The “Gay Woman” as a Variant of Female Trans-Identity

Dr. phil., Dipl. Psych. Elisabeth Imhorst
 

I consider sexual/gender identity an umbrella term with two poles. The object-relational pole refers to sexual orientation. The narcissistic pole refers to gender (identity).

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Gender Identity
Reimut Reiche (2000) infers from Freud’s notion of constitutional bisexuality, that there is a tension regarding gender in every human (both biologically and psychologically). Everybody holds identifications with father anmother and has experienced some (psycho)sexual desire for father anmother, albeit in varying intensities. Every child not only has to deal with the sexed/gendered body they were born with but also has to “cope with mother and father” (Reiche, 2000, p. 20italics in the original German), as well as balance internal conflicts around love and hate, identification with and desire of both parents. The conclusion of the complete oedipal complex is therefore more diverse than we are used to thinking. And it makes sense to anticipate a “spectrum of identity” (De M’Uzan, 2014, p. 111) or “identitarian uncertainty” (De M’Uzan, 2014, p. 246), be it as a variation from the norm that can persist for a long period of time, or be it as a transitional stage in the process of identity formation.
 
I consider sexual/gender identity[1] an umbrella term with two poles (Imhorst, 2015a,; Imhorst ,2017; Imhorst, 2019): an object-relational pole and a narcissistic one. The object-relational pole refers to sexual orientation. (Whom or what do I desire?). It is based on a libidinal or aggressive cathexis of an other body, be it of the same or the opposite sex. The narcissistic pole refers to gender identity. (As what do I desire?) It is based on the libidinal or aggressive cathexis of one’s own body. While sexual orientation is about wanting to have, gender (identity) relates to wanting to be.
 
There is no clear-cut, unequivocal connection between sexual orientation and gender identity (Pechriggl, 2013). A boy who is also identified with femininity does not necessarily become gay, and a woman who is identified with masculinity is not necessarily a lesbian. A man who is married to a woman can also be homosexual (Imhorst, 2011). In the words of Laplanche (2011, p. 185): “gender choice, even if it is correlated with object choice, is fundamentally different from it”.
 
This paper focuses on gender (identity) and a possible version of a female trans-identity: the “gay woman”. I understand the development of gender identity as the result of psychic compromise formations that can persist for a long time — as in the case of Ms. O — but that can also start slipping and subsequently require a new search for how to understand and live one’s gender.

Ms.O
Ms. O knew from the get-go that her husband was gay; he had told her about his homosexual encounters from his teenage years. At a conscious level, she forgot about that. Yet, she suggested they wear earrings instead of wedding bands. She sensed that her husband did not desire her as a woman, but that he was attracted by her boyish appearance and personality. Seemingly, he saw her the way she was and the way she wanted to see herself, as erotically masculine: desiring both in a masculine way and being desired as a man. The relationship seemed to be ideal. She immediately became pregnant. In her fantasied fusion with her husband — and in addition to her maternal body — she finally possessed a sexual male body that she had held in unconscious fantasy all along. From then on, she tried to feel herself into her husband’s body and his sensations as if they were her own. She called this “identity blending”. 
 
She has always pretended consciously that her female body did not matter, maybe in accord with her family, which had been traumatized from war. The mother allocated her daughter to the grandmother, who wanted to hide her own femininity after World War II. She avoided physical contact with Ms. O. We can assume that the whole family ignored her girl’s body.
 
Ms. O has never had a libidinally invested image of her female erogenous body, although her basic and functional body image is intact (Dolto,1987). Her body was only important to her in so far as it would function and not impede her. Whenever her body seemed as if it might limit her, she would take care of it attentively, for instance, by going to physical therapy. She did not experience her pregnancies as “impediments” and intentionally cared for her daughters in a more physical way than she had experienced with her mother and grandmother. She would breastfeed, and she would cuddle with them. Through identifying with her children she could make up for the kind of mothering she had missed.
 
The beginning of our work felt awkward. From the first moment I was shocked as to how ugly I found her and how determinedly I did not want her. I would not, however, allow myself to accept that. We can therefore partly consider as reaction formation that I did offer her therapy; however, my initial offer of short-term-therapy was a rather poor one. 
 
Over the course of the first few sessions I hardly took any notes, as if I wanted to prevent her from settling in with me. Ms. O only spoke of her husband and their shared life. She told me that, in spite of their separation, everything had gone on as usual, only that her husband now had his own apartment and a lover. She had been more than fine with that. They had still talked a lot and Ms. O had not thought of her husband and his lover as a real couple, which fueled her idea she could still win the competition with the lover.  
 
In her fantasy (that she experienced as real!), she could finally partake in the gay world her husband had entered. I would often speak impatiently when I told her that she held on to the notion of being part of the gay world against her better judgment, or that she clung to the idea of competing with her husband’s lover, The patient appeared not to dispute this. On the contrary, she seemed to gain satisfaction from being able to bump up against me now. It seemed as if there was constant friction between us, which made me very unhappy. 

When I began to recall fleeting memories of the atmosphere during tense political discussions with my own father, that allowed he and I (amongst other things) to keep at bay our sexual bodies, I came to understand the deeper meaning of Ms. O’s combative defence. After I had rejected her wish for primary love, she seduced me to engage with her in a father-transference that was characterized by the tension of verbal scuffles on the surface while being covertly libidinous. And suddenly, I felt sorry for her, as she was valiantly trying to hide and cope with being hurt by my rejection. And thus, after about eight months, some space opened up for a different kind of communication. 

