The Daily Agenda for Friday, July 19
July 19th, 2013
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Charlotte, NC (Black Pride); Colorado Springs, CO; Frankfurt, Germany; Hull, UK; Kitsap, WA; Leipzig, Germany; Marseille, France (EuroPride 2013); Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK; Peel, ON; Plymouth, UK; Portland, OR (Latino Pride); Reading, PA; Rochester, MN; Rochester, NY.
AIDS Walk This Weekend: San Francisco, CA.
Other Events This Weekend: Sand Blast Weekend, Asbury Park, NJ; Outfest Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach Bruthaz, Miami Beach, FL; QFest Film Festival, Philadelphia, PA; Bear Week, Provincetown, MA.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Medical Journal Describes “Perverted Sexual Instinct”: 1884. One of the many startling things one encounters in nineteenth-century medical journals is the terminology which writers deployed to describe something which heretofore had no name. The German word Homosexualität wouldn’t make its way into the English language for another decade when Dr. George F. Shrady, editor of The Medical Record and one of the nation’s most prominent physicians, penned a short article in his journal describing those whose inclinations were not toward procreation:
SIR THOMAS BROWN once wrote, platonically, that the act of procreation was “the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life. Nor is there anything that will more deject his cooled imagination.” The physician learns, however, that man, so far from tending toward this ideal, is more apt to show instincts of a violently opposite character, and finds, far down beneath the surface of ordinary social life, currents of human passion and action that would shock and sicken the mind not accustomed to think everything pertaining to living creatures worthy of study. Science has indeed discovered that, amid the lowest forms of bestiality and sensuousness exhibited by debased men, there are phenomena which are truly pathological and which deserve the considerate attention and help of the physician.
That Shrady used the word “pathological” shows that already he had been influenced by various German authors — Carl Westphal, Karl Heinrich Ulrich, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, to name a few — who had already made a name for themselves in the study of Homosexualität (or Urnings, a term that was more widely used in Germany.) Before homosexuality became the subject of serious study, it had been written off as mere evil or vice. Viewing it as pathology invited society to consider that homosexuals weren’t criminals, but were somehow diseased or deformed, and were merely acting according to what came naturally to them. This framework was considered far more enlightened, because the proper response wasn’t punishment and scorn, but treatment and pity, an arguable advancement in how gay people would be treated.
But what was the name of this condition? Westphal called it “Contrare Sexualempfindung” (contrary sexual instinct), while others employed various ideas of “inversion” (inverted sexual instinct, Invertion of the genesic function, etc.). Early American writers tended to use the term “perverted sexual instinct” with “perverted” taking its original meaning as something which “has been corrupted or distorted from its original course, meaning, or state.” In the nineteenth century, all sorts of things could be “perverted,” including the understanding of religious doctrine (where the term actually originated), the application of economic incentives or the course of justice. It would only take another decade or so before “perverted sexual instinct” became shortened to “perversion,” and the “pervert” would become synonymous with gay people.
And it’s this term that Shrady settled on. He reviewed the literature and found:
Up to that time (1883) only twenty-one cases were on record, three being reported by Americans, the rest mainly by Germans, and none at all by English observers. In a recent number of the Irrenfreund (vol. xxvi., No. I, 1884), Krafft-Ebing has reported six more cases. …In the reported cases of congenital perversion, the abnormal instinct begins oftenest as early as the eighth or ninth year, but shows itself at first, perhaps, only in an inclination to adopt the manners and practices of girls or women. The victims show the somatic basis of their trouble in various ways. There is often an hereditary psychopathic or neuropathic taint. Epilepsy is sometimes present. There are noticed in some cases, though not often, defects of the genital organs, such as hypospadias or epispadias, small or defective testicles. The hair on the face is sometimes thin, the voice almost always soft. The” Urnings” have a mincing gait, and sometimes the hips are broad like those of women. Exacerbations of the perverted feeling appear periodically. It may be accompanied with melancholia and end in insanity or suicide.
The mental peculiarities of these unfortunates have much in common. They are of the artistic, poetical. and imaginative temperament, often exhibiting a tendency to rather weak philosophizing. Sometimes they are of a vigorous understanding. In most cases there is great mental distress felt through a consciousness of their unnatural instincts. Two or three have, like Ulrichs, boldly defended their practices.
As for what to do about these individuals:
If congenital perverted sexual instinct is a pathological rather than a vicious condition, the query arises whether there is any remedy for it. The history of cases reported shows that sometimes the instinct is cultivated and intensified by bad surroundings in childhood, such as, for example, the exclusive society of women and immoral nurses. Excessive sexual indulgence seems to increase it, and we may question whether in a few cases the condition would have ever developed, were it not for an early abuse and misdirection of the sexual powers. In conditions of nervous exhaustion and weakness, the symptoms are exaggerated, and Krafft-Ebing, in his last communication, reports the case of a married man, previously healthy, who experienced an entire change in the sexual feeling, which lasted for twenty-five years. He was then cured by general faradization and other tonic measures.
