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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Survivor of gay mental illness treatments in 'Out' magazine

Feature story by Justin Torres, 'A Family Outing,' Out magazine, September 2012 p, 88
PHOTO: Feature story by Justin Torres, "A Family Outing, Until recently, people thought homosexuality was a sickness. The story of one man who survived the 'cure,'" Out Magazine, Sept. 2012, p. 88-93, 135 -- Torres was declared mentally ill for being gay, which he played along with for awhile. (A free link to this article appears to be unavailable as of this posting.)

This is an excellent first person account of gay man's struggles with being gay and other people convincing him he was mentally ill. Although being gay is no longer defined as a mental illness, it is clear that many of the issues Justin struggled with are still shared by many young men today and they could easily repeat Justin's decision to play along with the idea that they are mentally ill just to accommodate societal homophobia.

Justin was born in 1980 and became depressed at the age of 17 not wanting to be a "fag." He modestly says he was a "deft kid" who was able to politely humor the psychiatrist that his mother insisted he see regularly. From that experience and from independent reading, he had figured out the magic words that would allow the mental health system to lockup somebody: "I needed only to prove I was not a threat to myself or others, and they would be forced to let me go.

Justin then freely admits how at a low point in his life, which he doesn't recall clearly, to having made threats that he knew would result in himself being involuntarily restrained by "multiple white coats." He recalled, "Doctors asked me absurd questions and I answered with hostile and absurd answers. I put on a show, I dredged up every painful thing I knew about my folks and I hurled words at them, the most vicious language possible, while the doctors looked on. I wanted desperately to shame them. And did I want to die? You're dam right I wanted to kill. You're damn right I wanted to die. And they locked me up."

Although I will concede that I've witnessed mental illness cases that appear to be truly caused by some unknown physical defect in a person's brain, Justin's case is a more ambiguous one, which in my opinion is a good example of the more common situation where well meaning mental health practitioners do more harm than good. With perfect hindsight, it is clear that Justin didn't need to be locked up, but instead only needed to have unconditional support from his parents and the mental health system so that he could realize he was "not crazy" and only needed some help in getting over the anguish that he shares with every other intelligent queer boy who is ostracized by the homophobic "normal people" in society. Of course, I realize that unconditional support will not help the truly mentally ill, but it is clear, with perfect hindsight, that Justin is not and never was mentally ill -- he was just a creative smart gay boy who was shunned by those around him and he was emotionally wounded by it.

Torres provides a brief history of the past when being gay was classified as a mental illness and how it was eventually removed from the official list of Mental Disorders. Although the history he states is accurate, he omits some of the context that I learned firsthand from having lived through that period in history. The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud invented theories of how the mind worked and he hypothesized that the mind was malleable because, by definition, it is capable of learning and therefore its behavior could be changed through psychotherapy. This theory was widely accepted at the time by most, well meaning people. Even today, most people are ignorant of the arguments between a person's chosen behavior that is considered criminal versus a behavior that the involuntary result of a person's genetics or biological makeup. In mental illness cases, it is often not clear what is voluntary behavior not caused by the illness.

The popular Freudian theory of homosexuality in the 1950's and 1960's was that homosexuality is caused by a boy having been raised by a domineering mother and a weak or absent father. The idea being that a boy learned how to be a man from a strong male role model. Numerous counterexamples to this theory have demonstrated that it couldn't be the sole reason, if it was the reason in any case. Various mental health treatments for homosexuality and the efforts of religious based ex-gay groups have tried to "cure' gay men by trying to teach them how to be more masculine. A few ex-gays have claimed these methods worked for them, but some of these same ex-gays have then been later exposed as still being gay and nearly all ex-gays will freely admit to having settled for celibacy or abstinence because they still feel a desire for same-sex sexual activity. This means that sexual orientation is partially a chosen behavior, but the homosexual arousal behavior also has a strong genetic component that is not learned or chosen.

The diagnosis of mental illness is treated with great skepticism by society. Many people worry that mentally ill people are pretending just so they can assume the sick role and escape from the duties society expects them to perform. In fact, historically most health insurance providers have assumed that all mental illness is malingering and therefore they do not cover it adequately. Of course, those who think they will get out of any responsibility by pretending to be mentally ill, will soon discover that it won't get them out of anything and in some cases it will cause them greater problems because they will be harmed by the drug treatments for mental illness, which are popular today, and also harmed by the stigmatization, which comes with being labeled as mentally ill.

I was also skeptical about the existence of mental illness until when I had my first brain stroke and it was scientifically confirmed with an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imager that can measure individual blood vessel flow rates in the brain and show where blood flow is inadequate). Many of the signs and symptom I had (e.g. delusions and hallucinations) could have easily qualified me for being diagnosed as mentally ill. Of course, I was smart enough and my doctors were smart enough to dismiss this diagnosis. However, so-called "mental illness" was not ruled out entirely until after my stroke had some tissue in my brain and all of these symptoms instantly disappeared and replaced by low vision blindness, which is a diagnosis that is considered to be a "organic illness," instead of a mental illness, by medical doctors. This different diagnosis matters legally because most health insurance policies will cover so-called "organic" medical disorders, but not fully cover so-called "mental illness." This bias appeared back in the Freudian days when treatment for mental illness involved and numerous expensive sessions with a psychoanalyst. Nobody wanted to pay for psychotherapy because mental illness was not considered to be real by most people.

