Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.4 (2002) 692-694
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Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. By Henry L. Minton. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. xi + 344. $65.00 (cloth); $20.00 (paper).
Henry L. Minton's Departing from Deviance is an important contribution to queer studies generally and to the historiography of the lesbian and gay civil rights movement specifically. The book climaxes with the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 removal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. To get to that point, Minton traces a fascinating history, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, of the pioneering role that lesbian and gay activists and advocates played as they influenced the production and publication of a number of significant psychological and sexological studies. Prior to the 1960s it was, largely speaking, only through studies such as these that gay and lesbian activists could find a [End Page 692] voice. In a scornful and dismissive society, the medical profession provided the legitimating sponsorship for them to do so. These scientific studies, Minton persuasively argues, became emancipatory for the gays and lesbians who influenced, conducted, and participated in them. Additionally, the author explores the significant influence that more mainstream sexologists and psychologists, for example, Evelyn Hooker and Alfred C. Kinsey, had within the scientific fields on homosexual rights. Finally, Minton considers the immediate impact that lesbian and gay activists had on the American Psychiatric Association in the early 1970s, when after years of groundwork by those noted above they helped to push that organization into reevaluating its position on homosexuality.
Minton sets the background for homosexual emancipatory science in America by considering such homosexuals as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Karl Maria Kertbeny, Magnus Hirschfeld, John Addington Symonds, and Edward Carpenter, who first influenced developments along those lines in Europe. Then Minton turns his attention to the early-twentieth-century American scene and certain homosexuals there whose works blazed the trail for future lesbian and gay activist-researchers. He considers, for example, New Yorker Earl Lind, who wrote Autobiography of an Androgyne (1918) and The Female-Impersonators (1922), both published by the Medico-Legal Journal; and Mildred J. Berryman, who, in the early twentieth century, conducted research on Salt Lake City's homosexual community.
But Minton's greatest contribution, and really the central focus of his book, is his examination of the lesbian and gay activist-researchers who were at various times associated with the Committee for the Study of Sex Variants and the psychiatrist George W. Henry. The committee sponsored Henry, his midcentury research on homosexuality, and his well-known 1941 two-volume publication, Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns. Minton reveals that the real driving force behind this study was the lesbian Helen Reitman, who went by the pseudonym Jan Gay. Already in the 1920s, when she became associated with the committee, Gay had collected some three hundred interviews with lesbians in Europe and New York. She "faced a dilemma," however, that Minton claims haunted "activists until the 1960s. . . . In order to publish scholarly works that would serve the cause of homosexual rights, [they] were forced to obtain sponsorship and authorial cooperation from physicians and scientists" (35). To expand her work to include male homosexuals, Gay sought the assistance of Thomas Painter, a gay man. Together, the two recruited many participants for Henry's study. Unfortunately, Gay lost control of her work to Henry, who clung throughout the study to the era's less than favorable medical model of homosexuality. Despite her considerable contribution, Gay was barely mentioned in the acknowledgments. Nonetheless, Minton points out that Sex Variants retained important elements of her activism in the words of many participants who were unapologetic and even proud [End Page 693] of their sexuality. These individuals' positive views of themselves, certainly discerned by gay and lesbian readers of the era, provided a counterpoint to Henry's overall negative assessment of homosexuality.
Sex Variants and the Committee for the Study of Sex Variants...