Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs



Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (born 28 August 1825 in Aurich, died in L'Aquila, 14 July 1895), is seen today as the pioneer of the modern gay rights movement. Ulrichs was born in Aurich, then part of the Kingdom of Hanover, in north-western Germany. Ulrichs recalled that as a young child he wore girls' clothes, preferred playing with girls, and wanted to be a girl. His first homosexual experience was in 1839 at the age of fourteen, in the course of a brief affair with his riding instructor. He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846. From 1846 to 1848, he studied history at Berlin University, writing a dissertation in Latin on the Peace of Westphalia. From 1849 to 1857 Ulrichs worked as an official legal adviser for the district court of Hildesheim in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own words, an Urning, and began writing under the pseudonym of "Numa Numantius". His first five essays, collected as Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (Researches on the Riddle of Male-Male Love), explained such love as natural and biological, summed up with the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa (a female psyche confined in a male body). In these essays, Ulrichs coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations/gender identities, including "Urning" for a male who desires men (English "Uranian"), and "Dioning" for a male who is attracted to women. These terms are in reference to a section of Plato's Symposium in which two kinds of love are discussed, symbolised by an Aphrodite who is born from a male (Uranos), and an Aphrodite who is born from a female (Dione). Ulrichs also coined words for the female counterparts, and for bisexuals and intersexuals.

He soon began publishing under his real name (possibly the first public "coming out") and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences. On August 29, 1867, Ulrichs became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defense of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down. Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual", and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be widely discussed. In 1879, Ulrichs published the twelfth and final book of his Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed exile in Italy. For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L'Aquila, where his health improved.

In the 1860s, Ulrichs moved around Germany, always writing and publishing, and always in trouble with the law — though always for his words rather than for sexual offences. In 1864, his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony. Later the same thing happened in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia. Some of these papers have recently been found in the Prussian state archives and were published in 2004. Already several of Ulrichs's more important works are back in print, both in German and in translation. He continued to write prolifically and publish his works (in German and Latin) at his own expense. In 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples. Shortly after, he died in L'Aquila.