From antiquity until perhaps a century ago, choice was presumed to govern sexual behavior. But in the late 19th century, with a burgeoning medical science as midwife, a new kind of creature was born—“the homosexual”—his entire identity based on his sexual preference. Science offered the possibility of either constitutional or psychological causes for his existence, starting a quarrel which left him always a passive victim. Either physiological factors, whose nature and reality have never been established, or early familial relationships, in which the psychoanalytic vendetta against mothers figured prominently, were posited as the cause for what came to be viewed as uncontrollable by the conscious will.
Under the aegis of religion one had been free to choose, and, if one were male, to choose anew on each occasion, how to conduct one’s sexual life. With the reign of an “objective” science, men were committed to categories, to partial aspects of themselves, and not just by their behavior. Dreams, fantasies, wayward thoughts, casual childhood experimentation, took on, through psychoanalytic theory, awful consequences in terms of this unsought new identity. As 19th-century physics rendered solid objects into millions of dancing electrons, and Impressionist painters broke up a landscape into particles of refracted light and shade, so Freud—equally atomistic—reduced his patients to the details of their sexual histories.
Sensational as was Freud’s elaboration of his theories of sexual causation, their ultimate acceptance rested on the larger victory of scientific determinism over the belief in free will which had endured through both pagan and Christian times. The new scientific creation of “the homosexual,” in absolving its object from the possibility of choice, encouraged the development of the identity it professed to find in nature. But the centuries-old view of sexual behavior as a manifestation of moral choice was not to be overturned at a blow, and the new diagnostic entity was subjected, within and without the medical profession, to traditional habits of thought.
Bowing to the omniscience of scientific psychiatry, the homosexual had exchanged part of his behavior, or an occasional pleasure, for a total identity, only to be battered by a society that was not yet ready to integrate the new personage he represented. A psychology of victimization was the outcome for those who accepted a social role beset by such conflicting attitudes, and this was visible in the passivity and effeminacy that characterized male homosexuality in Western countries from the 19th century until the 1960’s. It must, however, be remembered that in much of the rest of the world occasional, or even frequent, homoerotic behavior was no more a condition of identity than it had been in ancient Greece, and that condemnation of such activity rested on the nature of the act, not its object. But for psychoanalysis and Western psychiatry, the quality of homosexual behavior was largely obliterated in the focus on the choice of object.
The imperatives of scientific classification having swallowed up their individuality, those who engaged in homosexual activity began to perceive themselves as constituting a group—an oppressed minority wthin the larger society. With the publication of the first Kinsey report in 1948 and a statistical representation of their numbers which, by the mere act of quantification, achieved the authority once reserved for Holy Writ, the glimmerings of a conception of group power began to emerge. That 37 percent of the male sample questioned admitted to physical contact to the point of orgasm with another male at least once between adolescence and old age was heralded, not as the reasonable basis for questioning the determinism of sexual categories which it represented, but rather as a justification for those categories. The 10 percent of American males who had indulged in more or less exclusively homosexual behavior for at least three years were seized upon to promote a sense of group membership; no matter if their experience had been only in adolescence or had been discontinued. Kinsey himself denied the existence of “the homosexual,” but the evolution which would lead to the assault by homosexuals on the American Psychiatric Association in 1970 had begun.
Rallying to the diagnostic label which had obscured their differences and intensified their problems, those who engaged in homosexuality were joined by an increasing number of social scientists who began to take up their cause in the late 1950’s. The purpose of these academic representatives of a value-free science was to establish the essential normality of the homosexual and thus to bury the disapproval which Freudian theory had given to a diagnosis connoting arrested development. Happy to challenge psychoanalysis, which was largely contemptuous of their mathematical models and their emphasis on quantification, the social scientists brought to the struggle their own doctrine, which had come to be a relativism condemnatory of the condemnation of deviance. The counterattack was launched in the person of a benevolent psychologist by the name of Evelyn Hooker, who had been urged by homosexuals to undertake research questioning negative assumptions about them.
