Kertbeny’s ‘Homosexuality’ and the Language of Nationalism

This essay provides one of the few close readings of Karl Maria Kertbeny’s open letter of 1869, in which he for the first time in any language combines the prefix “homo-“ with the root “sex” in order to create a word describing a person who is sexually attracted to a member of the same sex. The essay seeks to clarify misunderstandings about the birth of the word “homosexual” (Kertbeny was not a physician for instance, nor was his goal in this letter to establish a medical vocabulary around same-sex desire). The essay suggests that Kertbeny’s interest in Hungarian nationalism and Hungarian identity might help explain his thinking on homosexual identity.


“Kertbeny’s ‘Homosexuality’ and the Language of Nationalism,” in  Genealogies of Identity: Interdisciplinary Readings on Sex and Sexuality, ed. by Margaret Sönser Breen and Fiona Peters (New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005) 3-18.