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In the ancient greek world male homosexuality was common and didn't attract the same scorn as it did even 100 years ago. So 2,000 years ago, it was acceptable, and 100 years ago it was unacceptable. When did it change? Why did it change?
It is important to note that the modern Western conception of homosexuality as an essential property of a person did not exist in Antiquity: men and women might perform certain acts, but everyone was expected to marry the opposite sex and procreate. No "deeper" theories about these inclinations were entertained, at least not by most. One "was" not homosexual, just as one "is" not a traveller now: some just like to travel more than others. It is probably still like that in most of the non-Western world. The modern Western conception probably only emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Foucault's History of Sexuality may be an interesting read.
In Athens, a form of flirtation that sometimes led to sex (the frequency and extent of this are not entirely known) between a bearded man and a beardless boy was quite common in the classical era, at least among the elite (little is known about the others). The man was supposed to teach the boy and introduce him into the right circles. Parents of the boy often encouraged this. There were certain rituals to this flirtation, such as the presentation of gifts to the boy. A rooster was ironically a traditional gift. A good introduction would be Dover's Greek Homosexuality. It also contains many pictures of vases that evidence this practice:
Source: Wikipedia on Pederasty in Ancient Greece: "Pederastic scene: erastes (lover) touching chin and genitals of the eromenos (beloved). Side A of an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 540 BC."
However, sex between two adult men was frowned upon, especially the kind that involved one man's acting the part of a woman. It was feared that a man who had allowed another man to so satisfy his desires upon him had compromised his manhood and was no longer an independent citizen capable of fulfilling a public function, as evidenced by Aeschines' speech Against Timarchus. Some sort of moral corruption was involved, and conceivably the unfitness of a man considered susceptible to blackmail, because of the social taboo. In other Greek states of the time, practice differed from certain forms that were socially acceptable to general condemnation. Various forms of love and sex of course took their course independent of these taboos as well. Note that what we know is mostly about the upper strata of society. This applies to any age before the modern era.
In the Roman Republic and Empire, various forms of love and sex existed, and in certain artistic and powerful circles it was often not uncommon for a man to take boys as lovers; but it was never as common as in classical Athens, and various laws and cultural shifts made people more and less tolerant in varying waves over time.
Christianity probably had a major influence in reducing this tolerance, though the powerful and the well-connected could and did get away with sometimes-open homosexual lovers; but of course they married a woman. Somehow these affairs were often between a powerful older man and a younger boy; whether other relationships were just never displayed in public or this was a certain natural preference for most older men, I do not know.
With the advent of Protestantism and its focus on conscience, and the inevitable Catholic Counter-Reformation, it is conceivable that intolerance and the severity of punishment grew. But, again, love and sex always happened in private. It is just public tolerance that was at an all-time low.
It was only after the Enlightenment that some signs of the modern conception of homosexuality can be seen, though I'm not sure when exactly. A certain tolerance that came with liberalism and enlightenment had its effect on all kinds of taboos.
As far as I know, the important change here was Christianity that spread out in Europe. The common justification to condemn homosexuality is the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story. The dominant Christian interpretation of the story views homosexuality as the sin that caused the destruction of these cities.
Homosexuality in medieval Europe
In medieval Europe, attitudes toward homosexuality varied by era and region. Generally, by at least the twelfth century, homosexuality was considered sodomy and was punishable by death. Despite persecution, records of homosexual relationships during the Medieval period did exist. This persecution reached its height during the Medieval Inquisitions, when the sects of Cathars and Waldensians were accused of fornication and sodomy, alongside accusations of satanism. In 1307, accusations of sodomy and homosexuality were major charges leveled during the Trial of the Knights Templar.  These allegations though, were highly politicized without any real evidence. 
Thanks to the criminal code by Justice Minister Giuseppe Zanardelli &mdash the so-called Zanardelli Code &mdash homosexuality was decriminalised in 1889. Since then, homosexuality has been considered a &ldquosin against religion and privacy&rdquo as long as it did not involve violence or public scandals. But homosexuality itself is not prosecuted.
But what might seem like a liberal code at first glance was, in fact, a strategy to keep homosexuality away from public life. Although there was no criminal repression against homosexuality, same-sex couples were not persecuted as long as they kept their private life behind closed doors.
The 1930&rsquos Rocco code reinforced this approach. The legal text read: &ldquoIt will not be punished because the vicious vice of homosexuality in Italy is not so widespread that it requires legal intervention.&rdquo
This approach of turning a blind eye is still widespread today. In several African countries, such as Uganda, heads of state deny that there are homosexuals in their country even though they still persecute them.
How Homosexuality Became Normalized
Much of America’s social life has changed over the last forty years. Perhaps most dramatic, the U.S. has evolved from a nation deeply contesting race relations to one with a mixed-race, African-American president. In the wake of the 1973 Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the Culture Wars rose to a bitter confrontation over values and, while sputtering, persists in a never-ending war against a woman’s right to chose an abortion.
Equally surprising, the moralistic, Christian right suffered a nearly complete defeat in the second front of the Culture Wars, homosexuality. Homosexuality has been normalized, with gay marriage legal in 15 states, accepted within the macho military and recognized as a personal privacy right by the Supreme Court. Not unlike the relative accepance of “black” people as part of the American mosaic, “gay” people are inceasingly, unashamedly accepted as one’s children, friends, neighbors and fellow employees.
To appreciate how this happened, one needs to recall the battle over the definition of homosexuality that has raged for the last four centuries. This new nation was founded on strict moral principles, so for righteous Puritans old-fashion sodomy was a hanging offense. As the U.S. has increasingly secularized, refashioned by a commodity-sectacle consumer market economy, medicine, as a form of “neutral” science, came to mediate the conflict over moral values.
Psychiatry, through its professional association, the APA, sets the standard of normalcy. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders ( DSM ) is the official handbook of psychological deviance and, thus, normalcy. Its influnce was at its height during the decades of the Korean War. Cold War patriotism demanded a strict adherence to patriarchial masculity, an ethos that rejected – but was terrorized by! – its wilder sexual desires. The medical profession, especially psychiatry, stradled the no-man’s-land seperating religion and law enforcement.
