Queering Psychoanalysis: The Relational Turn

On Thursday, March 25, CLAGS hosted a panel entitled “Queering Psychoanalysis:
The Relational Turn.” The program, part of an ongoing CLAGS effort, introduced
academics and scholars more familiar with Freud and Lacan to contemporary, relational
psychoanalytic theories and practices.
CLAGS Board member, Jack Drescher, M.D., moderated the panel. The first speaker
was David Schwartz, Ph.D., a psychoanalyst on the editorial boards of The Journal of Gay
and Lesbian Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. Schwartz presented a
paper entitled, “Reparative Therapy for a Pathological History, or How Psychoanalysis
Might Keep You Queer, Even If You Have Inner Conflict.” Schwartz traced the origins of
relational psychoanalytic theories to Freud’s close associate, Sándor Ferenczi, sometimes
known as “the mother of psychoanalysis.” Schwartz touched upon the heterosexist and
antihomosexual underpinnings of traditional drive theory (referred to by relational
analysts as one-person psychology) and contrasted them with the mutuality of what
relational analysts refer to as two-person theories.
The next speaker was Ann D’Ercole, Ph.D., Clinical Associate Professor of
Psychology, and a Supervisor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in
Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. D’Ercole presented a paper on “Feminist and Queer
Contributions to Relational Psychoanalysis.” D’Ercole chronicled the influence of
feminist thinkers on psychoanalysis. The feminist critique from the second wave of
feminism to the 1980s led to a reformulation of many cherished psychoanalytic
concepts. Feminist cultural criticism provided early formulations of sexual fluidity,
mutuality and influence, and the importance of early infant attachments on gender
performance. These feminist influences would eventually incorporated in developing
relational psychoanalytic modes that are more democratic, more mutual and queerer.
Eric Sherman, L.C.S.W., then presented “A Clinical Vignette: Big Boys Don’t Cry.”
Sherman is a psychoanalyst and author of the recently released Notes from the Margins:
The Gay Analyst’s Subjectivity in the Treatment Setting. He presented a case from his
book of his treatment of an effeminate gay man whose self presentation Sherman found
annoying. Sherman demonstrated how contemporary analysts work within the countertransference
by illustrating how he came to understand that part of the reason he felt
annoyed with the patient was that he unconsciously identified with the man’s sense of
shame. Sherman’s understanding, and his sharing some of it with his patient, allowed
the treatment to move forward in unexpected ways.
The discussant was Catherine Silver, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn
College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a psychoanalyst
trained at National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP). In
response to Schwartz, Silver noted that Freud’s ideas about fluidity of libido, multiple
objects of attachments, bisexuality in infants and the role of trauma create a sense of
mourning in both gays and heterosexuals regarding the
loss of part of their sexuality. Referring to D’Ercole’s
presentation, she agreed that the postwar history of
feminist thought about gender points to greater
emphasis on interpersonal and intersubjective concerns
and a clearer distinction between sex, gender and
sexuality. Finally, she underscored how analysis of
transferences and countertransferences allowed
Sherman to gradually identify with his patient, despite
early attempts at emotional distancing. This allowed a deep expressive connection to
develop between them without denying the Other’s difference.
Jack Drescher, MD is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at State University of New York – Downstate, and a
Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute.