The Daily Agenda for Monday, December 17

Jim Burroway

December 17th, 2012

New York Times: “Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern”: 1963. Randy Wicker was a brash young activist who, beginning in 1958, decided it was time to shake things up if the gay community was ever going to get anywhere. As a grad student, he volunteered with the New York Mattachine Society hoping to move the organization’s advocacy efforts in a much stronger direction. When the group scheduled a talk on “The Homosexual and the Law,” Wicker took it upon himself to print up some signs and post then throughout Greenwich Village to publicize the event. Mattachine members, who were more accustomed to the more closeted word-of-mouth method of getting the word out, found Wicker a “disturbing acquisition to the movement,” as the group’s president later said. To get around the Mattachines’ fearfulness, Wicker created a one-man advocacy “group” he called the Homosexual League of New York, so that whenever he had a project that the Mattachines felt was too far out there, his “League” could ride to the rescue. It was under that guise that Wicker appeared on WBAI radio in 1962 (see Jul 15), where New York radio listeners, for the first time, heard Wicker and six other gay men talk for ninety minutes about what it was like to be gay.

Wicker was always looking for ways to generate attention, and so when Robert Doty of The New York Times contacted him asking for help on a story about homosexuals — Doty explained that he actually knew very little about the subject — Wicker was eager to help. He took Doty on something on a field trip of gay bars in New York, and he provided him with articles from ONE magazine about Evelyn Hooker, the UCLA psychologist whose research challenged the prevailing view that homosexuality was an illness (see Aug 30 and Sep 2). As Wicker later recalled, “I told him, ‘Look, I understand that the majority opinion in the psychiatric community says that homosexuality is a disorder and that these people are out claiming they can change people. All I want is equal treatment. At least give some exposure to the minority voices that say homosexuality is not necessarily a pathology.”

Unfortunately, equal treatment was not on offer when the Doty’s story appeared on the Times’ front page on a brisk Tuesday morning in December:

The problem of homosexuality in New York became the focus yesterday of increased attention by the State Liquor Authority and the Police Department.

The liquor authority announced the revocation of the liquor licenses of two more homosexual taverns that had been repeatedly raided by the police. The places were the Fawn, at 795 Washington Street near Jain Street, and the Heights Supper Club at 90 Montague Street, Brooklyn.

The city’s most sensitive open secret — the presence of what is probably the greatest homosexual population in the world and the increasing openness of its manifestations — has become the subject of growing concern by psychiatrists and religious leaders as well as law enforcement officers. One division of the organized crime syndicate controls bars and restaurants that cater to the homosexual trade. Commenting yesterday on the attack on such places and the attention being directed at their habitues, Police Commissioner Michael J. Murphy said:

“The police jurisdiction in this area is limited. But when persons of this type become a source of public scandal, or violate the laws, or place themselves in a position where they become the victims of crime they do come within our jurisdiction.”

Mr. Hostetter said the Heights supper Club had a signal light system “that warned the boys to stop dancing with one another” when a newcomer was suspected of being a policeman. The Fawn had a back room to which an admission was charged and where as many as 70 to 80 deviates had parties on Friday and Saturday nights. Most of the patrons were males, but on police found women dancing with women.

There were 19 police visits this year resulting in summonses and complaints of a noisy jukebox, disorderly premises, insufficient lighting and dancing without a cabaret license, and an arrest for degeneracy.

Before Doty could even broach the subject of homosexuality as a mental illness — and he did devote much of his article to that very topic — he introduced New Yorkers to homosexuals as criminals, or at least as associating with the criminal element. Doty wrote that homosexuality had been, until now, “protected by taboos on open discussion,” which allowed it to become “an obtrusive part” of New York society. As for balance, Doty provided this:

Two conflicting viewpoints converge today to overcome the silence and promote public discussion. The first is the organized homophile movement — a minority of militant homosexuals that is openly agitating for removal of legal, social and cultural discrimination against sexual inverts. Fundamental to this aim is the concept that homosexuality is an incurable, congenital disorder (this is disputed by the bulk of scientific evidence) and that homosexuals should be treated by an increasingly tolerant society as just another minority.

This view is challenged by a second group, the analytical psychiatrists, who advocate an end to what it calls a head-in-the-sand approach to homosexuality. They have what they consider overwhelming evidence that homosexuals are created — generally by ill-adjusted parents — not born. They assert that homosexuality can be cured by sophisticated analytical and therapeutic techniques.

More significantly, the weight of the most recent findings suggest that public discussion of the nature of these parental misdeeds and attitudes that tend to foster homosexual development in children could improve family environments and reduce the incidence of sexual inversion.

Wicker’s copies of ONE magazine featuring articles about Evelyn Hooker’s research on homosexuality did make one small appearance in Doty’s article: “The homosexual has a range of gay periodicals that is a kind of distorted mirror image of the straight publishing world.” That was it. Doty then went on to describe, in a very stereotypical fashion, the homosexuals who “throng Manhattan’s Greenwich Village”:

They have their favored clothing suppliers who specialize in the rights slacks, short-cut coats and fastidious furnishings favored by mane, but by no means all, male homosexuals. There is a homosexual jargon, once intelligible only to the initiate, but now part of New York slang. The word “gay” has been appropriated as the adjective for homosexual.

… The list of homosexuals in the theater is long, distinguished and international. It is also self-perpetuating. There is a cliquishness about gay individuals that often leads one who achieves influential position in the theater — and many of them do — to choose for employment another homosexual candidate over a straight applicant, unless the latter has an indisputable edge of talent that would bear on the artistic success of the venture.

