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Psychoanalysts facing homosexuality

With this communication I took part in a debate on homosexuality and psychoanalysis, held at the Catalonian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in Barcelona.


All along its history, psychoanalysis, or rather the psychoanalysts have given voice to some ambivalence about homosexuality. That was not the case of Sigmund Freud, who always made clear his position. In a letter dated April 9, 1935, answering an American lady concerned about her son’s tendencies, the inventor of psychoanalysis wrote “Homosexuality is not obviously an advantage but is nothing that has to be embarrassing, neither is a vice nor should we qualify it as a disease, we consider it as a variation of the sexual function, caused by an arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals, from ancient to modern times have been homosexuals and among them are great men (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc…). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and also a cruelty. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis”.

That is, if anything, Freud considered homosexuals as somehow immature, a statement that placed in the time it was said was all progressive. This position was consistent with his premise about bisexuality as the basic human condition.

Let’s recall that according to Freud, sexual identity definition was a complex process in which the anatomical characters interplayed with the main predominant identification and also with the object choice. Sex was much more of a mystery than an anatomical configuration (that’s the reason why in my opinion the claim, since the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, to say “gender” instead of “sex” is wrong, though for the right reason). Freud deemed sex as a set of three elements (anatomy, main identification and object choice) entailing any subset of possible combinations. For instance, a child’s mother fixation, accompanied by a father’s disappointment in the case of the homosexual young girl, and a searching for young disciples to love as ideally as the mother might have loved him in Leonardo’s case. In Freudian key, to aim at transforming a fully developed homosexual into a straight man was as useless as the converse case of wanting to transform a homosexual into heterosexual, and to explain scientifically how someone had become homosexual was as complicated as the opposite, namely to explain how he had gotten defined as heterosexual, both ways being not naturally pre-determined.

The issue had undergone internal struggles among the first psychoanalysts. We can find in Roudinesco and Plon the report of that month of December 1921 when within the secret committee commanding the newly created IPA Berliners fought against Viennese around whether or not homosexuals could be analysts. The Viennese, represented by Ferenczi, Rank and Freud himself lost the contest before Berliners, led by Karl Abraham and with the backing of Ernest Jones, who spoke up  that “before the eyes of the world homosexuality is disgusting and a crime,  if it were committed by one of our members would bring a serious disrepute.”

Thus, promoted by Jones, who brought on his back a suspicion of sexual abuse in Canada, and against the advice of Freud, homosexuals were banned from accessing psychoanalyst legitimacy.

Who was right? And what does being right mean in this case?

Anna Freud played out a dominant role. The suspicion of homosexuality was for her the worst of all suspicions, and one shudders imagining what might have been the whispering in the psychoanalytic milieu about his friendship with Dorothy Burlingham. In 1956 she invited the journalist Nancy Procter-Gregg not to mention his father’s letter of 1935 in an article in The Observer, on the basis that “(…) we can now cure many more homosexuals than we thought possible before. The other reason is that readers could see in Freud’s letter that all psychoanalysis can do is convince patients that their defects or immorality are not serious and they would have to accept them with joy”.

Pathology, defects, immorality…,   and analysts’ selection. The question was raised ever since. Can homosexuals be analysts? And if not, why not? Out of immorality or of illness? Were there, derived from the sexual object choice, any negative influences on their mental skills that excluded the possibility of practicing psychoanalysis?

Let’s start with the moral question. Obviously, immorality rules out of the practice of any profession if immorality occupies the scene and takes over the practice. Immoral behaviours (malpractice, abuse, malfeasance) are prosecuted when they are discovered and suffer the appropriate consequences, being often convicted and punished. Now, is there no other choice for a homosexual, compelled by its own inertia but to incur in some impropriety? And what could this be when practicing psychoanalysis?

Scientific or artistic sensibility is not incompatible with homosexuality. Examples abound. Nor empathy for the human drama either. So to exclude homosexuals from the practice of psychoanalysis we must define very precisely that immorality which, given his object choice, he has no other chance but to incur in.

