Sold Straight

collage Sally Edelstein

 

Being 14 is a confusing time no matter what time period you lived in.

Understanding the facts of life can feel confusing. Especially when the facts of life you are taught aren’t even facts at all. In fact, they are lies.

When I was growing up and well into my late teens it was a “Fact” that homosexuality was a form of mental illness.

The American Psychiatric Association said so. In fact, it wasn’t until December 15, 1973, that homosexuality was eventually de-pathologized by the association and removed from its list of mental disorders.

NY Times Dec. 16, 1973 Beneath the fold on the front page. “Psychiatrists in a Shift, Declare Homosexuality No Mental Illness”

Mental Fitness

pulp fiction book

Printed Jan 1964

In 1969 when I was 14 my Junior High required us to take health class. The premise was to provide us with the facts of life in order to prepare us for adulthood. Along with being warned of the dangerous properties of marijuana, which if inhaled would lead directly to a life of heroin addiction and a one-way ticket to skid row, we were also taught the AMA-approved truth that homosexuality was an illness.

Smoking a joint was one thing, going down that dark path of abnormal sexuality was quite another.

Forget that religion viewed it as a sin. Homosexual feelings were medically considered not merely aberrant but an affliction. The diagnosis from a psychiatrist meant that people could be institutionalized against their will, fired from a job, denied a mortgage, etc. Cures were possible, ranging from years spent on a shrinks couch, conversion camps, and electro-shock therapy.

Until 1973 the psychiatric community never wavered from the judgment that homosexual behavior was a pathological sexual deviation. Gay and lesbians were thought to be inherently heterosexuals suffering from a psychic disorder on par with borderline personality or schizophrenia.

Never boy crazy, were my teen crushes on girls an indication that I was just plain crazy?

Never acted on, they never disappeared.

The Normal Heart

The insistence that everyone fit into the heterosexual model was powerful.  Images of happy heterosexuals as the norm permeated popular culture. (L) “Unnatural” by Sloan Briton 1960 (R) “The Happy Family”  Little Golden Books 1955

Of course, these facts I learned in health class were not news to me.

Not unlike having to attend much-despised gym class, compliance with the heterosexual norm was compulsory. And for some just as disagreeable and uncomfortable.

The insistence that everyone fit into the heterosexual model was powerful.  Images of happy heterosexuals as the norm permeated popular culture, scattering its potent assumptions of family, marriage, and who we should love deep into our collective psyches.

In a country priding itself on endless choices of toothpaste and shampoo, there was really only one choice of who you could love. Heterosexuality was the right brand.

Time tested. Failure to conform to these confining roles had devastating consequences.

Vintage Romance Comic Books

Who a girl could love was reinforced not only in the general media but in Romance comic books with names like Young Romance, Girls Love, and Secret Hearts that were marketed directly to young girls.

For a pre-teen girl they were ground zero of mid-century hetero-normative love. Along with my bunk mates, I would devour these soapy stories at sleepaway camp, dissecting the silly stories found in the colorful, pulpy pages. Filled with heart-throbbing stories about the rocky road to love in the quest for Mr. Right, the formulaic stories were instructive, telling the readers how to find a man, how to keep him, how to be beautiful for him, and most importantly how to get him to put a ring on your finger.

There was only one path to true happiness and anyone who veered from that was headed for trouble.  Fast girls who got pregnant got the shame they deserved but could ultimately be redeemed,  but a  girl who wasn’t boy-crazy?

Unthinkable!

A lesbian even in the liberated 70s was still a deviant,

No one wanted to be thought of as being “That Kind of Girl!”

Mocked by the mean girls in my camp for my close friendship with one girl, they teased us mercilessly.  Derisively they called “lesbians” which besides not being true was a word I wasn’t even sure of the meaning, but intuitively knew it was something very bad.

That Strange Girl

It was a topic addressed in one daring Young Romance issue from January 1974.