The tumultuous ‘60s affected nearly all aspects of American life. Most pointedly, it was expressed in the social forces of the civil rights movement, antiwar activism, the counterculture and the emergent women’s movement. They came together in the fledgling gay-rights movement. One of the era’s singular expressions of rebellion was the infamous 1969 Stonewall riot in New York’s Greenwich Village. It revealed the growing militancy of a long-hidden, often closeted minority, “homosexuals,” whether dyke or fag. Their refusal to accept 2 nd -class status exploded public consciousness. One consequence of the riot was that an increasing number of social institutions came under public scrutany as to their treatment of gay people. One target was psychiatry.
In the wake of Stonewall, gay activists led by Frank Kamery intensified their campaign against the questionable medical assumptions – and political consequences — that underlay psychiatry’s analysis of homosexuality. These assumptions, by extension, were applied to other sexually-identified mental disorders like fetishism and transexualism. The gay activist campaign took many forms, but — in the spirit of ‘60s activism – is most remembered by its direct interventions against this (allegedly) neutral, scientific profession, psychiatry.
Inspired by the civil rights movement’s challenge to racism, the antiwar movement’s confrontation with the military-industrial complex and the women’s movement battle against patriarchy, gay activists set their sights not only on disrupting the public presentations of a number of psychiatry’s leading spokesmen but, most importantly, redefining the APA’s DSM . While the then-current DSM-II did not use the term “perversion,” it did refer to homosexuality and other sexual deviances as mental disorders, “pathological deviation[s] of normal sexual development.”
Gay activists understood that science — like sexuality – is a social category, one that changes over time. Over the last century-and-a-half, once reputable “sciences” – as well as illicit sexual practices denounced as perversions — have been revised, leading to changes in social beliefs and values. Phrenology was once considered a science and eugenics once promised a better human species. Similarly, medical authorities once warned that masturbation was a derangement and oral sex a sin. These beliefs were once unquestionably accepted only to be, with time and critical engagement, deposited in the dustbin of history.
Ideas matter, especially within the elite psychiatric profession. It includes many well-read, learnered men and woman. Shrinks have real power, they prescribe drugs and testify in court. They determine if someone is sane or mad, well or sick, normal or pervered. So, a formal, public debate between learned psychiatrists offered an unprecedented opportunity to engage a critical issues – what was homosexulity? It could also be a unique venue for professional intellectuals to flex their muscles.
One of the seminal intellectual debates of the 20 th century took place in Honolulu (HI) on May 13, 1973. The event was masterfully organized by Robert Spitzer. In the early ‘70s, he was on the faculty of New York State Psychiatry Institute and a member of the APA’s Committee of Nomenclature. He took the lead in trying to resolve the growing challenge to psychiatry’s analysis of homosexuality. He did this through a series of what historian Ronald Bayer calls “compromises,” tactical changes in the diagnosis of homosexuality. His nomenclature compromises reveal the shifting terrain of intellectual engagment: “sexual orientation disturbance” (1973), “ego-dystonic homosexuality” (1980) and, finally, “sexual disorders not otherwise classified” (1986). “In fact,” insists Bayer, “it was Spitzer’s own conceptual struggle with the issue of homosexuality that framed the [Nomenclature] committee’s considerations.”
The momentous Hawaii symposium drew between 500 and 1,000 psychiatrists. It pitted well-recognized authorities in a rigorous exchange as to the meaning of homosexuality and its place in psychiatric analysis, medical – and legal — diagnosis. Two conservative stalwarts, Irving Bieber (New York Medical College) and Charles Socarides (Albert Einstein College of Medicine), defended the orthodox outlook. They were challenged by three psychiatrists from the University of Southern California, Richard Green, Judd Marmor and Robert Stoller. Spitzer stacked the deck by inviting Ronald Gold of the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA).
Those advocating the orthodox perspective did so partly within terms of Freud’s famous 1935 letter to an American mother concerned about her son’s homosexuality:
… May I question you, why do you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. … It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. [Freud, 1935, pp. 606-07]
Both Bieber and Socarides went out of their way to separate themselves from those who persecuted homosexuals, thus directly repudiating charges that they were homophobic or opposed civil rights for gays.
For them and others opposed to the de-classification of homosexuality as a disorder, everything hinged on it being understood, in Freud’s words, as a “sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development.” Arrested development, for Bieber and Socarides, is rooted in a young male’s maladaptation (they say nothing about females) to a dysfunctional heterosexual family. Their analyses are quite specific:
Bieber: … [T]he dislocations in heterosexual organization of biologically normal children occur as a consequence of pathological family formation. … [H]omosexuality is not an adaptation of choice it is brought about by fears that inhibit satisfactory heterosexual functioning. … I suggest that homosexuality be characterized as a type of sexual inadequacy since most homosexuals (especially those who are exclusively homosexual) cannot function heterosexually.
Socarides: … [H]omosexuality represents a disorder of sexual development and does not fall within the range of normal sexual development. … [A] pathological parent-child relationship [is] in the background of all the homosexual studies … . The frequency of a parental combination consisting of a close-binding, overintimate mother and a hostile, detached father statistically differentiated the homosexuals from the heterosexual group ….
Bieber and Socarides held firm to the orthodox psychoanalytic paradigm.
The others who rejoined Bieber and Socarides on the dais that day challenged many of their – and psychoanalysis’s — underlying assumptions:
Green: Using statistical deviances per se as a diagnostic basis evokes problems. Geniuses are deviant. So are the left-handed, vegetarians, pacifists, the celibate, and the esoterically religious. … The classification I am proposing here would include the heterosexual or the homosexual who finds it difficult to maintain desired object relationships, who compulsively uses sexuality to ward of anxiety or depression, or whose sexuality typically leads to depression or anxiety.
Marmor: All personality idiosyncrasies are the result of background developmental differences, and all have specific historical antecedents. … [W]e do not have the right to label behavior that is deviant from the currently favored by the majority as evidence per se of psychopathology. … Thus, from an objective biological viewpoint there is nothing ‘‘unnatural’’ about homosexual object choice.
Stoller: … [H]omosexuality is not a diagnosis. … There is homosexual behavior it is varied. There is no such thing as homosexuality. … So I see perversions (but not all sexual deviations and not all homosexual behaviors) are modifications one must invent in order to preserve some of one’s heterosexuality.
Finally, Gold was unflinching in his criticism of the then-current APA classification of homosexuality:
I have come to an unshakable conclusion: the illness theory of homosexuality is a pack of lies, concocted out of the myths of a patriarchal society for a political purpose. Psychiatry – dedicated to making sick people well – has been the cornerstone of a system of oppression that makes gay people sick. … Take the damning label of sickness away from us. Take us out of your nomenclature.
