Was DJ West's greatest hit that great? Not if you're bisexual…

Perhaps because there are other things to report on at the moment, the Guardian has only just published its obituary of Donald James West, author of the 1955 book Homosexuality, who died on 31st January this year.

I don't know how many editions it ended up having, but as it happens I have the first three: the original hardback, the 'post-Wolfenden' revised 1960 Pelican paperback, and the 'post-decriminalisation' second revision 1968 Pelican. All had multiple reprints.

The introduction sets out his basic belief: homosexuality is not "a rare, freakish condition. In fact, it is exceedingly common .. homosexuals are so numerous that nearly everyone, whether he realises it or not, has one or more amongst his acquaintances."

Perhaps because of this, there are various people, including Jeffrey Weeks, saying how significant a book it was. The Wolfenden committee looking into the 'problems' of homosexuality and prostitution – using the name of biscuit manufacturers Huntley & Palmers to stand for those words for the sake of ladies in the room! – was still two years away from releasing its report that would (eventually) lead to the decriminalisation of sex in private between adult men via the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and (rather sooner) the criminalisation of soliciting for the purposes of prostitution in public places via the Street Offences Act 1959.

The thought of intimate contacts with their own sex disgusts many normal persons.

They do acknowledge that it wasn't exactly a manifesto for gay liberation, but given the way the whole second half of the book is entitled "Cause and Cure" (emphasis here and elsewhere mine) and passages like..

"Male homosexuals have been variously regarded as degenerate personalities, moral pariahs who obstinately persist in tasting forbidden fruits, effete, 'pansy' types incapable of natural manliness, dangerous seducers of the young, victims of circumstance, sufferers from psychological disorder, cases of glandular disease, or even the forerunners of a new biological type – the third sex. None of these views completely fits the known facts

.. it would be futile to try.

Not that he does so:

the completely homosexual man, one who is repelled rather than attracted by feminine charms, really suffers from an abnormal inhibition

.. before going to say that it's probably down to some psychological causes early in life, per Freud.

He then outlines the alternatives to "normal copulation" on which "homosexuals depend for reaching climax (orgasm)". Fellatio gets a mention, but cunnilingus doesn't.

What with all this, you should have already noted that it's homosexual men, men, men. West acknowledged that he was "primarily" (= overwhelmingly) concerned with male homosexuality because it "causes more obvious social problems .. lesbians have usually been less vocal and obtrusive"(!) but never once acknowledges his issues with bisexual people.

One may perhaps disapprove of [bisexual] behaviour, but they are not necessarily psychologically ill.

This is despite his buying into the dodgy idea that almost everyone is, by our definition, bisexual:

children are not born with the sex instinct specifically directed to one sex or the other.* Exclusive preference for the opposite sex is an acquired trait, and involves the repression of a certain amount of homosexual feeling which is natural to the human being.

.. so everyone is either bisexual or asexual at birth, then most people "repress" their attraction to their own sex. Even repressed feelings are still there, so if this were true, we'd call them bisexual, but..

Some adults fail to become completely inhibited in this respect, and though they have normal, happy relations with the opposite sex, they can still enjoy occasional homosexual activities as well. One may perhaps disapprove of their behaviour, but they are not necessarily psychologically ill.

Even the word 'bisexual' is apparently "unfortunate":

The name bisexual is applied to persons who experience varying degrees of attraction to both sexes, but this also is unfortunate because it implies a separate category.

Apart from getting the 'attraction to more than one gender' bit, that's crap and he knows it.

That's because astonishingly he then reframes the classic quote from Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, the first of the Kinsey Reports published seven years earlier, that "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. […] The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behaviour the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex" as:

In reality one finds every conceivable gradation between absolute heterosexuality and complete [homosexuality].

The phrase he actually uses is "complete inversion", despite the previous sentence saying calling homosexuals "inverts" is best avoided, and the next sentence saying that he's not going to use "inversion" in the book!

Instead, he's going to call "more or less exclusively homosexual" people – the 'more or less' bit is some bisexual people, of course – "homosexual" and use the phrases "partial homosexual" or "occasional homosexual" to describe other bisexual people.

The b-word is in the index, though, and the next reference is on page 94, after chapters on..

Homosexuality in Various Communities
The Incidence of Homosexuality To-day
Homosexual Types
The Legal and Social Problem
Glands and Hereditary
The Psycho-Analytical Approach – an Introduction

.. and towards the the end of "A Consideration of Psychological Causes":

6. 'Bisexuality'

No other sexuality gets put in quotes like that. Here's the entire section on bisexuality:

So far we have only considered cases of exclusive homosexuality,** which seem fairly evidently the consequence of inhibitions in relation to the opposite sex; but what of 'bisexuality' and 'occasional homosexuality' both of which are extremely common? In such cases the question of abnormality, psychological or otherwise, does not necessarily arise. The ancient Greek, the primitive tribesman, and the uninhibited Oriental*** may all indulge with young men,**** but in so doing they only fulfil an impulse that, in their particular environment, seems quite natural and allowable. In the context of the beliefs and attitudes of the present day,***** however, homosexual practices under any circumstances come under the shadow of abnormality. Nevertheless an ability to respond homosexually may merely indicate a failure to develop the strong inhibitions assumed by the majority. In itself it can hardly be called pathological, and may imply no more than the possession of a strong sexual appetite that seeks every possible outlet.*****-* Sometimes, however, it is the symptom of a more serious condition, and betrays and underlying weakness of character similar to that which makes men slaves to alcohol or drugs, The individual who acts out the boast that he can make use of man, woman or beast is likely to be the sort of person who has to satisfy his every impulse regardless of the consequences to himself or others. Such intractable rebels against the mores of sexual conduct have much in common with pathological liars, criminals and other anti-social types. But this brings us to the relation between homosexuality and mental abnormality, which is the subject of the next chapter.

