Time magazine on homosexuality: the '50s through the '70s
June 20, 2010 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Time's comprehensive archives allow us to see how the magazine's discussions of homosexuality have evolved from pathologizing and stereotyping . . . to awkward attempts to view gays humanely while continuing to refer to their sexual orientation as a disease . . . to a gradual acceptance of gays as upstanding members of society who are struggling for equal rights. Articles from 1956, 1966, 1969, 1975, and 1979 inside.

Dec. 10, 1956 - Curable Disease? [via a deleted post from earlier today]
What is homosexuality? Is it curable? Some recent misleading propaganda alleges that homosexuality is an incurable, hereditary condition, and that the homosexual way of life is therefore "normal" for an unspecified proportion of the population . . . Not so says Manhattan Psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler. In Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life? (Hill and Wang; $5), published last week, he swiftly demolishes some popular misconceptions . . .

Homosexuality, says Analyst Bergler, is neither a "biologically determined destiny, nor incomprehensible ill luck." In Freudian terms he traces a complicated pattern of the development of homosexuality from infantile frustrations, through "pleasure in displeasure." to unconscious psychic masochism. The full-grown homosexual, as Bergler sees him, wallows in self-pity and continually provokes hostility to ensure himself more opportunities for self pity he "collects" injustices—sometimes real, often fancied; he is full of defensive malice and flippancy, covering his depression and guilt with extreme narcissism and superciliousness. He refuses to acknowledge accepted standards even in nonsexual matters, assuming that homosexuals have a right to cut moral corners as compensation for their "suffering." He is generally unreliable, in an essentially psychopathic way.
Jan. 21, 1966 - The Homosexual in America
Beset by inner conflicts, the homosexual is unsure of his position in society, ambivalent about his attitudes and identity—but he gains a certain amount of security through the fact that society is equally ambivalent about him. A vast majority of people retain a deep loathing toward him, but there is a growing mixture of tolerance, empathy or apathy. Society is torn between condemnation and compassion, fear and curiosity, between attempts to turn the problem into a joke and the knowledge that it is anything but funny, between the deviate's plea to be treated just like everybody else and the knowledge that he simply is not like everybody else . . .

Homosexuals are present in every walk of life, on any social level, often anxiously camouflaged; the camouflage will sometimes even include a wife and children, and psychoanalysts are busy treating wives who have suddenly discovered a husband's homosexuality. But increasingly, deviates are out in the open, particularly in fashion and the arts. Women and homosexual men work together designing, marketing, retailing, and wrapping it all up in the fashion magazines. The interior decorator and the stockbroker's wife conspire over curtains . . .

Most will still assert that homosexuality is an offense against God and man, but usually with qualifications. Says Los Angeles Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy: "The Lord made man and woman, and this implies a sexual relationship and sexual harmony which is in the center of nature." He is echoed by Harvard Divinity School's Harvey Cox, who, from a theological viewpoint, sees "the man-woman relationship as a model of the God-man relationship."

Lack of procreation or of marriage vows is not the issue; even Roman Catholic authorities hold that an illicit hetero sexual affair has a degree of "authentication," while a homosexual relationship involves only "negation." Roman Catholic thought generally agrees that homosexuality is of and in itself wrong because, as New York's Msgr. Thomas McGovern says, it is "inordinate, having no direction toward a proper aim." Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and, in the words of one Catholic educator, of "human construction." It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.
Oct. 24, 1969 - Homosexuality: Coming to Terms
Homosexuals—perhaps as many as 12 million American men and women —are one of the nation's most despised and harassed minority groups. A poll taken for CBS-TV not long ago revealed that two out of three Americans look on homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear, and one out of ten regards them with outright hatred. A majority considers homosexuality more dangerous to society than abortion, adultery or prostitution. Society's hostility toward the homosexual—particularly the male —leaves him wide open to blackmail and job discrimination . . .

