Vittorio Lingiardi MD. Studies in Gender and Sexuality. Volume 8, Issue 4. Fall 2007.
What does it matter what wisdom we each use to arrive at truth? It’s not possible that one path alone leads to such a sublime mystery.
~ Symmachus, pagan senator, 384 A.D.
On April 18, 2005, in Vatican City, a man who the following day would become Benedict XVI delivered a homily at the mass opening the papal conclave. There he declared that the “small boat” of humanity had been rocked by the “dictatorship of relativism that recognizes nothing as definitive.” One by one, Cardinal Ratzinger listed the dangers that have undermined our thinking in the past 100 years: “Marxism, liberalism, libertinism, collectivism, radical individualism, atheism, vague religious mysticism, agnosticism, syncretism,” and so on. He deliberately pairs relativism with “lack of values” and labels as “dictatorship” what to us is a complexity that is necessary and indeed vital: “standing in the spaces” (Bromberg, 1998), cultivating the tension between opposites, simultaneously negotiating stability and change.
Increasing attention toward that which is relative, constructed, and multiple has changed the way we analysts see the structure of the psyche and its development. With the establishment of a “decentered” view of the self, mental function is now seen as a configuration of changing states of consciousness that are discontinuous and nonlinear, in dialectical relation with the necessary ideathe healthy illusion-of a unitary self.
My generation is still marked (scarred) by psychoanalytical certainties that were too often entangled in the conviction that psychoanalysis must promote particular values; but many of us, fortunately, were trained with the wise idea that the best that an analyst can hope for is an “uneasy co-existence of a multiplicity of epistemologies” (Ogden interviewed by Mitchell, 1991, p. 136).
It’s also quite likely that the new pope sees “relativism” where we see “pragmatic consequentialism”-that is, the belief that the good of an action arises from its capacity to produce well-being in the subject without damaging others. There is no historical record of any violence traced to relativism, while absolutism, sadly, has spawned centuries of violence. The best products of Catholicism are not the fruits from the garden of good and evil but those cultivated in the humble recognition of doubt.
Ratzinger, however, has defined homosexual inclinations as “objectively disordered” and homosexual practices as “sins gravely contrary to chastity.” In a letter entitled “On the Collaboration of Men and Women,” he sharpened the Church’s essentialist position in order to reaffirm that Biblical anthropology which describes woman as man’s companion skilled in listening, compassion, adaptability, and passivity. We would all do well to practice these skills, but women are named as being “by nature” (i.e., by God’s design) predisposed to this fairly sad list of skills.
I bring this up not to launch a theological debate but simply to remind us that gender is part of a broader landscape. The current landscape is constituted of acres of fundamentalism with occasional postmodern settlements. This image could also be described as an imagination-in-progress of the unconscious, seen not as a melting pot in which distinctions dissolve but as a mosaic containing disparate aspects of a single self; not something layered like an onion or like an archeological site but a kaleidoscope, a complex organization in which a series of elements with different shapes and densities reshuffles itself into unique structures determined by the pathways of infinite relationships (Davies, 1996).
Gender, made of the same stuff as dreams, very easily takes a mythological form (Lingiardi, 2002). We can dream of it as a Freudian myth of Activity and Passivit, or as a Jungian myth of Animus and Anima. Or, again, as a cyberfloating postmodern chimera.
Is gender made of and through the body or of and through attachments, relations, and cultures? Is the binary option a defensive reaction on the part of a conscious search to order the chaotic overinclusiveness of the unconscious, or do implicit models condition our gender positions? Can the links among individual psyche, family context, and historical-social context (with its dominant and competing ideologies) produce a “normative unconscious” (Layton, 1998)? Why do some subjects appear to be-or need to appear to be-more “gendery” (to use the cultural critic Eve Sedgwick’s coinage, 1990) than others? And how can we arrive at authentically idiomatic resolutions, in which gender is truly “our” construction?
