The Daily Agenda for Saturday, October 26
October 26th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
“One Wonders If This Perversion Is As Rare As It Appears”: 1884. George Savage was one of Britain’s most prominent nineteenth century psychiatrists, having become the chief medical officer at Bethlem Royal Hospital (Europe’s oldest asylum for the mentally ill, which gave us the word bedlam). He became chief of Bethlam in 1878, the same year that he cofounded the Journal of Mental Science. He also maintained a private practice, whose wealthy and notable clients included Virginia Woolf. In 1884, Savage wrote his major text, Insanity and Allied Neurosis which became an influential reference book for psychiatric students. That same year, Savage published a brief case description of a patient, perhaps one from his private practice, whose situation led Savage to wonder of the young man’s “perversion is as rare as it appears.”:
A young man, single, aged 28 ; father violent and excitable ; one brother odd, and another a drunken scapegrace.
The patient himself is of middle height, anæmic and emotional. He began his description of his state of mind by saying that he felt he must kill himself. He said he did not feel any real mental depression, but he felt so ashamed of his unnatural state that he wished he were dead, to prevent scandal to his family. He had been to hear many religious teachers, and, in fact, was sent by one of these to see me.
He had always been industrious and hard-working, and made a good living as a traveller for a foreign house. He had led a very solitary life, and had never indulged in worldly amusements.
He was proud of repeating that he was a professing Christian. He had but one pleasure, and that was in music, and of late he had given this up, as it took him into society, where he met other men. At eleven years of age he learnt to masturbate, and had continued the habit ever since.
He has never indulged in sexual congress. He says he has no desire or lust after women, and, though he will not be sure, he thinks he never did have any lust for women.
He told his employer of his feeling, and said that he felt that he must embrace him. This the master resented, and said if he “came any more of that stuff” he should discharge him.
He says in America he was fairly comfortable, because the men were only of moderate size and height; but that in England, where there are so many men over six feet, he is perfectly miserable. He says the sight of a fine man causes him to have an erection, and if he is forced to be in his society he has an emission.
He has no loss of memory, no tremulousness ; his senses appear to be normal in every respect, and his reasoning powers in no way affected.
I recommended him to follow his occupation with energy, to seek mixed society, to go to places of amusement in cities, and to pursue his musical tastes.
I have no further news of him.
I have met with only one other man, who was in a general hospital, who had similar symptoms, but he had malformation of his genetalia, and his sex was at least doubtful.
In one female patient, in Bethlem, there was powerful lust towards those of her own sex. She died, and an infantile uterus was discovered. One wonders if this perversion is as rare as it appears, when we meet with trials such as have been held in Ireland.
[Source: George Savage. "Case of sexual perversion in a man." Journal of Mental Science 30, 131 (October 1884): 390-391.]
Biography of “Loop-the-Loop”: 1917. A fascinating account of a “passive pederast” appeared in the October 1917 edition of the American Journal of Urology and Sexology. It’s fascinating not so much for what we can learn about the individual in question but for what it reveals about the man who examined the drag queen and street hustler. First off, terminology gets complicated here right off the bat. Even though the word homosexuality had made its way into the English language some ten years before, Dr. Robert W. Shufeldt consistently referred to this person, identified only as “J.W.,” as a “passive pederast,” which harkens back to a time when pederast was used interchangeable with what we know understand as homosexuality, instead of today’s usage of pederast to identify an older adult male who prefers post-adolescent males. Such finer points weren’t understood or acknowledged then. But even if they were, Shufeldt wasn’t the kind of person to trouble himself with finer points, as will be made plain shortly.
Shufeldt begins his description of J.W. this way:
Everything in his history appears to point to the fact that he is a typical example of contrary sexual instinct, with not a few things about him worthy of special record. He is a “fairy” from the slums of Brooklyn, N. Y., and known among his associates there, and in Potsdam, Pa., also in Philadelphia as “Loop-the-Loop.”
…At different times I have successfully photographed him — once on July 24, 1906, when I obtained a full-length figure (anterior); two of his genitals and posterium, and again on November 4, 1916, when I photographed him (full length) in female attire. At this time he was over twenty-three years of age; weighed 150 lbs., and had a height of 5 feet, 8 inches.
In form he is distinctly of the masculine type, being notably slender in build and erect in carriage. His features are seen to be coarse and of a criminal cast, while in both body and clothing he exhibited very marked uncleanliness. His dark brown hair, abundant and unkempt, showed that, when he did part it, the part was in the middle. Extremely nervous in temperament, his blue eyes appeared to be ever on the alert, while his somewhat thin, non-sensuous lips pointed rather to decision than to weakness, and with the features at rest he often had a way of keeping them parted, thus showing his wonderfully fine set of
teeth, free from the slightest blemish.
