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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Inspiration Post #22: Homosexuality as Mental Illness

In my new novel, The Tin Box, William Lyon finds letters written decades earlier by an inmate in a mental asylum. The inmate’s name was Bill and he was committed in the late 1930s—for being gay.


I wish I could say that Bill’s commitment and the things done to him in the name of “treatment” were products of a writer’s imagination. But they’re not.


In the 19th century, the new science of psychology called homosexuality “sexual inversion.” In 1922, the book The Homosexual Neurosis claimed that gay men were narcissists who hated and feared women. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—the book used to diagnose mental disorders—classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1973. People could be committed to mental hospitals simply because they were gay, and while they were there they might be subjected to many horrible things including shock treatment, insulin comas, castration, and lobotomy. Gay people were also subject to criminal prosecution—laws that weren’t held unconstitutional in the US until 2003.


These atrocities happened outside the US as well. Alan Turing, British cryptographer and father of artificial intelligence, was forced to undergo chemical castrations because he was gay. He ended up committing suicide. In the 1950s, Dutch teenagers were castrated by the church.


Homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental disorder. But despite that, and despite the professional organizations’ statement against it, some people still receive “conversion therapy” intended to “cure” them of being gay. California recently outlawed this practice for minors. A man in California recently went to a doctor for a physical and was diagnosed as being a “chronic homosexual.” His doctor claimed homosexuality is still considered a disease (http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Manhattan-Beach-Doctor-Diagnoses-Patient-Gay-Homosexual-Behavior-218943481.html).


Here are a few related articles:


Next week: Mariposa and the real Jelley's Valley


  1. ~I knew being gay was classified as a mental illness back in the past, but I thought doctors had more brains than that to keep thinking that way! I don`t think anyone should be judged because of their sexual orientation-- it`s love, and I just can`t see the logic in love being something wrong. Thanks for sharing this info :)

    1. Thank you. It's a really sad history and it still haunts us. I think it's important that we not forget it.