My time as an ‘inpatient’ at National institutes of health, mental health project, unit 3W, in late 1962


When I got back “home” from William and Mary at the end of November, 1961, it was, as I noted in the previous post, necessary to “get going” with therapy immediately, even to get back into college (GWU) while “living at home”.

So in early December I started seeing a Dr. Benham, whose own level of physical swagger was a bit underwhelming, in his second floor office in the Dominion Arms just south of US 50 on Glebe Road in Arlington.  I think that I went for therapy every Thursday morning, starting  December 7.  There was no psychiatrist’s couch, just a comfortable chair.  My parents paid $25 a session (one hour each).  I remember once seeing him argue with a female patient as I arrived, as she stormed out complaining about the thousands she had spent (in 1961 dollars).  Benham’s retort, “Illness can be expensive”.

As I noted, I did get back into GWU, and the Thursday appointments worked because Chemistry Qualitative Analysis didn’t start until 1 PM.  Sometime right around the beginning of January, Benham had told me, “I think you should realize that I don’t think it’s a good idea to count on going back to W-M any time soon.  You’re going to be seeing a psychiatrist for a couple of years, not just a couple of weeks.” He also said that I didn’t (at 18) grasp the consequences of the things I say and do.  (Does Justin Bieber?)  But didn’t the psychiatrist see the circularity of his own assessment?

By maybe the first of April, Benham mentioned the “program” at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, on a large campus, across Wisconsin Ave. from the Naval Medical Center.  The Kennedy-conceived program was sold as motivated by the government’s desire to learn why some academically gifted students had difficulty adjusting to life in college.  In those Cold War days, this was viewed as a national security issue.  It comported with the idea that smart people could help win the “War”, but it also fed into the idea of military draft deferments for science students later.

On Thursday, July 12, 1962 (two days after my nineteenth birthday), I entered the Clinical Center as an “inpatient”.  I remember, oddly, taking tub bath, and surrendering my neo-synephrine and rolaids.

I would live on Unit 3-West for the next six months, although I went “home” most weekends (but not the first).

The unit comprised one long hall with rooms on both sides, but mostly on the left side.  In the middle there was a day room lounge and a nurse’s station, and dining area.  There was actually a solarium with a piano to the left immediately as one entered the wing.

Most of the rooms before reaching the middle were therapy treatment rooms (maybe four of them) with one-way glass for recording and observation.  The rooms were used for individual therapy (three times a week, in the mornings), group therapy, family therapy, and the notorious family art therapy (where my father was disoriented by being asked to draw in front of others).  Perhaps one room on that side was for a couple of male patients.  On the far side, there were four regular patient rooms, with a huge bath and shower facility across the all, and then a green-bricked, windowless solitary room, where I lived with a somewhat studious roommate with a music background.  The only reason for the solitary was space.  Most patients lived two to a room.  There were more male patients than female.  But I would learn of another twist.  There was a “college” group and a “family problems” group.  All of the women were in the “family” group because of the perception of gender roles in that era.  As a result, as a whole, the men seemed more intact than the women. (One female patient, who had attempted suicide at one time, desperately wanted to become a man; the medical establishment at the time did not care to understand trans-genderedness.)   I did befriend one male patient in particular (besides the music-oriented roommate, who knew the Beethoven quartets pretty well.) He would later note, in some group therapy session, that I tended to stare or at least look at him with some degree of “admiration”.

When preparing my 1997 “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book, I requested a copy of my medical records from NIH under the Freedom of Information Act, and got about 100 pages of low-quality mimeographed copies, which show that the nursing staff kept track of our every move on the unit, and monitored all our social interactions with other patients.  There was an occasion in September when one of the nurses foolishly thought I had spent too much time “in the John”.  There was another occasion when a nurse actually transcribed a verbal comment I had made about a particular patient’s chest hair, when, as a prank, another patient pretended to “undress” him.  The notes are quite graphic and mention all the other patients by name, which again would probably have to be manually redacted today. I do recall the phone conversation in early 1996 when I ordered them.  “You own your records.”  But what about the others.  (I would return to NIH for a one-day followup interview in 1970, and then in 1988 I would be screened for a trial of the GP160 anti-HIV vaccine, which did not go through; that’s for another day.  But they still had my records!)

