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Surveilling the Mind and Body: Medicalising and De-medicalising Homosexuality in 1970s New Zealand

  • James E. Bennett (a1) and Chris Brickell (a2)

‘Medicalisation’ of same sex relations is a phenomenon that reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. The rise of gay liberation produced a divisive political contest with the psychiatric profession and adherents of the orthodox ‘medical model’ in the United States and – to a lesser extent – in the United Kingdom. This socio-historical process occurred throughout the English-speaking world, but much less is known about its dynamics in smaller countries such as New Zealand where the historiography on this issue is very sparse. The methodology situates New Zealand within a transnational framework to explore the circulation of medical theories and the critical responses they were met with. The article is anchored around three key local moments in the 1970s to consider the changing terrain on which ideas about homosexuality and psychiatry were constantly rearranged during this decade. This power struggle took a number of twists and turns, and the drive toward medicalisation alternated with a new impetus to de-medicalise same-sex sexuality.

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Our appreciation is extended to staff at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington – particularly Phil Parkinson and Roger Swanson – for guidance in use of the Lesbian and Gay Archives (LAGANZ), to staff of the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago, and to Bill Logan and Ralph Knowles for their suggestions in researching and writing this article. We also thank reviewers of the article for their thoughtful feedback.

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1. Bill Logan (for the Gay Task Force), ‘Doctors and Gays: A Difficult Relationship’, an unsolicited paper prepared for the National Conference on AIDS, Wellington Hospital, 12–13 November 1987, 2. MS 199, Lesbian and Gay Archives New Zealand (hereafter LAGANZ), Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), Wellington, New Zealand.

2. Knowles’ encounter with aversion therapy is told in a number of accounts, both published and unpublished including in the Christchurch-based gay liberation newsletter, Aequus. See Ralph Knowles, ‘Kick, Kill or Cure’, Aequus: Southern Gay Community Newsletter, 3 (May 1976), 10–12 (reprinted September 1978, 5, 17–20).

3. Ibid. (note 2). See the chapter ‘Ralph’ in B.R. Simon Rosser, Gay Catholics Down Under: The Journeys in Sexuality and Spirituality of Gay Men in Australia and New Zealand (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992), especially 16–17. ‘Enough to Make You Sick – Aversion Therapy’, Queer History New Zealand, (accessed 16 November 2015). Also see an anonymous account outlined in G. Ngaei, ‘Homosexuality and it’s [sic] Implications’ (Social and Preventive Medicine for the Third Professional Examination for the Degree, University of Otago, 1967), 19–22. The subject in this account was Ralph Knowles. Personal communication with Ralph Knowles, 28 February 2017.

4. Similarly, there is still a significant gap in knowledge about our understanding of how homosexual people were treated in psychiatric institutions, which was commonplace before social attitudes began to liberalise in the late 1960s. See Ivan Crozier, review of Tommy Dickinson, ‘Curing Queers’: Mental Nurses and their Patients, 1935–74 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), H-Histsex (H-Net Reviews) (December 2015).

5. See B. James, ‘Case of Homosexuality Treated by Aversion Therapy’, British Medical Journal, 1 (1962), 768–70; B. James and D. Early, ‘Aversion Therapy for Homosexuality’, British Medical Journal, 1, (1963), 538.

6. See T. Dickinson, ‘Curing Queers’: Mental Health Nurses and their Patients, 1935–74 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), especially 67 and 69, and M. King, G. Smith and A. Bartlett, ‘Treatments of Homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s – An Oral History: The Experience of Professionals’, BMJ, 328 (2004), doi:10.1136/bmj.37984.496725.EE.

7. Bayer, R., Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 13. J. Drescher and J.P. Merlino (eds), American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2007), see especially xvii and 2.

8. Dickinson, op. cit. (note 6), 211.

9. Ibid., 222. A parallel diagnostic tool called the ICD was established by the World Health Organization and used interchangeably with the DSM in the UK. Significantly, homosexuality was not formally removed from this classification paradigm until publication of the 10th edn of the ICD in 1992. See Dickinson, op. cit. (note 6), 242–3.

10. We are indebted to Ivan Crozier for this observation.

11. King et al., op. cit. (note 6).

12. Lewis, A., ‘“We Are Certain of Our Own Insanity”: Antipsychiatry and the Gay Liberation Movement’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 25 (2016), 83113.

