Thursday, June 11, 2015

Vittorio Lingiardi on the Limits of the Hetero/Homo Dichotomy

As I've done in previous years, I'll be sharing throughout June a series of informed and insightful writings to mark Gay Pride Month . . . or, as I prefer to call it, Queer Appreciation Month.

I begin this year's series with an excerpt from the 2002 book Men in Love: Male Homosexualities from Ganymede to Batman by Jungian psychoanalyst and author Vittorio Lingiardi (right). In this excerpt, Lingiardi explores the limitations of the hetero/homo dichotomy.


Many psychoanalysts have written about homosexuality – or to be precise, about its "causes" – but very few about homosexuals. This fact should be a cause for reflection, especially if we believe that homosexuality, as a disembodied category or psychological type per se, does not exist. Homosexuals, on the other hand, do exist. I believe that one problem psychoanalysts have had is their persistence in attempting to construct etiological theories concerning homosexuality by conceptualizing homosexuality without thinking about homosexuals themselves. There are, of course, exceptions: "I am sure," writes Andrew Samuels, "that any search for the precise supposed psychosocial or psychobiological causes of homosexuality is a futile endeavor. . . . Inevitably, the etiological project is utterly implicated in a psychopathological project." Christopher Bollas maintains that any attempt to elaborate a comprehensive theory of homosexuality succeeds only at the cost of a grave distortion of the differences which exist between homosexual individuals, "an act that could in the extreme constitute 'intellectual genocide'" (1992, p. 152).

"Homosexual" is a hybrid term of rather obscure meaning, cobbled together from a Greek prefix and a Latin root. As a noun, it is of little use: an act or a relationship between two people of the same sex can be described as homosexual, but what is "a" homosexual? "Heterosexual" and "homosexual" are, moreover, modern words, coined at the end of the nineteenth century, first used in the world of German psychology and then, quickly, all over the world. They are, in a manner of speaking, two children of the long-lived marriage between sexuality and science. Sexualwissenschaft, two fields wedded by the industrial revolution and positivism with academic medicine standing in as witness, a union which also "gave birth" to psychology and psychopathology. In this way, Ars Erotica was taken over by Scientia Sexualis.

Like entomologists, nineteenth-century psychiatrists gave names to each small species of perversion: there were Lasègue's exhibitionists, Binet's fetishists, the zoophiles and zooerastes of Krafft-Ebing, the automonosexualists of Rohleder. And in tracking down all the varieties that existed in the diverse and apparently unordered sexual universe, this new science tried to classify and explain the natural order of sexuality to the world. Immersed in his own esoteric and, to some people, rather questionable passions, Jung declined to serve as ring bearer at this wedding of science and sexuality. His shocking lack of modernity led to his being pigeonholed and dismissed by a positivistic Europe as a Medievalist or an Orientalist, and it was precisely these characteristics which allowed Jung, unlike Freud, to see the symbolic aspect of sex rather than the sexual aspect of symbols. He appreciated that "instinct" has an "imaginal" aspect and that therefore the sexual is a way the soul speaks. In Jung's opinion "psychopathological definitions tend to beg the basic question; they leave us with the feeling that the meaning is contained by the definition. . . . The model is perfect functioning: sexuality as a smoothly running, conflictless apparatus" (Hillman 1972, pp. 141-46).

Tous les intermédiaires existent entre l'exclusive homosexualité et l'hétérosexualité exclusive, writes André Gide (1924, p. 23), anticipating the conclusions of the Kinsey Report which would shake up the post-war scientific world by demonstrating that even in sex, "not all things are black nor are all things white." For Kinsey, the possibility of measuring one's sexual orientation in degrees is an indication that nature does not come in discrete categories and that categories instead are inventions of the human mind attempting to force facts into separate compartments. "The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects" (Kinsey 1948, p. 639). Because its lines of development are so extremely varied, sexuality comes to be expressed in a specific form by each individual. Terms such as "heterosexual" or "homosexual" actually denote specific, historically determined ways of naming, valuing, and organizing sexual pleasure in The formation of sexual identity and the orientation of one's desires cannot be divorced from social practices or their representations.