Gender, as Dimen and Goldner observe (2005, p. 95), has become a “symbolic resource” that not only acts “on” us but also is available “to” us-and this shifts our question yet again, from “How does gender work?” to “How is gender worked?”
In the last few decades, relational feminists (such as Benjamin, Chodorow, Dimen, Goldner, Harris) have addressed these issues, along with poststructuralist feminists (such as Butler), and gay, queer, and postmodern scholars in general; they were joined, naturally, by relational and intersubjective clinicians. Together, they broke new ground in our understanding of these issues, proposing stimulating and engaging answers that have implicitly challenged prevailing theory and thus clinical practice as well.
So we start with the following premises:
- Relativism, psychological localism, and narrativism are basic building blocks of psychoanalysis, particularly after the relational and postmodern turn;
- When we speak of “what men and women are like,” we enter into the territory of culture, of narration, and of language. Psychoanalytical theory has overgeneralized and overuniversalized many things in its assumption that masculinity and femininity are categories rather than dimensions;
- In psychoanalysis we have all run into conflicts with metapsychologies of the absolute in order to arrive at interdisciplinary theorizations that are multiple and inclusive. Even now we are reproached for “not being psychoanalytical”: doesn’t that sound like an excommunication?
Working with individual patients on their gender identity offers a sort of preliminary research for large-scale work that can then be applied to the broader population. In this sense, the role played by gender confusion is no less important than that played by gender certainty: they each bring psychic and imaginative elements to social and political shifts and reform (Samuels, 1989).
Nevertheless, we cannot forget (and here Ratzinger, whom we ushered out the door, comes back in through the window) that premodern and postmodern, nostalgia and adventure, conservation and transformation, absolute and relative (here I’m deliberately using binary pairings) coexist in our psychic life, and they confront each other-playfully, at times, but often painfully-in the endless task of gender construction. Concepts such as multiple identities, fluid and combinatory genders, and so on, run the risk of becoming options invoked in too academic a manner, probably partly because of their aesthetic appeal. To aid the “perplexed clinician” (Mitchell, 1996), I would add that certain lighthearted academic approaches to polyvalence, nomadism, and fluidity are luxuries permitted only to those patients with superior integrative functions that make them able to access and to work through their many selves. Fluidity and multiplicity, complexity and irony, are ultimately forms of identity, however weak they may be.
That does not mean that all the conceptual changes occurred in the last 50 years of psychoanalyisis are the result of armchair conversations: they are rooted in the lives-I would say in the bodies-of women and men, which brought their true experience in clincal theorization.
Lynn Layton (1998) rightly asks, if the formation of gender identity is always traumatic, and trauma produces fragmentation, “then how do we distinguish those fragments that restrict possibilities for multiplicity from those that guarantee multiplicity?” (p. 119).It is the clinical dimension, that is, the recognition of the Other, that makes us able to maintain the tension between the modern concern for cohesion and the postmodern attention to multiplicity and inclusion.
Solve Et Coagula (Dissolving and Coagulating)
After having deconstructed gender, we have to be able to reassemble it. Many patients have taught us that it’s necessary to get beyond the dominating gender binarie, and have asked us to help them build new, combinatory positions. (As the character Agrado remarks in the Almodovar (2000) movie All About My Mother, “You are more and more authentic the more you look like someone you dreamed of being.”) Others-drowning in issues ranging from role confusion to gender dysphoria-have asked us for actual certainties, with literal and often even biological anchoring points. And it’s not always possible for us to suggest that a patient work through, or at least tolerate, the melancholy caused by that which one hasn’t had or hasn’t been. Missing attachments linger in our inner world, whether or not they’re supported by intrapsychic, interpersonal, and social structures.
Fortunately, most patients have benefited from acquiring third positions that free them from binary constrictions. As others have so eloquently noted, the concept of gender must thus be understood as a paradox built on the tensions of its components: “a force field (of dualism) … consisting not of essences, but of shifting relations among multiple contrasts” (Dimen, 1991, p. 43; 2003); “a necessary fiction” (Harris, 1991); “a real appearance” (Benjamin, 1998); and “a false truth” (Goldner, 1991). As we see from these metaphors, our gender, although not an essence, is still nevertheless a “core experience” of identity. It’s a gradient, the measure of disparity. “The challenge is neither to essentialize gender nor to dematerialize it” (Dimen and Goldner, 2005, p. 95).
