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The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, April 9

Jim Burroway

April 9th, 2013

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Freud’s Letter to a Concerned Mother: 1935. The letter is often described as being to “an American mother,” perhaps because it was sent anonymously to the American sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey from “a grateful mother.” We don’t actually know who that mother was. Kinsey, in turn, shared it with the American Journal of Psychiatry, where it appeared in the April 1951 edition. The handwritten letter reads as follows:

April 9th, 1935.

Dear Mrs. ——

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you, why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime and cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies which are present in every homosexual, in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind he should have analysis with me — I don’t expect you will –, he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.

Sincerely yours with kind wishes,
Freud.

P. S. I did not find it difficult to read your handwriting. Hope you will not find my writing and my English a harder task.

[Source: Sigmund Freud. "Letter (to an American mother, 1935)" American Journal of Psychiatry 107, no. 10 (April 1951): 786-787.]

Daily Express Calls for Homosexual Purge from London’s Theaters: 1959. Under the ownership of Canadian-born Max Aitken (who, in 1917, became the first Lord Beaverbrook when he was granted a peerage), London’s Daily Express had long enjoyed a reputation for both forming and reflecting the prejudices and outrages of its conservative and working class readers. Following World War II, the Express newspapers enjoyed the world’s largest circulation and Beaverbrook was known as “the first Baron of Fleet Street.” In 1959, author and historian John Deane Potter took to the pages of the Daily Express to warn its readers about a terrible menace in London’s theater district:

I read with dismay the news yesterday that a 31-year-old South African called John Cranko was fined £10 at Marlborough-street police court.

It was not the fine. It was the man and the offence. Because he pleaded guilty to a crime which has become known as the West Side vice.

Cranko is the latest on the list of famous stage names who have been found guilty of this squalid behaviour. He is a talented man of the theatre. He was the co-author of the spectacularly successful review “Cranks.”

The private lives of people, whether they are a brilliant ballet designer and author like Cranko, or an ordinary office worker on the 6.15, should, according to the Wolfenden Report, be their own business. But this question is public business.

It has become a sour commonplace in the West End theatre that unless you are a member of an unpleasant freemasonry your chances of success are often lessened.

For the theatre is far too full of people belonging to a secret brotherhood.

Most of them are not tortured misfits. They do not want psychiatric treatment or cures.

They live complacently in their own remote world, with its shrill enthusiasms.

But they are evil. For two reasons.

One is their PERSONAL POWER.

Corruption is an outmoded word that used to be thundered with hellfire vigour from Victorian pulpits. Now this West End weakness is the subject of sophisticated wit.

Their chi-chi world may seem remote from the normal theatregoer. Except for this.

If your son wants to go on the stage — what will his future be? It is a shivering thought.

So many talented young men have said to me: “It is no good in the theatre unless you are camp. You must be queer to get on.”

Those are just two expressions from the cryptic slang they use to describe the social disease from which they suffer.

The boy, whatever his talents, may become bitter and frustrated.

Or worse. He does not have to travel far along the corridors of the West End back-stage to meet the smooth, unspoken. proposition. He may, through ambition, try to play along with it. And, make no mistake, many of these men take pleasure in corrupting the young.

Danger number two is their PROFESSIONAL POWER.

Some of the stuff they produce is beautiful, witty, and clever. But too often they try to foist upon the public a false set of values.

What is often received with trills of praise by the closed West End set remains puzzling to the formal mind of the average theatregoer who is unaware of the lace-like intricacies of the decor or the obscure oddities of the plot.

And the theatre has an expensive flop on its hands.

No one likes to indulge in a Jehovah-like loftiness about other people’s lives.

But I repeat: these are evil men. They have spun their web through the West End today until it is a simmering scandal.

I say they should be driven from their positions of theatrical power.

[Source: John Deane Potter. "Isn't It About Time Someone Said This... Plainly and Frankly"  The (London) Daily Express (April 9, 1959). As reprinted in The Mattachine Review 5, no. 6 (June 1959): 21.]

