Homosexuality: Why Psychoanalysis?
The range of papers we have heard today articulates in various ways the question in the title of our conference, ‘Homosexuality: why Psychoanalysis?’ Joanna Ryan began by tracing the historical background to the publication of The Wolfenden Report in 1957 which led, after fierce campaigning, to limited law reform in 1967. The aim of the reform was to withdraw the intrusion of the law into private life. Ryan evokes the very different social and political circumstances of the 1950s when homosexuality could hardly be spoken about officially and there was very little confidence amongst gay and lesbian people themselves. ‘Coming out’, in the way we grew to understand it after 1969, was unimaginable. Law reform relied mainly on a conception of the ‘individual’ derived from 19th century liberalism while the theory and practice of psychoanalysis at the time relied upon a view of the subject as formed by an unproblematised ahistorical dualism–the ‘internal’ world of the individual and his ‘external’ world. It could advocate liberalisation but only in order to propose treatment in the interests of adaptation to a society in which prevailing sexual norms were not to be questioned. We had to wait for the radical gay movement and the work of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler before psychoanalysis could be seen in its function as a discourse serving social regulation and containment. Ryan emphasises the importance however of the first attempts at law reform in setting the stage for the future. Living openly as a lesbian or gay man has only been possible to date in the liberal democracies. Her paper ends with the question, ‘It would be interesting to know what the different parts of the psychoanalytic profession make of the current progressive legislation, civil partnerships, adoption rights etc, or whether as with Wolfenden, important sections of the profession lag far behind current social changes’.