Rob Frydlewicz: A Harsh Portrayal of Our Lives, Oct. 31, 1969

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Four months after the Stonewall riot ignited the gay liberation movement TIME Magazine ran a cover story on homosexuals titled "The Homosexual in America". It was perhaps the first time a magazine edited for the general public gave such attention to America's gay population.

Unfortunately, for the most part the article was an unflattering portrayal based on the prevailing attitudes at the time. Its condescending tone was somewhat similar to that of a CBS News documentary that aired two years earlier. Titled "The Homosexuals", it depicted its homosexual subjects as pitiable creatures.

Reading it today, parts of Time's article are amusing (e.g, "For many a woman with a busy or absent husband, the presentable homosexual is in demand as an escort — witty, pretty, catty, and no problem to keep at arm's length"), but for the most part it was a troubling depiction. Throughout the article the terms "homosexuals" and "deviates" were used interchangably. Perhaps its harsh tone was the Media's way of pushing back in response to the fledgling gay liberation movement taking shape.

Here are a few particularly wounding exceprts from the article:

  • The late Dr. Edmund Bergler found certain traits present in all homosexuals, including inner depression and guilt and irrational jealousy. Though Bergler conceded that homosexuals are not responsible for their inner conflicts, he found that these conflicts "sap so much of their inner energy that the shell is a mixture of superciliousness, fake aggression and whimpering. Like all psychic masochists, they are subservient when confronted by a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person."

  • The once widespread view that homosexuality is caused by heredity, or by some derangement of hormones, has been generally discarded. The consensus is that it is caused psychically, through a disabling fear of the opposite sex. The origins of this fear lie in the homosexual's parents. The mother — either domineering and contemptuous of the father, or feeling rejected by him — makes her son a substitute for her husband, with a close-binding, overprotective relationship. Thus, she unconsciously demasculinizes him.

And here is how the article concluded:

  • The life of a homsexual is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste — and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.

Ten years later Time would publish another gay-themed a cover story. Titled "How Gay Is Gay?", it offered a much more positive, and accurate, portrayal of our lives.

For more posts like this, Rob also writes a blog called ZeitGAYst.

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