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The term homosexuality designates a sexual orientation in which a person of the same sex is the object.

The term was apparently coined in 1869, from the Greek homos ("same"), by K. M. Benkert, a writer who published his works under the pseudonym Kertbeny Karoli. He was a defender of sexual rights, and he used the term "homosexual" during discussions on whether to change paragraph 143 of the Prussian Constitution of April 14, 1851, which punished acts of "unnatural indecency" committed between men, or between a man and an animal.

It is highly surprising that Freud took no interest in this manifestation of sexual life during the first years of psychoanalysis, despite the abundant literature on the topic by such writers as Jean-Martin Charcot, Valentin Magnan, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Albert Moll, Magnus Hirschfeld, and others. Though Freud views neurosis as the "negative of perversion" (without mentioning homosexuality), this is because he supposes that psychic processes do not undergo repression in the "pervert." Moreover, the theory of bisexuality (Freud-Fliess) introduces the question, albeit under the veil of biology. However, Freud did undertake to analyze a homosexual patient at the end of the nineteenth century, but the patient concerned apparently committed suicide at Trafoi.

The arrival of Isidore Sadger in Freud's circle in 1906 was to be decisive. As dialogue between him and Freud led to the laying down of an "etiological formula": masculine homosexuality results from a boy's childhood repression of the existence of a "strong" mother and a weak or absent father (Freud, 1910c). In the debate with Sadger, who adhered to the seduction theory, Freud proposed etiological variants in which the boy's arousal is transposed from the mother onto men (1905d [1910]), or else there is identification with the mother, hatred towards boys is converted into love, there is a "narcissistic" fixation on the penis, or we see identification with the mother leading to repression of love for the mother (Nunberg, Federn, 1962-75). The theory of narcissism that developed in tandem with that of homosexuality opened up a path that Freud left relatively unexplored: the transmission of narcissism. Thus, Freud's descriptions in "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c)—"A person may love . . . according to the narcissistic type . . . (a) what he himself is (i.e., himself), (b) what he himself was" (p. 90)—could be supplemented by formulae such as "a person loves that which the other wants him to be" and, eventually, "a person loves in himself that which the other would have liked to have or to be" (p. 90).

The other area barely outlined by Freud in the discussions of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society is that of the passage from autoeroticism to narcissism: "In general, man has two original sexual objects and his later life depends on the one upon which he remains fixated. These two sexual objects are, for each individual, the woman (the mother, the children's nurse, etc.) and his own person. It is a question of getting rid of both of them and not lingering over them. One's own person is the one which, most often, is replaced by the father; the latter soon enters the hostile position. Homosexuality bifurcates at this point. The homosexual is unable to detach himself from himself so soon" (1914c). This heavily significant appearance of the father-figure was not followed up in the etiology of masculine homosexuality but it was later to be found in the analysis of male paranoia (the Schreber case, reported in "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia [[[Dementia]] Paranoides]": 1911c [1910]), in which a pathological defense against homosexuality develops, though the role of the father is never specified. Is he an agent of culture because he brandishes castration in the name of the law that forbids masturbation and the mother? Might he not also fill a role as seducer?

In 1910, homosexuality was defined by the characteristics of the object or the subject, but in 1915, in place of this distinction, Freud returned to the conception he had earlier developed with Fliess: the object is merely the reflection of the bisexual nature of the subject ("Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905d [1915]).

Homosexuality in women would remain less well explored ("The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman," 1920a), because the transposition of the etiological formula for men—specifically, excessive love for the father—often works less well.

As Sándor Ferenczi remarked in 1914, drawing a distinction between "subject homoerotism" and "object homoerotism" (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, note added in 1920, p. 147), psychoanalysis relied right from the start on a model of the "feminine man" and thus neglected the masculinity present in other homosexual men, just as it ignored the femininity of certain lesbians.

Since the 1970s, as homosexuality became more openly discussed, several authors (Chasseguet-Smirgel, J., et al., 1964; Isay, R. A., 1986) have communicated clinical observations that suggest other etiologies. But the psychoanalytic perspective has again become clouded by the way the question of "gender" has been biologized (Robert Stoller). Gays themselves have embraced theories of innate or physiological homosexuality in order to defend themselves against the inquisitorial persecution long meted out to them by justice, medicine, and even psychoanalysis.

Nonetheless, a first step towards the lessening of homophobia, on a basis other than that of moral principles, was taken by Freud, who put forward the idea that a manifest sexual tendency (heterosexuality, for instance) could conceal another, opposite tendency that remains latent (such as homosexuality). However, although Freud went along with increasingly progressive attitudes in society, he remained just as reserved as did society—witness this rather ambiguous and nuanced letter that he wrote in 1935 to the mother of a homosexual, whose sexuality he did not view as an illness but as a case of arrested development (while only heterosexuality is treated as normal): "Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime—and a cruelty, too. . . . By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual; in the majority of cases it is no more possible" (Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939, p. 423). However, such permissiveness was contradicted by the fact that from 1920 onwards many psychoanalytic societies refused to admit openly homosexual candidates.

The response to the theoretical and practical debate around homosexuality was nevertheless present, in embryonic form, in Freud's conceptualization of the sexual instinct in 1905. Indeed, at the beginning of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality following Charcot and Magnan, he used the highly inappropriate word "inversion" to prove demonstrate that the instinct has no predefined object.


See also: Activity/passivity; Alcoholism; Anality; Dark continent; Eroticism, anal; Female sexuality; Fetishism; Heterosexuality; Identification; "Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood"; Libido; Narcissism, secondary; Neurosis; Paranoia; Paranoid position; Persecution; Perversion; Phallic mother; Projection; Psychology of Women, The: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, Psycho-pathologie de l'échec (Psychopathology of Failure); Sadger, Isidor Isaak; Suicide; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.