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1970: homosexuality and objectivity.

An article by Charles Socarides in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Homosexuality and Medicine" (May 18, 1970, vol. 212: 1199-1202) reflects an unfortunate potpourri of prejudice and misinformation shared by a great proportion of the public. It could simply be ignored were it not for its appearance in the official organ of the American Medical Association, thus probably having reached a majority American physicians. The language it employs and the emotional attitudes it reveals belong to the anti-sexual tracts of the Victorian era rather than to the second half of the twentieth century.

Consider the following astonishing phrases: "[Homosexuality is] a dread dysfunction, malignant in character, which has risen to epidemiologic proportions.... The underlying pain and anguish [in homosexuality] produces dire consequences beyond the imagination of anyone not in a position to directly observe the intensity of the suffering.... [The homosexual suffers from] shame and despair in the guilty revelations of behavior so demeaning and injurious pride." (Italics mine--J. M.) These kinds of statements are coupled with repeated dogmatic, ex cathedra assertions that "homosexuality is a form of mental illness," and that although it ought not to be punishable by law, "... any change in the legal code should be accompanied by a ... universal declaration of support for its treatment by qualified medical practitioners."

Dr. Socarides' evidence for his conclusion that homosexuality is a form of mental illness is equally remarkable. The clincher, for him, is that fact that the "Committee on Public Health of the New York Academy of Medicine," consisting "of several deans of medical schools, prominent representatives of the medical specialties including six psychiatrists, the then-commissioner of police of the city of New York, as well as members of the judiciary," issued a report in 1964 asserting homosexuality is a psychiatric illness. Does Socarides seriously believe that such a statement from a group of admittedly prominent medical men and public officials, only a minority of whom had any direct or extensive experience with homosexuals, constitutes scientific evidence?

Socarides' one-sided view of homosexuality stems not only from obvious personal prejudices (no behavioral scientist who is "upset" and "disturbed" by the "dread dysfunction" of homosexuality can be considered an objective student of the condition), but also from evident ignorance of the broad spectrum of homosexuals who never come to psychiatric attention, and who can only be studied in the community at large, as Dr. Evelyn Hooker has done. Dr. Socarides makes the flat, dogmatic assertion that "only in the consultation room does the homosexual reveal himself and his world," thus confirming the fact that his sweeping generalizations are based on evidence gathered from treatment of a relatively small number of troubled and disturbed homosexuals who have come in to him for psychoanalytic treatment. If the judgments of psychoanalysts about heterosexuals were based only on those they saw as patients, would they not have the same skewed impression of heterosexuals?

... Within the context of our contemporary sexual mores homosexuality is still regarded as an undesirable deviation from optimum sexual behavior. This does not make it a medical illness. Based on this fact, however, some homosexuals are unhappy with their patterns and would prefer to achieve heterosexual adjustment. Certainly the psychotherapist has an obligation to help such individuals achieve their own self-set goals wherever possible. However, there is no ethical or scientific justification for arguing that all homosexuals ought to be forced to undergo treatment simply because their sex-object choices differ from those of most people. The enlightened point of view in contemporary society--as exemplified by the Wolfenden Report in England, and by the recommendations by the American Law Institute in this country--is that homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private is neither the law's business nor that of medical professions--except as the homosexually-oriented person elects it to be....

Excerpted from SIECUS Newsletter, Volume 6, Number 2, December 1970.

Judd Marmor, M.D.
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Title Annotation:Forty Years of Speaking out SIECUS on GLBTQ Issues; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
Author:Marmor, Judd
Publication:SIECUS Report
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:644
Previous Article:2004: building on four decades of leadership.
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