What is immoral in psychoanalysis is taking the patient as an object of enjoyment. We can all make mistakes, but what goes beyond any error (and that’s why we have been analyzed)  is to take the patient as an object of our tendencies, whether sadistic, either masochistic, or   voyeuristic, or exhibitionist or whatever,   to  vampirize his emotions,  to take advantage of his troubles or inhibitions and thus feel ourselves better than him.  Quite to the contrary, the analyst position places us as the object of the patient partial trends; in order to let him rehearse (and thanks to our interventions fail) his drives on this speaking body, ours, which we offer into transference. Perhaps that is why neurotic mental functioning appears to be the best drilled to be an analyst, because as neurotic we fear so much of being perverse that when we become anxious of being wrong we set off to seek supervision or correction from colleagues.

I mean the obvious: anyone can commit an immorality, but the  better equipped to self-observation  the more we can learn for the next time. And generally speaking, that is regardless of the individual variants, for all we know, the diagnosis of neurosis is the best candidate for friendly self-criticism.

And so we’ve shifted from the moral to the diagnose dimension, however nothing to wonder of. The Freudian invention put the moral dimension at the very heart of psychological suffering. Speaking of sickness is just to talk about suffering and this is a good time to remember that for psychoanalysis there’s no other disease than symptom, I mean that suffering fraught of mystery and unsatisfactory self-interpretations, the best diagnosis the patient can do and without which we can’t analyze anything.

Here’s a hint, a Freudian one indeed. If someone suffers for being homosexual, namely if he has made a symptom of his object choice, then and only then there is something to analyze. If he suffers self-critically (that’s a symptom) then he might possibly be neurotic or psychotic. Conversely, if he does not, then we have either a healthy person or a perverse, which can be a criminal or deserve any psychiatric category that pleases you without being a patient in a psychoanalytical proper sense.

Let’s review now the questions. Homosexuals could not be analysts because of their homosexuality or perversion? More precisely, homosexuality is a perversion? Now you can assume that my answer is that not necessarily.

The perverse way of functioning, which seeks to ignore the difference between the sexes and the wishes of the other fellow is based on the disavowal of castration, a mental action generating dissociation in the mind. A perverse analyst would be very poorly able to guide his patient towards the recognition of his limits and accepting the symbolic castration, which allows us to both consider ourselves as unique selves among other unique selves and to be true to our promises, beyond the power to transgress them.
Not recognizing (disavowing) bisexual reproduction  the mortal destiny of man is denied,  the  megalomaniac illusion of power is promoted and the other is reduced to the role of mere victim  of the manipulations (intrusive and violent or violence calling) of this believer in the omnipotence of sexuality (and at his heart a radical worshiper of his mother) which is the perverse.

The arguments against homosexuality can only be moral or clinical based. Psychoanalysis is the therapy of creative humility, of the acknowledge of our limits as the guarantee of potency, sexual, reproductive, artistic, or scientific and human in general, of the recognition of the other as other and the management of vital aggression not to degenerate into perverse violence.

The existence of just one homosexual able to do this disqualify the argument that they should left aside as psychoanalysts. And focusing from the other end, there are many heterosexuals who even wanting it very much are not possessed of the analytical capacity, so we must conclude that this skill does not lie in the choice of sexual object.

Because, to start with, homosexuality is only this: an object choice. Freud’s theory remains valid. Of the three columns that build up the sexual definition, upon the bedrock of bisexuality as the human condition, object choice must be conjugated with anatomy and the identifying plot, the matrix of subjectivity. The fact that there may be perverse homosexuals doesn’t lead to think they all are, on the other hand many heterosexuals are perverse too.

The mother’s body, present or missing, but containing in the origin all the wealth of the world is the original enigma to which every child comes into the light. To keep her mother every child is bound to solve it as best as he can, some children will identify themselves with her in that phallic womanhood that having everything wishes nothing, others will identify with the signs that guide her desire and some will keep flagging, taken aback in front of her indiscernible desire.

Anatomy, identification and object choice are the three elements of the set responsible for finding the solution in the vertigo of bisexuality. The solution has been awarded by heterosexual species, interested in conservation. However, it is not the only solution, and even being the most identified with heterosexuality, bisexuality keeps drilling in the labyrinths of the mind, and this undertaking can be as happy and creative as painful and symptomatic.
The real mourning human beings must cope with; in front of the enigma of our not too natural sexuality is the mourning for bisexuality, specifically for the difference between sexes. Psychoanalysis has nothing to judge on the degree of correction of the found solutions, but at any rate help to alleviate those that remain burdened by the symptom distress.

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