Briefly: Oliver Sacks and sexuality

In the May 21st New York Review of Books, a touching review (“The Victory of Oliver Sacks”) by Jerome Groopman of the neurologist’s autobiography, On the Move: A Life. A complex, restless, passionate life, full of accomplishment — and now soon to come to an end, as Sacks revealed in a clear-eyed essay (“My Own Life”) in the New York Times in February.

One thread (of many) in this life is Sack’s sexuality. When his beloved mother learned that he was gay, he reports in his book, she thundered, “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born” and then never spoke of the matter again. Sacks writes now:

her words haunted me for much of my life and played a major role in inhibiting and injecting with guilt what should have been a free and joyous expression of sexuality.

That was in the England of the 1950s, when, as Sacks emphasizes, homosexuality was treated not only as a perversion but as a criminal offense. Many years later, at the age of 77, he found love with a male partner.

We think of Sacks these days as a genial graybeard (which he certainly is):


But here he is in Greenwich Village in 1961, a rebellious hunk in his leathers, in a photo chosen for the cover of his autobiography:


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