In Search Of A Cure For Homosexuality

George’s life after the failed exorcism seemed to flourish to the end of his days with a seemingly successful Christian Ministry and a happy married life in a pleasant part of the country. In contrast, my future life held many challenges to be faced and battles to be fought. My dilemma of what to do after my hospitalisation was resolved by a Good Samaritan named Jean. I had met her many times at Church and she invited me to stay at her home whilst I convalesced and wound up my affairs in Mansfield. Despite the fact Jean was much old than George and me, she was one of the ladies who had come under George’s spell but had ultimately rebuffed his advances. Furthermore, she was not fussed about what people were saying about me. I was enabled me to wind up my affairs and to sell the small bungalow I was buying in Mansfield. When I was well enough I had no option but to return to the Black Country to live with my parents again, the very thought of which, brought on a fit of the blues. I was able to get a job with a firm of accountants in Birmingham which paid me a salary more appropriate to my qualifications, about four times my father’s annual wage. At least I had accomplished one of my ambitions, but at what cost!

Whilst living with my parents I was still troubled by my homosexuality and was now convinced that I was ill rather than a moral delinquent. How this shift in my mental awareness came about I’m not entirely sure? Before entering the mental hospital, I recall that I had been reading books on psychology and sex and I had taken them with me into hospital. Although they were removed by the nurses I had already read something about homosexuality now being thought of as an illness. Medical opinion was obviously changing, because before leaving the hospital I was given a prescription to take to my local doctor. The prescription was for a weekly injection of testosterone, the male hormone. I understand that testosterone is made by the testicles in the male body and is the hormone responsible for many sexual characteristics such as the distribution of hair, sex drive and the sexual functions. One of the things I was worried about was my lack of hair on my chest and legs; other young men seemed to have been endowed with this decoration, why not me? I had a great shock of near auburn hair on my head, but to me this was not sufficient evidence that I was truly a male! However, I was duly given the injections, but hair did not grow on my legs or my chest as I had hoped, my sex drive showed no change of direction and my genitals remained stubbornly unconcerned about the opposite sex. In fact, it made me more sexually aroused than ever before and consequently increased my sexual frustration. The only relief was masturbation, which in turn increased my sense of guilt as it was still considered as a sin by the Church whether you were homosexual or not. But I did not go blind as some pundits use to warn erring youths. After a year, the injections were discontinued and I moved to London where I got a job with a firm of Chartered Accountants at a much larger salary than I had ever earned before. This enabled me to finance the fees of a Freudian psychoanalyst who thought he could redirect my sexual potential from homosexual to heterosexual.

Recently, I read an account by Adam Mars-Jones of his ‘coming out’ to his parents. He is a novelist and critic and his father is a Welsh High Court judge. His father later sent him a letter in which he referred to some remarkable results that had been obtained from using testosterone on homosexuals. There were references to medical journals which were concerned with testosterone levels rather than treatment, but the homosexuals on whom the tests had been carried out were female! No wonder Adam Mars-Jones found this fairly insulting. You would have thought that the High Court Judge would get his facts right!

I have been wracking my brains to remember who it was that linked my life for the next two years to Doctor Ernest White. whom I consulted in London. Whilst living with my parents my contacts with anyone at that time were few indeed, especially in view of my mother’s objection to friends coming to the house. I hardly got to know anyone at the small accountancy firm in Birmingham where I had been engaged to audit the accounts of businesses in the area single handed. There was an engineering firm in Stourport in Worcestershire where I got to know the managing director, who was interested in people suffering from depression, but I have no recollection of any recommendation from him. Nor did I reveal my homosexuality to him which was the reason for my depression. The only other contact was a family whom I met at the Baptist Church where my mother worshipped. I was invited to their home where I discovered that their views on Christianity were very much influenced by Christians known as ‘Brethren’. These Christians have no formal priesthood, no creeds and interpret the Scriptures in the fundamentalist way as George did. I was immediately put on my guard, but they were gentle with me and I appreciated their friendship. I was at time very lonely and needed friends. It was obviously this connection with the ‘Brethren’ which might have been the link, as I discovered later that Doctor Ernest White was also a member of that tradition of Christianity.

In January 1957 I moved to London so that I could see Doctor White regularly. I found cheap digs at a small Y.M.C.A. in Fulham, next to Walham Green Post Office. Walham Green no longer exists; the station was renamed Fulham Broadway in 1952. The room I was offered was in the attic and it had a skylight for a window and there was only about a foot between the edge of the bed and the exit door. There were no storage cupboards, I had to keep all my belongings in my case which went under the bed, nor was there any table or chair, I had to sit on the bed to read etc. Breakfast and a main meal were provided, but the residents had to wash up and clean the kitchen after Sunday lunch. If you wanted other meals, you had to buy the food yourself. There was a Bunsen burner on one of the landings and the other residents and I used to boil and fry things there and take the food back to our rooms. This was all I could afford as I had to pay Doctor White ten guineas a session of 50 minutes every week for the next two years. On fine days I used to walk to my work, crossing into Worlds End and then into Chelsea itself, passing the Royal Hospital for Pensioners on the right and then into Sloane Square and finally to 157, Victoria Street where the offices of the Chartered Accountants were located. Since then their offices have gone and the site has been entirely redeveloped.

