Homosexuality: The Mental Illness That Went Away

Post edited and updated January 2, 2013, to reflect clarifications as a result of interactions with the many people who have left comments.  I thank them for their input.

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, until 1974 homosexuality was a mental illness.  Freud had alluded to homosexuality numerous times in his writings, and had concluded that paranoia and homosexuality were inseparable.  Other psychiatrists wrote copiously on the subject, and homosexuality was “treated” on a wide basis.  There was little or no suggestion within the psychiatric community that homosexuality might be conceptualized as anything other than a mental illness that needed to be treated.  And, of course, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in DSM-II.  (The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – is the APA’s standard classification of their so-called mental disorders, and is used by many mental health workers in the USA and other countries.)

Then in 1970 gay activists protested against the APA convention in San Francisco.  These scenes were repeated in 1971, and as people came out of the “closet” and felt empowered politically and socially, the APA directorate became increasingly uncomfortable with their stance.  In 1973 the APA’s nomenclature task force recommended that homosexuality be declared normal.  The trustees were not prepared to go that far, but they did vote to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses by a vote of 13 to 0, with 2 abstentions.  This decision was confirmed by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed in the seventh edition of DSM-II, which was issued in 1974.

What’s noteworthy about this is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough.  There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change.  Rather, it was the simple reality that gay people started to kick up a fuss.  They gained a voice and began to make themselves heard.  And the APA reacted with truly astonishing speed.  And with good reason. They realized intuitively that a protracted battle would have drawn increasing attention to the spurious nature of their entire taxonomy.  So they quickly “cut loose” the gay community and forestalled any radical scrutiny of the DSM system generally.

The APA claimed that they made the change because new research showed that most homosexual people were content with their sexual orientation, and that as a group, they appeared to be as well-adjusted as heterosexual people.  I suggest, however, that these research findings were simply the APA’s face-saver.  For centuries, perhaps millennia, homosexual people had clung to their sexual orientation despite the most severe persecution and vilification, including imprisonment and death.  Wouldn’t this suggest that they were happy with their orientation?  Do we need research to confirm this?  And if we do, shouldn’t we also need research to confirm that heterosexual people are happy with their orientation?  And if poor adjustment is critical to a diagnosis of mental illness, where was the evidence of this that justified making homosexuality a mental illness in the first place?

Also noteworthy is the fact that the vote of the membership was by no means unanimous.  Only about 55% of the members who voted favored the change.

Of course, the APA put the best spin they could on these events.  The fact is that they altered their taxonomy because of intense pressure from the gay community, but they claimed that the change was prompted by research findings.

So all the people who had this terrible “illness” were “cured” overnight – by a vote!  I remember as a boy reading of the United Nations World Health Organization’s decision to eradicate smallpox.  This was in 1967, and by 1977, after a truly staggering amount of work, the disease was a thing of the past.  Why didn’t they just take a vote?  Because smallpox is a real illness.  The human problems listed in DSM are not.  It’s that simple.  You can say that geese are swans – but in reality they’re still geese.

The overall point being that the APA’s taxonomy is nothing more than self-serving nonsense.  Real illnesses are not banished by voting or by fiat, but by valid science and hard work.  There are no mental illnesses.  Rather, there are people.  We have problems; we have orientations; we have habits; we have perspectives.  Sometimes we do well, other times we make a mess of things.  We are complicated.  Our feelings fluctuate with our circumstances, from the depths of despondency to the pinnacles of bliss.  And perhaps, most of all, we are individuals.  DSM’s facile and self-serving attempt to medicalize human problems is an institutionalized insult to human dignity.  The homosexual community has managed to liberate themselves from psychiatric oppression.  But there are millions of people worldwide who are still being damaged, stigmatized, and disempowered by this pernicious system to this day.

  • batmmannn

    I feel that the diagnosis over the past 100 years is correct. It’s a shame that noisy 3% can bully the hetero population into pretending to accept what they actually never will.

  • IVN

    What is a real shame is that some heteros insult, bully and/or attack…homosexuals just because they are homosexuals

  • bufny1

    The vast majority >85% of cases of anal cancer occurs in homosexuals don’t deny this it’s fact as is the fact that homosexuals have a far shorter life span (>10 years) than straight men

  • IVN

    Anyway, what is it to you?

