The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, January 21

Jim Burroway

January 21st, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, May 24, 1972, page 5.

 
After a long battle to obtain a dance permit from the San Francisco Police Department, The Shed became a popular bar and after-hours dance club and (later) discotheque. It opened in 1972, just as the Castro was transitioning from a working class Irish neighborhood to a gay neighborhood. Located across the street from the Harvey Milk Memorial branch of the San Francisco Public Library, the building now looks like it might be a private residence.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Time Magazine’s “The Homosexual In America”: 1966. Time magazine published an unsigned two-page article which, given that it was a “popular” magazine, provides a mirror of how gay people were viewed in the U.S. at that time:

It used to be “the abominable crime not to be mentioned.” Today it is not only mentioned: it is freely discussed and widely analyzed. Yet the general attitude is, if anything, more uncertain than before. Beset by inner conflicts, the homosexual is unsure of his position in society, ambivalent about his attitudes and identity — but he gains a certain amount of security through the fact that society is equally ambivalent about him.

In the second paragraph, Time provides some examples of that ambivalence that straight society had toward gay people:

The latest Rock Hudson movie explicitly jokes about it, Doubleday Book Shops run smirking ads for The Gay Cookbook, and newsstands make room for “beefcake” magazines of male nudes.

It’s hard to know whether Time indulged in some gay-baiting with Rock Hudson, but that line almost certainly raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood. The article went on:

But increasingly, deviates are out in the open, particularly in fashion and the arts. Women and homosexual men work together designing, marketing, retailing, and wrapping it all up in fashion magazines. The interior decorator and the stockbroker’s wife conspire over curtains. And the symbiosis is not limited to working hours. For many a woman with a busy or absent husband, the presentable homosexual is in demand as an escort — witty, pretty, catty, and no problem to keep at arm’s length. …

On Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, says Broadway Producer David Merrick, “you have to scrape them off the ceiling.”  … [I]n the theater, dance and music world, deviates are so widespread that the sometimes seem to be running a kind of closed shop.

As the article continues, the ugliness grows. Time cited a Los Angeles psychiatrist who declared homosexuals “failed artists, and their special creative gift a myth.” Time held gay people responsible for plays depicting “the degradation of women and the derision of normal sex. … They represent a kind of inverted romance, since homosexual situations as such can never be made romantic for normal audiences.” And Time projected its obsessions with sex onto gay people:

Even in ordinary conversation, most homosexuals will sooner or later attack the ‘things that normal men take seriously.’ It does not mean that homosexuals do not and cannot talk seriously; but there is often a subtle sea change in the conversation: sex (unspoken) pervades the atmosphere.

It was at this point when Time turned to the notorious psychologist of the 1950s, Edmund Bergler, who, though dead for four years, supplied the following from a book he wrote ten years earlier:

The late Dr. Edmund Bergler found certain traits present in all homosexuals, including inner depression and guilt, irrational jealousy and a megalomaniac conviction that homosexual trends are universal. Though Bergler conceded that homosexuals are not responsible for their inner conflicts, he found that the conflicts “sap so much of their inner energy that the shell is a mixture of superciliousness, face aggression and whimpering. Like all psychic masochists, they are subservient when confronted by a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person.”

It was all there: gay people were “not like everybody else. They were “anxiously camouflaged,” “catty,” “megalomaniacal,” “supercilious,” “conspiring,” “wimpy,” “camp,” “psychic masochists,” “irrationally jealous,” “beset by inner depression and guilt,” “pathetic,” suffering from “a disabling fear of the opposite sex,” trapped in “a case of arrested development,” “subservient around strangers,” “merciless around those weaker than them,” “antagonistic toward heterosexuals,” “mocking of heterosexuals,” “inferior to heterosexuals” and, yes, conspiring over curtains while also nursing their “constant tendency to prowl or ‘cruise’ in search of new partners” while “refus(ing) to accept the full responsibilities of life.” And Time’s concluding remarks were nearly indistinguishable from what we regularly hear today from the likes of Peter LaBarbera, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, or the minions at the Family “Research” Council:

Lack of procreation or of marriage vows is not the issue; even Roman Catholic authorities hold that an illicit heterosexual affair has a degree of “authentication,” while a homosexual relationship involves only “negation.” Roman Catholic thought generally agrees that homosexuality is of and in itself wrong because, as New York’s Msgr. Thomas McGovern says, it is “inordinate, having no direction toward a proper aim.” Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of sexual faculty and, in the worlds of one Catholic educator, of “human construction.” It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste — and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.