13. Ibid., 84.

14. See, for example, G. Willett, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2000), especially 101–7; E. Wilson, “‘Someone who is sick and in need of help”: medical attitudes to homosexuality in Australia, 1960–79’, in S. Robinson (ed.), Homophobia: An Australian History (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2008), 148–71; E. Wilson, ‘Homosexual health hazards”: public discourse on homosexuality and medicine in Australia, 1973–84’, in Y. Smaal and G. Willett (eds), Out Here: Gay and Lesbian Perspectives VI (Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2011), 69–87.

15. Willett, Living out Loud, ibid., 102, 104. For a first-hand account of the debate with psychiatrists who practised aversion therapy – with particular reference to McConaghy – see Sue Wills, ‘The Politics of Sexual Liberation’ (unpublished PhD thesis: University of Sydney, 1981), especially 87–91.

16. See D. Altman, Homosexual Oppression and Liberation (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1971; citations from 2012 edn, 141–2.

17. Willett, G., ‘Psyched In: Psychology, Psychiatry and Homosexuality in Australia’, Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 1 (2005), 5357.

18. Ibid., 55. Willett, op. cit. (note 14), 101–7.

19. Guy, L., ‘“Straightening the Queers”: Medical Perspectives on Homosexuality in Mid-Twentieth Century New Zealand’, Health and History, 2 (2000), 101120.

20. D. Lupton, ‘Foucault and the medicalisation critique’, in Alan Petersen and Robin Brunton, Foucault, Health and Medicine (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 94–110: 100 and 103.

21. J. Terry, ‘Theorizing deviant historiography: feminist theoretical lineages of deviant historiography: a retrospective preface’, in A. Shapiro (ed.), Feminists (Re)Vision History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,1994), 276–303: 289.

22. We owe this understanding of cultural change to Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Chatto & Windus, 1961).

23. The College is but one of a number of joint Australian and New Zealand colleges for health professionals that are responsible for the maintenance of professional standards.

24. Rubenstein, W.D. and Rubenstein, H., Menders of the Mind: A History of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, 1946–96 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996), 12, 41.

25. Rubenstein and Rubenstein, ibid., 41–4.

26. See, for example, J.D. Denford, ‘The Psychodynamics of Homosexuality’, New Zealand Medical Journal, 66 (1967), 743–4.

27. Philipp, E., ‘Homosexuality as seen in a New Zealand City Practice’, New Zealand Medical Journal, 67 (1968), 397405. There is a wider literature responding to homosexuality as a social category rather than a medical condition. See, for example, M. Mackintosh, ‘The Homosexual Role’, Social Problems, 16 (1968), 182–92.

28. Philipp, ibid., 397.

29. Submission by NZ Branch of ANZCP on the Crimes Amendment Bill, 13 November 1974. University Gay Liberation, Auckland. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-69, ATL.

30. Turkel, G., ‘Michel Foucault: Law, Power and Knowledge’, Journal of Law and Society, 17 (1990), 170193.

31. NZ Branch of ANZCP, op. cit. (note 29).

32. Wilson, ‘Homosexual Health Hazards’, op. cit. (note 14), 72–3.

33. Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry, Clinical Memorandum No. 6, ‘Homosexuality’, Melbourne. October 1973.

34. Ibid.

35. Rubenstein and Rubenstein, op. cit. (note 24), 44; ANZCP, op. cit. (note 33).

36. Willett, op. cit. (note 14), 103; Rubenstein and Rubenstein, op. cit. (note 24), 44.

37. See Submission on Crimes Amendment Bill from NZ Psychological Society, Otago University, 27 September 1974, LAGANZ-PAM 729.75 NZ Psy, ATL.

38. On Wolfenden see B. Lewis, Wolfenden’s Witnesses: Homosexuality in Postwar Britain (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2016). For responses to Wolfenden in New Zealand, see J.E. Bennett, ‘Keeping the Wolfenden from the Door? Homosexuality and the “Medical Model” in New Zealand’, Social History of Medicine, 23 (2009), 134–52.

39. See editorial comment on Crimes Amendment Bill (1975), Aequus, 2 (July 1975), 1.

40. Burke, C., Diversity or Perversity? Queer Narratives, Resistance and Representation in New Zealand, 1948–2000 (Saarbrücken: Verlag Dr Müller (VDM), 2009), 44, 64, 81.

