Part 4: The Pathologization of Homosexuality, and a little bit of Kinsey.
When Angelides writes, at the beginning of chapter 4, that ‘bisexuality was that against which culture was founded’, I ask myself, “what is this ‘that’, if we’re working towards an understanding of bisexuality without definition (as stated at the beginning of the project)?” So far in this study, bisexuality has become the ‘level for stabilization’, the ‘biological bedrock to human psychology’ and more generally, a third term outside of the heter/homo binary which has been repressed, erased and denied while structuring (hetero)sexuality. While this could be seen as a reversal of the dominant term for the refused term, so that bisexuality becomes privileged (i.e. depended upon), my feeling is that where we have come to should be read as part of a genealogical exploration and an attempt to situate bisexuality in the debate of the history of sexuality, rather than to turn bisexuality into the new dominant term for sexuality. [However, I still have some doubts about this.]
In this chapter Angelides wants to show how bisexuality has been repudiated alongside the pathologisation of homosexuality, after Freud. We move forward to the 1950s, so we are situated within the Cold War era, where ‘national security [in Western/American ideology] pivoted around oppositions such as ‘sameness/difference, inside/outside, familiar/foreign, conformity/dissent, patriotism/subversion, normal/abnormal’ (72). Sensing the same type of binaries as those of sexuality and gender, we see that sexuality wasn’t detached from social and political hegemony, but crucially linked to political, moral and national concerns. Angelides writes that
Like communism, therefore, homosexuality was structurally excluded from figurations of the nation. Both represented difference, a disavowed alterity from the purity, stability, and security of the heteronormative nation. The ‘red threat’, or the figure of the communist, was therefore both metaphorically and metonymically associated with that of homosexuality (72/72).
And, as we have seen previously, bisexuality has been erased from this period of the history of sexuality, so it is to how bisexuality can be/is situated in this context that we now turn.
Angelides presents a short history of Freud’s relationship to homosexuality, where he suggests that while he had a bias for heteronormativity, he was far from being homophobic. This is demonstrated in his theory that homosexual desires were present in every unconscious, but repressed; his statement that homosexual persons are not sick; his support for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Germany; and his refusal to exclude homosexuals from membership in the psychoanalytic profession; and finally, his famous ‘Letter to an American Mother’, where he states that homosexuality is not something to be cured (74). Whether or not we want to agree with this elision of Freud’s homophobia is up for debate, but it’s an interesting attempt to redeem him from such accusations. Angelides goes onto suggest that it was analysts after Freud, who were less radical in challenging the binaries of human sexuality than Freud, and reduced his work to make homosexuality the ‘proper object’ of psychoanalysis. The idea that homosexuality could be cured, in direct opposition to Freud, came about by what Judith Butler calls ‘a mundane sort of violence’ by which the social legitimization of psychoanalysis converged with the ‘socially reviled and criminalized object of homosexuality’ thereby claiming the truth of a discipline by equating itself with the conservative forces of society. The desire to know the truth about homosexuality was then situated with psychoanalysis, and by virtue of its crisis inducing qualities for heterosexuality, it became a pathology.
There is one example given of an analysts who attempted to build upon Freud’s notion of (bi)sexuality, and that is Wilhelm Stekel, who published Bi-sexual Love shortly before Freud’s death. In it he claimed that both homosexual and heterosexual object choices were symptoms of neurosis, thus there was ‘no such thing as a monosexual person for Stekel… “All persons are bisexual” he declared’: ‘There is no inborn homosexuality and no inborn heterosexuality. There is only bisexuality’ (78). This is a rather nice reversal, where heterosexuality is seen as a pathologization as much as homosexuality, and bisexuality is seen as an openness rather than an lack of development. But, for obvious reasons, it didn’t catch on as a theory.