Hooker’s choice of a homosexual research sample, whose adjustment she sought to compare with a heterosexual group, was not a random one, having been drawn from among homosexual organizations extremely anxious to provide their most admirable members. Further preventing any deviation from this intention, she removed from the sample anyone who struck her as obviously pathological. Additional limitations to the validity of the research were introduced through her criteria of adjustment, performance on the Rorschach and two other projective tests. These tests are generally used to augment rather than to make a diagnosis and are not intended to be used by examiners who have not seen the subject. The Rorschach, in particular, has been shown to be an extremely unreliable tool, varying as much with the personality of the tester as with that of the subject, and frequently unable to distinguish men from women, let alone homosexuals from heterosexuals. Thus it was that Hooker produced the results desired by her homosexual patrons: the judges found little difference in the two samples.
Acclaimed not for what she had actually done, but for what many wished to believe she had done, Hooker went on from this beginning to become an authority on homosexuality, requested to write the entry on the subject for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. At the end of the 1960’s she was chosen to lead the National Institute of Mental Health Task Force on Homosexuality.
Hooker rejected the conception of homosexuality as a unitary clinical entity, but she was encouraging of the growth of a homosexual movement on the grounds, inseparable from the dogmas of scientific determinism, of the victimization of its members by society. But the emphasis on the homosexual as victim led, circularly, back to the sinking of all differences within the group, differences which Kinsey and Hooker stressed. Their conviction of these differences did not take hold; it was complicated. What gained increasing acceptance was their view of the homosexual as victim, his sexual inclinations natural, the super-imposition of problems a result of society’s prohibitions and punishments. From a belief largely confined to homosexuals themselves, this conception gained increasing currency from the late 1950’s to the present, until it is now held among a large segment of the educated to be as sacred as was the principle of moral choice a century ago.
The zealousness with which the defense of homosexuality was taken up by many social scientists is illustrated by the career of Laud Humphreys, for ten years an Episcopalian minister, converted in the 1960’s to a graduate student in sociology. In the latter incarnation he devoted two years of his life to observing males committing fellatio on one another in public toilets—entering as strangers, coming together without speech. This was the subject of his doctoral dissertation, later published as a book called The Tearoom Trade: Anonymous Sex in Public Places, the “tearoom” of the title referring to public lavatories. With a carefully worked-out research design, subject to none of the bias which negated the validity of Hooker’s study, Humphreys’s work manifested only the gross distortions inherent in the nature of such research. Thus, after tracking down many of the men he had observed and presenting himself as an interviewer for a social-health survey, he was ready to accept as revelation of character the answers given to the questionnaire, or, in the case of the eight intensive interviews he conducted, the voluntary self-evaluations he had solicited. Humphreys’s conclusions:
I have no moral or intellectual objection to what goes on in the “tearooms,” and only a mild aesthetic one. I do have a moral objection to the way in which society reacts to those who take part in that action.
Whether the gentlemen who frequented the public toilets for sex with strangers might without this hobby have had richer relationships with wives, children, or friends; whether they might have developed more valuable capacities with a different employment of their time, are not questions which interested Humphreys. Recognizing, along with Hooker and other researchers of the sociology of deviance school, the great range of homosexual behavior, he joined them in attempting to justify it all. With a wish to correct the unitary diagnosis of psychoanalysis, the sociologists of deviance compounded it. As the writer Arno Karlen has said, “After criticizing psychiatrists for lumping all homosexuals together and calling them sick, they tend themselves to lump all homosexuals together and call them healthy, or victims of society.” Laud Humphreys went on to do more research on homosexuality, with the hope of influencing public policy.
The practitioners of psychoanalysis and the psychiatrists trained in Freudian theory persisted, however, in retaining a hierarchy of values for sexual behavior, and it was to this persistence that homosexuals began to address themselves. Their group identity materially strengthened by support from the social sciences, they borrowed their strategy for exerting pressure from the civil-rights movement. The implied equation between homosexual behavior and race revealed the degree to which the former was now successfully entrenched in the area beyond choice.
