When “Society and the Healthy Homosexual,” Dr. George Weinberg’s most famous book, was published in 1972, the consensus was that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people were mentally ill. A best-selling book from that period was “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” by Dr. David Reuben, a quack who described gay men as sad, promiscuous types who cruised public toilets and trans women as “surgically mutilated male homosexuals.” Dr. Weinberg was one of the first non-LGBT mental health professionals (Dr. Evelyn Hooker was another) to defy conventional wisdom. Because of his work, and that of activists like Barbara Gittings, Franklin Kameny and Jack Nichols, the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association declared, on Dec. 15, 1973, that “by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder.”
Dr. Weinberg, who died of cancer on March 20 at age 87, was a true pioneer, and “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” was the most important book about LGBT people written by a heterosexual ally. (Dr. Alfred Kinsey was bisexual.) It was a must-read book for LGBT people coming out in the ‘70s; and Barbara Gittings included it in her “Gay Grab-Bag” list of essential titles. I myself named Dr. Weinberg’s book number six in my list of the most important LGBT books of the 20th Century (2000). To Dr. Weinberg, anti-LGBT bigotry was the true mental illness: “I would never consider a patient healthy unless he had overcome his prejudice against homosexuality.” In “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” Weinberg coined the word homophobia to describe “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals;” calls homophobia a disease; and notes that this is “an attitude held by many non-homosexuals and perhaps by the majority of homosexuals in countries where there is discrimination against homosexuals,” our own included. Though the concept of homophobia is Dr. Weinberg’s most famous contribution to queer thought, he is also one of the first to “propose a distinction between the words ‘homosexual’ and ‘gay.’ To be homosexual is to have an erotic preference for members of one’s own sex. … A homosexual person is gay when he regards himself as happily gifted with whatever capacity he has to see people as romantically beautiful. It is to be free of shame, guilt, regret over the fact that one is homosexual, that the searchlight of one’s childhood vision of human beings shined more brilliantly on members of one’s own sex than on those of the other. … To be gay is to view one’s sexuality as the healthy heterosexual views his.” This was written in 1972, so Dr. Weinberg may be forgiven for his use of sexist pronouns and the all-inclusive “gay” instead of LGBTQIIAA.
The late, great gay rights pioneer, my good friend Jack Nichols, who was a healthy homosexual long before “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” came along, called Dr. Weinberg (his good friend) a “gay-lib pioneer” and a true ally of our cause. Jack Drescher, clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical Center, told Lou Chibbaro, Jr. of the Washington Blade that Weinberg “was an early straight ally to the LGBT community who is responsible for introducing the concept of ‘homophobia’ into everyday language and thought. His was no small accomplishment, as the concept shifted society’s focus away from an automatic hatred or disdain for gay people and instead asked what’s wrong with people who feel that way. Instead of gay people having to explain themselves, the haters did — or as is often the case, they had to publicly and falsely deny they were haters.” Though “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” is no longer in print, you may find copies in public or LGBT libraries or through used book web sites. Even 45 years later, this is a book worth reading.