Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The little man

Friday, November 28, 2008

Do you remember the little man in The Body in the Record Room? Well, he was ahead of his time.

I'm reading a book called The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny. It is the book based on the Willard Suitcase exhibit on line.

One story in the book is the story of a woman named Lucy. She lived in the wilderness in a cave, shot game and collected plants to eat, found another person, another abandoned wife, if I remember correctly, and they lived together for years.

When the authorities finally "apprehended" them for vagrancy, they discovered that Lucy was a woman dressed as a man. They had her put in the Willard Psychiatric Institute. She finally died at 83 still in a mental hospital, though by then she had been transferred from Willard.

In other words, she was incarcerated in a mental institution for being an eccentric person and for insisting on "wearing male apparel." Because of her Puritanically religious upbringing, she may have been confused, but she wasn't mentally ill. She was a strong woman who was determined to be who she was and not what people expected her to be. And for that, she spent thirty-two years, the last more than one-third of her life, in mental institutions.

According to The Lives They Left Behind, the official list of psychiatric illnesses named homosexuality as a mental illness until 1973. Surely there were many people committed to mental institutions for little more than that they were suspected of being homosexual.

So when the little man tells Roy that homosexuality is "just the way some people are, the way some people were born to be," the little man is going against everything he has been taught.

Homosexuality is not a choice, an illness, or an aberration. That's radical stuff for a psychiatrist to say in the 1950s. The little man was going against his own diagnostic book.

The little man was working on the edge of a time when mental illness was considered a defect in personality or even a sign of demon possession. Some still saw mental illness as the result of sin. So his inclusive way of seeing things was radical back then, and given the widespread discrimination that still exists (remember Proposition 8?), he would still be a radical today. (Good for him!)

It all comes down to people, doesn't it? "People are more important than things," as the little man so often said.

The little man was an unusual person. He was way ahead of his time, maybe even of this time.

Oh, that we could have more like him!

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