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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 27. Doctor Evelyn Hooker “…an enormous difference…”


“…an enormous difference…”

Doctor Evelyn Hooker proves the obvious


(Dr. Hooker, famous for her championing of having the ‘disease model’ of Gay removed from the manual of treatment from the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, started her quest to be the most vital straight advocate modern Gay people have ever had in a modest way. One day in the 1944, she had a former student over to her house. Afterwards, her husband asked why she’d failed to mention Sammy was Gay. Hooker was floored. Sammy could not be an H-word: H-words were – according to her education – narcissistic psychopaths. They were mentally ill-adjusted criminals; they were "others" best isolated from ‘normal’ society by forced institutionalization. So could wonderful, witty, smart-as-a-whip Sammy be queer…? Her mind was forced to reconcile fact vs. discrimination. The following is in her own words of exactly what happened.)


It was during World War Il, and I was teaching for the University Extension Division at UCLA and doing some research. Sammy was in one of my small introductory night classes. It became clear almost immediately that he was the most outstanding student in the class. He talked with me at intermission. He asked questions. There was just no doubt that he was the bright and shining star. You know, when a teacher finds a person like that, you fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Sammy would walk me downstairs after class. When he discovered that I was taking the streetcar home, to save gasoline, instead of driving, he began driving me home. Sammy had all the gasoline he wanted because he was writing million-dollar contracts between the [Army Air Corps] and the aircraft industry in this area. He had a high school education. His father was a junk dealer.

Our friendship developed gradually, but I had an idiotic policy then. I thought instructors should not fraternize with their students. It wasn’t until he had finished my course that Sammy called me and asked if he could come over. We spent the evening talking. When he left, Don, my first husband, turned to me and said, “Well, you told me everything else about him, why didn’t you tell me he was queer?” I assume that’s the word he used. It was the 1940s, after all. I said, “How could you possibly tell? You’re crazy!” To which Don replied, “He did everything but fly out the window.” Sam had a fragile build, but it wouldn’t occur to you that he was Gay. A thought might enter your head if you knew enough. But usually not, because he could put on a macho sort of manner. Not too exaggerated.

Sammy was very eager to get to know us. He and his lover, George, who was introduced as his cousin, invited us to dinner, and we went. George was a much older man. They wanted my approval so much that they were afraid to let me know they were Gay. It was a delicious dinner.

Gradually, the fog came down and they became very good friends of ours. I liked them. They were very interesting people. I don’t remember a time when Sammy or George said “We’re Gay.” They just gradually let down their hair. They adored Don. Don was very handsome; a marvelous talker. He was a sort of free-lance writer in Hollywood and also worked on radio and did some painting. He liked them very much. He wasn’t bothered by the fact that they were Gay. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to be bothered by things like that, because he had lived in Hollywood for a long time.

I’ve tried hard to remember what I knew about [same-sex love] before I met Sammy, George and their friends. I didn’t know much. As a matter of fact, when I was in college at the University of Colorado, The Well of Loneliness was circulating quietly. I remember reading it and thinking, Oh, gee. I wouldn’t like to have to live my life with all that secrecy. It makes a lot of sense to me, and has always made a lot of sense to me, when Gay people say “I had to have been born this way, because almost from the very beginning of my sexual consciousness, I was interested in men” or “I was interested in women.” [For me personally,] I was interested in men from the time I was an adolescent, and there was never any question about that. I think that understanding, together with the rather extraordinary cross-section of society into which I was introduced by Sammy, made the difference.


*    *    *


In 1945, after I had known them for about a year, Sam and George invited us to join them on a Thanksgiving holiday in San Francisco. We had an absolutely marvelous time. Sammy was one of these people I described as an “If” personality. If all restraints were off, if he didn’t have to behave like a businessman or a manager, then he was funny, funny, funny! He was dramatic; campy. On the first night we were there, Sammy insisted that we go to Finocchio’s – to see female impersonators. My eyes were wide. I had never seen anything like that.

