The Nature vs Nurture debate has a long history
Despite a shift in our understanding, there is still controversy.
Nature and Nurture
The 'nature versus nurture' debate has been central to the social sciences for over two hundred years. In brief, naturists believe that human behaviour is largely inherited, while nurturists believe it is the result of experiences in childhood, particularly in our interactions with our parents and siblings.
Nurturism is sometimes called the 'blank slate' or tabula rasa. It was present in the thinking of Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher whose thinking gave rise to many of the social movements we know today. In many ways it is a natural development of the idea of individual autonomy, which informed the cultural revolution of the era and gave us the Enlightenment. Nothing is written and we are all able to shape every detail of our lives independently of the past. Today it is commonly known as 'Constructionism'.
The naturist school is sometimes called 'Essentialist' and it too has long been with us. It is fundamental to the Biblical concept of Original Sin, which insists that we are not sinners by choice or because of our background, but because we are human. Our nature is that of sinner and Christ came to absolve us of this. That it why is possible for a newborn infant to be a sinner, in the eyes of Christians, even if she has done nothing other than suck her mother's tit; sin is innate to being human. However, human nature, so hated by the Constructionists, is not seen as a flaw by naturists but rather the source of our strength. It is what binds us together and makes us human, for better or worse.
Nobody really thought about sexuality until the nineteenth century. Sex was something one did, that was all. Even behaviours that might, albeit speciously, be called homosexual today, were not considered in those terms, then. In Shakespearean England, it was commonplace for men to have cross-dressed boys, often actors, as mistresses. It was regarded as normal for a man of taste to be attracted both to feminine boys and young women. Indeed all of the Bard's female roles were written for and played by boys, who were lionised for their feminine beauty. The Angelina Jolie of English theatre in 1600 was a pretty adolescent boy. Similar practices were prevalent elsewhere, in Imperial China and across the Americas and Asia.
Even when the green eye of public morality focussed on these activities, it did not see a personality type or a sexuality; it saw a behaviour, to wit, buggery -- anal penetration. All laws in the West that are today claimed to have been against homosexuality, were actually against the act of anal sex, especially between two males -- although in fact, they applied just as much to anal sex between males and females, indeed even a man and his wife, although this was rarely enforced. Other laws forbade, essentially, promiscuity and 'fornication' but again, these were specific acts. The issue of what sexuality was driving them was never discussed.
Kafft-Ebbing and Ulrichs.
That changed in the nineteenth century with the arrival of Psychology, which has ever since spent a lot of time considering sex. Richard von Kraft Ebbing and Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, both Germans, were early into the fray and both focussed on homosexuality, which had just arrived as a concept. It was not just behaviours, it was a mindset that comprised more than just the act of sex itself, but a range of desires, preferences and appearances as well as behaviours, which could be attached to individuals to categorise them. It was an expression both of Sexuality and Gender, such that homosexual males were invariably feminised and females the opposite.
Krafft-Ebbing believed that homosexuality was a kind of contagious mental disease and that the purpose of Psychiatry was to help people to resist and overcome such 'unnatural urges'. He believed that it was caused by a debauched lifestyle and morality. On the other hand, Ulrichs, himself homosexual (by the understanding of the day) insisted that it had nothing to do with such things but was innate; that homosexuals were born with a sexuality that did not match their physical sex.
Immediately we see the nature/nurture dichotomy: Krafft-Ebbing was a nurturist and Ulrichs a naturist. The former believed in Constructionism and that all human behaviour was written by our experiences and crucially, our will, while the latter believed that we were pre-programmed to behave in certain ways. Since homosexuals could not help being as they were, Ulrichs believed that society should not punish them for it.
These two positions remain vital across a range of social issues today.
A classic modern Sexual Invert: a southeast Asian ladyboy performing beauty. Pic: Rod Fleming
In order to support his claim of 'born this way', Ulrichs looked at parameters other than the act of sex and saw that male homosexuals had many in common. As well as being attracted to men, they tended to be small, lightly built, naturally graceful, feminine in manners and exhibited marked neoteny. They had usually been extremely feminine as young children. Together, he argued, this meant that homosexuals were fundamentally different from other men, that they were in fact 'normal women who inhabited the bodies of men'.
Ulrichs called this 'Sexual Inversion'. It became the standard view and was most deeply researched and explained by the English writer Henry Havelock Ellis. The concept of Sexual Inversion has never been scientifically disproven and indeed, over the years since it was formulated, more and more evidence has accrued to support it.
Ulrich's observations are as true today as they were then, but it is crucial to remember that in this model, only the sexually receptive partner, between two males, was homosexual. This was axiomatic. Homosexual males were feminised and sought masculine, conventional men, often (frequently specifically) married ones, as sexual partners, with whom they would invariably play the receptive role. Those partners, when they found them, might have been guilty of buggery, where this remained a crime (France had repealed these laws after the Revolution), but otherwise they were no different from other men: they penetrated.
