How America Went Gay
by Charles W. Socarides, M.D.
Charles W. Socarides, M.D., (1/24/1922 - 12/25/2005)
was a clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of
Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He is president of
the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality,
and author of Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (Adam Margrave Books,
For more than 20 years, I and a few of my colleagues in the field of
psychoanalysis have felt like an embattled minority, because we have
continued to insist, against today's conventional wisdom, that gays
aren't born that way. We know that obligatory homosexuals are caught
up in unconscious adaptations to early childhood abuse and neglect
and that, with insight into their earliest beginnings, they can
change. This "adaptation" I speak of is a polite term for men going
through the motions of mating not with the opposite sex but with one
For most of this century, most of us in the helping professions
considered this behavior aberrant. Not only was it "off the track";
the people caught up in it were suffering, which is why we called it
a pathology. We had patients, early in their therapy, who would seek
out one sex partner after another-total strangers-on a single night,
then come limping into our offices the next day to tell us how they
were hurting themselves. Since we were in the business of helping
people learn how not to keep hurting themselves, many of us thought
we were quietly doing God's work.
Now, in the opinion of those who make up the so-called cultural
elite, our view is "out of date." The elite say we hurt people more
than we help them, and that we belong in one of the century's
dustbins. They have managed to sell this idea to a great many
Americans, thereby making homosexuality fashionable and raising
formerly aberrant behavior to the status of an "alternate
You see this view expressed in some places you would least expect.
The Pope says same-sex sex is wrong, but a good many of his own
priests in this country (some of whom are gay themselves) say the
Pope is wrong. Indeed, in much of academe and in many secondary
school classrooms gays are said to lead a new vanguard, the wave of
the future in a world that will be more demographically secure when
it has fewer "breeders" (which is what some gay activists call
heterosexuals these days).
How did this change come about? Well, the revolution did not just
happen. It has been orchestrated by a small band of very bright men
and women-most of them gays and lesbians-in a cultural campaign that
has been going on since a few intellectuals laid down the
ideological underpinnings for the entire tie-dyed,
try-anything-sexual Woodstock generation. In various ways, Theodore
Reich, Alfred Kinsey, Fritz Perls, Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse
and Paul Goodman preached a new countercultural gospel: "If it feels
good, do it."
It was all part of a plan, as one gay publication put it, "to make
the whole world gay." I am not making this up. You can read an
account of the campaign in Dennis Altman's The Homosexualization of
America. In 1982 Altman, himself gay, reported with an air of
elation that more and more Americans were thinking like gays and
acting like gays. There were engaged, that is, "in numbers of
short-lived sexual adventures either in place of or alongside
long-term relationships." Altman cited the heterosexual equivalents
of gay saunas and the emergence of the swinging singles scene as
proofs that "promiscuity and 'impersonal sex' are determined more by
social possibilities than by inherent differences between
homosexuals and heterosexuals, or even between men and women."
Heady stuff. Gays said they could "reinvent human nature, reinvent
themselves." To do this, these reinventors had to clear away one
major obstacle. No, they didn't go after the nation's clergy. They
targeted the members of a worldly priesthood, the psychiatric
community, and neutralized them with a radical redefinition of
homosexuality itself. In 1972 and 1973 they co-opted the leadership
of the American Psychiatric Association and, through a series of
political maneuvers, lies and outright flim-flams, they "cured"
homosexuality overnight-by fiat. They got the A.P.A. to say that
same-sex sex was "not a disorder." It was merely "a condition"-as
neutral as lefthandedness.
This amounted to a full approval of homosexuality. Those of us who
did not go along with the political redefinition were soon silenced
at our own professional meetings. Our lectures were canceled inside
academe and our research papers turned down in the learned journals.
Worse things followed in the culture at large. Television and movie
producers began to do stories promoting homosexuality as a
legitimate lifestyle. A gay review board told Hollywood how it
should deal or not deal with homosexuality. Mainstream publishers
turned down books that objected to the gay revolution. Gays and
lesbians influenced sex education in our nation's schools, and gay
and lesbian libbers seized wide control of faculty committees in our
nations' colleges. State legislatures nullified laws against sodomy.
If the print media paid any attention at all, they tended to hail
the gay revolution, possibly because many of the reporters on gay
issues were themselves gay and open advocates for the movement. And
those reporters who were not gay seemed too intimidated by
groupthink to expose what was going on in their own newsrooms.
And now, what happens to those of us who stand up and object? Gay
activists have already anticipated that. They have created a kind of
conventional wisdom: that we suffer from homophobia, a disease that
has actually been invented by gays projecting their own fear on
society. And we are bigots besides, because, they say, we fail to
deal with gays compassionately. Gays are now no different than
people born black or Hispanic or physically challenged. Since gays
are born that way and have no choice about their sexual orientation,
anyone who calls same-sex sex an aberration is now a bigot.
Un-American, too. Astoundingly now, college freshmen come home for
their first Thanksgiving to announce, "Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! We've
taken the high moral ground. We've joined the gay revolution."
