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  • Manchester History of Medicine x
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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.

a context to explain why treatments for sexual deviations came to be developed and implemented. World War II The start of World War II and mobilisation meant that men who had never been away from home suddenly found themselves on the move. They were mixing with other people of their own age and 39 ‘Curing queers’ were responsible only to themselves – it is not surprising to find that the war created new sexual experiences and shaped more liberal attitudes towards variations in sexual desires.3 During the first year of the war many male nurses were called up for

in ‘Curing queers’
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age of 21 should be decriminalised. A further recommendation was 231 ‘Curing queers’ that medical treatments should be made available to homosexuals to cure them of their disorder – reinforcing the notion that homosexuality was the result of an ingrained condition, which could be cured. Following Wolfenden there was a distinct altering of notions about homosexuality from a criminal perspective to understandings of the subject as pathology. This was coupled with what Chris Waters describes as the ‘therapeutic state’, based on the belief that experts, with their

in ‘Curing queers’
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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’

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’

for homosexuals between 1957, when the report was published, and 1964 when the Director of Public Prosecutions intervened, and requested that the police ‘ease off ’ these individuals.6 Resistance to homosexual law reform was observed in a number of ways and many reformers were ironically using the same language of illness, sin and despair as those opposing legal change.7 However, British society was undergoing a rapid if uneven transformation by the mid-1960s. The homosexual may have been considered unusual, 201 ‘Curing queers’ but the unusual was in vogue, and

in ‘Curing queers’

and participation in aversion therapy for sexual deviations. 145 ‘Curing queers’ Nurses, experimentation and obedience to orders In the original paper by Basil James, discussed in Chapter 1, he expressed his ‘appreciation of the way in which the nursing staff co-operated so fully in the treatment’.2 At a time when nursing was seen as subservient to the medical profession, it is arguable whether this was cooperation or obedience to his orders. One of the nurses to whom the paper refers is Gilbert Davies. He was interviewed for this book, and was asked about his

in ‘Curing queers’

-bending ­behaviours. The chapter also analyses how some of these behaviours can be seen as being gendered in nature: nurses  were not simply  passing as nurses, they enacted ­particular types of masculinity and ­femininity which they deemed to be ­appropriate to evade being caught or s­ uspected of disobeying those in authority. 179 ‘Curing queers’ Subversion and nursing Subversive practice on the part of nurses is not a new phenomenon. While it was established in Chapter 3 that many nurses under Nazi rule engaged in some barbaric and unethical practices by obeying orders from

in ‘Curing queers’
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into intimate 241 ‘Curing queers’ contact with the gay community, and once again medicine was compelling homosexual men to examine their behaviour.2 The media were shaping a lot of public perception regarding the epidemic, and headlines such ‘Gay Plague’ characterised gay men as plague bearers who were highly contagious.3 Press coverage such as this created a backlash against homosexuals in the 1980s and served to confirm all the lingering prejudices, which had lain dormant during the 1970s. ‘Andy’ recalls, ‘It was OK to hate gay people again because we carried a

in ‘Curing queers’

, sexual desire and existential nausea. As J. G. Sperling has observed, despite being well known in eighteenth-century sentimental iconography, the vision of the body and sexuality that emerges from ‘roman charity’ is highly troubling. ‘It eroticises maternity and queers our understanding of practices of lactation’, she writes, but also represents ‘an incestuous boundary violation … a quintessential figure of perversion and dissent.’93 As Gladfelder argues, Sir William’s disgust is a reaction ‘not to monstrous otherness, but to self-recognition’: Buralt is ‘a reflection

in Bellies, bowels and entrails in the eighteenth century