Prescriptions For Perversity: Treating Homosexuality in the United States

Vernon A. Rosario, MD

LGBS 197: Selected Topics in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies


It must be pointed out the the argument for acquired or suggested inversion [i.e., homosexuality] logically involves the assertion that normal sexuality is also acquired or suggested.
Havelock Ellis (1869)

In “Prescriptions for Perversity: Treating Homosexuality in the United States” we will be examining the ways in which medical knowledge both describes and prescribes, constructs and condemns what is “perverse” sexual behavior, especially homosexuality. The course will proceed largely chronologically, examining the hypothesized theories of the causation of sexual perversion, inversion, and homosexuality (both male and female), and specific therapeutic approaches to these. The case studies embedded within the medical literature suggest how these diverse therapies molded specific sexual subjectivities. Doctors themselves were concerned that any exploration of sexual perversion might inadvertently promote it. Ever since the nineteenth century—particularly during and after World War II—this specter of homosexual contagion haunts the medical literature. It parallels the public visibility of homosexuals and anxieties about sexual and social order. Therefore, we will examine the progression of therapeutic approaches to homosexuality—as well as embodied experiences of homosexuality—in terms of changes in the professional, social, and political climate of the United States.


Class discussion and presentation 33%
You will take charge of leading at least one discussion session. Active participation in all sessions is essential.

Midterm 33%
You will analyze some supplementary primary and/or secondary source related to the session you lead. (10-15 pp.)

Final Research Project 33%
Historically analyze a well-circumscribed topic in the medical history of sexuality. This will involved examining at least three primary sources and reviewing the pertinent secondary literature. Present your topic, historical question, and preliminary reading list to me by mid-term. (15-20 pp.)


During most sessions we will be examining pairs of related topics:

1/13 Introduction
1/20 Continental “contrary sexuals”
1/27 Bromides for gynomaniacs Primitive perversions
2/3 Havelock Ellis and normal inversion Lesbian smashers and slashers
2/10 Freud and psychoanalysis Paranoid fantasies and homosexual panic
2/17 The social calamity of gender deviance Pansies, fairies, and passing women
2/24 Manipulating gonads (Eu)genic approaches to effeminacy and virilism
3/3 Deviant psychometrics Gay brains
3/10 Military psychopaths Witch hunts and psycho-persecution
3/17 Depathologizing homosexuality Conclusions


Course Reader at Course Reader Materials, 1141 Westwood Blvd. (south of Kinross), 310-443-3300
Books at Sisterhood Bookstore, 1351 Westwood Blvd. (and Rochester Ave.), 310-477-7300
Bayer, Ronald. 1987. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. With a new Afterword on AIDS and Homosexuality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Foucault, Michel. [1976] 1980. A History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Random House.
Freud, Sigmund. [1905]. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Norton.
Rosario, Vernon. 1997. Science and Homosexualities. New York: Routledge.
Chauncey, Jr., George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.
Freedman, Estelle and John D’Emilio. 1988. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. New York: Harper and Row.
Peiss, Kathy and Christina Simmons, eds. 1989. Passion and Power: Sexuality in History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.


1/20 Continental “contrary sexuals”: congenital psychosexual degeneration

Krafft-Ebing, Richard von. 1888. Perversion of the sexual instinct.—Report of cases. Translated by H. M. Jewett. Alienist and Neurologist 9:565-81.
Foucault, Michel. [1976] 1980. A History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Random House.
Oosterhuis, Harry. 1997. Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s “step-children of nature”: Psychiatry and the making of homosexual identity. In Science and Homosexualities, 67-88.
Optional reading: Science and Homosexualities, 26-45, 89-107, 133-54.

1/27 Bromides for gynomaniacs

Dr. H—. 1881. Gynomania—A curious case of masturbation. The Medical Record. N.Y. 19:336.
Spizka, Edward. 1881. Gynomania. The Medical Record. N.Y. 19:359.
“The Gentleman degenerate.” A homosexualist’s self-description and self-applied title. Pudic nerve section fails therapeutically. 1904. Alienist and Neurologist . 25: 62-70.
Background reading: Intimate Matters, xi-xx, and 171-235.

