A Problem in Modern Ethics/Chapter IX
The conclusions to which I am led by this enquiry into sexual inversion are that its several manifestations may be classified under the following categories: (1) Forced abstinence from intercourse with females, or faute de mieux; (2) Wantonness and curious seeking after novel pleasure; (3) Pronounced morbidity; (4) Inborn instinctive preference for the male and indifference to the female sex; (5) Epochs of history when the habit has become established and endemic in whole nations.
Under the first category we group the phenomena presented by schools, prisons, convents, ships, garrisons in solitary stations, nomadic tribes of marauding conquerors.
To the second belong those individuals who amuse themselves with experiments in sensual pleasure, men jaded with ordinary sexual indulgence, and indifferent voluptuaries. It is possible that something morbid or abnormal usually marks this class.
To the third we assign clear cases of hereditary malady, in which a want of self-control is prominent, together with sufferers from nervous lesion, wounds, epilepsy, senile brain-softening, in so far as these physical disturbances are complicated with abnormal passions.
The fourth includes the whole class of Urnings, who have been hitherto ignored by medical investigators, and on whose numerical importance Ulrichs has perhaps laid exaggerated stress. These individuals behave precisely like persons of normal sexual proclivities, display no signs of insanity, and have no morbid constitutional diathesis to account for their peculiarity.
Under the existing conditions of European Society, these four categories exist sporadically. That is to say, the members of them are found scattered through all communities, but are nowhere recognised except by the penal code and the medical profession. In the fifth category we are brought face to face with the problem offered by ancient Hellas, by Persia, by Afghan, by the peoples of what Burton calls the Sotadic Zone. However we may account for the origin of sexual inversion, the instinct has through usage, tradition, and social toleration passed here into the nature of the race; so that the four previous categories are confounded, or, if distinguished, are only separable in the same way as the vicious and morbid affections of the ordinary sexual appetite may be differentiated from its healthier manifestations.
Returning to the first four categories, which alone have any importance for a modern European, we perceive that only one of them, the third, is positively morbid, and only one, the second, is ipso facto vicious. The first is immoral in the same sense as all incontinence, including self-abuse, fornication, and so forth, practised faute de mieux, is immoral; but it cannot be called either morbid or positively vicious, because the habit in question springs up under extra-social circumstances. The members of the fourth category are abnormal through their constitution. Whether we refer that abnormality to atavism, or to some hitherto unapprehended deviation from the rule in their sexual conformation, there is no proof that they are the subjects of disease. At the same time it is certain that they are not deliberately vicious.
The treatment of sexual inversion by society and legislation follows the view taken of its origin and nature. Ever since the age of Justinian, it has been regarded as an unqualified crime against God, the order of the world, and the State. This opinion, which has been incorporated in the codes of all the Occidental races, sprang originally from the conviction that sterile passions are injurious to the tribe by checking propagation. Religion adopted this view, and, through the legend of Sodom and Gomorrah, taught that God was ready to punish whole nations with violent destruction if they practised the "unmentionable vice." Advancing civilisation, at the same time, sought in every way to limit and regulate the sexual appetite; and while doing so, it naturally excluded those forms which were not agreeable to the majority, which possessed no obvious utility, and which prima facie seemed to violate the cardinal laws of human nature.
Social feeling, moulded by religion, by legislation, by civility, and by the persistent antipathies of the majority regards sexual inversion with immitigable abhorrence. It does not distinguish between the categories I have indicated, but includes all species under the common condemnation of crime.
Meanwhile, of late years, we have come to perceive that the phenomena presented by sexual inversion, cannot be so roughly dealt with. Two great nations, the French and the Italian, by the "Code Napoleon" and the "Codice Penale" of 1889, remove these phenomena from the category of crime into that of immorality at worst. That is to say, they place the intercourse of males with males upon the same legal ground as the normal sexual relation. They punish violence, protect minors, and provide for the maintenance of public decency. Within these limitations, they recognise the right of adults to deal as they choose with their persons.
The new school of anthropologists and psychological physicians study sexual inversion partly on the lines of historical evolution, and partly from the point of view of disease. Mixing up atavism and heredity with nervous malady in the individual, they wish to substitute medical treatment for punishment, life-long sequestration in asylums for terms of imprisonment differing in duration according to the offence.
Neither society nor science entertains the notion that those instincts which the laws of France and Italy tolerate, under certain restrictions, can be simply natural in a certain percentage of male persons. Up to the present time the Urning has not been considered as a sport of nature in her attempt to differentiate the sexes. Ulrichs is the only European who has maintained this view in a long series of polemical and imperfectly scientific works. Yet facts brought daily beneath the notice of open-eyed observers prove that Ulrichs is justified in his main contention. Society lies under the spell of ancient terrorism and coagulated errors. Science is either wilfully hypocritical or radically misinformed.
Walt Whitman, in America, regards what he calls "manly love" as destined to be a leading virtue of democratic nations, and the source of a new chivalry. But he does not define what he means by "manly love." And he emphatically disavows any "morbid inferences" from his doctrine as "damnable."
This is how the matter stands now. The one thing which seems clear is that sexual inversion is no subject for legislation, and that the example of France and Italy might well be followed by other nations. The problem ought to be left to the physician, the moralist, the educator, and finally to the operation of social opinion.
- Kelts, Scythians, Dorians, Tartars, Normans.
- It ought to be borne in mind that they are by no means invariably complicated with abnormal sexuality, but quite as often with normal sexuality in some extravagant shape, as well as with other kinds of moral aberration.