n. Sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex.

History: It was not until the late 1800s that the world started to believe in the existence of a distinct class of human beings who had an exclusive attraction to members of their own sex. Before that, and even in ancient Greece, which many cite as the first gay-friendly society, people indeed engaged in same-sex relations, but they rarely did so exclusively and never because they assumed that they had an inborn proclivity in this direction. In 1886, however, German physician Richard von Kraft-Ebing wrote a book titled Psychopathologia Sexualis that attempted to recast gay behavior as a medical rather than a moral issue. Kraft-Ebing settled on the label “homosexuality,” as well as the conviction that gay tendencies were congenital, and his word quickly became the most widely accepted term for so-called same-sex orientation. Shortly thereafter, the word “sex,” which had always denoted the clear division of a species into male and female, came to be associated with sexual intercourse instead (D. H. Lawrence was the first to do so in print in 1929). “Gender” would fill the resulting semantic gap (beginning around 1963), but because it connotes an arbitrariness with regard to sexual difference, many in our culture no longer accept the once clear-cut distinction between men and women. Consequently, we now find ourselves trapped in a contradiction. Where sexual orientation is generally assumed to be fixed and innate, sex is not.

Etymology: This contradiction is inscribed in the very word “homosexuality.” The term is an amalgam of Greek and Latin, the root sexus hailing from the latter language and meaning “to divide” or “to halve.” The Greek word homos,on the other hand, means “the same,” which gives us a definition of “homosexuality”—“a division of the same”—that makes no sense whatsoever. For the term to “add up,” as it were, we must accede to the new definition of “sex” as mere “carnal coupling.” Of course, doing so leaves us with the word “gender” and its implication that sexual difference is capricious. In this scheme, however, an inborn desire “directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex” is a ludicrous notion, given that “sex” is a meaningless social construction. After all, how can one be attracted to the same sex when sex itself does not exist?

Effect: Homosexuals are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to gain status as a distinct class of people by claiming that their homosexuality is innate and unchangeable. At the same time, they also claim that nothing in the world is innate and unchangeable, including one’s sex. The reason they do this (I think) is that they want to be free of absolutes (especially an absolute that says that homosexuality is wrong) even as they assert the absoluteness of their sexual orientation. The problem is that these two claims negate one another. In particular, if there are no absolutes, then not only can one not claim that he is absolutely, innately, and unchangeably gay, but the very notion of sexual orientation makes no sense because there are no absolute sexes to be oriented toward. That our culture accepts this contradiction without question shows just how far we have slipped down the rabbit hole of postmodern moral discourse. The only remedy here may be to actively repudiate words whose meanings are sloppy, deceptive, or otherwise illogical. If so, then the term “homosexuality” would make a great place to start. •

From Salvo 11 (Winter 2009)
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This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #11, Winter 2009 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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