1/27 Primitive perversions

Hammond, William. 1882. The disease of the Scythians (morbus feminarum ). American J. of Neurology 1:339-55.
Seligman, C. G. 1902. Sexual inversion among primitive races. Alienist and Neurologist 23: 11-15.
Roscoe, Will. 1994. How to become a Berdache: toward a unified analysis of gender diversity. In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt, 329-72. New York: Zone.
Julian Carter. 1996. Normality, whiteness, authorship: evolutionary sexology and the primitive pervert. In Science and Homosexuality, 155-76.
Background reading: Intimate Matters, 85-108.
Optional reading: Trexler, Richard. 1995. Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

2/3 Havelock Ellis and normal inversion

Ellis, Havelock. 1895. Sexual inversion in women. Alienist and Neurologist 16:141-58.
. 1896. Sexual inversion in men. Alienist and Neurologist 17:115-50.
Sulloway, Frank. 1983. Freud, Biologist of the Mind. Ch. 8, Freud and the sexologists, 277-319. New York: Basic Books.
Background reading: Grosskurth, Phyllis. 1980. Havelock Ellis. New York: Knopf.
Optional reading: Ellis, Havelock. [1897]. Sexual Inversion in Studies in the Psychology of Sex..

2/3 Lesbian smashers and slashers

Comstock, T. Griswold. 1892. Alice Mitchell of Memphis. A case of sexual perversion or “Urning” (a paranoiac). N. Y. Medical Times 20 (Sept.): 170-3.
McMurtrie, Douglas. 1914. Manifestations of sexual inversion in the female: conditions in a convent school, evidence of transvestism, unconscious homosexuality, sexuality of masculine women, masturbation under homosexual influences, indeterminate sexuality in childhood. Urologic and Cutaneous Review 2: 424-6.
Otis, Margaret. 1913-14. A perversion not commonly noted. J. Abnormal Psychology 8: 113-6.
Duggan, Lisa. 1993. The trials of Alice Mitchell: sensationalism, sexology, and the lesbian subject in turn-of-the-century America. Signs 18(4):791-814.

2/10 Freud and psychoanalysis

Freud, Sigmund. [1905] Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Norton.
. [1935] 1951. Letter to an American mother. International J. Psychoanalysis 32: 331. Reprinted in Bayer, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry, p. 27.
Brill, A. A. 1913. The conception of homosexuality. J. American Medical Association 61: 335-40.
. 1935. The psychiatric approach to the problem of homosexuality. The Journal-Lancet 55:249-52.
Deutsch, Helene. 1932. On female homosexuality. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 1: 484-510.
Stekel, Wilhelm. 1930. Is homosexuality curable? Psychoanalytic Review 17: 443-51.
Optional reading: Lewes, Kenneth. 1988. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. New York: Simon and Schuster.

2/10 Paranoid fantasies and homosexual panic

Kempf, Edward J. 1921. Psychopathology. St. Louis: C. V. Mosby. [Homosexual panic, Ch. 10.]
Robie, Theodore R. 1927. The investigation of the Oedipus and homosexual complexes in schizophrenia. Psychiatric Quarterly 1:231-41.
Gardner, George E. 1931. Evidences of homosexuality in one hundred and twenty cases with paranoid content. Psychoanalytic Review 18:57-62.
Brill, A. A. 1934. Homoeroticism and paranoia. American J. Psychiatry 90:956-74
Page, James and John Warkentin. 1938. Masculinity and paranoia. J. Abnormal and Social Psychology 33:527-31.
Carlston, Erin. 1997. “A finer differentiation”: female homosexulaity and the American medical community , 1926-1940. In Science and Homosexualities, 177-96.
Optional reading: Abelove, Henry. 1993. Freud, male homosexuality, and the Americans. In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, ed. H. Abelove, M. A. Barale, D. M. Halperin, 381-93. New York: Routledge.

