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Mental nurses and their patients, 1935–74

Anecdotal evidence of the testimonies of patients who received treatments for sexual deviations and medical attitudes towards them are scattered in the recorded accounts of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersex and queer/questioning (GLBTIQ) people. This book examines the plight of men who were institutionalised in British mental hospitals to receive 'treatment' for homosexuality and transvestism, and the perceptions and actions of the men and women who nursed them. It explores why the majority of the nurses followed orders in administering the treatment - in spite of the zero success-rate in 'straightening out' queer men - but also why a small number surreptitiously defied their superiors by engaging in fascinating subversive behaviours. The book is specifically about the treatments developed for sexual deviations in the UK. Transvestism was also treated fairly widely; however, not to the same extent as homosexuality. After an examination of the oppression and suppression of the sexual deviant, the introduction of aversion therapies for sexual deviance is considered. During the 1930s-1950s, mental health care witnessed a spirit of 'therapeutic optimism' as new somatic treatments and therapies were introduced in mental hospitals. The book also examines the impact these had on the role of mental nurses and explores how such treatments may have essentially normalised nurses to implement painful and distressing 'therapeutic' interventions . The book interprets the testimonies of these 'subversive nurses'. Finally, it explores the inception of 'nurse therapists' and discusses their role in administering aversion therapy.

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perception in relation to the use of aversion therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality and transvestism. 1 ‘Curing queers’ In this way, it seeks to offer fresh insight into both patients’ and nurses’ perspectives on these treatments. It uses testimonies of patients and nurses to explore the subject in ways that have not been attempted before, and to texture more broadly focused histories of these treatments and this period. This echoes recent moves towards ­micro-histories particularly when looking at sexuality and nursing, as a way of framing and answering questions about

in ‘Curing queers’

ideal was threatened by the concept of effeminacy and transvestism. Indeed, many simply yielded to the prevailing attitude of heterosexual domesticity, which was promoted within the film. Albert Holliday recalls how the pressure of this ‘propaganda’ largely influenced his decision to get married: It seemed that every film I watched and book I read made marriage look like such an attractive option. Maybe I was brainwashed [. . .] I didn’t want to be lonely and there were a lot of questions from my family regarding me getting married [. . .] I had met a girl at art

in ‘Curing queers’

colourful clothes, the mini-skirt and bikini for women and long hair for men, defied conventional norms of behaviour and appearance. Popular music was changing as the glam rock era emerged and David Bowie appeared as the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Peter Ackroyd argues that Bowie challenged traditional gender roles and made transvestism more broadly acceptable.42 There was also the emergence of anti-establishment thinking, including challenges to the institution of psychiatry with the emergence of the ‘counter-psychiatry’ movement.43 The ‘counter

in ‘Curing queers’

of the RMPA certificate for admission to the register. They also agreed to the inclusion of psychology in the syllabus at the request of the RMPA.213 Training mental nurses regarding ‘sexual deviations’ There is a dearth of literature in nursing textbooks during this period which discuss sexual deviations. The texts that do mention homosexuality and transvestism do so under the categories of ‘Sexual Perversions’, ‘Sexual Anomalies’ or ‘Sexual Disorders’.214 Furthermore, the emphasis in these texts appears to be on describing these disorders rather than training

in ‘Curing queers’

setting it up, and then putting a couple of electrodes on this lad’s body, and plugging him to this machine – it was even crueller than ECT. I remember the first time I saw it [aversion therapy for transvestism] I thought it was barbaric. And I remember asking the Charge Nurse: ‘By administering the shock where is the treatment?’ And of course this was regarded as an insolent and impertinent question at the time. Because it went outside the training and the training was set pieces of knowledge you regurgitated in exams, and if you were able to do that you were a

in ‘Curing queers’