Sunday, September 13, 2009

Andrei Rewriting History 2

History, as they say, is written by the victors.

When we look back at the past we are reliant on the written records of the period and upon later interpretations of these by people whose views are colored by the times in which they live and their own personal agendas.

Case in point - This apology issued by Gordon Brown to Alan Turing which I learned about from this post by DPF.

DPF writes
What I did not know is that Turing was gay, and he was effectively castrated in 1952 for being gay. Turing had a brief consensual relationship with an Arnold Murray, who then broke into his house with an accomplice and robbed it. The Police investigated and when the homosexual relationship between Turing and Murray became evident, charged Turing with gross indecency.

He was convicted and given a choice between imprisonment, or chemical castration via oestrogen hormone injections. Two years later he killed himself.

Right from the get go this story seems implausible to me. I do not think this really happened. I have spent some time in the library doing literature searches to try and verify any aspect of this sorry tale and can find no supporting documentation what-so-ever.

Were gays treated with oestrogen or any other hormone in 1952? The only indication that they were is the Alan Turing tale - nothing else and that is circular we are trying to verify the plausibility of the Alan Turing story. And if "hormone therapy" was not a common treatment for gays at that time, in fact there is no record that anybody had even considered it, how can we seriously believe an English judge or magistrate ordered someone to undergo it?

The earliest reference to this story I can find is a 1983 book - Alan Turing: The Enigma written by Mathematician and Gay activist Andrew Hodges.

The story has grown and become more lurid in subsequent publications and now with Gordon Brown's apology it has become indisputable fact apparently.

But that doesn't mean it actually happened - in fact on the balance of probabilities it almost certainly didn't.

4 comment(s):

That Morthos Stare said...

You didn't search very hard, did you? A simple Google search for "oestrogen treatment homosexuality" provides peer reviewed articles and books supporting the claim that homosexuals were treated with oestrogen in order to try to turn them straight.

Andrei said...

I have some of those papers - the most compelling would be

Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of patients.

The authors were able to identify 29 males who had had "medical treatment" for homosexuality between 1950 and 1980. They had hoped for more people to come forward but thats all they got.

The most common treatment (from the early 1960s to early 1970s, with one case in 1980) was behavioural aversion therapy with electric shocks (11 participants). Nausea induced by apomorphine as the aversive stimulus was reported less often (four participants in the early 1960s).

In electric shock aversion therapy, electrodes were attached to the wrist or lower leg and shocks were administered while the patient watched photographs of men and women in various stages of undress. The aim was to encourage avoidance of the shock by moving to photographs of the opposite sex. It was hoped that arousal to same sex photographs would reduce, while relief arising from shock avoidance would increase, interest in opposite sex images. Some patients reported undergoing detailed examination before treatment, while others were assessed more perfunctorily. Patients would recline on a bed or sit in a chair in a darkened room, either alone or with the professional behind a screen. Each treatment lasted about 30 minutes, with some participants given portable electric shock boxes to use at home while they induced sexual fantasies. Patients receiving apomorphine were often admitted to hospital due to side effects of nausea and dehydration and the need for repeated doses, while those receiving electric shock aversion therapy attended as outpatients for weeks or in some cases up to two years.

Oestrogen treatment to reduce libido (two participants in the 1950s), psychoanalysis (three private participants and one NHS participant in the 1970s), and religious counselling (two participants in the 1990s) were also reported. Other forms of treatment were electroconvulsive therapy, discussion of the evils of homosexuality, desensitisation of an assumed phobia of the opposite sex, hypnosis, psychodrama, and abreaction. Dating skills were sometimes taught, and occasionally men were encouraged to find a prostitute or female friend with whom to try sexual intercourse.

This is self reported in 2004

That Morthos Stare said...

Yes, that's one of the references. The British Medical Journal material, however, which cites actual procedure from the 1950s, confirms that this was a 'treatment' at that time.

libertyscott said...

None of which excuses the criminalisation of what was essentially private behaviour between consenting adults. Something that is seen as ridiculous today, but a substantial number were fighting to keep it that way only 24 years ago.

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