Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far -- by Charles W. Socarides, Phoenix, Adam Margrave Books, 1995

Reviewed by Lloyd deMause

When an author's books are burned and his life threatened for writing unpopular opinions, it is likely that a powerful group-fantasy is being challenged. Such is the case with this outspoken book on homosexuality and the gay rights movement by Charles Socarides. In it, he takes on the thankless task of reminding people that homosexuals are both innocent victims of unwarranted homophobia and victims of emotional problems that often result in a compulsive promiscuity that is destructive to themselves and others.

Socarides' heroes in the gay community are men like Larry Kramer, who called gay promiscuity "the wrong road . . . it cost too much," and Randy Shilts, who said he regreted that promiscuity w as "central to the raucous gay movement." His villains are men like David Axelrod, N.Y. State Health Commissioner, who refused to classify AIDS as a sexually transmitted disease, so that testing and notification programs that apply to syphilis and gonorrhea do not apply to HIV, inevitably resulting in raising the new infection rate to a new case every nine seconds, or 18 million people worldwide.

That this means most homosexual males never reach the age of 55 (one study places the number at only three percent) is sad enough. But that, as Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan has said, "We would stop the spread of AIDS today if these high-risk people ... would stop spreading the disease" is an unallowable conclusion within today's politically-correct assumption that victims can never be perpetrators.

Socarides' life work has specialized in treating homosexuals - mainly males - psychoanalytically. His conclusion, that homosexuality is a compulsion stemming from early child abuse and neglect, has been said to be disproven by recent research suggesting that gay men inherit a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. But even science has been caught up in the current denial syndrome.

When, for instance, Dean Hamer recently reported "the first concrete evidence that 'gay genes' really do exist" his claims appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world. When other researchers soon reported that his findings could not be confirmed and when he was alleged to have selectively reported his data in unscientific ways, so that he was brought before the Office of Research Integrity to defend his study, only the Chicago Tribune carried the story [June 25, 1995).

Nor were official organizations any more scientific in their approach to homosexuality. Socarides has told the story in the pages of this journal ("Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic," Winter 1992) of how the American Psychiatric Association bowed to political pressures in removing homosexuality from, DSM III. That this decision meant a reduced ability for homosexuals to get help with their emotional problems was bad enough; worse, however, was the APA's then removing pedophilia from DSM IV, unless it is bothersome to the perpretrator, bowing to similar pressures.

No scientific evidence for either decision was ever given; sex with children is now considered not to be a problem if the adult feels good about it. As an audience of psychiatrists told me after I gave a speech at a recent APA Convention on the ubiquity of pedophilia, "I guess if it is so widespread, then having sex with children is probably harmless. Might not gentle incest be OK?" Gay organizations that back NAMBLA and other pedophile groups echo this "freedom too far," claiming, for instance, that young students should be encouraged by teachers to try homosexuality early on because they may find out they "are really gay."

So much of Socarides' book covers studies that are not reported in the press that it must be read in its entirety to begin to appreciate how slanted a view we now have, for instance, of the AIDS pandemic. For everyone to identify the use of condoms with 'safe sex' - safe either for gays or for that matter for heterosexuals - when 20 percent of all condoms don't measure up to standards, and when unpublicized studies show the actual effectiveness of the condom in 11 different tests ran only from 46 percent to 82 percent, with an average of only 69 percent, this is hardly a figure that one thinks of as "safe."

Nor is the media much reporting on how compulsive the need of many gays is for dozens if not hundreds of partners - not to speak of the current fad of "dangerous (unprotected) sex is better sex" - and the crucial role of this compulsive promiscuity in spreading AIDS, so that within a decade a third of all gay men who are now 20 years old will be infected or dead from AIDS.

Those who remain alive can "extract little pleasure from the prospect of living long enough to turn out all the lights," as a recent review of the book In the Shadow ofthe Epidemic put it, making the majority of gays today clinically depressed [New York Times Book Review, Oct. 1, 1995, p. 35].

That the clinical experience of Socarides and other psychotherapists is both relevant and hopeful, resulting in gays choosing heterosexuality over half the time if they stay in treatment a reasonable length of time, is the most unpopular evidence of all. Surely Socarides must somehow be forcing his own values upon his gay patients (even though as a psychoanalyst he believes patients must make their own life decisions).

Surely Socarides is really a homophobe (since his book appeared, planted articles have appeared in the press with ad hominum attacks on him and his family, saying he should be fired from his hospital appointments). Surely his book shouldn't be read or it might give homophobes strength (this may be the only review of the book you will read).

Meanwhile, gays are being denied help, condoms are as unreliable as ever, testing and notification for HIV remains spotty, the AIDS virus is becoming more complex and potent, and your children and mine are far more likely to die from aids then from war, surely it is time to bring the issues Socarides wants to discuss out of the closet, with the lives of hundreds of millions of people depending upon their intelligent widespread discussion.

This book review is from The Journal of Psychohistory, Volume 23, No. 4, Spring, 1996 entitled "Restaging Early Traumas."

Return to Lloyd deMause and Psychohistory's Menu of Articles


Return to Psychosomatic Symptoms and the Regressive Psychotherapies section of the PPP