June 25, 2012

The Transgender Jung

Carl G. Jung
On using  Carl Gustav Jung's model of the psyche to describe transgender experiences.

I have posted a few articles where I have been using the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung to discuss the transgender psyche.

Only one post remains, but before I publish that one, I would like to take a look at to what extent Jung discussed transgender conditions.

Here are all the posts in the transgender psychology series:
1: The Role of the Unconscious
2: The Ego and the Complexes
3: The Shadow
4: The Animus and the Anima
Ponyo for Crossdreamers
Transgender and the mind and body conundrum
Spellbound transgender
Falling in love with your own anima
The other side of your transgender soul - from Dostoyevski to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Jung ignored the transgender

Did Carl Gustav Jung himself say anything about crossdreamers, crossdressers or transvestites?

As far as I can see, he did not.

That is a bit peculiar, really, as there had already been  published some interesting research on trasvestites in Berlin, which might have given him some input on his discussion on the crossgender nature of the collective  unconscious (Magnus Hirschfield: Die Transvestiten 1910)



In spite of arguing that both men and women deepest down are cross-sexual (sharing traits of both sexes), Jung is unable to leave the idea of there being some kind of normal male sexuality or female sexuality. People who cross these lines in real life (as opposed to in dreams or in art) therefore suffer from some kind of abnormality.

Mixing sexual orientation with gender identity

First of all, he -- unlike Hirschfeld -- seems to be   mixing up homosexual and transgender conditions, which was typical at that time.

Basically, Jung understands gender variance in men as a result of a mother complex. A young man should free himself of his anima fascination of his mother. If he hasn't done so, that may indicate some kind of stunted emotional growth.

"In  homosexuality, the son's entire heterosexuality is tied to the mother in an unconscious form; in Don Juanism, he unconsciously seeks his mother in every woman he meets. The effects of a mother-complex on the son may be seen in the ideology of the Cybele and Attis type: self-castration, madness and early death." [These Ancient cults used trans women as priestesses and temple prostitutes, Jack's comment].

"Because of the difference in sex, a son's mother-complex does not appear in pure form. This is the reason why in every masculine mother-complex, side by side with the mother archetype, a significant role is played by the image of the man's sexual counterpart, the anima."
(Collected Works 9/I para 182)

So due to some complications it his relationship with his mother, a homosexual (and presumably also a transgender) male bodied person is likely to be unduly influenced by his anima. He can therefore develop a feminine personality (Collected Works 9/I para 355).

This is not a very flattering view of homosexuality -- or transgender for that matter.

The good friend

Still, Jung clearly feels uncomfortable by pathologizing  these conditions in this way:

"Since a 'mother-complex' is a concept borrowed from psychopathology, it is always associated with the idea of injury and illness. But if we take the concept out of its narrow psychopathological setting and give it a wider connotation, we can see that it has positive effects as well. 

"Thus a man with a mother-complex may have a finely differentiated Eros instad of, or in addition to, homosexuality. (Something of this sort is suggested in Plato in his Symposium). This gives him a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men and may even rescue friendship between sexes from the libido of the impossible. He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak. "
(Collected Works 9/I para 164.)

The fact that a man (gay or not gay) has a feminine disposition may make a more empathic friend and care giver, which is a good thing -- also in Jung's universe.

The transgender as a reflection of the hermaphroditic archetype

In another discussion Jung actually refuses to consider a man dominated by his anima as ill:

"The growing youth must be able to free himself from the anima fascination of his mother. There are exceptions, notably artists, where the problem often takes a different turn; also homosexuality, which is usually characterized by identity with the anima. In view of the recognized frequency of this phenomenon, its interpretation as a pathological perversion is very dubious.

"The psychological findings show that it is rather a matter of incomplete detachment from the hermaphroditic archetype, coupled with a distinct resistance to identify with the role of a one-sided sexual being. Such a disposition should not be adjudged negative in all circumstances, in so far as it preserves the archetype of the Original Man, which a one-sided sexual being has, up to a point, lost." (Collected Works 9/I para 146, my emphasis)

At this point Jung points to another explanation. In this case the perspective is shifting from the feminine side of the anima/animus archetype to the archetype as a whole ("the hermaphrodite archetype"), also called the Syzygy.

The Syzygy

Hermaphrodite and the union of opposites
from Alchymical manuscript
In mythology the hermaphrodite has always pointed  to the ability to transcend categories and achieve wisdom.

Indeed, the term itself is a combination of Hermes (the messenger of the gods, and therefore the bringer of knowledge) and Aphrodite (the goddess of love). Jung, of couse, knew this.

The hermaphrodite is an important symbol in alchemy, where it represents the much needed union of opposites: the masculine and the feminine.

And since the goal of the psychological process of growing up (the individuation process) is wholeness, i.e. making the unconscious known, Jung cannot but appreciate the value of being able to combine the feminine and the masculine.

So in the end Jung opens up for a positive interpretation of what I here have called cross-sexual conditions, which -- I guess -- could include both feminine homosexual men,  and male bodied crossdreamers, crossdressers and transsexuals, although he does not explicitly say so.

Jung needs a reinterpretation

Today it is very hard to uphold the idea that homosexuality  is some kind of gender inversion. Today sexual orientation is understood to be separate from sex identity, which makes sense to me. There are far too many very masculine homosexual men, and too many heterosexual crossdreaming men.

The idea that a man's feminine orientation should be caused by "a mother complex" is unsustainable. It was developed in a culture where a man with stereotypical feminine personality traits had to be ill. This also applies to Jung's universe, in spite of the fact that he ha developed a model that argued that every man has a strong feminine side.

If, on the other hand, the culture allows men to develop their feminine side, the relationship between the ego and the anima will change accordingly. As I will demonstrate in my last post in this series, that is exactly what has happened.

Next: A Transgender Psychology 1: The Role of the Unconscious

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!