Freud and Jung
Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung were the founders of psycho-analysis. Jung was actually a student of Freud but later rejected his ideas. At root, this was because Freud was a committed Constructionist and Jung an Essentialist.
Freud believed that neuroses were the product of upbringing, especially in the relationships between the child and his or her parents and siblings. For boys, the most important of these, in the earlier phases, was that with their mothers, and for girls, with their fathers. In order to be balanced adults, boys had to let go of their attachment to their mothers and instead 'become' their fathers and vice versa for girls. (Obviously, this is a crude description of Freud's ideas; he may stop rotating in his grave now.)
Therefore, all mental issues, disturbances and neuroses had their roots in early experiences -- in nurture; they were Constructed.
Jung began believing the same but soon moved away and fell out badly with Freud. Both men were Classically trained; they had to be, in order to attend university then. Indeed, when I attended school in Scotland, one still had to be able to read and write in Latin, to be considered for a University place there. This requirement was only dropped in the mid 1970s. In the nineteenth century, the demands were for a much higher standard and Jung seems to have taken Classicism to heart more than Freud.
Jung looked into Classical literature and found that it was all about particular types of people. He called these 'archetypes'. For example, Perseus was a Hero; so was Jason. Often they had a god for a father (and the similarity to Jesus should not be missed.) Achilles was a Warrior; so were Hector and Ajax. There were many archetypes, King, Queen, Hero, Rebel, Trickster, Sage and more. Jung thought that these reflected personality types he saw in his patients and this suggested to him that these were innate, since they had been described for so long. He was therefore an Essentialist.
Today there is less awareness of Classical literature, but a popular archetype model, though often misunderstood, is the wolf-pack. Hierarchies exist in both male and female wolves, but in males, there are three basic types: Alpha, Beta and Omega. There is only one Alpha, a small number of Betas and many Omegas. Betas are powerful individuals who might become the Alpha if he fails; on the other hand, while Omegas are individually weak, they are collectively powerful and an Alpha who wishes to retain his position must keep them on his side.
This archetypal structure can be translated to humans. In politics, an Alpha is always under threat from individual Betas who might oust him. To keep power he must use not only his own strength and aggression to subdue them but also the collective power of the Omegas, which is greater than that of the Betas because of their numbers. So on one hand the Alpha must frighten all the others, but on the other, be magnanimous towards the group. Niccolo Machiavelli understood this principle very well.
Jungian psycho-analysis depends on an understanding both of Archetypes and their interrelations and also of the individual. Indeed, the archetypal method was never intended to be prescriptive but rather diagnostic. Jung sought to help his patients to understand themselves better and to resolve conflicts in their own lives, not to pigeon-hole them.
Both the Freudian and Jungian systems were interpretative. They were not based in statistics, but in the individual story and the analyst's interpretation of it. During the 1930s, however, this approach was increasingly rejected on the grounds that it did not produce repeatable results. It fell short, for example, of Karl Popper's demand that science should be falsifiable. That Popper was not a life scientist and such ideas were not really appropriate there, was ignored.
Because of this, another model was proposed, called Psychometry, the science of measuring mental capacities and processes. It was soon widely adopted in the USA and its influence spread after WWII.
This new, more statistical approach paved the way for Dr Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956), arguably the most important post-war sex researcher and certainly the first US one of any weight. Kinsey was an etymologist and had spent years collecting and classifying fruit flies. He was an ardent Evolutionist and used his studies to great effect, at a time when Evolution was still regarded as 'controversial' by some. By definition he was an Essentialist.
Kinsey was the ideal man for large scale statistical testing. So when he decided to study human sexuality, he approached it in a statistical manner. He developed a scale of sexuality from 0-6, with 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 being completely homosexual. This scale and similar ones based on it remain in use today. His influence, especially in the USA, was immense and still is.
Kinsey was not rigid in his thinking, but instead followed the evidence. His work reinforced the idea that homosexuality was innate and this was somewhat overplayed by popular media interpretations of it. At a time when homosexuality was still regarded as a mental disorder and had become a political issue, this was understandable, though it tended to obscure the nuances of the work itself. Kinsey himself claimed to have experienced a shift in his own sexuality during the course of the studies. His method, the establishment of a single questionnaire and the collation of the results, became standard across Psychology and especially Sexology.
In the 1960s, new evidence came to light, from laboratory studies, on the influence of prenatal hormone delivery, which found that excess testosterone pre-birth tended to make female rats behave more like males. This had already been noted in the phenomenon of the 'maverick', a cow that was born as a twin with a bull calf. These tend to be aggressive and hard to control, like bulls. In the lab studies, it was also found that added oestrogen in utero caused male rats to act like females, raising their posteriors to other males and so on. Over the years since then, many such studies have been carried out and all suggest the same thing: prenatal hormone exposure has a significant effect on adult behaviour. This tends to support the idea of an innate Sexual Inversion.
