In his March 22, 1966 Newsday column, Dr Walter C Alvarez wrote about watching his father’s ducks as a kid. He learned from those fowl that sexual and gender diversity occurred naturally.
“Long years ago, when I was a boy, my father had several Mandarin ducks in our yard. I can remember my wonderment when a female duck would approach another female in the mating fashion of a drake. I thought of that ‘mixed-up’ duck today as I looked through Intersexuality in Vertebrates Including Man by C. N. Armstrong and A. J. Marshall.
“How I wish I could get all those millions of persons who dislike homosexuals and want them blackmailed, persecuted and sometimes jailed to read this interesting book. Perhaps it would stagger them a bit to learn that in most forms of vertebrate life there are intersexual forms.”
Dr Alvarez thought reading the book might help bigots overcome their “conviction that a ‘boy’ who grows up from infancy looking, walking, talking, thinking and loving like a girl is a vile creature who ought to be locked up.’
Dr Walter C Alvarez
American physician, Dr Walter C Alvarez enjoyed a distinguished career at the famous Mayo Clinic. But his fame rests mainly on his career post-retirement. As an admirer wrote, “In his retirement, when many other men begin to vegetate, Alvarez continued to bloom.”
Dr Alvarez wrote a nationally-syndicated medical column in which he explained medical conditions in simple English. He aimed to strip the mystery from medicine and allow people a proper understanding of their ailments.
Following his 1951 retirement, Dr Alvarez became a prominent ally of the sexual and gender diverse people who would come together decades later under variations of the LGBTIQ+ acronym.
In the 1950s, the US still locked men up for consenting, private sex acts between adults. Prevailing medical opinion regarded homosexuals and transgender people as mentally ill and in need of psychiatric treatment. Doctors still routinely performed unnecessary operations on intersex infants and children to create more socially acceptable sex characteristics.
Dr Walter C Alvarez opposed all of that. He perceived homosexual, transgender and intersex people as natural. The doctor described laws against homosexuality as unfair, stupid, savage and ancient. He declared the only help transgender people needed was gender affirmation surgery.
In 1974, at the age of 89, Dr Alvarez published the book Homosexuality Vs Gay Liberation “with the hope of supplying information to laypeople as well as to my fellow doctors…
“I tell not only about homosexuals but about transsexuals, usually women born with male genitalia.”
Aware that as a straight man he lacked the lived experience of his subjects, the doctor gave over half the book to a lesbian author. He wrote the ‘homosexuality’ section while Sue March contributed a section on ‘Gay Liberation’.
“[She] tells me where she thinks I made mistakes in my thinking. Then, she gives some of the ideas of the Gay Liberation movement.”
Dr Alvarez’s clever strategy gave the gay liberationists access to suburban readers across the country who would not otherwise bother with the thinking of people then regarded as radical anti-American deviants.
Dr Walter C Alvarez died four years later aged 93. He was an ally to sexual and gender diverse people at a crucial time in our history.
Steen Fenrich, March 21 <— On this day —> March 23
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