The records also have a lot of narrative of my own history, and give an account of the William and Mary Expulsion. They go out of their way to say that I was called in only because of the patent medicines in the room, and that “telling” had been my own idea, but that is really not accurate.  The notes tend to pander to the gender stereotypes of the day, mentioning that my interest in girls had been of only the most “casual sort”, that, as if frustrated physically,  I tended to engage in body mechanics that suggested masturbation, that I was “unattractive” (whew!), had never (at 19) held a wage-earning job, and had argued with my father about the mechanics of chores (true), and had lived a life devoted to bookishness and “daydreaming”.

One passage, as quoted, is particularly telling: “He has been aware since puberty of a strong attraction toward very masculine peers and preoccupation with certain secondary sexual characteristics which he equated as being indicative of masculinity. At this time he read a book on sex hygiene which his family had and became preoccupied with the paragraph dealing with homosexuality and the contrast between latent homosexuality and overt homosexual behavior.”  Later they write “He avoided all heterosexual contacts and his relationships with girls were of the most casual sort. He was given to philosophical ruminations and following the age of 16, obsessive thinking about the Nieztschean supermen whom he both idolized and hated.”  That last verb is not correct.  But the tone of all of these notes is an emphasis on how important it was to get “someone like me” to conform to the expectations (sometimes related to legitimate need) of others, and my tendency to turn around and expect the same of others in my own orbit.  There are more gems in this report.  “The homosexual fantasies are a prime preoccupation with him because a great part of his satisfaction (aka pleasure) and feeling for other people is based on the nature of these fantasies … He becomes sexually aroused in the presence of young men who have these characteristics or in thinking about these characteristics.”  Sounds like discussion of a phylum in biology class!  “It seems clear that the fantasies about others and himself are substitutes for real relationships (that means potentially intimate, performative, and committed) with other people.”

I was allowed to leave the hospital for evening classes at George Washington University, and I actually took six hours.  (One of them was the first half of English Literature, and I recall when we read some of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the professor noted that, with the pardoner, Chaucer tried to characterize a typical homosexual in 11th Century England.)  I was eating supper in the first floor “Student Union” cafeteria on G Street when I heard President Kennedy come on black-and-white television and inform the nation of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Because there was no television and very little media access in the hospital, hardly anyone, including the staff, knew about it. Later that week, I taunted the other patients in group therapy about who would be fit enough to survive a world after nuclear war, and that got written up!   That Friday (right before the resolution of the crisis) we went on a “Group Activity” to the National Gallery of Art; it’s a little surprising we would have been taken to downtown Washington given the crisis.

I can remember one night right after the crisis when a female patient woke everyone up on our end of the hall with her screaming, and a nurse threatened to give it to her “in the muscle”.  I developed my own personal vernacular for the less intact patients, “god-damn MP”.  Later, in a group therapy session, that patient would “fake” cataonia and a male patient would lift her off the floor and revive her.

In early November, I had a toothache, and suddenly found my wisdom teeth being extracted with sedation dentistry. Which was quite advanced even by that time.  I remember a bandage anchored the IV to my forearm, and when the tape was removed a lot of hair got pulled out, and I felt physically humiliated.

We also did some “occupational therapy” in the mornings.  I got to work “for free” in a cancer lab, and actually handled specimens of cancer patient urine, centrifuging them for abnormal precipitates. That probably would not be allowed today in these days of HIPAA.  These were the days before computers when a hand planimeter could be put on a resume.

I also talked to GWU about helping one of the other patients get in, and they flatly said “No.”  Just me, as if I had become some sort of privileged character.  I further talked to some woman at the Labor Department who said she knew all about 3-West at NIH.

As for the therapy, just as it had started with “my work with Dr. Benham”, I kept looking for some grand revelation (more than just a feminine insight) when all would be well.  In a couple of months, the individual therapist at NIH (who seemed to have at least one other homosexual patient assigned) had gotten me to cough up some of my fantasy life, as discussed in the new DADT-III book, Chapter 2 (Section 7).

At this point, a round robin of questions ensues.  What did “they” want from me?  What did I want?  And why was what I seemed to want so upsetting to others, when I wasn’t harming them?  After all, I could never be competition for someone’s wife or girl friend.  But, borrowing an idea from relativity, my “observing” others without participation could put other insecure men on edge, maybe make them feel threatened with sexual impotence of ineffectiveness.  That was an underground idea that would surface three decades later with the debate on gays in the military.