It’s difficult to find the proper flexible and fluid language to speak of something that is itself flexible and fluid; it’s equally hard to strike a balance between the need to belong and have certainties, on the one hand, and the need for freedom and transformation, on the other. The only option is to seek idiomatic solutions (Bollas, 1989), to seek ideographic assemblages that are still anchored to the nomothetics of gender tropes offered by our life-paths and our cultural, familiar, and biographical backgrounds. The concept of gender can be approached the way we usually approach personality in a clinical setting: its meaning should be linked to both a criterion of “communality” (a collection of characteristics, dispositions, and kinds of action that are common to different individuals) and a criterion of “singularity” (which assists us in recognizing the combination of traits, attitudes, and behaviors that distinguish one person from another). Sometimes our postmodern “tenant” should ally with our bourgeois self, building a united front that can keep at bay the dangers of fragmentation.
Injungian terms we can say that gender tension is indispensable for avoiding the two underlying alchemical risks: oversolidification on the one hand, and overfluidification on the other (essentialism/ radical constructivism?). What’s needed is a continuous process of solve et coagula. Everything permanent, everything that belongs to the hardening of our habits, must be made fluid; everything volatile and uncertain must be anchored and solidified. Tension-the oscillation between relative and absolute, Puer and Senex, Trickster and Supreme Pontiff, flowering and harvest-will guide us on the search for idiomatic pathways that can sustain our creations of gender. This is the primary task of psychoanalysis, and I would like to emphasize it with the words of Hans Loewald (1977):
Psychoanalytic interpretations establish or make explicit bridges between two minds, and … establish or re-establish links between islands of unconscious mentation and between the unconscious and consciousness. They are translations that do not simply make the unconscious conscious or cause ego to be where id was. … What is therapeutic, I believe, is the mutual linking itself by which each of the linked elements gains or regains meaning or becomes richer in meaning-meaning being our word for the resultant of that reciprocal activity [p. 382].
As Jessica Benjamin declared (1998, p. 71), we have to knock the notion of gender identification away from the central spot and look at the plurality of developmental positions rather than a unidirectional development; to assimilate difference without repudiating similarity; to create a space between opposites that can conceptualize a tension rather than a binary opposition that values one extreme while devaluing the other.
This freedom of movement, this “gradient,” is in some sense proportional to our self’s rhythmic, integrative, and relational capacities. These are what will determine whether we play a creative game with our identity and ourselves or whether we suffer the painful dilemma of a continuous exile from ourselves. “Painful,” observes Lynn Layton (1998), is a term too often lacking from the postmodern narrations related to gender. Often, she says, the protagonist of a postmodern text-the lesbian, the transvestite, the sadomasochist, the hermaphrodite-becomes the flag of a noman’s-land that challenges “heterosexism, reified notions of gender identity, repressed forms of sexual expression, and the hypocrisies of a puritan yet violent culture” (p. 124). But while they become postmodern heroes and heroines, “the pain of fragmentation, of marginality, of indeterminacy is often overlooked or glossed over.” Judith Butler (1990) points out that Foucault himself, in his essay about the hermaphrodite Herculine, camouflaged his subject’s pain.
The Jungian theory of the symbol, and particularly the concept of “transcendent function,” helps us understand the dynamic event by which the separate psychic elements, opposite or estranged, rearrange themselves in a nonsynthetic unit that is neither intellectualistic nor aestheticizing, although it does require a representation that is both intellectual and aesthetic. From this arises the figure known as coniunctio oppositorum: an operation that doesn’t erase contrasts but brings together elements that come into psychic existence precisely because of the disjunction. This coniunctio is realized through the psychic action of the symbol which, according to its Greek etymology, means “put together” and “join.”
