chapter  13
22 Pages

Richard von Krafft-Ebing's "Step-Children of Nature" Psychiatry and the Making of Homosexual Identity

In 1900 a young nobleman, Von R., addressed himself in this manner to the renowned German-Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (18401902), author of Psychopathia sexualis and one of the founders of scientific sexology. For the most part, Von R.'s letter is an elaborate introspection on his problematic sexuality. When he was ten years old, Von R. ascertained retrospectively, his "contrary sexual feeling" and "masochistic" impulses had already revealed themselves in his fantasies, reading habits, and games. The lust he experienced as a boy when he made a ceremony out of decapitating flowers was a clear symptom of his deep-seated proclivities. His urge to be humiliated by his male subordinates especially caused inward conflict. Torn between his irresistible sexual desire and his class prejudice, Von R. was weighed down by shame and guilt. He meticulously explored and evaluated every circumstance that might shed light on his anomaly: his particular way of acting and feeling, his childhood and puberty, his upbringing in an exclusively female environment, the fantasies and the moral conflicts that accompanied his self-abuse, his

failure to copulate with a prostitute, his character and intellectual faculties, his state of health (he detected a slight "nervousness" in his behavior), and his family background, especially possible hereditary taints.