I think that the psychiatrists, like everyone else, accepted a “moral status quo”, an authoritarian mind-set on sexual mores for some amorphous common good, which seemed predicated on bringing insecure males in line for the “welfare” of everyone.  Things had really gotten worse after World War II.  Alan Turing, without whose brain the Nazis might have prevailed, would wind up being forced to accept chemical castration in England after admitting homosexual behavior to authorities after a boyfriend stole from him.  In 1953, President Eisenhower signed an Executive Order barring homosexuals from any federal or contractor-related employment (see link here ).   In 1963, when I finally started my first wage-earning job, I had to pass a medical.  I called my father before telling the physician why William and Mary had made me get psychiatric treatment, and the doctor wrote around the issue, saying that he did not believe I was actually a homosexual, so I could get hired.  “Sexual perversion” was one of the explicit reasons someone could be fired from Civil Service.

Yes, this all heading somewhere.  What did people want?  Well, some ideas seem obvious: If I was an only child, my homosexuality seemed like the death penalty for the family line.  But the gritty details of this, which can become quite unsettling and hard to organize, are better taken up in a later posting detailing with my family life back in the 1950s.

In late January, 1963, I simply decided to be discharged.  They couldn’t keep me.   I do remember seeing an official diagnosis somewhere of “schizoid personality” although I had heard rumors on the unit of worse (like schizophrenia, which is totally different). I went back to school full time.  It was time for quantitative analysis, with pun intended.  Another discharge paper called this a “compulsive personality” which is not the same thing.

Footnote key: “DADT3-C2-0002-20140114-44-U”

Originally published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014, about 10 PM.  Updated Friday, February 21, 2014.


In Chapter 1 of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, I give the narrative details of my expulsion from William and Mary in the fall of 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I was “latent homosexual”.

To support arguments about a number of matters that will be made later, it is useful to give a detailed chronology of that fall semester as best I can remember it. There is a Blogger entry for this incident, here.

April 29, 1961 (Saturday). I take a competitive exam in chemistry at William and Mary resulting in winning a scholarship.  I had stayed in the dorm. Two other students from the Science Honor Society had ridden down with the chemistry teacher. On April 28, we had visited the paper plant in West Point, VA.

May 26-30, 1961 (Friday-Tuesday).  With other members of the Science Honor Society, driven by one parent and a physics teacher, we visit New Hampshire and drive up Mt. Washington on May 28.  We stay in Boston two nights and in a family cabin in the Sandwich area of NH two nights.

September 7, 1961 (Thursday).  My best high school friend, whom I will call Michael, takes me to the movies to see “The Guns of Navarone”, in downtown Washington DC, I believe at the RKO Keith’s theater.


September 9, 1961 (Sat.).  My parents and I leave for Williamsburg from Arlington in an old Ford Galaxie.  I recall driving some of it, especially Route 60 between Richmond and Williamsburg.  I-64 had not been built yet.   We stay at the Williamsburg Inn.

September 10, 1961.  Around 10 AM, I check into Brown Hall, room 205.  I seem to recall we brought our own bedding, which my father helped me move.  My roommate, from Roanoke, who remains unnamed, appears at around noon and we meet.  We had exchanged letters. In the afternoon, we have an outdoor welcome assembly with Dean Lambert, Dean of Students.

September 11, 1961, Monday, 40 years to the date before the 9/11 attacks.  We start placement exams.  I remember the English composition placement.

September 17, 1961, Sunday.  I attend a welcome at a large Baptist church near campus.

September 18, 1961, Monday.  Classes begin.  MWF I have Calculus at 9 AM, Physics at 11 AM, English at 1 PM (roommate has same instructor, a young man from Australia, at 8 AM).  PE is at 3 PM. Mondays,  I think Physics Lab was at 2 PM Wednesdays, but I recall little of it.  Physics Recitation was on Fridays at 2 PM.  Chemistry (Qual Analysis) lecture is at 9 AM TTh, and Lab is at 1 PM TTh.

September 20, 1961 (Wed).  We have to turn in a writing sample to the instructor, with grade not to count. My roommate wrote about his clock-radio.  I don’t recall what I did on this theme.

September 27, 1961 (Wed).  We have to turn in our first theme for a grade, requiring a technique of “definition”.  I write about “friendship” (approximate outline here ).  The roommate reads it (this was OK under the Honor System as long as he didn’t use it).  Later that day, or the next, he reacts to my brightly colored shirts and says that only homosexuals wear clothes like this.  (My own father, somewhat flamboyant, liked brightly colored shirts.  Totally untrue.)