2/17 The social calamity of gender deviance

Howard, William Lee. 1900. Effeminate men and masculine women. N. Y. Medical J. 21: 504-5.
Hughes, Charles H. 1907. Homosexual complexion perverts in St. Louis. Alienist and Neurologist 28:487-8.
Weininger, [Otto]. 1918. The masculine element in emancipated women. American J. of Urology and Sexology 14: 240.
Whetham, William C. D. and Catherine Whetham. 1918. Woman’s enfranchisement a menace to the race. [Abstract from The Family and the Nation.] American J. of Urology and Sexology 14: 238-9.
The probable outcome of woman’s emancipation. 1918. American J. of Urology and Sexology 14:566.
Chauncey, Jr., George. [1982-3]. From sexual inversion to homosexuality: Medicine and the changing conceptualization of female deviance. In Passion and Power, ed. Peiss and Simmons, ch. 6.
Background reading: Intimate Matters, 139-67. Schwarz, Judith, Kathy Peiss, Christina Simmons. 1989. “We were a little band of willful women”: The Heterodoxy Club of Greenwich Village. In Passion and Power, ed. Peiss and Simmons, ch. 7.

2/17 Pansies, fairies, and passing women

Werther, Ralph–Jennie June [alias]. 1918. The fairie boy. (An autobiographical sketch.) American J. of Urology and Sexology 14: 433-7.
. [1920] 1934 . The biological sport of Fairie-ism. Medical Review of Reviews. (Anthropos 2) 40: 185-96.
Lichtenstein, Perry M. 1921. The “fairy” and the lady lover. Medical Review of Reviews 27: 369-74.
Gilbert, J. Allen. 1920. Homo-sexuality and its treatment. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 52: 297-322.
Bien, Ernst. 1934. Why do homosexuals undergo treatment? Medical Review of Reviews 40: 5-18.
Background reading: Chauncey, Jr., George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books. Pages 1-127, 331-61.

2/24 Manipulating gonads

Hughes, Charles H. 1914. An emasculated homo-sexual. His antecedent and post-operative life. Alienist and Neurologist 35:277-80.
Lydston, Frank. 1919. The biochemical basis of sex aberrations. Urologic and Cutaneous Review 23:384-5.
Lurie, Louis A. 1944. The endocrine factor in homosexuality. American J. Medical Sciences 208:176-87.
Glass, S. J., H. J. Duel, C. A. Wright. 1940. Sex hormone studies in male homosexuality. Endocrinology 26:590-4.
Kinsey, Alfred C. 1941. Homosexuality. J. Clinical Endocrinology 1: 424-28.
Williams, Edwin G. 1944. Homosexuality: A biological anomaly. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 99:65-70.
Stephanie H. Kenen. 1996. Who counts when you’re counting homosexuals? Hormones and homosexuality in mid-twentieth-century America. In Science and Homosexuality, 197-218.

2/24 (Eu)genic approaches to effeminacy and virilism

Robinson, William J. 1918. Homosexuality a natural means of sterilization [Abstract of William A. White’s The Principles of Mental Hygiene ]. American J. of Urology and Sexology 14:232.
Rosanoff, Aaron J. 1935. A theory of chaotic sexuality. American J. Psychiatry 92:35-41.
Lang, Theo. 1940. Studies on the genetic determination of homosexuality. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 92:55-64.
Baur, Julius. 1940. Homosexuality as an endocrinological, psychological, and genetic problem. J. Criminal Psychopathology 2:188-97.
Hu, Stella, Dean Hamer, et al. 1995. Linkage between sexual orientation and chromosome Xq28 in males but not in females. Nature Genetics 11:248-56.
Pillard, Richard. 1997. The search for a genetic influence on sexual orientation. In Science and Homosexualities, 226-41.
Allen, Garland E. 1996. The double-edged sword of genetic determinism: social and political agendas in genetic studies of homosexuality, 1940-1994. In Science and Homosexualities, 242-70.
Optional reading: Hamer, Dean and Peter Copeland. 1994. The Science of Desire: The search for the gay gene and the biology of behavior. New York: Simon & Schuster.