41. Star, 8 November 1968, Homosexuality – newspaper clippings and reports. Leonie Jean Neill. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-579-03, ATL.

42. Burke, op. cit. (note 40), 49–50. Logan, op. cit. (note 1).

43. Auckland University Gay Liberation. Submissions to the Parliamentary Select Commitee [sic] on the Crimes Amendment Bill 1974. (Auckland, 1974), 2.

44. Guy, L., Worlds in Collision: The Gay Debate in New Zealand 1960–86 (Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press, 2002), 83.

45. Brickell, C., Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand (Auckland: Random House, 2008), 298.

46. Guy, op. cit. (note 44), 87.

47. Editorial, Aequus, 3 (May 1976), 5. ‘Aequus’ is a Latin word that translates here as ‘equality’. The community newsletter proclaimed its mission as one dedicated to ‘the rightful equality of gay men and women with all other men and women’.

48. See, for example, Patrick Blanchard in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (NZPD), 399 (3 July 1975), 2773 and the Hon. Michael Connolly in NZPD, 399 (3 July 1975), 2779–80. Unlike most democracies, New Zealand has a unicameral legislature, which meant that all parliamentary debate occurred in the House of Representatives.

49. Connolly, ibid., 2779. Although Connolly was not more specific in his attribution of this line of argument, it is likely he was referring to Flinders University psychologist, Dr John Court, who was an ‘outspoken’ member of the ‘evangelical’ Moral Action Committee. See C. Parker and P. Sendziuk, ‘The Duncan case and the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in South Australia 1972’, in Smaal and Willett, op. cit. (note 14).

50. Aequus, 5 (February 1978), 9.

51. Wall would go on to be Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1985 to 1987.

52. Brickell, C., ‘Sex Education, Homosexuality and Social Contestation in 1970s New Zealand’, Sex Education, 7 (2007), 391.

53. Brickell, C., ‘Sexuality, morality and society’, in Byrnes, G. (ed.), The New Oxford History of New Zealand (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), 465486.

54. New Zealand Truth, 10 July 1979, 4.

55. Dr Gerald Wall, 3 July 1975, NZPD, Vol. 399, 2786–8.

56. Venn Young, 3 July 1975, NZPD, Vol. 399, 2767. ‘The Crimes Amendment Bill’, Aequus, 2 (June 1975), 10–12.

57. C.W. Dearden to Robert Muldoon, 29 May 1975, Personal Papers of Professor Anthony J.W. Taylor relating to Homosexual Law Reform, 1962–75, LAGANZ-MS-Papers-294, ATL.

58. Aldrich, R., Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art and Homosexual Fantasy (London: Routledge, 1993); S. Brady, John Addington Symonds and Homosexuality: A Critical Edition of Sources (New York: Palgrave, 2012); Brickell, op. cit. (note 45), 49–50 and passim.

59. Willett, op. cit. (note 14), 104, 107.

60. Donnelly was the most multifaceted of this group of eminent supporters. He was variously a Catholic priest, academic in the field of health sciences, writer, social activist and commentator – particularly on issues related to human sexuality.

61. Aequus, 6 (September 1979), 10.

62. Ibid., 5 (March 1978), 4.

63. Willett, op. cit. (note 14), 104.

64. Turkel, op. cit. (note 30), 172.

65. Salient, 37 (1974).

66. See, for instance, J. Aitken, ‘Exposé: The “Moyle Affair” in Public Discourse’ (BA Hons dissertation, University of Otago, 2011); New Zealand Truth, 24 August 1976, 1; New Zealand Truth, 18 January 1977, 1 and 3.

67. Open letter from Rae Dellaca, President Gay Liberation, VUW Students’ Association to Norman Kirk, PM, 9 July 1974. Gay Liberation Wellington, 1972–5. Correspondence 1972–5. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-77-04, ATL.

68. LeVay, S., The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 213214.

69. A local branch of the British Medical Association was founded in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, which continued until 1967.

70. Gay Liberation (VUW Students’ Association) Press release, 10 July 1974. Gay Liberation Wellington, 1972–5. Press releases. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-77-06, ATL.

71. On guilt and shame in patients presenting to psychiatrists, see D.J. West, Homosexuality: A Frank and Practical Approach to the Social and Medical Aspects of Male Homosexuality (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960), 47–8.

