Sexuality
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex

Related Topics
Assuming a BodyReview - Assuming a Body
Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality
by Gayle Salamon
Columbia University Press, 2010
Review by Maria Lakka, Ph.D.
Mar 20th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 12)

The book addresses the theoretical, ethical and political dimensions of transgenderism, which the author defends by challenging first and foremost the conception of the (sexed) body as a given. She insists on the social construction of the body through experience and language and repeatedly argues against different accounts of a material body whether in the form of a biological determination or in that of a materiality that precedes and exceeds language. However, she does not reject materiality altogether but suggests that we need to affirm a body's materiality not as a non-discursive fact but through the articulation of a new relationship between materiality and discourse.

In the first chapter Salomon presents different psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the bodily ego. She begins with Freud's discussion of hermaphroditism, as the originary condition of intersexuality from which the unisexual physical disposition evolutionary emerged. Freud was tempted by the hypothesis of the intersexual body making possible a universal "bisexual psychical disposition" but his conclusion maintained the independency of the somatic and psychic registers. However, he recognized that a single resolution to each register was not necessary and that admixture and tension of both masculine and feminine traits could be maintained. Moreover, the Freudian body is fractured at an even deeper level and erotogenic zones are not restricted to the genitals but any part could take up such a function what points to the plasticity of erotogenicity and undermines the "indexical relation between genitals and sex".

Freud's famous assertion of the bodily nature of the ego, will be examined through Silverman's notion of "identity-at-a-distance". Following Lacan's mirror stage, identification is always bound to misrecognition or to some distance; rather than being based on self-sameness it is the envelopment of my image as other that which founds the ego and bodily coherence. Salomon then, attempts to move beyond the psychoanalytic deep structures and bring psychic interiority on the body's surface though Anzieu's notion of the "skin ego" and Schilder's "body image" or "body schema". Although the idea of the skin as an envelope for the body, and the body as an envelope for the psyche is criticized for maintaining a model of containment which substantiates body and psyche, Schilder's "body schema" presents "the compossiblity of an authentic and irrefutable 'felt sense' of the body and a psychic mediation" through which we have recourse to our body even in the experience of cutaneous sensation. Even if it corresponds to a psychic mediation it is irreducibly temporal and social and affirms the relational origins and the unvoluntary, non-individual construction of the body schema through touch and affect.

The last part of the chapter questions the trend in trans studies to found the specificity of transgender subjectivity on pure bodily materiality, safeguarded outside discourse, what substantiates gendered body image [38]. For Salomon the construction of subjectivity is a complex movement of narcissistic investment on the flesh and self-estrangement, an oscillation of sameness and difference which is formed, forming and unformed in discourse rather than a pure and straight material fact that one may only transcendentally accept.

The second chapter turns to phenomenology and Merleau-Ponty's notion of the sexual schema, a dynamic topography of the body's sexual regions as delineated by desire and an attempt, on Salomon's part, to reconfigure the capacities of the unconscious from the mind to the body. Sexuality animates my body through desire for an other; yet, desire does not operate in the blank but is constantly mingled with and formed in relation to past experiences. Desire puts me in relation to the world and while it decenters the self, through this leaning towards another, it also delivers the body to myself as it becomes desire (animated) and intentional (desire of). Merleau-Ponty calls this process transposition, a shifting from one mode of being to another, which necessarily passes though desire for an other and thus he founds embodiment intersubjectively and temporally. Through his account, Salomon argues that the body is an "amalgam of substance and ideal located somewhere between its objectively quantifiable materiality and its phantasmatic extensions into the world" [65].

The second part of the book, which comprises chapters 3 and 4, addresses the various tensions between feminism and trans studies. Several writers in transgender studies attempt to found the specificity of transgender embodiment by recourse to a vague notion of bodily materiality. The feminist position on the social construction of gender is criticized as either too simple compared to the complex reality of gender embodiment or as too complex vis-à-vis the simple assertive truth – the feeling of dysphoria – of the phenomenological transgender body. Against these positions the author discloses a double fallacy at work: on one hand, social construction is envisaged in very restrictive terms, as if the social realm concerns some 'outer' space that can be distinguished from the privacy of the self or from the immediacy and authenticity of inner feeling. Far from denying the body's felt sense Salomon argues that this is also shaped within social and linguistic structures what renders the idea of a simple givenness of the body a fiction [78]. Moreover, the recourse to a pre-social or extra-social bodily feeling lapses into a transcendental and paradoxical foundation of the subject, which possesses the agency to determine her gender outside all social constrictions and yet (s)he is 'blindly' driven by an all-powerful feeling. The claim to an unmediated bodily materiality ends up to biological determinism, to which Salomon responds by suggesting that the real body is "situated at materiality's threshold of possibility", that allows the body to be "open to the possibilities of what one cannot know or anticipate in advance" [92].

Nevertheless, feminism has also proved to remain entrapped within a binary categorization of gender and reluctant to incorporate in its discourse non-normative genders. Transgenderism is perceived as a threat to women founded on self-violence or an act of female castration. By insisting on the difference between the lesbian, who affirms her femaleness and community, and the transman who betrays them in order to become capitulated to gender normativity, lesbianism is refashioned in the shape of heteronormative discourse. Salomon argues in favor of a more expansive conception of feminism not on the basis of an "additive subjectivity" but of a recognition that issues of gender (as in transgenderism) and sexuality (as in gay and lesbian discourse) even though in principle distinct, they are mutually implicated in the construction of identity.          

In chapters 5 and 6 Salomon engages further with feminism by questioning the notion of the limit between the sexes and exploring the possibility of transcending sexual difference. She presents Irigaray's notion of 'place' of sexual difference which is relational and generative rather than determined and spatial, but criticizes Irigaray for remaining entrapped within a hylomorphic model that understands real difference as that between male and female. For Irigaray there is always a remainder, an unbridgeable gap between the two categories that prevents substitution of one for an other, yet this constrain is also generative and makes the couple the most creative relation. Salomon argues that, Irigaray's account cannot find a place for sexual undecidability, and suggests that the trans body can "help us understand the traversal of sexual boundaries not as an unrepresentable breach but as a negotiation of difference" [143] which places difference within a phasmatic scope of the female category.   

She further moves on to Elizabeth Grosz's anti-materialist account of the body that challenges the idea of corporeal limits in favour of a body's plasticity and capacity to transform itself following shifting cultural identifications. Yet, this plasticity is not infinite but constrained by certain biological limits and its rigidity is manifested vis-à-vis sexual difference. For Grosz attempts to transition from one sex to another are necessarily failed or incomplete because the body's sexual morphology does not reside simply on its surface appearance but is tied to a bodily feeling that cannot be altered at will. While Grosz, just like Irigaray, maintains the necessity of the interval between the sexes Gayle Rubin proposes a continuum model of female masculinity as a way to understand sexual difference that may be inclusive of those at the margins. She suggests that the difference between lesbians with a manifested masculinity and those who decide to transition and become FTMs, is only a difference in the degree of bodily dysphoria that they both experience. For Salomon this continuum of female masculinity "unmoors identity from bodily morphology and proposes a model in which a firm boundary between male and female is impossible to fix" (164). However, I would argue, that Rubin's account appears to extend the limit of the female category rather than banishing the notion altogether and that Irigaray's and Grosz's appeal to the limit address an ontological, rather than empirical, difference between the sexes, which Salomon does not engage with. Her argument remains mostly an ethical demand for our relation to those non-normatively gendered rather than an account on the possibility of transcending or bridging sexual difference. Indeed, the ethical and political dimension of the whole argument about trans specificity becomes most emphatic in the last chapter, where Salomon shows how sex is treated as a material property by state bureaucracies and particularly withheld in the case of transpeople in a way that it does not for the normatively gendered.

Salomon's book achieves to be theoretically rigorous on issues of gender and embodiment and to acknowledge the specificity and reality of transgender experience in a way that challenges the reader to rethink conceptions of sex and gender at their cutting edge.

 

© 2012 Maria Lakka

 

Maria Lakka received a PhD in Media Studies from Goldmiths College in 2006 and teaches in Greece at the University level courses "Video History" and "Art and Communication in the Graphic Arts"


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716