A far-reaching report on homosexuality for the Federal Government's National Institute of Mental Health, released this week, maintains that such hostility is unjustified by any dangers that homosexuality may pose for society. The 14-member task force that prepared the report was headed by U.C.L.A.'s Evelyn Hooker, an erudite, compassionate psychologist who is one of the nation's most distinguished researchers in the field. A majority of the panel, which included psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers and a theologian, urges states to abolish the laws that make homosexual intercourse a crime for consenting adults in private.* More controversially, their report recommends that government and private employers "reassess" their current standards and implies that they should hire homosexuals who can pass normal screening procedures . . .

The Hooker report's sobering implication that society has been grossly unfair to the homosexual is sure to stir controversy, and its recommendations are bound to be adopted only slowly. Still, the research makes clear that Americans can now recognize the diversity of homosexual life and understand that an undesirable handicap does not necessarily make everyone afflicted with it undesirable.
* [The Supreme Court prohibited such laws as unconstitutional in 2003.]

Oct. 31, 1969 - Are Homosexuals Sick?
One of the crucial issues in the public discussion about homosexuality is whether or not the condition is a mental illness. To try to find out, TIME asked eight experts on homosexuality —including two admitted homosexuals —to discuss the subject at a symposium in New York City. The participants: Robin Fox, British-born anthropologist at Rutgers University; John Gagnon, sociologist at the State University of New York; Lionel Tiger, a Canadian sociologist also at Rutgers; . . . Dr. Charles Socarides, a psychoanalyst who has seen scores of homosexuals in therapy and is associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in The Bronx . . .

Socarides: We do hear, from people who are in treatment, about their friends in homosexual life and some of these also come to us. They see around them a complete disaster to their lives. They see that the most meaningful human relationship is denied them—the male-female relationship.

Tiger: There is a lack of a tragic sense here. All people have problems. I have all kinds of anxieties; everybody I know has anxieties. Some of them are severe; some of them are not severe. Often they are severe at different stages of the life cycle and for different reasons. To pick on homosexuals in this particular way . . . is to shortchange their option for their own personal destiny.

Socarides: By God, they should live in the homosexual world if they want to! No one is arguing that point; no one is trying to say that a homosexual should be forced to seek help. Everybody is now saying that the homosexual needs compassion and understanding, the way the neurotic does or anybody else suffering from any illness. That is true. I agree with that....

Gagnon: I am troubled here by the sense of intellectual and historical narrowness. We should not get hung up on the 20th century nuclear family as the natural order of man, living in the suburbs and having three kids, or on the kind of Viennese-Jewish comparison that Freud really created. All of a sudden, I find a new penisology—that somehow the shape of the penis and of the vagina dictate the shape of human character. I have a minimum definition of mental health. You don't end up in a psychiatrist's office or in the hands of the police, you stay out of jail, you keep a job, you pay your taxes, and you don't worry people too much. That is called mental health . . .

Fox: A psychoanalyst says that we are destined to heterosexual union, and anything that deviates from this must by definition be sick. This is nonsense even in animal terms. Animal communities can tolerate quite a lot of homosexual relationships. The beautiful paradigm of this is geese. Two male geese can form a bond that is exactly like the bond between males and females. They function as a male-female pair; and geese, as far as I can see, are a very successful species.

So far as the two "married" individuals are concerned, they are engaged in what to them is a meaningful and satisfying relationship. What I would define as a sick person in sexual terms would be someone who could not go through the full sequence of sexual activity, from seeing and admiring to following, speaking, touching, and genital contact. A rapist, a person who makes obscene telephone calls—these seem to me sick people, and I don't think it matters a damn whether the other person is of the same sex or not.
Oct. 31, 1969 - The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood [cover image]
The case for greater tolerance of homosexuals is simple. Undue discrimination wastes talents that might be working for society. Police harassment, which still lingers in many cities and more small towns, despite a growing live-and-let-live attitude, wastes manpower and creates unnecessary suffering. The laws against homosexual acts also suggest that the nation cares more about enforcing private morality than it does about preventing violent crime. To be sure, it is likely that a more permissive atmosphere might convince many people, particularly adolescents, that a homosexual urge need not be resisted since the condition would, after all, be "respectable." On the other hand, greater tolerance might mitigate extreme fear of not being able to live up to exaggerated standards of heterosexual performance—and might thus reduce the number of committed homosexuals.