Psychoanalysis should teach us not to read the world solely through psychoanalytic lenses, since psychoanalysis itself changes according to the spirit of the time and the social developments to which it is intrinsically linked. When applying mental or linguistic categories such as hetero/homo to the phenomena of sexuality, we should be aware of what we are doing. If we do not wish to impose our modern, Western vision upon other cultures, past or present, we should ask ourselves, first of all, what were the expressions and concepts that the persons of that time or place used in reference to emotional and sexual relationships? The binary schema hetero/homo allows us to understand very little of the sexuality of ancient Greeks and Romans, Native Americans, Japanese samurai, or Arab people.

The hetero/homo dichotomy is founded upon a definition of the subject according to the sexual gender of its object of desire, a questionable way of proceeding peculiarly characteristic of our modern era. As Freud writes, "the most striking distinction between the erotic life of antiquity and our own, no doubt lies in the fact that the ancients laid the stress upon the instinct itself whereas we emphasize its object. Ancient Greeks were acquainted with all the possible varieties of sexual preference, but their language did not contain words that correspond to our "homosexual" or "heterosexual," perhaps because of the presupposition that each individual might at different times respond to homosexual and heterosexual stimuli. In their bidirectional sexual practices, the Greeks did not perceive two different types of desire dueling with each other in a single soul, but rather two modes of taking pleasure for oneself, one of which suited certain individuals or certain periods of one's life (Foucault 1985).

We should not, however, project some ideal of biological or moral freedom into the sexual mores of the ancient Greeks – nor shall we find it. If anything, their way of thought about sexuality should help us appreciate how the anatomy of the object is not what makes love meaningful. In ancient Greece, it was common for [individuals] to have sexual relationships with both men and women, but in sexual relationships between persons of different social status, what was taboo was for the person of the higher social status to be penetrated by the person of lower social standing.

– Vittorio Lingiardi, M.D.
Excerpted from Men in Love: Male Homosexualities
from Ganymede to Batman

pp. 2-5

For The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Michael Bayly's "The Kiss" Wins the People's Choice Award at This Year's Twin Cities Pride Art Exhibition
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8
Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"
Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay
Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues

For The Wild Reed's 2013 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Doing Papa Proud
Jesse Bering: "It’s Time to Throw 'Sexual Preference' into the Vernacular Trash"
Dan Savage on How Leather Guys, Dykes on Bikes, Go-Go Boys, and Drag Queens Have Helped the LGBT Movement
On Brokeback Mountain: Remembering Queer Lives and Loves Never Fully Realized
Manly Love
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2013
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2013

For The Wild Reed's 2012 Queer Appreciation series, see:
The Theology of Gay Pride
Bi God, Somebody Listen
North America: Perhaps Once the "Queerest Continent on the Planet"
Gay Men and Modern Dance
A Spirit of Defiance
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2012
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2012

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Gay Pride/Queer Appreciation series, see:
Gay Pride: A Celebration of True Humility
Dusty Springfield: Queer Icon
Gay Pioneer Malcolm Boyd on Survival – and Victory – with Grace
Senator Scott Dibble's Message of Hope and Optimism
Parvez Sharma on Islam and Homosexuality
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2011
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2011

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Gay Pride series, see:
Standing Strong
Growing Strong
Jesus and Homosexuality
It Is Not Good To Be Alone
The Bisexual: “Living Consciously and Consistently in the Place Where the Twain Meet”
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2010
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2010

For The Wild Reed's 2009 Gay Pride series, see:
A Mother’s Request to President Obama: Full Equality for My Gay Son
Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: Five Years On
It Shouldn’t Matter. Except It Does
Gay Pride as a Christian Event
Not Just Another Political Special Interest Group
Can You Hear Me, Yet, My Friend?
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2009
Worldwide Gay Pride – 2009

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