gilove2dance said: About the 1940s view about homosexuality...what about poor Alan Turing?
[This message was sent to me in response to this post about Denis Rake.]
You are right that one example of acceptance/ambivalence about a man’s homosexuality in the 1940s does not mean everyone felt the same way. I suspect, actually, that Rake’s superiors looked the other way in large part because it was the War, and he was too good at his job for them to not turn a blind eye. It’d be pretty easy to imagine that if he weren’t such a good spy that they would have turned him in and been done with him (which would probably be just as much about getting rid of a potential weak link in the spy network as getting rid of a gay subordinate).
Alan Turing is one of the best-known (and one of the most heart-breaking) examples of someone whose sexuality was used to destroy him in an era when homosexuality was still considered a sin, a mental illness (it was actually classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973; not sure if there is a different date for England), and—in England (and elsewhere)—a crime. I feel like it should be noted that Turing wasn’t (officially) outed until several years after the War (again, probably in part because he was really good at his job during the War, which was cryptology and encoding/decoding encrypted messages).
I think one of the saddest parts about Turing’s story is that his arrest for homosexuality was contingent on his house being burgled. He reported a crime committed against him and was arrested for something else entirely. The other tragic part, of course, is that he committed suicide just a few years later, no doubt in part due to the trauma of his arrest and forced impotence.
Finally, if you are interested in the history of homosexuality and psychology, the LGBT Mental Health Syllabus has a really good breakdown of it here.
People are inconsistent. Society is incredibly inconsistent. Alan Turing, Quentin Crisp and Anthony Blunt were all very roughly contemporaries, all gay and all had very different experiences:
Turing: was convicted and ‘treated’ after the war, committed suicide.
Crisp: was basically flamboyantly out from the 1930s onwards; he was never convicted though he was frequently the victim of violence.
Blunt: was so comfortably at the heart of the establishment that a blind eye was not only turned to his sexuality, but he was also was given immunity from prosecution for spying for the Soviets after making a confession in 1964.
And, to add to this, this article on cottaging (NSFW text but no NSFW pictures) reminded me that John Gielgud was arrested for soliciting for sex with a guy who turned out to be an undercover policeman the year before Alan Turing was arrested. He was fined, and after the news broke Gielgud was… given a standing ovation by the audience of the play he was in.
Social attitudes are strange things, and rarely straightforward.