Controlling and Challenging Sexuality: Psychiatric Struggles over Homosexuality in the 1960s–1980s
In 1973, Tom Sharpe published his satirical and comic novel, Indecent Exposure, which commented on the views of police about South Africa’s Immorality Act, i.e., the act that controlled the sexual behavior of its population. The novel tells the story of Kommandant van Heerden, who, believing that black women were being used by South Africa’s enemies to seduce his offi cers from their duty, decides to subject his men to a form of aversion therapy. Showing them pictures of naked black women and administering electric shocks to their genitals, he attempts to condition his men to avoid all contact with black women. However, in an unexpected twist, the therapy ends up making his offi cers gay.1 Whereas Sharpe’s novel is a humorous and outrageous satire of South African society, it is not that far from reality. Sharpe, who had worked as a social worker and teacher in South Africa in the 1950s, based his novels on his personal experiences, and aversion therapy was a treatment that some practitioners made use of to “retrain” white minds. Sharpe’s novel is meant to highlight the ludicrousness of the fear that pervaded state offi cial’s thoughts, particularly of a black uprising, but it also highlighted the hypermasculine and homophobic nature of the society.