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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homophobia is the Patient

Mary Lynne Ellis

Introduction

The idea for this paper arose one morning after seeing two patients consecutively. One was a young man of twenty-four who had had both heterosexual and gay relationships and who was now interested in having an intimate relationship with a man. However, he said, he ‘couldn’t cope’ with what identifying as gay might mean culturally. The other was a middle-aged woman who was continuing to feel periodically very troubled about her son identifying as gay and was expressing concern about her homophobia. The idea that a twenty-four year old young man who is generally not at all conventional in his thinking and in his life style is still terrified that at some point he might have to ‘come out’ as gay and become the target of possibly considerable hostility because of loving another man, felt particularly shocking to me on that day: the huge achievements regarding sexual equality simultaneously sharply highlight how far the constraints on taking up these rights are still operative in people‘s day to day lives.

O’Connor and Ryan in their innovative and highly influential book, Wild Desires and Mistaken Identities, Lesbianism and Psychoanalysis, argue that pathologizing interpretations arise as defences against the anxieties aroused by working with lesbian and gay patients.1 They challenge the notion that there are features which are inherent in lesbian desire. They argue instead for a recognition within psychoanalytic practices of the diversity of lesbian desires, socially, historically, and culturally. They further emphasize that where there is any commonality in lesbians’ experiences, this is to be found in lesbians’ responses to living in a homophobic culture. Shared structures of oppression may ‘constitute or contribute to the forms of expression of lesbian desire’ (O’Connor and Ryan 1993: 234) and it is in relation to these that lesbian identities become ‘forged’. Lesbian sexualities do not share qualities in any essentialist sense.


  1. O’Connor and Ryan both went on to become founder members of the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis.