The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, September 24
September 24th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Your Elongated Protruberance”: 1826. In May of 1826, Thomas Jefferson Withers, a twenty-two year old law student known to his friends at South Carolina College as Jeffrey, wrote to his dear friend, James Hammond, 18, a letter which is both playful and quite frank about the physical nature of their relationship (see May 15). Hammond responded on June 3, but that letter appears to have been lost. Instead, what we do have is a follow-up letter from Withers which allude to that letter, which Withers praised for having “too much honesty of purpose” and in which Hammond, apparently, weighed the pros and cons of marriage. Withers’s reply to Hammond on September 24 went like this:
Your excellent Letter of 13 June arrived … a few weeks since … Here, where anything like a systematic course of thought, or of reading, is quite out of the question — such system as leaves no vacant, idle moments of painful vacuity, which invites a whole Kennel of treacherous passions to prey upon one’s vitals … the renovation of spirit which follows the appearance of a friend’s Letter — the diagram of his soul — is like a grateful shower from the cooling fountains of Heaven to reanimate drooping Nature. Whilst your letters are Transcripts of real–existing feeling, and are on that account peculiarly welcome — they at the same time betray too much honesty of purpose not to strike an harmonious chord in my mind. I have only to regret that, honesty of intention and even assiduity in excition [?] are far from being the uniform agents of our destiny here– However it must, at best, be only an a priori argument for us to settle the condemnation of the world, before we come in actual contact with it. This task is peculiarly appropriate to the acrimony of old age — and perhaps we had as well defer it, under the hope that we may reach a point, when ’twill be all that we can do–
l fancy, Jim, that your elongated protruberance –your fleshen pole — your [two Latin words; indecipherable] — has captured complete mastery over you — and I really believe, that you are charging over the pine barrens of your locality, braying, like an ass, at every she-male you can discover. I am afraid that you are thus prostituting the “image of God” and suggest that if you thus blasphemously essay to put on the form of a Jack — in this stead of that noble image — you will share the fate of Nebuchadnezzar of old. I should lament to hear of you feeding upon the dross of the pasture and alarming the country with your vociferations. The day of miracles may not be past, and the flaming excess of your lustful appetite may drag down the vengeance of supernal power. — And you’ll “be dam-d if you don’t marry “? — and felt a disposition to set down and gravely detail me the reasons of early marriage. But two favourable ones strike me now — the first is, that Time may grasp love so furiously as totally [?] to disfigure his Phiz. The second is, that, like George McDuffie, he may have the hap-hazzard of a broken backbone befal him, which will relieve him from the performance of affectual family-duty — & throw over the brow of his wife, should he chance to get one, a most foreboding glooming — As to the first, you will find many a modest good girl subject to the same inconvenience — and as to the second, it will only superinduce such domestic whirlwinds, as will call into frequent exercise rhetorical displays of impassioned Eloquence, accompanied by appropriate and perfect specimens of those gestures which Nature and feeling suggest. To get children, it is true, fulfills a department of social & natural duty — but to let them starve, or subject them to the alarming hazard of it, violates another of a most important character. This is the dilemma to which I reduce you — choose you this day which you will do …
Hammond would indeed choose to marry, and through his wife he became the owner of a 10,000 acre plantation and 220 slaves. In fact, that young man of “flaming excess” and “lustful appetites” would, according to his own diaries, exercize his libido on three teenage nieces, a slave who bore him several children, and his own teenage daughter. And yet he served as Congressman, Governor and Senator for South Carolina, and became one of the South’s most prominent moralists and defenders of slavery. “I firmly believe,” he said while Governor, “that American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his apostles.” Hammond invented the phrase “Cotton is King” during a Senate floor debate, and he argued that every society needed a lower caste in order to provide the luxeries that marked high civilization. Hammond’s arguments in support of the “peculiar institution” were highly influential, leading ultimately to his state becoming the first in the South to secede at the start of the Civil War.
Withers also married, in 1831, and he reached a measure of prominence as a journalist and “nullifier,” a lawyer and as a judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. He represented his county in South Carolina’s secession Convention, and South Carolina as a Senator in the Provisional Confederate Congress. He was also a signatory to the Confederate Constitution, but resigned from his Senate seat and returned to South Carolina in 1861. His estate was destroyed in the war, and he died, “a professed infidel,” of dysentary in November, 1865.
South Carolina law carried the death penalty for sodomy until 1869, when the death penalty was abolished for all crimes except murder. A follow-up law in 1872 imposed a five year prison term and/or a fine of $500.
[Source: Martin Duberman. "'Writhing Bedfellows': 1826." Journal of Homosexuality 6, no. 1 (1981): 85-101. Also available online here.]
Prominent Psychiatrist Calls for National Center to Treat Homosexuality: 1967. Dr. Charles Socarides, clinical assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine gave a lecture at a meeting at the National Institute of Mental Health, describing homosexuality as “condition of certainly epedemological proportions” and calling for the establishment of a national center for its research and treatment. “There is no place — hardly any place, I would say, in the United States — where a homosexual can go and say: I am a homosexual. I need help.”
