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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homosexuality: Why Psychoanalysis?

Stephen Gee

I myself attended a conference last December on ‘Perversion’. A leading psychoanalyst from The Portman Clinic offered the very familiar post-Kleinian view that perversions, i.e. fetishism, transvestism and certain forms of self-mutilation are all defences against ‘reality’–reality here unproblematically defined as the internalisation of a good combined object; in layman’s terms, a man and a lady having a healthy fuck–in your head. ‘Maybe’, the psychoanalyst hesitated, ‘Maybe, clinically–whatever I as a citizen might think–maybe, clinically, homosexual intercourse’ (presumably male) ‘is another example of this (perverse) defence’. I took up his hesitation and said that, ‘Maybe, clinically, such a statement could be seen as homophobic’. My intervention was to no avail. Here you could witness the reiteration of the familiar dualism elaborated by Ryan in her paper: we’ll tolerate your civil rights in what we define as the ‘external world’ but reserve the right to pronounce on your ‘internal world’ as pathological.

All the speakers today have been involved in the autonomous liberation movements of the 60s and 70s and influenced by the re-evaluation of politics, society and psychoanalysis that has happened since. In this vein, Mary Lynne Ellis offers a subtle description and analysis of her patient’s homophobia, while problematising Freud’s theory of phobia in the case of ‘Little Hans’, (‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy’, Freud:1909). The analysis uncovers her patient’s fear of having been the cause of her son’s homosexuality. Folded into her ‘phobia’ are fantasies of an unbounded sexuality and what that might mean for her. Faithful to her thesis that wider social contexts are crucial in the formation of subjectivity, Ellis sets out Judith Butler’s argument that the foreclosure of homosexual attachments and identifications troubles a historically compulsory heterosexuality. Hence, the figure of the melancholy woman is produced, in this case, the phobic mother. In a particularly acute clinical observation, Ellis says, ‘It is interesting that Teresa’s homophobic feelings towards her son have been accentuated at a time when she is experiencing intense feelings of neglect by her mother and fury towards her’. The fury is born of the unmourned loss of a homosexual love towards her mother that could never be acknowledged. Following Levinas, Ellis concludes by affirming that the analysis of identifications, even the adjustments and reconciliations that psychoanalytic therapy may help to foster, won’t take away the radical alterity, the otherness of the other. Psychoanalysis can go so far but will never relieve this anxiety; that the other is ultimately unknowable.