KENNETH LEWES was an Renaissance scholar who became a psychologist who went on toe question modern psychoanalysis of homosexuality. He was born on this date and grew up in a post-World War II working-class neighborhood of the northeast Bronx, the son of an immigrant couple who never got beyond grade school. He guessed even before he entered junior high school that he was gay.
But it wasn’t until he was nearly 50 — and publishing what would become a critically acclaimed takedown of post-Freudian psychoanalytic theories of homosexuality — that he confided his sexual orientation to his parents.
“I remember finding my way to the local public library and checking out books on psychology and human development,” he said in an interview in 2019 with the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, “in hopes of finding some reassurance that my interest in handsome boys was only a stage that I would soon pass through.”
Dr. Lewes was married at 23 and divorced by 32 — the age when he had his first homosexual experience. “It seemed only natural for me to be out of the closet to my friends, colleagues and family,” he said, “with the important exception of my parents, who, it had become clear over the years, did not want to hear anything on that particular subject. I came out to them almost 15 years later.”
Dr. Lewes’s major work, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality (1988), traced the evolution of the prevailing view that homosexuality was a curable illness and explored what he called the psychoanalytic establishment’s “century-long history of homophobia.” The book’s title was changed to Psychoanalysis and Male Homosexuality in later editions.
Drawing on some 500 primary sources, Dr. Lewes’s book, which expanded on his doctoral dissertation, found that most analysts had adhered to “popular prejudice” against gay people and clichés about them. “Many analysts,” he concluded, “have violated basic norms of decency in their treatment of homosexuals.”
He said he had been unable to find a single analysis of the subject written by a psychoanalyst who identified as gay.
Dr. Lewes found that the Oedipus complex could lead to 12 alternative resolutions, six of them heterosexual and six homosexual. “All results of the Oedipus complex are traumatic,” he wrote, “and, for similar reasons, all are ‘normal.’”