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Furman, R.A. (1998). Freud's Views on Homosexuality. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(2):645-648.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(2):645-648

Freud's Views on Homosexuality

Robert A. Furman

Ralph Roughton's review of Richard Isay's latest book (JAPA 45/1) begins as follows: “Homosexuality and psychoanalysis have had a stormy relationship…. The relationship began benignly, with Freud stating that homosexuality is neither an illness nor anything to be ashamed of, nor should it be a reason to reject a candidate for analytic training. In those days, psychoanalysis was a leading voice of reason and compassion against a repressive society. A few decades later, American psychoanalysts deemed homosexuality a treatable illness” (p. 293).

Unaware of any scientific papers of Freud's that could have been the source of such attributions, I searched through every reference to homosexuality and related subjects in the Standard Edition and found nothing. At that point I wrote the editor of the Journal for assistance in locating the pertinent references. The response to my inquiry was his forwarding to me a copy of a letter from Isay saying: “The statement … from Ralph Roughton's review is an elision of two sources. In his compassionate letter to an American mother whose son was homosexual, Freud wrote on April 9, 1935, that homosexuality is ‘nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness.’” The letter went on: “On December 1, 1921, Ernest Jones wrote Freud about the ‘propriety’ of the Dutch accepting an openly homosexual physician for training. Jones advised against it. But Freud, through Otto Rank, responded on December 11 that ‘we believe that a decision in such cases should be reserved for an examination of the person's other qualities.’”

The begin with, the 1935 letter is not a scientific statement of Freud's views on homosexuality, but rather is a kind, successful attempt to allay this mother's distress about her son. She was so upset she could not even use the word homosexual and was reacting as if her son had an unmentionable illness. In the context of the United States in the 1930s, it would be reasonable to say her concern about her son was as if he had a venereal disease like syphilis, and Freud's negation of the word illness in reassuring her might best be seen in this context.

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