The next person who comes to redirect Freudian psychoanalysis is Sandor Rado, who is said to be one of the ‘most significant figures in the homophobic development of post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory’ (78). This is due to his dismissal of the ‘mythological account of originary hermaphroditism as a “simple solution” predating science and created by a “primitive mind”’ followed by his refusal that humans go through a stage of embryonic hermaphroditism (bisexuality). He publicly refuted Freud’s notion of constitutional bisexuality in 1940, just months after his death. But this still left ‘the problem’ of explaining homosexual attraction. He decided to return to the castration anxiety and blame it for both male and female same-sex attraction. For the male, the fear of castration upon seeing female genitalia becomes strong enough for him to avoid the ‘wound-like’ female organ. For the female the relation of castration anxiety to homosexuality is even more ludicrous, such that women are said to enjoy pain in the form of menstruation, childbirth and coitus, and a resistance to this pleasure creates a ‘masculine attitude’ where the female would avoid male genitalia in an attempt to avoid pain, and thus be more attracted to female genitalia (the logic isn’t great, I know). Rado took Freud’s work, rejected what he saw to be the mythological and metaphysical elements and replaced them with his own new and truthful frame of reference (81). Freud had worked to separate ‘the sexual drive from a preordained aim (reproduction) or object (man or woman), [and] had undermined the notion of sexuality as reproductive genitality’ (81), but Rado’s influence served to reinsert a ‘pre-Freudian sexological insistence on the reproductive sexual norm’ and thus take steps towards reinforcing heteronormativity once more.
This precedent led to many others following in this tracks, where homosexuality was removed from any connection to biology, and along with it, the dismissal of biological bisexuality. But despite this, a counter-current persisted. The prevailing cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality were changing due to the the Great Depression and the Second World War:
birth and marriage rates had significantly decreased throughout the depression, and during wartime women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. The availability of contraceptives, the increasing sexualization of femininity, and the emphasis on sexuality and pleasure as necessary components to the ideal marriage…In addition to this, with the rise of urban subcultures homosexual visibility and awareness also grew’ (84).
To complement these changes, the Kinsey report was published in 1948, along with other sex research by those such as Ford and Beach, who’s Patterns of Sexual Behavior built upon and supported Kinsey’s research to the degree that Angeldies believes ‘the norm of heterosexuality was significantly denaturalized’ (85). Psychoanalysis, however, continued attempting to ‘cure’ homosexuality, and sided more and more with the patriotic ideas of the family and nation, blaming homosexual desire in a patient’s psychology on a bad family life or disruptive early development.
The next figure whom Angelides brings into the development of the pathologization of homosexuality is a man named Edmund Bergler. Famous (apparently) for his theory of ‘the breast complex’, [which figures the breast as the object of distrust, originating when breast feeding ceases for the infant] his work came to help define psychoanalysis’ relationship to homosexuality through the 40s and 50s. In his book, entitled Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life? he comments on how homosexuality is a serious social problem and one which is ‘remediable’ (87) rather than constitutional or natural. He reacted strongly against Kinsey’s publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, writing ‘Kinsey’s erroneous psychological conclusions pertaining to homosexuality will be politically and propagandistically used against the United States abroad’ (89). These conclusions included details of how ‘37% of all post-adolescent white males have engaged in homosexual activity to the point of ‘orgastic discharge’ (88) and were taken to be a direct challenge to psychoanalysis. Angelides shows evidence of how Kinsey’s research was said to have little effect on the discipline of psychoanalysis, but argues to the contrary that in fact ‘the Kinsey report was a palpable force, indeed, a structuring absence’ in the psychoanalysis.
It’s then suggested that heterosexuality became the transcendental signifier in this realm of thought, where the homosexual could not exist, as everyone was just a heterosexual ‘in dire need of therapeutic reorientation’ (93). Again, the denial and refusal of homosexuality ‘provides a clear illustration of the workings of what Irigaray calls the phallic economy of the same’ – erasing otherness and difference in a framework of heterosexuality.
