Seen as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival (Online Screening)
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association took a vote to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. It was one of the most controversial votes that the board would ever have since homosexuality had been considered a mental illness since the first DSM was printed in 1952. With homosexuality being labelled a mental illness, it was able to be used as an excuse to deny employment or housing or basic rights to an entire class of people. This led to some of the most brutal torture ever done in the name of mental health, and a story that the film Cured tells brilliantly.
Cured starts by laying out the foundation of just what being diagnosed as mentally ill meant in this situation, I hope you’re ready to see people being given lobotomies and electroshock therapy because there’s footage of that here and it’s beyond disturbing. It doesn’t shy away from what methods were used as part of this so called ‘conversion therapy’, if anything it lingers on the images of people twitching as electricity is shot through their bodies just long enough so that you cannot mistake it as anything other than torture.
Fortunately, that’s only the first part of the film, it’s the hardest part to get through and what follows is a point by point exploration of how the LGBT community managed to fight against the psychiatrists in order to force them to admit that they had no reason to classify homosexuality as a mental illness. You get to meet all the power players of the movement and those who fought against it, from villains like Charles W. Socarides (who, funny story, had a gay son and somehow couldn’t cure him which one would assume would be the tell that your therapy doesn’t do anything) to heroes like Dr H. Anonymous MD (a gay psychiatrist who gave one of the most important speeches of the movement while wearing an ill-fitting mask and giant wig).
The entire story of how the LGBT community managed to convince the wide psychiatric world that they weren’t sick is fascinating and one of the most important bits of gay history, a part that often gets overshadowed because the DSM changed in 1973 and a decade later we were dealing with the AIDS crisis so you can guess which one gets more press. Cured is here to try and explain that piece of history in a way that’s often just so bizarre that you can’t help but be stunned that it all happened.
What really helps Cured is that it’s fortunate enough to have interviews with the people who were there on the frontlines who can tell us from their own personal experience just what it was like. We can hear from the women who started the movement, the psychiatrist who wrote the first paper that questioned why homosexuality was in the DSM and of course we can even talk to the gay son of Charles W. Socarides. This combination of talking-head interviews filled with lived experience and well-restored footage of the events as they happened help really make it clear how intense and important this moment was.
Cured is another of those documentaries, much like P.S. Burn This Letter Please, that tells an important part of queer history that could’ve easily been forgotten in the shuffle. It reminds us how recently all of these events happened, how new this movement is and how much is still to go (Let me make this blunt, the removal of homosexuality from the DSM is only 15 years older than the writer of this review… that’s not that long ago!).
From start to finish, Cured is a compelling and important educational piece that will hopefully remind us all to keep fighting. Most importantly though, I hope it’s able to get to those who need to be told that there is no cure for homosexuality because there is nothing wrong with it in the first place and anyone who offers you a cure for it is nothing more than a charlatan. Instead of searching for a cure, watch this film and use it to get righteously mad that there is still work to be done to get rid of the lingering notion that a cure is even needed in the first place.