Insult and Identity
This summary is obviously an oversimplification: Freud was a man of his time and if we search for dogmatic assertions and gender bias in his work, it is only too easy to find examples. Nor is it true that the history of ideas to which Freud gave a name–psychoanalysis–has one single founder. The psychoanalytic writers, to whom I have referred, were not merely the corruptors of the Freudian truth; despite their disappointing limitations, they produced many useful theories, which inform and aid much of our clinical work.
Perhaps it is Freud’s lack of concern about contradicting himself and consequently the fact that his legacy of writing is shot through with ambiguity, which allows many contemporary writers, notably the queer theorists of the last twenty years, to anchor their work in Freud’s writings, thus giving him a renewed appeal. Maybe it is Freud’s references to homosexuality–the possibility of finding something affirmative, or at least not condemning–that entices me to begin this paper by paying homage to his open-mindedness, by citing the cautionary note in his foundational Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud 1905). In this paper, Freud raises a big question mark over the popular, commonsensical proposition that a human being is either a man or a woman. Freud argues against the proposition that true psychological types defined by sex. He begins by distinguishing between the sexual aim ‘the act towards which the instinct tends’ and the sexual object, ‘the person from whom sexual attraction proceeds’ and goes on to illustrate just how shaky the connection is between the two. So flimsy, he claims that ‘the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is a problem that needs elucidating’ (Freud 1905:146 ft). Nor was he about to compartmentalise individuals according to sex. ‘Pure masculinity or femininity is not to be found either in a psychological or a biological sense’ (Freud 1905: 220 ft). On the contrary, Freud insisted that the psychic components of the opposite sex function to varying degrees in everyone. Freud also famously refused to regard homosexuality as a symptom that would warrant psychoanalytic treatment; the patient would not need it if he felt happy and creative and only miserable homosexuals were regarded as needing help (Freud 1935: 786).