Picketing, leafleting, and disruption of lectures in which mental-health professionals represented homosexuality as a less than optimal adjustment had begun around 1968. The demands had shifted from tolerance to approval: the condemnation of psychiatry had increased to the point where all therapy voluntarily undertaken by homosexuals seeking change of sexual orientation was denounced as, in fact, enforced by society. Benefiting from the pervasive revolt against authority in which a large portion of the educated young were involved, as well as from the success of the civil-rights movement, homosexuals abandoned discussion and self-inquiry for a determination of truth which was to be arrived at through threats, denunciation, and physical interference with disapproved professional meetings. Unlike blacks, who were primarily addressing behavior directed against them, homosexuals were attempting to alter a theoretical system. Their success was considerable.
From 1970 until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) became a major focus for the homosexual movement, and Ronald Bayer has provided (in Homosexuality and American Society) a detailed account of what transpired. Violent and insulting as was the behavior directed against certain psychiatrists at the 1970 meeting in San Francisco, the calculated use of rage and invective was escalated for the 1971 convention in Washington. The acceptance by the APA of a panel of homosexual speakers at this convention was thought by activists to be a dangerous “institutionalization of protest” necessitating the addition of planned disruption. A homosexual leader of those who stormed the Convocation of Fellows described himself as declaring war on psychiatry, initiating a mood of intimidation which, from that point, pervaded the meetings. Forged credentials permitted homosexuals to move freely through the convention areas. Near the close of the convention, movement leaders conveyed their demands for a deletion of homosexuality from the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM II); and it was this demand which now became the basis of contention.
That homosexuals had been able to achieve an equation between the importance of their activity in behalf of their sexual desires and that of the black civil-rights movement and the antiwar protest was an exemplification of the Zeitgeist. The response of many psychiatrists showed them willing to consider the liberation of homosexual behavior from societal restraints as a political cause worthy of their energetic espousal. Others were frightened by rageful denunciation and sought an accommodation with their critics. In early 1972 homosexuals first presented their demands formally to the Nomenclature Committee of the APA; and by the end of 1973 the board of trustees of that organization had voted to remove homosexuality from the Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. It was to be replaced with the classification “sexual orientation disturbance,” which, it was explained, included only those who were disturbed by or wished to change their sexual orientation. It was specified that “This diagnostic category is distinguished from homosexuality, which by itself, does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder.”
It was astounding to many psychiatrists that subjective distress was to provide the standard by which to determine the presence or absence of psychopathology in homosexuals, the absence of such distress being often characteristic of the most severe disorder. The existence of manic, paranoid, or schizophrenic psychosis is not commonly indicated by a subjective feeling of disturbed functioning or a desire for personal change, just as the alcoholic or drug addict will often not admit to, or attempt to remedy, his condition.
The psychiatric concept of homosexuality had been an integral part of a theoretical system elaborated throughout this century; it was overturned in a two-year period by committees of the American Psychiatric Association responding to a general political climate and to specific political manipulation and intimidation. But this subjection of the diagnostic category of homosexuality to approval by vote in various committees was felt by many psychiatrists to be such a violation of the standards of scientific inquiry as to call for some form of redress. The solution adopted was submission of the issue to the entire membership of the APA. Though partaking of the evil it was designed to correct—making a democratic vote the arbiter of scientific truth—this plan, it was argued, would at least reflect the collective scientific wisdom of the profession, in contrast to the more political orientation of the Association’s leadership.
But the referendum was to be no more an indication of scientific wisdom or of democratic decision-making than had been the previous votes on the diagnosis of homosexuality. Homosexual activists immediately intervened in the process, suggesting strategy to their friends in the APA. What they produced was a statement urging support from the general membership for the deletion of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder—a statement which avoided the substance of the conflict in a plea for organizational unity. It was to potential embarrassment in voting down a decision by the board of trustees that they appealed; and it was the National Gay Task Force which orchestrated the signing of the statement by officers and candidates for office of the APA, purchased the necessary address labels from the Association, and underwrote the full cost of the mailing to the psychiatrists representing the organization’s membership. Their strategy was successful: 58 percent of the respondents supported the decision of the board of trustees.
