Transgender, Gender & Psychoanalysis Conference Abstracts

Dina Al-Kassim

Transnational Subjectivities from Tehran to Laplanche

With the publication of Afsaneh Najmabadi’s  Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (2014) scholars of Middle East, West Asia and North Africa are newly able to test our speculative theories of contemporary subjectivity and modern state power. Arguing that Iran’s Islamicized modernity paradoxically elaborated new subjectivities through the regulation of sexual and gendered morality, habitus and identity in law, medicine and civil status, Professing Selves locates a crucial techne of state power multiplied in the proliferation of interview, questionnaire, affidavit, testimony, case study but also self-narration that supports the assessment of bodies and subjects for sexual reassignment authorized and acknowledged by the state. Through the lens of Laplanche’s critical reassessment of sublimation, a psychoanalytic reading of a key fantasy shared by many SRS candidates reveals a subtle cultivation of fatality and inspiration in this emergent transsexual rather than transgender community.


Sheila L. Cavanagh

Transgender and the Other Sexual Difference: Bracha L. Ettinger and Jacques Lacan

The story of Oedipus the King is a founding psychoanalytic myth. As a result, we have sophisticated understandings of sexual difference within the domain of cisgender masculine identification and phantasy, but only nascent understandings of a transgender (trans*) sex specific difference beyond the phallus. Although Freud and Lacan give us important psychoanalytic tools to theorize subjectivity, they repeatedly fail to ascertain a space for the Feminine that is not already passive (Freud) or non-existent (Lacan). Moreover there are only rudimentary tools available to theorize trans subjectivity outside psychosis in the Lacanian frame. Feminist psychoanalysts have been searching for alternatives to Oedipus for quite some time but without attention to Tiresian-like characters in the Greaco-Roman period. This paper focuses on Tiresias, the Greek mythological character changed into a woman by the Goddess Hera as punishment for having killed copulating snakes on mount Cyllene in Pelopennese. Tiresias is often overlooked in feminist psychoanalytic writing despite having played a pivotal role in Antigone and in Oedipus the King, both by Sophocles. If Antigone challenges heteronormative kinship structures as Butler claims (2010) and Tiresias challenges cisgender norms of psycho-sexual development as I argue, both characters have the capacity to push psychoanalytic theorizing beyond a normalizing Oedipal frame.

Using the theory of the matrixial borderspace developed by Bracha L. Ettinger, I contend that Tiresias possesses Feminine knowledge that troubles the existing order of psychoanalytic theory. Although Ettinger isn’t a trans studies scholar and to the best of my knowledge hasn’t worked analytically with trans clients, she offers an understanding of the Other sexual difference that is highly relevant to trans studies and to theories of subjectivity in general. Ettinger’s work offers a way to understand what trans studies scholar Susan Stryker calls trans phenomenon. My analysis is based on the premise that trans identifications are distinguished from cisgender (non trans) identifications by the way they involve a somatization of the other sex in the body, not just as identification but as a phenomenological experience. But those of us who are cisgender must also negotiate this Other sexual difference. While transgender subjectivity typically makes this matrixial link visible by, for example, identifying as trans (and somatizing this link), it is a psychical component of all human subjects regardless of gender identity, sex embodiment or sexual orientation.


Domenico Di Ceglie

The Use of Metaphors in Understanding Atypical Gender Identity Development and its Psychosocial Impact.

Over the years I have found a number of metaphors which have helped me to deal with particular dynamics in therapeutic work or with group and institutional conflicts involving the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Centre. This nationwide service, which is for gender variant children and adolescents and their families, was established in 1989. In my presentation I will describe some of these metaphors in relation to the particular problems or conflicts which had stimulated their appearance in my mind. The emergence of these metaphors links the vicissitudes of atypical gender identity development to issues regarding symbolization or symbolic thinking. Metaphors such as ‘working at the hedge’ or ‘navigating between Scylla and Charybdis’ allow the professional to hold on to multiple perspectives and to maintain a certain degree of ambiguity in situations in which the interpersonal dynamics can be experienced as rigid and deterministic. The emergence of metaphors is then perceived with a sense of relief and freedom of thinking. Clinical vignettes and film clips will be used to illustrate the points made.


Jo Clifford

Learning to love myself as my neighbour: one individual’s reflection on being transgendered.

One of my earliest and most enduring memories is of looking into the mirror and not being able to fully recognise the boy I saw there.

One way of looking at my life’s work as a writer, husband, parent and most recently performer is to see it as being about the search for my true self.

In this, of course, my life is not that unusual.

What is perhaps unusual is that so much of this quest has had to be viewed through the spectrum of gender.

And that a crucial part of that process has been imagining Jesus as trans woman: and learning to perform the role in public.


Patricia Gherovici

Jaywalking: Is Psychoanalysis Ready for a Transition?

“I had no choice. I would be dead if I hadn’t transitioned—I would have killed myself.” My presentation focuses on the case of Jay, whose trans desire was not just a wish to go beyond the gender binary but also a desire to overcome the limits of mortal existence. Pushing further the analyses of Please Select Your Gender, I look at transgenderism differently by taking into account issues of life and death. I challenge the pathologization historically enforced by psychoanalysis while proposing an ethics of desire ready to tackle death.


