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Downey, J.I. (2000). Sexual Subjects: Lesbians, Gender, and Psychoanalysis: Adria E. Schwartz, Routledge, New York and London, 1998, 200 pp., $75.00 (cloth) $22.99 (paper).. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 28(4):747-748.

(2000). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 28(4):747-748

Sexual Subjects: Lesbians, Gender, and Psychoanalysis: Adria E. Schwartz, Routledge, New York and London, 1998, 200 pp., $75.00 (cloth) $22.99 (paper).

Review by:
Jennifer I. Downey, M.D.

This slim volume consists of a preface plus seven chapters, many of which are based on Schwartz's previously published work. The author is a lesbian feminist psychoanalyst who leans toward a social constructionist perspective on sex and gender rather than an essentialist one. Thus she tends to look favorably on the idea that sex and gender are created by the culture. According to this way of thinking, scientists who view behavior as beginning in biology, and development as the result of interaction between biology and the environment are considered essentialists. Thus the entire area of neuroscience in relation to sexuality is outside the scope of this book.

The book begins with “resistance,” a chapter portraying lesbians as “women resisters” or sex/gender radicals. (Dr. Schwartz does not capitalize any chapter headings.) Chapter 2, “a lesbian … a lesbian is not,” reviews such postmodern theorists as Foucault, Wittig, and Butler on gender. Schwartz offers the view that almost everyone, lesbian included, has a gendered self-identity, which she calls “nominal gender identity.” That is, that nearly everyone thinks of him or herself as belonging to a binary category, whether male or female. But despite nominal gender identity gender is fluid and changeable and even the identity of “woman” may be unbearably limiting. As she does not refer to the vast body of empirical literature on the differentiation of gender identity, it is unclear what she meant exactly by the statement that gender is fluid and changeable. Two additional chapters address the eroticism of lesbians (it's a queer universe some notes erotic and otherwise) and the subjective nature of gender (“the gendered self … a question of subjectivities”), respectively.


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