The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, March 25
March 25th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
That burst of gay-rights activism right after the 1969 Stonewall rebellion had petered out considerably as the first half of the 1970s ground on. After weathering Vietnam, Watergate, the oil embargo, runaway inflation and “Feelings”, all anybody wanted to do, gay or straight, was do a little dance, make a little love, and get down tonight. But Anita Bryant’s vicious anti-gay campaign to repeal Miami’s gay rights ordinance (see Jun 7) re-galvanized a complacent gay community into action, and not just in South Florida. Bryant promised to take her anti-gay crusade nationwide, and rumors abounded about further anti-gay ordinances and ballot initiatives in cities across America. Activists in Washington, D.C., fearing that the nation’s capital would be a likely target, organized a coalition called the Dialog for Human Rights. Member groups included the National Organization for Women, the Gay Activists Alliance, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and they immediately set about a fundraising drive to counter whatever might be headed their way. As it happened, D.C. was spared, but St. Paul, Minnesota (see Apr 25); Wichita, Kansas (see May 9); and Eugene, Oregon fell victim to the Bryant steamroller before it was finally turned back in Seattle and California (see Nov 7).
TODAY IN HISTORY:
385 YEARS AGO: Thomas/Thomasine Hall: 1629. The Virginia Colony Court’s records describe the case of a servant, Thomas or Thomasine Hall, who claimed to be “both a man and a woman.” In testimony before the court, Hall told of being born at or near Newcastle Upon Tyne and recalled being christened “by the name of Thomasine.” Hall was dressed in woman’s apparel until the age of twelve. At the age of 22 while living in London, Hall’s brother joined the army and Hall “cut off his hair and changed his apparel into the fashion of a man” and joined the army. After leaving the army, Hall again “changed himself into woman’s apparel and made bone lace and did other work with his needle.” Shortly after, Hall again changed “his apparel into the habit of a man and so came over into this country.”
After arriving in Virginia as a male, he changed his expression back to that of a woman, but rumors spread that “Hall did lie with a maid … called Great Bess.” In one encounter, two men assaulted Hall, threw him on his back and “pulled out his members,” revealing that Hall anatomically “was a perfect man.” Three other women testified to having searched Hall and reported that “he was a man.” But a Captain Basse performed an inspection and determined that there was “a piece of flesh growing at the [section of the document is missing] belly as big as the top of his littler finger (an) inch long.” Basse commanded Hall “to be put in woman’s apparel,” apparently deciding that Hall was a female. To finally resolve the case, the Court decided to accept Hall’s own self-definition as both man and woman, and ordered the determination “to be published in the plantation” where Hall lived, “that he is a man and a woman” and ordered Hall to “go clothed in man’s apparel, only his head to be attired in a coyfe (coif) and crosscloth with an apron before him.”
280 YEARS AGO: 300 Lashes In Savannah for Sodomy: 1734. The description is extremely brief. No names, no details, just two short sentences in the diary of Johann Boltzius and Israel Gronau, Lutheran pastors who ministered to German settlers in the Georgia Colony:
Today an execution of judgment was held here in Savannah. A man from this place had been accused and convicted of sodomy and inciting others, for which he was to receive three hundred lashes under the gallows.
“Insanity, Produced by Masturbation”: 1835. In 1829, the state of Massachusetts was alerted to the growing problem of “lunatics and persons furiously mad” who were being kept in local jails, almshouses, or private homes. After completing an informal census of the numbers of people suffering from mental illness, the state legislature established in the Massachusetts Lunatic Hospital in Worcester, among the nation’s first insane asylums, which opened its doors in 1833 under its first superintendent, Dr. Samuel B. Woodward. In many ways, Woodward’s approach represented a significant breakthrough in the attitudes towards treating the mentally ill, who he regarded as suffering from diseases which were not unlike physical illnesses.
However, being a product of his times, Woodward’s understanding of physical and mental illnesses reflected an era when medicine was still based on little more than lore and folk medicine. The mental health profession had even less to go on than that. But I guess they had to start somewhere. And observing the activities of the patients at the Lunatic Hospital was perhaps as good a place to start as anywhere else. On March 25, 1835, Woodward contributed a short article to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (which would later become the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine) detailing what he considered to be an important cause of mental illness:
No cause is more influential in producing Insanity, and, in a special manner, perpetuating the disease, than Masturbation. The records of the institutions give an appalling catalogue of cases attributed to this cause; and yet such records do not show nearly all the cases which are justly ascribable to it. For it is so obscure, and so secret in its operation, that the friends in almost all cases are wholly ignorant of it. It is in a few cases only, where the practice of the vice becomes shamefully notorious, that friends are willing to allow its agency in the production of any disease, particularly insanity; and yet no cause operates more directly upon the mind and the feeling. The mental energies are prostrated by the habit in innumerable cases, long before the delusions of insanity appear. Indeed there are many cases, in which insanity does not intervene between the incipient stages of that mental and physical imbecility, which comes early upon the victim of masturbation, and the most deplorable and hopeless idiocy, in which it frequently results.
