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The body one has and the body one is: Understanding the transsexual’s need to be seen


  • I am not addressing here the question of transgenderism, which is a much broader term encompassing individuals who transgress gender norms but are not necessarily seeking surgery. Neither am I addressing transvestism, which refers to sexual arousal associated with cross-dressing.


The transsexual individual confronts the analyst with a disturbing otherness. How this otherness is understood, that is, how the analyst ‘looks’ at the patient through her distinctive theoretical lens impacts, in turn, on the patient’s experience and what transpires between them. In this paper the author outlines a developmental model rooted in attachment and object relations theory to provide one alternative way of ‘looking’ at some of these patients’ experiences in the clinical setting. It is suggested that in some cases of transsexuality the primary object(s) did not mirror and contain an early experience of incongruity between the given body and the subjective experience of gender: it remains unmentalized and disrupts self-coherence leading to the pursuit of surgery that is anticipated to ‘guarantee’ relief from the incongruity. Through an account of work with a male to female (MtF) transsexual who underwent surgery during her five years of psychotherapy, the author explores how a focus on the transsexual’s experience of ‘being seen’, that is, of being taken in (or not) visually and mentally by the object in their state of incongruity, affords another window through which to approach the transsexual’s experience in the transference–countertransference dynamics.