The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

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A Brief Chronicle of the Long Life of a Nobody

In Art, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Poetry, Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

by Jim Elledge

Internationally-recognized, self-taught artist Henry Darger lived in utter poverty his entire life. Not long after he was born in Chicago (April 12, 1892), his impoverished parents moved out of the respectable, blue-collar neighborhood in which they had lived for several years into a coach-house apartment behind 165 West Adams just west of the Loop. That address was at the threshold of Chicago’s most notorious vice district, called West Madison Street after its chief thoroughfare.

Henry’s father went into a tailspin after a string of tragedies blind-sided him. His second son, Arthur, born a year and a half after Henry, died when he was only five months old, and then his wife Rosa died giving birth to their third child, a daughter. Almost sixty years old, too old (he felt) to be taking care of both an infant and a toddler, he immediately put his daughter up for adoption. The loss of his wife and children was too much for him, and he abandoned himself to drink and Henry to the dark streets—and even darker denizens—of West Madison Street.

Henry’s experiences during his earliest days in the vice district were, in a word, horrific as his autobiography, The History of My Life, reveals. He purposely knocked down children younger than he; sliced his teacher’s face and arms with a knife he carried when she punished him for an infraction; flung ashes into the eyes of a little neighborhood girl; committed arson to get even with a neighbor man; was nearly kidnapped by a homeless man; had a relationship with a night watchman; and was removed from his father’s house by authorities who institutionalized him in Dunning among the insane, indigent, and mentally ill—all before he was eight years old. Henry’s anger, violent behavior, and early sexual activities are symptomatic of child sexual abuse. Small for his age, Henry was an easy target.

In 1900, embarrassed by his eight-year-old son’s conduct and unable to cope with him, Henry’s father pawned the boy off on the priests who ran the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy, where he would live for the next four years. After more behavioral problems, which included being involved sexually with at least three other boys at the Mission, the priests told Henry’s father that Henry had to go. By then, his father was living in St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged, had no money with which to help his son, and had no room to take him in. Instead, he contacted a doctor, told him that Henry had been masturbating since he was six years old (another symptom of sexual abuse), and asked him to examine the boy. After meeting with Henry on two separate occasions, Dr. Otto Schmidt helped Henry’s father to fill out the form that would allow them to exile the now twelve-year-old to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln, IL. On Thanksgiving Day 1904, Tim Rooney took Henry by train to the Asylum.

Institutionalizing children for “self-abuse” (the term that was most often used for masturbation) was entirely legal and ubiquitous at the time. Physicians across the country supported institutionalization, and some even went so far as to recommend castration. Henry wasn’t the only boy sent to the Asylum for self-abuse. In fact, four other boys—three, twelve, thirteen, and nineteen years old—were admitted within of a month of the day when Henry arrived, each because of self-abuse.

As it turned out, the Asylum was a hellhole. While attendants had many techniques that they used to control the boys in their care, they were fond of strangling boys until they were close to blacking out, their tongues protruding and their faces turning blue. In such a condition, the boys were unable or unwilling to resist whatever the adult had in mind for them. At the same time, the prisons in Illinois had been filled to capacity, and the courts decided to send the overflow of male criminals to live—and sleep—among the boys at the Asylum. The smaller, weaker boys were at the mercy of the larger, stronger boys and men in the beds beside them.

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Psychoanalysis and Feminism: The Bathetic Sorrow of One Woman’s Attempt at Commingling!

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Masquerade, Mythology, Politics on May 21, 2012 at 9:33 am

by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

It’s true! I am that woman! A woman with a dream… a dream that has been realized so many times before… of combining my two favorite philosophical frameworks: feminism and psychoanalysis. Who has yet realized this dream? Nancy Chodorow, Laura S. Brown, the good people at York University, that lady who wrote Feminism and its Discontents: A Century of Struggle With Psychoanalysis (I really should read that already) and all those on-top-of-the-game social psychologists. Still, in my humdrum daily life, I find the attempt at synthesis terribly demoralizing.

I wrote a note to self during my Gender Studies course this year: “Under the necessary guise of social inquiry and challenge to gender essentialism, my ultimate interest is in personalities.”

I mean, really. People interest me in a way ‘movements’ and ‘masses’ do not, but movements and masses create the “reality” that people accept and I don’t like what passes for “reality” (when it’s male-or-female, us-or-them dichotomies and arrogant non-relativism) so I have to fight my little fight to change it. Meanwhile, my interest in individual psychologies lays low on the sidelines, waiting for the world to get some better sex ed., empathetic humility and stop displacing all its shame and self-hatred onto countless innocents and grow up already! Down with the oppression! So I can psychoanalyze without guilt that I should have been agitating for revolution!

Whenever I’m with lay (non-psych) folks whose conversations lead me to believe they’re unconsciously buying in to all the mainstream media defamation of that weird, “unknowable” category ‘woman,’ (atop gay, black, old, what have you) I find it a political, staving-off-killing-myself necessity to talk about feminism. But whenever I’m with cool, collected, hip-to-the-jive feminists with their unassailably agenda-justifying facts and stats, all I want to talk about is their childhood traumas and unrealized dreams. It’s so much more interesting… If only I lived in an utterly equitable world, then I would have the luxury to do what I really want to do: Psychoanalyze! To the extent that I have the ability!

But psychologically plumbing the depths is so dissatisfying on its own. Divorced from social context, without accounting for institutionalized sexism, homophobia, elitism, etc. inherited from Freud-era psychoanalysis, the psychoanalysis we get (and the psychoanalysis recognized as such by my feminist colleagues) is your basic benighted biological reductionism. No wonder so many modern young politicos think psychoanalysis is oppressive. There aren’t enough visibly politically engaged psychoanalysts (though Ken Corbett comes to mind: So Awesome) to upend the regressive stereotype.

