Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Today in Gay History

Turing (1912-1954)

credit glbtq.com

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance to the modern world of the mathematical, philosophical, and cryptographic work of Alan Mathison Turing. A gifted mathematician, Turing is remembered today as one of the founders of computer science.

The gay and lesbian community remembers Turing not only for his work on computers and the cracking of the Enigma machine code during World War II, but also because of his needless, horrific death. He committed suicide at the age of 41, two years after his arrest, conviction, and forced chemical castration for a homosexual encounter. Though he died at an early age, a victim of British homophobia, he had already created whole new ways of thinking about computers, biology, minds, and humanity.

. . .

In 1948, Turing had accepted a position as Deputy Director of the Royal Society Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester and moved to that city, where he soon became involved with a young working class man, Murray Arnold, who would later burglarize his home.

After reporting the burglary, Turing was arrested and prosecuted for what was then known under British law as "Gross Indecency," a section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 (also known as the Labouchère Amendment), under which Oscar Wilde had also been charged in 1895.

Turing was offered a stark choice: go to prison or submit to the administration of the hormone estrogen. This procedure was known as "organo-therapy," a form of aversion therapy designed to destroy his sex drive. It was a type of chemical castration.

The administration of the female hormone left Turing impotent. He also developed breasts. Two years after his arrest, and one year after this coerced and barbaric "therapy," Alan Turing used cyanide to kill himself.

He left no note, and the circumstances of his death were inadequately investigated and perhaps left deliberately murky to spare his mother anguish. She believed his death to be accidental. Most commentators believe, however, that he committed suicide by eating an apple smeared with cyanide-laced jam.


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