[Marxism] George Weinberg Dies at 87; Coined ‘Homophobia’ After Seeing Fear of Gays
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Fri Mar 24 10:26:38 MDT 2017
NY Times, Mar. 24 2017
George Weinberg Dies at 87; Coined ‘Homophobia’ After Seeing Fear of Gays
By WILLIAM GRIMES
George Weinberg, a psychotherapist who, in the mid-1960s, observed the
discomfort that some of his colleagues exhibited around gay men and
women and invented a word to describe it — homophobia — died on Monday
in Manhattan. He was 87.
His wife, Dianne Rowe, said the cause was cancer.
Dr. Weinberg was preparing to speak before the East Coast Homophile
Organization in 1965 when he began thinking about a recent incident. A
group of colleagues, learning that a friend he was bringing to a party
was a lesbian, asked that he disinvite her. He sensed not just dislike,
he said, but also fear — a fear so extreme that it suggested some of the
characteristics of a phobia.
“I coined the word homophobia to mean it was a phobia about
homosexuals,” Dr. Weinberg told Gregory M. Herek, a professor of
psychology at the University of California, Davis, in 1998. “It was a
fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of
contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for — home and
family. It was a religious fear, and it had led to great brutality, as
fear always does.”
Dr. Weinberg discussed his ideas with the gay activists Jack Nichols and
Lige Clarke, who used the new term in a column they wrote for Screw
magazine on May 5, 1969, discussing the fear felt by straight men that
they might be gay. It was the word’s first appearance in print.
A few months later, Time magazine used “homophobia” in a cover article,
“The Homosexual in America.” Dr. Weinberg used it for the first time in
print in “Words for the New Culture,” an article in the newsweekly Gay
in 1971, and discussed the phenomenon at length in his book “Society and
the Healthy Homosexual,” published in 1972.
The invention of the term was “a milestone,” Dr. Herek wrote in the
journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy in 2004. “It crystallized the
experiences of rejection, hostility and invisibility that homosexual men
and women in mid-20th-century North America had experienced throughout
“The term stood a central assumption of heterosexual society on its
head,” he continued, “by locating the ‘problem’ of homosexuality not in
homosexual people, but in heterosexuals who were intolerant of gay men
George Henry Weinberg was born on May 17, 1929, in Manhattan, where he
grew up in Washington Heights. His father, Frederick, was a lawyer who
left the family when his son was just a few months old. George did not
see him again until he was 18. His mother, the former Lillian Hyman, who
had never advanced beyond the seventh grade, took a typing course and
found work as a legal secretary.
He attended City College, where his skill at poker and billiards helped
defray his living expenses, and earned a master’s degree in English from
New York University in 1951, writing a thesis on Samuel Johnson. He
remained a passionate Shakespearean, mining the plays for psychological
insights that led to two books, “Shakespeare on Love” (1991) and “Will
Power! Using Shakespeare’s Insights to Transform Your Life” (1996),
written with Ms. Rowe, his sole survivor.
He studied mathematics and statistics at the Courant Institute, a part
of New York University — he would later write a textbook, “Statistics:
An Intuitive Approach” (1974), and a mathematical fable, “Numberland”
(1987) — but found that he enjoyed talking to people about their
problems and trying to solve them.
He left math behind and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from
Columbia, writing his dissertation on clinical versus statistical
prediction in psychology.
Dr. Weinberg wrote several books aimed at the general reader. He dealt
with personality formation in “The Action Approach: How Your Personality
Developed and How You Can Change It” (1969) and “Self Creation” (1978);
with obsessive behavior in “Invisible Masters: Compulsions and the Fear
That Drives Them” (1993); and with relationship problems in “Why Men
Won’t Commit: Getting What You Both Want Without Playing Games” (2003).
He was best known, however, for “Society and the Healthy Homosexual,”
one of the first books to reject the idea, prevalent in the psychiatric
profession, that homosexuality was a psychological disorder.
Dr. Weinberg, a staunch and very public advocate of gay rights, helped
lead the campaign that led the American Psychiatric Association to
remove homosexuality from the second edition of its Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual, a handbook of psychological disorders.
“I felt like an apostle of the obvious, and people imagined I was doing
something daring,” he told Gay Today in 2002.
Over time, “homophobia” evolved from a rallying cry to a contested term.
Critics, both gay and heterosexual, argued that however useful the word
might be as a political tool, or as a consciousness raiser, it did not
withstand scrutiny. Homophobia, they pointed out, was not precisely
equivalent to an irrational fear of snakes or heights, and the emotions
associated with it were more likely to be anger or disgust than fear.
Its meaning had become too diffuse, they argued, covering everything
from physical assault to private thoughts to government policies.
In 1992, The Associated Press, in a revision of its stylebook,
discouraged use of the word. “Phobia means irrational, uncontrollable
fear, often a form of mental illness,” David Minthorn, The A.P.’s deputy
standards editor, wrote in a column. “In terms like homophobia, it’s
often speculation. The reasons for anti-gay feelings or actions may not
be apparent. Specifics are better than vague characterizations of a
person’s general feelings about something.”
Dr. Weinberg remained unconvinced. The phenomenon still existed, he
asserted, and only one word did it justice.
“As long as homophobia exists, as long as gay people suffer from
homophobic acts, the word will remain crucial to our humanity,” he wrote
in The Huffington Post. “Indeed, the next big step should be to add
‘homophobia’ to the official list of mental disorders — not to cleanse
the language of it.”
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