Gender Binaries and Splitting
This said, however, we’re not obliged to bring the opposites together: we can simply accept them as they are … and often we have no other choice. Refusing forced binaries doesn’t mean defending the gray area equidistant from the two extremes, nor does it mean inventing a new normality that, this time, is politically correct. The idea is not to idealize the middle values of a Kinsey Scale of masculinity and femininity but to respect whatever idiomatic placement we encounter. We must simply ensure that the underlying psychological and social dangers of the splitting are revealed. Indeed, splitting inevitably hinders the recognition of a third option, demonstrates the limits of a lack of reflective function, and strengthens the implicit binary hierarchy, with all that it brings: active is better than passive, male is better than female, tall is better than short, white is better than black, heterosexual is better than homosexual, and so on. When considering how the splitting process informs the dominant constructions of gender, we mustn’t overlook that what gets split and then repressed or dissociated in the attempt to acquire a coherent or culturally approved identity “proliferates,” as Freud (1915) would say, “in obscurity.”
In psychoanalysis, the problem can be traced back to the M/F models that we’ve inherited. From Freud: anatomy is destiny, the refusal of femininity, the masculine protest, penis envy-all this flows from the primary distinction between active and passive. From Jung: Animus and Anima as archetypal dimensions, the masculine Logos and feminine Eros, consciousness and life, power and love, earth and sky-all this flows from an essentialist/innatist literalization of an archetypal idea of Yin and Yang that has fortunately been reformulated by post-Jungians in a way that’s no longer countersexual.
Because “persons only become intelligible through becoming gendered” (Butler, 1990, p. 16), gender is deeply involved in the creation of (inter)subjectivity. It’s an issue that touches us all, and this has to be our point of departure: the lost certainties of psychoanalysis and of the dichotomies of gender. There is no a single response to this uncertainty; it can express itself playfully, with jouissance (there can be something pleasurable about the tension) but also with suffering and disfigurement. Each gender is idiosyncratic with its own unique shape. Each gender, Zizek (2004) would say, is an infinite text. Nevertheless, the more inflexible the demand for certainty and the louder the voice calling for a tidy border, the greater is the threat of fear of fragmentation, of repetition of the trauma, and of recourse to splitting.
We cannot overlook clinical work with those unconscious processes (of identification, interiorization, desplacement, etc.) that uphold the splitting in order to preserve the status quo, those either/or structures of the gender paradigm that Virginia Goldner (1991) has dubbed “universal pathogenic situations.” Because clinicians too have many unconscious conflicts, it’s imperative that we are careful not to collude with the patients in the splitting.
Gender can be thought of as a compromise formation held in the tension between the pressure of conformity and compliance, on one hand, and the individual’s continuous project of self-creation and self-protection. Gender may be culturally mandated, but it is individually crafted. No individual’s gender literally reproduces gender categories, since each is a personal interpretation of a gender category. To quote Clifford Geertz (1986, p. 380), “it is the copying that originates” [Dimen and Goldner, 2005, p. 102].
Or, with Judith Butler (1991), “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original” (p. 313).
Each of us has a particular idiomatic aesthetic intelligence that we express by using material or immaterial, human or nonhuman objects that are available in the environment/setting. It’s like painting or jazz music: the great artists use the same old themes but each one develops them in his own unique way, Grafting his own personality.
This is another reason it makes no sense to speak of gender without specifying one’s own viewpoint, one’s own cultural and personal framework (mine is queer, relational, post-Jungian). Sometimes it’s unnecessary to do so theoretically-our body, the timbre of our voice, our way of moving, our inhibitions and handling of gender codes (bowing to the codes, or neutralizing them): all these tell the world plenty about us. This is true for the Pope too, the way he moves his hands, the timbre of his voice.
I borrowed the pseudonym Ludovic from the young hero of Alain Berliner’s film Ma Vie en Rose (1997). When we first meet, Ludovic is 22 years old and having difficulty with his male gender role. He’s still suffering from the gender confusion he first had in childhood, when he wanted to wear his mother’s skirt to go to school.