A violently argued issue these days is whether the confirmed homosexual is mentally ill. Psychoanalysts insist that homosexuality is a form of sickness; * most homosexuals and many experts counter that the medical concept only removes the already fading stigma of sin, and replaces it with the charge—even more pejorative nowadays—that homosexuality is pathological. The answers will importantly influence society's underlying attitude (see TIME symposium). While homosexuality is a serious and sometimes crippling maladjustment, research has made clear that it is no longer necessary or morally justifiable to treat all inverts as outcasts. The challenge to American society is simultaneously to devise civilized ways of discouraging the condition and to alleviate the anguish of those who cannot be helped, or do not wish to be.
* [The American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.]

Sep. 8, 1975 - HOMOSEXUALITY: Gays on the March
As a civil rights issue, the argument of homosexual militants is persuasive: no one should be harassed by the law, evicted from his apartment, or prevented from earning a living because of the private sex acts he happens to perform with, as the famous phrase has it, consenting adults. (A case can be made against their employment in the armed forces, in education and perhaps certain other areas.) Moreover, it is one thing to remove legal discrimination against homosexuals. It is another to mandate approval. Homosexuals and their champions in effect admit this and even insist on it. Says Barbara Gittings, a Philadelphia librarian and lesbian: "What the homosexual wants, and here he is neither willing to compromise nor morally required to compromise—is acceptance of homosexuality as a way of life fully on a par with heterosexuality." It is this goal of full acceptance, which no known society past or present has granted to homosexuals, that makes many Americans apprehensive. So much so that it sometimes skews debates about basic American rights.

Many fear the demands that seem to flow logically from the assertion that "gay is good." For instance: the legal right to marry; homosexual instruction in school sex courses; affirmative action or quotas in hiring; and gay love stories to go with heterosexual puppy-love stories in libraries and schools. The Task Force on Gay Liberation of the American Library Association has already begun such a campaign.

Another concern is that homosexuality will spread, especially among the young, if social sanctions are removed. No one knows whether this is in fact happening in the U.S. Homosexuals point out that the countries that have relaxed strictures against homosexuals—such as England and Denmark—do not report any upsurge in the number of gays. Yet serious analysts are confused and divided on the question. And if some homosexuality, at least, comes from faulty child rearing, many think it makes less sense to celebrate the results than to try to strengthen the family.
Apr. 23, 1979 - How Gay Is Gay? [cover image]
Wandering into the New Town section of Chicago's North Side, a visitor quickly notices the changed city scene: male couples in tight jeans and with close-cropped hair walk together; the crowd watching a volleyball game in Lincoln Park is all male, so are most of the people taking the spring air on a strip of beach along Lake Michigan. In the past few years New Town has become Chicago's first center of open homosexual activity, with an initial result that could have been predicted a decade ago: last summer roving gangs of young toughs shouting anti-homosexual epithets beat up a number of men strolling the streets of the area late at night.

What followed, however, would have been remarkable if not unthinkable in Chicago or in many other major American cities just a few years ago. Gay Life, a local homosexual weekly, organized street patrols to stop the assaults. They were also aided by "straight" volunteers from neighborhood community associations. Moreover, they were helped by the Chicago police. Says a rather astonished Grant Ford, publisher of Gay Life: "The community groups came to our help right away. They saw us as neighbors rather than gays. The police were even more amazing. They were totally cooperative."