Added to this, Bergler’s thoughts on bisexuality are not too much of a surprise: ‘BISEXUALITY – a state that has no existence beyond the word itself’ (93). This steadfast refusal of bisexuality is an attempt to ‘secure the inviolable boundaries of heterosexuality from any ‘perverse’ incursion’ (93), as bisexuality would be too close for comfort, partaing of heterosexuality as well as homosexuality. For someone like Bergler no in-between state exists – how could it for a conservative in the Cold War period? The possibility of moving between the ‘poles of sexuality’ was compared to the idea that ‘a man can at the same time have cancer and perfect health’ (93). Crazy, no? But this insistence on heterosexuality, via psychoanalysis, contributed to the American Psychiatric Association to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1952.
We are then taken through some more reasons for the emergence of homosexuality in men and women via Irving Beiber, who we’re told helped to institutionalize the pathologization of homosexuality through his book Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals in 1962, becoming the ‘expert’ in the field. He conducted the largest psychoanalytic study ever known at the time, of 206 men (106 homosexual, 100 heterosexual). Kinsey critiqued the study, pointing out that it was limited by having pre-constituted the categories of sexuality it was seeking to research. Good point Kinsey! I won’t go through all the reasonings for why homosexuality was seen to be a disturbance of ‘normal development’ – but they include an inferior sense of masculinity, hatred and fear of women, the influence of over bearing mothers, the absence of male role models etc.etc. Again, the attempt to make homosexuality the ‘proper object’ of psychoanalytic study is significant. One could ask why all these men [and it appears to be mainly men from this book] felt the need to rid society of such a ‘malady’. It’s often said that those who oppose homosexuality so vigilantly are often projecting onto the world around them a fear they cannot deal with in themselves. Arguments about the nuclear family and the evolutionary advancement of society cannot be taken as ‘natural’ or ‘given’, but must be seen within a context as constructed ideas over time by dominant ideologies. This is not to suggest that these are wrong either, but to acknowledge how ‘naturalisation’ works in society, creating moral, political and social norms by which others outside of such norms are then oppressed, suppressed and erased from history.
The final part of the pathologization is the de-sexualisation of homosexual desire. Numerous psychoanalysts work provided the ‘evidence’ to suggest that all homosexual activity was an attempt to work through an interior conflict and was thus not related back to the arrested development issuing from biological bisexuality. ‘Homosexuals were thus neurotic but latent heterosexuals’ (100) and their desire was just misplaced or misused. Biological bisexuality was replaced with universal heterosexuality, ‘effectively [eliding] the possibility of psychological bisexuality’ (101).
Angelides ends by stating that he has ‘suggested that the repudiation of bisexuality from the scene of post-Freudian psychoanalysis was anything but inconsequential to the history of sexuality’ and issued from a epistemic crisis in (hetero) sexual identity (102). The repudiation did four things: 1) Made homosexuality the proper object of psychoanalysis; 2) Made possible the pathologization of homosexuality; 3) Equated homosexuality with neurosis; 4) Excluded bisexuality and reinforced the homo/hetero discursive binary (102).
This seems significant to me, as this book is an attempt to look at the history of sexuality and see why and how bisexuality has been erased. So far, Angelides has done an excellent job in seeing how sexuality has been constructed and showing us why and how bisexuality has (not) been constructed, denied and repudiated. Rather than tell us what bisexuality is, he shows us how the repudiation happened, why it came about, and how it has effected the idea of bisexuality, issuing from an epistemic crisis in (hetero)sexuality. In this section, we’re shown how ‘[The] crisis was made palpable by Freud’s radical theory of the perversions and by the behavioral sociology of Kinsey…With sexuality constructed as a potentially shifting object choice or disposition – a bipotentiality – the ontological distinction between hetero- and homosexual species is increasingly difficult to maintain’ (103). The many psychoanalysts, psychologists, biologists and others [some of those mentioned above] sought to put into place a form of ‘crisis management’ and thus refused bisexuality any legitimation. But, as we’ll go onto see, they were unable to keep this up. However, it does help shed light on attitudes towards bisexuality today and why it isn’t accepted, or spoken about, in the same way other sexual identities i.e. gay and straight.
I hope this hasn’t been too dry and dull for at least one person to get to the end. I would have liked more on Kinsey and less on the pathologization, but I guess we have to follow the history in order to get a better understanding of how bisexuality has been erased.