Esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the École de la Cause Freudienne, and I do not know whether it is worth also extending a greeting to all those who are neither ladies nor gentlemen, because I doubt that there is anyone among you who has publicly and legally repudiated sexual difference and been accepted as a fully fledged psychoanalyst, having successfully completed the process you refer to as ‘The Pass’, which permits you to practise as an analyst. In this, I am referring to a trans or non-binary psychoanalyst who is accepted by you as an expert. If such a person exists, allow me here and now to offer this dear mutant my warmest greetings.
I have the honour of appearing before the Academy to offer a report on my life as a trans man. I do not know whether I will be able to offer data that you, ladies and gentlemen, academics and psychoanalysts, that you do not already know at first hand, given that you, like me, live within a regime of sex, gender and sexual difference. As a result, almost everything that I can say, you can observe for yourselves on one side or the other of the gender boundary. Although you doubtless consider yourselves to be natural men and women, and such an assumption may have prevented you from observing, from a safe distance, the political framework of which you are part. You will forgive me if, in the course of the story I am about to tell, I do not take for granted the existence of natural masculinity or femininity. Rest assured, you do not have to abandon your beliefs – and they are beliefs – in order to hear me out. Consider my argument, then go back to your ‘naturalized’ life, if you can.
To introduce myself, since you are a group of 3,500 psychoanalysts and I feel a little alone on this side of the stage, to take a running jump and hoist myself onto the shoulders of the master of metamorphosis, the greatest analyst of the excesses that hide behind the façade of scientific reason and of the madness commonly referred to as mental health: Franz Kafka.
In 1917, Franz Kafka wrote ‘Ein Bericht für eine Akademie’ – ‘A Report to an Academy’. The narrator of the text is an ape who, having learned human language, is appearing before an academy of the greatest scientific authorities to report to them on what human evolution has meant to him. The ape, who claims to be called Red Peter, explains how he was captured during a hunting expedition organized by the firm of Hagenbeck, transported to Europe aboard a steamship, is trained to perform in music halls, and how he later sprang into the community of human beings. Red Peter explains that in order to master human language and be accepted in the European society of his time, he had to forget his life as an ape. And how, in order to endure this oblivion and the violence of human society, he became an alcoholic. But the most interesting thing in Red Peter’s monologue is that Kafka does not present this process of humanization as a story of emancipation or of liberation from animality, but rather as a critique of colonial European humanism and its anthropological taxonomies. Once captured, the ape says he had no choice: if he did not wish to die locked up in a cage, he had to accept the ‘cage’ of human subjectivity.
Just as the ape Red Peter addressed himself to scientists, so today I address myself to you, the academicians of psychoanalysis, from my ‘cage’ as a trans man. I, a body branded by medical and juridical discourse as ‘transsexual’, characterized in most of your psychoanalytic diagnoses as the subject of an ‘impossible metamorphosis’, find myself, according to most of your theories, beyond neurosis, on the cusp of – or perhaps even within the bounds of – psychosis, being incapable, according to you, of correctly resolving an Oedipus complex or having succumbed to penis envy. And so, it is from the position assigned to me by you as a mentally ill person that I address you, an ape-human in a new era. I am the monster who speaks to you. The monster you have created with your discourse and your clinical practices. I am the monster who gets up from the analyst’s couch and dares to speak, not as a patient, but as a citizen, as your monstrous equal.
As a trans body, as a non-binary body, whose right to speak as an expert about my condition, or to produce a discourse or any form of knowledge about myself is not recognized by the medicinal profession, the law, psychoanalysis or psychiatry, I have done as Red Peter did, I have learned the language of Freud and Lacan, the language of the colonial patriarchy, your language, and I am here to address you.
You will perhaps be surprised that, in doing so, I invoke a Kafkaesque tale, but, to me this symposium feels closer to the era of the author of The Metamorphosis than to our own. You organize a conference to discuss ‘women in psychoanalysis’ in 2019, as though this were still 1917, as though these exotic animals you casually and condescendingly refer to as ‘women’ have not yet acquired full recognition as political subjects, as though they were an appendix or a footnote, a strange, exotic creature you feel you need to reflect on from time to time in the context of a symposium or a round-table discussion. It might have been better to organize an event on the subject of ‘white heterosexual middle-class men in psychoanalysis’, since most psychoanalytic texts and practices concern themselves with the discursive and political power of this particular beast. A necropolitical animal that you have a tendency to confuse with ‘universal human’ and which remains, at least until the present, the subject of the central statement in the discourses of the psychoanalytical institutions of colonial modernism.
Moreover, I have little to say about ‘women in psychoanalysis’ except that, like Red Peter, I am a renegade. I was, once, a ‘woman in psychoanalysis’. I was assigned female at birth and, like the mutant ape, I extricated myself from that confined ‘cage’, in order to enter another cage, granted, but at least this time through my own initiative.