It was a tourist place, not a Gay bar, where they did dance routines. And it was a place for [drag queens] and would-be [drag queens]. Besides the dance routines, there were two old bags from Oakland who did a lot of female patter; it was funny, funny, funny! You absolutely believed that these female impersonators were the real thing. Then all of a sudden, they took out their breasts and bounced them up and down on the stage! The whole house just came down. The part that was most impressive and most astonishing as you watched these – you can only say – beautiful women in their beautiful evening clothes with their feminine curves. Whether they were on hormones, I don’t know.

After the show, we came back to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill for a snack. I was unprepared for what came next. Sammy turned to me and said, “We have let you see us as we are, and now it is your scientific duty to make a study of people like us.” Imagine that! This bright young man, somewhere in his early thirties, had obviously been thinking about this for a long time. And by “people like us” he meant, “We’re [Gay], but we don’t need psychiatrists. We don’t need psychologists. We’re not insane. We’re not any of those things they say we are.”

But I demurred. I was already teaching about eighteen hours a week and doing some animal research and God knows what else. I said, “I can’t study you because you’re my friends. I couldn’t be objective about you.” He replied that they could get me a hundred men; any number of men I wanted.

I couldn’t see how I could do it. The thought of it was not in any way disturbing. It was not that. But I couldn’t see how I could add anything more to what I was already doing. Sammy would not let me go. He said, “You’re the person to do it. You know us. You have the training.”

The purpose of the study Sammy wanted me to do was to show the world what they were really like. What he wanted countered was the kind of thing that I was teaching at the time. I taught everything in the psychology domain, including ‘abnormal’ psychology and social psychology. You name it, I did it. And I probably taught the usual junk that [same-sex love] is ‘psychopathological,’ that it’s a ‘criminal offense,’ and that it’s a ‘sin.’ I had no reason to think that these three things weren’t true.

Sammy was pressing me hard, so I said I would talk to a colleague about it. I had a colleague with whom I shared an office. He was half-time, and I was part-time research. His name was Bruno Klopfer. Bruno was one of the world’s greatest experts on the Rorschach Test. So I went to Bruno and I told him about this suggestion. He jumped out of his chair and said, “You must do it, Eee-vah-leeeen! You must do it! Your friend is absolutely right. We don’t know anything about people like him. The only ones we know about are the people who come to us as patients. And, of course, many of those who come to us are very disturbed; pathological. You must do it!” So I told Bruno I would do it. Bruno later served in my research as a judge. Unfortunately, Sammy was killed in a tragic automobile accident and never learned the outcome of what he urged me to do.


*    *    *


Despite my decision to proceed with the study, I was so pressed in my work and my personal life that it was difficult to do the research. I started to do a sort of hand-to-mouth study. My Gay friends – and their friends – all longed to be in the study, of course. And I would say, “Now, don’t talk to anybody else about what you saw in the Rorschach. Don’t tell them how many responses you had or what you saw.” With the Rorschach, you show an individual ten different ink blots and ask him to describe what he sees. The normal number of responses might be something like fifty. Well, the first thing you know, I was getting three hundred to four hundred responses to the Rorschach test. If they are really creative, and many of these men were, then you’re going to have a lot of unique responses and that, of course, is fine. But not three hundred or four hundred. They certainly were talking to their friends.

In the middle of all this, my own house of cards blew up. I had known for some time that Don, my husband, was an alcoholic. He finally decided to be divorced. He said “It’s enough that I destroy myself; I can’t bear to destroy you.” I wrote to my friends in the East and said, “If you hear of a job there, let me know.” I’m a Hopkins Ph.D., and a lot of my psychological friends were in the East. I didn’t think that I could stand staying in California. It was awful. Dreadful. And just like that, I was hired at Bryn Mawr, outside Philadelphia. It was crazy. So I just dropped the project. By then I had done maybe fifty or seventy-five interviews.

I stayed one year at Bryn Mawr. If I had stayed there, you never would have heard from me. I wouldn’t have done the study without the guys in California. But after one year, I came back to my old job at UCLA. It was 1948. […] For the first time in my life I was really free. I was in love [with Edward Hooker]. I didn’t have to teach eighteen hours a week. I had just heard that the National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH] had been founded, which started me thinking. I began looking through the interviews that I had done with the original group of Gay men and knew I couldn’t use them. First of all, they were not planned enough. And second, I didn’t have anything to compare them with.

