This will be short, because I’m just about to leave on holiday, but since I will likely be without internet for the next two weeks I wanted to put something up, at least, this morning.
Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has read, shared and discussed my critique of Žižek’s remarks on transgenderism. Most things I write on here receive numbers in the low hundreds, so the popularity of this piece has been a pleasant surprise.
I was disappointed to see that, instead of engaging with my Lacanian critique, Žižek chose to respond to a single Reddit comment about his article, so that he could dishonestly claim that he has “searched in vain for a minimum of argumentation,” only to find that “[t]he attackers mostly just make fun of a position, which is simply not mine.” While he has retreated somewhat from some of his previous arguments, I still find many problems with this newest article, though I cannot really respond to him until he is willing to reply to those who pose a challenge to his conclusions on their own terms. Yes, Slavoj, one can understand what you are saying and disagree with you.
Since I published my first response, it has occurred to me to conceptualise trans identity in relation to Lacan’s concept of ‘sinthome’, that is, the identification with the symptom – without recourse to ‘belief’ in the symptom – through which one is able to (at least partially) individuate the lack in the Symbolic (Other) that characterizes jouissance (in this sense, ‘jouis-sans’, as Lorenzo Chiesa has named it, whom I follow on this theoretical point). In essence, the notion of ‘sinthome’ allows Lacan, at the end of his career, to conceptualise the goal of analysis as an act of creation on the part of the analysand by which she is able to come to terms with the lack of a final signifier (i.e. the lack of an absolute answer to the hysteric’s question, “Who am I?”) and the concomitant fact that desire can never be fully satisfied. As a matter of fact, this is particularly timely, since Lacan’s seminar on the ‘sinthome’ is being published in translation next month by Polity.
As is often the case, I discovered that more learned men and women had already explored this idea. In the past couple of days, several people have pointed me toward’s Oren Gozlan’s recently-published Transsexuality and the Art of Transitioning, which is by all accounts a thoughtful and intelligent discussion of transsexuality in a Lacanian register, and indeed contains a discussion of ‘Transsexuality as sinthome’. I very much look forward to reading this book when I get the chance! Even more recent is Sheila L. Cavanagh’s excellent “Transsexuality as Sinthome: Braccha L. Ettinger and the Other (Feminine) Sexual Difference”, which can be read as a (pre-emptive) response to Žižek, and is much more detailed and sophisticated than anything I would be capable of. In fact, I will quote the abstract in full:
“This article uses Bracha L. Ettinger’s theory of the matrixial borderspace in relation to Jacques Lacan’s analytic of sexuation to argue that transsexuality isn’t reducible to psychosis. Rather, transsexuality taps into an Other (feminine) sexual difference that is subjectifying and can be understood in relation to Ettinger’s conception of metramorphosis and the matrixial. Transsexuality involves the somatization of the Other sexual difference and the creative use of this difference as sinthome. The sinthome of transsexuality can enable the subject to negotiate the aporia of sexual difference. I establish parallels between the (neurotic) hysteric and the transsexual to argue that transsexuality can be a subset of neurosis. The transsexual transition (which often involves Sex Reassignment Surgery) can be understood as a metramorphical becoming, a borderlinking enabling separation and distance in proximity. It is not as Catherine Millot (1990) contends an attempt to abolish the “nature” of the Real but rather a means to achieve a sinthomatic reknotting of the 3 Registers such that one’s relation to a parental image and to an Other’s primordial traces can be reconfigured.”
This way of thinking transsexuality and trans identity (and indeed, the interrelation and differences between these terms, as well as further designations like genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, pangender and agender, is a challenge to which psychoanalysis must rise, and which Žižek utterly fails to appreciate) offers Lacanian psychoanalysis a useful avenue of both academic thought and clinical treatment. The recent proliferation of considered interventions, which challenge earlier psychoanalytic doxa on transsexuality as a problematic attempt to “abolish” the real, perhaps indicate that Lacanian studies have decisively moved beyond Žižek and his generation. How appropriate that, in the field of psychoanalysis, we have killed the Father.