Two Psychiatrists Advocate For Gays In the Military — In 1945
June 1st, 2010
In any society where males are herded together in closely-knit, interdependent groups, the problem of homosexuality invariably manifests itself. Such has been the case in the military service, to the extent that a greater of homosexuals have come under the scrutiny of psychiatrists than ordinarily are observed in civilian life. We have had the opportunity to study a large group of homosexuals, and our experiences have led us to believe that the subject of homosexuality is not as nebulous as one might gather from the literature. It became increasingly apparent to us that it has been unnecessarily distorted and confused by a conglomeration of viewpoints, and that clarification of the homosexual personality has been long in order.
That was the opening paragraph to a study published in the March 1945 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Titled “The Homosexual as a Personality Type,” the article was written by Lt. Herbert Greenspan and Commander John D. Campbell of the U.S. Navy Reserves, two psychiatrists tasked with providing psychiatric counseling and evaluations for Navy personnel who had fallen under the suspicion of being ”unfit for military service.” Many of those referred to the authors were suffering from a variety of legitimate mental and emotional disorders, but some were referred because they were suspected of being gay.
The psychiatric profession in 1945 had no official position on whether homosexuality was a mental disorder. The first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,which would define what was and was not a mental illness, wouldn’t come out until 1952. When it did, homosexuality made the list and stayed there for another twenty years.
But back in 1945 the debate was still underway. But unlike later debates, that one wasn’t between whether gays were normal or ill. The choice then was between being mentally ill or a criminal delinquent (or both; diminished capacity didn’t always garner much sympathy for gay people in some quarters). While the two opposing camps were arguing it out in the professional literature, those arguing for the mental illness model were clearly gaining ground. And they were easy to identify; they tended to describe gay people using the relatively new word “homosexual,” or perhaps, occasionally, the not yet anacronistic ”invert.”
But you were also just as likely to enounter journals describing gay people as delinquents, sexual deviants and perverts. Seeing these terms today is jarring, especially when you read them being used with the same professional detachment that was used in describing someone as an asthmatic, autistic, hysteric or schizophrenic – four more conditions which, like homosexuality, were often blamed on poor parenting or bad character. In that light, the emerging opinion that homosexuality was a neurosis was actually the more enlightened opinion.
And this is what makes Greenspan and Campbell’s 1945 article particularly interesting. They went beyond the ”enlightened” position and argued that homosexuals were actually quite normal. They called homosexuality “a congenital anomaly rather than a disease,” although they based that opinion on some decidedly unscientific observations:
Additional substantiation for the biological theory of homosexuality is found in the predominance of female characteristics in these individuals. Much has been said both pro and con as to the significance of these and disagreement is still pronounced. However, it has been our experience that the majority of inverts display evidences of physical as well as psychic traits of effeminacy — an effeminate manner, appearance, temperament and interests. Delicacy of speech and movement, high-pitched voices, esthetic interests, feminine body configuration and “white-collar” occupations were particularly noticeable.
Greenspan and Campbell’s reasons for supporting a biological basis isn’t compelling by today’s standards. But their methods, such as they were, were standard practices at the time. Casual observances were routinely the basis for a whole range of supposedly scientific theories throughout the “soft” sciences. Just a few years later, Alfred Kinsey’s would try to fix that by introducing a measure of mathematical precision to the study of human sexuality. But even that pioneering effort was abysmally primitive and seriously flawed by today’s standards. Yet, for another thirty years, as unreliable as those statistics were, they were the best we had. Given that context, Greenspan and Campbell can be forgiven of their lack of scientific rigor. It’s just the way things were back then.
But what they lacked in statistical sophistication, they made up for with some pretty compelling logic. Blaming “bad environment” for criminal behavior was an emerging theme in psychiatry, and it was in this sense that Greenspan and Campbell chose to address the environmental issues which supposedly would have driven these men to “social delinquency”:
Further contradiction of the environment theory can be found in the obvious fact that there is a much stronger environmental force acting on the individual to become heterosexual, than homosexual. Most of our patients originated from small communities where there was every influence and reason to conform with accepted sexual practices. Yet, the direction of their original sex impulse persisted in spite of an environment which not only fostered, but made it mandatory that they comply with heterosexual demands. By the same token as acquired homosexuality, why did not heterosexuality become acquired? It would appear that there is a force at work in the homosexual, physiological in nature, which is more powerful than the family customs, laws and social expectations of his environment. Apparently, these so-called contrary sexuals cannot acquire heterosexuality, even under favorable circumstances, as some would have us believe that homosexuality can be acquired under conditions far less conducive.
This passage shows that Greenspan and Campbell were keenly aware of the intense pressures their gay subjects struggled with. But despite those pressures, their charges were still unable to conform to the dictates of the day. Clearly they were not mere criminals.
But were they mentally ill? Greenspan and Campbell looked again at their charges and said no. The men they saw were fully functioning, competent, conscientious, empathetic, nondelusional, nonpsychotic – in short, they suffered none of the conditions that people with mental illnesses experienced. Further, the authors were impressed by their gay charges’ adaptability to their hostile environments, and they admired their clients’ many talents — the very same Nöel Coward-like characteristics which likely brought them to their superiors’ attention in the first place:
The homosexual personality is usually intelligent, and frequently above the average. His mental processes do not differ in many respects from those of the normal individual… Evidences of his homosexual constitution are found in his hobbies, artistic interests, pseudosophistry, feeling of intellectual superiority and pursuit of a career. Esthetic interests in art, music, literature, the theater, etc., are particularly common. Dealing in the abstract entices the homosexual mentality, probably more on an emotional than an intellectual basis, and represents a sublimation of his homosexual tendencies. Many dabble in poetry, art, sculpture and drama; a delicate appreciation of colors, fabrics and the arts usually resolves in such occupations as beautician, music teacher, actor, bookkeeper, etc. In the military service we find homosexuals in the capacities of hospital corpsmen, yeomen and chaplain’s assistants. In our experience it was unusual for a homosexual not to like music in one form or another.
Consequently, Greenspan and Campbell found huge differences between these well-functioning gay men and those who suffered from genuine mental illnesses:
The psychopath is erratic, impulsive, restless, unreliable and devoid of conscience. He suffers with a poverty of emotion which makes it impossible for him to experience any qualms about his misdeeds or others’ misfortunes. The homosexual is the exact antithesis of all this, for we find him conscientious, reliable, well-integrated and abounding in emotional feeling and sincerity. The homosexuals observed in the service have been key men in responsible positions whose loss was acutely felt in their respective departments.
…Both the psychiatric and social status of the invert is becoming increasingly more clear with the advancement of clinical psychiatry, and it is encouraging to note that society is being weaned away from the fallacy that homosexualism is a crime. We are gradually coming to the realization that the homosexual suffers from a regrettable sexual anomaly, but otherwise is a normal, productive individual, who is neither a burden nor a detriment to society.
Sixty-five years later, LGBT servicemembers are still being kicked out of the military, and their losses are still being acutely felt. Some things haven’t changed. Not yet, anyway.
But it soon will, because sixty-five years later, we did pass another milestone that Greenspan and Campbell predicted. It was just this year, for the first time in history, that a clear majority of Americans finally determined that LGBT people are normal, productive people who are neither a burden nor a detriment to society.
Progress has been frustratingly slow, hasn’t it? Greenspan and Campbell were a whole lifetime ahead of everyone else. It’s nice to see the rest of the world finally start to catch up.