Thursday, 24 January 2013

On Edward Glover

On the evening of 23rd January 2013, some of the project members attended one of a series of seminars on Psychoanalysis and History at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1. This one was by Chris Waters[1] - ‘Edward Glover and the Politics of Homosexual Law Reform’.

We have combined our notes to provide this, no doubt, rough account of the presentation and discussion.
  • Biographical details available here: and
  • His interest in homosexuality developed after training, he originally was more interested in criminality and criminal behaviour. His interest was in crime, the criminal offender and psychological effects, in particular the conflict between primitive instincts and the altruistic codes imposed on society.
  • Glover had a different approach to homosexuality than his US peers, who felt that homosexuality was something that could (should?) be cured; he saw it more as an ‘abnormality of [sexual] object choice than might require an explanation’. In about 1940, a young Michael Schofield[2] approached him for help understanding his ‘condition’. After asking a very few questions Glover’s advice was to “Go and enjoy life. Don’t let it worry you.”
  • Glover penned the first substantial account of the impact of psychoanalysis on homosexuality and later in life called for homosexual law reform.
  • He was a founding member of the Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Delinquency[3]. A number of magistrates who were uncomfortable with the draconian gross indecency laws used to approach the ISTD for psychiatric reports on men charged with sexual offences under those laws and would make psychiatric treatment a condition of Probation rather than sending the men to prison. The Home Office was interested in the work of the ISTD and the ‘new medico-psychological philosophy’.
  • There was a growing influence of psychiatry in the social domain after the Second World War and during the 1950s. This contributed to the developing view that those convicted of sexual offences needed scientific treatment rather than imprisonment.
  • He was considered credible by the Wolfenden Committee because of his scientific detachment and evidence led approach. For example, he was unwilling to work with any organisation he viewed as a public advocacy group, eg. The British Sexological Society[4].
  • As well as writing the pamphlet, “Social and Legal Aspects of Sexual Abormality”, Glover submitted a report called “The Problem of Homosexuality” to the Wolfenden Committee, recommending law reform. Glover argued that sexual offences which did not impinge on or infringe the rights of others should be removed from the criminal code. The report was not accepted by many in the ISTD (of which he was part), which had commissioned it. He didn’t view homosexuality as a ‘disease’ or as criminal, except where it was associated with violence or the seduction of minors. Asked directly by a member of the Committee if he saw any harm in homosexuality, his answer was ‘no’.
  • He noted that those ‘private homosexuals’ who avoided conflict with the law did not require treatment to function well in society.
  • In the period from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, the number of gay sex cases in court rose by 350%; while the number of men referred for treatment rose by about 1000%. In that same period, some 500 men were referred to the ISTD.
  • It was noticed by psychiatrists that the ‘success’ rate for homosexuals who sought out treatment was MUCH higher than for those who were referred for treatment as a condition of Probation (although there are no firm figures).
  • He was clear that sin and crime were not the same, that deviating from accepted sexual mores and not demonstrating ‘normal’ sexual behaviour was not automatically criminal.
  • He looked for non-judgemental language to express his ideas but was prone to lapsing to the more familiar language of deviation.
  • He considered hormone treatment not to be effective, except in ‘bludgeoning the patient’s sexual system into submission’.
  • By the 1950s, he viewed that the difficulties experienced by homosexual men were, at least in part, due to social pressures, attitudes and expectations. He seems to have had some sympathy with the approach of the Mattachine Society[5], which was more interested in society adjusting to the homosexual than vice versa.
  • His ideas developed to see homosexuals as social beings rather than scientific problems and homosexuality as a social condition rather than criminal behaviour.
  • Glover’s core ideas about the need to change the law to decriminalise homosexual behaviours were there in the 1920s. Up to 1950, his awareness grows of the interplay between the homosexual individual and his social background and environment. However, he didn’t do much with that, so that his mantle was taken up by others.
  • By the 1960s/1970s, activists had moved away from Glover’s psychiatry-based views of homosexuality and were more interested in the experience of gay individuals, particularly with a growing social narrative of ‘gay life’ and a queer culture. Indeed, Chris Waters, who is very familiar with Glover’s work, is unaware of any publication by him after about 1961.
Other stuff that came out along the way:
  • There’s some evidence that Turing’s treatment was rare - clear from records that Turing’s lawyer pressed hard for him to be ordered for treatment as a way to avoid imprisonment.
  • In 1895, it would never have been suggested that Oscar Wilde had a ‘condition’ that required treatment. Had he been tried in 1954 (the centenary of his birth), he might have received hormone or psychiatric treatment in lieu of imprisonment. In 1953, actor John Gielgud was fined with a proviso that he undergo psychiatric treatment.
  • Leo Abse, who later went on to steer the 1967 Sexual Offences Bill through Parliament, was co-opted to the ISTD Council in 1964.
  • Chris Waters argued that between 1927-32 the developments in psychoanalysis had an impact on criminological theory and psychoanalytic practice which informed policy for the next few decades.

1 comment:

  1. Edward Glover, in his book, The Roots of Crime, devotes considerable attention to the problem of therapy of male homosexuality:
    In 1953 the Portman Clinic Survey in England reported the following conclusion: "Psychotherapy appears to be unsuccessful in only a small number of patients of any age in whom a long habit is combined with psychopathic traits, heavy drinking or lack of desire to change."
    Glover divided the degrees of improvements into three categories:
    1. Cures, i.e., abolition of conscious homosexual impulse and development of full extension of heterosexual impulse.
    2. Much improved, i.e., the abolition of conscious homosexual impulse without development of full extention of heterosexual impulse.
    3. Improved, i.e., increases ego integration and capacity to control the homosexual impulse.
    Most analytic failures, in the sense that the patient retains his homosexual system even if only in a less marked form, are due to the failure to uncover and analyze these potential mother transferences, which at first are almost exclusively satured with pregenital sadistic fantasy. With the successful overcoming of these deeper regressive phases the prospects of a successful outcome are greatly improved.