How Lou Reed’s homosexuality was “cured”

Lou Reed 1978With the death of Lou Reed, the world lost a singer, songwriter, guitar player, filmmaker, icon and legend. Reed was also a survivor of electro shock therapy, which his parents forced him to undergo in order to “cure” his homosexuality. 

Reed describes the experience in his song Kill Your Sons [see video above and lyrics below] and in the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, where he reflects: “They put the thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue and they put electrodes on your head. That’s what was recommended… to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can’t read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page 1 again.”

Electroshock therapy is one of the countless ways people have tried to “cure” homosexuality. Of course none of this “therapy” ever “cures” anyone. But it’s a great way to pathologize and traumatize people!

Kill Your Sons

All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they’d let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn’t get to page 17
‘Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn’t even readDon’t you know they’re gonna kill your sons
don’t you know gonna kill, kill your sons
They’re gonna kill, kill your sons
until they run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run awayMom informed me on the phone
she didn’t know what to do about dad
Took an axe and broke the table
aren’t you glad you’re married
And sister, she got married on the island
and her husband takes the train
He’s big and he’s fat
and he doesn’t even have a brain

They’re gonna kill your sons
don’t you know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons
Don’t you know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons
until they run away

Creedmore treated me very good
but Paine Whitney was even better
And when I flipped out on PHC
I was so sad, I didn’t even get a letter
All of the drugs, that we took
it really was lots of fun
But when they shoot you up with thorizene on crystal smoke
you choke like a son of a gun

Don’t you know they’re gonna kill your sons
don’t you know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons
Don’t you know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons
until they run, run, run, run, run, run, run away

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PMKatie Halper started identifying as a feminist at the age of 5 when she attended her first pro-choice rally and began calling out the musicals she watched instead of cartoons for being “prejudiced against women.”  She realizes this is a ridiculous photo. 


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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Join the Conversation

  • Becky Nankivell

    Certainly this was a misuse of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but it currently is used effectively (and humanely – with anesthesia) for treatment of severe depression, and some other disorders.

  • sarahstumpf

    In the coverage of Lou Reed’s death, his bisexuality has often been erased and I was sad to see a post here on Feministing contribute to that trend. While there were attempts to cure him of same sex feelings in his youth I think the greater story is how he overcame tons of institutionalized homophobia and biphobia to lead an authentic and creative life.

    • Victoria

      love your comment sarastumpf, I agree.