Sept. 29, 1961 (Friday).  Freshmen boys are supposed to report to a basement of another dorm for “tribunals” where hazing is to take place, including leg shaving.  I simply skip out.

Oct. 1, 1961 (Monday).  At dinner in the common dining room, I meet a John, freshman student from California, with a considerable music background. (explained here  on my drama blog).

Oct. 20, 1961 (Saturday).  I check out a record from the college library to play in the music listening rooms, with John; we also sometimes used piano rooms.  In the checkout line, there is another guy who mentions what happened to him at the Tribunals, which I had skipped.  “Mine grew back,” he says.  My roommate communicates how people from his hometown despise classical music; he can’t stand the Brahms Second Symphony when it plays in the room from the clock radio.

Oct. 27, 1961 (Saturday).  By now I have a reputation on campus for getting good grades, especially on math and chemistry tests and English themes.  There have been a couple of dorm counselor sessions where I have been teased, and been asked about what “69” means.  There has also been one inappropriate sign on my dorm door.  But today, I go to see the film “Splendor in the Grass” which recalls my own senior year to me and also introduces mental illness.  My roommate sees it later in the day, but returns emotionally spent.  The Wordsworth poem has been read in English class.  For the next couple of weeks, he seems much less concerned about “me”.

Oct. 28 (Sunday night).  I go to infirmary with a severe sore throat.  While there, I notice a football player’s leg being shaved for bandages.  The player would later taunt me in the cafeteria.  I get a shot of penicillin and return to the dorm, and recover very quickly.  (Maybe that’s good; for all I know, it could have been meningitis.)

Note that on Oct. 27-28 the Berlin Wall crisis came to a head, but on campus we didn’t notice.

Nov. 4, 1961 (Saturday)  John and I see the film “Aimez-vous Brahms” which uses the C Minor intermezzo in the Third Symphony in the background.  The Williamsburg Theater, on Duke of Gloucester Street two blocks from the dorm, changes films every two days but does offer foreign films. I remember previews to “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. John would at one time ask me whether “music was in my blood.”

Nov. 19, 1961 (Sunday).  With sleet outdoors, we sit on the porch of Brown and some boys again quiz me about homosexuality.

Nov. 21, 1961    We have a second laboratory exam in Qual, which I don’t think I did very well on.  Dr. Armstrong has asked me not hum music in lab!   (Tuesday night).  My roommate, who slept in the top bunk, says he is worried about continuing to room with me, and metaphorically says he fears becoming impotent, theorizing about my expected “super strength” while in a trance, an odd expectation from a weakling.  He also has told the story of witnessing an abuse at a summer camp in 1960.

Nov. 23. 1961 (Thanksgiving Day).  College does not let out for the weekend, just the day.  May parents take me and John to dinner at the Williamsburg Inn.  We go for a drive in Jamestown and explore the ruins of the colony and walk along the James River. It is sunny, breezy, and cool, temperature in the low 50s.

Nov. 24, 1961.  It is cloudy, even foggy, and warmer.  I spend the day uneventfully,  I go to physics recitation in the afternoon and remember a demonstration of the gyroscope.  The instructor makes a strange gesture, at one point grabbing my lower leg.  Late in the afternoon, I apparently go to the library in Rogers Hall along the garden to study.  I return to the dorm right around 5 PM.

I find the now legendary handwritten note on the door, with no envelope, mentioning recent room inspections and concerns about patent medicines in the room.  I am asked to see the Dean of Men, Carson Barnes, immediately.  I think it is strange that he would wait all day the Day after Thanksgiving (“Black Friday”) to see me.  I walk outside, where it has just turned dark, but is still foggy and mild, about 60 degrees.  It takes maybe four minutes to get to the entrance of Wren Hall.  I enter the building, and climb a stairway to the second floor.  The Dean’s office is on the north side (Richmond Road) side of the building. The building has been considerably restored and renovated since 1961 and that path can no longer be recreated.  My conversation with him is as described in Chapter 1 of the first DADT book.  I believe he is leading me on about homosexuality, so I tell him I think I am a “latent homosexual”.  He asks how to contact my parents, who had left for Charlotte, NC that morning to visit friends.  He specifically reassures me that I won’t be asked to leave school.