As Spitzer recalled, the symposium resulted in two important APA decisions. First, the Board approved removal of the term homosexuality from its category of mental disorders second, it passed a resolution calling for equal civil rights for homosexuals. “[Homosexuals] were suffering,” Spitzer acknowledged, “they could not achieve civil rights in America as long as psychiatry looked at them as a disorder.”
The APA’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders contributed to the redefinition of sexual perversion. The decision led to similar resolutions by other organizations, including religious groups like the Society of Friends, Lutheran Church and National Council of Churches as well as the American Bar Association, the AMA and the American Psychological Association. Cities across the country passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Perhaps most important, the decision led to the removal of sodomy laws in more than a dozen states.
When the battle started, Spitzer, and most other psychiatrists, understood homosexuality as “a pervasive disorder of personality.” By the time the DSM-III-R was adopted in 1987 (amidst of the AIDS crisis), homosexuality had lost its negative connotation and — only if accompanied by serious distress — was formally reclassified as a “sexual disorder not otherwise classified.” And what went for homosexuality applied equally to other, previously identified perversions.
The APA decision undercut the then, all-inclusive legal notion of “moral turpitude.” Once upon a time one could be arrested for engaging in practices, sexual and otherwise, that were contrary to “community standards.” In the DSM-III , the APA introduced a new notion of hitherto-unacceptable sexual practices, “paraphelia.” As Spitzer acknowledged, the reason the Nomenclature Committee adopted the term “paraphelia” for the DSM-III was that “nobody knew what it meant.”
A century ago, American women wore ankle-length dresses with corsets, masturbation was decried, intercourse was for procreation not pleasure, abortion a crime, contraceptives banned, interracial sex a hanging offense, pre-marital sex forbidden, pornography an obscenity and homosexuality a sin. Today, that world is over.
Four short decades ago, the APA’s 1973 Hawaii debate over homosexuality challenged – both intellectually and politically – accepted moral values. Would a distinct minority, those with homoerotic inclinations, continue to be persecuted while another minority – African-Americans – were accepted as part of American society?
The die was cast, a new political vocabulary was finding its voice. Homosexuality was being recast, redefined as a minority not less human – or threatening – then African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians or the disabled. The once racists, Puritan nation was being recast. The 20 th century was being defined, sexually and otherwise. And with it the 21 st century.
Why the word 'homosexual' is offensive
If you're a member of a stigmatized group, such as a person of color or a gay man or woman, even the smallest of talk can be fraught with small discomforts, slights, and aggressions.
Such casual offenses need not be intentional. Indeed, they often aren't.
For example, consider the word "homosexual," which Jeremy Peters writes "probably sounds inoffensive" to most people. I am a straight man who considers myself to be politically aligned with the struggles of gay men and women, and I frequently use the term (including just last night). I was surprised then to learn that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) listed it as an offensive term back in 2006.
I thought it was strange that I was so oblivious, so I began researching. I emerged with a couple of explanations about the term's offensiveness.
First, people often point to parts of the word itself to explain its offensiveness. They point out that, since it includes "sexual," the word focuses on sexual acts and not on gay men and women's basic humanity or that the word is related to a recognizable slur, "homo."
Second, some have also looked at the word's history and pointed out that "homosexual" has a history of being used to pathologize gays and lesbians. For example, the American Psychological Association considered homosexuality a psychological disorder until 1973.
These explanations are compelling, but I'm not sure they tell the whole story. For example, if the inclusion of "sexual" is the problem with "homosexual," why do I not feel equally uncomfortable with "heterosexual"?
Also, if similarity to a slur is such a problem, then why is the preferred term "gay"? After all, "gay" is often used cruelly, like when it's used to mean lame or stupid. Finally, as a linguist, I know that historical usage, while usually very interesting, often has very little relevance to how words are used and understood contemporaneously.
This led me to take a look at the use of "homosexual" by politicians, specifically members of the U.S. Congress, through data made available on CapitolWords.org by the Sunlight Foundation. It proved illuminating.
I was specifically interested in how different labels for gay men and women are used by Congressional Democrats and the Republicans, who have historically taken different stances on issues of deep concern to many gay men and women such as employment discrimination. The data I collected shows interesting tendencies in the use of "gay," "homosexual," and "lesbian" by political party.
For Democrats, "gay" and "lesbian" are both preferred over "homosexual." Republicans also prefer "gay" over "homosexual" but rarely use "lesbian." However, Republicans' preference for "gay" is far weaker, and they use the word "homosexual" more than Democrats do. In addition, Republicans have not always avoided the word "homosexual," as the graph below makes clear.
In this data, 1996 is the peak year for use of the word "homosexual." (It was also the first year digitized data is available, so we don't know if usage in 1995, much less 1955, was even higher.)
Republicans used the term quite frequently in 1996 as Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which excluded same sex unions from the federal government's definition of marriage, and the Senate debated, but did not pass, the Employment Nondiscrimation Act of 1996 (ENDA), which would have given legal protections to gays and lesbians in the workplace.
The divide between Democrats and Republicans was somewhat murky in 1996, both in terms of word usage and support for causes important to gays and lesbians. In fact, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of DOMA. However, it was mostly the Republicans in the Senate who opposed ENDA, and this opposition was accompanied by frequent use of the word "homosexual," such as when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked rhetorically, "Should the Senate run roughshod over the concerns of parents and educators about having homosexuals teach their kids?"
An even stronger divide emerged several years later when the House voted on an extension of DOMA, the Marriage Protection Act of 2004 (which died in the Senate). The vast majority of Republicans supported the bill, and the vast majority of Democrats opposed it, although in this year Republicans' use of "homosexual" was far more limited.
In its history of use in Congress, the word "homosexual" has largely been associated with some of the most clearly anti-gay politicians like Steve King (R-Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Interestingly, the term has also been frequently used by former Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who is himself gay, although Frank is also a frequent user of "gay."
In the end, "homosexual" has largely faded out of use in Congress in the past few years, but so it seems has Republican discussion of gay men and women.
The offense that some gay men and women take to the term "homosexual" can be explained in part by its association with anti-gay stances heard especially in the 1990s and 2000s, not only in Congress but also on talk radio, at church, and around the dinner table. The subtle but close association between anti-gay politics and the term "homosexual" means that when they hear "homosexual" some gays and lesbians hear opposition to their struggle for equal treatment under the law and homophobic conspiracy theories about immoral and corrupt "homosexual agendas." It's no wonder they're offended.