What I had learned, of course, with every step I took, was that these men represented a cross section of personality, talent, background, adjustment, and mental health. The whole kit and caboodle was there. But I had to prove it.

As I was sitting there in my study, I said to myself, “What I think I’ll do is apply to NIMH. If the study section thinks this project is worth doing, I’ll do it.” So I wrote out an application for a grant. I said that I could get any number of Gay men.

The chief of the grants division, John Eberhart, flew out and spent the day with me. He wanted to see what kind of a kook this was. “Is she crazy, or can she do this?” At the end of the day he said, “We’re prepared to make you this grant, but you may not get it.” By this time it was 1953, the height of the McCarthy era. The concern was that if somebody were to come across my name in connection with [same-sex love], and come across the fact that my first husband was in the Bureau of Medical Aid to Spain in the Spanish Civil War, they would have killed the research. And here I was proposing to study normal [Gay] men in 1953? As John had said to me, “If you get the grant, you won’t know why, and we won’t know why.” And to this day, I have no idea why I got it, because several years later, I learned that McCarthy’s henchmen had indeed been keeping an eye on me.

Later, once the results were known, I was often asked by Gay women, “Why didn’t you do for us what you did for the Gay men?” First I said, “You didn’t ask me, and the men did.” But there’s more to it than that. Suppose I had gone to NIMH in 1953 and said, “I want to do a study of Lesbians.” The first thing that would have happened, I am convinced, is that they would have said, “We think this bears [criminal] investigation.” They would have been thinking, “Perhaps she herself is a Lesbian.” I think that may have been one question in John Eberhart’s mind when he came and spent the day with me. He knew that if I was going to go into this field, I had to be above reproach. I would have to be as ‘pure’ as the driven snow.


*    *    *


The real excitement began when NIMH gave me the grant. There was excitement about doing something you felt was going to be ground-breaking, whatever it led to. It was exciting because it would have been the first time anybody ever looked at this and said, “We’ll use scientific tests to determine whether or not h*m*s*x**l*ty is pathological.”

When I set out to find the thirty Gay men I needed for the study, I had a few rules. I wanted to be certain that they were all what Kinsey called a “five” or “six” – exclusively [Gay]. I [also] didn’t want anyone who had extended therapy or arrest records.

I found the Gay men primarily through friendship networks: the Mattachine Society – l had been invited to some of the original public meetings of the organization – and ONE, Incorporated. I interviewed them in the apartment in back of our garage. I could not have carried on my study at UCLA. No one would have participated because they would have been afraid of the [legal or medical harassment]. Everyone knew that I was doing this research, so these men would have been identified immediately.


*    *    *


I had no difficulty getting these men to talk. And I had no difficulty finding many more Gay men than the thirty I needed, although I only used thirty. The problem was getting the straight men. Remember, this was the early 1950s. I thought that if I went to a labor union and asked for the personnel director and told him what I was doing, he would be willing to speak individually to men he thought were thoroughgoing ‘heterosexual’ men. Not a bit of it. The personnel director I went to wouldn’t do it. He said, “Are you doing a Kinsey study?” I said, “No, I’m not.” “Any study that involves sexuality,” he said, “might boomerang, and I would lose my job.”

I was just at my wit’s end to find heterosexuals who were of the general educational, economic, et cetera level of my Gay group. So I got heterosexuals in the most unusual ways. One day, for example, I was sitting in the study and I heard some steps coming down the driveway. I looked out, and there were blue- trouser legs; four of them. I said, “Oh, boy!” It turned out that they were firemen who had come by to look at our fire precautions. I went out to meet them, and as we walked toward my office, one of them said, “Oh, you’re a writer?” I said, “No, not exactly. I’m a psychologist.” “Oh,” he said, “I have two boys, and they’re in a psychology experiment at UCLA.” I asked him if he would be willing to be in a psychology experiment. He said he couldn’t because of work. When I asked him about participating on his days off, he said he had to take care of his boys. So I offered to pay for a baby-sitter. Finally, he agreed to participate. []

The fireman introduced me to a cop. The cop wanted to come to me because he was having marital troubles and was willing to exchange a little information for some advice. I learned all about the ins and outs of the police department downtown. In my search, I also went to the maintenance department at UCLA, but instead of getting a maintenance man, I found a man who was working on his master’s degree in sociology. After two years, I got my thirty and thirty.