Sadly, the bias of no medical insurance coverage for mental illness persisted even after it was discovered that certain psychoactive drugs, unlike psychotherapy, could help some mentally ill people get better. Nobody yet understands exactly why these treatments work, but if they are proven to work and safe, then they should be covered by medical insurance.

Clearly, as medical science develops a netter understanding how the brain works, I am sure the artificial distinction between physical and mental illnesses will vanish. Yes, there will always be some things that can be solved by talk therapy or by teaching and learning coping skills, but I am sure that doctors will become better at figuring out if it is the hardware or the reprogrammable software of the brain that needs to be fixed. See my previous posts and these related links:

OSU risks growth to compensate for Oregon Legislature decisions

Below is my response to a letter by Therese Waterhous, "Letter: Speculation on OSU's student population could be a losing game," Gazette-Times posted Sept. 17, 2012:

The Sept. 17 letter by Therese Waterhous cautions Oregon State University stakeholders to beware about counting on Oregon State University's enrollment to stay up at 34,000 students indefinitely. ("Speculation on OSU's student population could be a losing game").

She did not mention the historical precedent, supporting her case, of how much Corvallis suffered economically when OSU enrollment started dropping during the Reagan recession as the baby boom enrollment bulge waned.

However, back then, the Oregon Legislature heavily subsidized OSU and capped enrollment at 15,000 students to benefit mostly children of Oregon residents. As a result, out-of-state and foreign students made up a small percentage of the student body.

Today, the Oregon Legislature has greatly defunded education, and OSU President Ed Ray is rationally compensating with a growth strategy that admits many more profitable out-of-state students. Ray's strategy will keep enrollment high unless competing universities steal market share by copying his strategy or the value of the OSU brand name is diminished from a lower quality of education or lower admission standards that leads to less profitable alumni supporters.
(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "Letter: Courting out-of-state students will keep OSU enrollment high," Gazette-Times, posted Sep. 24, 2012)

All successful universities depend on alumni to send them their own kids and to hire graduates of the university. If this breaks down, a university can fail if the alumni don't want recommend the college or donate to its mission, either through being a booster or by giving actual money to support research and education programs. My personal interest in the success of OSU is two-fold: First, I live in Corvallis and care about the City. Second, I am the founding benefactor of the OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund at Oregon State University for research on humans or animals with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity. One hundred percent of my estate will be used to endow this fund after my death. (See my previous post OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund Agreement (1/4/12))

What I will say next is truly not meant to be a threat, but I think it is a fact of life: If OSU is trashed by the defunding of it by the Oregon Legislature and OSU President Ed Ray's compensatory growth strategy, then employers will be less likely to recruit on campus and hire OSU students. Also, large donors will be less likely to risk supporting OSU in the long term. In my personal opinion, Ray is doing the most rational thing he can do, given the situation, but his strategy has a very high risk of failing because it depends on every OSU professor and staff member working even harder to succeed. I think his is within reason, but my past experience has taught me that college campuses are harder to manage than a profit and loss business. Academics are smart enough to understand the problem and solution, but then also be obstreperous in a manner that stalls the successful implementation of any plan. Private businesses don't have to deal with the concept of lifetime tenure, which was originally instituted to laudably promote the academic freedom to take big risks without having to worry about the politics of being censured for your pioneering or controversial research.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gay rapper helps NASA Mars mission educate kids

collectspace, "NASA: "Reach for the Stars" with ," posted Aug 28, 2012. For the first time in history, a recorded song has been beamed back to Earth from another planet. Students, special guests and news media gathered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, to hear "Reach for the Stars" by musician after it was transmitted from the surface of Mars by the Curiosity rover. For more see Press Release from Ann Marie Trotta, "Curiosity Rover Plays First Song Transmitted From Another Planet," NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Aug. 28, 2012 and article by Staff, "Signals from Mars: NASA's Curiosity rover radios song in music first," posted Aug. 28, 2012.

I just got to watch the TV show "I.Am.Mars - Reach for the stars," Science Channel broadcast Sep. 19, 2012 7-7:30PMPT on Comcast Cable TV. (See "Science Promos: Reach for the Stars review)

I first met rapper (William James Adams, Jr. born March 15, 1975 d.b.a. William Adams) when he sent me an invitation to a gay party. He had found me through a friend after having read my blog. I was surprised because my blog leans toward science and engineering and I wondered why a gay rapper would be interested in my blog. After watching this TV show it became clear. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that grew up loving science and engineering that he got exposed to at a magnet school in Los Angeles. With his own money he has produced music art that is designed to get children interested in science and engineering. said he was surprised when NASA called him up and asked him to write the first song to be transmitted back to Earth from Mars. However, when I finally heard the reasons from Leland Melvin, head of NASA education, it became clear how this fits perfectly with the goals NASA to reach out to youth for educational purposes.