But I hate because I care. I love the tenets of psychoanalytic theory so much that my disappointment with little lapses of investigative integrity accumulate easily into intense anger! If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t expend the energy to hate. But I hate because I love its potential and realization (when Freud + his successors stick to focusing on internal processes, defenses and coping mechanisms, the many variations on secure and insecure attachment, childhood development and its innumerable roadblocks, sexual fixations unrelieved) that all the stupid pockets of egregiously unrecognized sexism/heterosexism/racism/classism/entitled thoughtlessness boils my blood! How could you, psychoanalysis! When you’re great, you’re great! When you’re stupid, you’re like a brainlessly unquestioning (though potentially well-meaning) right-winger!

I just wish I could focus all of my energy on grilling my brain and exploring my fantasies but it’s hard to justify when I think of how little access the vast majority of the population has to this kind of luxurious self-inquiry. But this is a bad world and feminism problematizes simplistic hierarchies and essentialistic dualisms of power. I need feminism because it verbalizes the wordless frustration of injustice, but I don’t love it—it’s necessary. It shouldn’t be. I wish I lived in a world where it wasn’t.

I tell myself psychoanalysis is a much weightier endeavor, a much more frightening, fascinating and noble exercise—to have the guts to look into the hypocrisies, desires, needs and hatreds within your own psyche. What ho! But I can’t sensuously revel in it guiltlessly for long as so many people who need it either have no way of accessing it, are afraid of self-examination or aren’t even aware such a discipline exists (and as we know, so many assholes in power need psychoanalysis to ideally stop their killing/raping/enacting blindly hypocritical legislation/insert your oppression here).

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“The Institute”: an excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass

In LGBT, Literature, Queer Theory, Transgender on May 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

by Cybele Marcia Carter

Author’s Introduction

When I was just 13 I had already seen my first psychiatrist and was committed to a private mental institution for six weeks in San Francisco.  I was not actually mentally ill, neither acutely neurotic nor psychotic.  What I was (and still am) may have been diagnosed as a disease in 1972, but is accepted as (mostly) routine today – a transgendered female.  Neither my doctor, who recommended institutionalization, nor my parents or sisters at that time, understood what gender dysphoria (feeling born and trapped in the body of the wrong gender) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) were.  They could not know that, while born as a boy, I had always lived with the certainty that I was female and should have been born and raised as a girl.  As such, the “therapy” I received in the institute was misguided, focusing only on “male-bonding” with my father and improving my socialization skills with other adolescents on my ward.  The result was years – decades, actually – of misery, on my part; of trying, and failing, to either fit into the role in which I was cast, or to break free of convention and live true to myself.  I have lived, until now, a mostly hidden or “closeted” existence.

In my actual life, here in 2012, I am finally escaping the bonds of familial ties, guilt, and shame over being a transsexual.  But it occurred to me – what if I could travel back in time, to 1972, with the full knowledge and experience of the past 50 years, and change what was to what I wished it to be?  With the help of my clinic’s medical staff, could I have convinced my parents to allow me to begin living as a girl; as a daughter and sister; and even to help me take appropriate hormones and finance eventual sexual reassignment surgery (SRS)?  And if so, how different would my life have been up to now?  Would I be happier or filled with even more regret?

I have thus combined my actual memoirs of that critical year of 1972 – the year I first started high school, and met my first girlfriend, who would later bear my daughter – with a story of what could have (and should have) happened.  The settings and most of the characters are as real as I remember and speak and act as I believe they would have or do now.  The scientific and medical information I “bring back” with me in time is completely accurate and accepted as of the present.  Naturally, I also bring back “memories” and knowledge of my past future – that is, of the future I already lived for 50 years – which I refer to as my “first time around”.  But my story emphasis is the choices I make and the changes to my life in this, my “second time around” – in other words, a “do-over” of my adult life.

Mine is neither the first nor the last story of its kind.  I am indebted to my predecessors such as Daphne Scholinski and Susanna Kaysen for their inspiring memoirs of their experiences in private mental institutions.  Ms. Scholinski’s book, The Last Time I Wore a Dress, falls on the opposite end of the gender spectrum from my own, but my tale has some similarities.  My complete book, Gender’s Hourglass, could almost be considered a blend of truthful memoir and fiction.  I based it on my own real experiences and people I’ve known and loved, though I’ve changed their names and used artistic license in crafting composite characters and dialogue.  The opinions and convictions I, as protagonist, express are indeed my own.  I hope this story may inspire others to stand for themselves in expressing who they really are.

The Institute

It was 1972.  Late February or early March I think.  The place was San Francisco, California.  And the author, myself — Mark, at that time — was there.  There in a hospital.  A mental hospital (or institution, if you prefer).  Specifically, the McAllister Neuropsychiatric Institute, within a wing of St. Margaret’s Hospital (now Medical Center) located on the corner of Stanyan and Hayes Streets in the Haight-Asbury District.  Five years after the Summer of Love; and right across the street from Golden Gate Park.   At that time my home was in San Bruno and I was in my first years of high school.  My first year of madness.  But I’m getting ahead of myself — an easy thing for a time-traveler to do!

The McAllister Institute, which still exists but is in 2011physically separate from the old St. Margaret’s hospital – now a cancer center at 2250 Hayes St. – and the much newer and larger St. Margaret’s Medical Center, uphill along Stanyan past Fulton.  The building is drab; a light industrial shade of grey.  Near the Institute’s rear, or northwest side, the ward I was on – for children and adolescents – was at ground level; but as the adjacent Grove St. went downhill from there to Hayes St., part of my ward became Level 2 with a first level below. The adult ward was above us on Level 3, with its dreaded shock therapy room (which we were all shown at least once), and bars on the outside of all the windows that are still there in 2011.

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