  • Scott the American

    Appreciate the information about the vote. Though I think you don’t mention that the removal from it being a disorder was pure politics. Same-sex attraction is a disorder. It isn’t normal for men to like other men, or women to like women. Their bodies were not made for the same sex but the opposite sex. They also still retain attributes and mentality unique to their own sexes. Also a certain percentage of homosexuals are homosexual as a result of abuse, though I’m uncertain of this percentage. Other’s were not abused, other’s probably had daddy issues. I don’t say this to denigrate as I love my gay friends, but I say this to be honest. Danger doesn’t come in truth, it comes from lies and undue attention in the wrong area, such as the idea of gay people who identify as gay, instead of as people or who they are. Gay is an attribute, it is not who someone is, just like straight is an attribute. Cause and cure should still be researched as gay lifestyle, especially among men, leads to higher aids and other STD’s than straight men and women, and is associated with higher suicide rate, even in societies like Scandinavia who go out of their way to support gays. The science also says homosexuality is a product of nature and nurture. Meaning upbringing can help a person be straight. If a person doesn’t want to be straight, we can respect their decision and treat them kindly, but that doesn’t mean we should lie and say homosexuality is not a disorder when it is. Gays can be respectful and treat those kindly too who don’t support their lifestyle or orientation.

  • IVN

    I appreciate that you express your opinion with respect.
    But, your afirmations are opinions, not THE truth. I’m NOT saying that I know the truth, because I don’t, but there are several studies that say that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, so there’s controversy. Several studies say that same-sex attraction is not a disorder, it’s a variation, and that’s an opinion as valid as yours.
    Also, the hipothesis about people being homosexuals because they suffered abuse is not completely clear, the same thing happens with those daddy issues. And homosexuals are not most likely to have STD’s for being homosexuals, it’s all about protecting yourself.
    And about nature and nurture, some studies say the same about heterosexuality.
    So, my point is that since nothing has been 100% proved, we should respet each other’s points of view and sexual orientations.
    I do love when you say that homosexuality or heterosexuality are not who someone is, that’s completely true, so neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals should give that much importance to someone’s sexual orientation.

  • Phil_Hickey

    Scott,

    Thanks for coming in. My original article generated so much discussion, pro and con, that I followed up with a clarificatory piece on these general issues. You might find it interesting.

    I agree with your general point that truth and palatability are separate issues.

  • Scott the American

    Thank you Phil. I’ll have to check it out.

  • Person

    Even without bringing God into this, it is very evident that homosexuals are mentally ill people. According to a study in Australia on homosexuals, done with identical twins BTW, the co-twin of the gay one was also gay only about 11% of the time. If we’re going to look at quantitative data on the reasons behind homosexuality, if being gay actually were genetic, the prevalency would be about 100% (taking into account abuse and whatnot). We can therefore see that a person’s sexual orientation has no genetic link, as identical twins have IDENTICAL DNA and, unless, potentially, in the case of divorce where one twin is separated from the other, epigenetic factors do not cause homosexual behavior since they would be exposed to the same environment. Also, the probability of suicide among homosexuals is much higher in comparison to heterosexuals, which signifies that they could have a psychological disorder. Let’s face it – people who are mentally healthy do not try to commit suicide!!! That’s just the way it is. By the way, humans were not made to be able to reproduce by having sex with other humans of the same sex. So, yes, science (biology to be precise) goes against homosexuality.
    Now, before we go around calling people homophobes or whatever, just think… Can a person be against a certain action and NOT HATE a person or group of people??? Of course they can! If you know a person who smokes regularly and you’re friends with that person, you’ll understand that you can like and care for a person, but still disagree with them upon a topic. The same goes for not supporting LGBTQ marriage. You don’t have to hate a person to disagree with them about something. It’s just a difference of opinion. Really, that’s all that it is!!! I disagree with hating a person just because he/she is that way, but I still disagree with the idea of homosexuality being part of the normal sexual attraction spectrum. I feel sorry for these people, because most of them do not realize that they need professional help to overcome their illness. But whatever happened to them that would cause such a mental disorder should not be used as an excuse or a justification for their behavior.