Friday night was when I saw Doctor White. The sessions consisted of talking freely about anything which came into my head. It was called ‘Free association’ and was a technique used by Sigmund Freud, enabling the patient to speak for themselves rather than repeating the ideas of the analyst. In this way I worked through over the course of the sessions much of what I have written in the earlier chapters of this book about the bullying at school, name calling and rejection by my father and my possessive mother. Doctor White asked the occasional question, mostly for a clarification. The material I provided was the very information which supported the Freudian theory that I had become a homosexual as a result of those experiences with my parents and others and consequently had arrested my sexual development. Doctor White was not only interested in my conscious thoughts and memories but also the feelings which had been repressed (an unconscious activity) by my shame which had inhibited them. According to Freud, these could only be retrieved by an analysis of my dreams which were not subjected to the censoring of my conscious mind.

So every week I was asked to record my dreams as soon as possible after waking up in the morning. Some of the dreams revealed quite a lot about my feelings which I had repressed because they were unacceptable to my moral sensibilities. I remember one dream I had and its interpretation very vividly. The dream focused on Charles I whom, as I remembered from school, was an arrogant and conceited man who refused to listen to his parliament. Despite the fact that no King of England had ever been executed before, Charles lost his head. It was obvious that my dream was really about my father, who treated me badly. Although people don’t normally hate their fathers to a point when they want to kill them, these were in fact my true feelings about my father which I had repressed. Another of Freud’s theories was his ‘Oedipal complex’. This reminded me when I was in my teens when I fell madly in love with a woman who was 10 years my senior. Doctor White suggested that this was a belated phase of my sexual journey when I was still mother fixated, and which led me to the choice of a sexual partner who resembled my mother. Coupled with my dream which revealed my desire to kill my father it illustrated Freud’s ‘Oedipal complex’ exactly. Although Doctor White was a ‘Brethren’ fundamentalist, I only recall one instance in our conversations when he made a judgement about my behaviour, otherwise he was faithful to Freud. Although a Jew, Freud regarded God as an illusion based on the infantile need for a powerful father figure necessary to help to restrain violent impulses earlier in the development of civilisation, but now God has been succeeded by reason and science. Consequently, there was no spiritual dimension to Freud’s understanding of the human mind; reason and science were the only tools of his profession.

It was hard to accept that my encounter with Freud was disappointing. It simply confirmed my homosexuality and that no amount of unravelling of my conscious and unconscious feelings and thoughts could redirect my sexual drive to flow in another direction. I felt that I had been pulled apart and left, like Humpty Dumpty on the ground with no King’s horses and no King’s men to try and put me together again.

After my experience with a Freudian Analyst I ceased to look for a cure for my homosexuality but continued my search for relief from depression which assailed me at intervals, at times very severely, during the rest of my life. For a time, I was, prescribed anti-depressants which calmed me down for a short while but the unpleasant side effects were a disincentive to continue to take them. Later on when Prozac became available I was prescribed a course, but it was no more effective than the earlier drugs: it gave me a dry mouth and a constant feeling of unreality. In my early thirties I attended St. Thomas’s Hospital and was under Dr. William Sargent, remembered as a major force in British psychiatry in the post war years, who prescribed a course of Lithium Carbonate. I was given a strict diet. I could not drink alcohol or coffee or eat any cheese. Very soon my hands began to tremble and I experienced that sense of unrealness which seemed to be a common side-effect whenever I took any kind of anti-depressant drug, so I discontinued the Lithium.

In the ’70s, after my experience of Freudian Analysis I was quite resistant to any talk about my inner life for a long time, although I was still in turmoil and in deep depression. However, I became more involved with the Church and its teaching and began reading books about the Christian faith, see my Bibliography at the end of the book for details. I found that instead of them being about God as judge, pronouncing judgement and meeting out punishment for sin, the language was about forgiveness, healing and love. The writers had a warmth and lightness of touch and an understanding of the human condition, quite different from the model so often portrayed by the Bible. It was as if suddenly these Christian guides had found ‘compassion’. Unlike Freud who tended to reduce all religious impulses to biology and science, these authors used psychological insights into the human condition together with the religious impulse and in so doing enabled some kind of transcendence to take place. The moving spirit in this transformation of thinking was Gustav Jung, a contemporary of Freud who differed from him on the role of religion. For Jung, life without religion was disordered and he saw psychic health as a development towards integration, which he called ‘inward individuation’, and consequently was future-orientated. Christian faith and psychology have now become the stock in trade used by Christian counsellors and spiritual directors and is now pretty universal. Such a discovery was the spur which brought me to the practice of attending Christian retreats and having a spiritual director which has helped me in cope with depression and my homosexuality, the proverbial thorn in my flesh.

 

Image by Aeneastudio


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About Stanley Underhill

The idea of writing an account of my struggle with my sexual orientation and subsequent depressions was suggested to me by Charles Neal, a therapist and author whom I used to consult from time to time in order to ease my pain. He thought it could be cathartic. I resisted the idea for a long time as it seemed to me a somewhat self-indulgent exercise, but then I also realised that to tell actual stories from my own life would help to communicate the underlying and often complex issues involved and offer support to other people in the same predicament. Depressions for real began after a mental breakdown when I was 29 years old. They have continued at intervals during the rest of my life. I am now 89 as I record these memories and reminiscences.

3 Responses to “In Search Of A Cure For Homosexuality”

  1. Refreshingly honest writing, reminding us how impossible life in the fifties could be, not only for gays, but black people, young people, women who expected equality, mental health sufferers, even actors for wearing makeup outside the theatre, when they went to the pub between acts. It was anyone who did things differently. Notice I’ve not used the words ‘didn’t conform’. It was worse than that. It was a time of zero forgiveness. The standard answer was, ‘pull your self together’. But this excerpt reminds us of that magic quantity – distance travelled. We have achieved a lot – hate crime is back post-Brexit, but we are still moving in the right direction.

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