Beneath this narrow victory, based primarily on organizational considerations, there remained a deep conflict over the issue within psychiatry and a confusion over the principles which ought to govern diagnostic nomenclature. To the general public, however, what had been communicated was the approval of homosexuality, undifferentiated as to the nature of its expression. Other voices within the profession, such as that of Abram Kardiner, a senior figure who had pioneered in the effort to merge the insights of psychoanalysis and anthropology, were not heard. He had written to the editors of Psychiatric News:
Those who reinforce the disintegrative elements in our society will get no thanks from future generations. The family becomes the ultimate victim of homosexuality, a result which any society can tolerate only within certain limits.
If the American Psychiatric Association endorses one of the symptoms of social distress as a normal phenomenon, it demonstrates to the public its ignorance of social dynamics, of the relation of personal maladaptation to social disharmony, and thereby acquires a responsibility for aggravating the already existing chaos.
Voices such as Kardiner’s, representing psychiatry or academic research, have been increasingly silent for the last twenty years. The dominant note was struck by the long awaited Kinsey Institute study, Homosexualities, published in 1978, based on data collected in 1970. The New York Times story on the report was headlined, “Study Finds Some Homosexuals Are Happier Than Heterosexuals,” a message often reiterated by the authors, who added better adjustment to happiness in their comparison.
That happiness or social adjustment can be divined from answers to a questionnaire administered by a stranger is an illusion requiring a leap of faith that many of us cannot make in company with our credulous social scientists. But even if one were counted among the faithful, it would still be true that the report’s happy homosexuals constituted slightly less than 10 percent of their male sample, and represented the group whose sexual behavior most closely imitated that of heterosexual couples. This 10 percent was then consistently compared with the entire heterosexual sample. Moreover, the small proportion of “well-adjusted” homosexuals can be discovered only in the statistical tables; its size is not revealed in the text.
The propagandistic zeal of the study is manifested in what is ignored or treated summarily as well as through what is emphasized, in the frequent disparity between the statistical findings and the written text, and in the minimizing language with which homosexual problems are treated. Thus, the 528-question interview schedule did not inquire into drinking or drug use among homosexuals. Reference to venereal disease in males is confined to a one-sentence statement—a statement which in itself shows both the seriousness of the problem and the authors’ refusal to face it. They comment: “About two-thirds of the males in each race had at some time contracted a venereal disease as a result of homosexual sex, but of these, most had had it only once or twice.”
Implicit in this rapid dismissal is the denial of the connection between individual sexual behavior and its social consequences—a denial which fostered the conditions for the AIDS epidemic. Promiscuity is fundamental to the connection, but the authors of the study, having enlisted under the banner of sexual liberation, had no standards for distinguishing excess, and were thus prepared to ignore or justify it wherever encountered.
Finding that almost half of their white homosexual male sample reported at least 500 different sexual partners, and this at the average age of thirty-seven, the authors explain this remarkable degree of promiscuity as partly inherent in the nature of the male—without, however, making any comparison to heterosexuals. They go on to suggest, as another causal factor, the alleged circumstance that society provides homosexual men with “little or no opportunity to meet on anything but a sexual basis.” What prevents them from meeting on a non-sexual basis is extremely difficult to comprehend, but the nature of the barriers is not elucidated.
Homosexual bathhouses are discussed in the text in terms of how often subjects had not gone to them, a further indication of the tone of the research. The statistical tables reveal, however, that one-third of the homosexual men used the baths regularly and 62 percent sometimes participated in this commercial setting for anonymous sex. Reporting on male homosexual “cruising”—the search for sex with strangers, which they found to be characteristic of almost their entire sample—the authors remark that most of this activity took place in “such relatively safe settings as the gay bar or bath” and that often the respondents “spent at least several hours with their partners.” But the safety of sexual contacts made in homosexual baths or bars could consist only in freedom from the one threat perceptible to the authors—that of social disapproval or interference. Distinguishing no evil but from outside restrictions or harassments, they could celebrate transient sexual encounters where companionship was actually sustained for several hours.
A distinct crusading fervor suffuses the pages of Homosexualities, its source, the commonly held attitude of contemporary social scientists that moral and communal requirements impose an unjustifiable burden on homosexual behavior. Alan Bell, co-author and research director of the study, was, like Laud Humphreys, the author of The Tea Room Trade, an Episcopalian minister before taking up social science and the cause of the homosexual. Both men converted their own moral zeal into an attack on social standards, implying that with the withering away of external restraints and disapproval, the happy, healthy homosexual would emerge—the innocent child of nature whom society’s prohibitions had deformed.
It should be noted that female homosexuality, as portrayed in the Kinsey Institute study, is a very different phenomenon from the male version, and that this difference is reflected by virtually all writers on the subject. Less common in the population by one-third to one-half than homosexual males, according to the original Kinsey reports, lesbians are also markedly less promiscuous, less public in their identification and in their sexual behavior. The majority of the study’s lesbians had fewer than ten partners in the course of their homosexual careers as against 500 partners for the males; less than 20 percent had ever engaged in what could be termed “cruising” (and this at private parties or lesbian bars) in contrast to the almost universal practice of this activity by homosexual males and the variety of public places—lavatories, movie theaters, bathhouses, streets, and parks—in which the males pursued sex. Not surprisingly, then, none of the white lesbians and only one of the black lesbians had ever had a venereal disease, as compared with the two-thirds figure for the male sample.
Appearing to magnify often-noted emotional differences between the sexes, lesbians and homosexual men show a wide divergence in desire for monogamy and intimacy and in the tendency to separate sex from affection. Dennis Altman, an academic homosexual and apologist, in discussing “the birth of a gay culture,” comments on other differences, both of sensibility and social activity. Lesbian writers, he says, seem “more attracted to fantasy and the invention of utopian models; gay men to direct assertion of sexuality”; and “while gay men are more likely to develop the sort of commercial enterprises associated with the sauna/ disco culture, lesbians have been more attracted to self-conscious counter-institutions . . . [which] involve a greater degree of communal intellectual and artistic activity.”
Whatever the basis for their different approach to homosexuality, lesbians have impinged far less on the general society than have homosexual men who, over the last thirty years, have created a male homosexual culture equaled in its openness and visibility only by that of classical Greece. No other parallels are to be found. But the strict Greek conventions as to the propriety of particular sexual acts had no part in a modern homosexual culture engaged in throwing off all restraints. Much of its physical expression would have repelled the Greeks as absurd or contemptible, while the compulsive and mechanical quest for sexual encounters with strangers would have been incomprehensible to a classical society which extolled self-mastery and abhorred anonymity.
Social tolerance of promiscuity produced its increase; the abandonment of sexual prohibitions encouraged greater sensation-seeking. Thus, elaborations of coprophiliac interest in the form of anilingus and the insertion of fingers or the entire hand into the anus of one’s partner became not uncommon. The passive role in anal intercourse, relegated by the Greeks to powerless women or slaves, was indulged in so promiscuously as to introduce and disseminate the AIDS virus. Researchers point out that the rectum is not designed to stretch for the accommodation of sexual intercourse, let alone the social invention of “fist fucking.” To the Greeks it would have been inconceivable that free men could choose to engage in such activities.
With the new sexual liberation, justifications for sadomasochism were increasingly advanced in the homosexual community. Borrowing the Freudian view of sex as the basic human motivation and the unconscious as a repository of powerful forces which are best brought to consciousness and expressed, apologists had little difficulty. Thus, Altman reports claims for the therapeutic social role of sadomasochism and the novelist John Rechy speaks of justifications which invert reality to describe sadomasochism as a “new dimension of love” and a “new sensation of pleasure.” Moreover, it is described as imitating and thus respecting nature. The prevalence of homosexual sadomasochism, perhaps the symbol of a perverse search for structure, which society has been busily engaged in removing, is lamented, not by any of the social scientists referred to, but by John Rechy, a self-proclaimed street hustler and announced participant in 7,000 homosexual encounters.
Paradoxically, the rejection of internal and external restraints celebrated by a homosexual culture defined only by sex has ended for many in acting out the role of slave. But the real slavery is not confined to those who participate in such bizarre theatrics. Xenophon illustrates the point when he quotes Socrates as asking, “Do you think the man is free who is ruled by bodily pleasures and is unable to do what is best because of them?” Greek thought took cognizance of what contemporary culture has forgotten: to be free in relation to one’s pleasures necessitates the avoidance of slavery to one’s appetites.