Art: Naomi Vona - via Flickr

É with a dialogue between a gardener and a botanist starting today. This dialogue is reported by psychoanalyst Nathalie Zaltzman in her text “Of the opposite sex” (1999). A gardener had a ruscus  and as his ruscus had never flowered, he was worried about how to find out whether the foot was male or female. Behold, the gardener sends this question to a botany magazine and receives the following reply from the botanist: “buy another ruscus, and place it close”, “only another plant will be able to reveal the respective sexes, by flowering if they are of the same sex, by fruiting if they are of opposite sexes” (p. 89).

Based on this dialogue, the psychoanalyst who returns to it makes the following reflection: if even in the plant world, in some species, the “anatomical destiny” does not act alone, if it finds an insurmountable limit and sexual determination is only carried out in the presence of the other, if anatomical destiny does not act alone, not even in plants, just imagine in human beings in whom the unconscious, language and fantasies are present. As this situation is repeated in other plant species, the botanist and the author who revisits it put the following statement:

“Alterity is a necessary and prior condition for identity” (p. 90).

The other in the constitution of the human subject is not only in terms of the sexed subject and the difference between the sexes, but from the beginning.
In the human species, the biological body of the baby and its anatomical sex are welcomed from before birth by another subjectivity, that of the adult, which from the beginning interprets its body, its sex, its movements and its needs from its own unconscious. . Even before birth, your body is welcomed and interpreted from the point of view of narcissism and adult sexuality.

In the human species, the biological body of the baby and its anatomical sex are welcomed from before birth by another subjectivity, that of the adult, which from the beginning interprets its body, its sex, its movements and its needs from its own unconscious. .

Alterity is present all the time in the constitution of sexuality and subjectivity: the other, the others, the Other, that is, the other that touches our body as a baby and satisfies our needs, as well as the collective in which we insert ourselves and language itself as a whole precede the construction of ourselves. Maternal love is inserted in the “folds of libidinal evolution”, marks the psychic subject, initially inscribing another psychic reality, another desire in the embryonic psyche itself.

The psychoanalytic conception of sexuality removed it from the paradigm of biological endogenism, placing the emphasis on the process, on the construction and not on the “essence” – be it of the biological or cultural order. A statement that psychoanalysis will not make is “what a woman is” but how she comes, how she is constituted from the “child and her polymorphous sexuality”.

A differentiation is necessary. have to distinguish the sexual from the sexual, the latter being what is organized in the history of sexuation and which constitutes a “sexual identity”, while the concept of sexuality in psychoanalysis extends, insofar as it is not reduced to genitality, nor to the procreative purpose, but it covers the entire field of the drive, with the range of partial drives from oral to scopic and many others.

pulse é different from instinct, since the latter appears glued to the need and has a fixed object, while the drive arises from what is introduced in its satisfaction and its object is contingent. Excitements are introduced along with the satisfaction of basic needs from the beginning, such as the “warm milk” that enters the child's mouth when breastfed and produces an experience of pleasure that marks it and gives rise to the drive; but this milk is given by another that together introduces excitement, expectations, demands, inscribes affections and gives rise to an “erogenic body” whose geography is drawn by the marks of pleasure, which is not the same as the biological body.

When we are born, in a total state of “helplessness”, of impossibility of helping ourselves to satisfy our needs, in order to survive we are totally dependent on the other adult, who, in the same gesture of satisfying our needs (food, shelter, cleaning) introduces in us marks of excitement, creating what drives us and connects us to life. This other, while touching us by awakening sensations, also names us, and by naming us includes us in a category that would be a category in relation to the sexed, gender category. We arrive in the world with someone who waits for us and tells us menino ou menina. But this other names us from the discrimination of consciousness and from the categories established by culture, and also through a plurality of unconscious meanings of what for each adult it is to “be a girl” or “to be a boy”, something that echoes in the naming . By naming us, he gives us a bath of desire, of what the other wants from us, but also a bath of cultural imaginary, of “how we are expected to be”.  

Alterity, then, is in the constitution of sexuality while these marks that are inserted, infiltrated with excitement in the satisfaction of needs, are in the naming of identity categories and are the object of the identifications in which the drives - because they are contingent - build their scripts . The drive polymorphism, the plurality of meanings and demands that the other makes and the identification multiplicity that unfolds in the times of psychic constitution make the construction of human sexuality a complex process, as well as the articulation of the sex-gender system, and that suffers resignifications in moments of life such as the recognition of the difference between the sexes, puberty, etc. All this makes human sexuality an absolutely “singular” construction.

It is not possible to think about sexuality in the teleological evolutionary sense, assuming genitality or heterosexuality as an end, but rather as a complex network of different psychic and cultural strata covering the polymorphous drive constituted within the alterity, from the primary bonds, the infantile sexuality and the fantasies built on it, narcissism and the ego, and the inclusion of the recognition of the difference between the sexes. In this complex set, each one needs to articulate a search for a solution to internal conflicts, building a “unique script”. But it is also necessary to think about the socio-historical dimension, within which it is necessary to consider the normativities of erotic forms and ways of loving, the modes of subjectivation and social bond in moments of history and culture.

“each one needs to articulate a search for a solution to internal conflicts, building a 'unique script'”

Regardless of the sexual identity and the “chosen” object, this is always a construction that takes place in this articulation between the complexity of identifications – with their plastic character –, their possibility of resignification, and the category imposed or attributed by others, which in our society is binary – but which need not be.

We know that in many cultures founding myths are not binary but plural. We also know that identity logics try to reduce differences to unity, seeking a single formula that classifies particularities within a category, conceptualizing entities as substances and not as processes, thus eliminating the particularity of the singular experience with its ambiguities and uncertainties.
Regarding gender designation, there are also different ways of thinking about it: as a simple nomination or as a continuous designation that is made by others through language, gestures, acts; from its discriminations but also its ambiguities, contradictions… This opens up the possibility of thinking about gender as plural and conflicting.

Psychoanalyst Joyce McDougall coined the term neo-sexualities to think about the creation of complex erotic dramas as solutions to the traumatic events of early life, which would be very present in today's sexual performances; however, she herself wonders if the totality of human sexuality would not be neo-sexualities. That is, I would say, all sexualities would be singular itineraries written to account for the traumatic events of childhood and in the search for a solution to the complexity that is installed between sex, love and enjoyment.

The news, writings and debates about sexualities, identities and gender have had a constant presence in the media, often including in highly heated debates, in defense of antagonistic positions. In much of what circulates, two confusions persist: confusing sexuality with biological sex and thinking about sexual identities as if they were voluntary “choices”. In both, the unconscious of the other and the self are unknown, which can even lead to absurd and misleading proposals such as the so-called “gay cure”.

  1. Zaltzman, N. Of the opposite sex. In Ceccarelli, P. (org.). sex differences. São Paulo: Listen, 1999.


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