Nancy  J. Chodorow

Paul E. Lynch, M.D.: Thank you Professor Gomes. Our second speaker today comes to us as an analyst. Nancy Chodorow is an analyst in Berkeley, California, a member and faculty of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. She is a well known author of several books, including the Reproduction of Mothering which is responsible for quite a turning point in the psychology of women and men. Two of her other books are available today at the bookstand outside. One of them is Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, and in her other book, Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities, can be found the wonderful chapter entitled "Heterosexuality as Compromise Formation." Upcoming next fall, also from Yale and from Dr. Chodorow, will be the Power of Feelings, Personal Meaning and Psychoanalysis: Gender and Culture. One of our goals today is to use the fruits of psychoanalysis to feed our understanding of the reasons for the anti-gay bias that we see all around us. In that regard, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you today, Dr. Nancy Chodorow.


Nancy J. Chodorow, Ph.D.: It is my great pleasure to speak to you today. As I was coming home last night I was reminded of what this panel is about. There was a young man screaming the most virulent "fag"-hating epithets at another person he was angry at, or who was keeping him out of a club. It was really scary. It went on and on and on and it certainly reminded me of why we are here today.
The topic of homophobia is of course unbelievably complex, and I will just have time to make a few points partly to help all of us generate discussion and to consider the issue further. First, I want to begin by reminding us that prejudices and permissible prejudices are always historical and cultural. From the point of view of the person who holds a prejudice, it is not one. Women, first in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties and then again in the ‘seventies, noticed psychoanalytic writings that were prejudicial to women, that women have a lesser sense of justice than men, that women did not contribute to civilization, were narcissistic, and so forth. These were permissible prejudices, as was racism among otherwise enlightened white people fifty years ago. Conscious permissible prejudices, whether against blacks, Jews, women, or gays, run the gamut from discrimination to rejection to hate.
In The New York Times of Sunday, December 6th, there was a long article on how women increasingly outnumber men on many college campuses. The article quoted several college admissions directors and presidents as saying that many colleges are now going "far down the list" and "all the way down" to admit boys. Not once in this half-page article was there a mention, or notice, that admissions policies that take into account categories like race and gender have been under terrific scrutiny for years, that states like my own have passed laws against racial, ethnic, or gender preferences in college admissions. But when it came to men, neither the writer nor the college officers quoted seemed to notice that they were talking about blatant preferential policies.
I bring this up both to begin with an example of a completely unselfconscious permissible prejudice -- it is permissible to make sure that men do not fall below 55% of undergraduate student bodies, even in a time when any other preferential policies are virulently criticized. I also bring it up because I think that it gives us some initial and immediate access to part of what is operating in what we are today calling homophobia, prejudice against homosexuality. Operating in homophobia is that in the most general way our culture, and, I believe, our profession, rests on two contradictory facts. On the one hand, men are considered powerful or dominant, and a male presence in an important institution is assumed. On the other hand, masculinity is a fragile and vulnerable business and needs to be carefully fostered and protected.
Thus permissible prejudices seem natural. These can be taken-for-granted assumptions of basically well meaning people, which have also led, in the case of some analytic traditions and some analysts, to the real abuse of the psychoanalytic situation, when homosexual object choice has been seen as a psychological disorder, and people are thought to be in need of being cured of their sexual orientation -- a distinctly un-psychoanalytic goal. In our society, we pass laws against gay marriage, say that discrimination against gays is okay, and people from ordinary citizens through the senate rail against homosexuality. Homophobia on the individual level usually also has a conscious rationalization in terms of the reasons for the dislike, or discrimination, or hatred. A man explains his gay bashing as a reaction to having had a pass made at him. A senator invokes the Bible.
At the same time, I think we ourselves need to make sure not to assume that there is something special about or innate to homosexuality that makes it more likely to be subject to unthinking or permissible prejudice or to virulent violence. In the context of current anti-gay hate crimes and the recent brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, it is easy to think this. We might think that it is closer to the body and sexuality than, for example, racism, anti-Semitism, or prejudice against women. I would suggest, first, that it is dangerous to compare oppressions or victimizations, what the African-American theorist Barbara Christian calls the oppression derby. What is true, I think, is that the parts of prejudice that are most deep and violent are often cast unconsciously as well as in cultural tropes as bodily and sexual. For instance, when you read the most virulent anti-Semitic tracts, or reflect on the lynching of blacks in the South, and the accusations of interracial rape and sex that often preceded these lynchings, it is sexual and bodily imagery that stands out. In recent years, we notice that rape and even more brutal and violent attacks on women are instruments of war, especially in ethnic wars and in dictatorships that engage in kidnapping and torture. Men also kill other men who perform abortions, although, whatever the hate involved here -- and I do think it is extreme -- we still have to notice that this is done with a single bullet rather than with prolonged brutal torture, as in the case of violence against homosexuals.
