The Daily Agenda for Saturday, November 30
November 30th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
The Mental Hygiene Aspects of Homosexuality: 1917. The theories behind the Eugenics movement were formulated by Sir Francis Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin. Drawing on Darwin’s theories of evolution, Galton sought to create a practical application of those theories in his 1883 book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, in which he suggested that, through carefully considered interventions, the human condition could be improved. In addition to Eugenics, which took a more narrow human-husbandry approach to improving the population, those ideas launched a broader “social hygiene” movement which had many positive results: the regulation and eventual abolition of child labor, mandatory and free education primary and (eventually) secondary education, workplace health and safety rules, anti-tenement ordinances, pre-natal care, food safety regulations, immunizations, sanitation, and birth control — although the latter, in some of its manifestations, also had its negative qualities as well. Particularly where forced sterilization of “undesired” population groups were concerned.
Eugenics was the dark side of the social hygiene movement, as was its “racial hygiene” component which simply provided a weak scientific gloss over longstanding prejudices and racial policies designed to prevent “race-mixing.” While not everyone involved in social hygienes were eugenicists, there was often a certain degree of crossed influences between the two areas of discussion. We can best see this in a textbook which was published in November 1917 by William Alanson White, a prominent psychoanalyst and professor of nervous and mental diseases at Georgetown University. In The Principles of Mental Hygiene, he touched on a large number of topics, including homosexuality. That passage is particularly striking because of the way White described homosexuality according to its impact on “the herd.”
This social group, like the others, is a complex and heterogeneous one and one, too, that we have only recently come to study scientifically. Perhaps no group of individuals have suffered from less understanding, have been treated with greater lack of consideration, than this group. The antipathic emotions have held almost complete sway and so have made the scientific approach to the problem practically impossible. The history of society’s attitude towards the homosexual is much the same as the history of its attitude towards the prostitute except that it has, if possible, been more completely dominated by the antipathic emotions.
Homosexuality has come of late to have a much broader meaning than that usually connoted by the popular speech. It means that degree of attraction for the same sex which turns the individual aside on the path towards a heterosexual goal and therefore away from those activities which naturally lead to procreation and are therefore race-preservative. The term by no means necessarily connotes actual concrete acts of sexual perversion. In this large sense it is readily seen why it should be tabooed by the herd. Its tendency is destructive to the interests of the herd as a biological unit and therefore the reaction against it. The reaction of hate and its congeners is the instinctive way of self-protection and must necessarily precede any judicial, intelligent attitude based upon scientific knowledge which can only come in the course of development when instinct shall have been controlled and directed by reason.
As already intimated, the homosexual group is a large and complex one and we are only beginning to be able to approach its problems with a clear scientific vision, but as we are able to do this we come more and more to an appreciation of how widely this particular type of inefficiency is distributed. Again, therefore, we come to appreciate the emphasis which I have all along put upon the necessity for studying the individual in order that he may be dealt with for what he is rather than perfunctorily classified with this or that social group just because, and for no other reason, the accident of circumstance has found him momentarily identified with it. Distinct homosexual types are found among the insane, the criminal, the feeble-minded, the epileptic, the vagrant, etc., etc., so that we must come to realize that it is a type of reaction, not a label to distinguish a given individual from all others, and try in our investigations to evaluate the part it has played in the social inadequacy of the particular individual under consideration.
Viewed in this way it becomes a problem like all the others and the objects of treatment come out clearly instead of being befogged by a haze of emotion.
The homosexual reaction should be corrected if possible. Psychotherapy is the most hopeful way of approach. Failing this the individual should be taught to use his energies as best he can based upon an understanding of himself. The ideal, next to cure, would be a direction of the energies into socially useful channels, which direction would at the same time afford an adequate fulfilment (sic) of the individual.
Homosexuality, in the broad sense here used, is found as a type of reaction in a great many conditions which constitute or lead to social inadequacy. It, therefore, offers a natural barrier to procreation of the socially inadequate classes the immense value of which, to the herd, has not been appreciated. It is, so to speak, a natural means of sterilization.
[Source: William A. White. The Principles of Mental Hygiene (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917): 208-211. Available online via the Internet Archive here.]
Robert Odeman: 1904-1985. Born Martin Hoyer in Hamburg, he took his stage name when he began traveling throughout Europe performing as a classical pianist. When his playing career ended after suffering a hand injury, he turned to the theater as an actor. He met his first love, Martin Ulrich Eppendorf, at the age of 17, and they remained together for the next ten years. After his beloved Muli died in 1932, Odeman became musical director of a theater in Hamburg, and in 1935 he opened his own cabaret. The Nazis closed it a year later on the grounds that it was politically subversive. A year after that, in 1937, the Nazi’s pressured a bookseller to renounce Odeman as a homosexuals, and he was convicted under Paragraph 175, Germany’s notorious statute that outlawed homosexual acts between men.
After serving in prison for 27 months, he was released in 1940 under the terms of a Berufsverbot, or a professional ban on certain professions including public performances. He was also kept under police surveillance. In 1942, he was arrested again under Paragraph 175 and was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was assigned an office job, which probably saved his life. An estimated 30,000 prisoners lost their lives there, from exhaustion through forced labor, disease, or were executed. When the Red Army advanced on Sachsenhausen, the camp’s SS guards ordered the 33,000 remaining inmates on a forced March. Thousands more prisoners did not survive the death march. But Odeman and two other “175’ers” were able to escape.
After the war, Odeman returned to Berlin, where he worked as an actor, composer, and author of satirical poems. Because Paragraph 175 remained on the books, Odeman continued to be regarded as a convicted criminal under the law and, like others convicted under the statute, he was denied compensation. He died in 1985 at the age of 81.
Ryan Murphy: 1965. The screenwriter, director, producer and creator or co-creater of Nip/Tuck, Glee, and The New Normal grew up in a writerly Irish Catholic familiy in Indianapolis: his father was newspaper circulation director and his mother, though a stay-at-home mom, had written five books and worked in communications for more than 20 years. Murphy ended up being outed to his parents at the age of fifteen when they discovered that he had been having a covert affair with a 21-year-old. They removed him from summer camp, sold his car, threatened to file statutory rape charges, and sent him to a therapist in the hopes of making him straight. Murphy drew a lucky card with his therapist, “who after two sessions called my parents in and said, ‘Your child is very smart and manipulative, and clearly he’s getting A-pluses in school even though this is going on, so either you deal with it honestly or he will turn 18 and you will never see him again.’ There was a long silent car ride home, and we never spoke of it again.”
Murphy wrote for the school newspaper while attending Indiana University, then got jobs at papers in Miami, L.A., New York, and Knoxville before selling his first script to Steven Spielberg in the late 1990s for something called, “Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn?”. Murphy’s first television project was with the WB teen comedy series Popular, but his first critical and popular hit came with FX’s Nip/Tuck. He followed that with Fox’s Glee, which was based, in part, on Murphy’s own experiences in choir back in Indiana. In addition to his writing and producing duties, Murphy selects much of the music that gets covered on <em<Glee, which has led to a number of public spats with Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, and the Followill brothers of Kings of Leo, over their refusals to allow their music on Glee.
In 2012, Murphy was co-creater of NBC’s The New Normal, about a gay couple and a surrogate who will carry their child. Again, Murphy’s inspiration for The New Normal was drawn on real life. In 2012, Murphy and his husband, photographer David Miller, welomed their first son in December. Murphy announced this year that the sixth season of Glee will be its last.
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).
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.