In 1935, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, received a letter from a concerned woman who thought that her son was gay but could not outwardly admit to it.
She asked Freud if there were treatments that he could suggest to cure her son of his homosexuality. However, Freud had a better idea. Despite the illegality of homosexuality at the time, and society’s contempt for it, Freud’s response to the mother is forward-thinking and a bit unexpected.
In the letter, Freud does suggest that, technically, “treatment” for homosexuality may be possible, but says the result “cannot be predicted”.
The letter currently lives at the Museum of Sexology in London. Yes, that’s a real thing.
The letter was given to sex researcher and noted bisexual Alfred Kinsey, inventor of the Kinsey Scale and it was later published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1951.
Attached to the letter to Kinsey from the mother was a note:
Dear Dr. Kinsey,
Herewith I enclose a letter from a Great and Good man which you may retain.
From a Grateful Mother.
Here is Freud’s letter:
Dear Mrs. [redacted],
I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis (an English physician, writer, progressive intellectual and social reformer who studied human sexuality).
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind, he should have analysis with me — I don’t expect you will — he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.
Sincerely yours with best wishes,
P.S. I did not find it difficult to read your handwriting. Hope you will not find my writing and my English a harder task.
And remember, kids, as Dr. Freud taught us:
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.