At the start of his analysis with me he uses some painful and inefficient strategies to deal with his inner tangle: bodily, he has dysmorphophobia that has led him to have a series of small surgeries; romantically, he has been having nearly passionless heterosexual relationships; and as far as his desires are concerned, he is afraid of turning into a ridiculous outsider. He has failed identifications with his father; a secret and private idealization with his mother; and he feels deep shame at not meeting other people’s expectations. He has post-traumatic memories of being insulted and beaten by his classmates.
It is not my intention in this article to trace the whole course of Ludovic’s analysis, but I’d like to briefly mention one of its crucial moments. Unable to stand the tension between feminine and homosexual and still unable to find a space-psychically and relationally-where he could develop his own personal take on the passive aspect of masculinity, Ludovic suffered the pain of rejection from every recognized category, and this slowly drove him toward the only world that would have him: the world of self-hatred, with all its narcissism and destructiveness. The arc of his gender identity can be traced roughly like this: GENDER NONCONFORMITY [Lef-right arrow] INTEREST IN PASSIVITY [Lef-right arrow] EQUATION HOMOSEXUALITY = FEMININITY [Lef-right arrow] SOCIAL STIGMATIZATION [Lef-right arrow] SHAME AND ANGER [Lef-right arrow] REFUSAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY o (INTERNALIZED) HOMOPHOBIA MISOGYNY.
Obviously, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. However, they are conflated in the popular imagination, particularly in the limited understanding of the developing child. The binary heterosexual gender division (masculine/feminine) doesn’t offer enough for a homosexual person. The homosexual experience broadens the range of gender categories, demonstrating their inadequacy even for the heterosexual experience (Corbett, 1993).
Jack Drescher (1998) offers a helping hand for our understanding of Ludovic. We often see cross-gender behavior in a child facing his homosexual attraction and forced to conform simultaneously to social gender rules and to his parents’ heterosexual expectations. And I would add that having experienced nonconformity in gender identification and in the objects of romantic or affective fantasies softens the preexisting borders of the gender dichotomy and leaves him open to mixed resolutions. The attachment context will determine whether this greater fluidity leads to the construction of positive or punitive solutions. Experiences of secrecy and outsider identity will be inevitable, and they will inevitably be traumatic.
“When I was ten,” Ludovic recalls, “my feelings couldn’t be classified according to gender: they didn’t match those of my male classmates or my female classmates.”
When I was with other kids I was stuck in a paradox-I felt both rejected and accepted because of my enthusiasm: but it was precisely my positive feeling of friendship that destroyed any chance of trying for another kind of affection, which I felt… even though I couldn’t distinguish it. So all I had was secrecy, and shame.
Ludovic learned that male and female have to unite and that in order to unite they must be in opposition. Male-male attraction, which is contradictory and not permitted by social norms, becomes an anomaly that cries out for a feminine polarity to bring the two universes back to stability and cast aside the Platonic myth. (It’s interesting that both Freud and Jung cite Plato’s Symposium selectively: they seem to want to skip past the explicit reference to same-sex couples; Lingiardi, 2002).
The same process that superimposes the male homosexual with the female gender, and the female homosexual with the male gender, is at work in the psychology of the child and in the psychology of the social fabric. Male and female are the social containers that Ludovic has to deal with. Activity is masculine, passivity is feminine. The child Ludovic asks the same question that Freud asked; he viewed the homosexual person’s gender experience as a kind of crisis category and asked, to what gender can we assign these mysterious individuals? (Corbett, 1993, 1996).
Ludovic’s inability to free himself from his conviction that he “is a woman,” his difficulty in thinking of himself “as if he were like a woman” or “as being a man who has things in common with women” (using the idea that adults have of what men and women are like), combined to make him a lost and angry teenager. At the start of the analysis his life precisely mirrors his relational conflicts: secretly homosexual, but homophobic; heterosexual in public, but a misogynist. And this split destroys any possibility of change, any search for his own idiomatic outcome.