It tells the instructive story of “Liz” the not-too-subtly named tomboy who queerly enough shows no interest in boys. Despite the taunts, leering comments, and shaming pointed her way our hero… er …heroine stands firm.

That is until… she meets the right boy, in a story entitled “That Strange Girl!

 

This comic appeared 15 years before the Comics Code underwent its final revision allowing for LGBT characters to be included in comics and encouraged positive portrayals! Before 1989 words like gay, lesbian, and homosexual were forbidden by the Comics Code.

Failure to conform to these confining roles meant there was a whole lot of shaming going on.

How times have changed 50 years later.

Or have they?

Today

Recently a 14-year-old girl that lives in Texas came out last year as bisexual. A few weeks ago she attempted suicide. This is what the ugly, hateful laws against LGBTQ do to children. This child is Ted Cruz’s daughter.

Although we don’t know specifically why she engaged in self-harm, it is important to note that bisexual youth are at a disproportionate risk of suicide attempts. Teens need support, not recrimination from our government.

Imagine having a father who made a political career out of being anti-LGBTQ.

When it comes to who we love Ted Cruz along with many Republicans wants us all to “Don’t Say Gay.” They would like to keep us all closeted in the mid-century world of conformity and concealment. hen same-sex desires were often constricted by conflict and went unexpressed.

It has been nearly half a century since the American psychiatric association removed homosexuality from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM) However that did not change some popular views of homosexuality. Violence against gays and lesbians persisted still persists.

It is easy to forget how terrifying it once was and still is for many people in parts of the world to live openly as LGBTQ.

In this country too.

As long as the connections between two people are hampered by censure and condemnation we are still living in a 1950s shadow.

And that’s a fact.

 

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7 comments

  1. Sally, thanks for sharing this important history and your perspective. I recall at the end of the decade, the Women’s Rights movement had a huge convention in Houston. The inclusion of rights of gay women almost derailed the effort, but it did pass. Yet, the inclusion also caused a few older proponents to back away. Who knew we were twenty more years away from another major step forward with more people coming out. As I was reading this, I was that people used to believe introversion was personality disorder and actually tried to train it out of people. Psychology has made huge steps forward since then, but it took time. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a great deal of infighting in the women’s movement of the inclusion of lesbian rights. It was very contentious at the time.
      Psychology has evolved and I suspect there are issues that in retrospect twenty years from now we will be shocked at our contemporary views.

      Like

  2. In the late 1950s, my friend Terry and his family took a trip to California to visit his Aunt Mary. When he returned, he told me his father warned him about “queers” trying to catch him and turn him into one of “them”! LOL! California must have been a scary place for his father back then.

    Like

  3. Being beaten, knifed, cursed at were the norm for me. It was the work of the devil I heard so many times. Fag written on my school desk when I was only 14. Then a band member from a big city group of musicians wrote “our favourite gay boy” beside his autograph. It made me feeling different was alright though there would be many struggles ahead. Thank you Sally for presenting a wonderful collection of magazines and words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It just breaks my heart hearing the abuse and taunting you received as a young person. The cruelty of kids knows no bounds. Adults too. I am glad you were able to move through this despite the many struggles and come to a place of peace. So much of this hate based from fear still sadly exists, something I wish could be just in the past.

      Like

  4. Reblogged this on Journalism as Art and commented:
    Recently a 14-year-old girl that lives in Texas came out last year as bisexual. A few weeks ago she attempted suicide. This is what the ugly, hateful laws against LGBTQ do to children. This child is Ted Cruz’s daughter.

    Although we don’t know specifically why she engaged in self-harm, it is important to note that bisexual youth are at a disproportionate risk of suicide attempts. Teens need support, not recrimination from our government.

    Imagine having a father who made a political career out of being anti-LGBTQ.

    When it comes to who we love Ted Cruz along with many Republicans wants us all to “Don’t Say Gay.” They would like to keep us all closeted in the mid-century world of conformity and concealment. hen same-sex desires were often constricted by conflict and went unexpressed.

    Liked by 1 person

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