National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science, Part 24 This Week: The “Uranian” View of Gay Identity, and Mine

As pioneering gay activist Edward Carpenter wrote in 1908, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs posited a notion of gay identity apart from sexual orientation, per se, and remains to this day one of the very few equal rights advocates to do this.

As pioneering gay activist Edward Carpenter wrote in 1908, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs posited a notion of gay identity apart from sexual orientation, per se, and remains to this day one of the very few equal rights advocates to do this. In Carpenter’s “The Intermediate Sex” (1908), he summarized Ulrichs’ theory about the male “uranian” as follows (as taken from Paul Russell’s work):

“He’s a man who, while possessing thoroughly masculine powers of mind and body, combines with them the tenderer and more emotional soul-nature of the woman – and sometimes to a remarkable degree…Emotionally they are extremely complex, tender, sensitive, pitiful and loving, ‘full of storm and stress, of ferment and fluctuation’ of the heart: the logical faculty may or may not, in their case, be well-developed, but intuition is always strong; like women they read characters at a glance, and know, without knowing how, what is passing in the minds of others; for nursing and waiting on the needs of others they have often a peculiar gift; at the bottom lies the artist-nature, with the artist’s sensibility and perception. Such an one is often a dreamer, of brooding, reserved habits, often a musician, or a man of culture courted in society, which nevertheless does not understand him.”

For the female “uranian,” he provides the following:

“The inner nature is to a great extent masculine; a temperament active, brave and originative, somewhat decisive, not too emotional; fond of outdoor life, of games and sports, of science, politics or even business; good at organization, and well-pleased with positions of responsibility, sometimes making an excellent and generous leader. Such a woman, it is easily seen, from her social combination of qualities, is often fitted for remarkable work, in professional life, or as manageress of institutions, or even as a ruler of a country…Many a Santa Clara, or abbess-founder of religious houses, has probably been a woman of this type; and in all times such women – not being bound to men by the ordinary ties – have been able to work the more freely for the interests of their sex, a cause to which their own temperament impels them to devote themselves con amore.

This represents the otherwise-almost-non-existent attempt to identify “uranians” in terms of personality type above and preceding sexual orientation, and as such to develop a notion of a gay, or “uranian,” identity beyond the domain of sexuality.

In the early days of the post-Stonewall movement, I suggested a similar approach to gay identity in the editorial I wrote for the first-ever edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper in 1970.

Seeing the gay liberation struggle as an extension of the torrid 1960s civil rights, feminist and anti-war movements up to that point, I wrote that the new Gay Sunshine newspaper should be “a newspaper that will represent those who understand themselves as oppressed – politically oppressed by an oppressor that not only is down on homosexuality, but equally down on all things that are not white, straight, middle class, pro-establishment…It should harken to a greater causes – the cause of human liberation, of which homosexual liberation is just one aspect – and on that level make its stand.”

Thus, the proposition was that gay identity is rooted not primarily in sexual orientation, but in a common “political oppression” with others, and is thus susceptible to “harken to a higher cause – the cause of human liberation.”

My San Francisco Bay Area circle and I continued with this approach to gay identity, going on to produce “The Effeminist” newspaper, among other things, seeking to assert gay identity as subsumed in the feminist struggle. However, we were overwhelmed, as by a tsunami, by currents preoccupied with a hedonistic “sexual freedom,” and for whom the movement was nothing more than to realize that as fully as possible, and to underscore, therefore, that there was nothing more to being gay than craving sex with the same sex.

I have come now to refine a concept of gay identity that differs from the Ulrichs-Carpenter “uranian” notion primarily by utilizing the more general concepts, based on the unprecedented idea of a natural and important universal role for gays, or “uranians,” whose “gay sensibility,” “alternative perspective” and “constructive non-conformity” actually precede sexual orientation. Unlike Carpenter’s British aristocratic perspective, mine draws from the more red-blooded American revolutionary identity inherent in Walt Whitman’s “great poet” notion in his “Leaves of Grass,” especially in terms of a disposition for “horrifying despots.”

We are the people who as nature’s essential seven percent, are not bound by a conventional sensibility, who bring a different, “gay” sensibility, and an alternative perspective on reality, necessarily resulting in a penchant for a constructive non-conformity that compels human progress. For that tiny portion of our seven percent that finds itself in the right circumstances, we experience our identity in terms of same-sex attraction.

To be continued.