The Daily Agenda for Monday, October 29

Jim Burroway

October 29th, 2012

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
A Letter from an Invert: 1919. Through the early part of the twentieth century, American medical and psychological writers began taking an increasing interest in homosexuality (or “sexual inversion,” “contrary sexual feeling,” “perverted sexual instinct,” or any number of other terms which they had yet to settle on). One of the professional journals to actively investigate all aspects of sexology was the Journal of Urology and Sexology under the editorship of William J Robinson, a physician, sexologist , birth control advocate, and department head of Genito-Urinary Diseases at Bronx Hospital Dispensary.

But it was rare to hear from “inverts” themselves. Last July, we reprinted one letter to the editor from 1919 which gave some indication of the frustration that many felt due to the severe societal disapproval that was prevalent a the time (see July 30). Three months later, that same journal published another letter “from an invert”:

To the EDITOR:
I know you will disagree with me, but it is my belief that two men who love each other have as much right to live together as a man and woman have. Also that it is as beautiful when looked at in the right light and far more equal!

There are many men who believe as I do. One might say they are abnonnal. Does that have anything to do with the right or wrong of the question? To sleep all day, to work all night, is an abnormal condition. It isn’t natural. Does that go to prove that the one who does it is right or wrong? There is that abnormal condition; to bring in a moral question would be foolishness. “Wrong” and “abnormal” seem to mean the same thing to many people. Or shall I put it — “wrong” and “unnatural”? From the way people look at me who know my belief, you would think me a leper or a negro! *

May I not have as high an ideal in my love toward men, as a man has towards a woman? Higher, no doubt, than most men have toward women? Higher, no doubt, than most men have toward women!

The idea people hold is making me bitter. All that I might be is being killed. I can understand the thoughts of Jean Valjean, who held to his high ideals and asked only to be left alone — yet had to lose his whole life fleeing, ever fleeing, from people.

I wish the question might be discussed in your magazine. I have never known of any other magazine which gave its readers the liberty of expressing their own opinions, as gladly as your magazine does.

There are reasons (position, etc.) why it would be better to withhold my name. You need not doubt the good faith in which this letter is written.

A MAN [?].

Jean Valjean is the protagonist in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables, which follows his 19-year-long struggle with the law for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. The editor appended this footnote to the letter:

* This sentence shows that the writer is no more broadminded on the racial question than most people are on the subject of sexual abnormalities and perversions.-W. J. R.

[Source: American Journal of Urology and Sexology 15, no. 10 (October 1919): 454-455.]

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?

Ben in Oakland

October 29th, 2012

“This sentence shows that the writer is no more broadminded on the racial question than most people are on the subject of sexual abnormalities and perversions.-W. J. R.”

That little postscript shows that the powers of projecting ones own sins upon others for purposes of denigration was alive and well even then. What else were slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and miscegenation laws about, except the inherent presumption of superiority of some people over other people? Well, slavery was of course about power and money as well, but besides that?

Marcus

October 30th, 2012

Can someone explain the postscript? Was the editor attempting to discredit the letter writer by pointing out his racism, or was he taking the opportunity to point out the prevalence of prejudice in all its forms?

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