The Daily Agenda for Thursday, February 7
February 7th, 2013
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Today marks the 13th year for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at the African-American community regardless of sexual orientation. There are four specific focal points: education, testing, involvement, and treatment. Educationally, the focus is educate African-Americans about the basics of HIV/AIDS in their local communities. Testing is at the core of this initiative, as it is hoped that Blacks will mark February 7th of every year as their annual or biannual day to get tested for HIV. Of the nearly 50,000 Americans who test positive for HIV each year, about 20,000 of them are African-Americans, making the Black community’s burden disproportionately high. Health Black Communities, Inc., is the lead organization spearheading events for the day. Click here to learn about events near you.
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
Gay Man Seeks Castration To Cure His Homosexuality: 1904. “How often is there delivered from the womb of some noble and grand woman — some little soul, scarred in such manner that stigmatizes its after life and brings a stain so deeply colored as to stamp it in the eyes of the world a ‘social outcast and criminal.'” So begins Dr. Charles H. Hughes’s article in the February 1904 edition of the journal Alienist and Neurologst. (An “alienist” is an archaic nineteenth century term for what today we would call a psychologist or psychiatrist.) Medical journals at the turn of the last century had a very different editorial tone than they do today, with morality holding as much or greater sway over scientific evidence the vast majority of the articles published, particularly where sexual matters were concerned. The scientific method, clearly, had yet to make may inroads into the mental health professions.
Those lines, which opened an article by Hughes of a “homosexualist’s self-description,” were actually penned by the “homosexualist” himself — the word “homosexuality” having only entered the English language ten years earlier(see May 5), and English speakers were still sorting out the word’s usage and derivatives. This particular person, “a gentleman degenerate” of thirty-nine years of age, was an American of Irish ancestry whose father graduated “from one of the old world’s best colleges” before fighting on the losing side in the 1848 Irish rebellion, fleeing to the U.S., marrying, starting a family, and dying young of either “epilepsy or apoplexy.” That the man’s father had epilepsy was considered significant, as Hughes saw it as evidence of inherited degeneracy. That diagnosis was based on Degeneracy theory, a derivation from Darwin’s theory of evolution, which postulated that thanks to the conveniences of modern society and its advances in medicine and hygiene, modern man was increasingly imune from the natural “culling of the herd”. And because modern man was no longer being culled by natural forces, the human race was actually experiencing a devolution — or “de-generation” — into a more primitive state. Because the letter writer’s father had epilepsy, Hughes concluded that the son’s homosexuality was an expression of a congenital degeneracy inherited from his father.
With the father’s early demise, his wife was left to raise an unspecified number of children. One of those boys, the letter writer, wrote of himself in the third person to Dr. Hughes, and described himself as:
“a regular ‘girl boy’ as he was called, always afraid to tell a fib — never using bad language, never smoking nor chewing, thoroughly honest, shunning the girls and always having some boy friend he fancied for his good looks and endeavoring to show him some kindness in the way of making him presents — never cared for an ugly boy — in fact did not know why he particularly cared for any, always studious, receiving high honors at school for thoroughness in his studies and exemplary deportment. The child mind not understanding the features of certain matters recalls his desire to bunk with any gentleman who might be the guest of his father, and to them, no doubt revelations were made, but naturally ascribed to childish innocence. I felt myself growing stronger in this way. In other words showing a preference for such society and ignoring girls — yet being timid in the presence of both male and female — was frequently twitted about it.”
As the writer grew older, his attractions toward other men grew, along with the horror of knowing that he would never be able to fit in with society as a homosexual. He also lamented the loneliness that being gay brought him in a society with few social opportunities for people like him:
“Haunting the parks, seaside resorts and other localities, a lonely man afflicted, no hope of cure as intimated by physicians and neurologists, this being repeated to me in all localities, large cities and small towns. …
“Twenty-five years of this misery is a long time for such torture, yet the struggle goes on. If the wishes of this lonely man were realized, and he trusts it may not be long before he may find the surroundings illumined and he be enabled to step into the sunlight — a clean and wholesome man — or in the absence of such bliss — his mother’s arm be extended down from the region beyond into which he may be embraced and find that rest which may be emblemized as eternal.”
The image of his mother’s arms extending from “the region beyond” refers to the fact that she died fifteen years earlier, when the letter writer was twenty-four years old. In other words, it was an expression of the writer’s own yearning for death, as perhaps the only way out of his predicament. Hughes tried surgery:
In this case an operation was performed on the filaments of the pudic nerve supplying to testes, but the morbid inclination still persists, notwithstanding the operation and a course of chologogues, antiseptic intestinal treatment and full bromism.
Damaging the pudic nerve would have resulted in blocking the sensations of orgasm. In animals, it was known that this type of operation would have also resulted in a loss of erections. But as Hughes discovered, this operation did little to alter his patient’s sexual attractions. “The case appears to be in the head and not in the genitals,” Hughes concluded, and urged his patient to “do as other men have to do and do do, keep his passionate impulses in abeyance to the higher purposes of his nature and the nobler ambitions of life.” The patient wrote back:
“What you claim to be accomplished through efforts on my part is impossible — of course you will dispute this. Were our positions reversed for a month, you could understand. If the difficulty is with the head, all I have to say is that it has centered there with such vigor and tenacity that it would appear to me that the elimination of the trouble in one center has been doubly concentrated in another.”
By this point, the writer was getting desperate. His employer found out about his condition and fired him. “I will be upon the streets next week — to go where — the Lord only knows.” He against asked Hughes again whether he thought castration would help. “If so,” he wrote,” I will go into a charity hospital and have it done.” Several months later, in January of 1904, the patient wrote again, this time announcing that he decided to commit himself to a sanitarium, although he was still, in his desperation, weighing the option of a full castration:
“I am now convinced that from an experience in St. Louis during my last visit (an experience without consumation) that there is absolutely no avenue of escape from my trouble but to be placed under restraint, and if I can get back to St. Louis it is my intention to place myself in the hands of the authorities irrespective of the consequences, as I am certain to get into trouble, and I can not stand this thing any longer. I know just what Dr. —— and yourself would suggest, yet from the statement of other physicians — the trouble is of the head and there would be no certainty that the operation in question (castration) would be successful. You well know the debilitating experiences through which I passed after the first surgical work. I jumped on a train in St. Louis last night and followed a party clean through to South McAlester. I was expected back at the hospital that night. I spent all my money…
“I came very near getting in serious trouble on the trip. If I am compelled to pass through another surgical opeartion it will have to be at the city hospital. … I fell terribly over this, as I promised Dr. —— I would conduct myself with decorum. If the remedy he suggested is a sure cure, then I will have to accept it.”
[Source: Charles H. Hughes. “The gentleman degenerate: A homosexualist’s self-description and self-applied title. Pudic nerve section fails therapeutically.” Alienist and Neurologist 25, no. 1 (February 1904): 62-70. Available online via Google Books here.]
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?