There’s a lot of theoretical assumptions packed into those paragraphs, particularly the last one, where Shufeldt confidently detects a “criminal cast.” This observation is a legacy of degeneracy theory, a kind of pseudo-science that gave rise to the eugenics and social hygiene movement at the turn of the twentieth century. Degeneracy theory was a kind of a theory of evolution in reverse (although, in fact, it predated Darwin’s theory by more than half a century). Degeneracy theory held that without the positive intervention of higher civilization, mankind was destined to “degenerate” into lower orders of existence with each succeeding generation — with each generation being a kind of a bad copy of a copy, if you will. All sorts of things — intelligence, criminality, morality, educational attainment, just to name a few examples — were believed to be both hereditary and also capable to leaving a hereditary mark on future generations. A ne’er-do-well from a well-bred family was destined to pass his criminality on to his progeny along with his blue eyes and blond hair.
Furthermore, with criminality was now in his genes, this “degeneracy” was also bound to reveal itself in physical traits, what degeneracy theorists called “the stigmata of degeneration.” And it’s here where degeneracy theory became intrinsically intertwined with racism: the pronounced brow and wide noses common among several groups of African were taken as evidence of a more primitive, “atavistic” state. The particular shape of Asians’ eyes were stigmata of their particular brand of degeneracy, as were the hirsute bodies and hooked noses of the Mohammedans. You get the picture. Shufeldt himself shared those prejudices in abundance, having published America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro just two years before this paper. With degeneracy theory, homophobia and racism both rose from the same swamp and their stench was masked with the same pseudo-scientific perfume.
And thanks to degeneracy theory, doctors, psychiatrists and criminologists were constantly on the lookout for physical traits that might serve as markers for moral deficiencies. And so we see Shufeldt fulfilling his duty be detailing “Loop-the-Loop’s” physical traits: height, weight, genitals, the part of his hair, his “ever on the alert” blue eyes, and “thin non-sensuous lips.” And of course, topping it all off, J.W. hailed from the slums of Brooklyn, and everyone with even a passing knowledge of degeneracy would have understood what that meant. Shufeldt continued his search for more possible stigmata:
Oval in outline, his face possesses a certain unattractive hardness, inclined to repel the one looking at it, lacking as it does every expression indicative of truth, refinement, or good moral purpose. His limbs are straight and slender; his hands are inclined to be large, while his feet are slender and elongated, especially all the toes. It would be difficult to say when they were washed last, and they possess a sickening odor of foul perspiration. When he came to remove his clothing, in order to be photographed for the first time in my study, he appeared extremely nervous and agitated. He invited my attention to the fine development of his breasts, whereas there was not the slightest evidence of gynecomasty — a point rather in his favor, for it is in evidence sometimes in criminals. …Without especial examination I noted that his genitals were very well developed, the penis being covered by the prepuce; the testes of good size and the hair on the pubis abundant. There is no question in my mind but that the subject is perfectly virile, though he stoutly denied that he had ever had congress with a woman, having a powerful aversion for anything of the kind, while not lacking the power to accomplish it.
Shufeldt was particularly interested in Loop-the-loop’s feminine presentation, and J.W. appears to have been game to provide Shufeldt with more than he bargained for. According to Shufeldt, J.W. “claimed to have his menses regularly every month. … In July he admitted that he had never been pregnant; while in November, when he brought with him one of his numerous ‘husbands’ or lovers, he claimed that he had been pregnant a few years previously, and that he been operated on in hospital and the conception removed ‘through his side.’” It’s hard to know how much of this J.W. really believed or whether he was putting Shufeldt on.
Conversely, it’s hard to know how much of this was the product of Shufeldt’s imagination. In addition to being a thorough racist, Shufeldt had already demonstrated an appalling capacity to publish unadulterated garbage in the guise of science. While divorcing his second wife, the granddaughter of John James Audubon, Shufeldt published an article, ”On Female Impotency,” which included a photo of nude, supposedly mixed-race woman but who was probably his wife as part of a blackmail scheme. That got him fired from the Smithsonian Institution. So it’s important to take what Shufeldt wrote here with that in mind. Shufeldt, perhaps seeing J.W.’s story too hard to take, offered this out: he wrote that during one visit, J.W.’s lover came along and “laughed at the story, and stated that my subject, though ‘honest in other respects, was a most outrageous liar.’ I am convinced that this mendacity is due to his delusions; while on the other hand I found him to be one of the most skillful pickpockets that had ever come under my observation, and that is admitting a good deal.”
The examinations continued:
I further satisfied myself on that occasion, among other things, that he was not impotent; that his nipples did not become erect upon frictional excitation; that he knew of no other sexual perverts in his family, and that, while he could sing soprano well, he could not whistle, and he threw a stone like a girl.