“Faradization” refers to the use of electrical instruments to induce an electrical current or magnetic field in the vicinity of an afflicted body part or in general areas of the head or body. (This is not the same as electric shock conversion therapy, which would come about much later (see Mar 11).) The late nineteenth century belief in the power of electricity and magnetism to cure all sorts of maladies gave rise to a thriving industry geared toward providing doctors with all sorts of “quack” instruments. “Tonic measures,” of course, refers to who knows what sort of snake oil which would may have been prescribed to restore masculine vigor to the unfortunate soul. (One wonders why NARTH hasn’t looked into these.) Shrady closes with this description:
In conclusion, we believe it to be demonstrated that conditions once considered criminal are really pathological, and come within the province of the physician. We have undertaken, therefore, the disagreeable task of laying some of the facts regarding sexual perversion before our readers. The profession can be trusted to sift the degrading and vicious from what is truly morbid.
We cannot do better than append the conclusions which Krafft-Ebing has reached upon this subject. He says: ” 1. There exists a congenital absence of sexual feeling toward the opposite sex, at times even disgust of sexual intercourse. 2. This defect occurs in a physically differentiated sexual type and with a normal development of the sexual organs. 3. Absence of the psychical qualities corresponding to the anatomical sexual type, but the feelings, thoughts, and actions of a perverted sexual instinct. 4. Abnormally early appearance of sexual desire. 5. Painful consciousness of the perverted sexual desire. 6. Sexual desire toward the same sex. 7. The sexual desire remains purely platonic or finds gratification in mutual onanism, or in feeling of the object of the affections. Often there is self-pollution, but for the want of something better. 8. There are symptoms of a morbid excitability of the sexual desires, together with an irritable weakness of the nervous symptoms, so that sensuous feelings, magnetic sensations, and even pollutions occur in simply touching the object of the affections. 9. The perverse sexual impulse is abnormally intense and rules all thought and sensation. The love of such individuals is excessive even to adoration, and is often followed by sorrow, melancholy, and jealousy. 10. People afflicted with this abnormity frequently possess an instinctive power to recognize one another.”
In this last conclusion we cannot agree. The power of mutual recognition is not instinctive but acquired.
Dr. Shrady’s credentials were very impressive when wrote this article. He was president of the New York Pathological Society, a fellow of the American and New York Academies of Medicine, a member of the New York State Medical Society and had served as a consultant or resident physician for a number of prominent New York hospitals, and was a trustees of the Hudson State Hospital for the Insane in Poughkeepsie. He gained national prominence in 1881 when, after President James Garfield was shot, Shrady was called in to consult on the various options for treatment, and he wrote up the autopsy report following Garfield’s death. In 1885, Shrady was in the limelight again as General Ulyses S. Grant’s personal physician while the former president was dying of throat cancer.
[Source: George F. Shrady “Perverted sexual instinct.” Medical Record 26, no. 3 (July, 19, 1884): 70-71. Available online for free via Google Books here.]
20 YEARS AGO: President Clinton Unveils “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy: 1993. “Let me say a few words now about this policy. It is not a perfect solution. It is not identical with some of my own goals. And it certainly will not please everyone, perhaps not anyone, and clearly not those who hold the most adamant opinions on either side of this issue.” With those words, President Bill Clinton unveiled a new policy on gays and lesbians in the military, which he called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.”
This new policy was intended as a compromise posture, after his campaign promise to overturn the military’s blanket ban on gays and lesbians in the military ran into a buzz saw of opposition in Congress led by Sen Sam Nunn (D-GA), chair of the powerful U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. With the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress began the process of rushing through a federal law which would have reinforced the Pentagon’s then-existing policy of total exclusion. Clinton’s called for the new law’s repeal went nowhere, so on July 19, he proposed a compromise solution, at a speech at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair:
I have ordered Secretary Aspin to issue a directive consisting of these essential elements: One, service men and women will be judged based on their conduct, not their sexual orientation. Two, therefore the practice, now 6 months old, of not asking about sexual orientation in the enlistment procedure will continue. Three, an open statement by a service member that he or she is a homosexual will create a rebuttable presumption that he or she intends to engage in prohibited conduct, but the service member will be given an opportunity to refute that presumption; in other words, to demonstrate that he or she intends to live by the rules of conduct that apply in the military service. And four, all provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be enforced in an even-handed manner as regards both heterosexuals and homosexuals. And thanks to the policy provisions agreed to by the Joint Chiefs, there will be a decent regard to the legitimate privacy and associational rights of all service members.
Sen. Nunn and other opponents of lifting the ban altogether accepted this so-called compromise, and it would eventually make it into the Defense Appropriations Act of 1994 passed later that year. But in practice, the compromise fell apart. Service members were discharged based solely on evidence of sexual orientation, recruits were asked about their sexual orientation as part of their enlistment procedure, and any hint that a service member was gay — even if that hint did not come from the service member himself — resulted in an immediate investigation with the goal of discharge from the armed forces. Over the next eighteen years that the policy remained in effect, 14,346 soldiers, sailors and airmen/women were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until it was finally repealed in 2011.
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?