Homosexuality: The Mental Illness That Went Away

by Phil on October 8, 2011

Post edited and updated January 2, 2013, to reflect clarifications as a result of interactions with the many people who have left comments.  I thank them for their input.

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, until 1974 homosexuality was a mental illness.  Freud had alluded to homosexuality numerous times in his writings, and had concluded that paranoia and homosexuality were inseparable.  Other psychiatrists wrote copiously on the subject, and homosexuality was “treated” on a wide basis.  There was little or no suggestion within the psychiatric community that homosexuality might be conceptualized as anything other than a mental illness that needed to be treated.  And, of course, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in DSM-II.

Then in 1970 gay activists protested against the APA convention in San Francisco.  These scenes were repeated in 1971, and as people came out of the “closet” and felt empowered politically and socially, the APA directorate became increasingly uncomfortable with their stance.  In 1973 the APA’s nomenclature task force recommended that homosexuality be declared normal.  The trustees were not prepared to go that far, but they did vote to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses by a vote of 13 to 0, with 2 abstentions.  This decision was confirmed by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed in the seventh edition of DSM-II, which was issued in 1974.

What’s noteworthy about this is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough.  There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change.  Rather, it was the simple reality that gay people started to kick up a fuss.  They gained a voice and began to make themselves heard.  And the APA reacted with truly astonishing speed.  And with good reason. They realized intuitively that a protracted battle would have drawn increasing attention to the spurious nature of their entire taxonomy.  So they quickly “cut loose” the gay community and forestalled any radical scrutiny of the DSM system generally.

The APA claimed that they made the change because new research showed that most homosexual people were content with their sexual orientation, and that as a group, they appeared to be as well-adjusted as heterosexual people.  I suggest, however, that these research findings were simply the APA’s face-saver.  For centuries, perhaps millennia, homosexual people had clung to their sexual orientation despite the most severe persecution and vilification, including imprisonment and death.  Wouldn’t this suggest that they were happy with their orientation?  Do we need research to confirm this?  And if we do, shouldn’t we also need research to confirm that heterosexual people are happy with their orientation?  And if poor adjustment is critical to a diagnosis of mental illness, where was the evidence of this that justified making homosexuality a mental illness in the first place?

Also noteworthy is the fact that the vote of the membership was by no means unanimous.  Only about 55% of the members who voted favored the change.

Of course, the APA put the best spin they could on these events.  The fact is that they altered their taxonomy because of intense pressure from the gay community, but they claimed that the change was prompted by research findings.

So all the people who had this terrible “illness” were “cured” overnight – by a vote!  I remember as a boy reading of the United Nations World Health Organization’s decision to eradicate smallpox.  This was in 1967, and by 1977, after a truly staggering amount of work, the disease was a thing of the past.  Why didn’t they just take a vote?  Because smallpox is a real illness.  The human problems listed in DSM are not.  It’s that simple.  You can say that geese are swans – but in reality they’re still geese.

The overall point being that the APA’s taxonomy is nothing more than self-serving nonsense.  Real illnesses are not banished by voting or by fiat, but by valid science and hard work.  There are no mental illnesses.  Rather, there are people.  We have problems; we have orientations; we have habits; we have perspectives.  Sometimes we do well, other times we make a mess of things.  We are complicated.  Our feelings fluctuate with our circumstances, from the depths of despondency to the pinnacles of bliss.  And perhaps, most of all, we are individuals.  DSM’s facile and self-serving attempt to medicalize human problems is an institutionalized insult to human dignity.  The homosexual community has managed to liberate themselves from psychiatric oppression.  But there are millions of people worldwide who are still being damaged, stigmatized, and disempowered by this pernicious system to this day.

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  • kbrockm

    I’m surprised that there is no discussion here regarding sexual imprinting, which takes place during childhood. Most homosexual males lack the presence of a male role model, (read “father,”) in their lives during this period. Likewise, most homosexual females lack the presence of a female role model, (read “mother,) in their lives during this period. I personally dated a girl, when I was 21 and she was 18, whose parents had divorced when she was young and her mother moved away. She has been in a committed homosexual relationship for over 20 years. I think if asked, most homosexuals will concur with having had similar upbringings. I don’t condemn or blame homosexuals for their behavior, nor do I believe that they, or anyone else, are “born that way.” Sexual imprinting happens, it just usually takes place under more “normal” circumstances. It’s interesting that as the divorce rate and out-of-wedlock births have increased, so have the rates of homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. If you look at homosexuality in this way, it becomes a neutral topic. For those who would condemn homosexuals, put yourself in their shoes. For those who believe that people are “born that way,” show me the gene! I would appreciate your comments and feedback.