A Timeline of Gay World History
Ancient Times: Cultures such as the Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman accommodate homosexuality and crossdressing among a minority of its citizens since the earliest recorded times. The castration of homosexual slaves and house servants becomes a custom of the Middle East, and Jewish tribes criminalize homosexual behavior.
8000 B.C. The world’s earliest depictions of homosexuality are found in the ancient San rock paintings of Zimbabwe, Africa.
3100. The Mahabharata of India describes how Arjuna was well-received in the palace of Maharaja Virata while spending one year as a crossdressing transgender.
2697. Legendary Chinese Emperor, Huang Di, is described having male lovers and is by no means alone in the history of China’s ancient ruling monarchs.
2460. One of the earliest Egyptian pharaohs associated with homosexuality is King Neferkare, who is described having an affair with his top military commander, Sasenet, during the Sixth Dynasty.
2450. An Egyptian tomb of two royal manicurists, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, depicts the couple embracing and nose kissing with the inscription “joined in life and joined in death.”
2100. The custom of castrating homosexual slaves and house servants is established in Ancient Assyria.
2040. The Contendings of Horus and Seth, a text of Egypt’s early Middle Kingdom, narrates a homosexual union between the two gods.
1200. The Jewish prophet Moses condemns crossdressing and homosexuality in the Torah (Book of Leviticus), punishing the latter by death for both men and women.
1075. The Code of Assura from Middle Assyria prescribes castration for soldiers caught engaging in passive homosexual behavior.
800. The Shatapatha Brahmana, a text from India’s Vedic Period, mentions homosexual union between the brother-gods, Mitra and Varuna. Eighth-century Greek epics like the Iliad and Odyssey portray homosexual unions between gods and young men such as Zeus and Ganymede, Poseidon and Pelops, Apollo and Hyacinth, etc.
700. The custom of castrating homosexual slaves and house servants is introduced into Persia from conquered Assyria and Media.
600. On the island of Lesbos in Greece, Sappho becomes highly regarded as a female poet and writes many poems speaking of love and infatuation between women.
445. Plato and Xenophon, two prominent disciples of Socrates, describe their teacher as “helpless” among beautiful, adolescent boys. Plato further writes: “Same-sex love is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments, just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them.”
400. India’s renowned medical text, the Sushruta Samhita, describes homosexual, transgender and intersex conditions as inborn and incurable. Historian Herodotus describes Middle Eastern slave traders selling castrated boys in Sardis to satisfy the lust of wealthy Greeks. The practice of castration, he writes, is considered “undignified, with only a few exceptions.”
338. The Sacred Band of Thebes, a homosexual army comprised of more than three hundred soldiers, is defeated by Phillip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.
334. In Troy, Alexander the Great and Hephaestion profess their love by garlanding the statues of Achilles and Patroclus.
330. Bagoas, the favorite male concubine of Persia’s emperor Darius III, is presented to Alexander the Great as a gift after the emperor’s death.
300. India’s Manusmriti (Manu Samhita) lists homosexual behavior as a minor offense for ordinary, twice-born males and for underage, unmarried girls but does not condemn it otherwise.
200. The Cybele cult of Greece holds initiation rites wherein men voluntarily castrate themselves, wear women’s clothing, and assume female names and identities.
100. India’s Narada-smriti includes homosexuals in its list of men who are impotent with women and declares them incurable and unfit for marriage to the opposite sex. Roman historian Diodorus Siculus documents one of the earliest known references to homosexuality among the Celtic tribes of Britannia and northern Gaul.
The Dark Ages: With the advent of Christianity, homosexuality and crossdressing are criminalized in the Roman Empire but remain widely accepted throughout the rest of the world. Western Europe resists the Middle Eastern practice of male castration.
0 A.D. In the first century, castration is banned throughout the Roman Empire.
100. Greek moralist Plutarch describes the many male lovers of Heracles (Hercules) that include Apollo, Aberus, several of the Argonauts, Nestor, Iolaos and others said to be beyond counting.
300. The Kama Sutra is put into writing during India’s prosperous Gupta Period. The renowned text describes homosexual practices and people in much detail and refers to them as a third nature or sex (tritiya-prakriti).
303. Two Roman officers, Sergius and Bacchus, are executed in Syria for preaching Christianity. They are later recognized as saints and become a model for the same-sex union or “wedded brotherhood” ceremonies performed in the Christian world from the eighth to the eighteenth century.
313. Rome enacts the Edict of Milan, which ends all religious persecution and returns confiscated property to the Church.
324. The Roman Empire effectively becomes a Christian state with the ascension of Emperor Constantine I.
389. Rome enacts its first law against homosexual citizens under Christian leadership, taking away their right to make or benefit from wills.
370. The Roman Empire criminalizes sex between men with a prescribed penalty of death by burning.
The Middle Ages: With the growth of Christianity and the advent of Islam, the criminalization of homosexuality and crossdressing spreads across Eurasia and into Africa. Although driven underground, the practice itself remains widespread and in most cases silently tolerated within the shadows of society. The Middle Eastern custom of castrating homosexual slaves and house servants becomes commonplace in the East Roman Empire (Byzantium) and is introduced into northern China and India. Oblivious to the outside world, American and South Sea natives maintain their traditional acceptance of homosexual behavior and crossdressing.
632 A.D. Shari’a Law is formulated during the seventh century and gradually established throughout the Islamic world. It punishes homosexuality by flagellation or death by stoning, burning, collapsing a rock wall upon, or throwing off from a high point.
642. The Visigothic Code is crafted in Spain and gradually established throughout Christian Europe. It orders castration or death by burning for anyone convicted of “sodomy.”
700. The custom of castrating homosexual slaves and house servants is introduced into northern China by Muslim merchants during the eighth century.
780. Korean Emperor Hyegong is executed fifteen years after his ascent to the throne when royal subordinates can no longer tolerate his effeminate behavior.
800. Traditional legends and practices of the Norse are put into writing, some of which include homosexual practices and crossdressing.
1000. The custom of castrating homosexual slaves and house servants is introduced into northern India by Muslims during the eleventh century. Temple construction flourishes on the Indian subcontinent and some are adorned with openly erotic images depicting homosexuality.
