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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Alan  Turing

Alan Turing 1912to –1954

English mathematician and logician, and the pioneering father of computer science. He was a dedicated student from a young age; when he was 13, he bicycled 60 miles during a transportation strike just to attend his first day of school. It was there he met Christopher Morcom, usually described as Turing’s “first love,” who died when he was 17. At age 24, he first proposed what came to be known as the Turing machine, a precursor to the computer that could, hypothetically, solve any math problem. His theories were put to the test during WWII, when he was recruited to the top-secret team at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker. The Germans had been sending encrypted messages using the Enigma machine, and their communications couldn’t be deciphered without knowing that day’s particular key combination. Turing quickly invented the bombe, a machine that could run through billions of possible keys and narrow it down to only a handful. He had a reputation at Bletchley for being brilliant but eccentric, clever and funny around those he liked, quiet and rude around those he didn’t, a loner, a slob, and a marathon runner. At one point he proposed to his friend and fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke, confided to her that he was gay, but soon reconsidered and broke off the engagement. After the war, he continued to work in computer science, and developed what became known as the Turing test: the idea that a machine could be called intelligent if a person talking to it could not tell whether it was machine or human. He also had an active postwar sex life, which, in 1952, led to his home being burgled by an acquaintance of the young man he’d been seeing. When he reported it to the police, he also casually mentioned this relationship, not even considering that he was admitting to a crime. He was arrested and pled guilty to gross indecency, and instead of time in prison, he opted for a year of female hormones, intended to decrease the libido. A year after completing the “treatment,” Turing died of cyanide poisoning, possibly consumed through an apple, and ruled as a suicide even though it was just as likely an accident. The Official Secrets Act meant that it was decades before his wartime accomplishments became known, and in 2014 he was granted a rare royal pardon for his conviction.

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