Karl-Maria Kertbeny



 

Karl-Maria Kertbeny or Károly Mária Kertbeny (born Karl-Maria Benkert) (Vienna, February 28, 1824 – Budapest, January 23, 1882) was an Austrian-born Hungarian journalist, memoirist, and human rights campaigner. He is best known for coining the words heterosexual and homosexual. As a young man, while working as a bookseller's apprentice, Benkert had a close friend who was homosexual. This young man killed himself after being blackmailed by an extortionist. Benkert later recalled that it was this tragic episode which led him to take a close interest in the subject of homosexuality, following what he called his "instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice." After a stint in the Hungarian army, Benkert made a living as a journalist and travel writer, and wrote at least twenty-five books on various subjects.

He settled in Berlin in 1868, still unmarried at 44. He claimed in his writings to be "normally sexed," and there is no direct evidence to contradict this, despite the skepticism of subsequent writers. Nevertheless, from this time on he began to write extensively on the issue of homosexuality, motivated, he said, by an "anthropological interest" combined with a sense of justice and a concern for the "rights of man." In 1869, he anonymously published a pamphlet entitled Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code of 14 April 1851 and Its Reaffirmation as Paragraph 152 in the Proposed Penal Code for the North German Confederation. An Open and Professional Correspondence to His Excellency Dr. Leonhardt, Royal Prussian Minister of Justice.A second pamphlet on the same subject soon followed. In his pamphlets, Kertbeny argued that the Prussian sodomy law, Paragraph 143 (which later became Paragraph 175 of the penal code of the German Empire), violated the "rights of man." He advanced the classic liberal argument that consensual sexual acts in private should not be subject to criminal law. Recalling his young friend, he argued strongly that the Prussian law allowed blackmailers to extort money from homosexuals and often drove them to suicide. Kertbeny also put forward the view that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable, an argument which would later be called the "medical model" of homosexuality. This contradicted the dominant view up to that time, that men committed "sodomy" out of mere wickedness. Homosexual men, he said, were not by nature effeminate, and he pointed out that many of the great heroes of history were homosexual. With Heinrich Hössli and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, he was among the first writers to put these now-familiar arguments before the public. During 1869, in the course of these writings, Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual" as part of his system for the classification of sexual types, as a replacement for the pejorative terms "sodomite" and "pederast" that were used in the German- and French-speaking world of his time. In addition, he called the attraction between men and women "heterosexualism", masturbators "monosexualists", and practitioners of anal intercourse "pygists". After publishing his two important pamphlets, Kertbeny faded from the scene. If he was homosexual, he was never prepared to say so.

In 1880, he contributed a chapter on homosexuality to Gustav Jäger's book Discovery of the Soul, but Jäger's publisher decided it was too controversial and omitted it. Nevertheless, Jäger used Kertbeny's terminology elsewhere in the book. The German sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in his Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), borrowed the terms homosexual and heterosexual from Jäger's book. Krafft-Ebing's work was so influential that these became the standard terms for differences in sexual orientation, superseding Ulrichs' word Urning.Kertbeny did not live to see the wide acceptance of his terminology or his ideas. He died in Budapest in 1882 at age 58.