1100. Archbishop Theophylaktos argues in favor of eunuchs as an important and contributing social class of Byzantine society in his work, Defense of Eunuchs. Eunuchs are placed in charge of guarding the Prophet Mohammed’s tomb in Medina during the twelfth century or earlier.
1184. Roman Catholic Inquisitions begin in France using torture to extract confessions and punishing homosexuality by death. The Inquisitions spread across the globe and remain in effect for more than seven centuries.
1327. England’s King Edward II is grotesquely executed after refusing to end his “unnatural” relationship with Hugh Despenser, a son of the earl of Winchester.
1351. Slavery and male castration reach their peak in India under the Islamic rule of Firuz Shah Tughlaq of the Sultanate of Delhi.
1453. Ottoman Turks conquer the Byzantine Empire and attitudes toward homosexuality improve under the new Islamic emperor, Mehmet II.
1486. In Bengal, India, transgender dancers bless the newborn child Nimai (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu), an important incarnation of Radha and Krsna.
1492. On his quest to find a shorter route to India, Christopher Columbus discovers the New World.
The Early Modern Age: Christian Europe wages its greatest assault upon homosexuality to date while the practice remains silently tolerated in the Muslim world. Expeditions into sub-Saharan Africa, the New World and the South Seas reveal an astonishing acceptance of homosexuality and crossdressing among the indigenous people there. France becomes the first Christian nation to repeal its sodomy laws.
1519 A.D. In a report to King Carlos V of Spain, conquistador Hernando Cortez reports widespread homosexuality among the Veracruz natives of Mexico.
1528. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro gives detailed reports of Incan priests and chieftains engaged in crossdressing rituals and sodomy.
1533. King Henry VIII of England establishes the Buggery Act, which replaces the penalty for homosexuality from castration or burning at the stake to public hanging.
1536-1821. Thirty homosexuals are burned at the stake in Portugal during the Portuguese Inquisition.
1570-1630. More than one hundred homosexuals are burned at the stake in the city of Zaragoza, Spain, during the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834).
1591-1593. In one of the earliest accounts of homosexuality in Africa, a series of court records from Portugal’s Brazil colony describes sodomitic practices among the natives of Angola and Congo.
1599. Rome sanctions the castration of young boy singers known as castrati.
1625. Jesuit priest Joao dos Santos writes of a class of native Africans in Portuguese Angola, known as chibados, who dress like women, marry other men and “esteeme that unnaturale damnation an honor.”
1629. A baffled colonial American court orders intersex woman, Thomasine Hall, to dress partly as a man and partly as a woman.
1633. Christina Alexandra, widely believed to be intersex or lesbian, is crowned Queen of Sweden.
1636. Dutch officers Caron and Schouten write of the unabashed acceptance of sodomy they find among Japanese Buddhist priests and gentry.
1646. Jan Creoli becomes one of the first-known persons executed for sodomy in colonial America (Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam, now New York City). He is garroted (strangled to death with a cord) and his body “burned to ashes.”
1656-1663. Several hundred homosexuals are publicly garroted in San Lazaro, Mexico, during a well-publicized effort by Spain to purge that country of sodomy.
1660. Jan Quisthout van der Linde is convicted of sodomy with a servant in New Amsterdam, tied into a sack, thrown in a river and drowned. London’s scandalous periodical, The Wandering Whore, describes English “hermaphrodites” who are “given to much luxury…and to that abominable sin of sodomy.”
1669. Spanish writer and traveler Francisco Coreal reports of a class of “hermaphrodite” boys in Florida who dress up like women and engage in sodomy with the native men.
1682. Robert de La Salle claims the Louisiana Territory for France. Early French explorers in Quebec, Louisiana and the Great Lakes observe crossdressing homosexual natives and coin the term “berdache” to describe them.
1691. Dutchman Engelbert Kaempfer observes the popularity of crossdressing Kabuki dancers that also work as boy prostitutes throughout Japan.
1702. One of the last public burnings of homosexuals occurs in France during a well-publicized male prostitution scandal in Paris.
1730-1732. Seventy-five homosexuals are sentenced to death and garroted in the City Hall cellars of Holland during a harsh campaign to exterminate that country of sodomy “from top to bottom.”
1740. Frederick II the Great, one of the earliest known German homosexuals, is crowned King of Prussia. The Qing Dynasty enacts China’s first law against homosexuality but it is rarely enforced and the penalties are mild.
1770. Captain James Cook observes an acceptance of homosexuality among the Maori tribes of New Zealand. Similar observations are made by European explorers throughout the South Seas.
1771. Gustav III, widely believed to be homosexual, is crowned King of Sweden.
1778. Thomas Jefferson writes a law proposing castration instead of hanging for sodomy but the idea is rejected by the Virginia Legislature.
1791. A Cuban newspaper article criticizes the “effeminate sodomites” that apparently thrive in eighteenth-century Havana.
1791. France becomes the first Christian nation to decriminalize sodomy through a revision of its penal code during the French Revolution.
1796. New York state replaces hanging for sodomy with a maximum prison sentence of fourteen years.
The Nineteenth Century: France, Holland, Spain and Portugal repeal their sodomy laws along with those of their colonies while Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia manage only to reduce their penalties from death by hanging to long prison sentences. Britain’s harsh sodomy laws are implanted into all of its many important colonies around the world. The Islamic world maintains a mostly silent tolerance of homosexuality and the practice of male castration dissipates in unison with the global slave market. Germans usher in the world’s very first homosexual rights movement.
1801 A.D. New York state increases its prison sentence for sodomy to a mandatory life sentence.
1803. Austria decreases the punishment for sodomy to one year in prison.
1806. English traveler John Barrow describes the sodomy he finds among Hong Kong officials in his book, Travels in China.
1810. France’s Napoleonic Code is legally established, thus ratifying the country’s landmark repeal of all private sodomy laws. Several German states, including Bavaria and Hanover, adopt the code as well.
1811. The Kingdom of Holland repeals its sodomy laws while incorporated into France from 1810-1813. Spain and Portugal also repeal their sodomy laws during the early 1800s.
1820. Queen Mujaji I, a female monarch of Lesotho’s Lovedu tribe, keeps a large harem of wives and legitimizes the practice for other neighboring South African tribes.
1828. Australia records its first hanging for sodomy and the executions reach their peak in the 1830s. New York state reduces its sodomy penalty from a life sentence to a maximum of ten years in prison.
