Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reaction to "Masters of Sex" and the Allegations of Phony "Gay Conversion" Cases

My biography of Masters and Johnson, "Masters of Sex", deals in one chapter with their 1979 book about homosexuality in which they claimed that their therapy had "converted" homosexual patients into heterosexuals. The research from my book indicated that these case studies were apparently fabricated by Masters and that there were no records of such "conversion" cases. Since my book's appearance, Newsweek, The New York Times and Scientific American have reported on my findings and they have stirred a great debate within in the gay community. Here's a sample from a recent interview:
"For decades, anti-gay organizations have gleefully pointed to a Masters & Johnson study that claimed to cure homosexuality. It has also been used by the so-called "ex-gay" industry to "prove" gays could go straight, if they just tried hard enough.
In a groundbreaking book, "Masters of Sex", author Thomas Maier discovered through investigative reporting that the results of Masters & Johnson's study were fabricated.
One can not overstate the importance of his findings. They undo the very underpinnings of the so-called "ex-gay" therapy movement, further showing that there is no scientific evidence to support the outdated idea that gay people can become heterosexual through therapy.
Indeed, many people who have undergone such "treatment" claim the experience was harmful and that they were psychologically damaged. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to change sexual orientation can lead to "anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior."

Gelf Magazine - Talking About "Masters of Sex" in Brooklyn

Thomas Maier at Gelf Magazine's Geeking Out - May 2009 (1 of 2) from Gelf Magazine on Vimeo.

Thomas Maier at Gelf Magazine's Geeking Out - May 2009 (2 of 2) from Gelf Magazine on Vimeo.

NY Mag: Si Newhouse as Old Hollywood-Style Chief, Praises "Newhouse" Bio as "Excellent"

In the current issue of New York mag, Steve Fishman wrote a terrifically insightful profile of Si Newhouse and his media empire, and he also managed to say some kind words about my biography of the Conde Nast chieftain. Here's what Fishman said.
Both of Sam’s sons were college dropouts who worked in the business from the age of 21. Sam tapped Donald, his younger son, to run the newspapers. Si was installed at Condé Nast—he finally became chairman in 1975. “Those who knew him well seem to think he trusted the judgment of his younger son, Donald, more than Si,” writes Thomas Maier in his excellent biography Newhouse.
It was clear what Newhouse’s father thought of magazines; they were baubles, suitable for socially ambitious middle-aged ladies. Si, though, would ultimately prove his father wrong about the value of the magazines and about his talents.

St. Louis Mag: Masters of Sex is a "Smart, Absorbing Book" ... "Restrained but Evocative."

Staff Shelf: Masters of Sex

I’m reading galleys of Tom Maier’s restrained but evocative new book--Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love--and thinking about how quickly the social kaleidoscope shifts. Decades ago, in grad school at Saint Louis University, I wrote a paper about the response of St. Louis Catholics to the opening of the Masters & Johnson research clinic in the early 1960s. The quotes near seared a hole in my IBM-Selectric, correction-key-corrected pages. Now, Masters and Johnson's findings seem so obviously important, and so much more biological than prurient, that it’s hard for me to remember just how outraged St. Louis was--and how brazen I felt even tackling the topic.
On the other hand, even those two cool clinicians found the forbidden territory so steamy, they left the lab at night and headed straight for a hotel (Masters was determined they should relieve any tensions with each other to avoid any sort of projection or entanglement with their patients and volunteers).
Now, as I write about this smart, absorbing book for our June issue, I realize just how funny it is, in parts, and how poignant or tragic, depending on whether you're taking Masters' or Johnson's point of view. What strange, intense lives; what groundbreaking work. And reviewing it's not as simple as it should be, in our supposedly enlightened times. Questions fly up and hit me: Is the word “orgasm” too graphic? Should I describe how worked? Do I dare use the funny quote about men being rendered irrelevant? How to handle the medieval notion of homosexuality the clinicians advanced, toward the end when everything fell apart? Do I need to define "sexual surrogate"--and if so, how?!
Everything gets said these days—yet against all odds, we've retained a certain sensitivity. Masters and Johnson could open their clinic today and provoke only the barest lift of an eyebrow, yet the language they chose to describe their findings would be as politically inflammatory as ever. And there would be far more ways to offend people, because there are more options open.
You can walk out into the middle of the mine field now—but you still don’t want to detonate any live explosives. And there’s no longer any way to know what’s safe.
In short, writing about sex is as tricky as ever.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
--Jeannette Cooperman, staff writer