Each of the sixty subjects was given three projective personality tests widely used at the time: the Rorschach Test, the Thematic Apperception Test, and the Make a Picture Story Test. The assumption underlying their use was that the person being tested would reveal his anxieties, fears, and fundamental personality predispositions without being fully aware that he was doing so.

The test results were then submitted to three judges, all nationally and internationally known psychological experts who did not know whether a subject was Gay or straight. The judges evaluated each test and assigned a rating of overall psychological adjustment on a scale of one – superior – to five – maladjusted. On all three tests, two-thirds of the [] men were assigned a rating of three, which was average or better! There was no inherent association between maladjustment or psychopathology and [being Gay]. This finding was validated later by my own use of objective psychological tests and the reports of other psychologists.

Bruno Klopfer was one of the original judges who evaluated the responses. He was living in Carmel. When I went up there, people said, “You’ll never get away with this. Your face will reveal who is and who isn’t. He’ll know.” I said, “Oh, nonsense. He’s the great Rorschach expert.” I think we spent ten days just going over the materials, one after the other. It was terribly exciting to see Bruno make his decisions. []

At that time, the 1950s, every clinical psychologist worth his soul would tell you that if he gave those projective tests, he could tell whether a person was Gay or not. I showed that they couldn’t do it. I was very pleased with that. Bruno could hardly believe his eyes. He was absolutely positive that the dynamics would be such that he would know immediately who was Gay and who wasn’t. But he didn’t know.


*    *    *


One of the most exciting days of my life was the day I presented that paper – my study – at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago in 1956. The title of the paper was “The Adjustment of the Male Overt H*m*s*x**l.” In my paper, I presented the evidence that Gay men can be as well-adjusted as straight men, and that some are even better adjusted than most straight men. In other words, so far as the evidence was concerned, there was no difference between the two groups of men in the study. There was just as much [evidence of] pathology in one group as in the other.

My presentation was held in one of the big ballrooms, in one of the big hotels. The air was electric. We were still going strong at the end of the hour, so they moved us to another ballroom. Of course, there were some people, not too many, who were saying, “That can’t be right.” And they set off to prove that I was crazy. At the time, the hard-liners among the psychoanalysts, like Irving Bieber, would as soon shoot me as look at me.

I think for everybody – unless they were severely prejudiced, as lots of people were and are – what I had to say was a very exciting concept. And, of course, I made it electric. I used to have a fairly good speaking voice. A woman came up to me after I finished reading the paper and said, “If I had your voice, I’d patent it.”

When I came back from Chicago, I remember a meeting at a restaurant in Hollywood. I had promised the Gay men that I would let them know what the results were. Oh, they were uproarious with laughter. “This is great. We knew it all the time!” I didn’t meet with the straight men. They didn’t have the motivation to follow an old lady around.

In his book, H*m*s*x**l*ty and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, Ronald Bayer wrote about me and his reaction to my study. He described the study quite accurately and then said – I’m paraphrasing – “But in spite of the fact that she drew tentative conclusions” – which of course, any scientific study does – “she nevertheless accepted the honors of the ‘gay’ community. She was an advocate for them . . . . ” There’s a slight no-no in [accusing me of that], I think. But I don’t care. As far as he’s concerned, I was tainted by my association. I ought to be that perfectly impartial, objective researcher. That’s why I had to use judges, so I couldn’t be accused of anything.


*    *    *


I think that the net impact of my study was felt in a number of ways. My friend Ed Shneidman described it when the Clinical Division of the American Psychological Association gave me the Distinguished Contribution Award. Among the things he wrote was that I had made [same-sex love] a respectable field of study. That cannot be discounted. It paved the way for a lot of people who had the courage – Gay and straight psychologists alike – to do research.