Socarides been angling to establish himself as the nation’s leading authority on homosexuality for quite some time. Earlier that year, he had appeared on CBS’s notorious hour-long special program “The Homosexuals” (see Mar 7). In his NIMH lecture, he described homosexuality as a product of the “Pre-Oedipal” stage (according to psychoanalytic theories of development) — generally before the age of three — which was earlier than the generally accepted age in classical theories of sexual development. Socarides contended that his proposed theory would also hold up for “fetishism, transvestitism, sexual masochism, and exhibition,” and would lead to what he called a “Unified Theory of Sexual Perversion.” Socarides placed the burden of a homosexual’s development on his mother. “The homosexual’s mother is domineering and tyrannnical,” he said. “The best way to describe her is as a crushing mother that will not allow the child to achieve his orn autonomy.” He later added, “I don’t want to blame Mother for everything, but it comes down to this.”
Socarides described the NIMH as “ideally constituted” to set up a treatment and research center for homosexuality. “Such a national center will be started by one of the Western governments, and I hope it is here. … A comprehensive program is needed to diminish, reverse, and prevent this tragic human condition that involves such large numbers of the population.
Socarides’s suggesting was never adopted. Instead, the NIMH announced four days later the formation of a task force to recommend a research program on human sexuality, with a special focus on homosexuality. The twelve-member panel included professionals from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, law, sociology, anthropology and clergy. UCLA’s Dr. Evelyn Hooker (see Sep 2), whose groundbreaking research on homosexuality found that gay people weren’t inherently mentally disturbed (see Aug 30), was tapped to chair the panel. In 1969, that panel would release its report urging the descriminalization of homosexuality nationwide (see Oct 2). Socarides would become a bitter critic of the American Psychatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders (see Apr 9). In 1992, he co-founded of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which continues to advocate for the “curing” of gay people of their “pathology.”
[Sources: Jean M. White. "Center to Treat Homosexuals Urged." The Washington Post (September 25, 1967): A3.
Unsigned. "Task Force to Study Sexuality." The Washington Post (September 29, 1967): A2.]
Mass Shooting in Gay Bar Kills One, Injures Six: 2000. Ronald Edward Gay spent his entire life hearing jokes about his surname. A former Vietnam vet, he become an alcoholic and drug abuser, and had just been divorced for the sixth time. His children changed their last names, he claimed, to escape the jokes. So when he finally had had enough, he decided to turn it around and take it out not on his tormentors, but on those who he believed had ruined his name. On September 24, 2000, the fifty-three-year-old drifter walked into the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Virginia, pulled a 9mm handgun from his black trench coat and opened fire. One of the bar’s patrons, Anna Sparks, described the terror. “The guy was standing there with a trench coat on, and the gun was going pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, and people were falling over everywhere, trying to get behind booths. He just stood there for a couple of seconds, then lowered the gun and walked out like nothing had happened.” When the shooting spree ended, Danny Lee Overstreet, 43, was dead in a pool of blood and six others were injured, one critically.
Gay had been at a different bar earlier that night asking where the city’s nearest gay bar was, telling patrons he wanted to shoot some gay people. One person gave him directions and then called the police, who arrived at the Backstreet Cafe shortly after the shooting. They found Gay about two blocks away. “He said he was shooting people to get rid of, in his term, ‘faggots,’” Lieutenant William Althoff of the Roanoke police told reporters. Gay told authorities that he became obsessed with fulfilling four “missions”: to stop corruption, to stop communism, the bring all Vietnam vets “out of the mountains”, and to stop the spread of AIDS by forcing all gay people to move to San Francisco. Gay pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and six malicious wounding charges and on July 23, 2001 was given four life sentences.
“There Are No Homosexuals In Iran”: 2007. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York for the opening of a United Nations General Session when he made a side trip to Columbia University for a controversial speaking engagement. Some feared that Columbia would give the Ahmadinejad an open platform to spout his Holocaust-denying views unchallenged, but those fears evaporated when Columbia President LEe Bollinger’s opening remarkes blasted him as “a petty and cruel dictator” for imprisonong and executing gay people, academics and journalists. “I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions,” Bollinger said before Ahmadinejad took the podium. “I do expect you to exhibit a fanatical mind-set.”
Bollinger’s expectations were met, as Ahmadinejad fielded questions from Bollinger and the audience. When asked about the death penalty that Iran imposed on gay people, Ahmadinejad tried to turn the subject to drug smugglers. But when pushed on the question by theacting dean of the School of International and Public Affairs John Coatsworth, Ahmadinejad gave his now-famous answer: ” Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you we have that.” Ahmadinejad’s answer was greeted with jeers, outrage, and howls of laughter.
Those comments came just a few months after photos made the rounds on the Internet of two teenage boys who were hanged after being found guilty of homosexual acts. Just two months after Ahmadinejad’s talk at Columbia, an Iranian member of Parliament said that gays in Iran deserved to be executed or tortured. We assume he was speaking hypothetically.
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