In Ludovic’s dreams the conflict appears unresolved, but his gender ambivalence flows on, just as strong as in his earliest years. Ludovic’s dreams speak of an enormous amount of symbolic baggage, where mythological and religious figures are locked in an endless battle of contrasting doubleness, as are defenseless or treacherous animals, as well as ordinary people. Muriel Dimen (1991, 2003) characterizes the tendency to split as a recurring mechanism in patients with problems of nonacceptance and refusal of their gender differences. These patients, she notes, tend to incorporate the culturally determined male/female contrast, ripping themselves apart and yet leaving themselves hanging: they “choose” essence instead of difference and end up with splitted, weak, and random heterosexuality.
The splitting haunts all of Ludovic’s dreams in his first 2 years of analysis:
At a border crossing, two policemen are checking my passport. I notice that one is Israeli and the other is Palestinian. They start wrestling and fighting with daggers and guns. They hit me too. I feel blood on me and I think, “I’m dying,” but I can’t tell whether the blood on me is my own, or blood from one of them.
Three-headed Janus and Noah’s Ark
In Roman mythology, Janus the two-headed god guarded the entrance to a house or a city, keeping watch over both the inside and the outside. He was able to do both jobs because he had two faces looking in opposite directions; his believers said, “Janus sees all, hears all, and foresees all.” As such, this Father Janus was essentially the god of openness and of beginnings. But some classical scholars hypothesize that there may have been a deity even older than two-headed Janus. These historians say that for a brief time, in the Italian pre-Roman countryside, a god with three faces was worshipped: a three-headed Janus. The surprising quality of this god was that he could see beyond because of his third face-his “third eye”-that made him into a three-dimensional triptych with complex qualities and infinite possibilities.
History doesn’t tell us what happened to this fascinating god (with analogies in Hinduism), but his characteristic embrace of the world’s whole range of possibilities offer a surprising reflection of the existence of a third way, an idiomatic way.
The two-headed god guards a door that needs to be protected from attacks originating both outside and inside, but this protection doesn’t seem to be total precisely because it’s dual. Three, we must recall, is a step beyond two. A voyage for confronting polarizations, intrapsychic and interpersonal, is necessary. One has to step through the door of binaries to discover that behind the traditional two-headed Janus stands another, more personal god. A person traumatized by binary distinctions cannot regain his freedom by means of fragmentation. The solution is to reassemble the parts-and select among them. That seems to be the message of the following, an end-of-analysis dream told to me by a colleague and friend. We can’t call it an anti-binary dream (because the collective symbols of male and female are recognized and upheld in the associations), but it is the dream of an unconscious able to think and exist beyond binary normativity-able to resist patriarchal values in favor of an individuation characterized by spiritual softness. Maybe Sophia, the female Logos. Maybe Diotima, the sapiential body.
I’m in a cave full of soldiers at war. They look like medieval soldiers, with armor and pikes and swords. I’m fighting some of them and the situation is grim, confused. I know I have allies (although they don’t seem like allies) and enemies (although I don’t really fear them). I know that somewhere around here “Notug” (Siegfried’s sword) awaits me; if I found it, it would make me very strong; but I’m not really motivated to find it. Instead, in one corner I see a beautiful, light-blue cloth covered with golden stars and I think, excitedly: “it’s the veil of Venus.” Then everything changes: the soldiers get in line and march off toward the back of the cave. I manage to slip away and I go the other way, toward a thick forest of fir trees. I walk through the woods for a while and then I find myself at the mouth of the cave. Finally I can see the sky! The sun has just set and there’s still a bit of lavender-blue light; the first stars are appearing in the beautiful clear sky. But the cave opens onto a precipice-a sheer drop thousands of feet down. I’m stuck. Suddenly I notice that I have the veil of Venus in my pocket: I must have carried it off without realizing it. I’m suddenly filled with an airy and complete happiness. I hold the veil of Venus in my hand and let myself go: the veil-which perfectly matches the starry sky-acts as my parachute, carrying me safe and sound down to earth.
