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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, September 6

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2012

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weeked: Collingswood, NJ; Humboldt/Eureka CA; Las Vegas, NV; Limerick, Ireland; Lincoln City, OR; Mankato, MN; New Castle, DE; Reading, UK; Rehoboth Beachm DE; Savannah, GA; Torbay, UK.

Other Events This Weekend: Folsom Europe, Berlin, Germany; Womenfest, Key West, FL; North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Shreveport, LA; International Bears Week, Sitges, Spain.

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 ringing bell. Behavioral Therapy used various systems of rewards and punishments — initially, 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 by 1935, that problem was solved. At an earlier meeting of the New York branch of the American Psychological Association, New York University’s Louis William Max introduced a new device that he invented to safely administer a painful electric shock to his patient (see Mar 15). Later that 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 award-winning original investigation, What Are Little Boys Made Of?, about Kirk’s treatment at UCLA under Rekers.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Sylvester: 1946. Born Sylvester James in Los Angeles, he lived his entire life on the corner of Gay and Black. Like Cher, he dropped his surname when he moved to San Francisco in 1970 and 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 rock several bands before finally latching onto the disco craze in the mid-1970s as 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 with the label’s execs in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot that he put together to tweak his record label bosses ended up on 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. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

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