  • Phil_Hickey

    kbrockm,

    Thanks for coming in. The problem is that this whole area has become a taboo subject. One either subscribes wholeheartedly to the born-that-way notion, or one is a homosexual-hater.

    I tried to tease out these matters in another post on homosexuality.

    My belief is that we should all be free from discrimination, torture, abuse, victimization, etc., just because we are people. Provided I am not harming other people, my life and my preferences have as much validity as anybody else’s. A great many homosexual people today seem to be stuck in this stance: I deserve respect and equal treatment because I have a gene that made me this way. Personally, I think this is tragic. Provided a person is not harming others, the only qualification required for respect and equality is humanity.

    Obviously there are a great many people who find the notion of homosexual genital contact offensive, and who, for that reason, try to have it outlawed and otherwise marginalized. In most western countries this kind of thing is abating, but it is still very strong in other parts of the world, and it is understandable that homosexuals feel attacked and feel some need to justify themselves. Hopefully as the overall level of hostility diminishes, people will be able to relax and just be what they are without feeling such pressure to explain or vindicate themselves. But, sadly, we’re not there yet.

    Again, thanks for coming in, and best wishes.

  • sotired

    hate to sound like a jerk? to late. lmfao

  • Andrew Dykstra

    I do appreciate your larger theme in this article, but there is one thing I wish you had included. When and for what reason was homosexuality included in the APA listing in the first place? Was the basis scientific or was it pre-conceived assumptions?

    I remember reading that about 1957, when Dr. Evelyn Hooker studied this issue, some gay men approached her and asked her how she could arrive at a fair understanding about homosexuals if she spoke only to people who were in therapy. They recommended that she study a broader sampling than those who felt, because of societal pressure, that their sexual orientation was something undesirable. Homophobia creates self-loathing; and self-loathing leads either to cries for help or suicide.

    If one samples only people in hospitals, one might almost come to believe that all people falling within a studied group are sick. Hardly surprising is it?

  • raz4u

    Homosexuals must make up their minds as to their position. I have heard comments from some that you are born that way, and it is not a choice. Equally I have heard others say that homosexuality is a choice and is up to the individual. They can’t both be right.
    At the very least, things should commence with a consensus of the position.

  • Phil_Hickey

    Andrew,

    It’s a great question, and it takes us to the heart of the matter – i.e. that a feeling, thought, or activity becomes a “mental illness” because psychiatrists say so. As unbelievable as this is, there really is nothing else to it. They actually sit in committees and vote.

    So the only honest answer that anyone can give to your question is: because psychiatrists said so.

    Of course this leads us to the next question: why did psychiatrists say this? Why did they take, and actively promote, this position? The answer to this is less clear, but I guess it would be that they were reflecting, and tragically
    perpetrating, the condemnation of homosexuality that was prevalent at the
    time. The stand that the gay community took against this institutionalized discrimination is perhaps the brightest spot in the history of this whole business. I hope we will see similar successes in other areas in the coming years.

    Best wishes.

  • Merari

    Such lies and bigotry. Homosexuality is not a choice.* There is nothing inherently wrong with it. It is not a mental disorder, by definition, because it does not stand in the way of leading a fulfilled life and it has no secondary symptoms.

    *http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/06/13/0801566105.abstract

  • mrunpc

    While the argument rages about whether it’s a mental illness or not, NO one can dispute the FACT that it is an ABNORMALITY, period!

    Just imagine where we’d ALL be if we were ALL homos?

  • mrunpc

    If you can call it “lies and bigotry”, then why do THEY have to use disgusting and violent tactics, along with pressuring radical leftist/opportunistic politicians (aka: “democrats”) to FORCE laws on the 99.7% of the heterosexual population to accept their ABNORMALITY as NORMAL, HMM?

  • Merari

    I don’t really care about giving any sort of measured reply to your bigotry except that you need to get your statistics straight and that you might want to redefine your ideas about sexual normality, because right now you are rapidly approaching tin foil hatter country.