1830. Brazil repeals its sodomy laws, eight years after gaining independence from Portugal.
1834. The British Slavery Abolition Act ends slavery throughout most of the British Empire. The practice of male castration gradually disappears in tandem with the decline of world slavery during the nineteenth century.
1835. Russia establishes its first sodomy laws.
1836. In a well-publicized trial, Reverend William Yate, second in line to the bishop of Sydney, is prosecuted for engaging in sodomy with six Maori men in New Zealand.
1857. James Buchanan, widely believed to be homosexual, becomes the fifteenth president of the United States. Scottish explorer David Livingstone reports crossdressing shamans among the Ambo tribes of South-West Africa (Namibia).
1860. Great Britain revises its penal code, changing the penalty for sodomy from death by hanging to life imprisonment. The new code is established in British colonies all over world including India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, the Caribbean, etc. and has a long-lasting effect in those countries.
1861. German psychiatrists study homosexuality and begin to consider it innate. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs popularizes “Uranism” and the concept of a “third sex.”
1862. Mexico repeals its sodomy laws while under French rule from 1862-1867.
1864. Ludwig II, widely believed to be homosexual, becomes a popular albeit eccentric king of Bavaria. Australia replaces hangings for sodomy with long prison sentences and floggings. Sweden establishes sodomy laws prescribing up to two years in prison. British explorer Richard F. Burton locates the mysterious Amazon women of Dahomey (Benin, Africa) who identify as men, engage in warfare and “share passions between each other.”
1865. British-ruled Hong Kong enacts sodomy laws prescribing life sentences.
1869. The modern term “homosexuality” (homosexualitat) is first coined in a German pamphlet written by Karoly Maria Kertbeny.
1870. Anna Leonowens expresses shock at the crossdressing and “unnatural vice” among Siamese natives in her bestselling book, The English Governess at the Siamese Court. Italy outlaws the castration of young boy singers.
1871. King Wilhelm of Prussia creates a new German Empire and reestablishes sodomy as a crime (Paragraph 175).
1873. Japan briefly establishes sodomy laws from 1873 to 1881.
1883. The Kama Sutra is translated into English and published by Sri Richard Francis Burton. A German translation is published by Richard Schmidt in 1897.
1886. Native American two-spirit, We’wha, creates a sensation in Washington D.C. when introduced to President Grover Cleveland and dined at the White House. Two-spirit traditions are documented and occasionally photographed in nearly 150 North American tribes.
1889. Italy repeals its sodomy laws.
1890. South African Zulu chief, Nongoloza Mathebula, orders his bandit-warriors to abstain from women and take on boy-wives instead, a time-honored practice in the region.
1892. New York state eliminates its minimum requirement of five years in prison for sodomy.
1892-1921. Over two-hundred and fifty sodomy cases are tried in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, with the most common defense being that sodomy has been a longstanding custom among the African natives.
1893. Famous Russian composer and known homosexual Pyotr Tchaikovsky dies unexpectedly at age 53.
1894. Canada replaces flogging as a penalty for homosexuality with prison terms of up to fifteen years.
1895. London’s most popular playwright, Oscar Wilde, is convicted of “gross indecency” (homosexual acts not amounting to buggery) and sentenced to two years of hard labor in a highly-publicized trial.
1897. Magnus Hirschfeld founds the very first modern homosexual movement, the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitare Komitee, in Germany.
1899. Hirschfeld publishes the first annual journal for homosexuals, Jahrbuch Fur Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, in Germany.
The Twentieth Century: The English-speaking world begins repealing its sodomy laws en masse and the modern gay rights movement is born in the United States. Islamic countries begin to modernize but fall back into anti-gay religious fundamentalism. Asian countries maintain a mostly silent tolerance of homosexuality while Western Europe begins offering equitable marriage rights for gay couples.
1901 A.D. Reputed German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing concedes that homosexuality is inborn and not pathological, as he had earlier claimed.
1903. Celebrated British soldier, Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald, commits suicide when his homosexuality is uncovered while stationed in British Ceylon.
1908. The Inquisitions are officially ended by the Roman Catholic Church.
1912. The last vestige of China’s eunuch system ends with the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.
1917. Russia repeals its sodomy laws after the Bolshevik Revolution, citing their origin in Biblical teachings.
1918. The world’s first demonstration for homosexual rights takes place one day before Germany surrenders in the Great War. Hirschfeld speaks before a Berlin crowd of five thousand, calling for the repeal of Paragraph 175.
1921. California lowers its sodomy penalties from a maximum life sentence to a maximum of fifteen years in prison.
1926. Portugal reinstates its sodomy laws under the Salazar dictatorship.
1930. The world’s first modern sex change operation is performed on Danish painter Andreas Wegener, who travels to Germany for the procedure.
1932. Poland repeals its sodomy laws but homosexuals are soon persecuted under Nazi and later Soviet rule.
1933. Denmark repeals its sodomy laws. Joseph Stalin reinstates sodomy laws within the Soviet Union. In Germany and throughout much of Europe, homosexuals are viciously persecuted, imprisoned and killed by the Nazis up until the end of World War II.
1935. J. Edgar Hoover, founder of modern police investigation and widely believed to be homosexual, is appointed as the FBI’s first director.
1944. Sweden repeals its sodomy laws.
1945. Nazi concentration camps are liberated at the close of World War II. Approximately 15,000 homosexuals, marked with inverted pink triangles, are believed to have died in the camps.
1948. Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (The Kinsey Report) is published, bringing the taboo subject of homosexuality up for debate in the United States.
1949. Strict sodomy laws are enacted in China after the communist takeover.
1950. New York becomes the first U.S. state to reduce sodomy from a felony to a misdemeanor. America’s first homosexual organization, The Mattachine Society, is founded in New York City. Homosexual marriages among the Zulu of South Africa peak during the 1950s, with weddings held monthly.
1951. Greece repeals its sodomy laws. California’s Supreme Court rules against the practice of suspending liquor licenses at bars serving homosexual clientele.
1952. Christine Jorgensen becomes America’s first modern transsexual after returning home from a sex-change operation in Denmark.
1955. America’s first lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis, is founded in San Francisco.
1956. Allen Ginsberg crosses censorship lines by publishing Howl, a book celebrating his homosexuality, and emerges victorious when challenged in court one year later. Thailand abolishes its British-inherited sodomy laws during an effort to purge Thai legal codes of obsolete edicts.
