- Tiresias and His Trouble with Ambiguity in Gender
To begin, I would like to identify my position as chair of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Studies Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). The IPA is the first, oldest, and largest international psychoanalytical association in the world. It was created by Freud with the help of Ferenzci, Jung, Eitington, Abraham, and Jones in 1910 with the purpose of organizing what started to be a body of theory and clinical mental health practice, and for the promotion of scientific activities at an international level. Today the IPA has almost fourteen thousand members and more than six thousand candidates within three consolidated regions—North America (including China, Korea, and Japan), Europe (including New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa), and Latin America—and a new, fourth region, Asia, which hopes to consolidate China, Korea, Japan, India, New Zealand, and Australia. It organizes a biannual international congress that is one of the largest psychoanalytic events in the world.
The IPA has four official languages—English, French, German, and Spanish—and more than fifty languages among all its constituent psychoanalytic societies and institutes. A large part of its organizational and scientific work is divided, planned and executed by committees. Committees are appointed by the executive committee and ratified by the IPA board. The committee I chair was appointed by Stefano Bolognini's administration in June 2017. Our committee is fortunate to continue to be strongly supported [End Page 93] by Virginia Ungar, the first female president of the IPA, and Vice President Sergio Nick's administration.
Before the creation of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Studies Committee, during its planning stages, there was already a lot of ambiguity around addressing issues of gender and sexual diversities in psychoanalysis. An important part of the committee's mandate is to create spaces for IPA-affiliated psychoanalysts and candidates and for non-IPA-affiliated psychodynamic clinicians and psychotherapists, among an increasing number of people interested in psychoanalysis, to discuss issues pertaining to psychoanalytic clinical theory and practice and to the intersection of sexual and gender diversity. Although our committee had anticipated the resistance that has been historically present when addressing these types of topics in psychoanalytic institutions (Drescher 2008; Roughton 1995, 2002), we were not able to identify and agree upon a specific point of contingence within psychoanalytic theory and practice that could cause the most resistance. This article is an initial step to engage with the resistance encountered in analytic spaces when we shift from a binary system to a non-binary way of thinking gender and sexuality. I will describe the experience in an attempt to provide models of understanding and working through these types of conflicts.
Why am I calling it a conflict? This will be better answered with an example, in this case a non-clinical general vignette. I will disguise the participants' identities and will use a composite vignette to protect confidentiality.
The Trouble with Ambiguity
In 2016, I was delivering a workshop to strengthen clinical skills when working with racialized LGBTQ patients from a psychoanalytic perspective using an anti-oppressive approach. I was surprised to hear a senior analyst openly state from the back of the room that they preferred to hold on to their prejudices regarding trans and gender-creative patients. The audience mostly consisted of psychoanalysts, psychoanalytic candidates, training [End Page 94] analysts, and psychology graduates interested in psychoanalysis. Given the wide range of the audience and our shared interest in psychoanalysis, I usually clarify Freud's "progressive" perspective toward homosexual patients and the distortions of Freud's statements as the message got passed around through generations of culturally sanctioned homophobic clinicians (Socarides 1968; Roughton 2002).
The questions from this particular audience led to a discussion about misconceptions in psychoanalytic literature about trans experiences and of trans bodies being misrepresented and misdiagnosed as psychotic (Millot 1989). Addressing misrepresentations of gender variance rooted in prejudiced formulations of trans subjectivities within psychoanalytic theory and proposing less-biased ways of approaching gender polymorphism from a non-pathological perspective can be a complicated task. This is not unheard-of in our field; in fact, queer theorists, Lacanian analysts, and transgender...