Gay Life, Straight Work

Donald West, psychiatrist and criminologist, published a book arguing for tolerance at a time when gays in the UK were social pariahs and legally criminals.

Now, over fifty years later, he can write openly as a gay man describing his simultaneous pursuit of a secret, fraught love-life and a precarious professional career. In investigations of the paranormal, researches into the roots of delinquency, studies of sexual crime and of society's response to sexual abuse, he advances some unpopular ideas. Although influenced by his life among a sexual minority, he tries to reach his objective, evidence-based conclusions. His stories of forced secrecy and threatened exposure reflect difficulties of the past that have not completely disappeared in supposedly more enlightened times.

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Born 1924, an over-protected only child from a distinctly working class home, Professor Donald West, MD, LiItt.D., became a socially withdrawn gay man attracted to studies of the psychological problems of sexual and social outcasts. He gives a raw account of a fraught private life of love and sex, constantly under threat of public exposure, and tells how this interacted with a professional career.

After obtaining a medical degree, he abandoned hospitals in favour of research into the paranormal, publishing his first Penguin book, Psychical Research Today, in 1954. By then he was training as a psychiatrist and, protected by a medical umbrella, he published a second Penguin, Homosexuality, 1955, arguing, in the hypocritical guise of a disinterested observer, for tolerance towards homosexuals, who were then despised criminals commonly depicted as psychopathic personalities.

On securing a post in the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, he continued researches among social deviants, such as The Habitual Prisoner, 1963; Murder followed by Suicide, 1965; The Young Offender, 1967. In 1961, he initiated a fifty year follow-up of the lives of a sample of London boys the early stages of which were published in The Delinquent Way of Life, 1977. Further sex studies included an analysis of a group of homicidal rapists, Understanding Sexual Attacks, 1978, a more general survey of Sexual Crimes and Confrontations, 1987, and a survey of London rent boys, Male Prostitution, 1992. His inquiries into children's sex contacts with adults, and his criticism of panic reactions to paedophilia, aroused controversy.

Finally, he reflects upon persisting difficulties in the scientific study of the paranormal, changes in gay attitudes, and gays in old age.