The Doctor Is Out: Embracing Her Lesbian Identity Took Betty Berzon from a Mental Ward to an Honored Place among Gay Psychologists. (Books)

By Lehoczky, Etelka | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Doctor Is Out: Embracing Her Lesbian Identity Took Betty Berzon from a Mental Ward to an Honored Place among Gay Psychologists. (Books)


Lehoczky, Etelka, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Betty Berzon almost wasn't the pioneering lesbian psychologist and author we know today. In the early `50s she was in a mental institution after nearly killing herself with a razor blade, a casualty of her own homophobia.

"There are moments forever etched in memory, indelible imprints," she writes in her new memoir, Surviving Madness: A Therapist's Own Story (University of Wisconsin Press). "I will never forget waking up in that hospital bed, seeing the leather restraints on my ankles, my bandaged wrists tethered to the bed rails. I couldn't move. I was helpless, trapped."

It's quite a revelation from a woman typically credited with boundless strength and energy. Berzon has written books about homosexuality, helped found gay and lesbian organizations-including the first gay community center anywhere, in Los Angeles in 1971and hobnobbed with luminaries ranging from Anais Nin to Paul Monette. Yet when she looks back, her main wish is that she'd had the energy to do still more.

"I said to someone the other day, `If I hadn't had to spend so many years fighting being gay, I could've really been somebody.' And [they said] `But you are somebody,'" she says, laughing. "But I truly have the feeling that I could have accomplished much more in life if I hadn't had to devote so much energy to resisting being gay."

Even so, she did plenty. Born during the Depression, she dated pilots in World War II and interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt while still in high school. She attended Stanford University but dropped out and went to Greenwich Village, where she shyly and unsuccessfully explored the lesbian scene. After moving to Los Angeles, she hosted Nin and Dame Edith Sitwell at her own bookstore, Berzon Books. In the `60s she conducted workshops at the Esalen Institute, joined in orgies, and went to Tijuana for an abortion. …

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