I speak to you today from this elective, refashioned cage of the ‘trans man’, of the ‘non-binary body’. Some will say that this, too, is a political cage: whatever the case, this cage is better than that of ‘men and women’ in that it acknowledges its status as a cage.
It has been more than six years since I renounced the legal and political status of woman. The period may seem brief when considered in the context of the deadening comfort of normative identity, but infinitely long when everything that has been learned since childhood must be unlearned. When new administrative and political boundaries, invisible yet effective, rise up before you and everyday life becomes an obstacle course. In the life of a trans adult, consequently, six years take on the same importance they have for a newborn in the first months of life, as colours appear before their eyes, as forms take on mass, as hands grip for the first time, as the throat, until now capable only of guttural cries, and the lips, until now used only to suckle, articulate their first word. I bring up the pleasure of childhood learning because a similar pleasure exists in the appropriation of a new voice and a new name, in the exploration of the world beyond the cage of masculinity and femininity that is part of the process of transitioning. Though brief in chronological terms, this period becomes very long when you travel the world, when you find yourself in the media spotlight as the ‘trending topic’ trans; and when, in reality, you are alone when you are required to appear before a psychiatrist, a border guard, a doctor or a judge.
In response to your request to know more about my ‘transition’ – a request I am happy to fulfil, albeit with certain reservations – in these paragraphs I will set out the path by which an individual who lived as a woman until the age of thirty-eight, having begun by defining themself as a person of non-binary gender, later integrated into the world of men without ever being completely settled in that gender – since, to be acknowledged as a real man, I would have to hold my tongue and dissolve into the naturalized magma of masculinity, never revealing my dissident history or my political past. It should be said that I could not recount the banalities that follow were I not completely sure of myself, were my status as a trans man not already indisputably affirmed in the vast digital media circus throughout the civilized world. Since 16 November 2016, I have held a passport in which the name and gender are masculine, so there are no longer any administrative obstacles to my freedom of movement, or my opportunities to speak out.
I was assigned female at birth in a little Catholic town in a Spain still ruled by Franco. The die was cast. Girls were now allowed to do most of the things that boys did. What was expected of me was the execution of the silent, conscientious and reproductive work appropriate to my assigned gender and sexuality. I was expected to grow up to be a dutiful heterosexual girlfriend, a good wife, a good mother, a shy, retiring woman. I grew up listening to whispered stories of young girls being raped, of young women who went to London to have abortions, of lifelong spinster friends who lived together without ever asserting their sexuality in public – ‘the dykes’, as my father contemptuously referred to them. I was trapped. Had I been nailed to the floor, it would not have reduced my scope for action. Why were things as they were? What was it in my child’s body that predetermined my whole life? You could scratch yourself until you bled and not find an answer. You could split your head open on the steel bars of gender and not discover the reason.
I also found it impossible to explain the paradox that demanded that women, subjugated, raped, murdered, should not only love, but devote their lives to heterosexual men, their oppressors. I could see no way out, and yet I had to find one: so crushed was I between the walls of masculinity and femininity that I felt I would inevitably die. I was a quiet child, I stayed in my bedroom, I made no noise, from which my parents concluded that, as a body, I would be particularly docile and receptive to a good upbringing. But I resisted domestication, I survived the systematic process intended to extinguish my life force, which governed my childhood and adolescence.
I do not owe this survival instinct to psychoanalysis or psychology, quite the reverse, I owe it to books, to feminist, punk, anti-racist and lesbian books. My temperament was not much suited to socialization, so, for me, books were authentic guides through the desert of fanaticism and sexual difference. Books that – like the works of Giordano Bruno or Galileo that put an end to geocentrism – had been written to put an end to the psychoanalytical conviction that to challenge the binary was tantamount to entering the domain of psychosis. I remember the first time, in a second-hand bookshop in Madrid, when I came across a Spanish translation of Monique Wittig’s novel The Lesbian Body, in a 1977 edition published by Pre-Textos. I remember the pink cover and the prematurely yellowed pages. As if the title alone were not enough, a paragraph from the book was printed on the back cover: ‘the lesbian body the juice the spittle the saliva the snot the sweat the tears the wax the urine the faeces the excrements the blood the lymph the jelly the water…’ While buying it, I did my best to hide the cover from the shop assistant, unable to cope with the shame that, in 1987, came with the desire to buy a book called The Lesbian Body. And I remember the bookseller’s expression of contempt, but also of relief at the thought that he would finally be rid of this book, as though it were a leaky vessel oozing nauseating slime, sullying his shelves. It cost me 280 pesetas. Its true value, to me, is incalculable. In order to discover the other books that would lead me to where I am today, I had to travel, I had to learn other languages: t...