1962. Illinois becomes the first U.S. state to repeal its sodomy laws.
1963. Israel repeals its sodomy laws.
1964. Life magazine dubs San Francisco the “Gay Capital of the U.S.”
1966. The commencement of China’s notorious Cultural Revolution includes a vicious and organized attack against homosexual people and art (1966-1976).
1967. England and Wales repeal their sodomy laws.
1969. In June, homosexual riots break out on Christopher Street at the Stonewall Inn in New York City as a response to routine police harassment, marking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Canada and West Germany repeal their sodomy laws.
1970. The world’s first Gay Pride parades occur in Chicago, New York and San Francisco to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
1971. British anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard documents the widespread tradition of homosexual marriage among the Zande tribes of Sudan. Austria repeals its sodomy laws. Minnesota invalidates the first known same-sex marriage in the U.S. between Jack Baker and Michael McConnell. The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the ruling a year later.
1972. Sweden enacts the world’s first law legalizing transsexual operations. A comprehensive study of female-female seagull pairing on Santa Barbara Island (California) creates a sensation as the first publicized observation of homosexuality in the animal kingdom. Norway repeals its sodomy laws.
1973. The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental and emotional disorders, followed two years later by the American Psychological Association.
1974. Chris Vogel and Rich North, a gay couple from Winnipeg, Canada, shock the world by becoming the first homosexual couple to publicly marry in a church and file a legal challenge to the country’s ban on same-sex marriage. A Manitoba judge declares their union invalid later that year.
1975. South Australia becomes the first Australian state to repeal its sodomy laws. California repeals its sodomy laws by a single vote.
1977. Harvey Milk becomes the United States’ first openly gay elected official. Florida bans homosexuals from adopting children.
1979. Cuba repeals its sodomy laws. Pakistan adds Shari’a law to existing penal codes and consequently the death penalty for sodomy. Iran similarly reverts to Shari’a law and the death penalty for sodomy after its 1979 revolution. Spain removes anti-homosexual laws imposed under the dictatorship of General Franco. Homosexuals riot in San Francisco after Dan White receives the lightest possible sentence for his murder of Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone.
1980. New York sodomy laws are ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court but not formally repealed until 2000. Colombia and Scotland repeal their sodomy laws.
1981. HIV/AIDS is diagnosed for the first time among American homosexual males.
1982. Wisconsin becomes the first U.S. state to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals. Portugal repeals the sodomy laws imposed under the Salazar dictatorship.
1984. The Unitarian Universalist Association becomes the first major Protestant church to approve religious blessings for gay unions. The U.S. Virgin Islands repeals its sodomy laws.
1985. France becomes the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law protecting homosexuals.
1986. Equal rights and freedom from discrimination are guaranteed to homosexuals and transgenders under Canada’s new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. New Zealand repeals its sodomy laws.
1987. Rep. Barney Frank (D) becomes the first member of the U.S. Congress to come out publicly as homosexual.
1989. Denmark becomes the first country in the world to establish civil unions for gay couples.
1990. The World Health Organization removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
1991. Hong Kong abolishes its sodomy laws.
1993. Minnesota becomes the first U.S. state to ban discrimination against transgenders. The Intersex Society of North America becomes the world’s first organization in support of rights for intersex people. Hawaii’s Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage and ignites America’s gay marriage debate. Russia and Ireland repeal their sodomy laws. Norway establishes civil unions for gay couples.
1994. Alain Danielou publishes The Complete Kama Sutra. Bermuda repeals its sodomy laws.
1995. Sweden establishes civil unions for gay couples.
1996. The South African Constitution specifically guarantees equal rights and protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Iceland establishes civil unions for gay couples. The U.S. Congress enacts a law forbidding the federal recognition of same-sex marriage or any similar union (The Defense of Marriage Act).
1997. China repeals its sodomy laws. Tasmania becomes the last Australian state to repeal its sodomy laws.
1998. South Africa repeals its sodomy laws. Chile becomes the last major Latin American country to repeal its sodomy laws. Alaska and Hawaii become the first U.S. states to effectively ban same-sex marriage by constitutional referendum. The Netherlands establishes civil unions for gay couples.
1999. France establishes civil unions for gay couples. California becomes the first U.S. state to extend limited domestic partnership benefits to gay couples. India’s very first Gay Pride march is held in Kolkata. Brazil becomes the first country to ban "conversion therapy" for gay minors.
The Twenty-first Century: LGBTI people continue their fight for full equality under the law, culminating in the quest for equal marriage rights. Modern gay movements begin to effect change in Latin America and parts of Asia while most African, Middle Eastern and East European countries are held back by anti-gay religious fundamentalism.
2000 A.D. Germany establishes civil unions for gay couples and Vermont, after great resistance, becomes the first U.S. state to do the same.
2001. The Netherlands becomes the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Bertrand Delanoe becomes the first openly gay mayor of a major world city (Paris). Nova Scotia becomes the first Canadian province to extend limited domestic partnership benefits to gay couples. The Cayman and British Virgin Islands repeal their sodomy laws. GALVA-108, the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, is established.
2002. Quebec becomes the first Canadian province to establish civil unions for gay couples.
2003. The United States repeals all remaining state sodomy laws by virtue of the Supreme Court. Belgium becomes the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Puerto Rico repeals its sodomy laws. Tasmania becomes the first Australian state to extend limited domestic partnership benefits to gay couples.
2004. Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Zealand establishes civil unions for gay couples. San Francisco begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California but is stopped one month later by court order.
2005. Spain becomes the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Canada becomes the fourth country in the world and the first in North America (and the New World) to legalize same-sex marriage. The United Kingdom establishes civil unions for gay couples. California extends full marriage benefits to registered domestic partners. Fiji’s sodomy laws are invalidated by its High Court.
2006. South Africa becomes the fifth country in the world and the first in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage.
2007. Nepal repeals its sodomy laws.
2008. Uruguay becomes the first Latin American country to establish civil unions for gay couples. In California, same-sex marriages resume in June by court order but are stopped after a constitutional referendum is passed five months later. A Florida court strikes down that state’s ban on gay adoptions. India holds its first official Gay Pride marches in six major cities.
2009. The High Court of Delhi strikes down much of Section 377, effectively decriminalizing sodomy in India. Norway and Sweden become the sixth and seventh countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Johanna Siguroardottir becomes the first openly gay head of government (Iceland). Hungary establishes registered partnerships for gay couples.
