On homosexuality, religion, and the mental health field — excerpts from the book “The Manufacture of Madness”

More from Dr. Thomas Szasz’s book The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970). Picking back up in chapter 10, page 160:

The change from a religious and moral to a social and medical conceptualization and control of personal conduct affects the entire discipline of psychiatry and allied fields. Perhaps nowhere is this transformation more evident than in the modern perspective on so-called sexual deviation, and especially on homosexuality. We shall therefore compare the concept of homosexuality as heresy, prevalent in the days of the witch-hunts, with the concept of homosexuality as mental illness, prevalent today.

 Homosexual behavior—like heterosexual and autoerotic behavior—occurs among higher apes and among human beings living in a wide variety of cultural conditions. Judging by artistic, historical, and literary records, it also occurred in past ages and societies. Today it is part of the dogma of American psychiatrically enlightened opinion that homosexuality is an illness—a form of mental illness. This is a relatively recent view. In the past, men held quite different views on homosexuality, from accepting it as a perfectly natural activity to prohibiting it as the most heinous of crimes. […]

 The Bible prohibits almost every form of sexual activity other than heterosexual, genital intercourse. Homosexuality is prohibited first in Genesis, in the story of Lot. One evening, two angels come to Sodom, disguised as men. Lot meets them at the gates and invites them into his house. First, the angels refuse Lot’s hospitality, offering instead to spend the night in the street; but at Lot’s urgings, the Old Testament tells us, “they entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot. ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ “

 The men of Sodom wanted to use the travelers as sexual objects. Among the ancient Israelites, however, he who gave shelter to strangers was obligated to protect them from harm. Because of this, Lot offered his daughters as substitute objects: “Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ “

 As this suggests, homosexuality was considered a serious offense. This story also makes clear the abysmal devaluation of women as human beings in the ethics of ancient Judaism. Lot values the dignity of his male guests more highly than that of his female children. The Christian ethic did not raise the worth of female life much above the Jewish; nor did the clinical ethic raise it much above the clerical. This is why most of those identified as witches by male inquisitors were women; and why most of those diagnosed as hysterics by male psychiatrists were also women.

 […]

 It is important to note that only male homosexuality is forbidden: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman . . .” God addresses males only. He does not command woman not to lie with a female as with a man. Here by omission and implication, and elsewhere by more explicit phrasing, woman is treated as a kind of human animal, not as a full human being. The most up-to-date legal statutes of Western nations dealing with homosexuality continue to maintain this posture toward women: Though homosexual intercourse between consenting adults continues to be prohibited in many countries, nowhere does this apply to women. The inference about the less-than-human status of women is inevitable. No wonder than in his morning prayer, the Orthodox Jew says, “Blessed be God . . . that He did not make me a woman,” while the woman says, “Blessed be the Lord, who created me according to His will.”

 Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality had of course a profound influence on the medieval equation of this practice with heresy; on our contemporary criminal laws and social attitudes, with regard to homosexuality as a hybrid of crime and disease; and on the language we still use to describe many so-called sexually deviant acts. Sodomy is an example.

 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (Third Edition) defines sodomy as “The homosexual proclivities of the men of the city as narrated in Gen. 19: 1-11; carnal copulation with a member of the same sex or with an animal or unnatural carnal copulation with a member of the opposite sex; specif.: the penetration of the male organ into the mouth or anus of another.” This definition is pragmatically correct. In both psychiatric and literary works, the term “sodomy” is used to describe sexual activity involving contact between penis and mouth or anus, regardless of whether the “passive” partner is male or female. Fellatio is thus a type of sodomy. Because human beings frequently engage in these and other nongenital sexual acts, Kinsey correctly emphasized that there are few Americans who, in their everyday sexual lives, do not violate both the religious prohibitions of their faith and the criminal laws of their country.

 In short, the Church opposed homosexuality not only, or even primarily, because it was “abnormal” or “unnatural,” but rather because it satisfied carnal lust and yielded bodily pleasure. This condemnation of homosexuality, says Rattray Taylor, “was merely an aspect of the general condemnation of sexual pleasure and indeed of sexual activity not directly necessary to ensure the continuation of the race. Even within marriage, sexual activity was severely restricted, and virginity was declared a more blessed state than matrimony.” It is no accident, then, that carnal lust, leading to nonprocreative sexual practices and pleasure of all kinds, was a characteristic passion of witches. They were supposed to satisfy their cravings by copulating with the Devil, a male figure of super-human masculinity, equipped with a “forked penis,” enabling him to penetrate the woman at once vaginally and anally.

Moving on to page 168:

Psychiatric preoccupation with the disease concept of homosexuality—as with the disease concept of all so-called mental illnesses, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or suicide—conceals the fact that homosexuals are a group of medically stigmatized and socially persecuted individuals. The noise generated by their persecution and their anguished cries of protest are drowned out by the rhetoric of therapy—just as the rhetoric of salvation drowned out the noise generated by the persecution of heretics and their anguished cries of protest. It is heartless hypocrisy to pretend that physicians, psychiatrists, or “normal” laymen for that matter, really care about the welfare of the mentally ill in general, or the homosexual in particular. If they did, they would stop torturing him while claiming to help him. But this is just what reformers—whether theological or medical—refuse to do.

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