But here I’d like to bring up the first dream that Ludovic told me. I call it the Noah’s Ark dream because it touches on the normative principle that generally conditions the way we talk about sex: things go together two by two. Ludovic himself makes the father/Noah association.
I’m at the zoo with my parents and my sister. A violent thunderstorm breaks. We have to run to our camper for safety, but my father says that the animals also have to be carried to safety. I begin running; I’m very scared. While my sister is collecting two turtles, I notice three soaking-wet puppies and I run to get them. I hear my father saying: “Three is too many, leave one behind!” His voice is threatening. I don’t know which puppy to sacrifice. I leave the middle one on the ground, the spotted one, and I see the water slowly carrying it off It drowns.
Obviously there are a million ways to read this dream (the passage from two to three immediately recalls Oedipus; the concepts of emergency and sacrifice, etc.), but what strikes me about Ludovic’s associations is the impossibility of saving the third one; Ludovic interiorized the obligation to make an agonizing choice between only two options: tertium non datur.
The experience of construction and use of gender has elements common with the “nonlinear” experience of being online via computer. Some people lose themselves in the virtual dimension, emptying meaning from their real lives; others use the Web to navigate areas that they wouldn’t otherwise let themselves explore, producing decentered and experimental states of self. Donna Haraway (1991) and Rosi Braidotti (1994), for example, argue that the cyber subject has become a figuration and a metaphor for a constellation of minor sexualities that are neither heterosexual nor homosexual and that cyberfeminism has become the standard-bearer for a heterodoxy of modes and types of subjectivity and desire that sidestep the dominant dualisms. One might ask whether these transformations imply a revision of our concepts of relation and relationality.
I believe that many people take refuge in the virtual world in order to experiment with a more fluid reality. Once again the problem, in gender as in cyberspace, is that without a binary code one can’t decipher reality, but for living in it one needs third solutions. The cutting sharpness of “gender binarism” can be softened with the capacity of striving for a personal idiomatic position, an internal mental space created through mentalization, recognition, and communicative relationship. In the same way, we can overcome the pathological binary thinking that makes the virtual world a refuge from the terror of the real other-pathological because it ignores the fact that the real other is itself the result of an infinite series of virtual manipulations, the product of a discourse, the matrix that Slavoj Zizek (2004) wisely compared to a Rorschach test.
Real and virtual have a dialectic relationship in redefining experience. “Cyberspace,” writes Zizek (2004), “announces the end of the Carthesian cogito as the only thinking substance” (p. 811). Likewise a new genderspace might announce the end of binaries as the only option for organizing our sexual and gender characteristics.
This option requires a superior awareness, a “third eye” (and, naturally, a “third ear”, as Reik, 1948, pictured it). The exile of the self is indeed made concrete when this awareness is lacking-when we cannot “play,” cannot denominate the context, cannot conceive of an “as if,” of a thing “in quote marks.”
When we are able to move consciously through the different symbolic registers, the experience of “virtual realities” represents an opportunity for looking at ourselves and the world in a relativistic way. Furthermore, this capacity to consider multiple levels of reality is one of the goals and the chief gambles of psychoanalytic work.
The contemporary psychoanalyst and-even more so-the psychoanalyst of the future has to handle an analytical space that is wildly crowded with new entities, identities, and visions-”the invention of gods, heroes, and overmen of all kinds, as well as nearmen and undermen, of dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons and devils,” as Nietzsche (1887, n. 143) would say-replacing, adding to, and interacting with the traditional ones.
Ludovic and his unconscious and his beliefs about gender, as well as the psychoanalyst and his or her unconscious and his or her beliefs about gender, set off on their journey. Between the Scylla of surgery and the Charybdis of dysphoria, Ludovic discovered his own sexual and gender expression; we no longer care about labeling it because it coincides with his idiomatic success. And when the next Flood comes, he’ll find a spot on Noah’s Ark.