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Archive for the ‘deviance’ tag

Helen’s formal blog post on Banner’s “The Wedding of Tom to Tom”

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“I mean, I’m not against love. I’m not against human sexuality. I’m against obsession. Those two are obsessed. I mean. I talked to Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s guardian last night on the phone, and he told me they’ve been like that since Orient, since they were boys, and it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t. So we’re just gonna move Tom A. over to Franklin Street… I mean, what I’m afraid of is that they are gonna end up hurting each other. Physically…when I walked in on them the other morning, Tom A., excuse me, but Tom A. was anally penetrating Tom B.”
The way she said “penetrating,” I had to laugh.

Kate Anderson-Malloy, the head caretaker in Keith Banner’s The Wedding of Tom to Tom, draws a line between what she perceives as the difference between “love” and “obsession” when she decides to have Tom A. and Tom B. separated. She cites no institutional regulation that states that the two cannot be allowed to be together, nor does Tom A.’s guardian imply that he requires of Kate that the behavior be stopped. Kate’s assumption—that these two “retarded” people cannot make decisions for themselves despite their seeming lucidity and competence—is complicated by the fact that Tom and Tom are in a homosexual relationship. The implied judgment behind Kate’s decision is that Tom A. and Tom B. are only together because their mental illnesses impair their ability to choose “appropriate” partners. Kate categorizes the two Tom’s “deviant” sexual behavior as symptoms of their greater instability.

All of the caretakers, including Anita and Kate in the quoted passage, seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of Tom A. and Tom B. having sex. It is impossible, here, to separate their discomfort of seeing two “retarded” people having sex from their discomfort with homosexuality generally. Anita laughs at the idea of the two men having anal sex, as do her coworkers. None of them speak out against the move, but neither have they separated Tom and Tom with much decisiveness in the past: the two men’s desire for each other seems to be accepted as a kind of eccentricity that is indulged in the context of the institution, but widely acknowledged to be socially unacceptable. The two Toms are treated like children, as if they were five and had been caught kissing chastely on the playground: it is cute, but ultimately inappropriate. Tom and Tom are not allowed to make this decision for themselves not because they are too young, but presumably because they are “too retarded” to choose an “appropriate” partner.

Because the two Tom’s sexuality does not manifest in more “normal” heterosexual ways, Tom and Tom wanting to be together is regarded as “obsession” rather than “love.”  “Obsessive” behavior is something quantifiable, a commodity that Kate can legitimately seek to control or eradicate in her patients because it is a sign of mental instability. Kate talks of being afraid of the two men “hurting each other,” but she also mentions that Tom A.’s guardian said Tom and Tom had been together for years without much incident. Anita never mentions either of the Tom’s guardians speaking out about having the Toms separated. Kate’s decision to move them apart, then, becomes a matter of her own discomfort.

Although Kate admits that “it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t,” she endeavors to end it regardless because there is some unspoken difference between what the Toms are doing and what two people in love would do. Their love is, to the caretakers, adorable up to a point, but it is only taken seriously inasmuch as Kate believes they are capable of hurting each other. Their homosexual relationship is labeled as “obsession,” a term which, for Kate, changes their relationship into a symptom of mental illness, a quantifiable thing which she has control over and plans to eradicate.

Written by Helen

November 3rd, 2010 at 9:27 am

Research & Terminology – Connotations, Implications, and Progress

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Mitchell and Snyder’s “Cultural Locations of Disability” raises many relevant points about the absence of disability rights/perspectives within the scientific and research fields. Mitchell and Snyder claim that “these professions [therapy, medical school, public health, etc.] have always imagined their commitment to disabled people as their primary value, and hearing that disabled people – particularly those in disability studies – do not necessarily share this sentiment often comes as a shock” (191-192) and that “disabled people have served as the relics of obscene curiosity disguised beneath the neutral veil of empirical inquiry” (193).

The latter claim, especially, made me reconsider the research terminology that I have learned/am learning in my psychological statistics and research methods courses. During my first week of statistics last semester, we discussed the “normal” distribution of scores around the mean score (“average” score) and other terms such as “standard deviation.” Until reading theory articles for dis/lit, the inherent connotations of these words were not evident to me, let alone their moral/ethical implications.

A normal distribution is a graphic representation of scores***. It looks an arch, with the peak representing a majority of the scores (this is the mean or average score.) The distribution is divided by standard deviations, which represent how far away a standardized score is from the mean. The implication of a “normal” distribution is that anything that falls too far from the mean (more than, say, two standard deviations) is abnormal. When conducting research and/or a statistical analysis, a scientist is only concerned with “statistically significant” scores that fall several standard deviations away from the mean; this statistical significance implies that the score and its subject are not part of the distribution, are abnormal, and are deviant.

“Standard deviation” is another troublesome term. The literal meaning regards a person’s score on a test and its position relevant to the average (mean) score. The connotation, as with “normal distribution,” implies unnatural, abnormal, or even socio-culturally unacceptable behavior or characteristics. To be deviant, in common speech, is a rather undesirable and stigmatized thing.

What, then, can we do? Before I offer a potential solution, I must highlight a few ways in which science and research, particularly psychology – or, at least, psychology at this university – is readjusting negative habits, traditions, and mindsets. When studying abnormal psychology (we’ll deal with this terminology later), my class discussed several progressive trends in the field. For example, a good deal of time was spent analyzing the now unethical treatment of patients in the past; discussing the stigma that surrounds psychological practitioners, scholars, and patients; and even the implication of the word “patient.” Some psychologists are now adopting the term “client” instead of “patient” to give more connotative power to the client-practitioner relationship. Equally as encouraging, if not a bit unrelated to my current topic, is the emerging field of cross-cultural psychology, which seeks to analyze the ways in which psychological practices in different cultures focus on, research, and handle issues in completely different ways.

Additionally, I think that research cannot be entirely dismissed, discredited, or disgraced. While research is inevitably biased and teeming with demeaning and dis-empowering terminology, it can be used to discover very beneficial information, therapies, as well as fuel for further theoretical debate.

Encouraging though it may be, the progress being made in the field of psychology leaves much to be desired. Even though reform is taking place among some academics, psychology and its related terminology still carry quite a large stigma in the United States. More work needs to be done to rethink and renew terminology, particularly research terminology such as “standard deviation” and “normal distribution,” to make research a more humane and less dis-empowering practice.

***Apologies, but I could not find an appropriate open-source image of a normal distribution to post with this topic. Google it Enjoy these photographs of the hummingbird that I rescued!***

Written by Robert

September 2nd, 2010 at 10:16 am


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Just because I know everyone wanted to see the rest of the cows video… turns out it’s one of the most disturbing and pointless things I’ve ever seen on youtube. Which is saying a lot.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/FavUpD_IjVY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Written by sarahsmile

August 27th, 2010 at 7:26 pm