It’s easy to be distracted by the terminology used in the early nineteenth century: idiocy, imbecility, lunacy. Today, these words are purely pejorative. But in the nineteenth century, these words had different and rather specific meanings to describe what we today would call severe intellectual disability (or severe mental retardation), milder learning difficulties, and psychosis respectively. And while Woodward used to word “vice” to describe the “notorious” practice, it would be a mistake to assume that Woodward was writing wholely out of moral indignation. (It would also be a mistake to assert that Woodward was immune to the moral indignity directed towards all non-procreative sex acts that was common in his society.)
Instead, it is perhaps best to understand Woodward as operating from what was perhaps the first true mental health laboratory in the U.S. For the first time, a trained physician could directly observe, under controlled conditions, their charges’ conduct. And these charges, often, weren’t self-possessed enough to limit their activities to what was considered proper conduct, including sexual conduct. And since sexual conduct was most certainly not a subject for polite society, Kinsey’s findings that virtually everyone masturbated would come more than a century too late to be of any use to Woodward. And so when Woodward saw crazy people masturbating, he drew the conclusion that masturbation made people crazy, though not always:
This is not, however, always the case. In some individuals there is all the raving of the most furious mania, or the deep and cruel torture of hapless melancholy, before the mind is obliterated and the energies of the system forever prostrated. … Those cases of insanity arising from other known causes, in which masturbation is a symptom, are rendered more hopeless by this circumstance. It is a counteracting influence to all the means of cure employed, either moral or medicinal, and coinciding as it does with whatever other causes may have had an agency in producing disease, renders the case almost hopeless. Of the number of tbe insane that have come under the observation of the writer (and that number is not small), few, very few have recovered, who have been in the habit of this evil practice; and still fewer, I might say almost none, have recovered, in which insanity or idiory has followed the train of symptoms enumerated in a former paper, indicating the presence of the habit, and its debilitating influence upon the minds and bodies of the young.
Clearly, with the limited data available to him, Woodward had difficulty sorting out causation versus correlation, which was a common problem in his day (as it often is today). But he provided some data to try to cast some light on this conundrum. But with no criteria to ascertain whether it was a cause or an effect of the patients’ mental health problems (or totally unrelated altogether, a prospect which apparently never occurred to him), it’s hard to see how it helps:
Of eighty males, insane, that have come under the observation of the writer, and who have been particularly examined and watched, with reference to ascertaining the proportion that practised masturbation, something more than a quarter were found to practise it; and in about 10 per cent., a large proportion of which are idiotic, the disease is supposed to have arisen from this cause.
Once someone had moved on to madness, Woodward wrote, it would be almost impossible to cure him of the practice. “They will rarely form resolutions on the subject, and still more rarely adhere to them. Reason, the balance wheel of the mind, being denied them, they are obnoxious to the influence of all the propensities in a high degree.” But he offered this advice for those who found that they could strain themselves from the habit:
As the inebriate would probably never conquer his appetite for alcoholic drink if he indulged once a month only — so in this habit, the occasional indulgence will thwart the whole plan of cure. The diet should be simple and nutritious; the exercise should be moderate and gentle; indulgence in bed should not be allowed, and the individual should always sleep alone. A matrass (sic) is better than a soft bed. He should rise immediately upon waking, and never retire till the disposition to sleep comes strongly upon him. The cold bath is a valuable remedy, a sea bath is better, and the shower bath often superior to either.
Narcotics, if there is a high degree of irritability in the system, are valuable remedies, of which conium, belladonna, hyoscyamus, nux vomica, and opium, may be used under different circumstances, combined or singly, according to the effects. Blisters and issues on the pudenda or perineum, promise well, and the different preparations of bark and iron, and other mineral tonics, should be used till all the effects of the habit are removed, till the propensity is fully conquered, and the constitution is restored to health and vigor.
Ironically, the very next article in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, titled “Quackery,” warned against the dangerous practice that passed for medical practice and called for a system of statewide regulation of the medical profession.
As for Woodward, he would go on to co-found the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, and serve as the first president. That organization, in 1892, would rename itself the American Medico-Psychological Association which, in 1921, would rename itself again as the American Psychiatric Association.
[Source: Samuel B. Woodward. "Insanity, produced by masturbation." Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 12, no. 7 (March 25, 1835): 109-111. Available online at Google Books.]
