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La Homosexualidad como Enfermedad Mental

By Lila Scott

Faculty nominator Professor Isabel Moreno López:

Fall 2012 was the first time I offered the 300-level seminar "Trans-nationally Queer": Finding a voice through art in the Gay Spanish speaking world. I was very excited about teaching a seminar in Spanish that focused on issues of sexuality and gender identity through poetry, novels, art pieces, songs, and films. Students read and average of 60 pages a week in Spanish, watched nine movies from different Spanish speaking countries and wrote three critical research papers, among other assignments. Lila´s papers were always interesting, well planned, thoroughly researched and often controversial. What I like most about her work is that she takes the content that is being analyzed in class and relates it to her research in Sociology, her other major. The paper presented here is entitled "La homosexualidad como enfermedad mental" (Homosexuality as a mental illness) and makes a critical analysis of gay identity formation. Using El palmo cojo, a novel situated in Spain in the 1950s, she argues that the mental stress provoked by being a young homosexual during the repressive dictatorship under Franco, causes the physical symptoms of the main character's illness. She then compares the process of personal discovery and acceptance of homosexuality to that of a mental illness. The result is a well-written and carefully crafted critical approach of a contentious topic.

 
From the author, Lila Scott:

 As a Spanish and Sociology double major at Goucher, I had the unique opportunity to immerse myself deeply in two disciplines and in doing so I found that the further I dove into each, the more connections I was able to make between them. My study of sociology awakened me to the reality that our daily routines, our ideas about what is beautiful and good, our government and education systems, and even our own mental states do not exist inherently but rather are largely socially constructed and reproduced. As I simultaneously developed and refined my Spanish skills, I observed that language is not purely functional, a means of communication, but carries with it a distinct perspective on and experience of the world. In my Spanish courses, I was able to apply sociological concepts to cultural contexts outside of the United States and outside of the English-speaking world.

In the fall of 2011, I took Sociology professor Dena Smith's seminar on The Sociology of Mental Health as well as Spanish professor Isabel Moreno-López's seminar entitled Trans-Nationally Queer, a course that examined the experience of LGBTQ individuals in different Spanish-speaking countries. For Moreno-Lopez's seminar, I read El palomo cojo (The Lame Pigeon) by Spanish author Eduardo Mendicutti, a novel about a young boy, Felipe, whose realization of his own homosexuality occurs in the oppressive environment of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in Spain. Throughout the book, Felipe suffers from an illness that keeps him bedridden and his siblings are not allowed to interact with him for fear that they too will fall ill. I interpreted Felipe's mysterious sickness as a somatization of the distress he felt in recognizing his taboo sexuality and his isolation a result of the fear that homosexuality is contagious. 

At the same time, for Smith's seminar I read Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection and the Meanings of Illness by David Karp. Speaking of Sadness explores the stages which an individual (as well as their friends and family) goes through as they acknowledge, face, and eventually accept their experience of depression: a period of inchoate feelings followed by the realization that "Something Is Really Wrong with Me," a crisis, and finally the process of coming to grips with an illness identity. As I read, these stages felt reminiscent to me of the stages of coming out of the closet that Hilda Hidalgo describes in her essay ¡Fuera del closet, boricua!preludio (the prelude), reconocimiento (recognition), pertenecer al ambiente (belonging to the community), and liberación y sobreviviencia (liberation and survival). In my essay, La construcción social de la homosexualidad como enfermedad mental (The Social Construction of Homosexuality as a Mental Illness) I discuss how suffering associated with depression and homosexuality is exacerbated by the fact that neither are widely accepted as normal experiences, but rather explained by many as errors of human nature.  

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