The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, January 22
January 22nd, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Bike Stop would later open another location at 381 3rd Avenue. That one became known as the Bike Stop East, and the 75th Street location became the Bike Stop West. The bar manager, known as “the Emerald Queen” for the emerald rings he wore, claimed to be Tab Hunter’s half brother. The Bike Stop East today is a sushi bar. I’m not sure what’s going on with the original location.
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
The Bicycle in the Treatment of Homosexuality: 1892. In the late 1800s, the entire country was swept up in a massive bicycling craze. We tend to think of bicycling today as a hobby or recreation, but in the late 1800s, it was an amazingly practical, efficient, cheap and speedy way of getting around. Before the bike came along, transportation was either by horse (cumbersome and expensive) or by foot (slow). By 1885, over 400 bicycle factories were working non-stop to keep up with demand. That year alone, Americans bought 2 million bikes, one for every 27 people in the country.
Bicycling also had the added benefit of being healthy exercise. And so it should come as no surprise that it would inspire doctors to find novel prescriptions for their patients’ ailments. Dr. Graeme M. Hammond of New York City wrote to the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease about the new contraption’s ability to calm his patient’s nervous disorders. He presented thirteen cases, which included “one of sexual perversion, and the thirteenth case was one of abnormally developed sexual appetite”:
CASES XII. and XIII. both suffered from abnormal sexual appetites. Case XII. a young man, twenty-four years of age, had observed for the past year a gradually increasing desire for members of his own sex. He had been able to control his appetite so far, but was fearful lest it should finally overcome him and lead him to perpetrate acts which were naturally abhorrent to him. Case XIII. was a man, thirty years of age, whose naturally vigorous sexual appetite had been fed by indulgence, till it seemed as if the gratification of his desires was his only object in life.
I have observed during my twenty years experience among athletes, that physical fatigue is antagonistic to the sexual appetite, and that men who devote their lives to the cultivation of their physical strength are seldom, if ever, immoderate sexually, and during the periods of active training are often abstemious simply from lack of desire. Energy, which, in others might be expended sexually, is in them consumed by hard physical work. It has, therefore, been my custom in those cases, in whom I have considered it advisable to diminish or to abolish the sexual appetite, to prescribe severe and fatiguing exercise in conjunction with suitable medicinal treatment. I have found nothing more serviceable than the bicycle to accomplish this object. It should be used daily, preferably in the afternoon, and the patient should be directed to ride long distances at a rapid rate of speed, not carrying it to such an extent as to produce exhaustion, yet sufficiently so to induce well-marked fatigue.
Both of these patients have repeatedly told me that a hard ride would invariably abolish all sexual desire, even if the appetite was at its strongest just before the ride was taken. Of course, medicinal treatment was administered in both instances; but there can be no doubt that their recovery was hastened and facilitated by the hard physical labor they were subjected to by the use of the bicycle.
[Source: Graeme Hammond. “The bicycle in the treatment of nervous diseases.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 17, no. 1 ( January 1892): 36-46.]
V.D. As Retribution for Illicit Intercourse: 1916. Today’s history item goes to show that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Through much of the first decades of the AIDS crisis, moralistic preachers, pundits and politicians described the fatal disease as divine punishment for what they saw as illicit behavior. In 1983, for example, New York Post Columnist Pat Buchanan wrote, “The poor homosexuals… they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.” (See May 24)
It’s that phrase — “awful retribution” — which is as ignorant is it is memorable, even some three decades later. But it’s hardly original. In 1916, Dr. Winfield Scott Hall, professor of physiology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, published a book, Sexual Knowledge, “for the instruction of young people, young wives and young husbands… on the best way and the best time to impart sexual knowledge to boys and girls.” The book was published under a copyright held by The International Bible House, and it proved to be as ignorant and moralizing as anything Buchanan has ever written. The concern then, of course, wasn’t AIDS, but gonorrhea and syphilis, two sexually transmitted diseases for which there were no easy cures. And so avoiding them in the first place was an important priority. Condoms were known to as an effective barrier to transmission, and there were a variety of other remedies which were marketed as prophylactics. But Hall, in Sexual Knowledge, wrote that the only true prevention was adherence to marriage vows:
Nature has devised a retribution for illicit intercourse in the form of venereal disease. If the parties observe fidelity to their marriage vows, venereal disease is experienced in wedlock only on very rare occasions, and then through some accidental infection, as from contact with some public utensil, as a public water closet, a public towel, or a drinking cup. So rare is this unfortunate accident, however, that we may say that intercourse in undefiled wedlock results normally in pleasure and gratification to both parties; while intercourse out of wedlock, or illicit intercourse, is destined, as a rule, to be visited with retribution.
