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Mental nurses and their patients, 1935–74
Author: Tommy Dickinson

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.

Tommy Dickinson

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’
Abstract only
Tommy Dickinson

because they reduced the degree of voluntariness on the part of the patient. These mixed public discourses of sexual deviation also created uncertainty for the nurses in this study. The nurses were also exposed to a number of contextual factors in their clinical practice, which may have influenced their decision to administer aversion therapy to cure sexual deviations. The introduction of the Mental Treatment Act 1930 brought a wave of therapeutic optimism around the possibility of curative treatment for mental patients. This led to the introduction of new somatic

in ‘Curing queers’
Tommy Dickinson

them steadfastly objected or refused to administer treatments for sexual deviations, some nurses, ­nevertheless, took huge professional risks, and did c­ overtly ­question the orders they were given for the sake of their patients. They did this by engaging in what can be described as furtive and s­ ubversive ­behaviours to avoid administering treatments for sexual deviations. This chapter seeks to explore and describe these nurses’ ­experiences when bending the rules in regard to ­administering ­aversion therapy, and the meaning they attached to these ­rule

in ‘Curing queers’
Abstract only
Tommy Dickinson

’.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’
Tommy Dickinson

mental nurse. He recalls working with a fellow soldier during the war who was homosexual: I remember one young chap who I served with in the 1940 Campaign in France. He was overtly camp and didn’t really hide it. He was a good source of entertainment for us; he could always be relied upon to lighten the mood. I had never met an overtly gay person before, but if he ‘had my back’ then I had his I suppose. It opened my mind and I was less prejudiced against it. That is why I really struggled once I was expected to administer aversion therapies to the poor chaps later on.7

in ‘Curing queers’
Tommy Dickinson

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’
Early medical writing on drink
James Nicholls

anticipated some modern approaches, such as calling for drinkers to renounce alcohol in front of their peers, and to ‘give up [themselves] to the government of some other’.30 He also suggested drinking a cup of wormwood after every ‘cup of excess’, though how effective this form of aversion therapy was in practice we have no way of knowing. Baxter’s work was certainly not typical of his time, but the extensive and detailed discussion of motivation, psychology, cause and cure contained in his ‘directions against drunkenness’ illustrates the fact that such approaches were

in The politics of alcohol
Tommy Dickinson

Work and practice of mental nurses, 1930–1959 to administering treatments which were unpleasant, painful and distressing for the patients receiving them. This could provide a possible interpretation for some nurses’ a­ cceptance of aversion therapy in later years. The World War II years In the early 1940s, many nurses were called up, including some who were still in training, and assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps.93 Nationwide, psychiatric hospitals were cleared of patients in order to accommodate the large numbers of soldiers with war-induced mental health

in ‘Curing queers’
The revolutionary left and gay politics
Graham Willett

stereotypes and norms’, ‘the male dominated family’. And it proposed a seven-point programme of demands – an end to discrimination in jobs and housing, and to the treatment of homosexuality as a disease or sickness (including the use of aversion therapy), the right to free sex change and associated medical treatment, an end to exclusively heterosexual sex education in schools, the right to display affection in public places, an age of consent of 16 rather than 21, the abolition of legal discrimination including police harassment. Duncan Hallas, the National Secretary

in Against the grain