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American Imago 59.4 (2002) 495-498
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To the Editor:
I am writing to protest what seems to me the blatant homophobia that pervades John Gedo's review (Spring 2002) of Charles B. Strozier's biography, Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. Dr. Gedo uses the words "homosexual" or "homoerotic" five times in his review, and, in each case, the prefix "homo-" is conceptually gratuitous and serves to make the root word into a pejorative term. I find this unacceptable. What follows are five examples from the review:
(1) On page 94, Dr. Gedo is addressing the question of Kohut's childhood. He cites four pathogenic, burdensome features of Kohut's early years. The first three are an absent father, the affairs of his parents, and a mother with a "core of psychosis." The fourth feature, inexplicably, is "a homosexual relationship that he came to regard, on balance, as helpful to him." What would Dr. Gedo have us conclude from his inclusion of this "helpful" relationship in such a series?
(2) On page 98, Dr. Gedo writes of Kohut's "perverse (masochistic) fantasies or homosexual behavior with idealized partners or both." If Dr. Gedo's point is simply to elaborate on Kohut's alleged misuse of people, then surely "sexual behavior" would have been a sufficient description. By saying "homosexual," however, Dr. Gedo puts same-sex object choice on a par with "perverse" and "masochistic" tendencies. There can be no justification for this association except perhaps Dr. Gedo's private feelings about homosexuality, which are, at best, superfluous and on their face prejudicial. [End Page 495]
(3) Also on page 98, Dr. Gedo writes of experiencing "Heinz's clinging to me as a homoerotic ambience." The sentiment here is clear and, sadly, stereotypical. Dr. Gedo portrays himself as a nonparticipating object in an unwanted homosexual relationship. As so many other men have done, he looks back at the encounter with a clinical and condescending eye. He notes only the other person's "need" for idealizable men. His own motive for participating in this "homoerotic ambiance," he informs us earlier, was simply that Kohut "was an unending source of analytic referrals" (95). Dr. Gedo considers this a "telling" admission regarding his five-year relationship with Kohut. He would have the reader suppose that Kohut was in it for the eroticism, while he himself wanted only the material rewards. Such after-the-fact disidentification from an erotic entanglement with someone of the same sex is a standard motif of homophobic discourse and should have no place in a scholarly book review.
(4) This tactic is amplified on page 99 when Dr. Gedo writes: "I had never been Heinz's friend. . . . I found the homoerotic aura he emitted highly unpleasant." The notion of an "aura," perceptible to the cognoscenti, is central to what may be termed the "homophobic canon," as it is to the canons of racism and misogyny. 1 Of course, as Dr. Gedo typically informs us, it takes years of contact to become proficient in divining the manifestations of this "aura," and in all that time he was no more than an unwitting dupe, "never Heinz's friend."
(5) The same tactic of retroactive disidentification reaches its acme on pages 99-100 when Dr. Gedo writes, in postulating an analogy between his own relationship with Kohut and Kohut's youthful relationship with his tutor, that "obviously [sic] the roles were now reversed. . . he was the mentor who illegitimately infused the relationship with homoeroticism." A five-year consensual relationship between two men is now equated with a pedophile's "illegitimate" imposition of his uncontrollable [End Page 496] desire on the other's innocent, childlike heterosexuality. Yet again, Dr. Gedo resorts to homophobic clichés as the basis for this "obvious" interpretation.
Although Dr. Gedo would have us interpret Kohut, I think that his own homophobic prejudices should themselves be interrogated. To men who were once uncomfortably close, such attitudes offer a means of regaining distance and control. They impose order and hierarchy, while sanctioning contempt and dismissal. As a former Coeditor of American Imago, I believe it is imperative that this...