This situation reminded how it never ceases to amaze me the far flung connection between people that are made everyday on planet Earth. I was really inspired by this video and I am sure it will reach it target audience of science nerd kids no matter where they live. deserves much credit for doing it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

OSU back to school Craigslist postings rise

OSU back to school Craigslist gay MSM posting 'new to town, new room to break in - 21'

PHOTO: screenshot of a gay MSM ad by a returning Oregon State University student saying, "New town, new room to break in - 21 (Corvallis)," posted on Date: 2012-09-15, 10:45PM PDT.

Craigslist postings virtually disappear during summer break at Oregon State University and then they rise again when students come back for fall term. Apparently, non-student Corvallis residents are in the minority because they generate few postings. Also, perhaps postings fall during the year because new students try out Craigslist and find they get a better response by cruising the OSU Pride Center or other campus places where cute boys hang out.

OSU classes don't begin until Sept. 24, 2012, but many students arrive in town early to secure the best housing spots and then stick around bored with nothing to do. Some of the ads by gay college students are very specific about wanting to bottom only, etc. This college student's Craigslist ad is more romantic and it epitomizes the feelings probably shared by many gay OSU students:

"Just moved here, already bored and don't know anyone down here haha, but I am kind of awkward with the whole bar scene. Looking for someone who would just want to hang out and drink and see what happens. 6' blue eyes, played two years of college baseball and planning for more. Message me back with a pic if you are interested "
(Quoted from "New town, new room to break in - 21 (Corvallis)," posted on Date: 2012-09-15, 10:45PM PDT)

I've written before on the ethnography of gay male MSM craigslist ads by OSU college students. See my previous posts:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jack Baker University of Minnesota Prof. Kevin P Murphy OutHistory advisor

Kevin P Murphy University of Minnesota history professor PHOTO: Kevin P. Murphy University of Minnesota Department of History Associate Professor (See About "Board of Advisors At Large" includes Kevin P. Murphy, Kevin Murphy publications and Kevin Murphy home page).

I recently noticed that University of Minnesota Department of History Associate Professor Kevin P. Murphy is a member of the "Board of Advisors At Large". I hope to make contact with him and ask if he has any questions about my history that I contributed to the Web site leading up to the Oregon State University Pride Center by Thomas Kraemer, "Corvallis, Oregon State University gay activism 1969-2004," posted April 30, 2010. The shortened URL will also go to it more easily if you are text messaging or hand typing the link.

My history of OSU documents the connection to the gay activism of Jack Baker at the University of Minnesota. Below are some links to the history of Jack Baker and gay marriage activism at the University of Minnesota. My most significant observation is that both gays and straights back then thought Jack Baker was crazy to seek marriage, which was considered contrary to the goals of gay liberation and sexual liberation by both feminists and men. Today, gay marriage is a mainstream goal supported by the President of the United States Barack Obama. This large change still amazes me.

University of Minnesota Jack Baker history

John Becker ex-gay expose on Corvallis PBS TV tonight

VIDEO: by itlmedia, "Ex-Gay Undercover," posted Aug. 31, 2012. John Becker is an activist who investigates anti-gay religious extremists. IN THE LIFE follows Becker into the Bachmann clinic in Minnesota where he discovers the ongoing practice of debunked reparative therapies. See blog post by John M. Becker, "Video of the Day: In the Life Profiles TWO's Becker, Bachmann Clinic Operation," posted Sep. 4, 2012.

The local Corvallis, Oregon PBS TV station will be airing the above segment on ex-gays titled "The Truth Comes Out," tonight Sept. 5, 2012 between 11PM and Midnight (note that time may vary due to Democratic Convention coverage). A free over-the-air digital HDTV broadcast is available in Corvallis on Channel 7-1 and also available on Corvallis cable TV channel 10.

It was fun to hear a young man from the Wisconsin and Minnesota area where I grew up. I noticed his St. John's shirt, which is the major Catholic university in Minnesota where I met my first gay man decades ago and he happened to be a Catholic priest!

The importance of Wayne Besen's crusade against ex-gay organizations is an important one. Last year I donated money to have him come and talk at Oregon State University for students. See previous post "Wayne Besen ex-gay speech for OSU Pride History Month," (10/6/11)

Nearly a decade ago, the famous gay activists Jack Nichols ran my book review (see Thomas Kraemer, "Why Do Ex-Gays Matter?" posted December 08, 2003) that discusses Wayne Besen's "Anything but straight" book, which is also available in the OSU library. (See previous post Jack Nichols Gay Today Archive (9/12/09) for links to all my Gay Today articles.)