Andrea Ens

Between 1955 and 1973, twelve same-sex attracted men received psychedelic (LSD and/or mescaline) therapy at Hollywood Hospital, a for-profit addictions treatment facility in British Columbia, Canada. Most of these men hoped for heterosexual conversion or, at least, greater insight into their sexual attraction to other men. Although Hollywood’s main diagnostician Dr. D. C. MacDonald appeared to be interested in psychoactivity and intelligence more broadly, he specifically noted that eight of these twelve patients were of at least above average intelligence. His evaluations may have been informed by assumptions about these patients’ social class or ethnicity since most of them were white, upper-middle class men. However, MacDonald was not the only psychiatrist interested in the connection between same-sex attraction and intelligence in this period. A 1967 study conducted by the Forensic Clinic in Toronto – a leading postwar authority on the classification and causes of sexual deviance – found that homosexual men who had been married to women were typically more intelligent than average heterosexuals. Moreover, historian Peter Hegarty indicates in Gentleman’s Disagreement (2013) that the works of American sexologist Alfred Kinsey and psychologist Lewis Terman helped foster the idea that sexuality and intelligence were related in early twentieth-century scientific discourses.

Although connecting male homosexuality and intelligence might seem to counter negative appraisals of same-sex attraction, it may instead have increased fear of queer Canadians during the postwar period. Importantly, this construction of male homosexuals as intelligent was connected to broader cultural anxieties about same-sex attracted men in Cold War-era Canada.

Robert Block (left) and J. J. Belanger in a photo booth photo, Hastings Park, Vancouver, Canada, 1953. Credit: Courtesy ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

Cold War-era Canadian society was not kind to same-sex attracted individuals. Homosexuality was criminalized in Canada until 1969, but, as Anti-69 activists have identified, arrests for “indecent” sex in fact increased after this legislative change. Such sexual activities continued to be policed into the 2000s. More broadly, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1973. These factors contributed to widespread, state-sanctioned discrimination against queer Canadians in close connection to what has become known as the “Lavender Scare”. In Canada, this manifested itself in a period of anti-homosexual postwar moral panic in which same-sex attracted people were targeted for surveillance and blackmail by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, purged from the military and civil service, barred from entering the country as immigrants until 1978, and seen by many as deviant and/or sick individuals requiring criminal detention, psychiatric treatment, or both.

In this context, psychiatrists became increasingly interested in understanding same-sex attraction through science. One example illustrating the Canadian medical fascination with male homosexuality in this period is the “fruit machine,” a device invented by Frank Robert Wake meant to scientifically determine whether a man was sexually attracted to other men by measuring his reaction to homoerotic imagery. Although the project was abandoned and never advanced beyond the prototype stage, it is nonetheless demonstrative of the widespread social mistrust and scientific curiosity regarding male homosexuality in this period.

Medical and political discourses at this time, occasionally referenced the commonly held assumption that homosexual men were predatory by nature. Canadian members of parliament seemingly drew from such medicalized evaluations of homosexuality during political debates in April 1969. The Hon. W.G. Dinsdale stated that “Anybody who has been engaged in social work knows that the homosexual is a predator in respect to matters of sex,” [italics mine] further arguing that homosexuality “spreads like a plague, for there is no more destructive drive than the sexual impulse running wild.” His contemporary, Mr. Gérard Laprise, agreed, arguing that “Such sexual perverts are not satisfied with meeting other perverts; too often they try by every astute means available to pervert boys and sometimes, they kill or pervert.” [italics mine] Additionally, many psychiatrists at this time believed homosexuality could spread from adults to innocent youth through seduction, transforming these young men into homosexuals in their adulthood. Dr. R.E. Turner, for example, Director of the Forensic Clinic in Toronto (1958-1966) – the same facility that conducted studies exploring the link between homosexuality and intelligence – said in a seminar to medical students that seduction could reasonably precipitate homosexual behaviour based on his own clinical experience.

Through statements such as these, Canadian political and medical authorities implicitly suggested that homosexuals possessed a specific kind of intelligence: they were smart in that they had the capacity for duplicity, predatory behaviour, and malicious intent. By typifying same-sex attracted men in this manner, some associated them not only with intelligence, but with danger, perversion, and the corruption of Canadian youth “by every astute means available,” in the words of Mr. Laprise. Laprise’s italicized statement is significant here because it connects queer men’s supposed predatory potential to their intelligence. His argument, in other words, hints that homosexual men’s destructive tendencies were aided by their intellect.

But if these psychiatrists and politicians sincerely believed that homosexual men were predatory and intelligent, this underlying conviction could help explain why the threat of homosexual men occupying positions of power was so concerning in the context of the Lavender Scare. The anti-homosexual rhetoric and discriminatory culture that proliferated in Canada during the Lavender Scare was deeply connected to the Cold War-era’s anti-Communism. As fears of the “red menace” expanded from the United States into mid-twentieth-century Canada, so too did the fear among some experts that homosexual men weakened the nation’s stand against the risk of communist takeover due to their supposed susceptibility to blackmail. Homosexual men, so the logic went, were security risks because private information about their sexual desires could be discovered by Communist agents, who could then use this information to gain access to Canadian military and political secrets.

This fear was articulated in a 1959 Canadian Security Panel memorandum, which stated that “sexual abnormalities appear to be the favourite target of hostile intelligence agencies, and of these homosexuality is most often used.” If men of superior intellect are more likely to be appointed to high-level government positions, and if homosexuals were understood at this time as more intelligent than their heterosexual peers, then political and medical depictions of queer men as conniving and predatory may have provided convenient justifications for their political and social mistrust and exclusion during the Cold War.

These characterizations, however, reveal significant contradictions. Homosexual men were constructed as smart enough to deceive their “prey” and engage in subversive acts as state employees, but also lacking sufficient acumen to avoid blackmail or being susceptible to the USSR. They were seen as powerful enough to disrupt society’s moral order, but too weak to defend the nation or to conform to postwar depictions of proper, heterosexual masculinity. The medical and political discourses implicitly connecting homosexuality and intelligence thereby drew from anxieties about Canada’s position in the Cold War and proper sexual expression during this period of Canadian history.

Andrea Ens is a doctoral student in History at Purdue University. She completed her MA in History at the University of Saskatchewan in 2018, and her scholarly interests broadly include the history of medicine, sexuality, psychopharmacology, and psychiatry in mid-twentieth-century North America.

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