Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Decade of Torture in Gay America, or Cut ‘em off, Cut it out, or Cut ‘em down

I am attached to my testicles. I can’t foresee a time, a place or a circumstance that would lead me to forsake them, to rid my undercarriage of their furry globosity, or surrender them to a mad scientist. The bond is territorial, as well as psychoemotional. Besides, who else would have them but me? How could they satisfy the needs of any other man but mine? Put simply, they have one master—moi. Moving in the cephalic direction, take my cortex; but first some definitions: Me is the guy you see on the street, turn to your friend and say, “My, who is that handsome and brilliant gentleman”? However, ME is invisible. It is the essence of Me. It is the flow of Me, the conscious Me. There are some philosophers who would argue that my cortex--the nuts and bolts—make Me, ME. That is, the machine is ME. There are some neuroscientists who would agree with them. On the other hand, there are those who would argue conversely. Simply put, the hardware is not the “end product”. So, as it stands, my cortex can either be ME or not. If not, then who, or what, is ME? And what about Me? Rimbaud knew that Je est un autre, i.e., “I is someone else”. Well, that’s all well and good if you are a 17 year-old genius, riddled with lice, and destroying French poetry with ink, sperm, and fire. Easy for him to say. My point is that ME emerges from a very, very large network of intricacies, delicacies, monstrosities, curiosities, and divinities, that no machine can create. ME is outside of the machine. ME rises like a vapor as the machinery churns away. Rimbaud was right. I is someone else and that I is unique to this crinkly universe. It is unable to be held tight in the fist of oppressors or fools with pointy hats and dripping with symbols of beliefs. I have come to understand this: my visible self is superficially alterable. But ME is forever ME. This is not the same as the Self (that’s a bag of Buddhist worms that I dare not open). So here’s the point: there is more to ME than Me…….and my testicles.

Unfortunately, this was not always the case in America the Beautiful. From the mid-forties to the mid-fifties, gay men were being tortured into “normalcy”--and torture is not too strong a word. If any of these methods were used outside of the sanctity of the ward, the practitioners would be tried and jailed. They were hailed instead. The culture of the day, the perfect world of homo-geneity (<>, I said “homo”) decided that the ME of gay men and women did not have the same valence as the ME(s) of the Real America. They had to be altered, or insidiously destroyed. There were many knights willing to rise to heed the call.

Dr. Walter J. Freeman was trained at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School after graduating from Yale College in 1916. His area of specialty was neurology. He began working at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC and while there earned a PhD in neuropathology. He left St. Elizabeth’s and took a position as the head of the neurology department at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. Freeman performed his first prefrontal lobotomy in 1936. Ten years into his practice he began performing prefrontal lobotomies using a procedure developed by a neurosurgeon in Italy. This procedure did not require the surgeon to enter the skull. Instead, he entered the pre-frontal area through the patient’s eye sockets, thus its name—the transorbital lobotomy. Freeman mastered this procedure known as the “icepick lobotomy”, so called because the instrument used—the orbitoclast—resembled a common household icepick. First, he used electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) aka “shock therapy” to induce seizure and that had an “anesthetic effect” in the patient. Then he would enter the patient’s brain by using a metal pick, wiggle it back and forth, thus severing the neurons in the prefrontal area. Let’s review: first he induced seizure via ECT, then he used a metal instrument, essentially an icepick, to perform a lobotomy through the patient’s eye sockets. In all fairness, until the advent of psychotropic drugs to manage patients who fell into the broad category of mental illness, this was an acceptable procedure.

Thirty to forty percent of his patients were homosexual.

Snapshot: Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, California. A mental institution that became known as the “Homosexual Dachau”. Castrations, lobotomies, chemical “treatments”, and experimentation were on the menu of cures for the “perverse”. Guess who stopped by? Now, to be fair, there is no clear documentation indicating that Dr. Freeman performed any icepick procedures on the resident queers. However, why else would a lobotomist be vacationing at such a glorious institution? And there were plenty of folks, i.e., MEs, who needed curing, who needed to be scoured clean of their perversity. Didn’t work. Oh, and don’t bother looking for personal records of these incidents. Not a scribble on a paper. They worked clean.

Then, as now, torturing homosexuals is acceptable. Then, they used orbitoclasts; now, they use laws, lies, bibles, and big happy smiles. This remedy offers the slow death. Destroy hope, opportunity, security, stability, equality, and you destroy the subject, the Me on the street, with the full intent to obliterate ME. Or force them into a very, very dark cave. Not a shot fired, or a noose formed. Except in the cases of the 30% of teenagers who identify as gay: they find just the right rope, just the right height, the right time and the right place. Then they jump into freedom, or sail from a bridge. Tortured into believing that swinging blue from a rope is better than being Me. Not a magazine was filled, no weapons brandished. America is purified by the blood of the sinner. The flags wave over NASCAR and football and churches and the Homeland rests, secured.

But the MEs live on.

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Jim Mancinelli's Bio:

His first chapbook, Primer, was self-published. His second chapbook, In Deep, was published by Plan B Press. His writing is informed by the spirit, the earth, the heavens, the voices of his Italian heritage. His poems have appeared in various issues of Philadelphia Poets, The Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Sea Change, Mad Poets Review, Fox Chase Review and Poetry Ink, an anthology of Philadelphia poets. Jim was a finalist in the 2011 Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, judged by Mark Doty. He has been a featured reader in various Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware venues and a featured reader on Live from Kelly Writer’s House. Jim teaches in the Speech-Language-Hearing Science Program at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

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