I believe he would have reached my parents with an operator-assisted call at about 8 PM.  I have been in that house before.  There was a conventional rotary phone on a night table between the two bedrooms in a hall (only one floor).  My father would have taken the call.  Imagine the conversation (for a screenplay).  He probably would have told mother about it when they went to bed.  The left Monday morning to return to Williamsburg Monday night. Imagine what this must have been like for them.

Nov. 27, 1961.  My parents meet me at the dorm. We have an uneventful supper.  That evening, I study in the room. That might will be the 79th in the dorm, the last.

Nov. 28, 1961.  I go to the 9 AM Qualitative Analysis class as usual.  At 10 AM, as agreed, my father is supposed to pick me up at the corner of Duke of Gloucester Street (then open to traffic) and Richmond Road.  It is sunny, windy, and not much above freezing, the first really cold day of the coming winter.  My parents were to meet the Dean at his office in the Wren Building at 9 AM.

My parents indeed swing by at around 10:10 AM, and my father’s first words are, “This is going to come as a blow to you Bill, but we have to take you out of school.”  The Dean had lied.  Supposedly he had conferred with the President of the College, Davis Young Paschall, and I had to go.

We go back to the Dean’s office.  The Dean says I can return for the second semester if a psychiatrist certifies that it is OK.   I just have “certain anxieties.”  (Sounds like DADT repeal certification!)  I even ask we could just speak to an Eastern State psychiatrist and get the cert.  I had expected a roommate separation, but not this.  These “thoughts and feelings” had a certain meaning for others, and I had hardly considered where they could go, or that others had certain notions about “what homosexuals do.”   Even that idea had become a subject of rumor and urban legends.

My father asks me to help carry some bedding or sheets down to the car, and points to some stain, and says, “This is how I know you are not a homosexual.”  Later, he would say that I had “pinned a label on myself” (the way you “pin” an app to a notification icon bar in Windows).  Everything being said was so nonsensical and so far from any legitimate science or truth,  in an otherwise liberalizing culture.  They couldn’t face what this could mean for them, down the road.  My father would say I had just “made a mistake” and later correctly note and chide that I didn’t “see people as people” but as foils.

We have lunch in a commercial cafeteria. I wonder what will happen, if I will be institutionalized anyway.

I recall the ride home that cold afternoon.  It went down to 18 that night in Arlington the first night home.

Nov. 30, 1961 (Friday).  My father takes me to visit the first psychiatrist we can find, whose home is somewhere near Western Ave. in the Chevy Chaser area.  The appointment is at 6 PM and is an “emergency”.  (“There are no psychiatric emergencies” – to quote a boyfriend and clinical psychologist from Dallas in the 1980’s.)  I remember be asked to describe my mother.  After the 1 hour session (which costs $25) the doctor tells my father, “Well, I don’t really see that he has a problem with homosexuality.”

Dec. 6, 1961 (Wednesday).  My father and I meet with Dean Ruth, of Admissions, about going to GWU in the spring semester.  The Dean doesn’t ask what happens, but only wants to know that it won’t affect academic work.  (It’s “don’t ask, don’t tell”, 1961 style.)  I get a brief tour of the campus, and see people working vigorously in an organic chemistry laboratory on the third floor of Cororan Hall, doing preps.

Dec. 13, 1961 (Wednesday). “Michael” has returned from the first quarter at VPI (now Virginia Tech) and visits me in the afternoon.  The visit creates some anticipation.  I tell him what happened.  He is sympathetic, but does say that my “telling” was unnecessary and “stupid”.  He seems to think the world is going to change.

Jan. 28, 1962 (Sunday).  John comes up from Williamsburg for a few days between semesters, riding the bus on a day of heavy snow in Williamsburg and Richmond that misses DC.

Feb. 5, 1962 (Monday).  In snow flurries, I start classes at GWU, the first being German, the next being Analytic Geometry, with English Literature in the afternoon.  Chemistry will come Feb. 6.  I remember even the K-Street first bus ride home, a 2-T bus.  The Metro was still twenty years off.

William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumi (GALA) is here., formed in 1986.  I attended their 25th Anniversary celebration, Oct, 2011, accounts here  and short film review here.

Tom Baker gives an account of his own experience at William and Mary in 1963 in his book “The Sound of One Horse Dancing”, review here.

It is significant that at the time William and Mary admitted twice as many male freshmen as female.

I did find a picture of my SAT scores from 1959-1961 in high school.

First published Friday January 10, 2013 around 5 PM EST.

Footnote key: “DADT3-C2-0001-20140110-31-U”