Please Select Your Gender
From the Invention of Hysteria to the Democratizing of Transgenderism
Routledge – 2010 – 316 pages
Routledge – 2010 – 316 pages
"I have the worst birth defect a woman can have: I was born with a penis and a pair of testicles."
Thus we meet Hera, who shares her reason for starting psychoanalysis and whose statement embodies the debate over transgenderism, rigorously dissected in Please Select Your Gender. Is it a mental disorder, as some would claim, or a matter of sexual identity? An orientation or a life choice? Despite differing opinions, transgenderism has lost much of its stigma over the past decade or so – though perhaps none of its shock value. Nevertheless, the door is open for a reformulation of the hysterical question, "Am I a man or a woman?"
Utilizing rich clinical vignettes and elements of Lacanian theory, Patricia Gherovici demonstrates how the transgender discourse has both reoriented psychoanalytic practice and reframed debates about gender in American society at large. She traverses historical, theoretical, and clinical grounds to explore what has been termed the "democratizing of gender" – for what could be more democratic than the choice of one’s own gender, now able to be changed on demand?
Arguing for the depathologization of transgenderism, Please Select Your Gender aims to revise current notions of human sexuality in general. In doing so, it challenges the theory and practice of psychoanalysis with questions typically addressed only indirectly, but which are themselves transforming how analysis is done, advancing new ideas for the clinic that can be extrapolated to social and intellectual contexts in an effort to engage the broader dialogues of gender and sexuality.
"'I'll have one of those, and - oh! - a pair of those!' You can pick out and purchase any number of things, including your own sexual parts - but can you choose your sex? In this fascinating and thoughtful book, Gherovici carefully considers that question by examining ways in which sex and freedom are currently being conjugated in our culture. This profound and important book dares to ask what sex is." - Joan Copjec, Ph.D., author, Imagine There's No Woman
"Late capitalism tells us that everything in our lives is a matter of choice: Not only are we encouraged to choose new consumer objects, we are invited to perceive our sexual identity as a matter of choice. In this fascinating book, Patricia Gherovici shows how psychoanalysis can help us to understand our troubles with sexual identity. She presents clinical examples showing the complicated relation people have with desire and jouissance when they attempt the impossible task of defining their sexual identity." - Renata Salecl, Institute of Criminology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
"Patricia Gherovici hears from her patients a contemporary variant of an age-old question concerning our relationship to our sexuality. Answers to this question do vary, from 'Anatomy is destiny' to the postmodern imperative: 'Choose!' Combining her astute knowledge of Lacanian psychoanalysis with her rich clinical experience treating hysteria, psychosis, and transsexualism, Gherovici demonstrates that these ideologies obfuscate our understanding of particular patients' conflicts. This book is a fascinating study of transsexuality because it suggests that a return to the intimate experiences of suffering alone can allow us to go beyond obvious answers." - Paul Verhaeghe, University of Ghent, Belgium
"In this fascinating, insightful, and provocative book, Patricia Gherovici focuses on those who don't fit easily or comfortably into the social and biological categories used to determine who is a man and who is a woman. By examining the 'riddle' of gender and its asymmetrical relation to biological sex, she points to the mistake of seeing gender as either a biological truth or just a series of learned behaviors and culturally enforced messages. With its invaluable history of intersexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism as concepts that people use to make sense of their desire and themselves - and its deft use of clinical material - Please Select Your Gender intervenes intelligently and compassionately in several key debates about sex and gender. It should be required reading for those involved in sex-reassignment surgery." - Christopher Lane, author, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness
"This book is as complex and evocative as its title suggests. Drawing from her own psychoanalytic practice, Gherovici provides an intimate account of the psychological dilemmas her patients are facing, arguing for a depathologization of transgendered individuals and for a view of the Other not as an intervening Third, but a witnessing Third who allows for greater freedom of transitional acts. Please Select Your Gender also provides a fascinating read of the history of hysteria, with a particular focus on Lacan's elaboration of Freud's ideas about hysteria in terms of his model of sexuation and focus on jouissance. For anyone interested in the ever-evolving history of hysteria and transgender, this book is a compelling 'must-read.'" - Jeanne Wolff Bernstein, Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California, USA
In her book Please Select Your Gender: From the Invention of Hysteria to the Democratizing of Transgenderism, Patricia Gherovici draws on historical documents, well-known media accounts, and her own clinical experience to provide her readers with a thorough treatment of transgenderism. She begins the book with an interesting review of the history, both ancient and modern, of gender and sex. She discusses the historical progress of science, understanding of gender- and sex-related issues and disorders, from ancient treatises discussing hysteria to modern transgender theory. Through her specific discussion of transgenderism, Gherovici necessarily enters the larger debate about the foundations and development of gender and sex. Transgenderism and the ability for an individual to change his or her biological sex characteristics to match his or her socioemotional gender characteristics have challenged commonly held definitions of the terms. Please Select Your Gender is not an objective treatment of the available literature but instead a subjective argument for the depathologization of transgenderism and a challenge to change the current pathological approach that psychoanalysis takes toward the issue. Those who are interested in the topic and also well versed in psychoanalytic theory will find that it is an argument she makes capably and successfully." – Brian K. Ashdown, PsycCritiques
"Please Select Your Gender stands out as a particularly well-researched book in the field of psychoanalysis. The author leads her readers through a complex web of fascinating chapters on the history of hysteria, sex change operations, and Freud's famous cases…Gherovici has a gift for translating difficult ideas into common language, and for making them clinically useful and intellectually available to psychoanalysts of all theoretical persuasions…[the book]provides a compassionate, inside account of the conflicts transgendered individuals are facing as they escape the body that is imprisoning them… Beyond a doubt, Gherovici has written a book that goes far beyond the scope of transgenderism, giving readers the rare chance of reading Lacanian thinking at its best and seeing it applied to clinical practice. Moreover, her book should be considered a textbook on the subject of hysteria and thus be added as a laudable addition to the psychoanalytic canon." - Jeanne Wolff Bernstein, Division/REVIEW
Introduction. The Imperative of Choice. The Democratizing of Transgenderism. Genealogy of Hysteria. Freud's Sex Change. Falling into Sex Like Falling in Love. Gender and Sex as Performance. Boy Girl Boy. Lacan's Transsexuals. Hysteria and Transsexualism. Writing the Sinthome: The Transsexual Body as a Written Body. Conclusion.
Patricia Gherovici, Ph.D., is an analyst in private practice and founding member and director of the Philadelphia Lacan Study Group and Seminar. She has published in numerous journals and collections, including the foreword to Erotic Anger: A User's Manual (University of Minnesota Press, 2001) and, most recently, The Puerto Rican Syndrome (Other Press, 2003), winner of the Gradiva Award and the 2004 Boyer Prize.