For the practice of analysis, what matters is how we appear in our own stories as persons in relationship to other persons, occurrences, and objects in our worlds, rather than how we appear, for example, as biological organisms when we go to the medical doctor for a specific complaint (Heidegger 1962; Horne 2004; Hinton 2007 & 2009; Brooke 2009). The various ‘identities’ we claim for ourselves are the multiple and densely particular characters with whom we identify in the ongoing and dialogically unfolding storylines of our lives. Identity5 comes from the Latin term ‘idem et idem’ which literally means ‘the same and the same’, or ‘repeatedly, over and over’. The notion of ‘identity’ is only understood in opposition to ‘otherness’; for example, we recognize the identity of a character in a story by setting it off against the ‘otherness’ of other characters (Martin & Ringham 2006). A sense of identity protects one from the anxiety generated by the disturbing ‘otherness’ of others (Horne 2008) and results in efforts to generate ‘the same and the same’ ‘repeatedly, over and over’ in order to avoid this anxiety. Through analysis, we learn that this feeling of identity permanence is actually defensive and illusory and can be transformed in a variety of ways (Austin 2009; Hinton 2009; Horne 2009). Although our ‘ego complex’ (Jung 1934) or our ‘narrative consciousness’ (Damasio 1999) maintains an ongoing ‘sense of self’ over time, this temporal sense of self remains multiple, decentred, and fragmented (Austin 2009; Hinton 2009; Horne 2009) and appears as moods that are the signifiers of self-states, i.e. the various characters with whom we identify in our stories (Heidegger 1962; Oliver 2002; Horne 2004).
Sometimes we are consciously aware of the characters in our stories and some- times we are not. The stories in which we are unaware of the characters with whom we unconsciously identify are brought into the analytic dialogue through the emotional impact they have on the analyst, that is, through the embodied countertransference (Moody 1955; Bion 1977; Fordham 1993). As Michael Horne (2004) explains in his paper ‘The universe of our concerns’, when our various stories are brought to light in analysis and found to be incompatible, personhood collapses into an intensely frightening and sad process. At this point, it is possible for a new and unique story with new characters (identities) to emerge, as long as the tendency to return to the old story is resisted (ibid., p. 44; Hinton 2009). One of our most enduring ‘identities’ is revealed in the story we tell ourselves about being a ‘masculine’ or a ‘feminine’ person.
5Identity. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 20, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/identity.
In our current historical milieu, we as persons always only appear as gendered identities (Butler 1990, 1997; Laplanche 2007). When men and women are conceptualized only from the point of view of their adult reproductive capacities, then the binary categories6 of man/woman and masculine/feminine become ‘essentialized’ as though they were a part of ‘nature’. As a result, the power structures inherent in the discourses that create these foundationalist categories cannot be illuminated (Butler 1990, 1997; Jagose 1996; Dean 2006). Judith Butler explains that ‘the’ body is only known through its gendered appearance and inevitably is transformed into ‘his’ body or ‘her’ body (1997, p. 406). For her, gender is not a stable identity from which agency proceeds, but rather gender identity is a strategy instituted through a stylized repetition of performative acts that are culturally and historically situated. She emphasizes ‘strategy’ because one can be punished for failing to ‘perform’ the possibilities considered appropriate for one’s gendered body. Gender is an idea, not an essential fact: ‘The historical possibilities materialized through various corporeal styles are nothing other than those punitively regulated cultural fictions that are alternately embodied and disguised under duress’ (ibid., p. 405). Butler emphasizes that our ‘performance’ of gender identity is not a conscious choice that we make, but rather the result of the sedimentation of the ways in which we are gazed upon, handled and assumed to be from the moment of our birth (ibid.).
6Binary pairs of signifiers are problematic because they appear to be neutral; however there is an inequality between the ‘marked’ and ‘unmarked’ terms, which make up the pair. The ‘unmarked’ term (e.g. in man/woman the unmarked term is ‘man’) is more generalizable (mankind, chairman, spokesman) than the marked term, giving it more power and establishing the binary as a hierarchy. Also, binaries are constructed not as opposites but as ‘A’ and ‘not-A’ for example, man and not- man, i.e. ‘woman’ is defined only in terms of ‘man’ the more open signifier of the pair (Derrida 1976; Foster et al 2004, p. 45; Mulvey 2009, p. 33).
This bears a similarity to Jean Laplanche’s idea of the transmission of enigmatic messages from adult caregivers to the helpless infant. He emphasizes the primacy of the particular others (mother, father, sister, brother) who assign gender to the infant through the bombardment of the infant with prescriptive messages (Laplanche 2007, p. 213; Stein 2007; Hinton 2009). This results in ‘the infant being gender identified by others, not in the infant autonomously identifying with a particular gender’ (Laplanche 2007, p. 214; italics in the original). Laplanche demonstrates how the recently constructed binary sex/gender – where sex is equated with biological destiny and gender with sociocultural construction – is an ‘adultocentric’ fiction that thinks of sexuality only in terms of the individual person who has progressed from child to adult, and ignores ‘the child in the presence of the adult and receiving from him messages that are not raw givens but “material to be translated”’ (ibid., p. 212). The ‘adultocentric’ view ignores the power differential between little people and adult caregivers, who are trapped in their own cultural imperatives (ibid., p. 210). Laplanche adds a third term to the binary gender/sex – ‘le sexual’ – a French neologism that refe