Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 28 April, 1997

A MEMORY OF DR. EVELYN HOOKER

By Jim Kepner

 

Few gays today know that 30 years ago we were virtual wards of the psychiatric profession. They had the power to explain us to the world, to pronounce us sick, and to subject those of us who fell into their hands to any treatments then fashionable: "therapy," imprisonment, castration, shock treatment, etc. While many of them sincerely wished to help, and a few of them did, they mostly labeled us as neurotic or psychotic, unstable and fixated at an infantile level of sexuality--and raged at us when we rejected their judgment.

Two persons did the most to revolutionize that: Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, whose massive statistical surveys of the sex behavior of American men and women published in 1948 and 1953 proved homosexuality to be more widespread than supposed, and that homosexuals did not conform to the "stages of development" claimed by psychoanalyst; and Dr. Evelyn Gentry Hooker, of the UCLA Department of Psychology, who died November 18, 1996 at her home in Santa Monica, at 89, after a long illness. Gay historian Eric Marcus called her "the Rosa Parks of the Gay rights movement."

Born Evelyn Gentry in 1907 in a North Platte, Nebraska, sod house, she became the studious, self-conscious, six foot tall ugly duckling among nine children of a dirt-poor farm family. On a scholarship to the University of Colorado, Boulder, she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology, then a doctorate at Johns Hopkins. An attack of TB sent her to sunny Whittier College, followed by a fellowship at the Institute for Psychology in Berlin, where she roomed with a Jewish family, witnessed the Nazi takeover, and was horrified by the young Nazi students. After a brief trip to the Soviet Union, she and several other faculty members were "purged" as suspected subversives back at Whittier. She taught psychology at UCLA Extension during the war, but a divorce sent her briefly to Bryn Mawr, a prestigious woman's college in Pennsylvania. She soon returned to UCLA, married and outlived Dr. Edward Hooker, an English Literature Department expert on the poet Dryden.

While teaching psychology at UCLA and living in Gay Santa Monica Canyon, it hadn't occurred to her that the derogatory textbook paragraphs about homosexuals would apply to friends and neighbors: Albert Grossman, Charles Aufdeheide, philosopher Gerald Heard and novelist Christopher Isherwood. Her pioneering research was urged on her by a particularly bright student, Sam From, who, impressed by her tremendous energy and humanity, challenged her to get acquainted with his friends and their lives, to study them and put to the test what psychiatrists were saying about them. He told his friends she was like "another Eleanor Roosevelt," urging them all to meet her.

In 1952 Sam and his lover took the Hookers on a San Francisco bar hopping trip, including Finnochio's famous drag show. He insisted she had a duty to do an impartial study of "people like us." Some colleagues encouraged her. Others said it would be the end of her career. She at first didn't know how to systematize it.

Determined to approach the subject scientifically, she applied for and received a National Institute of Mental Health grant (the man in charge flew out to make sure she was not Lesbian, then recommended funding her study.) She set up a controlled experiment to test the accepted view that Gays were by definition neurotic, unstable, infantile, and identifiable. "Projective tests" in wide use were assumed to be able to identify homosexual leanings, even in persons who didn't know they had them, and to prove that homosexuals were neurotic. Thousands had lost government and private jobs for seeing the "wrong" thing in the eight Rorschach inkblots (tell the shrink what the shapes remind you of--witch, lion, airplane crash, storm brewing, etc.) or for giving the "wrong" responses to the Thematic Apperception Test's (TAT) banal cartoons of domestic life, (wife taking turkey from oven, slovenly husband reading newspaper, infants playing or fighting on the floor, visitors seen through the window, approaching the house) from which testees were to "write a story." Certain answers were interpreted as showing the testee was homosexual or mentally disturbed.

