Reflections on some questions raised by the clinical practice that surrounds transgender subjects and gender identity in today’s society

Does gender exist for psychoanalysis? If not, what might one say could come in its place?

FA We are living in a time that is defined by disruptions in gender, which itself takes on many different guises – between binary gender, bi-genders, gender fluidity, a-genders, and many other arrangements of the difference of the sexes. Everyone constructs their own gender. However, this does not mean that the difference itself is affected. Rather it is the position of each individual in relation to the difference that is claimed as a right, from both the axis of identity and that of desire. The question of desire should not be overlooked, even if that of identity has taken over. Today, an individual can term themselves a-gender and asexual. Everything is possible. Systems of jouissance can be claimed as rights. It is not for psychoanalysis to take up a conservative stance with regard to this evolution, even if there is a risk that it will take this direction. There is a need to stick with the clinic and to follow each subject’s solution. Rather than entering into considerations of gender, we need, in fact, to focus on the solutions of each subject. To each their own creativity, to each their own solution. A new world is being invented: it is up to us to live up to the subjectivity of our time, which is something Lacan instructed us to do as early as his Rome Report.[1]

Gender theory wants to break with the binary opposition between man and woman, establishing a multiplicity of jouissances where sexual identity is brought into question. What are your thoughts on this?

FA Yes, that is exactly it. There is always the risk that questions of identity take on too great an importance. We are in an age of passions concerning identity. In fact it is the question of jouissance that should be posed, the question of systems of jouissance, including the jouissance of an identity!  If God is dead, identities have taken his place. If for some God was unique, identities on the other hand are multiple. It is due to this multiplicity of jouissances that identities have multiplied. To take jouissance as a reference point makes it possible to find one’s bearings in clinical practice more precisely, rather than to become lost in the mirrors of identities.

You offer logical time as a guide, you also add that we must introduce a time of invention. Can you explain how we should understand this idea?

FA There is the instant of seeing: ‘I am not the one that I am’; ‘I am not on this side of the difference of the sexes’; ‘I am not of the gender I am supposed to represent’; ‘I am not what I appear to be’. There is a conviction, a certainty even. There follows the time of understanding, which often borrows established ‘off the peg’ trans discourses: a time which is that of the construction of the new identity. Then there is the moment for concluding: this is the time for the act, the gender change, a passage to the act that functions as an act of passage. Some subjects take another path. They decide otherwise. They choose the route of making their life their own creation. They invent themselves, differently. This dimension of invention should be taken into account, anticipated in our clinical practice, but without our becoming too caught up, without becoming overly fascinated, by the transgender problematic. To put invention in the place of certainties – that would be the direction that a Lacanian psychoanalytic clinic offers. […]

Can you tell us more about this idea of suppressing menstruation at puberty, and the use of puberty blockers?

FA Hormones are requested so as to block puberty. Then to inflect physical characteristics in one direction or the other. Some to leave the feminine, other to move towards it; similarly for the masculine, either to refuse it or to obtain it. All kinds of fixes are possible thanks to the body’s plasticity. To no longer have periods. To have a beard. To suppress hair growth. To change voice. To change the curvature of the hips. Anything goes in order to change the body, so that it can incarnate the subject’s position in their relation to the difference of the sexes, in an absolute wish to change sex.

Then, on the other hand, some choose the way of ambiguity, to be bisexual, or asexual, or to bring it about that it is up to the other to make a choice in attributing one gender or another to them. To this end they opt for an ambiguous body that leaves them with the freedom to be undefinable, to slip at will from one gender to the other – as though there were no irreversible act of passage, as though gender were reversible, two-sided, interchangeable.

What remains of gender once we have been freed from norms?

FA That is a very good question!  We have in effect moved from an age that was marked by the concept of a norm for all, a norm with a universal scope, to the fact that today we are more in the register of ‘each to his own norm’, or even of an ‘outside-the-norm’ for all. Gender is a social construction that situates itself beyond the biological: what does gender become in a world that wants to be free of norms?  Does gender find itself paradoxically normative?  This would be a disconcerting observation, since the malaise in gender has been the occasion for making new positions regarding gender acceptable, new ways of considering the differences of the sexes; these in turn have become rights to hold positions that are singular, rather than normative. We see here something similar to the claim to marriage for all: an affirmation of marginality that becomes a new norm, the disappearance of a kind of rebellion through social acceptance. As if one passed from the norm for all to an outside-the-norm for all!

The outside-the-norm for all is a relativism become totalitarian – a desire to universalise the different norm, if we can allow such an oxymoron. This trend manifests itself through the affirmation of new identities to which each would have a right: a passion for identities, where each individual wants to collectivise their difference, their own norm, even to impose it. So a paradoxical situation arises, where we go from the right to be different to an outside-the-norm for all, a reversal of uniqueness towards a penchant for universalisation. Differences come together under the sign of identities that are demanded as rights.

What’s most striking is that what we in fact see is “the subject’s capture by his situation”[2], where the particular becomes universal, and becomes an ‘off the peg’ for all. The end result of this can be medically assisted reproduction: where a man who has transitioned to being a woman, and retained his spermatozoa, can demand to be recognised as father whilst being a woman; or a woman who has become a man can claim to be recognised as mother, having carried a child in the womb she has kept. In short, we can have fathers who are women, and mothers who are men; confusing all previous reference points, and overturning norms. By fully affirming themselves, an individual can end up denying themselves. […]

Where are we going?  What kind of world is being built?  Should we be worried? Or should we valorise this as a producer of solutions – solutions that lie outside norms – in relation to contemporary impasses? Solutions in which psychoanalysis can participate. Rather than favouring a norm for all, or a generalised outside-the-norm, psychoanalysis aims to allow each individual to constitute their solution – a solution that is always unique, different, singular; irreducibly, subversively, situated beyond the scope of the norm or the outside-the-norm.


Translated from the French by Kirsten Ellerby


(*) Interview with François Ansermet, by Edit Tendlarz and Romina Giavino, first published in Aperiodico Psicanalitico.

[1] Lacan, J., “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” [1953], Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English, B. Fink (Trans.). London/NY, Norton, 2006, p. 264.

[2]    Lacan states that “the subject’s capture by his situation gives us the most general formulation of madness”. Lacan, J., “The Mirror stage as formative of the I function as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” [1949], Écrits, op. cit. p. 80.