In my last post I presented the painful experiences of a homosexual man in therapy for years as various attempts were made to “cure” him of his homosexuality. It is true that the idea of homosexuality as an illness had been dominant in the mental health community for years. Previously it had been regarded as not only “unnatural” but even criminal behaviour which in many countries could result in punishment by the legal system. In her work Lea challenged many of the accepted views of psychiatry, citing Robert Linder’s book “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” which rails against the psychiatric community and its diagnoses. Yet she encouraged the reading of Bergler’s book “Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life” which placed homosexuality squarely in the realm of pathology. I have mentioned how her own theorizing on issues such as paranoia could lead to statements about profound disturbances lurking within homosexual people.
Yet in practice her treatment of various people who were known to be gay or lesbian varied considerably. Two women who were close to her own household and met certain of her personal needs were known by those close to them to be lesbians. Their relationship was conducted with discretion and was above comment by Lea and others. If anything, Lea would indicate the importance of the relationship for the two women as a healing and growth passage. Another woman who was open about her sexual orientation from the first did not fare so well. Her experiences are detailed below.
“In the fall of 1966 at age seventeen I came to Toronto to go to university. In retrospect I think that I was just a mixed-up teenager. I was already out as a lesbian and had no trouble with that. My girl friend and I were rooming together then. Our relationship caused more turmoil for her at least in part because she had more of a connection to her Catholic roots than I had to my Jewish ones. My family was left-wing and not at all religious. Because we were having problems my girl friend and I went to talk to Mike Quealey at Newman House. He sent me to Lea. Barry tested me and I started working with Grant who was just then beginning to take on clients. My girl friend came into therapy as well but it was decided that we couldn’t live together or even see each other. She immediately became the good guy and I was labelled by Lea, the aggressor. We had a session together with Lea one day and went immediately from living together to not being able to see each other. We moved into separate house groups right away.
Two of the men in my house group, who were sharing a room, had an affair. People went nuts. I can’t remember which one was seen as the bad guy, but they were never able to make peace with one another after that. It was treated almost as a crime. And yet they were perfect for each other. They were both artists and they had similar sensibilities; they were both good looking. It was a match made in heaven.
When the farm was purchased and people began to work up there I wasn’t allowed to come because I was seen as too psychopathic. That became my label for the next 16 years. I think it was because I was a lesbian. I think that beyond that fact Lea just didn’t like me. When I couldn’t go to the farm I just had to take it in my stride. Those things were very painful but the tragic part is that they stopped being painful and just became my own self-image. That’s when the real trouble started for me: my self-image had become what these people thought of me. I got little attention in the house groups. If I said anything my head was bitten off. I got into a lot of trouble for things that I think were just normal, not a big deal. I suffered from obsessing about women that I was attracted to. I couldn’t do anything about my feelings and there were a lot of attractive women around. I think that some of them were lesbians too because there would be an electricity between us and I never kept it a secret. Others kept it a secret and didn’t get into trouble.
One day I was cooking at the Willow. I had Lea’s grandson standing on a stool, helping me to stir the soup. Lea went by and had a fit. She said I was endangering his life. She called an emergency session at the Willow and I was told in front of everyone that I was having indigestion on the flesh of the boy’s mother because I was so devouring. If I had had a car then I would have left but I couldn’t. I became an untouchable. Nobody talked to me for weeks. They just side-stepped me. I think that I wasn’t liked because I saw through things quickly early on. I didn’t like the fact that Rob was spending so much money on himself. I knew that it was really our money. I was told that any issues that I had with Rob had to do with my father. But they weren’t. He was ripping us off. They were all ripping us off. They were living the high life on our money. I remember once cooking a very fancy meal at the Willow. Visvaldis in his robes and Lea in her fancy clothes and her false crown were like the king and queen. I said something about all of the food in the pantry at the Willow and how they were eating seaweed down at the farm. I was told that I had ocular malice.
