18 Chapters
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6: Sexual wanderings

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

They say that happy people have a pretty uneventful history; T stories about happiness do not interest or excite people. What, then, does excite people? The sheer intensity of our instinctual drives, their “essential violence”? The erotic drive or the destructive one? One author who has written more than most about “sexual arousal”, Robert Stoller, says: “I do not know what libido is”, and claims that this is even more the case for the death instinct (Stoller, 1991a, p. 4). Yet he does say that hostility is part of arousal; perhaps that is another way of expressing the fact that some sort of balance has to be found between Eros and Thanatos. We are not governed by drives that head directly towards their aims. Now that it is dissociated from the aim of procreation, the sex drive wanders about restlessly but forcefully in search of satisfaction. It finds what it is looking for either with another person or in opposition to that other person.

For arousal, there are products (books and films) called erotic and others called pornographic. Where does the frontier between eroticism and pornography lie? It has been said that today's pornography is tomorrow's eroticism.

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3: Gender identity

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

Every society draws a distinction between men and women, and sometimes also between other, minority, categories. Each of us has the intimate feeling of being either a man or a woman; some feel themselves to be in an ambiguous situation. That feeling was for long known as one's “sexual identity”, but nowadays that term is more often used to refer to one's erotic inclination—homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. Then the idea of “gender” appeared, followed by that of “gender identity”.

In grammar, of course, the concept of gender is by no means recent. Masculine, feminine and neuter dictate the rules of grammatical agreement between different parts of speech.

Gender is not a universal grammatical category (Corbett, 1991). To assume that it is is an ethnocentric illusion held by Indo-Europeans, all of whose languages have two or three genders. There are, however, many languages—notably Chinese—which do not have that notion; this does not prevent those who speak a genderless language from drawing a distinction between men and women. Linguistic gender does not create sex.

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5. How the transsexual’s mind works

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

One of the reasons that makes a psychotherapeutic approach with transsexuals so difficult has to do with the way their mind works. The type of functioning which I am about to describe is, to all intents and purposes, shared by all transsexuals in whom the identity component is a decisive factor.

I. On the defensive

“Transsexuals lie,” one of my fellow doctors tells me. In fact, they say what they imagine will force the doctor to agree to the transformation which they so much want to have.

One young woman, pleasant and forthcoming, spoke to me in a way that made me feel sympathetic towards her. She told me that it all went back to her childhood: she had always refused to wear skirts or dresses. Later, I met her mother who showed me some of the very few photographs which had survived the auto-da-fé of the family album which the patient had instigated when she took the decision to live as a man, towards the end of her adolescence, after a love affair had broken up: I could see an adolescent girl of about 15, with a pony-tail, wearing a Liberty print dress that she had sewn herself.

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7. The development of gender identity

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

The intersexed (1.7% of the general population, 3% present genital ambiguity) and transsexual individuals (one in every 30 000 to 100 000, depending on the statistics quoted) form only a small proportion of the general population. We can, however, learn much about the development of gender identity by studying them.

I. In the other’s mind

Gender identity is usually considered to be a secondary phenomenon, developing in the context of the classic Oedipus complex between three and five years of age, or in the early genital phase (Roiphe and Galenson), i.e. in the second half of the second year of life. That may well involve the individual’s representation of what the difference between the sexes actually is, but not his or her feeling of gender identity, which develops earlier. The self is not neuter; it has gender.

A baby (though in some languages the word is grammatically neuter) is never neuter as far as the parents are concerned; and the latter strongly influence the infant’s growing awareness of what he or she is. For the parents, their baby began to have a specific gender in their Oedipal dreams as children and adolescents, then again during the mother’s pregnancy in their fantasies involving the forthcoming child. (According to Michel Soulé, learning of the baby’s sex by means of ultrasound scans is equivalent to a voluntary abortion of fantasy representation, but this is not in fact the case: knowledge of what the scans say does not interrupt fantasy activity. Some parents, however, prefer to remain in the dark and do not wish to be informed of the scan results on this particular point.) The baby is there, and must be either a boy or a girl, not something neuter. Whenever there is any doubt about which sex to attribute to the new-born, such that the doctors request that any decision be postponed until a later date, this is intolerable for the child’s parents. [See Anne-Marie Rajon’s remarkable article (1988).] The child must be given a name, and choosing a first name which could apply equally well to both sexes [Lee, for instance] does not answer the question asked by family and friends: “A boy or a girl?”. Cathecting the child’s sex determines a whole series of words, feelings, attitudes and behaviour. From the very beginning of life babies are treated differently according to whether they are girls or boys; much research still has to be done to highlight the actual details of this phenomenon. According to Lézine, Robin and Cortial [1975: 140]: “Any discrepancy between the infant’s own rhythm and the mother’s facilitating or restricting attitude seems to be more pronounced in the case of girls than in that of boys.”

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4: From difference to equality

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

The observable differences between the sexes, some of which are established by society, are all based on the sexual difference, i.e. on the difference between the genitals, bodily substances (blood, sperm, milk), the experience we have of our body, the psycho-sexual cycle, relative status in intercourse, and the role of each sex with respect to procreation. The sexual difference is in fact the only qualitative one—expressed as all or nothing with the exception of the intersexed, who are very few in number the remaining differences are quantitative—they are expressed in terms of more or less—and statistical. For example, men are, on average, taller than women, but some women are tall and some men are short—there is some overlap between the statistical distribution of height in men and in women. Even though a woman may be tall, she is no less a woman for that; and though a man may be short, he is no less a man for that. Deviation from the average may be diversely appreciated, but it does not alter one's identity. A woman may well be upset if she is “too” tall; yet she will not be admitted to the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera House if she is “not tall enough”. A man may have “no problem” with the fact that he is relatively short—or it may be the tragedy of his life.

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