My wife, Clare, who has an unerring aptitude for getting to the
heart of things, said one day recently in passing, "I think
everybody's being brainwashed." That gave me a start. I know
"brainwashing" is a term that has been used and overused. But my
wife's casual observation only reminded me of a brilliant tract I
had read several years ago and then forgotten. It was called After
the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in
the 1990's, by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen.
That book turned out to be the blueprint gay activists would use in
their campaign to normalize the abnormal through a variety of
brainwashing techniques once catalogued by Robert Jay Lifton in his
seminal work, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study
of Brainwashing in China.
In their book Kirk and Madsen urged that gay activists adopt the
very strategies that helped change the political face of the largest
nation on earth. The authors knew the techniques had worked in
China. All they needed was enough media-and enough money-to put them
to work in the United States. And they did. These activists got the
media and the money to radicalize America-by processes known as
desensitization, jamming and conversion.
They would desensitize the public by selling the notion that gays
were "just like everyone else." This would make the engine of
prejudice run out of steam, i.e., lull straights into an attitude of
They would jam the public by shaming them into a kind of guilt at
their own "bigotry." Kirk and Madsen wrote:
All normal persons feel shame when they perceive that they are not
thinking, feeling, or acting like one of the pack....The trick is to
get the bigot into the position of feeling a conflicting twinge of
shame...when his homohatred surfaces. Thus, propagandistic
advertisement can depict homophobic and homohating bigots as crude
loudmouths....It can show them being criticized, hated, shunned. It
can depict gays experiencing horrific suffering as the direct result
of homohatred-suffering of which even most bigots would be ashamed
to be the cause. The best thing about this technique, according to
Kirk and Madsen: The bigot did not even have to believe he was a
Rather, our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or
proof. Just as the bigot became such, without any say in the matter,
through repeated infralogical emotional conditioning, his bigotry
can be alloyed in exactly the same way, whether he is conscious of
the attack or not. In short, jamming succeeds insofar as it inserts
even a slight frisson of doubt and shame into the previously
unalloyed, self-righteous pleasure. The approach can be quite useful
and effective-if our message can get the massive exposure upon which
all else depends. Finally-this was the process they called
conversion-Kirk and Madsen predicted a mass public change of heart
would follow, even among bigots, "if we can actually make them like
us." They wrote, "Conversion aims at just this...conversion of the
average American's emotions, mind, and will, through a planned
psychological attack, in the form of propaganda fed to the nation
via the media."
In the movie "Philadelphia" we see the shaming technique and the
conversion process working at the highest media level. We saw Tom
Hank's character suffering (because he was gay and had AIDS) at the
hands of bigots in his Philadelphia law firm. Not only were we
ashamed of the homophobic behavior of the villainous straight
lawyers in the firm; we felt nothing but sympathy for the suffering
Hanks. (Members of the Motion Picture Academy felt so much sympathy
they gave Hanks an Oscar.) Our feelings helped fulfill Kirk and
Madsen's strategy: "to make Americans hold us in warm regard,
whether they like it or not."
Few dared speak out against "Philadelphia" as an example of the kind
of propaganda Kirk and Madsen had called for. By then, four years
after the publication of the Kirk-Madsen blueprint, the American
public had already been programmed. Homosexuality was now simply "an
alternate lifestyle." Best of all, because of the persuaders
embedded in thousands of media messages, society's acceptance of
homosexuality seemed one of those spontaneous, historic turnings in
time-yes, a kind of conversion. Nobody quite knew how it happened,
but the nation had changed. We had become more sophisticated, more
loving toward all, even toward those "afflicted" with the
malady-excuse me, condition.
By 1992 the President of the United States said it was time that
people who were openly gay and lesbian should not be ousted from the
nation's armed forces. In 1993 the nation's media celebrated a huge
outpouring of gay pride in Washington, D.C. Television viewers
chanted along with half a million marchers, "Two, four, six, eight!
Being gay is really great." We felt good about ourselves. We were
patriotic Americans. We had abolished one more form of
discrimination, wiped out one of society's most enduring
afflictions: homophobia. Best of all, we knew now that gay was good,
gay was free.
Excuse me. Gay is not good. Gay is not decidedly free. How do I know
this? For more than 40 years, I have been in solidarity with
hundreds of homosexuals, my patients, and I have spent most of my
professional life engaged in exercising a kind of "pastoral care" on
their behalf. But I do not help them by telling them they are O.K.
when they are not O.K. Nor do I endorse their "new claim to
self-definition and self-respect." Tell me: Have we dumped the idea
that a man's self-esteem comes from something inside himself
(sometimes called character) and from having a good education, a
good job and a good family-and replaced that notion with this, that
he has an affinity to love (and have sex with) other men?
In point of fact, many of my patients had character; they had an
education; they were respected ad men and actuaries and actors. But
they were still in pain-for one reason and one reason alone. They
were caught up in this mysterious compulsion to have sex with other
men. They were not free. They were not happy. And they wanted to see
if they could change.