72. On the latter see, for instance, L. Featherstone and A. Kaladelfos, Sex Crimes in the Fifties (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2016), 176–8.

73. Willett, op. cit. (note 14), 107.

74. Probyn, E., Blush: Faces of Shame (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 2.

75. Brookes, B., ‘Shame and its Histories in the Twentieth Century’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 9 (2010), 41.

76. Altman, op. cit. (note 16), 12.

77. Aequus, 2 (August 1975), 7–8.

78. M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (London: Penguin, 1978), 101.

79. Hacking, I., ‘Kinds of people: moving targets’, Proceedings of the British Academy: 2006 Lectures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 285318 and 466–7.

80. Aequus, 3 (March 1976), 14.

81. See, for example, ibid., 5 (June 1978), 18.

82. Aequus5 (June 1978), 17.

83. ‘Gay Way – Why Persecute Us?’, New Zealand Truth, 16 November 1976, 45.

84. Donnelly, F.C., ‘The Doctor and the Homosexual’, New Zealand Medical Journal, 83 (1976), 323.

85. Auckland University Gay Liberation, op. cit. (note 43), 4.

86. LeVay, op. cit. (note 68), 224. See letter from APA to Paul R. Smith, 29 December 1976 with attached press release dated 15 December 1973, LAGANZ-MS-Papers-514, ATL.

87. Information flyer prepared by National Gay Rights Coalition of NZ, 1978. Wellington Gay Liberation Papers 1976–81. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-77-32 relating to 1978 National Gay Rights Coalition survey of electorates, ATL.

88. Donnelly, F., ‘Factors in the homosexuality of some New Zealand males’ (Photocopy of thesis for Diploma in Criminology, 1970). Chris Parkin Papers. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-109-14, ATL.

89. Michael Waghorne to Mental Health Foundation. Waghorne Correspondence 1977–83. LAGANZ-MS-Papers-517, ATL.

90. Survey letter, 21 April 1977. Dudley Pollard, Coordinator, Gay Liberation Wellington. Return on Survey of RNZCP, LAGANZ MS-Papers-77-28, ATL.

91. Return on Survey of RNZC Psych, ibid.

92. National Gay Rights Coalition of NZ 1978, op. cit. (note 87).

93. Return on Survey of RNZC Psych, op. cit. (note 90).

94. Philipp, op. cit. (note 27), 401.

95. Return on Survey of RNZC Psych, op. cit. (note 90).

96. Return on Survey of RNZC Psych, op. cit. (note 90).

97. Donnelly, op. cit. (note 84), 323. Bennett, op. cit. (note 38), especially 146. J. Terry, American Obsession: Science, Medicine and Homosexuality in Modern Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 11–12.

98. King, Bartlett and Glennie, op. cit. (note 6).

99. Gay Liberation Wellington, Survey of Psychiatrists and Psychologists 1977, LAGANZ MS-Papers-077-27, ATL.

100. Brickell, op. cit. (note 45), ch. 5.

101. Logan, op. cit. (note 1), 2.

102. For a more general discussion of psychiatry and the manufacture of mental illness in 21st-century China, see H. Yi-Jui Wu, ‘The Moral Career of Outmates: Towards a History of Manufactured Mental Disorders in Post-Socialist China’, Medical History, 60 (2016), 87–104.

103. King, M. and Bartlett, A., ‘British Psychiatry and Homosexuality’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 175 (1999), 106113.

104. In 2009 the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, issued an unequivocal apology for the treatment of Turing. This was followed in 2012 with a posthumous Royal pardon for his conviction in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’.

105. See, for example, Patrick Strudwick, ‘This Gay Man Was Given Repeated Electric Shocks by British Doctors to Make Him Straight’, BuzzFeed, 30 September 2017, (accessed 2 October 2017).

106. King and Bartlett, op. cit. (note 103), 111.

107. Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Statement on Sexual Orientation, Position Statement PS02/2014, April 2014. (accessed 3 October 2017).

Our appreciation is extended to staff at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington – particularly Phil Parkinson and Roger Swanson – for guidance in use of the Lesbian and Gay Archives (LAGANZ), to staff of the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago, and to Bill Logan and Ralph Knowles for their suggestions in researching and writing this article. We also thank reviewers of the article for their thoughtful feedback.

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