In 1953, the pioneer homophile groups Mattachine and ONE helped her recruit 74 exclusively Gay men who'd never been in therapy or in trouble with the law. Finding volunteers for such a study during the McCarthy era was terribly difficult---but she had the hardest time finding 30 heterosexual men to match roughly on cultural levels with 30 of the homosexuals. She gave the matched pairs the Rorschach, TAT and other tests, and took the results blind to top experts who were sure they could identify homosexuals from the test results alone. Asked to evaluate the responses, they could not tell which were by homosexuals. They "knew" that all homosexuals were maladjusted, but rated two more than half of the Gays as better adjusted than the heteros! This astonished even Hooker. The tests showed no difference between the Gay and the non-Gay groups. Her study disproved many homophobic assumptions made universally by psychologists at the time and proved that these tests, taken alone, could not identify homosexuals. Whether that meant that Gays were psychologically indistinguishable from heterosexuals, as she concluded, or that the tests were worthless research tools, she sounded the death knell for these tests. Her repeated personal interviews with these and many other gay men demonstrated that they were, with few exceptions, talented, well-adjusted, intelligent.

She published her then highly-controversial results in two careful articles, "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual," in the Journal of Projective Techniques, 1957 and 1958, and kept in touch for years with those she'd interviewed, becoming intimate with Gay life (she never got inside a Gay bath), combining scientific objectivity with warmth, commitment and humor. She spoke widely, infuriating professional homophobes such as Dr. Albert Ellis, who disliked having their vested bias challenged. Ellis said the only adjusted homosexual he'd met was trying to become hetero. She became convinced that the subject would better be approached from a sociological viewpoint. In the Journal of Psychology, 1956, her "Preliminary Analysis of Group Behavior of Homosexuals" looked at how the Gay community gives support for those who didn't find it in their early background, thereby improving their behavior and attitudes.

She'd given her original 74 interviewees George Stern's "Chicago Inventory of Belief," designed to single out three major personality syndromes. This resulted in her May 1954 paper, "Inverts Are Not a Distinct Personality Type," read to the Western Psychological Association, and reported in The Mattachine Review issue #1.

Only one of the 74 belonged to the S type (common among heterosexuals) rigid, conforming, orderly and accepting of authority. This type's relations are depersonalized, seeking gratification without regarding others' needs. Few of these 74 conformed, accepted authority, and depersonalized their relationships. 13% fell in the extreme opposite N type--"highly individualized and personalized relationships, rejection of authority, rich and spontaneous impulse life, flexible, non-conforming behavior." 16% fell in the independent R category, more interested in ideas than in persons, passive and restrained in impulse, enjoying intellect and abstraction. 30% fit no category in the Stern system. Hooker reported the other 40% were borderline, mostly close to N and R, suggesting that:

(1) Homosexuals vary widely in personality structure, and do not constitute a distinct clinical entity.

(2) The largest cluster of individuals is in or near the R type--interested in ideas rather than persons, distant and restrained, perhaps unlike homosexuals seen in clinical situations. Most of the 74 have worked in an organization--which may make them atypical. Successful homosexuals who have, despite or because of their homosexuality, been able to attain eminence in scientific or artistic fields, may tend to be interested in ideas more than personal relationships.

(3) Though it is often assumed that homosexuals are non-conformist, Hooker reported that non-conforming sex patterns may be accompanied by complete conformity in other attitudes and behaviors. She found the male homosexual picture is perplexing, and calls for intense clinical social studies of individuals and groups in the total homosexual culture.

Dr. Stanley Yolles, Director of the U.S. Public Health Service's National Institute of Mental Health, appointed Dr. Hooker in September, 1967 to head a Task Force on Homosexuality. Its 15 members included Chief Justice David Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals; U.S.C. professor of psychiatry, Judd Marmor, president of the American Psychiatric Association (who led the 1973 APA's reclassification of homosexuals); Professors Jerome Frank, Morris Ploscowe, Seward Hiltner, John Money, Edwin Schur and other prestigious specialists. However, she rejected well-qualified Martin Hoffman for the committee for fear his private gayness would be thought to invalidate the committee's impartiality. On October 10, 1969 the Task Force recommended, with minor dissents, additional research and education, intensive research on possible prevention and treatment factors, repeal of legal penalties on private, adult consensual homosexual acts, and the ending of employment discrimination. The Nixon Administration buried the report and fired Dr. Yolles. The report finally appeared in ONE Institute Quarterly of Homophile Studies' last issue, #22, in 1972.