That J.W. couldn’t whistle was also deemed important. As far back as the mid 1800s, it was believed that gay men couldn’t whistle (see Nov 9) J.W. was just one more data point to confirm that belief. Shufeldt then portrayed J.W.’s everyday life:
Quick and active in his motions, he did not, as he moved about indoors and out, give one the impression that there was anything in his demeanor simulating femininity, nor did his behavior in any way betray the remarkable manner in which his sexual life was being lived. He scoffed at religion of every kind, and remarked that he believed if he ever entered a church “the blooming thing would fall down.” From the very little schooling he had enjoyed in his lifetime, he is able to read his own language to only a moderate extent; his ability to write it being far worse. Still, apart from his extremely meagre education, he is no fool or dullard in other particulars. He is keen with respect to all the happenings in his own peculiar and lowly environment, and nothing in ordinary human nature seems to escape him. In gait and attire on the street, he gives one the impression of being an energetic, though rather poorly-clad young man, and he would not attract special attention. His manners are, however, very uncouth, and utterly lacking in anything at all approaching even commonplace breeding, and it would seem that his trade is plied chiefly for the money there is in it. According to his own statement, he claims he has never been arrested or otherwise interfered with by the police — something I am very much inclined to doubt. Nevertheless he was willing to prove it by my accompanying him some evening up and down the low streets and alleys he usually haunts. “Fifty cents or a dollar will buy off any cop,” he said, “and that from dark to daylight. We all do it.”
Finally, Shufeldt described J.W.’s last visit, which, whatever the veracity of his rendition of the visit, at least resulted in Shufeldt’s prize photo:
Few writers in the field of psychiatry have enjoyed what I had next the opportunity to observe in the life incidents of this subject: the putting on of female attire by a contrary sexed male. This, it is stated above, took place on the 4th of November, 1906, when J. W. came to my study to have his photograph taken, which he did at my request and with the confidence I had inspired in him, he seemed to fear neither a plot to capture, police, nor danger from detectives. …
As though it had suddenly occurred to him what he was there for, he hastily sat down on a convenient lounge and began, in a flustered sort of manner, to open his suit-case, having previously removed all his clothing and his cap, excepting his underwear. Remarkable indeed was the female attire he produced from the case, and no less extraordinary the spectacle he presented while engaged in taking it out. His hands trembled; a low, passionate look came into his eyes; an extremely sensuous expression crept over his features, and his body gave forth a decidedly disagreeable odor which was by no means mitigated through his not having bathed for some time. So oppressive did this become that I was obliged to raise a window.
“What do you think of that hat, isn’t it a dandy? I trimmed it myself.” In reality it was a miserably dirty affair, made of some thin material, with a wreath of some cheap, gaudy, red flowers fastened to its under side. At the same time I admired it, as it was not difficult for me to recognize the fact that he was, without the slightest doubt, thoroughly in earnest in all he said and did, and by no means was he playing a part.
Next followed three rather short, decidedly soiled, white muslin petticoats, each trimmed with a cheap, embroidered flounce of eyelet-work. These he at once put on, covering them with a waist and skirt, composed of some thin material, bright scarlet in color, and trimmed here and there with black, spangled net. At this stage his appearance was something painfully unique, and it was not much improved upon when he drew over his hairy legs and filthy feet a pair of unmended, open-work, tan-colored stockings, slipping on a pair of very far gone low shoes, with rather high heels.
“Dear me,” he said, “I’ve forgotten my earrings; but you won’t mind that?” Upon my assuring him that I liked young girls better without them, he seemed relieved and proceeded to fit to his head a fearful blond wig, made in two parts, the front piece rolling in pompadour fashion over a large “rat.” Into this he stuck a steel butterfly ornament, which on some occasion, he said, he fastened to the dirty standing collar he wore about his neck, or on the front of the equally soiled tulle gumpee which be carelessly put on between it and the waist to his dress. As he had recently shaved, his face was quite smooth, and in a twinkling he made it up with a by no means delicate pink powder, with red pomade for the lips.
While thus engaged he several times complained that the hair on his arms greatly annoyed him, but “most of the boys didn’t mind it.” What capped the climax, however, were his gloves, they being of the white cotton variety, coarse and thick, and very like those worn by the enlisted men in the army. They had not been in the wash for some time; and when he slipped on over them a cheap bracelet on each arm, the effect can better be imagined than described — more particularly as the gloves by no means reached high enough to cover his naked forearms, upon which, as already stated, grew a rather abundant growth of hair.
“Ha!” he said, “I feel more like myself now, and I am ready for the picture — what will you have, a pingpong?” I thought not; but I was not long in exposing a couple of negatives (8 x 10) on his own selected poses, the better one of these being here reproduced.
[Source: R.W. Shufeldt. "Biography of a passive pederast." American Journal of Urology and Sexology 13, no. 10 (October 1917): 451-460. Available online via Google Books here.]
60 YEARS AGO: Keith Strickland: 1953. The founding member of the B-52s started off as the group’s drummer, but switched to guitar after Ricky Wilson died in 1985. Strickland has also played keyboards and bass guitar on many B-52s recordings. He writes most of the music, while leaving the lyrics to the other band members. The band’s music has always had a fun, quirky factor, which Strickland says is the essence of what the B-52s are all about: “The underlying message of the B-52′s is, it’s okay to be different.” In December 2012, Strickland announced that “my barnstorming days have come to an end” and he would no longer tour, although he remains a member of the group. Strickland lives in Key West, Florida, with his partner.
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?