait.


The Urning shows as a child a quite unmistakable partiality for girlish activities, for interaction with girls, for playing with girls’ playthings, namely also with dolls.”


(Inclusa, 13–14)” Kennedy page 9.


Obviously, Ulrichs was trying hard to explain his own Urning nature had been from childhood and therefore innate and not “made” or “influenced” into gayness. He was making the same point as his contemporary Karl Kertbeny that gays weren’t created but had their preference from birth.


It’s interesting how many of Ulrichs’ characterizations became stereotypes of “gay behavior” or noticing “gayness” in people. Attributing female attributes or tendencies would become the norm in western culture. We have to remember though that Ulrichs and Kertbeny were making an important point. Homosexuals or Urnings weren’t adopting non-normative sexual desires. They were simply expressing how they felt not perverting nature.


Ulrichs soon found there were other men who identified as Urning but didn’t have the “female essence.” Instead of finding this “third sex” as being consistently effeminate, he discovered there were several men who were attracted to and desired other men but weren’t “carefully hiding the female trait.” They simply were oriented towards other men.


Ulrich created other categories within the Urning system of classification to accommodate this. Here is a simple representation of what he found.


The Human Male:

A. Dioning(1) “Heterosexual”

B. Urning(2) “Homosexual”

1. Mannling(3) “Straight acting and appearing homosexual”

2. Weibling(4) “An effeminate homosexual”

3. Zwischen(5) “A homosexual who exhibited male and female traits”

4. Virilised(6) “A homosexual who is with a woman”

C. Urano-Dioning(7) “A bisexual”


What Ulrichs stumbled across was the spectrum of sexualities. Without intending to, he discovered sexuality wasn’t an either/or proposition. Eighty years later, Kinsey would measure sexual behavior in males and find the same kind of array. He developed a scale which measured human male sexuality into a rubric. Ulrichs wasn’t a researcher in the sense he had a formal academic study with subjects and control groups. Yet, he managed to find that human sexuality was something quite remarkable and diverse.


Ulrichs’ work wasn’t transformative like later activists would be. But, this German Urning found that like Gay Authors writers and readers, sexuality, love, and human behavior, is a rich source of ideas and expressions. His work over a hundred and fifty years ago is fascinating.


The question of sexuality will never be answered. However, it sure is interesting exploring it.





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That really is quite fascinating. We don't hear about many of these researchers/sociologists that supported us before it was fashionable or even possible in polite conversation. 


Thanks for sharing. :)

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Im glad you like it Mann! Im trying to pick interesting gay history snippets that arent as commonly known. Thanks!

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