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Uncovering the Homosexual Myth: The Life and Work of Evelyn Hooker

Abstract: The following report will expound upon the life, work and research of noted social scientist, Evelyn Hooker. The focus of this document is that of Hooker’s research on homosexuality, as well as the life and work of this noted psychologist. Most noteworthy, her research on homosexuality contributed to a change in the attitudes of the psychological community towards homosexuality. Her work also encouraged the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its handbook of disorders in 1973.

Her work gave further impetus to helping change the attitude of society regarding homosexuality and gay rights. Truly, Hooker is an important figure in the movement towards sexual equality. Uncovering the Homosexual Myth: The Life and Work of Evelyn Hooker Evelyn Hooker, born Evelyn Gentry, in Colorado Plains, in 1907, was to become one of the foremost scholars in homosexual studies of all time. She is most well-known for her research into the nature of homosexuality, and is one of the foremost figures involved in debunking some of the myths surrounding homosexuals during the time period.

Having attended the University of Colorado, Hooker began studies with her mentor, Dr Karl Munzinger, who introduced her to the psychological theory of behaviorism. Hooker later went on to receive a Masters degree, and later became one of eleven women to complete the PhD program in psychology at Johns Hopkins University. During a fellowship in Berlin, Hooker was able to witness the current state of clinical psychology up close, as she worked and studied at the Berlin Institute of Psychotherapy. Many believe that this time in Berlin inspired her to work with the gay community in the United States at this time.

After a brief teaching stint at the Maryland College for Women and Whittier College in California, Hooker became a research associate in experimental and physiological psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she would work and research for more than thirty-years. Her most cited work is from 1957, entitled, “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual. ” Her interest in homosexuality began after one of her students, a gay male named Sam From, challenged her to do a study on homosexuals as an underrepresented, and misunderstood group, at that time.

Through her studies, it became more and more apparent to Hooker that despite the current social and moral climate of the day, homosexuals were perfectly socially adjusted human beings. Hooker set out to prove this through use of the scientific method. Hooker’s initial work later became important in the gay rights movement of the late sixties and seventies. In the 1960’s, the National Institute of Mental Health invited Evelyn Hooker to report on what the institution should do regarding their understandings of homosexual men.

This ground-braking report stated that homosexuality was a normal function in the human being, it should be decriminalized, and that gays should be given equal status. Most importantly, her research on homosexuality contributed to a change in the attitudes of the psychological community towards homosexuality. Her work also encouraged the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.

Up until the time of Hooker’s studies, homosexuality was treated by psychologists through intense therapy and medicine, oftentimes overtly attempting to change the sexual preference of the patient. It is easy to see how this practice caused great psychological and emotional damage to those who fell under these premises of psychology of that time. This most noted study, “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual,” challenged the ideas of the American Psychiatric Association, which until that time, viewed homosexuality as a disorder to be corrected.

The experimentation involved administering psychological tests to groups of homosexual and heterosexual people and observing their answers. Expert psychologists were brought in and asked to identify the answers of the so-called “deviant homosexuals. ” Sixty subjects were tested using the Rorschach ink-blot test, producing sixty psychological profiles. All identifying marks, including those indicating sexual orientation, were removed from the profiles and given to three experts psychologists.

One of these experts was Bruno Klopfer, who believed that the homosexuals would be clearly distinguishable from heterosexuals. None of the three experts could tell the homosexuals and from the heterosexuals apart, and in fact, when comparing the two, they were in fact indistinguishable, each demonstrating an equal amount of mental/sociological pathology as well as mental health. The experiment consistently demonstrated that homosexuals scored equally to heterosexuals in regard to social and psychological adjustment.

It was concluded that this overlooked and misunderstood population were in sane mind, and were choosing homosexuality over the more socially acceptable status of a heterosexual. It is easy to underestimate the breadth of this study within the sphere of homosexual understanding. Truly, this study established no measurable psychological difference between heterosexual and homosexual men, and thus challenged the very foundations that undermined morality and ethics of society at that time.

This study is one of the first to ask the question, “Is homosexuality merely a normal minority variant on human sexuality? ” This influential research report, published in the Journal of Projective Techniques, still remains one of the crucial sociological studies and proofs as to whether homosexual activity is normal and valid. The American Psychological Association claims that Hooker’s work, “provided empirical evidence that normal homosexuals existed, and supported the radical idea then emerging that homosexuality is within the normal range of human behavior. “

This work went on to inspire a shift within the philosophical orthodoxies, and asserted a new understanding of the irrational fear, or “homophobia” that surrounds the issue of homosexuality. This work marked the beginning of a research career dedicated to understanding the misunderstood gay community. In 1991, Hooker’s work won an Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest, from the American Psychological Association. Satinovar (2002) sites Hooker as, “more than anyone else, the the one whose work is responsible for normalizing homosexuality.

” This work is also is the most frequently cited scientific source for the stand that homosexuality is not a pathology. Hooker’s later research continued as an effort to promote homosexuals as a valid portion of society. At times she was criticized for creating particular, pre-arranged outcomes, an approach that precludes scientific objectivity. During her professorship at UCLA, beginning in the late 1940’s, Hooker played an important role in the activist organization, the Mattachine Society, a communist/gay-rights group, that encouraged Hooker to study homosexuality in order to advance the movement.

Hooker herself has admitted that the studies had “as its stated purpose the development of a homosexual ethic… “. And while many have criticized Hooker’s work as having an agenda, it still stands true that her work helped launch a movement towards gay rights and equality. Clearly, it removed homosexuality as a medically described disorder. It also served as a case-study in the APA’s brief in 2003 in the Lawrence v. Texas case. This heated case struck down the criminal prohibition of homosexual sodomy in Texas.

Hooker’s research work was not an end-all in itself within the understandings surrounding sexuality and gender-issues in social and psychological applications. Once the scientific community accepted the fact that homosexuality was not a pathology, new questions were brought to the forefront. Current research looks into questions of how, if at all, homosexuals differ from heterosexuals in their biology and neurobiology. Critics of Evelyn Hooker’s work claim that her research is based on shaky ground. She was influenced by a specific activist group working towards personal goals.

Her relationship to the gay community is seen as an unscientific bias. That said, it is important to understanding the role of Evelyn Hooker within the context of the unfolding of human understanding and opening. Truly, it is appalling to think that in our not-so-recent past, homosexuality was seen as a disorder, as well as punishable as a crime. Hooker’s work, wether rigorous in scientific-method or not, represents the first academic research challenge to the preposterous notions of homosexual deviancy and pathology.

In this sense, she can be regarded as more than a social or psychological academic researcher, and more of a courageous civil rights activist, her courage and insight acting as an important historical support for the subsequent gay-rights movements of the future. Because of her work, today psychiatrists and psychologists, do not attempt to change people’s sexual orientation.

References

Evelyn Hooker. The American Psychologist, 1992, 47, 499-501. Hooker, Evelyn. “The adjustment of the male overt homosexual”, Journal of projective techniques, XXI 1957, pp. 18-31. Hooker, Evelyn.

“The homosexual community”. Proceedings of the XIV International congress of applied psychology, Munksgaard, Copenhagen 1961. Hooker, Evelyn. “Homosexuality: Summary of studies”. In E. M. Duvall & S. M. Duvall (curr. ), Sex ways in fact and faith, Association Press, New York 1961. Schmiechen, Richard. Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker. 1992 Satinover, Jeffrey B. National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. Conference Reports. 2005. White, Hilary. The Mother of the Homosexual Movement – Evelyn Hooker PhD. http://www. lifesitenews. com/ldn/2007/jul/07071603. html

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