  • Pingback: “Mental Illness” and Ties to Socio-Economic Oppression | The Progressive Democrat

  • surrounded by the walkingdead

    I don’t understand why anyone with a brain who doesn’t have this disorder can’t see it for what it is. A schizophrenic believes they’re delusions are normal thinking a homosexual thinks their desires are normal thinking. The only peculiarity is that people without the disorder (pro – gay agenda heterosexuals) believe that sexual behavior is normal too. There is a spiritual as well as a mental disorder at play here. That’s the most disgusting part. They think they’re helping them but they’re just enabling they’re disorder. Keeping them from getting the help they desperately need. I’m just thankful that there are still some sane people left in the world: whatsupdoc, Paul m, l, tatiana, and sotired Thanks for standing up for the truth.

  • The Duke Of White Rock

    MOST Informative!

  • Phil Bickel

    It seems that the decision to declassify men having anal or oral sex with other men, ( AKA, Gay ) as a disorder, was a political decision, not necessarily based in scientific study? It can not be denied, however, that homosexuality, men having sex with men, is an unhealthy lifestyle. Now we’ll be teaching our children that it doesn’t matter how they sexually orient themselves, and that is truly tragic.

  • Elegy Mills

    Right, of course, there is no such thing as mental illness, free will is absolute and we are all capable of just talking our way out of our own problems. *rolls eyes* Schizophrenics who are slaves to hallucinations and delusions, depressives who cannot under any circumstances feel happy with anything, bipolars who are unable to control the way their moods swing, yeah, that’s a myth, doesn’t need treatment, we can just talk our way through it.

    Bullshit. This article tries to compare a viral disease with diseases of the mind, the invasion of a virus with the self-destruction of one’s own neurosynaptic responses and actions. A disease is a malady. Viral or psychological, a disease is a disease, and to say otherwise is to try to say that people who are in psychological pain are not really in pain. This article is insulting at best and condescending to homosexual and bisexual and pansexual individuals at worst by trying to appeal to their plight to back up its own fallacious arguments. Homosexuality does not cause suffering for the individual who is unstigmatized by society for their sexual alignment. Schizophrenia, bipolarity, borderline, dissociative disorders? They DO cause suffering for the individuals suffering from them, stigmatized or not.

    This article is insulting. It trivializes the suffering of others in the name of trying to show that a field of medical science that is still growing and learning is fallible. Saving face… What a crock of shit. I suppose whenever one treatment for a viral disease turns out to cause damage in other ways and this is acknowledged and accounted for and the procedures change accordingly, that’s just saving face? No, you moron, that’s called “scientific progress.”

    “Phil,” you are a moron. Your qualifications are outdated, and don’t stand up at all to modern psychological medical understanding. You are still arguing in favor of methodologies that have fallen out of favor and you can’t get over the fact that you are no longer relevant and neither are your ideas. Anyone educated in the modern age with two years of high school psychology classes can see that.

    You have an article on Joseph Pierre, a guy who, you admit, has authored
    over fifty papers and received accolades and acclaims, and then you
    proceeded to criticize him because he wasn’t being a limpwristed twit
    who thinks that just leaving people alone will ensure they’re perfectly
    happy. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna go with the guy who is internationally
    acclaimed with MODERN medical knowledge and who is still practicing over
    the guy whose only achievement is a blog.

    Get over yourself, you condescending, insulting, insensitive jackwad. I feel bad for your former patients; having you as their treating psychologist must have been like having a cancer patient being treated with magnet therapy or some other useless new age hippy garbage…

    Psychologists use the DSMs just as much as psychiatrists do, for the exact same purposes. You’re a hypocrite on top of everything else. You should feel ashamed but something tells me you won’t because you’re too far up your own ass to be capable of feeling that.

  • Elegy Mills

    Standing up for bigotry, more like.

    Schizophrenics are not happy with their “truth.”
    Homosexuals are. Until crapsuckers like you tell them they’re not.

    The differences are obvious to anyone with a brain, and for all your boasting about having one yourself, it’s clear that you don’t know what a brain even is, much less possess one.

  • Elegy Mills

    If I could reach through my computer screen to smack the teeth out of your mouth, I would reach through my computer screen to smack you into a coma so the world wouldn’t have to deal with yet another intolerable, intolerant prick like yourself. Alas the technology doesn’t exist yet, so I’ll have to settle for just shaking my head in disappointment that the human race still has to deal with your ilk for a couple more decades until you fuck your own family members into such a state of inbreeding that you end up dying of congenital diseases. I really can’t wait for that day. Truly, I cannot.