But what means the most to me, I think, is . . . . Excuse me while I cry . . . . If I went to a Gay gathering of some kind, I was sure to have at least one person come up to me and say, “I wanted to meet you, because I wanted to tell you what you saved me from.” I’m thinking of a young woman who came up to me and said that when her parents discovered she was a Lesbian, they put her in a psychiatric hospital. The standard procedure for ‘treating’ gayness in that hospital was electroshock therapy. Her psychiatrist was familiar with my work, and he was able to keep them from giving it to her. She had tears streaming down her face as she told me this. I know that wherever I go, there are men and women for whom my little bit of work and my caring enough to do it has made an enormous difference in their lives.

—Dr. Evelyn Hooker,[i]

oral history recorded circa 1991




[i] “…an enormous difference…” Dr. Evelyn Hooker Making History: the Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945-1990; an Oral History [Eric Marcus, Editor] (New York 1992), ps. 16-25



Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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While I was preparing this paper for posting, I kept remembering what it was like to read it for the first time. It must have been between 15 and 20 years ago now that I got the book, and remember pressing a few of my coworkers to borrow Making History to read this wonderful account for themselves. 

It's feels nice to bring it up again, and introduce it to a new and larger audience

Edited by AC Benus
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I cannot help but be grateful to you and to Dr. Hooker. Her work may have saved countless people from horrors inflicted others; and you have relayed to us in these gentle recollections a deeper insight into the fear and bigotry  that ruled in her early years. 

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1 hour ago, AC Benus said:

While I was preparing this paper for posting, I kept remembering what it was like to read it for the first time. It must have been between 15 and 20 years ago now that I got the book, and remember pressing a few of my coworkers to borrow Making History to read this wonderful account for themselves. 

It's feels nice to bring it up again, and introduce it to a new and larger audience

I first learned of Dr Hooker while completing my undergrad in psychology at a small, Midwestern university. The professor had a hyphenated name, even though at that time he could not legally marry his husband. I recall him choking up as he taught us the DSM and said his gratitude to this woman, specifically mentioning that it was due to her that we weren’t learning about homosexuality in our abnormal psychology class.  
I am grateful to that professor for many reasons; he was the first to convince me to go to directly into grad school and championed my admittance. When it was time to test for and be granted my clinical licensure, he was in my cheering section. But much more importantly he taught scores upon scores of us by sheer example how to live and love in our life, whatever our sexual preference. 
Thank you for adding this paper. It brought wonderful tears and memories. If Dr Hooker could do this during the McCarthy era, we all have no excuse but to continue to do our part. 

Edited by 84Mags
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19 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

I cannot help but be grateful to you and to Dr. Hooker. Her work may have saved countless people from horrors inflicted others; and you have relayed to us in these gentle recollections a deeper insight into the fear and bigotry  that ruled in her early years. 

Thank you, Parker, for reading and commenting. You touched me by saying "saved lives," because that's exactly what Dr. Hooker did; countless. So many avoided suicide because she offered an escape from an H-word diagnosis of made-up misery. She let so many be who they are without the "othering" so rampant, and still today enshrined in the non-self-chosen use of calling someone an H-word. I mean, who today goes around insisting Black people are n*gr*s, except in an effort to set them aside as non-conforming in some way?

Thanks again; this was an important posting :)  

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@84MagsThanks for your wonderful set of comments and memories! The small detail of your instructor hyphenating his name with that of his partner's touches me very, very deeply. But yes, in so many fields, the allowing of LGBT+ professionals to earn their credentials, just like anyone else, and then pursue the research and publishing desperately needed to talk to queer people about queer people, was vital to progress. The many books I have from the 1960s, for example by way of contrast, are about Gay people being talked 'about' instead of 'to'. It is a major difference when a minority can be taken as the authority on their particular historical experiences instead of an outsider. Another Black example comes to mind, as from the 1950s to about 1970, white "experts" always, uniformly, referred to the struggles of integration in America as, quote-un-quote, "The N*gr* Problem." How irksome and useless was that?! But that's what happens when people and their lives are abstracted to the point of being nothing but a study of some kind.

Anyway, thank you for indulging my babbling here :) And I encourage you to plz, plz, share more of your thoughts when I post addition entries to the Mirror. Thanks again a million times     

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