Sunday, December 27, 2015

Obituary for Robert Spitzer recalls the history of the APA's dropping of homosexuality as a mental illness way back in 1973


The Washington Post printed an obituary (by Amy Argetsinger) for Robert Spitzer, 83, who passed away Christmas Day, and who had a transformative role in getting the American Psychiatric Associations’ dropping of homosexuality per se from the DSM as a mental illness.

The story of his involvement is checkered and complicated, as he at times expressed the personal belief that maybe it is an illness, and even participated in studies of “cure” which he later retracted.
 
There’s even more detail of the 1973 event in a 2002 story in “This American Life” by Ira Glass.

There is a lot of discussion of the work of Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber, whom I would read about intermittently over the decades. I recall seeing an article by Bieber in 1971, when I was in the middle of a workplace security clearance investigation, claiming that public acceptance of homosexuality would be divisive or disruptive to heterosexual society.  That reminds me of George Gilder’s idea of a “sexual constitution for our society” that reinforces the meaning and therefore the personal experience of marital (and procreative) sex.   The idea of “illness” could be tied to a view of reproduction as a basic biological requirement.

The idea of homosexuality as “illness” certainly weighed on my “being asked to leave” William and Mary in the fall of 1961, and my inpatient treatment at NIH in the latter part of 1962. Writer Tom Baker had a similar experience in 1963 but would actually graduate from WM, but has written and spoken about the College’s view of the “mental illness” model even more than perhaps I have.

In 1978, I asked a lawyer about the whole security clearance issue, and his response was, “it’s what’s in your mind”.  It stayed that way until 1995.

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