The New Gay Man
Towards the end of the 1960s a new male homosexual movement became prominent in the USA, often called the 'accommodationists' or the 'assimilationists'. They believed that if they assimilated into society as masculine males, they would be accommodated by it. Much of the thinking behind this came directly from Benedict Friedlaender, a German pederast whose ideas had been adopted by the Nazi party and particularly the Hitler Youth. They appear to have been brought to the USA by emigré academics.
This destroyed the fragile base that the traditional homosexual males -- who were all feminine -- had been struggling to build up and soon they themselves were suppressed, by this new order, which I call the New Gay Man. No femininity was to be allowed under any circumstances and homosexual males had to be as masculine as heterosexual ones. Over the next three decades the New Gay Man became dominant.
In his takeover strategy, the New Gay Man had outlawed femininity and any reference to it. But this created a problem because it clashed with the older theory of Sexual Inversion. The New Gay Man at once wanted to promote the innate nature of male homosexuality but reject the effect that should have had on gender. Instead of homosexual males being feminine, which they had been time out of mind, now they had to be masculine.
The New Gay Man was in a cleft stick; he wanted his behaviour to be innate, but he rejected the consequence of that, which was that he should be feminine, in order to attract masculine males. In other words, he wanted to have his cake and eat it. To accommodate this, he turned to Plato via Friedlaender. Plato believed that 'like attracts like' while of course, common sense tells us that opposites attract. Today, the West remains the only part of the world where homosexual males seek other homosexual males as partners. Everywhere else, the idea would be considered risible.
Sexual Inversion causes a general shift towards the feminine, in males and towards the masculine, in females. Like all biological phenomena it shows a scale of variation; some have it more strongly than others. In many cultures, recorded for literally millennia, the most extreme male examples presented as women. This often involved castration, to prevent adult masculinisation. These individuals were transsexual women as we should understand them today. Most importantly, they were uniquely attracted to conventional masculine men and not to others like themselves.
Nevertheless, by the late 1990's feminine homosexual males had been all but erased from popular culture in the West. But then a strange thing happened, which only goes to prove the old adage 'you can't buck Evolution'. Suddenly, increasing numbers of homosexual males and females began to seek to live as members of the opposite sex. This drove a coach and horses through all the theories that the New Gay Man and his allies had concocted.
The late Miriam Rivera, a True Transsexual woman
Transsexualism in the West had become noticeable even before the 1960s, especially in parts of Europe. Surgical procedures to construct a pseudo-vagina had advanced by this time, so they could produce fully sensate organs that were hard to distinguish from the natural version. Transsexual males generally showed a consistent profile. They tended to be small, lightly built, were neotenous and strongly attracted to men, if they were actually male. Perhaps most importantly, their cross-sex identification appeared in early childhood and remained 'insistent, persistent and consistent' through puberty. These measures confirmed that they were Sexual Inverts, at the extreme end of a scale.
Because of the hostility they faced in the West, on the one hand from societies that were homophobic and on the other from the masculinist New Gay Man and his allies, these individuals, historically, had tended to hide. They 'woodworked' and lived in 'deep stealth'. Instead of trying to assimilate into society as men, they did so as women, often marrying heterosexual men and vanishing from sight, always taking care never to reveal any clues about their past.
These are not the only males who are known today as trans, but those in the other group are non-homosexual and have a different cause for their desire to appear to be women; they are rarely convincing as such. Unfortunately, the men in this group are often homophobic, deeply hostile to any form of Sexual Inversion and relentless in their attempts to deny it.
Recently, however, and as a result of an increased awareness of current trans issues -- most of which actually affect non-homosexual females -- Sexual Inverts have become more visible. These, if they live as women socially and take the appropriate hormones, are called Homosexual Transsexuals or HSTS; I call them True Transsexuals (after Dr Harry Benjamin) or just Transsexuals. Unsurprisingly, the New Gay Man and his associates, including the non-homosexual transitioners, have reacted viciously to the resurgence of a group they thought they had completely erased.
However, the New Gay Man is hoist by his own petard. He seeks to claim that he is as he is because he was 'born that way'. His homosexuality, therefore, must be innate, not acquired. In other words, he proposes an Essentialist explanation, not a Constructionist one. By doing so he implicitly accepts the idea of Sexual Inversion -- something he has been trying to sweep under the carpet these last five decades. But in doing so, he must accept not only that gender is affected by it but also the rule of variation, which predicts that some males are so inverted that they have to live as women, not as men.