In our eighteenth session Ms. O had begun talking about her daily life before suddenly switching from a narrative mode to an associative one.  

Pt:       But what choice do I have, given that I’m into gay men? I am obviously something else for the gay man than he is for me!

A:         Are you?

Pt:       I’m a woman for him, just in terms of my body, and not a gay man … I wonder who or what I am and where I belong … I am still mostly interested in what my husband thinks and feels. But why? Because he is the gay man I can’t be. When my husband fell in love with another man, and it became clear — at least to me — that he was gay, it was such a great relief! Finally, it was out in the open, just as I had hoped for all those years. I don’t want to miss that experience. The price is absolutely high, but I feel much more alive since the separation!

A:        [Hesitantly, after some silence] You are losing your male body.

The patient came in to our next session wearing a short black and white skirt with a black top — just in my usual style.

P:          I’ve been thinking a lot about our last session.Our laughing together brought about something new between us. (Neither of us remembered at this point when we had laughed.) Previously, you’d always been so cold and reserved. I immediately included that experience into my sexual fantasies of you. [Quickly Adding]: But there was no body, just a kiss … Lying next to my husband is no longer wonderful, even though we still hold hands and cuddle. But he no longer initiates that.

Silence

Pt: I read up a bit on transgender issues. But there are no links. Bi, that’s mostly gay men. In trans-groups, there’s mostly transsexuals. I’m most likely queer, but that’s targeted towards youth.  

Eventually, she told me how she grew up, that she initially only played with boys, that her mother would cut her hair very short and would always buy her trousers. When her mother once bought her a dress, her father said: “But that’s for an old woman”. The dress was gray. She kept it for a long time without ever wearing it.
 
The themes emerging in those two session were going to determine Ms. O’s treatment for a long time: her arduous struggle of realizing she was not physically a man and her secret longing for the joy of a motherly object for her as a girl/woman.  
 
I patiently followed her oscillating between reality-based thinking about her sexual body and desire, and her returning to ideas of a “complete” (Le Soldat, 2015) image of self and body that included a male one. The immense fear that her narcissistically grandiose cocoon might break down was always present and limited her capacity to confront reality (e.g., that she would not be desired as a man by gay men) for a long time.

When, in couples counseling, her husband once remarked how proud he was, that “we still desire each other after 10 years”, his recent impotence belied that statement. However, Ms. O actively started to engage in sexual practices she previously had not wanted. From then on, they would have anal sex from behind and in the dark, which, for a while, allowed both of them to maintain the fantasy of being a gay couple. After the separation she found new ways of denying reality. For instance, she set up a profile on Gayromeo[2], which she commented on by saying: “Where else am I supposed to meet gay men!”
 
Concluding remark
Oscillating between bemoaning and rebelling against reality, it took Ms. O a long time to accept that she was not considered a gay man by gay men, as much as she experienced herself as such. Given that she experienced herself both as a woman and a gay man, she created symbolical forms for both: On the one hand, she and her husband held on to their marriage, and once in a while, they would go out and do things as three: she, her husband and his lover. On the other hand, she befriended a man in a homosexual marriage with whom she would go to the sauna and share a bed on vacation, but with whom she would not have sex. She was not being desired. One more time, Ms. O tried a heterosexual affair, but it was “maximally unemotional”. As she told me in a follow-up session in 2019, she saw herself as having reached the end of her possibilities.Outside of the relationship with her daughters, her longing for affectionate intimacy will most likely remain unfulfilled. Or maybe not? 
 
References
De M’Uzan, M. (2014), Das Unheimliche oder “Ich bin nicht die, für die Sie mich halten”. In: M. De M’Uzan.I dentität und Tod. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
Dolto, F. (1987), Das unbewusste Bild des Körpers. Weinheim-Berlin: Quadriga.
Imhorst, E. (2015), Psychoanalytische Überlegungen zur Identitätskonstruktion “Schwule Frau”.Analytische Psychologie,46(4), 438-458.
-- (2017), Über den kreativen Umgang mit den Grenzen des Körpergeschlechts. Psychoanalytische Gedanken zur Transidentität. In B. Unruh, I. Moeslein-Teising., & S. Walz-Pawlita (Ed.),Grenzen(pp. 59-66). Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
-- (2019, in print), Wir wären so gerne eindeutig. Geschlecht – Gender –Identität. In: I. Moeslein-Teising, G. Schäfer & R. Martin (Ed.),Geschlechter-Spannungen(pp. 28-40). Gießen: Psychosozial.
Laplanche, J.(2011), Gender, Sex, and the Sexual — Appendix I. Stoller and Gender. In: Freud and the Sexual: Essays 2000-2006 (pp. 181-190). New York: The Unconscious in Translation.
Le Soldat, J. (2015), Grund zur Homosexualiatät. Vorlesungen zu einer neuen  psychoanalytischen Theorie der Homosexualität. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog.
Pechriggl, A. (2013), Homophobie und die Dialektik der Selbstaufklärung in der Psychoanalyse. In M. Bidwell-Steiner, & A. Babka (Hrsg.), Obskure Differenzen. Psychoanalyse und Gender Studies (pp. 83-99). Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
Reiche, R. (2000), Geschlechterspannung eine psychoanalytische Untersuchung. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag. 
 
[1]Translator’s note: The author uses the term “sexuelle Identität” in German, which would be “sexual identity” in a strict translation. However, the definition of the term will include what is being referred to as “gender identity” in English. 
[2]GayRomeo is a German online dating site. 

Translation: Dr. Katharina Rothe
 

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