Dr. Charles William Socarides, a psychiatrist who claimed to have “cured” hundreds of gay men of their homosexuality, died of heart failure on Christmas Day at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York. He was 83.
Socarides rose to prominence in the 1960s with his theories on the causes of and cure for homosexuality. He believed that male homosexuality develops in the first two years of the boy’s life and is caused by a domineering, controlling, castrating and phallic mother who prevents her son from separating from her, and a distant, weak father who does not serve as a role model for his son or support his son’s effort to escape from the mother.
Gay rights activist Frank Kameny said he first met Socarides in the mid-1960s when Socarides testified as an expert witness for the Pentagon against a gay civilian employee seeking Defense Department security clearance.
Kameny, who along with Barbara Gittings was helping the employee seeking the security clearance, said he and Gittings “cross-examined him [Socarides] him for some three hours, in dumbfounded horror at what he was saying.”
Kameny said that immediately after the hearing, the Pentagon removed Socarides from its list of expert witnesses.
Socarides maintained his views, even after the American Psychiatric Society, in 1973, decided to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and many of his colleagues condemned his position as harmful to patients.
Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist and director of the National Sexuality Resource Center in San Francisco, told the New York Times after Socarides’ death that the doctor had “outlived his time.” He claimed Socarides harmed the gay community.
Even when faced with the fact that his son from his first marriage, Richard Socarides, was gay, Charles Socarides refused to back down from his beliefs. He said he had failed his son by not seeing him enough after divorcing Richard’s mother.
Richard Socarides, who was President Clinton’s liaison to the GLBT community, acknowledged that his relationship with his father was often strained, and said in an interview after his father’s death that they had managed to maintain a relationship in part by not discussing their work and trying to “relate to each other as father and son.”
In 1992, Charles Socarides helped found the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
In an article published in “America” in 1995, Charles Socarides said he had, in his 40-year career, treated hundreds of homosexuals, and that about one-third of those “are married today and happily so, with children.”
Another third, he wrote, “remain homosexual but not part of the gay scene. Now, after therapy, they still have same-sex sex, but they have more control over their impulses because now they understand the roots of their need for same-sex sex. Some of these are even beginning to turn on to the opposite sex.”
Born in Brockton, Mass., on Jan. 24, 1922, Charles Socarides earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1945, and his M.D. from New York Medical College in 1947. He was a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City from 1954 until his death, and taught psychiatry at Columbia University, the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Department of Defense.
Socarides received the Physicians Recognition Award of the American Medical Association from 1970 to 1973. In the spring of 1995, he won the Distinguished Professor award from the Association of Psychoanalytic Psychologists, British Health Service, and lectured on his research findings in London before prominent medical groups. He was also the author of six books on sexuality.
Charles Socarides’ first three marriages ended in divorce. He married his fourth wife, Claire Alford, in 1988.
Bob Roehr contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 6, 2006.