The gay community’s reaction was biting. An unsigned commentary in the Daughters of Bilitis’ The Ladder (possibly by pioneering activist Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31), who was the magazine’s editor at the time) read, in part:

In its final frenzied paragraph TIME shows its Catholic petticoats, TIME rolls religious, psychiatric, and plain bourgeois prejudice into one big mudball which it slings about, hoping to blacken homosexuality forever… TIME calls homosexuality “a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, 11 Ditto for TIME’s essay on the subject.

The Ladder also quoted from a New York psychologist, Fritz Fluckiger, who had spoken at a DOB meeting: “They are famous for having a large research staff — and indeed, they have found every single cliche you can think of, to put in that essay.”

The following month, Gittings’s partner, Kay Lahusen (see Jan 5), writing as Kay Tobin.  quoted Dr. Isadore Ruben, publisher of Sexology magazine, who said that Time ordinarily prides itself in being up-to-date on whatever it covers. “But if this is so, then I am forced to conclude that if they are not ignorant, the editors of this essay are intellectually dishonest, motivated by prejudice, and guilty of deliberate omission and distortion.” That same issue also published three letters which had been sent to Time’s editor that the magazine declined to publish. Naturally, it was the letter from Frank Kameny (see May 21, founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C) which was the most forceful:

Instead of a mature, fair, objective assessment of the issue of homosexuality, divorced from ancient prejudices, pre- (sic) and misconceptions, and intolerances, we have a venomous, petulant polemic, suitable for a second-rate conservative publication.

From its stereotyping of “the homosexual” in the same invalid fashion as that in which others type “the Negro” or “the Jew,” to its choice as a major  “authority” of a man (Bergler) whose views are discredited and disavowed even by his own professional colleagues, TIME has remained in the millenia-old intellectual and emotional rut on this question.

Instead of making a skeptical examination of the claims of modern psychiatry and finding that they are based upon shabby, slipshod science, including poor sampling techniques, built-in conclusions, and armchair theorizing about the nature of homosexuality, TIME swallows these claims hook, line, and sinker.

…The concluding three sentences are an unwarrantedly vicious attack upon a sincere effort to improve the status of a maligned and persecuted group of people and to gain for them the dignity to which all human beings have the right to aspire. Those sentences are the voice of a closed mind, of a mind which clearly has pre-judged, is not open to change, and is therefore in the most fundamental sense, prejudiced.

[Sources: Unsigned. “The homosexual in America” Time (January 21, 1966): 40-41. Available online with subscription here.

Unsigned. Column: “Cross-currents.” The Ladder 10, no. 6 (March 1966): 18.

Kay Tobin. “A rebuke for TIME’s pernicious prejudice.” The Ladder 10, no. 7 (April 1966): 20-22.

Franklin E. Kameny. From “Letters TIME didn’t print.” The Ladder 10, no. 7 (April 1966): 22-23.]

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?

Paul Douglas

January 21st, 2014

I’d forgotten how über-conservative TIME was in the 60’s. I wonder if they would reprint this with some new commentary for 2014?

b

January 21st, 2014

TIME still has that streak in my opinion, for example (it FEELS LIKE) every time they reference or focus on Ted Cruz they regard him as some awesome bright new star personality in politics, as someone whose actions deserve to be considered bold, fresh, impressive. I’ve yet to see anyone contributing to that magazine even so much as bat an eye at the repercussions of that man’s cheering on a shutdown of the government, like people whose paychecks stopped coming but their bills and due payments didn’t, and that’s just one of MANY negative repercussions they just sweep under the rug as though those caused hardship felt about as much stress as being smacked in the face with a feather. Yes I do have a subscription, but I only bought it as an act of charity for the NC Special Olympics program and they didn’t offer The Advocate or Instinct or ANYTHING like that, figured TIME would be the closest thing to even MENTION events and whatnot concerning the LGBT community but as far as I’M concerned, they still have that conservative bent, OH yes.

Dan

January 25th, 2014

I enjoy these historical posts. But instead of running the same items over and over again, why not do some interesting follow-up journalism? For example, instead of just re-re-re-re-posting this piece about the TIME article, why not try to find out more about who wrote it and what the context was over at TIME? Call up TIME and ask them. If the author is still alive, talk to him. Even if TIME doesn’t want to speak about it, that would be newsworthy and interesting in its own right.

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