2. Developing the conversation
A brief explanation of the following:
I’ve done a lot of thinking about your comments in a recent email on my homosexuality & its possible effects; you raise a lot of issues both archival & personal. As I thought it over, I was rather stunned that the 3 of us who worked so closely together for 2 years (keep reading!), kept our sexual identities so covered up—from one another! And within such a charged (& seemingly “open”) atmosphere. Amazing! But then I was never open about it with either Max or Harry. Back to the Couch! No, that’s over: I blew it on that issue! Forward to my Dreams!
Your email was prompted by one of the reel to reel tapes in my collection. On the label it said:
U.S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California. Staff Meeting by Dennie Briggs. October 17, 1955
0360 Theme of latent homosexuality of marine officer being played out on the ward by his behavior. Losing one's self-respect or pride and "place" (i.e., in the new navy).
and you asked about that.
I will interleave my responses with your questions. To make it easier to read, I'll keep your comments in black, and put mine in red.
CF: I've added still another comment, as per below, referring to the Oakland Naval Hospital tape of 1955 ( see that comment here ). I was going to ask more directly about the reference to the homosexual marine officer - because it seems an important time and moment in the history of our culture; and because I wondered if your own homosexuality may have played a role in this being an issue which came to the fore, perhaps through subconscious (group?) processes; and/or, what your feelings and response were or may have been at the time, and indeed how open you were or felt it possible to be at the time. Were you able to use your homosexuality in the situation, or was it something you kept guarded, so to speak? To me these seem historically interesting and important questions, but I don't know how personal they are: Are they too personal, especially given the public medium of the Discussion?
DB: Not at all too personal
CF: I wonder what your feelings and response were or may have been at the time, and indeed how open you were or felt it possible to be at the time. Were you able to use your homosexuality in the situation, or was it something you kept guarded, so to speak?
DB: I can’t honestly recall the specifics of this incident, but perhaps if I re-listened to the tape I could. This was 1955: The McCarthy Hearings which had included “The Lavender Scare” against homosexuals in government had occurred a year or 2 previously; homosexuality in the military was illegal, a court-martial offense. A certain amount of “hysteria” existed, for anyone could accuse another of being “queer” & in the military that meant action had to be taken legally, i.e., usually kicked out! With a less than honorable discharge. Vestiges of this attitude still remained by 1994, revealed in the statement by General Schwartzkopf, commander of “Operation Desert Storm to the Senate Armed Forces Committee”: “Exclusion of homosexuals from military service is a means of precluding military service by a group of individuals who have a natural proclivity to commit criminal acts.”
Prior to the time I arrived at the hospital, there were frequent “witch hunts” in the Yokosuka area & on ships operating with the Fleet based there. Psychiatrist Frank Rundle, who became our team leader, comments on his early experience while being in charge of the closed ward on the psychiatric service:
. . . shortly after I got there, the infamous Office of Naval Intelligence conducted one of their sweeps, which they called “Operation Fishnet,” looking for homosexuals. They hauled in—I don't know how many—dozens, scores of men. Many of them were corpsmen who worked on my unit, and patients and others in the brig. I had a real panic reaction, and depression. (Hire. p.116.)
(There is an additional interview in which Frank elaborates on the ONI “sweeps” but I can’t locate it just now)
One of the “resources” the legal people had was to refer a “case” to the psychiatrists to determine that if, in fact, the person accused, was gay. Psychologists such as myself were not usually involved unless a shrink referred the accused for an evaluation, which usually meant something to do with intelligence or psychosis/character disorder, etc. While at Yokosuka, “One day the chief of service phoned me to come to his office to get a young Navy pilot ‘who likes to take penises in his mouth,’ and test him to find out what was wrong with him.” In the Navy II (p19). I briefly commented on some of the pertinent issues of homosexuality in the military in a footnote (# 13, p. 32), however these remarks were made after DADT became policy & the same sex marriage ruling which totally changed the issue.
The APA removed homosexuality from being a mental disorder in 1973.
Before being assigned to Yokosuka, I was in analysis, struggling with whether or not I could be “cured!” (my analyst once remarked that I might be a “latent heterosexual!” [one of the psychiatric diagnoses at the time was “latent homosexuality.” I briefly mentioned this remark & its effect on me at the time in Beyond the Couch , p.13.] )
CF: I wondered if your own homosexuality may have played a role in this being an issue which came to the fore, perhaps through subconscious (group?) processes.
DB: Interesting speculation! In fact, fascinating! Perhaps Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance/fields” & Jung’s collective unconscious. . . alive & at work!
I don’t know how much further you want to go into homosexuality (in the Navy) other than my own. Unknown to each of us at the time, Frank Rundle was gay & so was Rod Odgers, our lead psychiatric tech. I hadn’t realized that either of them was gay & I don’t believe Rod did either. I can’t speak for Frank, but the matter never came up, to my knowledge. Frank later revealed in an interview:
“I got married while I was in residency. At that time, of course, I believed that I was “sick” because of my homosexual feelings. And I thought if I got married that would all go away. [chuckle]. I got married and soon afterwards was transferred to Japan.” (Hire. p. 116)
Frank had 3 children, was divorced (after leaving the Navy), had a lover who later suicided. He became chief psychiatrist at the troubled Soledad Prison during the riots/deaths there & was accused of aiding the prisoners. (later cleared; written up in: Min S Yee. The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison; In Which a Utopian Scheme Turns Bedlam (1973). ISBN 0-06-129800-X ; one of the books I sent for the Archive). Frank was one of the active American Psychiatric Association members in the struggle to get homosexuality off the “endangered list”! He died in about 2004.