Juliet Jacques

The Woman in the Portrait

Commissioned to write something for the Transpose event at the Tate Modern in March 2014, billed as ‘a journey in performance, reflection [and] inspiration’ that would ‘[challenge] assumptions on sex and gender in art’, I struggled for ideas. As a cultural critic who had often written about transgender identities, especially my own, I had been asked to response to one or more works in the collection, but I found no openly transgender artists anywhere in the Tate Modern, and just one or two subjects who might be read as transgender, in photographs taken by outsiders – notably by Diane Arbus, famous for depicting those on the margins.


I decided instead to use fiction to meet the brief. One work caught my eye: Self-Portrait with Model, painted by German artist Christian Schad in 1927. Part of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in the Weimar Republic, Schad referenced Berlin’s various subcultures in his paintings: its circuses and fairs, its dance halls and nightclubs. He had a strong interest in the ‘transvestites’, as sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld called them, who expressed themselves in the city’s queer underground, and cross-dressers featured in his St. Genois d’Anneaucourt (1927) and Sonja (1928).


Schad never identified the ‘model’ in his Self-Portrait, so I took the masculine-looking woman as a starting point – what if she was trans? What would her life in the Weimar Republic be like, during the ‘Roaring Twenties’, the Depression and the onset of Nazism? Would she have any artistic ambitions of her own, or simply serve as Schad’s model? Would he help her to realise her dreams, or just appropriate her body to make his work seem more exotic?


Telling the story as a contemporary curator talking an audience through the painting, I invented recently-found diaries by ‘Heike’ – who lived and worked at Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science and dreamt of being an actress – as well as letters between Schad and Dadaist writer and psychoanalyst Richard Huelsenbeck documenting several interactions between Schad and Heike, including a traumatic sexual affair, a distant encounter around the portrait and a final reckoning in the face of the oncoming apocalypse.


Damian McCann

The Couple in Transition

This presentation will address the relationship of couples where one of the partners wishes to transition and its demands on the partnership itself as they negotiate a way forward. Malpas (2012) suggests that transgender couples are pioneering the navigation of intimacy, stability and excitement outside the heteronormative gender binary. By incorporating gender variance into the equation, we then have the very rich tapestry that helps clinicians steer their way through the complexities of gender and sexuality. Furthermore, by addressing these complexities in theory and in practice, we are then in a better position to assist couples who themselves are struggling with questions and issues relating to one of the partner’s desire to transition. However, questions must be asked of the underlying theory that guides couple psychoanalytic psychotherapy and in particular its applicability to trans couples, since the theory itself is primarily rooted in therapy with straight couples in closed and monogamous relationships.


Dany Nobus

Choose Your Gender! Tyrannical Freedom and Trivial Selectivity in 21st Century Sexual Identity Politics

How are we to account for the fact that transgender, perhaps more than any other human sexual constellation, is now receiving so much more scholarly, political and media attention, and why has it taken so much longer for the T in LGBT to shed its status as the ugly stepchild of sexual non-conformity?

In attempting to answer these questions, I shall evaluate the impact of social media platforms, celebrity culture and media sensationalism, yet I shall also consider the relationship between neoliberal rationalities and sexual identity politics. Drawing on the antinomies between freedom of choice, the forced customisation of the human body, self-governance and identitarian politics, I will articulate the key social and clinical challenges posed by the question of transgenderism, and open some critical perspectives on our human sexual futures.


Henry Strick van Linschoten

Ways in which Gender can be Embodied: Psychotherapeutic Considerations


Embodiment is about the body. It is physical, specific, concrete. There is no reason to restrict gender variation to the genital, the hormonal or the sartorial. Accepting an equality of status between concrete physical changes and symbolic change, I use examples and illustrations to discuss the practical consequences of variations in how people express and embody their gender. I will range from personal consequences, to social and political impact and risks, and to the psychotherapeutic consulting room. My conclusion is that psychotherapists should bend over backwards to be sensitive, strictly non-pathologising and client-focused in anything to do with gender – gender presentation, expression, embodiment or identity.


Julie Walsh

Phallus, Schmallus: ‘Ich bin die Brust!’ – Drawing some Lines through Trans-Gender-Feminisms.

Confusion, n. – discomfiture, overthrow, ruin, destruction, perdition.

The theme of this paper is confusion. Not the purported confusion of the trans individual whose alignment with gender-sex expectations is deemed to require ever greater elucidation (psychoanalytic or otherwise), but the breadth, depth and frequent ferocity of cultural confusion that emerges when trans subjects are given their air-time. One particularly confusing area of debate – especially when those involved seem so certain in their knowledge – concerns the relationship between trans positions and feminist positions where, (‘naturally’ enough?), the site of contestation is womanhood itself. ‘Women – you yourselves are the problem’, said Freud when worrying again over ‘the riddle of the nature of femininity’ (1933). ‘The woman question’ – perhaps the constitutive confusion of psychoanalysis. But how are we answering it today? Are we really more secure in our contemporary orientation to questions of gender and sexuality than Freud was in his attempts to forge a link between the ‘anatomical’ and the ‘psychological’? And how can we analyze the proliferation of phantasies (dangerous, violent, consoling, utopian) that the ‘transgender moment’ has stimulated – these are some of the questions I address in this paper.