State Department Announces Firing of 126 Homosexuals: 1952. Carlisle H. Humelsine, deputy undersecretary at the Department of State, told a House Appropriations Committee that the State Department had fired 126 people accused of homosexuality since January 1, 1951. He said that 119 had been fired from the department and the foreign service during calendar year 1951, and that seven more had been fired so far in 1952. “There is no doubt in our minds,” he told the committee, “that homosexuals are security risks. We havce been working in a very vigorous way on this particular problem. We have resolved that we are going to clean it up.”
Humelsine explained how the Department went about the task. “I think one of the reasons for what appears to be a large figure is that we went to each chief of mission and called his personal attention to it, and said that there is no doubt that we have just got to eradicate this influence from the foreign service. We did the same ting in the department, and I think this shows the results of that sort of work. I hope that next year will show that we have broken the back of this particular problem.”
Committee chairman Rep. John J. Rooney (D-NY) commended the State Department’s efforts, and went on to make what he called a “gratuitous observation that the State Department wasn’t the only government agency with gay people on the payroll. “We probably could do the same thing in all of the departments of the Government, including Interior, Post Office, Treasury and everywhere else. This has been extensively advertised as a problem which is solely the State Department’s, but the facts do not bear that out …. After this committee questioned such possible conditions in the Department of Commerce, it was only a very short time until they had 53, and they were still weeding them out.”
Betty Friedan Says Lesbians Are Taking Over the Women’s Movement: 1973. During the first major fundraising event for the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, noted feminist author Betty Friedan and NOW founder cited “man hating” and lesbians as two factors that would hinder progress for women. In remarks to those gathered, the author of the 1963 book The Feminine Mystique which is credited for sparking the Women’s movement in the 1960s, repeated her opinion that lesbians were being used as a ploy to divide women. “Let U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug introduce a bill for lesbian mothers. Let Ms. Magazine do a special issue about lesbians. But let us concentrate on men and women working together for full partnership in society.” She continued:
“I have had to say some uncomfortable things because I felt they were important. I think the movement has been infiltrated and the lesbian issue has been pushed forward for divisive purposes. We must not let ourselves be used. … You don’t have to hate men or give up children to be liberated.”
An Associated Press article describing the meeting reported this reaction to Friedan’s remarks:
“Her putting down of the lesbian issue as irrelevant to the women’s movement was incredible,” said Jan Welch, who described herself as a feminist, NOW member and a lesbian, but not a man hater. “I want her to prove that I am somehow harmful to the movement because I am a lesbian. I think it’s Betty that’s causing all the problems.”
Anita Bryant: 1940. The less said, the better.
Elton John: 1947. He was born Reginald Dwight in Middlesex. He started playing piano at the age of three, and took up formal lessons at seven. He took to composition and showmanship early, writing his own music and playing piano like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. By eleven, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he learned Chopin and Bach. He became a pub pianist at fifteen and began playing in bands around London. He answered an ad in the New Musical Express for a songwriter, and was given a stack of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin. Dwight wrote music for the lyrics and sent them back to Taupin, and one of history’s most successful song-writing partnerships was born. Shortly after, Dwight adopted the name Elton John. In 1969 he recorded his first Album, Empty Sky, and followed that up with the eponymous Elton John, which yielded him his first US Top Ten single, “Your Song.” A string of hits followed, building toward the 1973 smash “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” from the album by the same name. In 1976, he “came out” as bisexual, but few believed him. When he married German recording engineer Renate Blauel in 1984, many speculated that the marriage was just a cover. They divorced in 1988, and he finally decided he was “comfortable” being gay.” In 1992, he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation which raises money for HIV/AIDS prevention and fighting stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. Since 1993, John has been in a relationship with David Furnish, which they formalized with a civil partnership in 2005. They became parents in 2010.
Sheryl Swoops: 1971. The standout women’s basketball player led her Texas Tech teammates to the NCAA women’s basketball championship in 1993 during her senior year after setting several NCAA records which are still on the books today. When the Women’s National Basketball Association was formed in 1997, she was the first player signed to the new league. She began her professional career with the Houston Comets, returning to the court only six weeks after giving birth to her son and leading the Comets to the 1997 WNBA Championship. From 1995 to 1999, she was married to her high school sweetheart, but in 2005 she finally announced that she was gay, saying “it doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can. … Discovering I’m gay just sort of happened much later in life. Being intimate with [Alisa] or any other woman never entered my mind. At the same time, I’m a firm believer that when you fall in love with somebody, you can’t control that.” Over time, it appears that Swoopes has determined that she is not so much gay as bisexual: in 2011, she broke up with Alisa and became engaged to a man.
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