Dr. Joyce Brothers, the celebrity psychologist and syndicated columnist who died today at 85, had a career marked by evolution on gay and lesbian issues.
Back in 1972, in her advice column she told an ostensibly straight married man who had recently had gay sex for the first time and wondered what that meant about his orientation, “No one has to be a homosexual. … You are not marked for life. Even those who have been exclusively homosexual for a number of years can change if they seek help and truly wish to be heterosexual.”
In 1985, she told a letter-writer that effeminate gay men are unconsciously seeking to “humiliate women” and that the writer’s effeminate friend “is in a kind of rage against himself and his way of life.” However, by this point she no longer recommended “ex-gay” therapy. “He needs some psychiatric help, not necessarily to try to make him straight, but to try to help him adjust to himself.”
By the new millennium she had come to a more supportive position. In 2003 a letter-writer expressed concern about a gay friend facing homophobia in the U.S. Army and wondered why such prejudice existed. Brothers blamed it on American macho attitudes, noting, “For years, gays have been totally accepted with no problems in the armed forces of most European nations, and they often find our policy of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ naive and bewildering.” She added, “Usually, extreme homophobia is an indication of a deep fear of one’s own homosexual feelings.”
In 2008 a straight woman wrote to Brothers, worried that her friendship with a lesbian might give other people “the wrong impression.” Brothers advised the correspondent, “If you are so uptight about this that you have to break off your friendship, that would be a shame.”
Brothers, who first became famous as a quiz show contestant in the 1950s, was the face of psychology to much of the public in the next few decades. She wrote 15 books, was a frequent guest on talk shows, and even made cameo appearances in movies and scripted TV series. Read her full obit here.