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

(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'.

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