What seems to be the case is that there is a huge psychic faultline around the sexual body in relation to masculinity. Images of men having sex with other men, a black man having sex with a white woman, a woman who is sexual without having a baby, are for some men extremely threatening.
This brings us back to where I began, homophobia and masculinity. I have begun with extremes, gay bashing and murder. It is here, parenthetically, that I question the term homophobia as a clinical term. Phobias imply fear and avoidance, but homophobia is really a counter-phobia which, in its extremes, leads to attacks and seekings out, and which is constituted by virulent hatred that I think we can only understand in terms of primitive splitting and projection -- more like ethnic hatred of those who are so threateningly like someone that all likeness has to be denied and difference exaggerated. In the Matthew Shepard case it is reported, although it may not be true, that one of the young men said first that they were gay and then that they were not. Within psychoanalysis nothing is so toxic but the extreme, which most enlightened and well meaning psychoanalysts now reject -- the idea that one can and should work in analysis to change a person’s sexual orientation.
I do not want to minimize the anti-homosexual prejudice against women or the fear of lesbians and lesbian sex. To do so -- and this panel runs such a danger because no one speaks strongly here for the lesbian experience or position -- re-capitulates and reproduces the very male norm that contributes to anti-homosexual prejudices and that any panel on homophobia must challenge.
The day after the article on recruiting men to colleges, The New York Times had another article describing a student challenge to Barnard College. In its recruiting brochure, and in a contemporary climate in which women’s colleges are thought to attract lesbians disproportionately, Barnard had, with witting or unwitting homophobia, claimed that women’s colleges produce more women MBA’s, more women at the top of the corporate ladder, more women scientists, and a higher number of women graduates who marry.
Nonetheless, in spite of this absence today of a discussion of women, I do think that by and large what we are calling homophobia or defense against one’s homosexual impulses is strongest in heterosexual men. We know, thanks to the research of Carla Golden, Arlene Stein, and others, that by and large the divide between heterosexual and homosexual in women is less absolute. This research finds that there are "primary lesbians," who always knew that they were attracted to women and were never attracted to men, and "elective lesbians," those who came out during the women’s movement or afterwards, those who have a sense of making a more active choice or who go back and forth, depending not on the gender of the lover, but the particular personal qualities of a particular woman or man: Tom, yes, John, no, Susan, yes, Tamara, no. We do not find that as much in men. Also -- and I actually checked this out with a colleague who studies hate crimes -- it seems that hate crimes against lesbians are far fewer than those against gay men and are carried out largely by the same consciously and behaviorally heterosexual young men. It also seems that gay men are attacked when they are alone, whereas lesbians tend to be attacked when they are in a couple. The primary issue in homophobia is men not being men and women not being with men.
Briefly, here is how I think the dynamics of homophobia, or homo-counterphobia, work. Psychodynamically, masculinity is a tenuous business. In psychoanalysis from Stoller and Greenson to myself and other feminists, and in psychological anthropology from Margaret Mead to John Whiting to Gilbert Herdt, we see in boys’ difficulty in separating and differentiating from mother, the fact that femininity is ascribed and assumed, a natural progression from mother to daughter, while masculinity as it is defined intrapsychically and in relation to others is defensive, earned, and constantly threatened. I have also argued that issues of selfhood tend to differentiate men and women. Seeing the self as not the other, defining the self in opposition, does not seem generally as important to women as to men, nor does merging seem as threatening.
From Freud, we also learn of the defensive and traumatic construction of male sexuality and object love in relation to the father: the greatest threat, and one experienced in relation to the father, is castration. So there is a father-son link here, as well as, a mother-son link. There is a difficult double demand on the oedipal boy. He is supposed to identify with his father without loving him, or love him without "loving" him. "Normal" masculinity I think demands this homoerotic admiration and identification, which is certainly a form of love, while at the same time, masculinity is supposedly by definition not homoerotic, not affectionate, not softly loving. From the side of the father, we know from developmental research that fathers are more invested than mothers in gender-differentiating their children -- in the masculinity of their sons and the flirtatious heterosexual femininity of their daughters.
