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Number 1: Spring 2008

Insult and Identity

Fedja Dalagija

The case study’s relentless use of the word ‘defect’ to refer to the patient’s homosexuality and the self-assured dismissiveness in their pronouncements on homosexuality by the other writers I have mentioned, leads me on to the topic which I wish to explore in this paper–the theme of insult–in fact the culture of insults, slights and derisions that most or all of the gay men that I have worked with come to recall in the course of their therapy. Needless to say, the theory and practice of psychoanalysis is not the only, or even the principal, source of homophobic insult but its long-standing complicity with pathologising homosexuality, given its claim to expertise in understanding human suffering makes it potentially more pernicious than the common insult of the playground bully.

My emphasis on the effects of insult is intended to make an argument that the formative traumas that are the foundation of many gay identities take place much later than infancy or early childhood. Much of what a patient comes to realise has been damaging took place in his early teens–the times when the impossibility of fitting into the socially prescribed gendered roles became apparent to them and/or was noticed by their peers–almost always eliciting some form of bullying, ridicule and exclusion. Patients are often reluctant to speak in detail about these largely repressed memories. Only once the therapeutic relationship has been established, do some become able to face them, to remember and shudder while recalling the name-calling, the fear and the desperate struggle to fit in and be like the other boys. Some patients then go on to enact the confusion that surrounded these experiences; they ask themselves questions: ‘Was I a victim or was I asking for it? or, ‘Why did I allow myself to become a victim? I’d never let it happen now.’ Or they make statements like, ‘My childhood was quite happy until I started school. I could never tell my parents about the bullying; it would be the same as outing myself.’ What then often emerges in these cases is a powerful ambivalence about celebrating /exaggerating /seeking approval for the patients gay /camp / outrageous /girlie side and wish to subdue, normalise and pass as straight at the same time.