18 Chapters
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5: Choice of partner

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

There is no instance of a society not regulating the practice of sexuality, within marriage and outside of it, as if it were important never to let things go too far, writes Luc de Heusch (in de Lannoy &Feyereisen, 1996, p. 251). Loss of oestrus in the human female, thereby uncoupling sexual desire from the reproductive process, could have opened up the way to sexual freedom or, in Godelier's words, generalized sexual intercourse.

This, however, is not the case; sexuality in human beings is restricted by social constraints as well as by internal psychological ones. There is no instance of a society that has not laid down rules concerning marriage unions, and more often than not those rules apply also to pre-marital and extra-marital relationships. In addition, the manner in which sexual intercourse takes place, the time, the place, the customs that apply to sexuality—these too are the stuff of beliefs, rituals and taboos that individuals are of course tempted to infringe, although sometimes this is no easy matter (death may result from infringing a taboo, even without the involvement of any external sanction). Furthermore, individuals create neurotic prohibitions for themselves.

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8: Sex makes the world go round

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

At every moment in life, each of us is either a man or a woman. We go beyond this division into two sexes only at the highest level of thinking, of reflection, of abstract thought. At the same time, the question of how we position ourselves with respect to others is constantly present, hence the challenge not only to our identity as such but also to our chances of being loved. Those who belong to the opposite sex are in a quite specific position in this respect.

At every moment in life, each of us is either a man or a woman. Is it right or wrong that everything should remind us of this? Our first (given) name, the clothes we wear, the tasks we undertake, our status in society? Ought we to emphasize these sex characteristics or attenuate them? Is it easier to obtain equality when the sex to which we belong is ignored or, on the contrary, emphasized? Every society reminds its members of the existence of the sexual difference, but in an arbitrary manner, by imposing attitudes and ways of doing things. Although we cannot erase that difference, we can fight against arbitrariness in the way society interprets it whenever this leads to deprivation of rights or of personal liberty.

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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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1. Transsexualism: what’s new?

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

It would seem that there have always been people, men and women, who reject their original sex and wish to live as members of the opposite sex. What is new is the term “transsexualism”, as is the offer that some physicians make to “reassign” a person’s sex. The way in which contemporary society comes to terms with the condition is new, as is the train of ideas it brings in its wake.

I. The word itself

It is an easy matter to put a date on the word itself. It developed in three stages.

Firstly, in 1923, Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexologist, used it occasionally in the form seelischer Transsexualismus (transsexualism of the soul or mental transsexualism) when referring to the intersexed. Then, in 1949, D. O. Cauldwell wrote a paper with the title “Psycho-pathia transexualis” in which he described a case that we would nowadays call female-to-male transsexualism. Finally, in 1953, Harry Benjamin coined the word transsexualism, a term that in the space of ten years or so would establish itself as the correct designation for a highly specific condition, different from transvestism or eonism.

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2: Freud and the importance of sexuality

Chiland, Colette Karnac Books ePub

Queen Victoria, whose name will always be evocative of an 1 J era of prudishness,1 was still on the throne when, at the close of the 19th Century, Freud began treating patients and listening to what they had to say. Just a few years after she died (in 1901), Freud published his seminal work, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d)2, which marked a turning point in his ideas on sexuality.

Freud had dreamt of a research career in neurophysiology, but at the time circumstances in Vienna made that option quite impossible. As a clinician, he would listen to his patients in a particularly attentive manner. Between 1890 and 1900, he published clinical papers that clearly show how his thinking was developing. The neurotic patients who came to him for treatment were suffering from a psychic conflict, and Freud gradually became convinced that sexuality was necessarily one of the poles of that conflict, whether it be the patient's actual or infantile sexuality. When he published his magnum opus, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams) in 1900, Freud still believed that only neurotics have an infantile sexual life characterized by its precocity. However, in 1905, in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he argued that infantile sexuality was in fact universal (manifestations of sexuality do not wait for puberty; as soon as they are born, children have a sexual life characterized by certain specific parameters), and he established a connection between infantile sexuality and perverse sexuality (the sexual life of children is not genital in nature, they do not have intercourse; their satisfaction is linked to other pleasurable zones [mouth, anus] that, in adults, are treated as pleasures preliminary to actual sexual union—or, if they are inflexibly and exclusively the focus of all their sexual activity, are called perverse).

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