Female homosexuality: psychoanalysis and queer theory

PhD thesis

Worthington, A. 2011. Female homosexuality: psychoanalysis and queer theory. PhD thesis Middlesex University School of Health and Social Sciences
TypePhD thesis
TitleFemale homosexuality: psychoanalysis and queer theory
AuthorsWorthington, A.

My thesis is that psychoanalytic discourse always characterises homosexual women as masculine. I evidence this through an examination of published psychoanalytic case histories of female homosexuals from 1920 to the present day. Informed by Foucault‘s genealogical methodology, I propose that this characterisation constitutes an ―unconscious rule‖, which transcends the differences between the various schools of psychoanalysis, and which has remained constant throughout its history and impervious to the challenges and critiques of its theory and practice. Since the late 1980s, the most recent critical engagement with psychoanalysis has come from queer theory. I argue that, despite the apparent promise of this engagement, queer theory, like psychoanalysis, is subjected to the same ―rule‖: lesbians are masculine.
Some have claimed that the topic of female homosexuality has been neglected by psychoanalysts. I dispute this idea, and through an examination of published clinical case histories I provide evidence of its sustained engagement with the topic.
Feminist commentators have pointed to the elision of the feminine in psychoanalytic discourse. Queer theory has challenged feminism, which, it claims, neglected the specificity of the experience of homosexual women. Again through an examination of published clinical material, I investigate the specificity of female homosexuality as conceptualised by psychoanalytic practitioners.
I re-read the debate of 1920s-30s within psychoanalysis, commonly referred to as the debate on feminine sexuality, proposing that it would be more accurate to describe this as a debate on the question of female (homo)sexuality. While it is claimed in the literature that the debate concluded with the outbreak of WW2, my investigation of published case histories demonstrates that this was not the case. My pursuit of the debate through a reading of published case histories follows a particular trajectory of the revisions and departures from Freud, which I characterise as the Anglo-American school.
The literature on the topic identifies only one conceptualisation of female homosexuality in Freud‘s work, informed by Freud‘s only published case history of a female homosexual (1920). It is my contention that Freud theorized female homosexuality in three ways, all of which represent an Oedipal solution.
I examine queer theory‘s engagement with psychoanalysis and identify two strands to that engagement. Firstly, queer theory restores psychoanalysis as a radical project, which proffers an analysis of sex and sexed subjectivity that is not complementary and biologically explained, and not in the service of (re)production. Secondly, I identify a queer mirroring of psychoanalyses‘ elision of the specificities of feminine (homo)sexualities, which logically cannot exist within queer discourse.
Finally, I examine the effects of queer theory on the psychoanalytic clinic of female homosexuality. Two contradictory effects are proposed. On the one hand, a greater interest in the topic of female homosexuality can be detected, countering what is deemed to be the prevailing pathologising view of psychoanalytic thinking about female homosexuality. On the other, female homosexuality is marginalized, by less privilege being given to the object choice and the unconscious fantasies of the patients discussed by comparison with the work published by Freud and his contemporaries. Nonetheless, although less explicit in some published work, the ―unconscious rule‖ remains in place.

Research GroupCentre for Psychoanalysis
Department nameSchool of Health and Social Sciences
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print01 Mar 2011
Publication process dates
Deposited01 Mar 2011
CompletedFeb 2011
Output statusPublished
Additional information

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a PhD in Psychoanalysis, awarded by Middlesex University.

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