My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation Hardcover

My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation Hardcover by Molly Haskell Read Free Book Online

Book: My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation Hardcover by Molly Haskell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Molly Haskell
their deformed selves so dominates their existence
    that only by bringing their bodies into line with that image can they
    achieve a sense of peace and “normalcy.”
    When we talk of fantasy here, we mean a force far more all-
    encompassing than the everyday notion of “daydream” or conscious
    wish. Psychoanalysts have given us this modern (Freudian) definition of fantasy as a governing but unconscious principle of our lives, a shaper of personality that rumbles along like a powerful underground train, more
    often than not taking us in directions that have little to do with what we think we want. Freud and Proust anticipated current discoveries in neuroscience, Freud with his exploration of the unconscious and the play of primitive and unacknowledged superstitions, Proust with his insights
    into the foreignness of one’s mind and behavior to one’s “self.” Now
    scores of books on neuroscience— scholarly, popular, and in between—
    examine the exploding field of brain chemistry and our habits of misre-
    membering, and remind us that far from being the captains of our ships, the masters of our souls, we are more like galley slaves, madly rowing as our wayward vessel navigates stormy seas into which murky and unknowable desires have plunged us. Rooted in preverbal experience and
    the potent undercurrents of family, these propulsive forces of desire,
    rage, inhibition, and guilt affect the jobs we take (or don’t take, or fail at), the people we choose (or reject), our moods and memories. We’re
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    Flesh and Blood
    constantly reminded of how often we act in ways contrary to our self-
    interest, or remember only what fits a chosen (or unconscious) scenario.
    Over and over again, we reenact patterns of behavior and make per-
    verse choices— older men, triangles, neediest cases, wounded or crazy
    or destructive partners— which fly in the face of reason and which we
    are “helpless” to correct, and so which are hardly “choices” at all.
    These include, but aren’t restricted to, sexual fantasies dating from
    childhood, which the psychoanalyst and writer Robert Stoller did so
    much to illuminate. A disciple of Freud and pioneering sex- role spe-
    cialist (he developed the concept of “core gender identity”), Stoller
    wrote in books like Perversion (1975) about the presence of guilt, revenge, and aggression as triggers for pleasure and pain while simulta-
    neously de- pathologizing these feelings and behaviors. He and Dr.
    Harry Benjamin, known as the “grandfather of transsexuals,” were in
    the forefront of attempts to describe and understand the transsexual.
    Benjamin, an émigré from Berlin who came to work with Kinsey, de-
    veloped the Benjamin Standards of Care, which are still in use. The
    two disagreed, however, as to the origin of transsexualism, with Ben-
    jamin believing it occurred in utero, while Stoller, at least initially, saw the child as “gender neutral at birth,” and stressed the mother’s influence. “The transsexual boy,” writes Stoller, “begins to show his ex-
    treme femininity by age two to three, though the first signs may appear as early as age one.”
    Since Stoller’s work in the sixties and early seventies, his theory has been modified (including, in later years, by Stoller himself) to accommodate wider scientific and psychoanalytic research, placing greater
    emphasis on genetic or prenatal occurrences, in addition to informa-
    tion yielded by a broader spectrum of transgender types. All of which
    (bad news to lovers of clarity) makes the condition more mystifying
    than ever.
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    c h a p t e r t h r e e
    My Brother Kisses His Elbow
    Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need.
    — e. e. cummings
    “W hen did the desire to be female first occur?” I ask Chevey. We are

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