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Socarides, C.W. (1970). A Psychoanalytic Study of the Desire for Sexual Transformation ('Transsexualism'): the Plaster-Of-Paris Man. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:341-349.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:341-349

A Psychoanalytic Study of the Desire for Sexual Transformation ('Transsexualism'): the Plaster-Of-Paris Man

Charles W. Socarides


The nuclear conflicts of all sexual perverts derive from the earliest period of life forcing them into sexual behaviour, which not only affords orgastic release but ensures ego survival. The pre-oedipal period, especially the years between 1½ to 3, is crucial to the genesis of sexual perversion. In this period a pre-oedipal fixation occurs and is primary. A regression may occur to this early fixation period under conditions of stress (Socarides, 1967); (1968a), (1968b).

The sexual pervert, including the transsexual, has been unable to pass successfully through the symbiotic and separation-individuation phases of early childhood (Jacobson, 1964); (Mahler, 1965), (1967); (Mahler & Gosliner, 1955); (Mahler & Furer, 1966) and this creates the original anxiety from which sexual perversions arise. The source of the pervert's original anxiety emanates from this pre-oedipal period. Sexual perversion serves the repression of a pivotal nuclear complex: the urge to regress to a pre-oedipal fixation in which there is a desire for and dread of merging with the mother in order to reinstate the primitive mother-child unity. There is in Victor-Valerie an unrelenting wish to merge with the mother, to die, and to be rejoined with her.

The function of transvestitism is to achieve 'femininity' through cross-dressing, while retaining the penis (one sees here the crucial difference between the two), and to reassure against and lessen castration fear. The transvestite envies the mother and sisters, wants to be powerful like the mother, wants to have babies, and changes his external appearance by wearing feminine apparel while retaining the phallus (Fenichel, 1930); (Ostow, 1953).

The function of transsexualism is to achieve 'femininity' through radical surgical and plastic procedures and endocrinological manipulation designed to remove all traces of true anatomical gender and to promote enactment of a synthetic and assumed feminine role in the general environment and in the sexual act. Thereby one escapes visible homosexuality, undergoes the dreaded castration ('riddance' phenomenon), vicariously identifies with the powerful mother, neutralizes fear of her and consciously enjoys the infantile wish for intercourse with the father (the negative oedipus complex realized); escapes paranoid-like fear of aggression from hostile stronger men who could damage one in homosexual relations.

The psychosexual motivation of the transsexual, beyond orgastic desire: the wish to maintain optimal distance from and/or closeness to the mother without fear of engulfment; the conscious yearning for femininity and to enact it with anatomical reinforcement; the wish to displace mother with father. The sexual object choice (aim) is a person of the same sex prior to elective recasting.

Transsexualism is evident in the homosexual who, in attempting to resolve his emotional conflicts, fastens upon the idea of changing his sex through the mechanism of denial (a psychotic mechanism). He therefore abhors everything masculine about himself and develops an overwhelming desire to be a woman.

It is well known that most homosexuals will be content to keep their external genitalia intact. The homosexual activities of the transsexual serve the

following functions: (a) through this delusional recasting of identity attempts to resolve the fact that he is suffering from homosexuality; (b) alleviates guilt as to his homosexual object choice; (c) is attempting to ward off a paranoid psychosis were he to engage in homosexuality in his true anatomical role. It is significant that in the delusional system of paranoid schizophrenics the idea that one has been transformed into a person of the opposite sex so that one may now freely engage in homosexual activities is rather frequent and spares the patient intense anxiety (Freud, 1911).

There is no question that the transsexual who belongs biologically to one sex but feels that psychologically he 'belongs' to the other experiences great suffering and his condition is a result of deep unconscious conflict originating in the earliest years of life. The origin of such a desire for change present in transsexualism arises from the same factors as are present in the other perversions.

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