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  • Beyond the Depathologization of Homosexuality:Reframing Evelyn Hooker as a Boundary Shifter in Twentieth-Century US Sex Research
  • Stephen Molldrem (bio)

Evelyn Hooker (1907–96) was a psychologist best known for a 1957 paper that showed no statistically significant differences between what she characterized as the "adjustment" of thirty homosexual men and thirty heterosexual men drawn from nonclinical samples who "on the surface at least, seemed to have average adjustment."1 That landmark study, titled "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual" and published in the Journal of Projective Techniques, played a key role in laying the foundation for the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.2 [End Page 48] Historians and other scholars who have written about Hooker's contributions have overwhelmingly emphasized this effect of her work—a tendency that Hooker herself promoted and that I call the "great depathologizer" narrative.3

Hooker's contributions to the depathologization of homosexuality in psychiatry and psychology are undeniably her most enduring influence on sexual science and clinical practice. However, in this essay I will show that limiting the historical understanding of Hooker primarily to her clinical contributions has had the unfortunate effect of overlooking her direct influence on the development of then-novel approaches to the study of sexuality in social scientific disciplines such as sociology and anthropology from the 1950s until the late 1970s. I will further show that the tendency to characterize Hooker as the great depathologizer of homosexuality glosses over substantive transformations and oscillations in her own conceptualization of the origins and causes of human sexual identifications from the 1950s until her death in 1996. I will also demonstrate that the extant historiography has obscured how Hooker's most influential clinical work from the 1950s was also deeply influenced by sociological research and social psychology that was published from the 1930s to the 1950s, including the then-emergent Chicago school of sociology and the sociology of deviance.4

I thus offer a different view of Hooker—one in which she appears not only as someone who contributed to the depathologization of homosexuality in psychiatry and psychology but also as a more complex figure whose contributions to the study of sexuality in the clinical and social sciences also went beyond the depathologization of homosexuality.

I draw on over fifteen hundred pictures of archival material that I took on a research trip to Los Angeles in the summer of 2014. I also viewed or [End Page 49] listened to a number of video and audio recordings held in the archives. These materials come from Hooker's papers, the Judd Marmor Papers, and several other collections held at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Library Special Collections. I also draw from collections held at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries, including the Joseph M. Carrier Papers, the Betty Burzon Papers, the Adele Starr Collection, the Jim Kepner Papers, the Laud Humphreys Papers, ONE Incorporated bulk records, several subject files, and a selection of relevant unprocessed archival material. I also consulted several relevant collections at the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan and utilized the University of Michigan Library's extensive holdings to retrieve and scan the front matter and main body text pages of key journals and several rare books, conference proceedings, and manuscripts where Hooker was published. I also present close readings of Hooker's publications from 1955 onward, along with descriptions of how a range of clinical and nonclinical researchers cited Hooker and used her work in their scholarship from the 1950s onward.

To assemble and analyze these materials, I employed an approach from the history of sexology that anthropologist Gayle Rubin calls "excavation," which combines archival research and bibliographic reconstruction.5 I also use the method of "historical epistemology" from philosopher of science and historian of sexuality Arnold I. Davidson and the concept of a "boundary shifter" from the work of science and technology studies scholars Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco—frameworks that I describe at greater length in subsequent sections.6 Employing these approaches, I reconstruct Hooker's career and contributions as...