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Greenson, R.R. (1966). A Transvestite Boy and a Hypothesis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 47:396-403.

(1966). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47:396-403

A Transvestite Boy and a Hypothesis

Ralph R. Greenson


Lance lived in a family constellation which can be condensed to the following: His mother loved him possessively and was in overly close contact with him in a tactile sense, visually and emotionally. She hated and disrespected her husband and men in general. Lance's father was unloved and despised by his wife; he was afraid of her, was a failure in his work which he disliked, and was absent from home a great deal. Lance's sister was no serious rival for his mother and was more attached to the father.

This situation led to problems in Lance's development which can best be understood by following some of the ideas of Jacobson (1964), Greenacre (1958), Mahler (1958), and Winnicott (1951). Lance developed difficulty in certain aspects of the process of individuating himself from his mother. Although he could develop a self-representation as distinct from object representations, this broke down in his attempt to establish a realistic gender identity. For Lance, loving was equated with becoming, with some primitive form of identification and imitation. Some of his activities had the quality of 'as if' activities, magical fantasies based on the idea that if I imitate mother I will become her (Jacobson, 1964p. 43). The over-gratification by the mother kept Lance fixated to oral pleasures derived from eating, tactile, temperature, muscle, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli. The relative absence of frustration and rivalry helped keep obscure the boundaries between himself and his mother. The lack of a loving and loved father interfered with his opportunity for identification and identity formation. The tactile and visual over-exposure to his mother's body helped confuse his gender identity (Greenacre, p. 617). It seems to me that just as the girl has a special problem in establishing object relations by having to change the gender of her love object, so the boy has a special problem in building a gender identity by having to change the original object of his identification.

Lance's transvestism was a means of preserving a tie to his mother and in conflict with the reality testing he was capable of in other areas of his life. He shifted his oral desires from his mother's body to her clothes, to a partial identification (A. Freud, 1965p. 206). It was a failure of individuation and a defence against separation anxiety. The wearing of women's clothes was a transitional activity, a compromise between narcissism and reality testing, between inside and outside (Winnicott, 1951). The play with the girl doll is a similar phenomenon, the doll is partly mother and partly himself. Only when Lance progressed did the doll become Barbie, a completely external object.

It seemed to me that the transvestism can be best understood in this child if we regard the clothes as representing the mother's skin. His loving concern, touching, caressing, and looking at women's clothes indicates this clearly. It fits in with the mother's constant tactile contact with the boy. Lance was reluctant to give up this source of satisfaction and security because he was permitted to indulge himself on this level far too long and he had difficulty in finding the path to satisfactions on higher maturational levels. Whenever he became instinctually excited or anxious he retreated to this haven. The mother's clothes were to him what the pouch of the mother kangaroo is to the baby kangaroo. He runs back under the warm skin covering which protects him from harm and gives tactile and temperature pleasures. Furthermore, he can keep his head outside so that he can be oriented to reality and leave when he is satisfied and safe. I would speculate that a pouch fantasy is also present in Lance's mother.

Thus far the therapy seems to be successful because I presented myself to the boy as a male figure who obviously liked him and also liked being male. Since I was liked and respected by the mother I became a figure worthy of identification as well as a rival to contend with by identification. I was apparently not afraid of women nor of instincts and Lance gradually dared to learn belatedly the difference between loving and becoming. I taught him things which were illuminating, pleasurable and security-giving, all of which seems to have encouraged his identification with me and then with his father. It should be noted that as the therapy of the mother and son has progressed, Lance's father has achieved a more respected and active place in the family which has also given the boy a further incentive for becoming male.

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