Dr. Judd Marmor: Straight Talk on Homosexuals

Last year the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association passed a resolution that homosexuality was no longer to be considered a mental disorder in its official diagnostic manual. Instead, a category was created called “Sexual Orientation Disturbance,” to describe only those homosexuals who are unhappy with their sexual inclinations.

The resolution so angered some psychiatrists who opposed the change in diagnosis that a referendum was held in April. Eleven thousand members of the association (about half of the total membership) voted and 58% upheld the board’s resolution.

Instrumental in effecting that resolution was Judd Marmor, the association’s president-elect, who will take office in May 1975. Currently Franz Alexander Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, Dr. Marmor, 64, has written three books, Sexual Inversion: The Multiple Roots of Homosexuality, Modern Psychoanalysis: New Directions and Perspectives, and Psychiatry in Transition.

Dr. Marmor and his wife Katherine (a counselor and group therapist at the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center) live in a Bel Air home filled with works by such artists as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Ed Kienholz. Recently Barbara Wilkins of PEOPLE questioned Dr. Marmor about his views on homosexuality in the U.S. today.

Why did the Board’s resolution to change the status of homosexuality upset the psychiatric community?

When people have strongly held convictions—in this case that homosexuality is an illness—they find it distressing to have to change their minds. This involves religious prejudice and a great deal of cultural prejudice. Most of the feeling against the resolution came from some of the older psychiatrists.

What is your definition of homosexuality?

Clinically, I define the homosexual as one who is motivated in adult life by a preferential erotic attraction to members of the same sex and who usually, but not necessarily, engages in overt sexual relations with members of that sex.

Why all the militancy now from homosexuals?

My impression is that this is part of a general cultural pressure we’re getting from all sorts of groups who feel they haven’t gotten a fair shake.

How many homosexuals are there in the country?

The number stays relatively constant at 4 percent of all adult males, 2 percent of adult females. Some are in the closet though, and some are out. There really isn’t an accurate figure.

Will liberalized sexual laws and a more permissive society possibly lead to an increase in homosexuality?

Behavior in a permissive society may tend toward heterosexuality rather than homosexuality, and it could even be a factor in diminishing the incidence of homosexuality. I don’t necessarily advocate promiscuous intercourse among adolescents, though. We don’t live in that kind of society.

How do you personally feel about laws liberalizing homosexual behavior?

Homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should not be the law’s business. Several European countries and eight states have enacted such laws, and there is no evidence where this has occurred that there is any increase in homosexuality.

Considering the hostility society has traditionally felt for homosexuals, isn’t it difficult for them to be happy?

I’ve always felt that the homosexual who is happy and able to be well-adjusted has great strength. He has so much to overcome. I think the hostility may be modified as our sexual mores begin to be modified. Younger people are more tolerant toward homosexuality. People who are less religious are more tolerant.

Yet we’ve seen the advent of gay churches over the last few years.

The gay churches have been helpful. They have destroyed some of the stereotypes of homosexuals as atheistic, godless people.

Does the stereotype of the homosexual fit the reality?

The vast majority of homosexuals are not distinguishable from heterosexuals. They dress conservatively, they speak normally. They can be conservative, religious, theatrically hysterical, radical activists, unconscionable sociopaths or law-abiding citizens.

Homosexuals seem to be far more promiscuous than heterosexuals with their bath houses, their gay bars. Is that true?

It is mainly a small group of the terribly disturbed who are extremely promiscuous. The popular conception of those who solicit men in restrooms has little relationship to the fact. A recent study found that 54 percent of men having homosexual contact in public restrooms were married and living with wives and children in middle-class homes. As a group they tended to be on the conservative side. Catholics accounted for 40 percent.

What parental situation is most likely to produce a homosexual?

In many instances, the male homosexual has an overly close and seductive mother who prevents him from functioning in a normal, masculine way. He also has a father who is either disinterested or often absent, so that the boy has no adequate male role model. But we also see heterosexuals who come from this kind of family. Another situation is the powerful and idealized father who can’t be matched: the son retreats into identification with the mother.

What has been learned from research into the genetics of the homosexual?

Until recently, it seemed there were no hormonal differences, but researchers now have found that there is an abnormally low urinary testosterone level in homosexuals. These studies remain to be validated. There is a possibility, furthermore, that in at least some homosexuals there may be some innate genetic differences.

Do you think the complicated role heterosexual males are asked to play in our society might drive some into homosexuality?

I think it is a factor. To become a female, traditionally, has meant that all you had to do was grow up and find someone to take care of you. To be a male implied finding a work role, accepting the responsibility of a wife and children. A man with a weak ego may take flight from these responsibilities.

Is homosexuality a reflection of a fear of women?

Often, but not necessarily. Sometimes these homosexuals have grown up with controlling mothers. They are afraid of them, and don’t see any possibility of mastery. They feel overwhelmed.

Can homosexual behavior be altered?

When individuals are highly motivated, 25-50% can be helped to change.

Should parents blame themselves if a child turns out to be a homosexual?

No, the important thing is not to reject the child. The parents should get counseling for the child. I am in favor of changing adolescents and children where possible because, ultimately, it is better if they are heterosexual. There are fewer handicaps to overcome. Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that a homosexual adaptation imposes special stresses on an individual in our current culture.

Does what you’ve said about male homosexuals also apply to lesbians?

If anything, the lesbian can change her sexual orientation more easily than the male homosexual. The process of having intercourse is easier for the lesbian. And the living patterns are not the same. Lesbians tend to live in long-term love relationships more frequently than the male homosexual. There isn’t quite as much promiscuity among them.

They also don’t encounter as much flak from society. Society has always treated women as if they are sexual anyway, and in a male-oriented society lesbians don’t threaten males as much as the male homosexual does.

How do homosexuals handle the guilt most of them probably feel?

I suspect homosexuals are feeling less guilty these days. There’s gay liberation. Important people, like Merle Miller [the author] and Dr. Howard Brown [the former New York public health official], are coming out of the closet. These factors are bound to have an impact in terms of self-acceptance. They led the Psychiatric Association to take a more liberal view. I think there will always be some who would rather switch if they can. Our society is still built around heterosexual relationships.

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