Mind you, this was a professor at Northwestern University’s medical school, one of the largest and most prestigious institutions in the Midwest. Dr. William J. Robinson, who was a physician, sexologist, birth control advocate, and editor of the American Journal of Urology and Sexology, exploded with fury in the January 1916 edition of his journal. Quoting the first sentence from the passage above, Robinson raged:
I wish I possessed a pen sufficiently sharp and vitriolic and a vocabulary sufficiently rich and varied, to characterize properly this sentence, to brand it as it deserves to be branded.
…It isn’t sufficient to characterize it merely as a stupid falsehood; the injury of such statements is much greater than one would casually conceive; they have a further reaching significance in the fact that they tend to loose, illogical thinking and lead to false ideas about Nature in general. Coming from a scientist such a statement is nothing less than a crime. Just think of what the sentence means: in order to discourage men from illicit sexual relations or to punish them for having indulged in ante-matrimonial or extra-matrimonial relations, Nature has designedly, purposely, created the gonococcus and the spirocheta pallida. So thoughtful, so solicitous is Nature about Man’s morality, so deeply interested is she that men should live in strictly monogamic marriage only (which, by the way, everybody except a Professor of Physiology knows is an institution of only comparatively recent origin), that she has deliberately and purposely devised a retribution in the form of gonorrhea and syphilis for all those who dare to indulge in illicit, i. e., natural sex relations! Any union sanctioned by priest or magistrate is to be blessed, happy and free from any disease or disharmony, any union not s0 sanctioned is to be punished by venereal disease. And this is Nature’s deliberate retribution, and so says a scientist, a Professor of Physiology, who is supposed to instruct and develop the thinking powers of the young!
Venereal disease is Nature’s retribution for illicit intercourse. And what is measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria a retribution for? What is consumption, cancer, heart disease, Bright’s disease, a retribution for?
Robertson was just getting warmed up. To drive home the sheer ridiculousness of Hall’s “retribution” thesis, Robertson demanded that Hall’s statement be brought to its most logical conclusion:
I believe in logic to a finish. If it be reprehensible to teach people the use of venereal prophylactics because such knowledge circumvents Nature and destroys the deterrent effect of venereal disease, then it is also reprehensible, nay even criminal, to treat venereal disease, and every venereal specialist is a criminal, because by his skill in curing venereal disease, which is the direct result of illicit intercourse, he circumvents Nature, minimizes the stings of the punishment and thus directly encourages immorality. I am not joking. I am simply logical. And if we believe that Nature has devised venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse, then it stands to reason that any attempt to cure venereal disease, to free men from Nature’s punishment, is a sin against Nature.
Here is the situation. A man knows that there is such a thing as venereal disease; still, prompted by the imperiousness of his instinct, he takes the risk with the conscious or unconscious thought that if he is unfortunate enough to contract the disease he will go to a specialist who will cure it. But suppose there were no such a thing as a venereal specialist? Suppose the treatment of venereal disease were made a criminal offence? Can’t you see that the fear of venereal disease would exert its deterrent effect in a thousand times stronger measure than it does now? If a man were sure that if he contracted gonorrhea or syphilis or chancroids, that he would have to carry the disease for the rest of his life, that not only would there be no hope of any cure, but that he would get no relief, don’t you agree with me that such a man would hesitate much more than he does now, before subjecting himself to the risk of venereal infection? Of course you do. Q. E. D.
We thus reach the logical, the unassailable conclusion that if Nature devised venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse, then it is not only criminal to teach the use of venereal prophylactics, as is now done so commonly in the armies and navies of the world, including those of the United States, but it is just as criminal, in fact more so, to treat venereal disease in any form. If a man wants to be a criminal and wants to break Nature’s laws against illicit intercourse, then let him bear the full consequences, and every man who wants to save him from Nature’s punishment, or wants to cure him after he has been punished, is accessory to the crime.
How does Professor Hall and those who believe with him like this logically unassailable conclusion?
[Sources: Winfield Scott Hall. Sexual Knowledge (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1916): 129-130. The passage can be read online via Google Books here.
William J. Robinson. “Venereal disease as a retribution for illicit intercourse.” American Journal of Urology and Sexology 12, no. 1 (January 1916): 24-29. Robinson’s article can be read online via Google Books here.]
Sir Francis Bacon: 1561-1626. The philosopher, essayist, author, jurist, statement and scientist is known as the creator of empiricism, which insisted that knowledge must come from direct experience and evidence rather than traditions, intuitions or religious beliefs. Bacon further honed those theories into a disciplined approach to scientific method which became known as the Baconan methond or, more simply, the scientific method.
Bacon’s career began in law, first as a barrister and then as a member of Parliament, where he became known as a reformer and an advocate against religious persecution. But his career stalled under Queen Elizabeth I, and he found himself mired in debt. When James I ascended to the thrown, Bacon’s prospects improved. He also, at the age of 48, finally married Alice Barnham. His close relationship with the gay James I was fruitful, as Bacon was awarded the office of Solicitor General, then Attorney General, then Lord High Chancellor, the highest post in government aside from the King himself, all within a decade. But his public career ended in 1621 when after falling into debt, he was charged by Parliament with 23 counts of corruption. He was fined £40,000 and sent to the Tower of London at the king’s pleasure. Again, his closeness with the King came in handy as he was released days later with James I covering the fine.
