Fanon and the New Paraphilias: Towards a Trans of Color Critique of the DSM-V
This essay places psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonial, anti-racist message from Peau Noire, Masques Blancs/Black Skin, White Masks (1952; 1967; 2008) in conversation with the new diagnoses of “Gender Dysphoria” and “Transvestic Disorder” in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Specifically, the essay discusses sexologist Ray Blanchard’s controversial theory of autogynephilia alongside Fanon’s ambivalent rendering of transgender desire and interracial trans phenomenology in a crucial but frequently overlooked passage in Black Skin. Fanon’s anti-colonial critique of psychiatry allows us to reconsider how Blanchard’s theories on paraphilia engage with the foundational psychoanalytic concepts of identification and desire, as identified by the Freudian and Lacanian models and explored in the writings of Judith Butler, Catherine Millot, Charles Shepherdson, and others. By offering a fresh interpretation of the French text, this essay argues that a “trans of color critique” can benefit from Black Skin’s unexpected insight into trans desire: Fanon’s “man of color,” who simultaneously undergoes a gender transition and a racial transformation, represents the literal embodiment of his critique of colonial racism. Given the role of the new paraphilias in the DSM-V, this essay concludes that a trans of color critique is well positioned to reinforce the anti-colonial message Fanon addressed to the psychiatric and psychoanalytical fields, which have tended to diagnose psychic injury while ignoring its causation, and which continue to neglect the fact that medical access is just as important as material support and security for minority subjects, in particular.
KeywordsRace Transgender Colonialism Paraphilia Autogynephilia
Thanks to Rebecca Garden, William Spurlin, the insightful reviewers for this journal, and the members of the ACLA 2012 seminar on Gender and Sexual Health for their invaluable feedback and encouragement.
1 Fanon’s discussion of the Martinican novelist Mayotte Capécia in the preceding chapter, “The Woman of Color and the White Man,” displays this same model of colonized desire, but interestingly does not display its phenomenology: the woman of color never hints at a desire for gender transition.
2Black Skin seems to have initiated an anti-colonial mode of psychiatric discourse that regards racist injury as synonymous with psychosis. See, for instance, Hickling and Hutchinson (1999). However, this passage still seems to be in direct conversation with Freud’s 1911 study of psychosis centering on the writings of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose religion-tinged delusion is discussed in terms of his identification as a woman (specifically, as God’s wife) (Freud 2003).
3 I use the accepted abbreviation of “trans” to refer to the umbrella category of “transgender,” which describes social and cultural phenomena rather than strictly medical designations of identity.
4 The following regions and countries are represented in the study by Vance, Jr. et al. (2010): Western Europe (Denmark, Finland, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland); East Europe (Russia); North America (Canada, United States); Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Peru); Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda); Oceania (Australia, New Zealand); and Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Taiwan).
5 The “transmasculine spectrum” and the “transfeminine spectrum” are terms that attempt to account for the diverse and fluid ways in which gender variant individuals identify and express themselves; they are non-hierarchical and non-teleological models that seek to encompass the full range of trans embodiment (from personal comportment or clothing choice to body modification or gender affirming surgeries) rather than positing an ideal masculine or feminine type (Hansbury 2005).
6 These internet writings have since been published in Lawrence (2013), which features a foreword by Ray Blanchard.
7 See also Bailey (2003).
8 In one of the most direct challenges to Blanchard, Moser (2009) argues that autogynephilic desires can be found in “natal” women, as well, suggesting that femininity functions as an unattainable ideal for all.
9 See, for instance, Meyer and Richardson (2011).
10 This rhetoric about the socially-advantageous gender transition is no longer associated with the newly-coined Gender Dysphoria diagnosis in the DSM-V.
11 The discussion here may seem to invoke the concept of “transableism” or the desire on the part of an able-bodied person to a have a disability or impairment. Comparisons have indeed been made between GID and Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), a condition associated with the elective amputation of one’s limbs, but which was never included in the DSM: the DSM-V contains the more general diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). These resonances are too rich to explore fully in this essay, but I will briefly observe that autogynephilia is a paraphilia which entails erotic rather than dysmorphic ideation, e.g., having breasts rather than not having a penis, while diagnoses of dysphoria and dysmorphia tend to highlight the role of surgeries in the construction of social identities. An alliance between the disability and trans rights movements is currently being built on the issue of access to appropriate medical care, but transableism remains a controversial term in both communities. See Park (2008) for one side of this controversy.
12 In a flashpoint of cultural backlash towards Livingston’s once-critically-acclaimed project, a New York City audience protested a free Pride-month screening of Paris in June 2015, charging the director herself with symbolically and economically appropriating the images and labor of trans and queer people of color. In 1993, over a dozen of the documentary subjects, some of whom were living with HIV, had waged an unsuccessful legal battle for a share of the film’s unexpected profits. See Furfaro 2015.
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