Tag Archives: homosexuality

Barbara Gittings, Gay Rights, and DSM Reform

Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and John E. Fryer in disguise as Dr. H. Anonymous. Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen

The Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health has just published a review of the recent book Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer. As Jack Drescher notes in his review Gittings, as part of a lifetime of LGBT activist efforts, pushed to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Drescher notes,

Gittings, at Lahusen’s suggestion, sought an openly gay psychiatrist to present at a 1972 APA symposium entitled “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals? A Dialogue.” Along with Gittings and [Frank]  Kameny, the panel included a gay-friendly heterosexual analyst, Judd Marmor. As none of the gay psychiatrists she knew would appear openly gay in public—at the time, one could lose one’s medical license because homosexuality was illegal in almost every U.S. state—Barbara Gittings convinced John Fryer to appear in disguise as Dr. H. Anonymous.

Fryer, wearing an oversized tuxedo, a rubber Richard Nixon Halloween mask, and a fright wig, explained to his fellow psychiatrists the pain of the professional closet. [Kay Tobin] Lahusen’s photograph of the masked Dr. H Anonymous, now gone viral on the Internet, is a chilling, yet humorous, iconic moment in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement. Further, the panel and the hard work of Gittings, Lahusen, Kameny, and Fryer led to the APA’s removing “homosexuality” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-II) the following year.

More on Gittings and Tracy Baim’s biography can be found here.

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The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

Robert Heath

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Robert Heath claimed to have cured homosexuality by implanting electrodes into the pleasure centre of the brain. Robert Colvile reports on one of the great forgotten stories of neuroscience.

For the first hour, they just talked. He was nervous; he’d never done this before. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s just lie down on the bed together, she said, and see what happens. Soon, events took their course: they were enjoying themselves so much they could almost forget about the wires leading out of his skull.

The year was 1970, and the man was a 24-year-old psychiatric patient. The woman, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, hired by special permission of the attorney general of Louisiana. And they had just become part of one of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth”. He came from a military family and had had an unhappy childhood. He had, the papers said, entered the military but had been expelled for “homosexual tendencies” within a month. He had a five-year history of homosexuality, and a three-year history of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his doctors, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”

One of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

In 1970, B-19 ended up in the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his team implanted stainless steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into nine separate regions of B-19’s brain, with wires leading back out of his skull. Once he had recovered from the operation, a control box was attached which enabled him, under his doctors’ supervision, to provide a one-second jolt to the brain area of his choice. Continue reading The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

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Radiolab Podcast: The Turing Problem

The most recent “Short” episode released by the wonderful Radiolab radio program tackles the life and work of Alan Turing. In The Turing Problem, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich describe Turing’s tragic life and his contributions to computer science and artificial intelligence in this, the 100th anniversary of his birth. (You can find AHP’s previous post on the Turing centenary here.) As described on Radiolab’s website,

Turing lived his whole life with machines. He built the machine that deciphered the German “Engima Code” during World War II. He imagined a day when machines would flirt with us, joke with us, listen to our problems and, above all, think for themselves. He even thought up a way to test whether machines had become indistinguishable from humans (for more on the Turing Test, check out our episode Talking to Machines).

The idea that machines would become our equals was unsettling for many of Turing’s peers. (Frankly, it still unsettles a lot of folks today, just ask Robert!) But to Turing, it was just the natural extension of his fundamental belief that we, all of us, are machines ourselves in a way. And he worried that society might judge the computers of the future as harshly as it judged him.

Alan Turing was arrested and convicted in 1952 for activities that are no longer illegal in England. Janna Levin and David Leavitt help explain how Alan Turing’s personal life may have shaped his relationship to machines. And James Gleick muses about how profound Turing’s contributions to math and computing really were.

Click here to listen to the episode online or download the episode from iTunes here.

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Video: Hegarty on the Rorschach & Sexuality


In this video from the University of Surrey, social psychologist and historian of psychology Peter Hegarty discusses his work on visuality in psychological science. The first research project Hegarty discusses is his historical research on the categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness, including the inclusion of homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association from 1952 to 1973. Hegarty’s interest is in how the rise and fall of the Rorschach test as a psychological instrument related to efforts to detect and diagnose homosexuality as a mental illness during this period. He briefly charts the growing psychoanalytic influence post-WWII on the use of the Rorschach test, in conjunction with the rise of clinical psychology, as well as increasing skepticism about Rorschach test from experimental psychologists in ensuing years. Here, Hegarty recounts the story of Evelyn Hooker’s doubleblind study on the use of the Rorschach to diagnose homosexuality (previously discussed on AHP here), as part of changing standards of evidence within the discipline.

The second research project Hegarty discusses is not specifically historical, but also deals with the nature of evidence in psychology: the psychology of how people draw graphs. In this research, Hegarty investigated the composition and interpretation of graphs depicting gender differences. His review of 40 years worth of graphs of gender differences found that 75% of the time data about males was presented first and data on females presented second. This finding led Hegarty to undertake further research into how gender stereotypes might be effecting the scientific record. The full story of his findings on this subject can watched in the second half of the above video.

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Hooker & Refuting Homosexuality as Perversion

The February 2011 issue of the APA Monitor on Psychology is now online. The Time Capsule section of this issue features an article by Katharine Milar on psychologist Evelyn Hooker’s work refuting homosexuality as a mental illness. “The Myth Buster” details Hooker’s study of gay men, the results of which were presented at the APA’s 1956 Annual Convention in Chicago and published the following year as “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual”. The study would, as Milar asserts, help lead to the “removal of homosexuality as a form of psychopathology from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III of the American Psychiatric Association” in 1973. For the study Hooker

recruited 30 exclusively homosexual and 30 exclusively heterosexual men, matched for age, IQ scores and education….Each participant took three projective tests: The Rorschach, the Make a Picture Story Test (MAPS) and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). After scoring the tests herself, she then gave the test protocols with all identifying information removed to experts in those tests: Bruno Klopfer for the Rorschach, Edward Shneidman, the inventor of MAPS, and Mortimer Meyer for the TAT. An adjustment rating was assigned to each participant based on the test scores, and then the experts were given paired Rorschach protocols, one from a gay participant, one from a straight participant and asked to identify the homosexual. As with heterosexuals, homosexuals’ adjustment varied from superior to disturbed. Two-thirds of the research participants in each group were judged as having average or better adjustment. Further, experts were unable to identify the gay participant’s protocol from the matched pairs at better than chance accuracy. There was no association between homosexuality and psychological maladjustment. One of her experts, who was sure he could distinguish the groups, asked for another chance to review the protocols, but was no more successful the second time than the first.

The full article can be read online here.

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Homosexuality, Asylums, and Lycanthrophy

The December 2009 issue of History of Psychiatry has just been released online. Among the five all-new articles that appear in the journal are ones on the history of homosexuality in Scotland, the visual experience of landscape as a therapeutic practice in British asylums, and Byzantine understandings of lycanthropy. Also included in this issue is a translated section of L. Snell’s 1852 “On alterations in the form of speech and on the formation of new words and expressions in madness”, as well as a request from researchers of the Venice asylum for assistance in a project that seeks to situate the history of this institution in the larger European context. The titles, authors, and abstracts from the articles in the issue follow below.

In “Psychiatry and homosexuality in mid-twentieth-century Edinburgh: the view from Jordanburn Nerve Hospital” Robert Davidson (pictured, left), Emeritus Professor of Social History and Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, examines the 1950s understanding of homosexuality in Edinburgh and contrasts these views with those of the medical community in Glasgow. Continue reading Homosexuality, Asylums, and Lycanthrophy

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