The Daily Agenda for Friday, October 25
October 25th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
120 YEARS AGO: An Organization of Colored Erotopaths: 1893. Charles H. Hughes, a St. Louis physician, former superintendent of Missouri’s State Lunatic Asylum in Fulton, and the respected founder and editor of the journal Alienist and Neurologist (“Alienist” was a ninetheenth century term for psychiatrist), published a lengthy paper in the October 1893 issue titled “Erotopathia — Morbid Erotism,” which he had presented to the Pan-American Medical Congress the month before. In that paper, he set out to distinguish various forms of sexuality and categorize them according to whether they were products of “the neuroses or the neuro-psychoses,” which he described as “resistless” or subject to “the resistible involvement of the will… simple moral vice, uninfluenced or unextenuated by neural disease, ” because “[t]he sexually insane must be differentiated from such of these perverts as are not damaged in mind to the degree of insanity; a difficult task, yet one now imperatively demanded of psychiatry.”
Some of those “perversions” did not yet have commonly known names, and so to describe homosexuality he needed to tie together several terms used by several other authors: “Westphal, Moll, Krafft-Ebing and many others have presented instances of sexual perversion under the titles of ‘Erninger and ContrÃ¤re Sexualempfindung,’ psychopathia-sexualis, homo-sexuality, etc., the anima muliebris in corpore virili inculsa (a female psyche confined in a male body), according to Ulrichs, himself a sexual pervert, and reasserted by Magnan, Kiernan, Gley and Lydston.” The fact that Hughes used the word homo-sexuality, which had been introduced into the English language just a year earlier with the first English translation of Richard Von Crafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, indicates Hughes’s keen interest on the subject. And that Hughes recognized the difficulty of assigning blanket categories of gay people as either morally bankrupt or mentally insane — and Hughes appears not to have entertained any other option — it reflected the limited parameters of debate then taking place in psychiatry.
Hughes was, among many things, a lover of debate, and his journal reflected his encyclopedic interests. What makes perusing old copies of Alienist and Neurologist so particularly rewarding is the variety of reprinted letters, anecdotes, speeches, news items, magazine articles, and just about anything else that remotely touched on psychiatry in the nineteenth century. On example was a suicide note from a young gay man in St. Louis (see Feb 23) which Hughes described in “Erotopathia — Morbid Erotism.” Another example is these three paragraphs which appeared later in that same October 1893 issue that included Hughes’s talk on “Erotopathia”:
Postscript to Paper on “Erotopathia.” — An Organization 0f Colored Erotopaths. — Apropos of my paper on “Erotopathia,” I am credibly informed that there is, in the city of Washington, D. C., an annual convocation of negro men called the drag dance, which is an orgie of lascivious debauchery beyond pen power of description. I am likewise informed that a similar organization was lately suppressed by the police of New York city.
In this sable performance of sexual perversion all of these men are lasciviously dressed in womanly attire, short sleeves, low· necked dresses and the usual ball-room decorations and ornaments of women, feathered and ribboned head-dresses, garters, frills, flowers, ruffies, etc., and deport themselves as women. Standing or seated on a pedestal, but accessible to all the rest, is the naked queen (a male), whose phallic member, decorated with a ribbon, is subject to the gaze and osculations in turn, of all the members of this lecherous gang of sexual perverts and phallic fornicators.
Among those who annually assemble in this strange libidinous display are cooks, barbers, waiters and other employes of Washington families, some even higher in the social scale — some being employed as subordinates in the Government departments.
[Sources: Charles H. Hughes. “Erotopathia — Morbid Erotism.” Alienist and Neurologist 14, no. 4 (October 1893): 531-578. Available online here.
Charles H. Hughes. “An organization of colored erotopaths.” Alienist and Neurologist 14, no. 4 (October 1893): 731-732. Available online here.]
A Letter from an Invert: 1919. Through the early part of the twentieth century, American medical and mental health writers took an increasing interest in homosexuality (or “sexual inversion,” “contrary sexual feeling,” “perverted sexual instinct,” or any number of other terms which they had yet to settle on). One of the professional journals to actively investigate all aspects of sexology was the Journal of Urology and Sexology under the editorship of William J Robinson, a physician, sexologist , birth control advocate, and department head of Genito-Urinary Diseases at Bronx Hospital Dispensary.
