I've always wondered when the world became gay vs. straight....at what point did our relationships and sexuality get rolled up into tight little boxes of "heterosexual" and "homosexual"? Hanne Blank explains how it all began in her new book on the history of heterosexuality Straight :
First, we needed language:
"Heterosexual” was actually coined in a letter at the same time as the word “homosexual,” [in the mid-19thcentury], by an Austro-Hungarian journalist named Károly Mária Kertbeny. He created these words as part of his response to a piece of Prussian legislation that made same-sex erotic behavior illegal, even in cases where the identical act performed by a man and a woman would be considered legal. And he was one of a couple of people who did a lot of writing and campaigning and pamphleteering to try to change legal opinion on that matter.
He coined the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual” in a really very clever bid to try to equalize same-sex and different-sex. His intent was to suggest that there are these two categories in which human beings could be sexual, that they were not part of a hierarchy, that they were just two different flavors of the same thing."
Then, we needed this two-party sex dichotomy to go mainstream. That's where the psychiatrists came in:
"Thanks to psychiatrists in the 1880s and 1890s — a part of the medical profession that was deeply unscientific at that time. It meant that somebody with a medical degree and all of the authority it brings could stand up and start making value judgments using specialized medical vocabulary and pass it off as authoritative, and basically unquestionable.
Psychiatry is responsible for creating the heterosexual in largely the same way that it is responsible for creating the various categories of sexual deviance that we are familiar with and recognize and define ourselves in opposition to. The period lasting from the late Victorian era to the first 20 or 30 years of the 20th century was a time of tremendous socioeconomic change, and people desperately wanted to give themselves a valid identity in this new world order. One of the ways people did that was establish themselves as sexually normative."
Add the popularity of Social Darwinism and we're left with two lifestyle choices...one normalized and one pathologized. Not many people know that homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until the 1970's. No wonder they're all so afraid of gay marriage.