In the Shadow of Diagnosis: Psychiatric Power and Queer Life

Univ. of Chicago. Apr. 2024. 240p. ISBN 9780226831855. pap. $27.50. HIST
Kunzel (history and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Yale Univ.; Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality) offers an authoritative record of how queer and gender-variant people were historically perceived and oppressed by leading U.S. psychiatry professionals in the mid– to late 20th century. Her book draws upon previously unexplored case files from Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. Benjamin Karpman, the psychiatrist who saw LGBTQIA+ patients at Saint Elizabeths, kept extensive notes, and he had his patients do extensive writing assignments too, which produced a treasure of primary sources. The book also contains more traditional historiography, so readers get a full picture of the views of many psychoanalysts, including Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber, who both believed that homosexuality was a treatable mental health condition. There were also myth busters and activists during this era—among them, Evelyn Hooker, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Martin Duberman. The 1973 American Psychiatric Association meeting, which reversed a century-old decision that homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a mental health condition, is given full coverage by Kunzel.
VERDICT This beautifully written, highly recommended book will find readers across a wide spectrum of academic fields, notably the history of science and psychiatry. But general audiences interested in seeing how professionals can correct an industry will enjoy this too.
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