Over the years, I found that those of my patients who really wanted
to change could do so, by attaining the insight that comes with a
good psychoanalysis. Others found other therapies that helped them
get to the bottom of their compulsions, all of which involved high
motivation and hard work. Difficult as their therapeutic trips were,
hundreds and thousands of homosexuals changed their ways. Many of my
own formerly homosexual patients-about a third of them-are married
today and happily so, with children. One-third may not sound like a
very good average. But it is just about the same success rate you
will find at the best treatment centers for alcoholics, like
Hazelden in Minnesota and the Betty Ford Clinic in California.
Another third of my patients remain homosexual but not part of the
gay scene. Now, after therapy, they still have same-sex sex, but
they have more control over their impulses because now they
understand the roots of their need for same-sex sex. Some of these
are even beginning to turn on to the opposite sex. I add this third
to my own success rate-so that I can tell people in all honesty that
my batting average is .667 out of more than a thousand "at bats."
Of course, I could bat .997 if I told all my patients in pain that
their homosexuality was "a special call" and "a liberation." That
would endear me to everyone, but it would not help them. It would be
a lie-despite recent pieces of pseudo-science bolstering the fantasy
that gays are "born that way." The media put its immediate blessing
on this "research," but we were oversold. Now we are getting
reports, even in such gay publications as The Journal of
Homosexuality, that the gay-gene studies and the gay-brain studies
do not stand up to critical analysis. (The author of one so-called
"gay-gene theory" is under investigation by the National Institutes
of Health for scientific fraud.)
I was not surprised to hear this. My long clinical experience and a
sizable body of psychoanalysis research dating all the way back to
Freud tell me that most men caught up in same-sex sex are reacting,
at an unconscious level, to something amiss with their earliest
upbringing- overcontrolling mothers and abdicating fathers. Through
long observation I have also learned that the supposedly liberated
homosexual is never really free. In his multiple, same-sex
adventures, even the most effeminate gay was looking to incorporate
the manhood of others, because he was in a compulsive, never-ending
search for the masculinity that was never allowed to build and grow
in early childhood.
When I tried to explain these dynamics to the writer who helped me
put together a kind of popular catechism on homosexuality, I found
he had a hard time understanding what this "incorporation" meant. He
said, "Your patient would be more manly if he took in the penis of
another man? Sounds a little dumb. Would I run faster if I ate the
flesh of a deer?"
I told him, "You have to understand that we are talking about
feelings that come from deep in the unconscious mind. They are very
primitive. In fact, if you have ever read any Indian lore, you may
remember that Indians would, in fact, eat the flesh of a deer in
order to become faster afoot. To us, that is a very primitive idea.
But it had a mythic significance for a young Iroquois brave. And
Madison Avenue still makes use of such mythic meanings. The ad
people sell us things based on the notion that we will become what
we eat or drink or possess." The point I was making was this: We do
not understand same-sex sex until we realize that the dynamics
involved are unconscious.
This is one reason why psychoanalysis is the tool that gets us to
the heart of everything. Once my patients have achieved an insight
into these dynamics-and realized there is no moral fault involved in
their longtime and mysterious need-they have moved rather quickly on
the road to recovery. Their consequent gratitude to me is
overwhelming. And why shouldn't it be? They were formerly caught up
in compulsions they could not understand, compulsions they could not
control. Now they are in charge of their own lives.
Their former promiscuity may have looked a lot like "liberation."
But it was not true freedom. It was a kind of slavery. And it was
not a lifestyle. With the onset of AIDS, as the playwright and gay
militant Larry Kramer said in a 1993 interview, it turned out to be
a death style. I have had some patients tell me, "Doctor, if I
weren't in therapy, I'd be dead."
Testimonials from my recovered patients make me feel my work is
worthwhile-despite regular demands from the gay rights community for
my silence. What would they have me do? Pack my bags, find a new
profession, lock up a lifetime of research and analysis, hide my
truth under a bushel? It is not my psychoanalytic duty to tell
people they are marvelous when they are out of control, much less
ask disingenuous rhetorical questions like, "What kind of God would
afflict people with an 'objective disorder' in the disposition of
Giving God the credit for their gayness is a persistent refrain in
much gay literature today, and I am saddened to see people of
evident good will become unwitting parties to the blasphemy. Gays
ascribe their condition to God, but he should not have to take that
rap, any more than he should be blamed for the existence of other
man-made maladies-like war, for instance, which has proven to be
very unhealthy for humans and for all other living things. God does
not make war. Men do.
And, when homosexuality takes on all the aspects of a political
movement, it, too, becomes a war, the kind of war in which the first
casualty is truth, and the spoils turn out to be our own children.
An exaggeration? Well, what are we to think when militant
homosexuals seek to lower the age of consensual sexual intercourse
between homosexual men and young boys to the age of 14 (as they did
in Hawaii in 1993) or 16 (as they tried to do in England in 1994)?
In the Washington March for Gay Pride in 1993, they chanted, "We're
here. We're queer. And we're coming after your children."
What more do we need to know?