Henry “Havelock” Ellis was an English physician with a special interest in human sexuality. His 1896 academic text “Sexual Inversion” was the first medical work published on the topic of homosexuality. He also wrote about gender and transgender identity. His research formed the groundwork for Sigmund Freud’s development of the concepts of narcissism and autoeroticism.
Havelock Ellis died in 1939 in Suffolk, where he spent the last year of his life.
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While Ellis’ book “Sexual Inversion” was seen as a pioneering text, it borrowed heavily from the work of a late gay literary critic, John Addington Symonds. He is largely credited as the co-author of the work.
The title is somewhat controversial as it references Ellis’ own view that homosexual people have an “inverted” pattern of erotic attraction. Despite this, the work is sympathetic to homosexual people, arguing that same-sex love rose above society’s mundane restrictions. It was revolutionary for its stance that homosexuality is a psychological condition, rather than simply the act of engaging in sexual acts with people of the same sex. Its subject matter was so controversial that at least one person selling the book was jailed.
Ellis did not believe homosexuality was a perversion, but the term “perverts” is used throughout the text to convey the common view held by religious moralists about homosexual people.
Ellis was also one of the first academics to examine transgenderism, and recognize it as a distinct condition from sexual inversion and homosexuality. He argued that his contemporary Magnus Hirschfeld’s term “transvestism” was limiting and inaccurate, and proposed a new term, “sexoaesthetic inversion,” to more accurately describe transgender people.
Ellis was also open about his own sexual kinks. He was a urophile, who saw no reason to hide his appreciation for women urinating. In fact, he credited watching women urinate with curing his life-long impotence. “It was never to me vulgar,” he wrote in his biography, “but, rather, an ideal interest, a part of the yet unrecognised loveliness of the world.”