LGBTQ History

5 old-timey words for gay, lesbian, & bi people that you should know

3. Psychosexual hermaphrodite

By the late 1800’s, psychiatrists were getting pretty interested in sexual diversity. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a German psychiatrist, was particularly interested in documenting various “anomalies” in Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886.

In that book, he theorized that homosexuality was a form of gender inversion that stems from moral degeneracy. Gay men were men with women’s brains, and lesbians were women with men’s brains.

And bisexuals were people with intersex brains, making them “psychosexual hermaphrodites.”

This amazingly cumbersome and offensive-on-multiple-fronts term was later used by Albert Moll, who took a less moral tone than Krafft-Ebing and posited that male embryos were bisexual at first and then, as they developed brains, became heterosexual, unless there was a “disturbance.”

Other psychiatrists used the term to refer to bisexuals, and Sigmund Freud would later use it to refer to gay men.

As a sidenote, the 1891 translation of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis is the first known use of the word “homosexual” in English.

Krafft-Ebing also coined the term “analingus” in that book.

4. Invert

Because of gender-inversion theories of homosexuality, gay men and lesbians were sometimes referred to as “inverts.”

The term never got the same reach that “homosexual” did, but it does appear in Radclyffe Hall’s famous 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness.

And there sat Puddle as pale as death and as speechless, having no comfort to offer–no comfort, that is, that she dared to offer–while all her fine theories about making good for the sake of those others; being noble, courageous, patient, honourable, physically pure, enduring because it was right to endure, the terrible birthright of the invert–all Puddle’s fine theories lay strewn around her like the ruins of some false and flimsy temple, and she saw at that moment but one thing clearly–true genius in chains, in the chains of the flesh, a fine spirit subject to physical bondage.

Hall’s book was sympathetic to gay people and presented homosexuality as an in-born trait, so my guess is that she used the term “invert” instead of “homosexual” because she thought it would be helpful. It makes sense – many gay and lesbian activists in that time described homosexuality as a form of inversion too, to show that it was innate and beyond their control.

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