APA Membership Affirms Decision To Remove Homosexuality From DSM-II: 1974. When the American Psychiatric Association’s board of trustees ratified the Nomenclature Committee’s recommendation to remove homosexuality from the second edition of the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM-II, the APA’s official list of mental disorders — see Dec 15), the faction within the APA opposing the move, led by Charles Socarides, vowed to overturn the board’s decision and return the nation’s gays and lesbians to the ranks of the mentally ill. Until the APA’s board took its stand after a long, multi-year consultative process in which the evidence for and against the argument that homosexuality was a mental illness was poured over, discussed, and debated by a large number of experts in the field, and by gay people themselves (see Nov 7).

But after the APA made its decision on the basis of scientific evidence, Socarides’s Ad Hock Committee Against the Deletion of Homosexuality from DSM-II moved quickly to put the board’s decision to a vote of the membership. This demand was most remarkable: having lost the scientific argument, the dissident committee sought to use the organization’s by-laws which were intended to democratize the APA’s policy decisions and turn it into a referendum on a scientific finding. In other words, they decided to put facts up for a vote. The referendum was approved on December 16, the day after the board’s decision. Ballots were mailed out to the membership, and the controversy was hotly debated in the APA’s publication Psychiatry News. On April 9, 1974, the APA released the results:

Result
Favoring the board’s decision 5,854 58%
Opposing the board’s decision 3,810 37%
Abstaining 367 3%
Invalid votes 9 <1%
Not voting on this issue 51 <1%
TOTAL 10,091

Socarides and others were never able to reconcile themselves to the APA’s decision, and for some, efforts by mainstream psychiatrists to “cure” homosexuality continued into the 1990s. In 1992, Socarides joined Benjamin Kaufman and Joseph Nicolosi in founding the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which continues to argue that homosexuality is pathological and can be cured, against all scientific evidence to the contrary.

[Source: Ronald Bayer. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987): 138-150.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Cynthia Nixon: 1966. Daughter of actress Anne Knoll and radio journalist Walter E. Nixon, Cynthia Nixon already was in two simultaneous hit Broadway plays while also a freshman at Barnard College in 1984. Her roles were short and the two theaters were just two blocks from each other, close enough that she could run from one to the other in time to get dressed and deliver her performances. She had minor roles in a number of films and made-for-TV movies before landing her first major supporting part in 1986′s The Manhattan Project. But of course, her best-known role was that of Miranda Hobbes in HBO’s Sex and the City, which ran from 1998 to 2004 and spawned two moves, one okay and one awful. In 2006, she won a Tony for Best Actress in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole and she won a 2008 Emmy for a guest appearance in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2009, she shared a Grammy, with Beau Bridges and Blair Underwood for Best Spoken Word Album for the audio CD of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

But perhaps her most important prize came in May of 2012 when she married her partner, Christine Marinoni after a three year engagement. When she came out as bi in 2007, Nixon, who had been previously married to photographer Danny Mozes, said “I don’t really feel I’ve changed. I’d been with men all my life, and I’d never fallen in love with a woman. But when I did, it didn’t seem so strange. I’m just a woman in love with another woman.”

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?

Comments

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CPT_Doom
April 9th, 2013 | LINK

We now know, of course, that Socarides was hypocritically NOT encouraging his own gay son to attempt change, even as he publicly promoted his junk science.

Oh and I don’t think Nixon was married to Mozes.

Marcus
April 9th, 2013 | LINK

Did Nixon come out as bi? She said last year that she chose to be gay despite being attracted to both men and women, then, when lampooned for the “choice” comment, reluctantly admitted to being bisexual. (She said she didn’t want to identify as bi because everybody hates bisexuals.)

jpeckjr
April 9th, 2013 | LINK

I’ve read Dr. Freud’s letter before. Two things always stand out to me — how wise it is and how kind it is.

Houndentenor
April 10th, 2013 | LINK

I first saw her on Broadway in Angels in America in 1994. She had taken over from Marsha Gay Harden. Her performance left me speechless (a rare occurrence indeed!). I wasn’t the only person in the theater thumbing through the program to find out who this extraordinary performer was. I wasn’t surprised to see her many times after that.

Steve
April 10th, 2013 | LINK

@Marcus
Yes, she called herself bisexual. She meant that she chose to *identify* herself has gay because it’s more convenient. Not that she chose to *be* gay. But she expressed that poorly and clarified later.

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