An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society. by Jennifer Terry.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999. xiv + 537 pages. Hardcover $75.00 Paperback $20.00
Jennifer Terry, Associate Professor of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University, has produced a virtually encyclopedic history of "scientific" inquiry into homosexuality beginning in the Nineteenth Century. Her thesis is that homosexuality has served as a marker of the "abnormal" against which vague, shifting, and frequently contradictory concepts of the "normal" were defined. If homosexuality was a medical condition, then it seemed obvious to most physicians of the day that it could and should be cured. Those who resisted being cured of their "disease" were seen as a threat to the public health and their prosecution -- and persecution -- seemed justified.
This history is based on the examination of a broad array of medical texts, psychiatric case histories, survey reports, first-person accounts, court cases, legislative debates, and tabloid journalism of the period. The result is an account that is rich in detail and leavened with a sense of humor. It has value not only for the perspective it provides on continuing questions about the causes and social impact of homosexuality, but also for what it may say about the medicalization of other stigmatized minorities such as drug addicts or promiscuous persons.