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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.

1 Oppression and suppression of the sexual deviant, 1939–1967 I would sometimes question the treatments we were giving. [. . .] Then I would get home and turn on the television [. . .] and all over it was either ‘homosexuals should be accepted’, or ‘homosexuality is illegal, it is wrong, these people are irredeemable.’ And thank goodness; ‘psychiatry is trying to do something about it.’ [. . .] I just didn’t know who was right and what was wrong, it left me very perplexed.1 Introduction Nurses caring for patients receiving treatments for sexual deviations

in ‘Curing queers’
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Epilogue The APA’s 1974 decision to remove homosexuality from its DSM, along with social protests and a newly emerged gay liberation movement, eventually led to the curtailment of medical treatments to cure homosexuality. A conservative turn in the 1980s, however, provided the cultural and social foundations to reclassify homosexuality as a contagious pathology, and this could offer a context to explain why the WHO took a further eighteen years before it mirrored the APA’s decision to remove homosexuality from its diagnostic manual. In 1981, the Centre of

in ‘Curing queers’

5 Liberation, 1957–1974 Many members of the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] can testify to the ineffectiveness of aversion therapy in reorientation of their sexual desires and to the totally destructive effect [this] has had on their personality and adjustment. Our plan, therefore, is for homosexuals seeking advice from you to be given reassurances from you that they are fully capable of living a full, worthwhile and happy life and that many other men and women are doing just that. This positive attitude substituted for attempts to provide treatment and cure will

in ‘Curing queers’
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’.7 What Percival had agreed to was to undergo aversion therapy in a bid to cure him of his homosexuality. The behaviour of the police officer was not unusual and entrapment by undercover police officers during the 1950s and 1960s was common practice.8 Nurses were frequently involved in administering aversion therapies to cure such individuals of what were seen as their ‘sexual deviations’.9 The heart of this book is primarily focused on such characters and narratives, which will be used as a way of interrogating questions of experience, motivation, feeling and

in ‘Curing queers’

innovative therapies in a bid to gain an insight into the culture and practices within which the mental hospitals’ nurses were working during the 1930s to the 1950s. In doing so, it offers a framework to explain how nurses became accustomed to administering treatments which caused pain and distress to patients. The chapter also explores the hitherto hidden history of gay life among male homosexual nurses within mental hospitals and deconstructs the contentious dichotomy of these nurses 91 ‘Curing queers’ administering treatments for patients ‘suffering’ from the same

in ‘Curing queers’

subterfuge when she nursed a homosexual patient who had been admitted to her ward on a court order: I was working nights in my last year before retirement when I nursed ***** [name of patient receiving chemical aversion therapy for homosexuality]. I can still remember his name. Now I had always prided myself for showing the utmost of respect, courtesy and empathy for the patients in my care and it sickened me knowing what we had to do to him in the futile hope 181 ‘Curing queers’ of  making him heterosexual. I just thought: ‘Where is the treatment in that?’ I just couldn

in ‘Curing queers’
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Concluding remarks It is fairly clear that the nurses in this study did not deliberately set out to inflict pain and distress on homosexuals and transvestites in their care. A variety of circumstantial factors provided momentum for the development and implementation of medical ‘treatments’ to ‘cure’ these individuals. The medicalisation of sexual deviation can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. However, World War II appears to have been a critical point in this medicalisation. In spite of the war exposing the British to different and more liberal

in ‘Curing queers’

pain, either on people in general or on a particular group, such as homosexuals in particular . . . In its present stages the treatment is experimental, and until it has been found either to fulfil its purpose or, on the other hand, to be unsuccessful, it must remain a necessity for all concerned with its administration to look at it carefully and make their own decisions about their participation.5 146 ‘Subordinate nurses’ Furthermore, in 1941 a working party was set up by the Ministry of Health, under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Wood, to review the position

in ‘Curing queers’

homosexuality are stellar examples of categories of experience that have undergone de-medicalization. Historical epistemology & modern Chinese medicine 13 Meanwhile, the shortcomings of the medicalization thesis have been illuminated most clearly in the various projects of Canguilhem and Foucault to historicize the discursive formation of knowledge at the intersections of biology, medicine, and the human sciences. This is because sociological studies of medicalization have tended to neglect the epistemological developments in the history of medicine. Although

in Historical epistemology and the making of modern Chinese medicine