2010. Argentina becomes the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Portugal, Iceland, Washington D.C. and New Hampshire legalize same-sex marriage. Austria establishes registered partnership laws for gay couples.
2011. New York becomes the sixth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The United States lifts its ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Colombia bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
2012. Denmark and the U.S. states of Washington and Maine legalize same-sex marriage. Hawaii establishes civil unions for same-sex couples. The American Psychiatric Association removes transgender identity from its list of mental and emotional disorders. California becomes the first U.S. state to ban "conversion therapy" for gay minors.
2013. Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, France and the U.S. states of Maryland and Hawaii legalize same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and legalizes same-sex marriage in California. Russia enacts “gay propaganda” laws criminalizing public support for gay rights or identity. India’s Supreme Court upholds its colonial-era sodomy laws.
2014. The United Kingdom, Scotland and Finland legalize same-sex marriage. More than 25 additional U.S. states legalize same-sex marriage after DOMA is repealed. Mozambique, Northern Cyprus, Palau and Sao Tome & Principe decriminalize homosexuality. Eleven African nations tighten their sodomy laws.
2015. Same-sex marriage is legalized in the United States after its Supreme Court strikes down all same-sex marriage bans. Conservative U.S. states begin enacting “religious liberty” laws, allowing LGBTI discrimination based on religious views. Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage by referendum. Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice allows state courts or legislatures to legalize same-sex marriage state-by-state.
2016. Nauru, Seychelles and Belize repeal their sodomy laws. Colombia and Greenland legalize same-sex marriage. The United States allows transgenders to serve in the military. Conservative U.S. states begin enacting “bathroom bills” to prevent transgenders from using public restrooms matching their gender identity. Chad criminalizes homosexuality.
2017. Germany, Bermuda, Malta and Australia legalize same-sex marriage.
2018. India's Supreme Court reads down Section 377, effectively legalizing homosexuality. San Marino establishes civil unions for same-sex couples. Trinidad and Tobago's High Court overturns its colonial-era sodomy laws.
2019. Angola legalizes homosexuality and bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its new penal code. Taiwan becomes the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. The World Health Organization removes transgender identity from its list of mental disorders. Botswana's High Court overturns its colonial-era sodomy laws. Gabon criminalizes homosexuality but repeals the law one year later. Brunei tightens its sodomy laws to punish homosexuality with death by stoning. Northern Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage.
2020. Costa Rica legalizes same-sex marriage by court order. U.S. Supreme Court bans gay and transgender employment discrimination on the basis of sex (Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). Russia bans same-sex marriage in its constitution. Sudan abolishes flogging and death penalty as punishments for homosexuality. Conservative U.S. states begin enacting laws to ban transgender girls and women from school sports.
(Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, Abridged Edition, pp. 125-139)
When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder
[Article revised on 7 March 2020.]
In the 1950s and 1960s, some therapists employed aversion therapy of the kind featured in A Clockwork Orange to "cure" male homosexuality. This typically involved showing patients pictures of naked men while giving them electric shocks or drugs to make them vomit, and, once they could no longer bear it, showing them pictures of naked women or sending them out on a "date" with a young nurse. Needless to say, these cruel and degrading methods proved entirely ineffective.
First published in 1968, DSM-II (the second edition of the American classiifcation of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, promoted it from sin to mental disorder.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.
The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with "sexual orientation disturbance" for people "in conflict with" their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its ICD classification with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carries the construct of "ego-dystonic sexual orientation". In this condition, the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual preference, but "wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders".
The evolution of the status of homosexuality in the classifications of mental disorders highlights that concepts of mental disorder can be rapidly evolving social constructs that change as society changes. Today, the standard of psychotherapy in the U.S. and Europe is gay affirmative psychotherapy, which encourages gay people to accept their sexual orientation.
Neel Burton is author of The Meaning of Madness and other books.
Gay Conversion Therapy's Disturbing 19th-Century Origins
In 1899, a German psychiatrist electrified the audience at a conference on hypnosis with a bold claim: He had turned a gay man straight.
All it took was 45 hypnosis sessions and a few trips to a brothel, Albert von Schrenck-Notzingragged. Through hypnosis, he claimed, he had manipulated the man’s sexual impulses, diverting them from his interest in men to a lasting desire for women.
He didn’t know it, but he had just kicked off a phenomenon that would later be known as 𠇌onversion therapy”𠅊 set of pseudoscientific techniques designed to quash LGBTQ people’s sexuality and make them conform to society’s expectations of how they should behave. Though it’s dismissed by the medical establishment today, conversion therapy was widely practiced throughout the 20th century, leaving shame, pain and self-hatred in its wake.
Homosexuality, especially same-sex relationships between men, was considered deviant, sinful and even criminal for centuries. In the late 19th century, psychiatrists and doctors began to address homosexuality, too. They labeled same-sex desire in medical terms𠅊nd started looking for ways to reverse it.
German doctor Eugen Steinach. (Credit: Imagno/Getty Images)
There were plenty of theories as to why people were homosexual. For Eugen Steinach, a pioneering Austrian endocrinologist, homosexuality was rooted in a man’s testicles. This theory led to testicle transplantationxperiments in the 1920s during which gay men were castrated, then given “heterosexual” testicles.”
Others theorized that homosexuality was a psychological disorder instead. Sigmund Freud hypothesized that humans are born innately bisexual and that homosexual people become gay because of their conditioning. But though Freud emphasized that homosexuality wasn’t a disease, per se, some of his colleagues didn’t agree. They began to use new psychiatric interventions in an attempt to 𠇌ure” gay people.
Some LGBTQ people were given electroconvulsive therapy, but others were subjected to even more extreme techniques like lobotomies. Other “treatments” included shocks administered through electrodes that were implanted directly into the brain. Robert Galbraith Heath, a psychiatrist in New Orleans who pioneered the technique, used this form of brain stimulation, along with hired prostitutes and heterosexual pornography, to 𠇌hange” the sexual orientation of gay men. But though Heath contended he was able to actually turn gay men straight, his work has since been challenged and criticized for its methodology.
An offshoot of these techniques was 𠇊version therapy,” which was founded on the premise that if LGBTQ people became disgusted by homosexuality, they would no longer experience same-sex desire. Under medical supervision, people were given chemicals that made them vomit when they, for example, looked at photos of their lovers. Others were given electrical shocks—sometimes to their genitals—while they looked at gay pornography or cross-dressed.