The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, September 6

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2011

TODAY’S AGENDA:
CA Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Prop 8 Standing: San Francisco. When Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, he did so without the State of California’s defending the proposition. Instead, the Alliance Defense Fund stepped in to unsuccessfully defend Prop 8. However, now that it is appeals time, the Ninth Circuit Court asks the Supreme Court of California for a legal interpretation of that state’s constitution to determine whether which the authors of a proposition could appeal a federal decision if the elected representatives of the state choose not to do so. In other words, does California law allow non-elected persons to step in to enforce a state law by appealing a federal court decision finding the law unconstitutional when the duly elected officials (i.e. the state Attorney General) decides not to do so. Parties for and against Prop 8 will appear today before California’s Supreme Court to flesh out that very question. Oral arguments will be televised on the statewide California Channel public affairs network, and the proceedings get underway at 10:00 a.m. PDT. LGBT advocates will hold a “No Standing for Prop 8” sit-in on the steps of the Supreme Court beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Schematic diagram of Louis William Max's device for inducing a powerful electric shock. (Click to enlarge.)

TODAY IN HISTORY:
First Recorded Case Of Electric Shock Treatment for Homosexuality: 1935. The idea had been floated around for quite a while among therapists practicing a brand new, non-Freudian form of psychology known as Behavioral Therapy. The premise for this form of therapy goes back to Pavlov’s dog, which was trained to salivate whenever it heard a bell ringing. Behavioral Therapy used various systems of rewards and punishments — mostly punishments — to instill desired behavior in their subjects. And therapists were always on the lookout for new, effective forms of punishment. Shocking patients with a dose of electricity was seen as one promising avenue, but improperly administered, electric current could be lethal, as prisons from Sing Sing to San Quentin demonstrated on a regular basis. But in early 1934, that problem was solved. New York University’s Louis William Max introduced a new device that he invented to safely administer a painful electric shock to his patient at a meeting of the New York branch of the American Psychological Association. The following year, Dr. Max traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to present a brief talk before the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting about his attempts to cure homosexuality using his new electric shock device. On Friday, September 6th at 2:00 p.m., the APA convened a panel on Abnormal Psychology at the University of Michigan’s Chemistry Amphitheater (room 165, to be exact), where Dr. Max gave his talk. The transcript of the talk itself is not available, but this brief synopsis appeared the following month in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin:

Breaking Up a Homosexual Fixation by the Conditioned Reaction Technique: A Case Study. Louis Wm. Max, New York University.

A homosexual neurosis in a young man was found upon analysis to be partially fetishistic, the homosexual behavior usually following upon the fetishistic stimulus. An attempt was made to disconnect the emotional aura from this stimulus by means of electric shock, applied in conjunction with the presentation of the stimulus under laboratory conditions. Low shock intensities had little effect but intensities considerably higher than those usually employed.on human subjects in other studies, definitely diminished the emotional value of the stimulus for days after each experimental period. Though the subject reported some backsliding, the ” desensitizing ” effect over a three month period was cumulative. Four months after cessation of the experiment he wrote, ” That terrible neurosis has lost its battle, not completely but 95% of the way.” Advantages and limitations of this technique are discussed. [10 min.]

Behavioral techniques to try to “cure” homosexuality took many forms, from electric shock therapy on adults and adolescents, to so-called “mild swats” on four-year-old boys like Kirk Andrew Murphy who underwent behavioral therapy at the hands of George Rekers. You can learn more about the role of Behavioral Therapy in attempts to “cure” homosexuality in Blind Man’s Bluff, an epilogue to our original investigation, What Are Little Boys Made Of?, about Kirk’s treatment at UCLA under Rekers.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Sylvester: 1946. He lived his entire life on the corner of Gay and Black. Born in Los Angeles, he moved to San Francisco where he began performing with the gender-queering troupe known as the Cockettes. He also performed in drag in a musical review of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday songs. He went on to form several bands before finally latching onto the disco craze in the mid-1970s a solo artist. His second album, Step II, yielded his greatest funk/disco hits, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)”. In 1979, he appeared in the film The Rose, starring Bette Midler, and in 1983 his Hi-NRG dance hit “Do You Wanna Funk” appeared in the film Trading Places. During the disco era, he was called “The Queen of Disco,” but as he moved away from disco and toward a more Dance/Funk sound, his record company wanted him to butch things up a bit. Sylvester’s response was to attend meetings in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot that he put together to tweak his record label bosses ended up yielding the cover art for his posthumous release Immortal. His last hit, 1986’s “Someone Like You,” hit number 1 on the U.S. Dance Chart, and came from his only Warner Brother’s album, Mutual Attraction, which featured cover art by Keith Haring.  Sylvester is another of the many giant talents consumed by the AIDS epidemic; he died in 1988.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. PLEASE, don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

Charles

September 6th, 2011

That electric shock “therapy” was every used to cure someone from being homosexual speaks volumes about our societies injustice played out upon the gay community. As a footnote mild electric shock is still used to cure depression but it is not like the old days.

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2011

Actually, the kind of electric shock to treat depression is an entirely different animal that is completely unrelated to the form used in Behavioral Therapy. Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) is used to treat severe depression by inducing a mild seizure that appears to “reboot” the brain. Many people with depression have been helped by that therapy.

Electric Shock Aversion Therapy is completely different. It is a punitive shock that is delivered to the patient whenever the patient views gay pornographic material or is in any way aroused by homosexual thoughts or ideas. You can read more about Behavioral Therapy here.

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