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Taylor, G.J. (1980). Splitting of the Ego in Transvestism and Mask Wearing. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 7:511-520.

(1980). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7:511-520

Splitting of the Ego in Transvestism and Mask Wearing

Graeme J. Taylor


Recent psychoanalytic formulations of the perversions describe a vertical split in the ego which permits the coexistence of incompatible personality organizations. The dual identities of the transvestite are made visible when he cross-dresses to 'become' a woman while remaining himself beneath the female disguise. Fetishistic mask wearing also externalizes split-off identifications since by putting on another face the wearer 'becomes' the character represented by the mask and can play a dual role.

In this paper the origin and functions of masks are reviewed to show that from the earliest of times masks have been worn not only to protect and disguise the wearer but also to magically transform his identity and to facilitate the release of repressed libidinal and aggressive impulses which can be discharged onto displaced objects. The case of a transvestite who also wore masks fetishistically is reported, the clinical material demonstrating the multiple identities resulting from a vertical split in his ego. Like primitive man the patient played the dual roles of the hunter and the hunted, or the victor and the victim, as his identities oscillated between the powerful phallic woman and the humiliated and helpless little boy. By wearing masks and female clothing he acted out fantasies with the disguised aim of undoing early traumata through repetition. Analysis revealed multiple symbolic meanings of the fetishistic object (the mask) and in considering the patient's choice of fetish, the significance of the mother's face in early life is discussed.

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