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by Henry L. Minton
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Review by Glenda M. Russell, Ph.D. on Sep 3rd 2003

Departing from Deviance

Over a decade ago, I conducted survey research about the psychological consequences of anti-gay politics on lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (LGB persons) who had been exposed to Colorado's Amendment 2.  One theme that emerged in participants' responses to the open-ended question at the end of the survey was their gratitude at being able to take part in the study.  Respondents variously emphasized the importance of having been asked and of having their say, on the one hand, and the pleasure they took in being able to help to generate good research, on the other. 

We see that theme repeated many times in this collection of stories about research with LGB people.  Gay people, who have so often been invisible to and ignored by researchers, are often enthusiastic about being the focus of research interest.  They know that the truth of their own lives is far superior to the myths that many in this homophobic and heterosexist world hold about them.

The relationship between LGB people and researchers is a complex one, full of both possibilities and shattered promises.  Henry L.  Minturn's book, Departing From Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America, captures both sides of this complex relationship.  Minturn offers a multifaceted view of some of the better-known chapters in the history of LGB research, focusing on such pioneers as Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker.  His renditions of the work of even these more familiar figures offer new information, partly because Minturn emphasizes the relationships between these researchers and LGB people who are not so well known but who played significant roles in facilitating the research.

In addition to the big-name researchers, Minturn brings forward the contributions of unfamiliar gay and lesbian researchers, people who worked to elucidate the lives of LGB people.  The author writes extensively of Jan Gay and Thomas Painter, both of whom made extraordinary efforts to develop accurate data on LGB people and neither of whom has ever received proper credit for her or his work.  Minturn details the history of their contributions and the obstacles they faced and he does so with an insightful understanding of social, political, and scientific-psychological contexts.  Indeed, his interwoven commentary is one of the best parts of the book, offering the reader a nuanced understanding of the complex meanings of the events the author describes (occasionally in greater detail that might be necessary).

Minturn's book captures several overarching themes, any one of which would have made his book well worth reading.  He offers insightful information about the relationship between scientific psychology and social change, and his book serves as an excellent example of the social impact that psychology can have (and has had).  At another level, Departing From Deviance is a study in relationships between individuals who are members of the socially denigrated group and their allies.  Sometimes the relationship works to both parties' advantage; sometimes it does not.  At yet another level, the book represents a study in the socially constructed aspects of homosexuality.  While the author does not necessarily intend such an exposition, the careful reader will see that the historical changes in widespread views of homosexuality influence psychological understandings of the same phenomenon and, reciprocally, are themselves simultaneously influenced by psychological understandings.

Finally, this book can be read as a story of the situated nature of psychology as a discipline.  The field of psychology must struggle with the culture it inhabits.  The struggle is described in great detail here; the reader is able to see occasions when researchers have moved out of overriding cultural views enough to see things differently.  All too often, however, the discipline is unable to see with any greater clarity than anyone else.  Painful though that is, we need constant reminders of it; there are plenty in this book--none any better than the fourth chapter in which Minturn describes how George W. Henry (a heterosexual researcher) interpreted data gathered by Jan Gay (a lesbian researcher).  This chapter stands as a great example of how biased interpretations can change research--as well as a stunning example of intellectual colonialism of the worst sort.

Given the many major themes that occur in this text, it is likely that it would be of interest to a variety of readers.  Minturn has written a book of testimony to hidden researchers and of what psychology, at its best (and sometimes at its worst), can do. 


© 2003 Glenda M. Russell

Glenda M. Russell, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Associate and Project Director at the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies in Amherst, Massachusetts.  A psychologist and an activist, she is the author of Voted Out: Psychological Consequences of Anti-Gay Politics and co-author, with Janis S. Bohan, of Conversations About Psychology and Sexual Orientation.


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