But it was rare to hear from “inverts” themselves. Last July, we reprinted one letter to the editor from 1919 which gave some indication of the frustration that many felt due to the severe societal disapproval that was prevalent a the time (see Jul 30). Three months later, that same journal published another letter “from an invert”:
To the EDITOR:
I know you will disagree with me, but it is my belief that two men who love each other have as much right to live together as a man and woman have. Also that it is as beautiful when looked at in the right light and far more equal!
There are many men who believe as I do. One might say they are abnonnal. Does that have anything to do with the right or wrong of the question? To sleep all day, to work all night, is an abnormal condition. It isn’t natural. Does that go to prove that the one who does it is right or wrong? There is that abnormal condition; to bring in a moral question would be foolishness. “Wrong” and “abnormal” seem to mean the same thing to many people. Or shall I put it — “wrong” and “unnatural”? From the way people look at me who know my belief, you would think me a leper or a negro! *
May I not have as high an ideal in my love toward men, as a man has towards a woman? Higher, no doubt, than most men have toward women? Higher, no doubt, than most men have toward women!
The idea people hold is making me bitter. All that I might be is being killed. I can understand the thoughts of Jean Valjean, who held to his high ideals and asked only to be left alone — yet had to lose his whole life fleeing, ever fleeing, from people.
I wish the question might be discussed in your magazine. I have never known of any other magazine which gave its readers the liberty of expressing their own opinions, as gladly as your magazine does.
There are reasons (position, etc.) why it would be better to withhold my name. You need not doubt the good faith in which this letter is written.
A MAN [?].
Jean Valjean is the protagonist in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables, which follows his 19-year-long struggle with the law for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. The editor appended this footnote to the letter:
* This sentence shows that the writer is no more broadminded on the racial question than most people are on the subject of sexual abnormalities and perversions.-W. J. R.
[Source: American Journal of Urology and Sexology 15, no. 10 (October 1919): 454-455.]
Claude Cahun: 1894-1954. She was born Lucy Schwob in Nantes, France, but in 1919 she chose the gender-ambiguous name (in French) of Claude Cahun in keeping with her photographic self-portraits that she began making at the age of sixteen. Her self-portraits in different guises expressed a range of sexual self-expression, from the close-cropped hair and stubbled chin in her masculine appearance to the exaggerated femininity in china-doll perfection, to a range of androgyny inbetween. When surrealism became fashionable, she fit right in, declaring that she had “always been a surrealiste.”
In 1937, she and her stepsister/partner, Suzanne Malherbe moved to the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel, which would see Nazi occupation during the war. Cahun became active in the resistance by writing and distributing anti-German leaflets. She and Malherbe would sometimes dress up and attend German military events in Jersey, and sneak leaflets into soldiers’ pockets. They were arrested in 1944 and sentenced to death, but the sentences were never carried out. Much of Cahun’s photographic work, including plates and negatives, were destroyed with the army raided her home. While Cahun and Malherbe both survived the war, Cahun’s health had deteriorated due to her detention and she died in 1954.
Chely Wright: 1970. She had her first Top 40 Country in 1997 when “Shut Up and Drive,” peaked at Number 14. In 1999, she hit #1 in the U.S. and Canadian Country charts with “Single White Female,” from her album by the same name. Those successes however came during a rather complicated time in her personal life. Chely had been in a off-and-on committed relationship with a woman that she described as “the love of my life,” — even during a period when the woman had married a man during part of that time. They lived together during their final five years together, from about 1999 to 2004, despite both women being closeted and both of them believing that gay relationships were wrong.
In 2000, Chely’s already complicated life became even more so when she started an affair with fellow country singer Brad Paisley. She liked him, loved him even, but wasn’t in love with him. But, as she later wrote in her autobiography, “If I figured I’m going to live a less than satisfied life, this is the guy I could live with. If I’m gonna be with a boy, this is the boy.” But in the end, she she wound up with a lot of remorse over how she treated him, “I have a lot of regret for how that [relationship] began and had a middle and ended. I had no business being in a relationship with him.”
Beginning in 2004, she began coming out to members of her immediate family and close friends. In 2007, she finally decided to come out publicly when she began writing her autobiography, and with its 2010 release she was officially out, once and for all. In August 2011, Wright married LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer in Connecticut. Wright herself has also become an LGBT advocate in founding LikeMe, which provides support and education scholarships for young LGBT advocates.
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?