During Bacon’s downfall, there was considerable speculation about his private life and his love for “very effeminate-faced youth,” and Welsh male servants. The Puritan MP Sir Simonds D’Ewes wrote in his diary on the very day of Bacon’s censure by Parliament:
The favour he had with the beloved Marquis of Buckingham emboldened him, as I learned in discourse from a gentleman of his bedchamber, who told me he was sure his lord should never fall as long as the said Marquis continued in favour. His most abominable and darling sinne I should rather burie in silence, than mencion it, were it not a most admirable instance, how men are enslaved by wickedness, & held captive by the devill. For wheeras presentlie upon his censure at this time his ambition was moderated, his pride humbled, and the meanes of his former injustice and corruption removed; yet would he not relinquish the practice of his most horrible & secret sinne of sodomie, keeping still one Godrick, a verie effeminate faced youth, to bee his catamite and bedfellow, although hee had discharged the most of his other household sevants: which was the moore to bee admired, because men generallie after his fall begann to discourse of that his unnaturall crime, which hee had practiced manie yeares, deserting the bedd of his Ladie, which hee accounted, as the Italians and the Turkes doe, a poore & meane pleasure in respect of the other; & it was thought by some, that hee should have been tried at the barre of justice for it, & have satisfied the law most severe against that horrible villanie with the price of his bloud; which caused some bold and forward man to write these verses following in a whole sheete of paper, & to cast it down in some part of Yorkehouse in the strand, wheere Viscount St. Alban yet lay:
Within this sty a *hogg doth ly,
That must be hang’d for Sodomy.
(*alluding both to his sirname of Bacon, & to that swinish abominable sinne.)
But hee never came to anye publicke triall for this crime; nor did ever, that I could heare, forbeare his old custome of making his servants his bedfellowes, soe to avoid the scandall was raised of him, though hee lived many yeares after his fall in his lodgings in Grayes Inne in Holbourne, in great want & penurie.
With his career in government over, Bacon turned to writing and conducting scientific research. He wrote New Atlantis, a utopian fiction which set out his ideals about the best way to organize society; Novum Organum, in which he discussed the organization of knowledge; and The Advancement of Learning, where he argued for empirical research instead of supposition and superstition. In 1626, his commitment to empiricism may have been a factor in his death. To test whether freezing meat would preserve it, he went out in a blizzard and stuffed a dead chicken with snow. As he wrote while on what would turn out to be his death bed, “As for the experiment itself, it succeeded excellently well; but in the journey between London and Highgate, I was taken with such a fit of casting as I know not whether it were the Stone, or some surfeit or cold, or indeed a touch of them all three.” He died of pneumonia a month later on April 9, 1626.
70 YEARS AGO: Elaine Noble: 1944. Before Harvey Milk won political office in San Francisco, there was Elaine Noble in Boston. She won her Massachusetts state House of Representatives seat in 1974, becoming the first non-incumbent “avowed homosexual” to be elected to public office. It was a nasty campaign from beginning to end: her windows were shot out, her car was vandalized, and windows were smashed at her campaign headquarters. As she later recalled, “I was elected in a largely Irish-Catholic town. I was elected in spite of being gay. In the height of desegregation in Boston, I was riding on the buses with children of color. The gay community was just as racist as the straight community. So I had a lot of issues around race… There was a level of animosity in all strata of society against homosexuality.”
Despite that animosity, she won 59% of the vote. She did it by focusing on the things people in her district cared about: crime, health care, housing for the district’s many elderly residents, and the neglect in city services.
But the harassment continued after she took office. “One day, I was walking to the State House and there was a guy, 85 years old, and he walked up and said, ”Rep. Noble.’ And I reached up to shake his hand and he spit on me. And then I turned around and he started doing his diatribe. I walked all the way home, showered and changed my clothes. So, even walking to work or riding my bike to work was not terribly safe.”
She not only had to deal with obscene profanities, she once found human feces left in her desk. But when she stood for re-election two years later, she won with almost 90% of the vote. In 1977, she was part of the first delegation of gay men and lesbians invited to the Jimmy Carter White House to discuss issues important to the LGBT community (see Mar 26). Being such an important “first” took its toll on her though, and she decided against running for re-election in 1978:
My phone was ringing constantly from people all over the country who had very frightened voices. There were people all over the country calling and asking if I would come and speak. They’d say, “Well, you have a responsibility to a bigger constituency.” I was pulled in a thousand different ways. It was not going to have a happy ending and I was smart enough to know that. I thought, “Well, I’ve done my best. It’s time for me to move on to the next step in my own life. I’ve paid my dues.”
Since then, with the exception of an occasional interview, she has mostly been living a considerably quieter private life.
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?