Once I was with a work group at the Willow washing windows. I had a herniated disk and was in a lot of pain as I stood on the ladder. Lea was inside having a tea party with her special people. They could see me through the window and I guess I looked angry and in pain. At a group later Lea told me that I was an arrogant Jew because I didn’t want to wash her windows. That’s another time that I should have left but by that time I believed these things. I lost the ability to think and make judgements on my own. I began to believe that I was a bad, irresponsible person. I got switched over to another therapist at some point and she really tortured me. I don’t think that she was a bad person but she was a total puppet. If I was upset and called her, I would get into trouble. Once I had a brief fling with a man who had been my client for about 10 days years earlier. I got into so much trouble about that. My therapist called me and laced into me about my psychopathy. Sometimes I saw her and another man together for a session and he would tell me that I wasn’t really homosexual. He wanted me to try to get involved with a friend of mine who is probably as homosexual as I am, or at least asexual.
I was told that I was one of those people who had to burn her bridges, to have nothing to do with my family. I did it though I believe that it was one of the things that caused my mother to die early. I had nothing to do with my parents for about five years and I was an only child. It really destroyed my mother. She was, of course, a very difficult women but she didn’t deserve that treatment because she loved me. She just had her own difficulties. I always felt loved by her but not by these people. Grant was good to me but many people were discouraged from having friendships with me. If it was a girl they would try to separate us. I loved and was attached to one woman, with whom I’m still friends. Barry and I were close. I guess that was allowed because he was a boy. I had a little fling with another fellow once but that was broken up because I was seen as not good enough for him. There was a mood or feeling that some people had toward me that was more than just particular incidents. Once at 82 a house group member told me that when I walked into the room it made the room stink. People could get away with stuff like that. Nobody came to my defence in those groups. I was lucky though because all of that time there was still a little nugget inside me of who I was. I was so demoralized that it was hard for me to hold a job. I got a degree at the university during this time. God knows how. I had been an outstanding student before university but in Toronto I just passed. I also lost my teaching job even after I had tenure because I just couldn’t do it.
In the early 80s one day Lea came over to 82 Admiral with her whole entourage for a visit. I happened to be around. It was my home but I was asked to leave the living room because they were talking about something that I wasn’t to hear. I was so angry that I walked out of the house and got an apartment at 81 Kendal. I started studying the violin with an Israeli woman who started my deprogramming. She would tell me that the Therafields people were crazy and they would tell me that she was crazy. They didn’t want me to have anything to do with her. My therapist gave me a hard time about seeing her. When I moved over to Kendal I tried to enter the local lesbian community but didn’t have the skills to do it. I had lost 15 years.
My ultimate break came over Ka school. I had a pretty good sense of what was happening. I was good friends with one of the men who lived at 59 Admiral. All of a sudden I wasn’t allowed in the house. All sorts of people weren’t allowed in there and weird things were happening. I started to see what was happening in Therafields though I still didn’t feel good about myself. I was very supportive of the parents who removed their children from the school in 1980 and was roundly criticized for this by one of the women in my former house group. I told her that it was none of her business where I went or who I visited. She said that I was being taken in by the powers of darkness. That was the beginning of the end for me. I hated her for a long time but that’s gone now.
Eventually the relationship with my violin teacher was as destructive as the Therafields thing. I was very vulnerable after Therafields and she used me. I was an empty shell, a marionette. The one good thing she did was to force me to reconnect with my parents. I am forever grateful for that. My parents came running though my mother never recovered. She was cruel to me over the next few years. She was angry with me and wanted to get back at me. I had a good conversation with my father about the whole thing. I told him how hard it had been for me in Therafields. He said -- you’ve always had a great sense about injustice. That’s what would have driven you crazy – the hierarchy and the inequalities.
In 1983-4 I started getting very sick. I had a kind of breakdown. I met a fantastic psychiatrist who helped me to put the pieces back together. I saw her two or three times a week and went on an MAO for depression. I saw her for 5 or 6 years. She was very supportive of my relationship with my new girl friend after I had met her. Basically what she did for me was to remind me of who I was before Therafields – my politics and the songs I loved, and I started to heal. I told her in an early session that I had been treated for 15 years for being psychopathic and a paranoid devourer. She just laughed and said I wasn’t the least like that.”
This woman’s experiences underline some of the ways that individuals could be treated if they varied significantly from norms that were accepted by Lea, by therapists close to her, and by extension, within the community. Her reference to the inequity between conditions at the Willow and at the farm where most worked and took their meals bears closer examination. In my next post I will look at these inequities.