Sunday, January 30, 2011

Homosexuality: Part I

Edmund Bergler's book, "Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life?" was referred to in my last post. Bergler was a Freudian psychiatrist who believed the commonly held doctrine in the 1950s and beyond, that homosexuality was an illness which was curable if the “patient” was not too badly damaged and if he or she truly wanted to be cured. My interviewee recalled that Lea herself was not too exercised about homosexual activity per se but was more interested in what was termed “latent homosexuality,” a catch-all phrase used to indicate the hostility of men towards women, usually beginning with the mother/matrix. But this is a puzzling usage. If men are hostile toward women, in what way does this reroute their sexuality toward one another? Does latent homosexuality in women refer to hostility toward men, i.e., the father? It was also confusing because of the way that this concept slid somehow into Lea’s interest in “devouring” or “cannibalistic” behavior. Because there were homosexuals in Lea’s practice from early days she thought and speculated about the issues that they raised. Bergler’s book was used as a reference for learning therapists.

Homosexuality was spoken of in groups in many different ways without much clarity. If a gay couple came into therapy they were kept apart and encouraged to enter into their house groups as a family which could help them to grow emotionally. Engaging in sexual activities with one another or with other gays was viewed as “acting out” and was highly discouraged. Heterosexual activity was discouraged in a house group for new clients as well but it was viewed more benignly. Lea would not to my knowledge speak pejoratively of a person’s homosexual activities when working with him or her. Working as a therapist she would engage with the individual in an encouraging manner, focusing on the troubles and problems of that person. In groups talking about homosexuality more speculatively, however, she would make comments which linked active homosexually with psychotic behavior, with pedophilia, or with profound paranoia.

There was a certain threat or dread associated with the idea of homosexuality in the community in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gus, one of Lea’s early clients and a member of the first learning group, would speak of it perhaps in terms learned in his native Newfoundland. It became known jokingly as “dat der queerness,” or “dat der” for short. Many references were made both seriously and in fun about emotional connections between men or between women that smacked of this element. If it was spoken of seriously the intent was to call attention to certain destructive components in the relationship; if in fun, it was used as a tease. For gay or lesbian people who entered into therapy because of the same kinds of confusions and unhappiness that brought any of us to seek help, it was no laughing matter. Their sexual orientation was viewed as a central problem that had to be corrected if their therapy was to be successful. The following recollections are those of a man whose therapy and life were blighted by this approach:

“When I look back on my therapy the thing I am most bitter about is the amount of homophobia that I suffered – starting with Lea. She had an investment in turning everyone out straight, with the men adoring her. All of the feelings of self-loathing that a gay person experiences in this culture anyway were greatly amplified there. It was so wrong. The main thing I have had to deal with since leaving Therafields has been deprogramming myself from the homophobia that was inflicted upon me. My therapist spent a lot of time trying to “cure” me of homosexuality though towards the end he changed. I think he was one of the first therapists to begin to understand that it wasn’t a disease. But most of the time he was very influenced by Lea’s teaching that homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured if one applied oneself. I spent 12 years trying. In individual sessions and in groups the main thrust of my therapy was to cure me of being homosexual. It was very painful, truly horrible. I can forgive a lot of things except that. I had a relationship with a young woman for three years. I loved her as much as I was able but I always knew that my whole self wasn’t engaged and I felt a lot of guilt as I was still having homosexual encounters during that time. It didn’t work, but I tried. Gay people in Therafields took an incredible amount of bashing. Lea would talk about homosexuality as being the same formation within a person as pedophilia.

In one of the short-lived Hypno III groups I had been very depressed and Lea said that I might be suicidal and that I needed a project. It was the fall of 1971and the extension of the Willow had just begun. My project was to last a week. Howie Gerhard, Bill Davidovitz, Karen Ellwood, and others came up for it. Somehow or other we got involved in the construction work at the Willow. Lea decided that we needed to do physical work as well as therapy work. It was cheap labour for the Willow too. She did abreactive work with me, which she later said was the beginning of that work for her. A lot of the people who had come to help were also disturbed and she ended up working with everyone. Some quit their jobs and we stayed on for three months or so. It continued even after I left for 316 St George. In the meantime we did a hell of a lot of physical work. We helped to build that place. It was kind of exciting. We felt that this great historic work was being done and that we were a part of it. Comparisons were made to Findhorn.

At the same time I remember feeling trapped and wanting to get away, partly because I was cut off from having homosexual experiences. During my years in therapy I surreptitiously remained a part of the gay scene in Toronto. When I lived at 123-5 I had a ground floor room. I would crawl out the window and go downtown but it was totally promiscuous sex. If I had had a supportive milieu I might have been able to develop a loving relationship with someone. One of the big ideas for the project was to turn me into a straight guy who could live a normal life and have a girl friend. I explored a lot about my relationships with my parents and my early life. I have always felt though that the main thing I gained from therapy was a deep understanding of psychopathy and narcissism. Lea was good at exposing those elements and showing how destructive they can be. I don’t know if I would have been better off without the therapy that I had. I do see a lot about psychopathy and narcissism in seemingly civilized people and this has helped me in choosing friends. But I don’t know what else I got out of my therapy. I had suffered from depression since I was 12. My aunt who was important and encouraging to me committed suicide then. I felt as though my life had come to an end. I had no one to rely on after that. Since I left therapy I have suffered some depression but nothing like I went through in my early years.

The biggest thing that helped me to work my way out of Therafields was falling in love with my partner. He had never been in a house group but he was involved in the work group at the farm. When we became involved I started to be aware of my anger about the homophobia in Therafields. Attitudes of homophobia are still prevalent in today’s society. I teach kids from Mormon and Muslim families, for example, and it is deeply ingrained in them.

Overall my biggest gain from Therafields was finding my partner. I was racked over the coals for it at the time because I was assisting Adam with the work group when I met him – a member of that group. I wasn’t his therapist but I was supposed to be helping him with his work problems. But I knew from the first time that we had sex that if I didn’t put myself totally into the relationship, that I could be talked out of it. I can see how it could be perceived as unscrupulous behaviour. Gus was very angry and I was roundly confronted in the group. I think that being in Therafields gave me a lot of insight into human nature. I am still angry about the homophobia but I guess that its half and half. Some of the people I never want to see again. I went to the Therafields reunion when it was held a number of years ago. I resisted going and wasn’t planning to. But I did go and once there I didn’t want to leave. There were a lot of people there that I was glad to see.”

In my next post I will give the account of a lesbian woman who suffered discrimination because of her sexual orientation and likely because Lea simply did not like her.

1 comment:

  1. For a community supposedly based on loving communication, we sure made ourselves blind to so much pain in so many really good people. And if our guts told us something was not right we remained mute. I am so sorry for using my energies to support Therafields for so long. My own pain should have opened my eyes to the pain of others, but I refused to really see what was going on outside myself. The shaming I was subjected to could have empowered me to speak out when I saw others shamed but fear kept me mute. Real love speaks out against injustice.