Sigmund Freud Said Homosexuality Wasn’t ‘A Vice or a Crime’ in 1938 Letter

Sigmund Freud and letter
Sigmund Freud and letter
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Sigmund Freud Defended Queer People — to a Degree

Sigmund Freud and letter
Sigmund Freud and letter

Freud: Wikipedia; letter: RR Auction

A letter from Sigmund Freud shows him defending homosexuality — well, kind of.

The correspondence, dated December 6, 1938, is up for auction at the Boston-based RR Auction house. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, wrote the letter in German from his London home. In the letter, Freud responds to a question about sexual orientation from a concerned writer who may know a queer person.

"I cannot agree with your calling homosexuality a vice or a crime," Freud writes. "It is neither, regardless of the legislation in different countries. But it is an unfortunate trait, and efforts to overcome it are justified. If only it were achieved so easily!"

The letter is one page and is signed “Prof. Freud.”

“This remarkable artifact sheds light on Freud's progressive views on sexuality and offers a glimpse into his personal beliefs,” the auction house said in a release.

In the letter, Freud goes through the obstacles that queer people faced and writes that psychoanalysis may be able to able to treat them.

"Psychoanalysis has helped overcome it in rare cases; in numerous others, it succeeded in reinforcing simultaneously existing heterosexual instincts to the point where the subjects were able to live bisexually," he wrote, seeming to argue for a sort of conversion therapy.

He admits that psychoanalysis does have its limits.

"In most cases [psychoanalysis] has no influence over the abnormal tendency," he wrote, underscoring the intricacy of human sexuality and the difficult task of changing sexual attraction.

Still, Freud cautions his correspondent not to be hasty in rejecting the gay person in their life.

"The homosexual's case in today's society is not as hopeless as it may seem to you," Freud shares. He discusses the contributions gay people have made to society. "Several of the greatest men in history were homosexuals."

The auction house states that the letter shows Freud’s understanding beyond a binary understanding of sexuality — he acknowledges the fluidity that sexuality can take throughout someone’s life.

"It is important not to overlook the fact that a certain degree of propensity toward the homosexual object is part and parcel of the constitution of the so-called normal man," Freud wrote.

RR Auction said the letter was written while Freud was in poor health — he died the following year — but that he was still participating in intellectual conversations and maintaining his social life.

"This letter is not just a historical artifact; it's a message of hope and acceptance. Freud's insights are as relevant today as they were in 1938, reminding us of the importance of compassion and empathy," Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, said in a release.

It’s not the only letter from Freud that discusses homosexuality. In the 1935 “Letter to an American Mother,” Freud also says there have been great men who have been gay.

"Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation. It cannot be classified as an illness; We consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.),” Freud wrote.

He added, “It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty, too.”

The online bidding for the 1938 letter is under way. It currently has four bids and is at $6,655. RR Auction expects the letter to fetch for $40,000 or more.

“I hope these thoughts will enlighten you,” Freud concludes in the letter.

Scroll down for images of the letter.