Tuesday Seminar - Trans-Gender Psychoanalysis - Rain Mason Olbert, PhD & Marilyn Charles, PhD
Beyond psychoanalysis in the culture at large, transgender celebrities (e.g., Laverne Cox, Elliot Page), shows such as Pose and Drag Race, and requests to use non-binary pronouns or neo-pronouns (e.g., they/them, ze/zir/zim) demonstrate the accelerating visibility of gender variance, nonconformity, and transition. It may be tempting to ask: how can we think psychoanalytically about trans* issues, and what can psychoanalysis offer to trans* subjects?
Two observations should give us pause, however. First, observe how gender and sexual difference saturate psychoanalytic theory: Freudian and post-Freudian theories and concepts depend upon and imply an epistemology of sex, gender, and sexual difference predicated on a male-female dichotomy. Consider, for example: masculinity/femininity as passivity/activity, castration anxiety, penis envy, psychic bisexuality, perversion and fetishism, object choice and identification (and their alleged normality or lack thereof), genital sexuality and the phallic stage, hysteria, good/bad breasts, maternal holding, primary maternal preoccupation, the Oedipus complex, primal scene, the question of feminine desire, the phallus/the paternal function/le nom de pére (the Name of the Father), maternal and paternal transferences—the list goes on. Second, observe how transsexuality and transgender identification have historically been relegated to abjection and pathology, being seen as, for example, developmental errors in identification (e.g., Stoller, 1975), borderline disorders (e.g., Green, 1986), narcissistic fantasy (e.g., Chiland, 2003), perversion (e.g., Gershman, 1970; Socarides, 1970) or psychosis (e.g., Millot, 1990).
Through considering trans* phenomena and trans* experiences, as well as some borrowed insights from gender theory and queer theory, we hope to turn the questions above on their head: what can trans* experiences offer to psychoanalysis, and how can trans* issues help us deepen and reflect upon psychoanalytic theory? How might our theories of development and of the clinical encounter—to the extent that they are predicated on binary sexuality, dichotomous gender roles/identities, functionalist biological essentialism, or an equation of sex with gender—need to shift to accommodate a culture in which trans* experiences and identities can no longer be ignored or dismissed as anomalous? What might it mean to consider a transgender psychoanalysis, in the sense of a psychoanalysis that is trans-gender—that is, beyond gender, or across or traversing many genders beyond the man/woman binary?
The seminar instructors also make no bones about the fact that this material is inherently political and personal. In the chosen readings, we have endeavored to center queer and trans* perspectives to mitigate the extent to which trans* individuals have historically been “treated as objects of study and not as speaking subjects” (Saketopoulou, 2020). We have also chosen to elide articles that contest the validity of trans* experience or that center concerns about the legitimacy or dangerousness of social or biomedical transition. Contemporary culture at large and mainstream psychoanalytic discourse are so replete with perspectives such as these that to purport to offer an allegedly balanced perspective on “controversial discussions” would be to re-inscribe the historical delegitimizing of trans*-affirming perspectives, not to mention trans* voices themselves.
The goal of this seminar is therefore not to “explain” trans* experience, whether per se or in terms of its etiology (whether said etiology is conceived of in terms of psychopathology or not); rather, it is to think together about how we, as clinicians, can better situate ourselves to really hear trans* subjects in an analytic mode—to really listen, rather than to assume we hold the key to their identity and experience. Here we can think in analogy to Corbett’s (1997) statement about sexual orientation: “[I am not interested in] the ill-conceived question of ‘why’ [someone is homosexual], I am interested in how someone is homosexual” (p. 499). Or, as the trans analyst Griffin Hansbury (2005) put it: “The etiology of trans is a question I have stopped asking, for myself and for my practice. We’re here—now what?” (p. 251).
With all of that being said, our intention and ethical aim is to hold a thoughtful, courageous space for challenging ourselves and each other with civility, responsibility, and mutual respect. Beyond the straightforwardly didactic aims of a traditional educational offering, we also hope that this seminar will occasion a genuine encounter—or even confrontation—with your own gender and its impact on your clinical work and identity, and we hope everyone will contribute to creating a learning environment in which self-reflection and subjective transformation might become real possibilities.
Please come prepared to discuss the reading assigned for the week. Participants are encouraged to bring in clinical examples and dilemmas from their own work with patients, as well as personal reflections from their own experience as embodied, gendered subjects.
 The deployment of the asterisk (‘trans*’ rather than simply ‘trans’), as Tompkins (2014) explains, derives from search engine syntax and is intended to orthographically signal inclusivity of many identities under a broad understanding that overflow beyond binary understandings of transness: “[Use of the term trans* is] meant to include not only identities such as transgender, transsexual, trans man, and trans woman that are prefixed by trans- but also identities such as genderqueer, neutrios, intersex, agender, two-spirit, cross-dresser, and genderfluid” (p. 27)
______ Introductory ___X___ Intermediate ___X___ Advanced
- Recognize some of the ways that trans* patients think about themselves, their genders, their bodies, and their relationship to the medical/psychiatric and psychoanalytic establishments.
- In relation to the experiences and development of trans* people, articulate how queer/gender/trans* theorists and some psychoanalysts have thought of the gender binary as an epistemology or paradigm that admits of alternative conceptualizations (e.g., gender as enigmatic signifier(s), relational matrix, or soft assembly).
- Compare and contrast ideas of gender as embodied (e.g., gender as related to sexuality), social (e.g., gender as role), relational (e.g., gender as performance), and psychological (e.g., gender as identification), and consider the implications for trans* people.
- Describe common clinician countertransference experiences/attitudes in relation to trans* patients and their potential impact on trans* patients’ mental health and identity development; position oneself as a gendered clinician with one’s own relevant history, identity, and feelings in relation to these countertransference paradigms.
- Formulate dilemmas that may be posed by a trans* patient’s desire for or movement toward transition—whether social (e.g., changing one’s mode of dress or pronouns) or medical/surgical (e.g., hormone treatment, “sex reassignment surgery,” “gender affirming surgery”) in light of the historical tension between insight and action in psychoanalysis.
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- 10.50 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™Austen Riggs Center,Inc. is accredited by the Massachusetts Medical Society to provide continuing medical education for physicians. Austen Riggs Center, Inc. designates this Live for a maximum of 10.50 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s) ™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
- 10.50 APAThe Austen Riggs Center, Inc. designates this live interactive webinar for 10.50 continuing education credit(s) (CE) for psychology. The Austen Riggs Center is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The Austen Riggs Center maintains responsibility for the program and its content.
- 10.50 ASWB-ACEThe Austen Riggs Center, #1344, is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved as ACE providers. State and provincial regulatory boards have the final authority to determine whether an individual course may be accepted for continuing education credit. Austen Riggs Center maintains responsibility for this course. ACE provider Approval Period: 02/02/2020-2/2/2023. Social workers completing this live interactive webinar will receive 10.50 continuing education credit(s). For a listing of jurisdictions that accept ACE, please visit States and provinces that accept ACE | Association of Social Work Boards .
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