Sigmund Freud, born in Austria in the mid-1800s, liked to have patients lie down on the couch and talk about sex. Adorable! But Freud was more than just the father of the Oedipus complex. He was also a yesteryear Dear Abby, where the forlorn would write him notes begging his advice. Like the mother who told him about her gay son, and what should she do about it?
In 1935, just four years before his death (and nearly 75 years ago), Freud wrote this letter back — striking because, even back then, the idea of “conversion therapy” (which didn’t have a name yet) was believed to be bunk by the psychoanalysis founder. Makes sense, given Freud thought everyone was at least a little bit gay.
April 9th 1935
PROF. DR. FREUD
Dear Mrs [Erased],
I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind he should have analysis with me — I don’t expect you will — he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.
Sincerely yours with best wishes,
P.s. I did not find it difficult to read your handwriting. Hope you will not find my writing and my English a harder task.