The distinguishing feature of Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey by historian Martin Duberman (Paul Robeson, About Time: Exploring the Gay Past) is the memoir’s tone of thoughtful sobriety. Where other firsthand accounts of the homosexual underground in postwar America — John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw, for example-have been edgy and angry, Duberman’s is earnest, reflective, and detached, no mean feat when the subject is sex.
Born in 1930, Duberman came of age at a time when a great many people in America — and certainly most psychiatrists — viewed homosexuality as a disease. The most engrossing (and painful) part of his book recounts the various therapies he tried in the ’50s and ’60s, hoping to find a ”cure.” One doctor sternly warned him either to stop having sex with men or to terminate therapy. Another ordered him to break all contact with his ailing mother, on the grounds that they had formed an ”unhealthily symbiotic” relationship. The anecdotes would be comic if they weren’t so sad: As Duberman shows by reprinting extensive excerpts from the diary he kept at the time, his bouts of therapy bred a crippling kind of self-hatred.
After a great deal of anguished deliberation, Duberman joined the nascent gay liberation movement in 1972. There he seems to have found his self- respect; and it is on this note of bittersweet triumph that Duberman ends his understated but compelling memoir. B+