From its very first day the debate over homosexuality in modern society has been a struggle between the homophile movement and the religious establishment. The other institutions of Western society — the psychiatric and medical professions, the political parties, the mass media, the state — have never had an independent position but have simply split on the issue, some taking one side, some the other.

    In my judgment this is the only framework for conceptualizing the history of the past 127 years — since Karl Heinrich Ulrichs published his first two pamphlets, Vindex and Inclusa, in January and February of 1864. It is not the schema in which most activists, or the followers of Michel Foucault, place the events of that century and a quarter, but it is nonetheless correct.

    Why are so many, even committed activists, unable to see this simple truth? First of all, there are enough homosexuals who cannot admit, even to themselves, that the god whom they worship has rejected them and exiled them from his kingdom — and after 2500 years is not likely to reverse his judgment and recall them. And how could he do so? Would he suddenly inform the media that he was holding a press conference at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai to announce a major shift in policy? Barring that unlikely event, what argument would convince the pious that the condemnation which Judaism and Christianity have voiced since the first day of their existence has lost its validity?

    But even the unbelievers have been hesitant to face this bitter truth, perhaps fearing that to point the accusing finger would make the innocent Church cry even more bitterly for punishment. It cannot be denied that some within the religious establishment have supported the campaign for gay rights — but their motives are more than questionable. The dialogue within the churches over “gay theology” has most often been in reality a monologue between those one-fourth out of the closet and those three-fourths out of it. The sincere combatants on both sides are well justified in seeing these innovators as collaborationists of the sort whom the French, after the Liberation, put up against a wall and shot. However, for purposes of propaganda the publicists of our movement have often preferred to place the blame on an abstract “prejudice” or “intolerance” that everyone could interpret as he wished.

    Another, far more widely held belief is the notion that about 1880 psychiatrists “discovered” that “homosexuality was a mental illness”. Foucault cites a paper by Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal, “Die contraire Sexualempfindung: Symptom eines neuropathischen (psychopathischen) Zustandes”, Archiv für Psychiatrie, 2; 73-108 (1869), but with three separate mistakes that prove he never held a copy of the work in his hands. In fact, anyone who reads the paper to the end would find that Westphal in no way claimed that all homosexual activity resulted from mental illness, but only that there were isolated individuals who engaged in it because of their abnormal mental state. And this abnormality he recognized, not by virtue of his own examination of his first patient, a lesbian admitted to the psychiatric division of the Charité (the Allgemeine Krankenhaus in Berlin) in May 1864, but as a consequence of reading Ulrichs' pamphlets. Not one of the pioneer medical writers on homosexuality “discovered” the phenomenon by virtue of his own observation and reasoning; every one of them — Westphal in Prussia, Krafft-Ebing in Austria, Bergh in Denmark — had acquired his insight from Ulrichs.

    Moreover, once medical authors began to discuss the matter, those who voiced sympathy or at least neutrality were able to meet homosexuals in everyday life, in their homes and places of work, and to conclude that these were sane, lucid individuals who had nothing in common with the catatonics and  schizophrenics whom the physicians had from their days in medical school observed in clinics and insane asylums. That is why, less than a year and a half after Westphal's death, on 8 June 1891, the pupils of Griesinger and Westphal at the Charité debated the subject of homosexuality at a meeting of the Berlin Society for Psychiatry and Nervous Diseases. Led by Friedrich Jolly, Westphal's successor as head of the psychiatric division of the Charité, as Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Berlin, and as editor of Archiv fur Psychiatrie, they decided unanimously that homosexuality could not be regarded as mental illness on four grounds:

    1. There is no clouding of the consciousness or disturbance of the rational mind;

    2. There is no irresistible impulse;

    3. The subject has no delusion as to the character of his own sexual organs or those of the partner;

    4. The subject is aware that his sexual orientation differs from that of the majority of the population.

In short, there is no ground on which a court of law could rule that a homosexual subject is not sane and competent, legally and morally responsible for his actions. The discussion was subsequently reported by Paul Kronthal in Neurologisches Centralblatt, 10: 378-379 (1891), but has been forgotten even more completely than Westphal's original paper. The Foucauldians in their fathomless ignorance have certainly never heard of it.

    The debate over whether “homosexuality is a disease” during the ensuing hundred years has therefore been a classic instance of intellectual shadow-boxing. Close semantic analysis of scores of psychoanalytic texts reveals that when the analysts angrily insist that “homosexuality is a disease”, they in fact mean depravity. That is why they never objected to any law or administrative decision that deprived homosexuals of rights and liberties, but were indignant when in 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended repeal of the archaic sodomy laws. Only then did they feel compelled to inform the public that homosexuality was “a serious disease” — for which ostracism and punishment are the best if not the only therapy. The attempt to maintain the definition of homosexuality as mental illness is simply a denial of the legitimacy of homosexual activity — a repackaging of the moral condemnation in a medical or scientific container that will make it more saleable to the enlightened society of the late twentieth century. The psychoanalysts were and are aware that they are not “curing” anyone; they are merely siding with the religious establishment and perpetuating the Judeo-Christian taboo in a new guise.

    An honest confrontation with our opponents demands the unabashed recognition of the theological source of the hostility to us and of the continuing institutional basis of our oppression in contemporary Western society. Dishonest evasions can lead only to a dead end, not to the emancipation from medieval superstition and intolerance that is the aim of our struggle.

                        Warren Johansson
                        15 June 1991

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