But back to that thing about homosexuality as a mental illness. A year earlier, Dr. Irving Bieber published the highly influential book, Homosexuality — A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, in which he and a team of seventy psychiatrists claimed a success rate of 27% in curing gay people through psychoanalysis. It would take several more years before many of Bieber’s colleagues and former patients to come forward to dispute those claims.But Doty devoted the remaining half of his lengthy article to Bieber’s views, including his theory that homosexuality was the result of of bad parenting:

In almost every homosexual case they found some combination of what they termed a “close-binding, intimate” mother and/or a hostile, detached or unresponsive father, or other parental aberrations.

Unsaid, though was that in almost every homosexual case they also found a gay man or a lesbian who was deeply distressed at being gay, so much so that they paid some very expensive psychoanalyst in a desperate attempt to get rid of it. What their so-called study said about those who didn’t seek their services, nobody bothered to ask. To back Bieber up, Doty turned to another psychoanalyst, Dr. Charles Socarides — the same Charles Socarides who would co-found the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in 1992 and whose son, Richard, would come out as gay. In Doty’s article, Socarides denounced the efforts of gay activists to win social acceptance for what he called a kind of “normal abnormality.” The homosexual is ill,” he said, “and anything that tends to hid that fact reduces his changes of seeking and obtaining treatment. If they were to achieve social acceptance it would increase this difficulty.”

“I thought it was a terrible betrayal,” said Randy Wicker of Doty’s article. “Because he was a man I had given all the information to and when it came out it was disgusting. He didn’t give any mention — not one mention — that there was a division among psychiatrists — not one word.” The Daughters of Bilitis’s The Ladder wrote that the story was designed to frighten readers into believing that gay people were flooding the streets of New York and “threatening to engulf the normals.” But Newsweek saw the article positively: “While straining for objectivity, a Times trademark, Doty nevertheless tried to explode a favorite myth propagated by some homosexuals that their condition is incurable and innate.”

[Sources: Edward Allwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 47-50.

Robert Doty. “Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern.” The New York Times (December 17, 1963): 1ff.

Jack Nicols. “Randolphe Wicker (1938- ).” In Vern L. Bullough’s (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002): 273-281.

Paul Cadmus: 1904. When he died in 1999 at the ripe old age of 94, his New York Times obituary read:

Paul Cadmus, an American artist noted for a virtuosic figurative style that he applied to subjects ranging from biting social satire to moralizing allegories to sensual, sometimes sentimental male nudes, died on Sunday at his home in Weston, Conn. He was 94.

Mr. Cadmus found his inspiration in the art of Italian Renaissance painters like Mantegna and Luca Signorelli. His career was remarkable for its unruffled stylistic consistency over 70 years, from his days as a precocious student in New York in the 1920’s through his incendiary stint in the 30’s with the federal Public Works of Art Project, later folded into the Works Progress Administration, and up to the present. Although he stopped painting a few years ago, he continued to sketch.

The Fleet’s In!, 1934 (Click to enlarge)

It took the Times’s Holland Cotter four paragraphs before he could work his readers up to Cadmus’s favorite subject matter: the frank depiction of gay men as free and happy people. His “incendiary stint” came about over his 1934 PWAP commission, The Fleet’s In!,  which portrayed sailors on shore leave in New York picking up local “trade” in. That painting became the center of “the Battle of the Corcoran” when Navy Secretary Claude Swanson condemned it as “a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl” and ordered it seized from the gallery. The painting remained out of public view until 1981, but the outcry cemented Cadmus’s career as a satirist. For the rest of his life, he maintained that he was grateful for the publicity.

What I Believe, 1947 (Click to enlarge)

His cartoonish style became known as “magical realism,” and his themes nearly always touched on sexuality in some form, with homosexual themes nearly always present as either a subtext (glances and signals of cruising in otherwise ordinary scenes) or as an overt subject. His 1947 painting What I Believe, inspired by an E.M. Forster essay by the same name, was his visual manifesto. It depicts nude and contented gay couples in the center and left side of the painting in bright sunlight while reading, drawing, playing music, and conversing. That paradisal scene contrasted with the almost hellish right third of the painting, where heterosexual couples reclined in bare dirt and misery — not unlike traditional renderings of the final judgment. The painting, he said, celebrated  “the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human condition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.”

In an interview with the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, Cadmus quoted the French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: “People say my paintings are not right for the times. Can I help it if the times are wrong?” Times since then have changed. The Fleet’s In!, the painting that started all the controversy, is now in the permanent collection of The Navy Art Gallery in Washington, where it is among its most popular attractions.

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?

Donny D.

December 17th, 2012

Ugh, that news story brings back memories of how the media was about us in the 60s and early 70s, almost none of it good. We called it “the straight media”, and that’s what the mainstream media was then, and has never entirely stopped being. But I remember when the gay liberation movement started in the early 70s. If not for it, none of this would have changed for the better.

Ben in Oakland

December 17th, 2012

Don’t, I agree. Things have always gotten better when we speak as ourselves, for ourselves.

We lost prop8 when we should have and could have won, but for a deeply closeted in mentality campaign that could only mumble about civil rights and being nice.

We did a lot better in the recent election because for the first time, we were allowed to speak for ourselves, show ourselves, and show our lives. Not as much as we could have and should have, but still vastly better.

And we won.

Ben in Oakland

December 17th, 2012

Sorry, Donny. Damn spell check and dyslexia ain’t pretty.


December 17th, 2012

Thanks for the Cadmus segment.

I think it’s worthwhile to note that his style is not confined to that shown in the examples above.

For my graduation, an uncle gave me a small Cadmus work from 1933. It is ink brushed on paper about the size of a typing sheet. It is of Jared French, Cadmus’ lover at the time. It is quietly beautiful and very serene; if you didn’t know otherwise, if you knew only his more raucous style, you’d never guess that it is a Cadmus.

I love it to death.

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