Tuesday, February 14, 2017

More on Oliver Sacks' celibacy


Well I was right. After yesterday's blog post I started to wonder what exactly was the deal with Oliver Sacks' celibacy and the answer it turns out, has a connection to my play NORMA JEANE AT THE PAYNE WHITNEY PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC.

I found this fascinating article about Sacks in Vanity Fair:
...Because I’d become increasingly convinced that the single most important moment in his professional life had come not on the day he began giving L-dopa to those living statues at Beth Abraham, summoning them back to life, but rather in the months before that, when Sacks had had the audacity to perceive that some of the patients were in fact not like the others—that, harrowingly, outward appearances notwithstanding, these particular patients were alive on the inside, completely conscious and lucid but trapped within their inert bodies. No other doctors had dared to imagine such a thing—and, really, how could they have been expected to? The answer, I thought, in Oliver’s case, had everything to do with insights Oliver gained from his epic drug bingeing, and there was no way to tell that story without exploring the sexual self-censure that had led him to seek escape in drugs in the first place.
The reason for Sacks' self-censure was due to the homophobia of the time:
“When I was 21 and home from college, I accompanied my father one evening on his rounds. We were driving in the car, and he asked me how things were going. Fine. Did I have any girlfriends? No. Why didn’t I have any girlfriends? I guessed I didn’t like girls … Silence for a few moments … Does that mean you like boys? Yes, I replied, I am a homosexual. 
“I asked my father not to mention this to my mother under any circumstances: it would break her heart—she’d never understand. The next morning, my mother came tearing down the stairs, shrieking at me, hurling Deuteronomical curses, horrible judgmental accusations. This went on for an hour. Then she fell silent. She remained completely silent for three days, after which normalcy returned. The subject was never mentioned again during her lifetime.

The reason this connects to my play is because in it, Norma Jeane's opponent is a doctor who is homosexual but who refuses to acknowledge it. In part because at the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disease.

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