Masculinity then ties together gender and heterosexuality -- a gender defined around active and even aggressive maleness and a heterosexuality that is by definition male dominant and active. I want to emphasize here that there is nothing innate in being male that requires this and it is not universal. It is a joint outcome of cultural and interpersonal and family processes that masculinity must be different and dominant. Masculinity here is cast psychodynamically and culturally both as an adult/child dichotomy (being a powerful adult man versus being a little needy homoerotic boy or potentially humiliated by other men) and as a man-woman dichotomy, in which being male is not being female. In both cases, masculinity contains and is based on splitting:, adult man/little boy, man/woman. Male homosexuality threatens both of these dichotomies.
We know especially from Klein what happens with splitting and this is, I think, exactly what happens with homophobia. Attraction to men from a boy, identification, attraction to passivity and receptivity, and feminine identifications vis a vis men, are deeply threatening to masculinity, are bad, and threaten the goodness of active, aggressive masculinity and heterosexuality.
In particular men and in particular situations, both gender and sexual orientation are rigidly dichotomized, fragmented identifications, and any internal challenge to the separateness of maleness and femaleness or of heteroerotic and homoerotic fantasies and attachments threatens real disintegration. Characteristically, the badness, femininity and submissiveness to men has to be split off and projected outward where these in turn become extremely persecutory potential identifications. Those who represent the split off and bad projections threaten not only persecutory return, but also disintegrative flooding to meld and fuse with the self. They need to be attacked and destroyed.
But I want to leap right back to normality. Because I have a sense actually that even in the contemporary psychoanalytic concern about homophobia attested to by this panel, there is projection going on. It is extremist gay bashers and extremist psychoanalysts who are homophobic, not us. This is theoretically explicit in French psychoanalysis, in which there is an argument that you are psychotic if you do not recognize differences of gender and generation and where the recognition of gender requires heterosexual object choice and the primacy of the phallus, and in British theory, in which thinking is cast as acceptance of the heterosexual primal scene, but where you cannot explicitly accept the primal scene developmentally and still make a non-heterosexual object choice yourself. But even less explicitly, psychoanalysis still holds what phenomenological sociologists call a natural attitude -- pre-theoretical assumptions that link gender to object choice and do not question a normatively heterosexual Oedipus complex. Within psychoanalytic theory, gender still means desire for the other sex. This is grounded in taken-for-granted bio-evolutionary assumptions about species reproduction. It is our own normative and normal theory that makes us still unable to fully conceive of homosexual object choice as just as normal and just as abnormal as heterosexual object choice, which was the point of my paper, "Heterosexuality as a Compromise Formation."
It is also our absolute polarization of sexual orientation into a single homosexuality and a single heterosexuality that leads us not to notice the very great variety of homosexualities and heterosexualities, the particularity of most people’s individual object choice and sexual fantasy. I even speculate that in the case of homophobia, transferential entanglements may complicate rather than automatically illuminate our understanding. It is my impression that in some cases patients, regardless of their sexual orientation, are most comfortable developing and expanding upon fantasies that rule out the analyst. Thus, a male, heterosexual patient may speculate easily about what a homosexual relationship would be like for him because it gets him away from his female analyst. Or a female patient may be terrified of being gay if she thinks this means being sexually attracted to her female analyst, but comfortable with gay male fantasies and identifications.
More significantly, I think, for our understanding of homophobia, is that even with all of the work on femininity and psychoanalysis since the 1920’s, there has been almost no serious investigation of masculinity. This is a case in which psychoanalysts do not follow Freud’s claim that the pathological, by revealing the lines along which the crystal shatters, illuminates the structure of the normal. The fact that although both sexes are equally susceptible to paranoid schizoid splitting, men are much more likely to act violently in the context of persecutory fears, the rigid and defensive structure of ordinary masculinity is based on the traumatic fear of castration, and requiring active rejection of passivity, are all taken for granted -- passivity in its double role, one of being submissive to other men and one of being feminine. Freud and most psychoanalysts have never questioned this linkage. Becoming a man has to do with identification, not just with the father, but with the aggressive father, so that the dynamics of masculine identity are centrally about aggression or aggressivity, and oedipal identification with the father casts heterosexuality as a matter of male dominance, not just sexual object choice.
My own completely wonderful psychoanalytic institute in perhaps the most gay-affirmative city in the country -- and I raise this because I am sure we are typical and not unique -- still asks as a question on its written application form about the marital status of applicants, and its newsletter reports the marital and parental status of new candidates. In one class I taught, discussion turned to how closely applicants were questioned about their sexuality in their personal interviews. The gay man was grilled most closely and intensively, followed by the married man and the married woman who do not have children, followed by the twice divorced women. The married women with two children who spoke up said that she was not questioned at all. Now this is what we mean by a permissible prejudice. Thank you.




Copyright, 1999, The American Psychoanalytic Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
all photographs by Mervin S. Stewart, M.D.