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Fast, I. (1978). Developments in Gender Identity: The Original Matrix. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 5:265-273.

(1978). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 5:265-273

Developments in Gender Identity: The Original Matrix

Irene Fast


Recent clinical and experimental observations as well as vigorous social pressure have encouraged re-examination of the psychoanalytic conceptualization of the development of gender identity. In the theory the processes in the oedipal period are seen to be central in the establishment of gender identity. These processes are patterned in part by prior developments beginning in the original matrix, the base from which development proceeds. This paper, the first of a proposed series, focuses on this hypothesized earliest experience.

The original matrix as proposed by Freud is that boys and girls are male in functioning anatomy and masculine in gender orientation for the first years of life. Based on their earliest relationship to the mother, boys are heterosexual and girls homosexual in object orientation. A revision of this conceptualization is proposed and its implications for oedipal processes summarized. Rather than male and masculine in earliest gender orientation, children are hypothesized to be overinclusive in their experience, not attuned to sex-difference or aware of the limitations inherent in belonging to a particular sex. Interest in sex difference begins with the recognition of limits: the boy's interest in the mother's place in the origin of babies, the girl's recognition that she has no penis.

Both boys and girls must come to terms with their limits. In the course of doing so both may envy the sex and gender attributes of the other sex. Both may perceive the fact of not having those attributes as a loss or an incompleteness, and demand restitution. Both may, after they have recognized their own limits, attribute bisexual 'completeness' to others. For both, success in coming to terms with limits requires giving up a focus on not having the sexual attributes of the other sex and committing oneself to one's own actual sexual identity. Evidence from normal development, cultural artifacts and ceremonies, and psychopathology is brought to bear in support of these hypotheses.

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