“Overt homosexuality provokes concern”

“The Fawn has a back room to which an admission was charged and where as many as 70 to 80 deviates had parties on Friday and Saturday nights. Most of the patrons were males, but on occasion police found women dancing with women.” There were 19 police visits in 1963, and a warning system to stop dancing when an undercover policeman entered. In December the State Liquor Authority revoked The Fawn’s liquor license, and the New York Times reported that on its front page, with a long feature article on p33. Police Commissioner Michael J Murphy said,

Homosexuality is another one of the many problems confronting law enforcement in this city. However, the underlying factors in homosexuality are not criminal but rather medical and sociological in nature. The police jurisdiction in this area is limited. But when persons of this type become a source of public scandal, or violate the laws, or place themselves in a position where they become the victims of crime they do come within our jurisdiction.

Even when they are victims, he blames them. He promised them “special attention”. Without “direct proof”, he suspected crime syndicates ran the gay bars. The bars charged outrageous prices, and hoodlums pretended to be rent boys, to beat and rob them, the journalist Robert C Doty reported. That couples dancing were sometimes women is his only mention of lesbians.

Doty proceeded to analyse the medical and sociological factors, like an anthropologist in a murky underworld, talking to “city officials, physicians, social workers and [gasp!] homosexuals themselves”. He calls them “sexual inverts”, and quotes psychiatrists saying 27% of those treated achieve heterosexuality. The psychiatrists blame “ill-adjusted parents”- “a close-binding, intimate mother and/or a hostile, detached or unrespected father, or other parental aberrations”. That is, when the offspring is gay, the researchers seek out something in the parents to blame.

The psychiatrists want public education to “improve family environments and reduce the incidence of sexual perversion”. “A single homosexual encounter would be unlikely to turn a young man toward homosexuality unless a predisposition already existed”, but strict enforcement of the law was necessary to protect “borderline cases”. Because a cure was possible, psychiatrists should not try to “adjust even the more recalcitrant patient to a homosexual destiny”.

Doty interviewed “a homosexual who had achieved good progress toward cure under psychoanalysis”, and quoted a psychiatrist claiming that gays “receive sexual stimulation from women”, but are so “crippled psychically” that they fear them.

Doty wanted to entertain readers with tales of “the dregs of the invert world- the painted, grossly effeminate ‘queens’ and those who prey on them”, or magazines with “photos of scantily-clad, heavily-muscled men”. He said there was a “homosexual jargon” but only explained the word “gay”. His attempt at a full account includes quotes from priests, that religions condemn gay sex but offer support to penitents.

The “organized homophile movement” campaigned for an end to discrimination on the basis they were born that way, and that they should be tolerated as a minority. No-one knew how many gays there were. The Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization publishing an intellectual magazine and educating the public on “the problems of the sexual deviant”- their words- estimated 600,000 in NYC. They thronged Greenwich Village, a restricted area around 42nd St., and holidayed to Fire Island and Jacob Riis Park beach. A gay man could live openly, almost exclusively among gays. Many pretended to be straight, and got married.

In New York City, around a thousand men a year were arrested for “overt homosexual activity”, most for soliciting (or trying to find a partner) but around 250 for “sodomy” and around 60 for sex with young men in their late teens, a felony. Gay men sought the repeal of law against private sexual acts and an end to entrapment. The Wolfenden report had recommended repeal of legal penalties, and Illinois had done so.

Doty finds gaydar fascinating. “Most normal persons” believe they can spot gays, but only the “obviously effeminate type”. They were in all levels of society, even “the corporation executive”. Many were actors, dancers, artists and in women’s beauty and fashion, where influential gays could employ gays rather than straights.

“Many homosexuals dream of forming a permanent attachment that would give them the sense of social and emotional stability others derive from heterosexual marriage, but few achieve it.” They are condemned to promiscuity and police harassment.

One psychiatrist thought public acceptance “based on the concept of homosexuality as an illness” could reduce the incidence of homosexuality, but another said social acceptance would prevent them from seeking treatment.

“Confronting these generally accepted scientific conclusions is the strange, ambivalent attitude of the homosexuals themselves.” 83% of gays said they would not want their son to be gay, but 97% would not seek a cure. Why? Doty quotes a gay man. With “no history of normal dating, I would be lost in the world of heterosexuals”.

Many people are still like Doty- bemused, tolerant, pitying or disgusted by turns, thinking being gay is less than being straight, being trans is less than being cis, not wanting to be cruel but revolted by us and what we do. “Surely they are not really trans,” they say to themselves of children undertaking the hard road to transition. So we have to prove ourselves with hormones or surgery, or we rebel against their control and seek surgery when social transition might be enough.

I want social transition, hormones and surgery to be a choice based on the trans person’s needs, not the hostility of others, either the need to prove ourselves or the belief that after surgery we will be accepted. Doty, the police commissioner, and the psychiatrists, all thought themselves decent, liberal men. In the article you can see their staunch efforts to preserve that self-image, and Doty’s attempt to foster it in his readers. They oppressed gay people. They should have known better. There are still persecutors, especially of trans people, who imagine themselves liberal and should know better.

All comments welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.