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The Painful Reunion

The Remedicalization of Homosexuality and the Rise of the Queer

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Abstract

This article considers the late 19th-century medical invention of the category of the homosexual in relation to homosexuality’s moment of deliverance from medicine in the 1970s, when it was removed as a category of mental aberration in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). With the rise of the AIDS pandemic in gay communities in the early 1980s, I argue that homosexuals were forcibly returned to the medical sphere, a process I call “the painful reunion.” Reading a collection of queer narratives across the 20th century, I show that historical and contemporaneous medical events prompted the mobilization of seropositive and queer artists at century’s end to rehabilitate, revise, and offend the historiography of queer illness. Collectively, my conclusions redefine our understandings of queer theory and queer politics as distinctively 1990s projects invested in the present to ones that purposefully aim to challenge the past.

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Notes

  1. All dialogue in the following section comes from Jon Macy’s Teleny and Camille: Based on the Novel “Teleny” by Oscar Wilde and Circle (Macy 2010). Dialogue in the Macy graphic-novel adaptation and in the original text of Teleny (in particular in this scene) is almost entirely the same. Owing to the graphic nature of Macy’s text, prose from the original novel has been stripped largely in the areas of exposition, setting, and imagery—in the service of the visual illustrations in the graphic novel.

  2. For a thorough analysis of the theoretical and historical significance of the term “queer” (including its genesis), see Jagose (1996, 7–21).

  3. Most scholars identify 1869 as the first instance when the word “homosexual” was used in print, in a series of Austro-German legal texts that attempted to justify removal of sodomy laws in that region based on the pathological nature of same-sex desire. Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis of 1886 has been isolated as the first instance that the word “homosexual” was used in a medical text and widely translated and disseminated. The straddling of these texts between juridical (legal) and medical realms need not take away from the fact that the label was medically inspired and medically deployed from its first utterance.

  4. The jettison of “homosexuality” as a distinct nosological category from the DSM in 1973 did not constitute an absolute removal of homosexual from the DSM. Pathological categories such as “ego-dystonic homosexuality” and “sexual orientation disturbance” in the years after 1973 suggest that homosexuality remained a pathologically troubling category for clinicians pre-AIDS (see, for example, Spitzer 1981). Current debates surrounding the revision of “gender identity disorder” in the DSM-IV to “gender dysphoria” in the DSM-V reveal parallel dilemmas in queer diagnostics, as to whether a term’s removal, revision, or reclassification in the DSM is a victory for queer patients themselves.

  5. For a discriminating analysis of the rise, fall, and rebirth of etiological studies on homosexuality, see Garland E. Allen’s “The Double-Edged Sword of Genetic Determinism” (1997, 243–270). For a rebuttal from Simon LeVay, one of the central scientists in the rebirth of etiological studies on homosexuality, see his chapter “Why We Need Biology” in his recent book Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation (2011, 27–44).

  6. This assessment of Maurice was also shared by friends of Forster who read the book during its composition. For example, Christopher Isherwood writes in his autobiographical Christopher and His Kind: “Did Christopher think Maurice as good as Forster’s novels? He would have said—and I still agree with him—that it was both inferior and superior to them: inferior as an artwork, superior because of its purer passion, its franker declaration of its author’s faith” (Isherwood 2001, 126).

  7. Duberman’s queer hesitations of the clinic as a gay man find textual cousins in numerous lesbian, transgender, and intersex memoirs. See, for example, Audre Lorde’s (1995) The Cancer Journals.

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Correspondence to Lance Wahlert.

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Wahlert, L. The Painful Reunion. Bioethical Inquiry 9, 261–275 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-012-9382-y

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