Content Warning: this column refers to historical and current medicalisation of non-heterosexual identities, and some of the subsequent results.
Western (read: white, colonialist, heteronormative, patriarchal) culture has a long and sordid history of treating non-heterosexuality as an illness. In 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing described homosexuality as a “degenerative sickness” in his Psychopathia Sexualis. In 1949, Sandor Rado rejected Freud’s assumption of inherent bisexuality, arguing that heterosexuality is natural and that homosexuality is a “reparative” attempt to achieve sexual pleasure when “normal” heterosexual interactions prove too threatening.
The American Psychiatric Association did not remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1973. It was replaced with a new diagnosis, ego-dystonic homosexuality, which remained until 1987. A vestige of ego-dystonic homosexuality remains in the revised DSM-III, under “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified,” which includes persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation. The DSM-V permits a diagnosis of “Gender Dysphoria,” only recently updated from the previous diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder.”
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Homosexuality was not declassified by the World Health Organization until 1990. The International Classification of Diseases still allows a diagnosis of “Transsexualism.”
Conversion therapy is aimed at converting an individual to heterosexuality. While conversion therapy today is more of a “pray away the gay” sociopathic misunderstanding of how sexuality works, techniques historically used in conversion therapy included ice-pick lobotomies, chemical castration with hormonal treatment, and aversive treatments (such as the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals, or nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli—think A Clockwork Orange or American Horror Story: Asylum). While these therapies are now recognised for what they are (i.e. literally torture), there is virtually no legal restriction on more ‘mild’ forms of conversion therapy, either in New Zealand or around the world.
Please know that queerness is not sickness. You are not unwell. The sickness is in a society that shuns and shames those it deems deviant, and refuses to accept and love all its members.