Well, that's me told.

But can I be "cured"? Perhaps, reckons the later 'Treatment for the individual' chapter!

The treatment of bisexuals presents a somewhat different problem. Some persons are emotionally or sexually more inclined to homosexuality, but they force themselves into heterosexual contacts*****-** in order to prove their virility or in the hope of curing themselves. These can be treated as ordinary homosexuals. But the typical bisexual obtains full satisfaction from the opposite sex, and yet will not relinquish his frequent homosexual indulgence. It is arguable that he suffers from no sexual inhibition, he is a free agent, and therefore psychological treatment is inappropriate. On the other hand, if a married man fails to develop sufficient feeling and responsibility towards his wife and family to precent his exposing them to the risks attendant upon homosexual escapades, then one suspects a defect in character. The psychological approach to such a case would have to be more in the nature of a character analysis than a frontal attack on sexual habits.

Again, that's the lot. He does mention the possibility of a menage à trois "as was hinted at in the play The Third Person"****-*** but considers them "peculiarly precarious".

The other mention is in the 'Prevention' chapter.

In parts of the East, where sexual passion is regarded as no more than a pleasurable pastime .. homosexual practices are tolerated as an additional outlet for the predatory male. .. [In the West] two main deviant types appear. First, the rebel class, those who fail to absorb the common standards and indulge their bisexual impulses in defiance of morality. This is the smaller group, and their sexual problems are often overshadowed by other more specifically anti-social trends. Second, the class of true homosexual.."


One of the bits of the book that has been praised for being ahead of its time is its argument against imprisoning homosexuals:

Though moral or legal justification may be found for punishment, imprisonment under present conditions seems a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with the problem.

.. which is great, except that the main argument against doing so is that it will lead to more bisexuality – not that he uses the word here – in "normal" men.


Astonishingly, the otherwise expanded 1960 revision has fewer references to bisexuality in the index than the first edition.

The rather longer 1968 revision is better in some regards, but when the main section on bisexuality ends with..

Some bisexuals, like some heterosexual adulterers, succeed in maintaining apparently satisfying marital relationships, in spite of periodic unfaithfulness, perhaps even because of it. Whether these people are more sick than they know, or whether they can pride themselves on a form of sexual adjustment that transcends the petty limitations of the common herd, is a matter of opinion.

.. there's a screamingly failure to take a stand and, in doing so, makes it his position clear.

Elsewhere in this version, he quotes the work of a Czech psychiatrist..

Freund also showed that, except in the case of paedophiles, an evenly balanced attractiveness towards both sexes (bisexuality), was distinctly rare.

.. without any indication that, you know, it's utter bollocks.

Argh! Argh! Argh!

I'm not criticising him for not coming out as gay himself in the book or at the time – he did much later in life, when it wasn't career-ending – but it all reads as if he wanted to keep the world divided into heterosexual and homosexual as part of getting acceptance for the latter.

As well as being seven years after Kinsey, which he does mention, 1955 was also five years after the publication of the English translation of Sexual Freedom by René Guyon which argued that "the prohibitions of sexual acts by Judaeo-Christianity are at the root of most problems in present-day living. and the solution is to make such acts legitimate".

Both those were far more radical than this.

* Given when it was written, it's not surprising that it never even questions the gender binary.

** This isn't true.

*** The racism and white supremacy is, sadly, not untypical for the 1950s either.

**** Men, men, men. Again.

***** The ancient Greeks might not be around today, but the non-Western civilisations certainly are.

*****-* 'Outlet' probably comes from Kinsey, who labelled everything from masturbation to bestiality as a sexual 'outlet'.

*****-** "Women! Know your place!"?

*****-*** Written by Andrew Rosenthal in New York, but because no producer there would touch it, first performed in London in 1951.

On his discharge from military service, Hank returns to his wife Jean bringing Kip, the 'third party', with whom he's "lived together" for two years. In its fringe run, Hank actively denied "having something to do with him"; in the West End transfer, he wasn't allowed to even raise the possibility of a relationship. In the end, it turns out that Kip has lied about his past, is thrown out, and the marriage is presumed to be saved.

I'm amazed that West didn't use Design for Living, where even in contemporary productions it must have been clear that there was an MMF triad being portrayed, rather than the MMF 'vee' in this one.

2 thoughts on “Was DJ West's greatest hit that great? Not if you're bisexual…

    1. Ian

      Yep. Spending some years collecting old books – good as well as bad – on human sexuality turned out to be useful after all.


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