When you live through a seismic cultural change it often catches individuals and nations by surprise. This occurred in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association changed the defining of homosexuality from a disease to a dysphoria disorder which was then quietly removed in the succeeding years. The circumstances surrounding the transition is a combination of activism and gay psychiatrists within the APA rising to the highest and most strategic positions. In this American Life the granddaughter of the gay psychiatrist who was president-elect of the APA when the change was made explores the personal, political and cultural dynamics which brought about the change. Although we like to think it was the science that led to the removal of the designation of homosexuality as a DSM disorder it was not.
The story begins with our author, Alix Spiegel, explaining first in 2002 and recently repeated on This American Life on December 16, 2018:
This is the story of a definition, three single sentences composed of 81 words. It’s the story of how this particular definition became another definition, nine sentences, composed of 237 words.
Now according to some parties, this change from 81 words to 237 words liberated an entire category of humanity. According to other parties, it undermined the basic family unit, compromised the scientific authority of psychiatry, and quote, “tampered with the basic code and concept of life.”