Random Thoughts #4: Psychoanalytic Thoughts on Gender Identity and Sexual Difference

Let me add a few more insights from my last post. I know I said I won’t talk about gender pronouns anymore, but it is actually very interesting. The entire idea between Judith Butler’s gender as social construct and psychoanalysis is a complex one. Some people might have heard this before, but our anatomy has nothing to do with our psychic structure (biological sex is not the same as gender). This is the general principle of psychoanalysis—something that Butler would also agree. In fact, this idea traces all the way back to the famous philosophical “mind-body” problem proposed by Rene Descartes (I will write about this in the future). Regardless, gender is not only a social construct, it is produced by the difference of two psychic structures—that is, two psychic structures that has been socially constructed as “feminine” and “masculine” in our heteronormative culture. In other words, the gender difference between feminine and masculine is not just a difference in performativity reinforced by society as Butler would say, it is also a difference in the way our psychic mind works.


To really understand the two psychic structures, you have to think of these two structures as something that is independent of the cultural symbolic “feminine” and “masculine” terms. You also have to think of them as the underlying structure that produces sexual difference in the human mind. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, these two structures are represented by what Lacan famously refer as “sexuation” (the graph pictured above). I won’t explain the mathemes of this graph today. But it doesn’t really matter what word you use to identify yourself as, a subject can only produce their identity through one of two ways via either the left or right side of the graph. For example, in our symbolic heteronormative culture, people just happen to call one side of the graph “feminine” and the other side “masculine”. While in another culture, it could very well be called “fruits” and “vegetables”, etc. (there is another level of complexity here that I won’t talk about). Sexuation reveals that there are only two ways that the human psyche can arrive at their sexual identity regardless of what they want to call it. In other words, while we see all these different pronouns showing up in the LGBT+ community, all of these identities can only be produced via one of two ways through sexuation. While new pronouns can function as a way to challenge the heteronormative culture—it does not necessarily mean that these new identities would change the underlying structure of how they are produced. And in case you are wondering, this is what I meant in my last post when I said that an argument could be made that pronouns can be important—especially when you consider psychoanalysis.

Now, I’m not sure if you can see where the problem is. But all of this proposes an interesting question in regards to transgender via psychoanalysis. If your anatomy has nothing to do with your psychic structure of gender, then what is transgender? This is assuming that transgender is someone who reassigns their anatomy to better fit their self identified gender. Honestly, I can only think of controversial answers. As much as I would like to be politically correct and say that transgenders exist—and they certainly do at a biological / existential / anatomic level (they are a human being, just like everyone else), the problem is more complicated than it appears. That for example, transgender might not exist as a psychic structure that is independent of sexuation (i.e. there are only two psychic structures; we produce our identity via one of two ways, there is no third way—so the debate begins). However, one can say that transgender is when the split subject makes an unconscious shift in their sexual position via sexuation; such that they move from one side of the graph to the other. In our heteronormative culture, this would translate as the shift from feminine to masculine and vice versa (which makes sense if you think about it); or in another culture, it would be from vegetables to fruits, etc. In this case, transgender does exist, but not at the level of symbolic language. And if we assume these premises to be true, then I am wrong about various points in regards to gender pronouns. If I remember correctly, Slavoj Zizek—who is one of the world’s most famous Lacanian psychoanalysts—has controversially spoke about this a few years ago. But a lot of people ended up misreading his argument. I’m not going to get into this because it is sweaty, complex, jargony, and can only be understood by people who are fluent in psychoanalysis and other specific branches of philosophies (i.e. Ontology and German Idealism).

Let me try and throw this last bit out there quickly. If you recall my two big introductory posts on Lacanian psychoanalysis (here and here) and how I pointed out that the way the subject gets split determines sexual difference. This split that I spoke of is basically the split in the sexuation graph between the two sides (I never explained sexuation in my Lacanian posts because it makes Lacan a lot harder to understand). Due to such split, who we think we are is not who we actually are. The symbolic language is like a fiction that conceals the wound of our split subjectivity (it conceals the Real–the trauma or deadlock of sexuality). Well! The same could be said that sexual difference is not found at the level of the symbolic language, such as how we identify gender via pronouns of he/him, she/her; or feminine, masculine, fruits and vegetables, etc. Instead, it is found deep within our unconscious minds and the way we get divided into split subjects through our relationship with the big Other (superego). I might write more about this in the future and incorporate a part 3 to my Lacanian posts. But I’ve been busy playing Apex Legends with friends on my days off. I also just ate too much Pho and I am about to get food coma. So maybe later.

Ok goodnight.