Embracing Winter

February 1, 2020

If you're like me, you see winter as a good time to catch up on some reading, and I'd like to share with you a few books that have impressed me. In my book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, I wrote about how my own life experiences have impacted my understanding of my sexuality. My story may be somewhat different from yours, but some common themes emerge:We went through a time when who we claimed to be clashed with who we thought we actually were.

  • We knew the rules of masculinity well but felt that somehow we didn't measure up to them.
  • We tried to fit into that world but never really felt accepted in it.
  • We felt lonely because we feared the consequences of exposing this conflict to others.

Often, the more important story is revealed through the back story, and the following books have helped me understand the world I grew up in, in the 1950s. Although I lacked the maturity to be able to understand while I was living through it, this world was what the people I loved experienced. But it created a toxicity in the air I breathed that blew across the prairies of Nebraska and the rest of the nation.

This award-winning book, subsequently made into an award-winning documentary movie, describes how during the McCarthy era (when many of us were adolescents), countless US government workers were interviewed in a campaign to remove communist subversives from the federal workforce. This crusade morphed into a national hysteria about gay men and women's alleged role in undermining national security.

Gay men and lesbians were considered by some to be more dangerous (and easier to identify) than communists. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Republican allies then introduced "moral values" into the American political arsenal as a wedge issue, ruining many lives and pushing some to suicide.

The Boys of Boise describes how that national hysteria played out in one particular city, Boise, Idaho. In 1953, a sweeping investigation of the "homosexual underground" in Boise led to 1,500 men being questioned and sixteen men being charged and given sentences from probation to life in prison. In 2007, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested in the Minneapolis airport for "lewd behavior" (although he has denied any inappropriate conduct). Craig was ten years old and living in Boise during this earlier investigation; he and I are the same age, and I often wonder how this might have crept into our psychological development.

During the midtwentieth century, the words homosexual, pervert, child molester, and sexual psychopath began to be used interchangeably. Homosexuals were thought to be sick and unable to control themselves. In Sioux City, Iowa, about thirty-five miles from my hometown in Nebraska, two children were kidnapped, sexually molested, and murdered, a crime that has never been solved. Twenty homosexual men were arrested even though there was no evidence connecting them to the crime. Some were sentenced to treatment at the Independence Mental Health Institute "until cured." This, too, must have been in the air I breathed when I was a child.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Harry Truman's election in 1938, Republicans were desperate to regain control of the White House and Congress, so they blamed "sexual immorality" on FDR's New Deal. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was elected in 1953, when I was ten years old. One of Eisenhower's first acts as president was to issue Executive Order No. 10450, barring homosexuals from working in the government; it remained in effect until 1995. It was an open secret, however, that Robert Cutler, who served as Eisenhower's National Security adviser, was a deeply closeted gay man.

These are two more books that describe lives ripped apart during this time period. Fellow Travelers, an opera based on the book of the same name, will be performed in Des Moines by the Des Moines Metro Opera on Saturday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m.

The fascinating book Everybody Lies tells us that who people say they are is often different from who they actually are. The author argues that our true selves are often best revealed through big data like Google and Pornhub searches. For example, more women search for "Is my husband gay?" than "Is my husband cheating?" and 1.4 percent of searches on Pornhub are for "women with penises."

This book reveals that gay boys are more conscious of the rules of manhood (emotional detachment, rugged looks, sexual prowess, athleticism, ambition, and dominance/aggression) than straight boys, that the rules are usually communicated through our fathers, and the rules haven't really changed much since we were children.

News from the Doc

Besides catching up on my reading, I have also written several new blog posts on Ask the Doc. Take a look at them-and if you like what you see, sign up for my updates. Or follow me on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Did you read Finally Out?

If so, I'd love to hear what you think! I'm always interested in hearing other people's perspectives and opinions. If you have a moment, please share how you felt about Finally Out in an Amazon review. (You don't need to have purchased your book from Amazon, but you will need to have an account and have made purchases totaling over $50 in the past year.)

Or, if you're not the reviewing type, feel free to respond to this email. I'm looking forward to reading your opinions!

-Loren A. Olson MD

Author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight

Gold Winner, Benjamin Franklin Award

Finalist, Foreword INDIES book award