3/3 Deviant psychometrics

Henry, George W. 1934. Psychogenic and constitutional factors in homosexuality; Their relation to personality disorders. [Read to the New York Psychiatric Society, May 3, 1933.] Psychiatric Quarterly 8:243-64.
. 1937. Psychogenic factors in overt homosexuality. American J. Psychiatry 93:889-908.
Terry, Jennifer. 1990. Lesbians under the medical gaze. Scientists search for remarkable differences. J. Sex Research 27:317-39.
Gibson, Margaret. 1997. Clitoral corruptions: Body metaphors and American doctors’ constructions of female homosexuality, 1870-1900. In Science and Homosexualities, 108-32.

3/3 Gay brains

Owensby, Newdigate. 1940. Homosexuality and lesbianism treated with metrazol. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 92: 65-6.
Liebman, Samuel. 1944. Homosexuality, transvestitism, and psychosis. Study: A case treated with electroshock. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 99:945-58.
Friedlander, Joseph, and Ralph Banay. 1948. Psychosis following lobotomy in a case of sexual psychopathy. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 59:302-21.
Silverman, Daniel, and William Rosanoff. 1945. Electroencephalographic and neurologic studies of homosexuals. J. Nervous and Mental Disease 101:311-21.
LeVay, Simon. 1991. A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men. Science 253:1034-7. And editorial: “Is Homosexuality Biological?”
Terry, Jennifer. 1996. The seductive power of science in the making of deviant subjectivity. In Science and Homosexuality, 271-95.
Optional reading: LeVay, Simon. 1993. The Sexual Brain. Cambridge: MIT Press.

3/10 Military psychopaths

Abrams, Albert. 1918. Homosexuality–A military menace. Medical Review of Reviews 24:528-9.
Robinson, William J. 1919. Homosexuals in the army. American J. of Urology and Sexology 15:486-7
Loeser, (Lt. Col.) Lewis. 1945. The sexual psychopath in the military service. American J. Psychiatry 102:92-101.
Bérubé, Allan. 1990. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. Ch. 1: Getting In. New York: Free Press.
Freedman, Estelle. 1989. “Uncontrolled desires”: the response to the sexual psychopath, 1920-1960. In Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons, 199-225. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Testis, Ernst. 1934. The revenge of the pederasty ring: Brown leaders and the brown boys of Bolivia. Trans. Miles Wright from Das dritte Reich stellt sich vor (1933). Medical Review of Reviews 40:197-205.
Wittels, Fritz. 1943. Struggles of a homosexual in pre-Hitler Germany. J. Criminal Psychopathology 4:408-23.

3/10 Witch hunts and psycho-persecution

Kinsey, Alfred, W. B. Pomeroy , C. E. Martin. 1948. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders. Pages 636-51, and 659-66.
Bergler, Edmund. 1948. The myth of a new national disease. Homosexuality and the Kinsey report. Psychiatric Quarterly 22:67-88.
. 1959. 1000 Homosexuals. Conspiracy of Silence, or Curing and Deglamorizing Homosexuals? Ch. 7. Paterson, N.J.: Pageant Books.
D’Emilio, John. 1989. The homosexual menace: the politics of sexuality in Cold War America. In Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons, 226-40. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Optional reading: Geddes, Donald P. and Enid Curie, eds. 1948. About the Kinsey Report. New York: Signet.

3/17 Depathologizing homosexuality

Bayer, Ronald. 1987. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. With a new Afterword on AIDS and Homosexuality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Optional reading: A symposium: should homosexuality be in the APA nomenclature? 1973. American J. Psychiatry 130:1207-16

If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at