A rawboned, forceful, woman, beginning to be bent by osteoporosis, Dr. Evelyn Hooker never quit chain smoking. She spoke often for ONE. Her moving talk high-lighted Metropolitan Community Church's inspiring 1971 dedication service at 22nd and Union. She was upset when some of us objected to experiments at UCLA to beat masculinity into effeminate small boys. She felt this would protect the boys from teasing and worse. Would she approve bleaching young Black kids to save them from racial bias? we asked. She didn't see that as analogous. Insisting Gays were wonderful and creative, she felt that everything should be done to shove teenagers who were "teetering on the fence" toward a life where they'd suffer less. She was on the initial committee which formed the (L.A.) Gay Community Services Center. The Center honored her in 1989. I've been with her when she was laughing, angry, or crying--or incredulous when telling how doctors in China had assured her there were no homosexuals there. I was once scheduled to be on a radio program with her and homophobic Police Chief Ed David. He refused to speak with me--an open Gay. She'd been imbibing from her flask, and gave him a tongue lashing.

In 1992, David Haughland made the moving documentary "Changing Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker." Shown on campuses and to community and professional groups, it was nominated for an Academy Award, but hasn't yet had general release. "Gives a kind of finality to one's life, doesn't it?" she told the L.A. Times, pleased with the documentary. "I don't exactly say my last good-bye to the world on film, but it does sum me up like nothing else."

After retiring from teaching in 1970, Dr. Hooker continued as a private therapist for ten years. She worked in the long battle to have the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association decide that homosexuals per se are not sick. The APA gave her its lifetime achievement award in 1992. She was Christopher Street West's Woman of the Year in 1976, receiving a garish trophy almost as large as she was. She was Grand Marshall of the Christopher Street West parade ten years later, calling that a high point of her life. The University of Chicago set up the Evelyn Hooker Center for the Mental Health of Gays and Lesbians. Sometimes confined to a wheelchair, she spent most of her later years, in between conferences and speaking engagements, in her small comfortable Santa Monica apartment, reviewing articles and books, reading and listening to music. She'd begun to pen her autobiography, but confessed, "I'm not a good writer." She always endlessly reworked her brief articles to get the wording just so, and hated interviewers who failed to quote her exactly. (A writer in ONE Magazine once chastised her for publishing so little--when what she had to say was so important.) She was edgy, in the 1950's, at being taken for a Lesbian, but later developed warm friendships with her Lesbian students. She denied being a hero, as many called her, but she added that even as a child, she knew she would do something to better the lot of mankind.

She'd demolished the prevailing dogma that homosexuals were inherently abnormal and helped legitimatize homosexuality as a field of study. At a moving memorial at UCLA, only ONE Institute/IGLA, of the Gay organizations which had honored her or been benefited by her work, appeared to be represented.

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Jim Kepner, acclaimed and loved by knowledgeable gay and lesbian scholars as an international treasure, is the Founder of ONE Institute's International Gay and Lesbian Archives. Living in Los Angeles, Kepner has spent fifty extraordinary years in the Gay and Lesbian Movement as an historian, activist, journalist and archivist. His incisive and carefully considered thoughts appeared in nearly every groundbreaking U.S. gay publication, including ONE Magazine and The Mattachine Review. The above article celebrating the life and work of Dr. Evelyn Hooker is reprinted from the ONE Institute International Gay and Lesbian Archives Bulletin, #3, 1997 for which Jim Kepner serves as Research Historian. His pioneering contributions to journalism will be published at the year's end by the Haworth Press, Inc., titled "Rough News--Daring Views: 1950's Pioneer Gay Press Journalism."

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