In its way, what happened in New Town symbolizes a national trend that is changing the lives of the American minority that forms the gay society. Homosexual men and women are coming out of the closet as never before to live openly. They are colonizing areas of big cities as their own turf, operating bars and even founding churches in conservative small towns, and setting up a nationwide network of organizations to offer counseling and companionship to those gays-still the vast majority-who continue to conceal their sexual orientation. As in New Town, gay people still encounter suspicion and hostility, and occasionally violence, and their campaign to live openly and freely is still far from won. But they are gaining a degree of acceptance and even sympathy from heterosexuals, many of whom are still unsure how to deal with them, that neither straights nor gays would have thought possible just the day before yesterday.
posted by Jaltcoh (27 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
I was a little sad to see the earlier post go, but I am glad that this one came from it. This is a great FPP. Thank you.
posted by 256 at 3:46 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

IDEOLOGY, says Analyst Bergler, is neither a "biologically determined destiny, nor incomprehensible ill luck." In Freudian terms he traces a complicated pattern of the development of IDEOLOGICAL AFFILIATION from infantile frustrations, through "pleasure in displeasure." to unconscious psychic masochism. The full-grown IDEOLOGUE, as Bergler sees him, wallows in self-pity and continually provokes hostility to ensure himself more opportunities for self pity he "collects" injustices—sometimes real, often fancied; he is full of defensive malice and flippancy, covering his depression and guilt with extreme narcissism and superciliousness. He refuses to acknowledge accepted standards even in UNRELATED matters, assuming that IDEOLOGUES have a right to cut moral corners as compensation for their "suffering." He is generally unreliable, in an essentially psychopathic way.
Fascinating how that "analysis" can be repurposed, madlibs style, into a discussion of anything anyone thinks is bad. Depressing in its absurdity when we look back.
posted by verb at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

nice remix, Jaltcoh
posted by jammy at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2010

Who can take a nothing post, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
posted by anazgnos at 4:00 PM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The candy man can?
posted by Talez at 4:02 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Damn it, I assumed the answer was Shaft.

I can dig it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:03 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mike Wallace | CBS Reports (1967): The Homosexuals (video | 08:59].
"This much is certain. Male homosexuals in America number in the millions. And their number is growing. They are attracted mostly to the anonymity that a big city gives them. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The permissiveness and the variety of the city draw them. The average homosexual if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits, and even on the streets of the city. The one-night stand is a characteristic of the homosexual relationship...."
posted by ericb at 4:07 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and another repost from the previously deleted thread...

The new documentary 'Stonewall Uprising' opened in NYC on Wednesday and in several more markets including L.A., Boston, and Portland this weekend.

New York Times:
"... 'Stonewall Uprising' methodically ticks off the forms of oppression visited on gays and lesbians in the days before the gay rights movement.

'Before Stonewall there was no such thing as coming out or being out,' says Eric Marcus, the author of 'Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian & Gay Equal Rights.' 'People talk about being in and out now; there was no out, there was just in.'

At the time of the riots, homosexuality was illegal in every state except Illinois. Before the laws were changed, one commentator observes, gay bars offered the same kind of social haven for an oppressed minority as black churches in the South before the civil rights movement.

The cultural demonizing of gay men in public service films depicted them as at best, psychologically damaged and at worst, ruthless sexual predators. Lesbians were nearly invisible.

... It is a sad indication of the marginalization of homosexuality in the late 1960s that media coverage of the Stonewall riots was mostly after the fact. And even then it was cursory and often condescending. Because so little photographic documentation exists of the unrest, the film relies mostly on eyewitnesses, including Seymour Pine, the now-retired police officer who led the initial raid of six officers and who describes it as 'a real war.'"
Here's the trailer.
posted by ericb at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Who can take a nothing post, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Um, Jaltcoh.
posted by ericb at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2010

The candy man can?

Damn it, I assumed the answer was Shaft.

