The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

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Childhood Sexuality and The Other

In Freud, LGBT, Performativity, Polymorphous Perversity, Queer Theory on December 29, 2011 at 12:03 am

by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Wondering as I do about socially gendered responses to expressions of childhood sexuality, I find myself drawn to the idea of The Other, that old, constant scapegoat. The Other is an amorphous entity that disquiets because of its familiarity covered over with a veneer of foreignness. The Other conveniently directs our attention away from our own perfectly human issues of contention and casts them unfairly onto a foil that reminds us of ourselves under the guise of our discomfort with someone else.

As men are socially deemed “normal,” I think that women and children are perfect representations of The Other. As said Berta Bornstein in the 1948 article “Emotional barriers in the understanding and treatment of children,” “Children frighten us by their unpredictability, their highly charged emotions… and by their closeness to the unconscious… although it has rarely been admitted, children throughout the ages have been considered a threat by their parents and by society in general.” To clarify, I do not mean to suggest that female-bodied adults may be described this way, but that society clumps them in the same category, effectively creating in the cultural conscience the construct of the infantilized female who, alongside the naturally infantile infant, both pose a “threat” to our generalized sense of “adulthood” which is represented by a particularly repressed idea of maleness.

However, this unease around children–especially children of the opposite sex in a world that generally sees gender as a binary and gender-meddling as inappropriate–can be seen as an inverted unease concerning oneself, and the unconscious fear of the Oedipal crime, which may make itself known in “unnecessary brutalities in training and discipline, for the alleged purpose of changing children into human beings.”

To a misogynistic or misanthropic adult (which are basically the same), all children seem non-normative in that nothing they do conforms to a particularly stringent superego’s enjoinders to be quiet, disciplined, sexless. Holdover ideas of Victorian sexlessness pervasively inform our cultural sense of sex. The societal message is still that sex is bad and specifically women and children are “untainted” by this badness unless they are tainted, in which case, they are bad. But of course, all people are sexual and all people were children. This fretful, cultural finger-wagging only serves to make obvious the finger-wagger’s own discomfort with sexuality. Sexuality, after all, has vastly different meanings and significances to different people. Sexuality in children is equivalent to the body. Early erogenous zones include the nose, eyes, skin; sexuality is the sensations of being held, fed, bathed. It is safety and comforting excitement.

How do parents or caretakers, informed by our cultural Victorianism, experience and react to expressions of childhood (and female) sexuality based on socially gendered conditioning? As says Joseph D. Lichtenberg in 2007’s Sensuality and Sexuality Across the Divide of Shame, “Throughout the developmental cycle parents and other authorities indicate to children those body pursuits they regard as approved, and those body pleasure pursuits they regard as prohibited, and shameful.” Prohibited actions might be those considered “too” sexy (like touching your genitals even though a body is all you have) or “perverse” (like not conforming to socially-created gender roles even though, according to Lichtenberg, the “repudiation of opposite-gender traits… signals a failure in development and the formation of a defensively rigid masculinity or femininity.”)

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What’s Queer About “The Trip” ?

In film, Freud, Lacan, LGBT, Queer Theory, Sublimation on December 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

by Chase Dimock

To an American audience, I would not have to strain too desperately to prove that there is something gay about a movie featuring two British men touring gourmet restaurants in the English countryside while singing Abba and Kate Bush in the car. Yet, what’s queer about The Trip has nothing to do with any present or latent homosexuality (of which there is none in the film), but rather it is about how heterosexuality appropriates the discourse of homosexuality in order to repress or sublimate its own desires and sentiments. The increased visibility of male homosexuality in the public sphere over the past four decades via the modern gay rights movement changed the way in which heterosexual males view and speak of their relationships with one another. Centuries of male patriarchy that segregated the sexes, created legions of boys clubs among rich and poor alike, and reinforced the sexist idea that truly intellectually satisfying companionship could only come from another rational male mind suddenly became infused with a “homosexual panic”. Publicly visible homosexual emotional intimacy created the fear that others might read heterosexual emotional intimacy as sexual intimacy and thus the privileged bastions of masculinity such as the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Friars, and every cigar club this side of Vienna eventually seemed, well…gay. In The Trip, we see a turn in the way in which heterosexual friendship navigates the looming specter of gay discourse. Departing from decades of paranoid disavowal and overwrought displays of cliché gestures of straightness that seem only to parody heterosexuality, The Trip appropriates queer discourse as the two protagonists create a running joke about homosexual desire for one another throughout the film. But, neither of them is laughing. Rather, the unabashed and unashamed references to homosexuality cover up the real intimacy that they share with one another as friends which neither one wants to declare aloud.

In The Trip, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play fictional versions of themselves. Coogan is hired by a newspaper to write an article about some posh country restaurants and he takes the assignment with the hope of bringing his much younger girlfriend along to show her the North of England where he grew up and to rekindle their strained relationship. When the girlfriend chooses a journalist assignment in America instead, Coogan asks his friend Brydon to come along, who becomes, as Coogan jokes, “his substitute girlfriend.” As the two journey between upscale eateries, the film stages a sharp dichotomy between the personal lives of the two friends. While Brydon is the cliché image of heterosexual domestic happiness, established through a series of calls with his wife in which he impersonates Hugh Grant, Coogan on the other hand is confronted with his failing relationship with his girlfriend, his strained, decidedly unfatherly relationship with his son, and his stalled career ambitions to become a serious, Hollywood actor. The bulk of the film consists of a series of conversations between Coogan and Brydon while eating, driving, or touring the countryside. Rather than directly addressing any of the tension building up in his personal life, Brydon engages Coogan in a perpetual game of celebrity impersonation one-ups-manship as the two of them argue over the finer points of impersonating Michael Caine, Al Pacino, or any of the other actors whose career Coogan envies. Read the rest of this entry »