  • Elegy Mills

    There is no god or devil. They are just inventions of feeble minds, followed by those who are too weak to think for themselves.

  • Anonymous

    “Bullshit. This article tries to compare a viral disease with diseases
    of the mind, the invasion of a virus with the self-destruction of one’s
    own neurosynaptic responses and actions.”

    Ha! “self-destruction of one’s own neurosynaptic responses”, that’s a new one, and a hilarious one. It’s amazing the stuff people believe without evidence isn’t it?

    So Phil should “feel ashamed” that he doesn’t believe the things you believe huh?

    So aggressive. You blindly follow anything labeled “modern medical authority”, even when the quacks that constitute psychiatry haven’t discovered a thing.

  • Phil_Hickey

    Elegy Mills,

    Thanks for your interest. I welcome dialogue. If you’d like to come back with some issues, I’d be happy to discuss.

    Best wishes.

  • Jordan

    You know, you didn’t have to be so rude or get all worked up by it. Jeanne had a legitimate question and you seem to find that ignorant. Though it is true that very few people would just wake up one day and say “I want to be gay,” you could similarly say people don’t just wake up and choose to rob a bank that day. And yet, the bank still gets robbed and the person still decides to be gay. It doesn’t need to happen all at once. As social, family, and emotional pressures arise, people make choices that they feel make sense. Think of a young boy who has a crush on a girl and goes up to talk to her. She screams and runs away, yelling something about cooties. The boy then walks over to a male friend who accepts and consoles him. This event has caused a reaction that could lead to the boy choosing to find comfort in a males presence. It is not a choice he made on the spot, but neither is he born with it. If people were born that way, by natures laws we would be an extinct species. I agree with Jeanne. The “gay gene” makes absolutely no sense, no matter how you look at it.

  • T.A. Anderson

    Phil, LOL some shots you have to avoid taking no matter how good they look.

  • Frank Leestated

    You are correct. In the 70′s the voice of the gay community was that “this is our choice of lifestyle, leave us alone,” as ‘lifestyle’ was the buzzword. It has indeed changed.

  • Frank Leestated

    It seems ignorance is on your side today. She is correct, ‘lifestyle’ was the buzzword from the gay community in the 70′s. Perhaps it is you that should read a little. I lived through the 70′s as a young man and remember it well.

  • MarkML

    It’s worth mentioning that the National Institute of Mental Health has recently criticized the DSM very harshly and withdrawn support for the DSM-V and research based on it. They did it precisely for that reason: the DSM is too subjective and allows too much bias from the therapist, while modern psychiatry should rely on as much hard evidence as possible.

  • Jessica

    Just plain wrong. It’s an abomination. Sorry to burst your bubble but it is.

  • Francesca Allan

    Why is it an abomination? What specifically is the problem with being gay? Is it because it’s sex without any possibility of reproduction? Is it because the Bible says so?

  • Anonymous

    “modern psychiatry” has no “hard evidence”. None. The NIMH has done nothing but tilt hard into a hardcore fanatical biology blaming direction. Yet it has no objective reason to be blaming biology for any of the phenomena it claims are “health” issues. Your blind faith is abundantly evident. You heard the NIMH criticized something, you think the NIMH has credibility, and you’re holding out hope just like the NIMH, that they can pull the “hard evidence” out of their hat. Generations of failure to produce a single biomarker for any of the phenomena they call “mental illness” tells a different story. Don’t hold your breath. I know millions will, just as millions have. Millions have lived and died under the blind faith that psychiatry is “just around the corner” to being a real science. There is absolutely no reason to have faith it will, apart from blind faith, which is never in short supply in the doctrinaire world of people who believe in psychiatry.

  • MarkML

    Wow… obviously, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to not think the NIMH is into something, since you have the skill to read minds over the internet. Impressive.

    My blind faith is abundantly evident? I never realized that. I think I saved years of therapy when you revealed me that. Thank you, sir. How much do I own you?