Jeez, you guys!
posted by Sys Rq at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Fantastic post. Thanks for this.
posted by treepour at 4:22 PM on June 20, 2010

Great post, Jaltcoh.
posted by maxwelton at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2010

good post, and timely as it is the tail end of pride week where I am.
posted by selenized at 4:44 PM on June 20, 2010

Heh, I was just making this post (slow guy is slow) also as a result of the earlier deleted one and was searching google for "time magazine and homosexuality" to hopefully find an article to tie it all together and this mefi post came up as a result. Thanks be to fast indexing.
I was surprised at how rapidly progress was made between the 1969 article and the oddly titled "How Gay is Gay" 1979 article. And depressed.
I'm not prepared to have the discussion but AIDS being identified as a homosexual disease sure seems to have added mass to the inevitable return swing of the progress pendulum.
Echoing myself and others I'm really glad a mainstream publication like Time has their archive available online.
posted by vapidave at 4:46 PM on June 20, 2010

For more on the APA's declassification of homosexuality as "disorder," see (or, listen to, I guess) this seriously fascinating This American Life episode.
posted by sallybrown at 5:06 PM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked the original better. It had a twist!
posted by bonefish at 5:23 PM on June 20, 2010

Really neat to watch the language of this change so dramatically over such a short time. Can you imagine the laughter if in 1956 someone had predicted legal gay marriage in some US states within half a century or so?
posted by Forktine at 5:51 PM on June 20, 2010

I liked the original better. It had a twist!

Yeah, the homophobic analyst was dead the whole time!
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:53 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

From the original post: ...to awkward attempts to view gays humanely

I've never been comfortable with this title. Gays. Calling homosexual people "gays" puts them into a grouping that emphasizes an us-vs-them attitude. Or if not exactly that, it certainly creates a distinctiveness that I find has negative connotations.

Either way, fantastic post.
posted by ashbury at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2010

I'm not prepared to have the discussion but AIDS being identified as a homosexual disease sure seems to have added mass to the inevitable return swing of the progress pendulum.

THE article...

New York Times | July 3, 1981: RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS.
posted by ericb at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

Forktine: "Really neat to watch the language of this change so dramatically over such a short time. Can you imagine the laughter if in 1956 someone had predicted legal gay marriage in some US states within half a century or so?"

Hell, I would have laughed at the idea twenty years ago.
posted by octothorpe at 6:36 PM on June 20, 2010

THE article... New York Times | July 3, 1981:RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS

Oh Lord, how I remember this. I read a brief precis of it in Time magazine around the same time. I was puzzled and worried because my best friend from university had come out to me just recently. I remember when the Quilt Project came to my city and I looked for the quilt my friend and his partner had made. It was at the bottom of the display and I sat in front of it on the floor in the gallery and cried and cried.

A happy ending, at least for us. Three years ago my friend and his partner celebrated 25 years together by getting married. They don't go to as many funerals as they used to. In 1992, as soon as we knew I was pregnant, my husband and I asked them to be our kids' legal guardians in case something happens to both of us. That doesn't get as much comment as it used to, but I'd like to think that one day soon it will be completely unremarkable.
posted by angiep at 7:02 PM on June 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

Bizarrely enough, this disturbing gay panic PSA was in the "related videos" column of the youtube link Sys Rq posted.
posted by lunasol at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's still difficult for some people to handle.
posted by unliteral at 8:44 PM on June 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

The 1966 article actually seems worse than the 1956 one. The 1956 analyst seems to have treated some vicious and bitter queens & assumed every gay was like that. I read his piece and thought, this is ugly .... but I also recognized the 'type.' He's describing classic borderline personality disorder.

The second article, a decade on, was just pure bias and hate.
posted by kanewai at 11:40 PM on June 20, 2010

Science of Gaydar - long New York mag. article from 2007
posted by Twang at 12:58 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older A little Ed Gorey, a little Theodore Kittelson   |   City of the Daleks Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments