A. The Charge. Whether the cause is physiological or psychological, gay men typically identify as women and lesbians as men. Aptly, a male homosexual has been described as having a female soul in a male body. These people defy the norms of gender, something that is abhorrent to normal, decent people.
Despite pressure from gay-advocacy groups seeking to cover up this reality, the media sometimes get it right, as seen in the flamboyant and effeminate Jack McFarland on television’s “Will and Grace” That character is much more believable than the “straight-appearing” nominal hero of the show, the attorney Will Truman. In the case of the butch lesbian Rosey O’Donnell, another media figure, her espousal of the traits of the opposite sex is plain to see. These supposed “stereotypes” are in fact true to life, validating the common-sense realism of the ordinary person over against the sophistry of self-appointed experts.
In keeping with their pathetic, effeminized state, gay men are inherently cowardly. The presence of these unmanly men constitutes a threat to any nation's military. Unfortunately, we in the United States have signally failed to attend to this principle. With the dismantling of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, these sissies are now permitted, even encouraged to serve openly in our armed forces, undermining unit cohesion. Mannish lesbians pose a separate, but equally insidious threat.
B. Historical Background. The pioneer in the struggle for homosexual rights Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1824-1895) formulated the notion that the Urning, as he called the male individual attracted to his own sex, was endowed with anima muliebiis corpore virili inclusa, "a female soul trapped in a male body." He took the notion from Eros: die Männerliebe der Griechen (Glarus and St. Gall, 1836-38) by Heinrich Hössli.
Ulrichs' formulation, strictly speaking, applies only to those sometimes termed "subject homoerotics" - individuals who feel themselves members of the opposite sex, playing the female role in relations with members of his own sex. As a scientific theory such a notion, because of the mind-body dualism which it entails, lacks scientific standing. Yet the reiteration of Ulrichs' views in the work of later homosexual writers helped to keep this meme alive into the twentieth century and beyond.
Some Hindus today explain male homosexuality by saying that the individual had previously lived as a woman.
The heyday of the clinical concept of inversion occurred in the closing decades of the nineteenth century when some medical and other writers stressed the link between homosexuality and inversion. For some, the term meant simply the reversal of the current of attraction from the opposite to one's own sex. Others believed that inversion entails also an adoption of patterns of thinking, feeling, and action that are characteristic of the other sex. In this broader sense it amounts to effeminacy in the male, and viraginousness in the female, but it would not include the majority of male homosexuals and lesbians who do not show these traits. Studies of androgyny have also suggested that there is a continuum rather than a sharp separation between the two poles of male and female, so that inversion in the sense of a complete volte-face does not seem to occur. In any event, the terms inversion and invert have acquired a negative, clinical aura, and for this reason they are less commonly used today.
An examination of the history of these terms is helpful in understanding the connotations they carry today. In 1878, in a professional article in the Rivista di freniatria, di psichiatria e di medicina legale, the Italian alienist Arrigo Tamassia introduced the term inversione, which was quickly adopted into other languages as well as Italian to render the cumbersome German expression die conträre Sexualempfindung which Karl Westphal had introduced in 1869. The new coinage owed its success not only to its grammatical malleability - yielding the noun invert and the adjective inverted - but also to the fact that while the word itself was new, the ideas on which it drew were deeply rooted in Western consciousness.
The byways of the history of ideas reveal many episodes of the use of the spatial metaphors of "backwards-to-forwards" and "upside down" to symbolize social abnormality. Sometimes the inversion procedure is temporal rather than spatial, as in reciting the alphabet or some ritual formula backwards to produce a magical spell.
In Euripides' play Medea (fifth century BCE), the social disturbance of role reversal catalyzed by the heroine's assumption of masculine qualities is evoked by the image of rivers running backwards in their course. And Orpheus, who according to some Greek sources invented pederasty, was supposed to have made wild oaks migrate from their mountain habitat to the seashore, and to reduce savage beasts to lamb-like docility, thus altering the natural order by switching things to their opposites. In Hellenistic times, the poet Sotades (third century BCE) invented a kind of verse which was innocuous when read forwards, but obscene backwards.
The sexual predilections of the Romans for the "posterior Venus" (anal receptivity) were held to be revealed in the very name Roma, which in reverse spells amor ("love"). In the Koran, God turns the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah literally upside down. Medieval texts, such as the Roman de la Rose, speak of sodomites doing things à rebours ("in reverse"), an expression that served Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1884 as the title for his novel of aristocratic perversion. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe witnessed the popularity of a genre of popular prints known as Le Monde á l'Envers or The World Upside Down, whereby alongside such outlandish things as fish nesting in trees and men plowing the sea, we find the wife going out to hunt while the husband stays home to mind the baby, and similar instances of sex-role reversal.
As used by late nineteenth-century writers, the word inversion often had an application that went beyond sexual orientation. The medical authorities who studied "inversion" were fascinated by gender-role reversal - masculine women and feminine men - positing such purportedly biological tendencies as the root cause of "inverted" sexual object choice, rather than vice versa. Certain writers preferred to restrict the term to the narrower meaning of the reversal of the secondary sexual characters as distinct from the sexual orientation proper; thus only the effeminate homosexual and the butch lesbian were "inverts" in this sense.
The idea was used in a number of creative ways by Marcel Proust in his great novel sequence A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27) which shows that it need not always be negative. One of his homosexual characters, Robert de Saint-Loup, seeks out danger in battle instead of fleeing it, while Baron Charlus becomes more pro-German rather than less so as war nears. In a larger sense the novel's goal - the gradual recovery of more and more layers of memory - is a subtle process of inversion or retrogression. This great enterprise is mirrored in Proust's fascination with musical techniques, including the device of melodic inversion.
C. Response. Popular versions of the idea linger in the notion that gay men are “really” women and lesbians are “really” men. In fact some young people do adopt the clothing and mannerisms of the opposite sex. This is a common feature of the coming-out process, which most grow out of. Others, however, continue and are commonly termed transgendered. Such individuals have long enjoyed prestige in the world of entertainment. Recent advances in understanding have made the lives of these persons easier.
Still, there is no reason to equate this gender-bending with homosexuality per se. Indeed, many transgender people deny that they are gay or lesbian.
In these days of growing acceptance of trans people, it seems more and more understandable that some individuals will choose not to accept conventional views of gender roles. These choices must be respected and not subjected to pejorative labeling.
The idea that gay men are unsuitable for military service is disproved by the numerous cases of successful gay warriors, from Alexander the Great and the Theban Band to Eugene of Savoy and General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Revolutionary War hero.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Tom Bergling, Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior, New York: Southern Tier Editions, 2001.