  • whatsupdoc

    the schizophrenics aren’t happy because no one will believe them

  • whatsupdoc

    But urine is sterile until it reaches the outside world… It’s even safe to drink if you’ve no access to any water and are at risk of dehydrating… poop on the other hand is always germy and vile even while it is still inside of the large intestines and colon.
    And just a fun fact the vagina has it’s own little way of keeping itself and the cervix clean- thus making it safer for a mans urethra to be exposed to the vulvar area, that’s why men rarely (if ever) get UTIs from vaginal sex with a woman who baths regularly (and doesn’t currently have a UTI or yeast infection

  • whatsupdoc

    do you believe in good and evil?

  • whatsupdoc

    they are more than speaking out as a legitimate fraction of society- they are cramming it down everyone’s throat and then acting like the victim when we try to have our say. bigot Bigot BIGOT is shouted at us for opening up our mouths even if we are trying to say things in a kind or matter-of-fact way.

  • whatsupdoc

    you are so cute when you get mad xD

  • whatsupdoc

    what population?? that sound more like a species on the brink of extinction to me lol

  • Elegy Mills

    Let me answer by asking you to define good and to define evil.

  • Elegy Mills

    RIght, of course. It has nothing to do with the voices in their heads berating, criticizing, and demonizing them 24/7. It has nothing to do with their reason, logic, and rationality being impaired from the condition and thus unable to relate to anyone which in turn makes them feel isolated. It’s just because nobody believes them. It’s so simple, it’s almost like that’s not the reality of- oh wait it really ISN’T the reality of their situation.

  • Elegy Mills

    I’m both in contact with large numbers of individuals of all different sexual preferences, I’m honest with myself, and I cannot confirm your bullshit, because if I DID confirm it, I would cease being honest with anyone, myself included.

  • Francesca Allan

    “Abnormality” in the sense that more people are heterosexual than gay? Sure, most people would agree with that. Same goes for left-handedness. Should we call that an abnormality? Pointing out the difference between a majority and a minority seems a rather trite analysis.

  • Francesca Allan

    “Help”? What sort of help did you have in mind? Treatment, I presume, just like in the old days. We could electroshock them out of their gayness.

  • Francesca Allan

    No kidding. Most schizophrenics are terrified by their delusions. This guy’s a moron.

  • whatsupdoc

    no no no I meant that the schizophrenic person is in distress and unhappy because sane people don’t believe his delusion-altered agenda and actions based upon what he FEELS is true. In the schizophrenic’s mind he is right.
    Those who have Homophilia band together and that’s what fuels their happiness in living as homosexuals- they are comforted knowing that they aren’t “the only Cheerio in a bowl of milk”.

  • whatsupdoc

    good- anything that is bountiful, wholesome, true, virtuous, logical, beneficial, bla bla bla
    evil- anything that is deceptive, disastrous, wicked, pernicious, dangerous, jeopardizing, ruinous, an abomination, bla bla bla

  • whatsupdoc

    you really enjoy twisting up what I said don’t you?

  • whatsupdoc

    Don’t be absurd. There are extensive self-discovery programs that can help those with Homophilia (who are willing to participate, mind you) learn about underlying factors that caused the disorder to flare up and ways to avoid further flare ups of homosexual tendencies. They will always have struggles with unwanted homophilic urges, but they will have appropriate coping skills in place for their unique situation.

  • whatsupdoc

    Then you are in the eye of the storm.

  • Francesca Allan

    Here’s your post in its entirety: “the schizophrenics aren’t happy because no one will believe them.” What other conclusion could I draw? You are inarticulate (as well as hateful and bigoted).

  • Francesca Allan

    Why is it absurd? People are electroshocked for depression, mania, schizophrenia, etc. You think homosexuality is a mental illness so why wouldn’t electroshock be considered for that too?

    “Self-discovery” about the origin of your obsession with homosexuals might lead to some insights of your own.

    I’m guessing you’re just a troll and not a very interesting one. Conversation over.

  • whatsupdoc

    there is hatred towards us “bigots” too :(
    and I was astonished how hateful the LGBT community seems to be toward people who have decided to become straight after living as a homosexual.

  • whatsupdoc

    thank you for your opinion, I do enjoy the feel of the tiny little word “bigot” rolling off my back like water- that word is so often misused that it’s become laughable to be called a bigot!
    this little bigot is getting tired *yawn* and needs to go to bed zzz zzz zzz goodnight unbigoted Francesca! :)

  • whatsupdoc

    I am a Frozen troll ;)

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