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Fenichel, O. (1949). The Symbolic Equation: Girl = Phallus. Psychoanal Q., 18:303-324.

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(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:303-324

The Symbolic Equation: Girl = Phallus

Otto Fenichel


In the article, The Analysis of a Transvestite, I established the fact that at the root of this perversion there lay the patient's unconscious fantasy of being a girl with a phallus. If—schematically speaking—the homosexual has identified himself with his mother, and the fetishist has not relinquished the belief in the woman's possession of a penis, both of these formulations are valid for the male transvestite: he identifies himself with a woman in whose possession of a penis, furthermore, he wishes to believe.

My patient acted out this rôle of a phallic girl in order to be able to yield to feminine wishes which were opposed by intense castration anxiety. The perversion purportedly counteracted this anxiety, for its purpose, as I stated, was to say to the object: 'Love me like the mother (or like the sister); it is not true that I thereby endanger my penis'. I was able to demonstrate the probability that this is, in a general sense, the meaning of the transvestite act. It is a compromise between feminine wishes and an opposing fear of castration, or, since the fear of castration is the result of a heightened narcissistic evaluation of one's own penis, between the feminine wish and the narcissistic pride in one's penis. The exhibitionistic behavior of such patients has therefore the double meaning: 'I want to be seen and admired for my penis', and 'I want to be seen and admired as a beautiful girl'. In the earlier paper referred to, I described as the most important incidental factor in transvestitism the fact that usually the identification with the mother is at the


This article, translated from Int. Ztschr. f. Psa., XXII, 1936, No. 3, is taken from a forthcoming book, Selected Papers of Otto Fenichel, translated by Henry Alden Bunker, M.D., to be published by W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., and is printed with the permission of the publishers.

Translated by HENRY ALDEN BUNKER, M.D.

1 Fenichel, Otto: Zur Psychologie des Transvestitismus. Int. Ztschr. f. Psa., XVI, 1930.

2 Freud: From the History of an Infantile Neurosis. Coll. Papers, III, p. 473.

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