The presumed third sex
Pierre-Gilles Gueguen


The Desire of Norrie

The case of Norrie May-Welby (not her original name but one she changed through a legal procedure) has brought forth gender issues in their relationship not to the norm, but to the law.


Norrie is an unusual character who underwent MTF sex change surgery in 1989 at the age of 27 (she is today 52). This did not, as stated in the newspaper Liberation of April 2, 2014, “put  an end to the ambiguity she feels about her sexual identity.” She wanted to be recognized as gender neutral by the highest authorities of her country, a country of rights of Common Law, which finally ruled that the High Court recognizes that a person can be neither male nor female sex, and thus allowing the registration of a person as a “non-specific” gender. She is the first if not the only in the world to be recognized in this way. Note that this fact poses a slight legislative problem because in France, marriage is permitted only between a man and a woman.


Such legislation has spread in increasingly numerous countries, including Germany, Nepal, and  India as of last month, for various reasons and under pressure from various lobbies. In Germany, for example, as in Switzerland, it is the issue of intersex who are not transgender or queer but are biologically and anatomically neither male or female, which pushed forward legislation favorable to the inclusion in the registry office of a third reference, other than male or female. In India and Pakistan there are cultural traditions that provide a place for people who do not clearly meet the man / woman dichotomy. In the case of the Swiss, it is the question of medical intervention decisions that often operated with the doctor’s decision without the consent or opinion of the person or his parents, which pushed the country to acknowledge the possibility of a deferred choice, neither man nor woman.


Variety of Genders

Transgender—what we used to call transsexual—is now divided into two groups (post-op and pre-op), and yet another scenario that is based on a belief that the body is the opposite sex that one belongs to psychologically.


We distinguish again these variants from the “traditional” sexuality (a man who feels like a man and a woman who feels like a woman who are attracted exclusively to individuals of the opposite sex) from multiple forms of homosexuality, exclusive or not. It seems we are moving forward in the process of normalization.


It is all these palettes of sexual practices and possibilities of the meeting of bodies that the “Gender” movement came to interrogate and upset. It corresponded with a rise of feminist movements especially in the USA and also homosexual movements which began in the USA in the ‘60s.  These protests against the “Standard Male” in our Western societies were contemporaneous with the decline of the paternal function they crossed. At first  protesters attempted to theorize the avatars of desire in contemporary society. The French theory has often served as an intellectual support for these revolts experienced rightly as anti-segregationist but had often produced various communal groups that obviously had extreme difficulty in arriving at what they were trying to avoid to denounce, as it is impossible to achieve the utopia of a clear standard of any sexuality. Freedom is only limited by madness and a total socialization


Derrida and Foucault were French philosophers which scholars of gender have often referred–Lacan much less so. Judith Butler tried but despite her talent, did not address one philosopher. Let us say that Gender Studies have attempted to address the embarrassment of sex without wanting to know, according to the formula Lacan gave on Television, what fate was reserved for their unconscious without wanting to experience the real in and with analysis.



The back cover of a recent book that brings together texts by gender specialists of the University of Bordeaux, Judith Butler: Gender Troublesummarizes well the state of the question:


Challenging the stabilized order of genders is part of a renewed analysis of the influence of power relations on lives and forms of mental alienation that are related. The result is a disorder in the subject, marked both by the imminence of contentious rage and exposure to melancholy.


The analytical point of view


It is here that Gender Studies, which is at best a discourse of philosophers, separates from all that is original in psychoanalysis, and it should be recalled that psychoanalysis is first the singular experience of the unconscious, that is to say, the experience which is part of there being something at ill ease with human sexuality.

Recall also that, contrary to the discourse of gender studies, psychoanalysis is not interested only in individual cases. The Oedipal standard certainly could convey an entire period, but Lacan got out of this rut differently and before Deleuze and Guattari finally seem to do their work, Anti-Oedipus (1972), with which Lacan disagrees. Its trajectory is more resumable of the term “Beyond Oedipus” which means that in order to pass the father, one must, in analysis, not use a standard but a compass for an ethic that will turn each time to produce singular consequences for the subject.


In a sense, the hystericals were the first to point out that between the body and the signification given, there is in human beings a hiatus. The question had also been raised by Freud under the aegis of psychic bisexuality which he debated with his friend Fliess.


Lacan meanwhile renewed this perspective in his sexuation formulas, but in a very different way than gender studies, we will return to this. He even goes on to say that it is “an assumption, an assumption that there is a male or female subject, this is an assumption that makes the experience obviously untenable …” (les non dupes errent leçon du, 15 Jan 1974)


Now back to Norrie. To paraphrase Lacan, I would say Norrie “has a body and has only one.” She wanted to meet Tiresias and at least by some specular and biotechnological arrangements to arrange herself on the feminine side.


In Between

As for Norrie, she teaches us that she is still not more at ease with this arrangement nor changes made to her anatomy and her hormonal metabolism. She said she needed to see the words “non-specified” written on paper, because in the eyes of another, she thinks that her body has characteristics of both sexes. (Adam’s apple, but female voice etc …). She has managed to create more than just a standard or a law. She said on Youtube, specifically for the possible customs or police officer who saw her ID, she would visually correspond neither to a man nor a woman. And although she leans towards the identity of the female gender, she prefers to remain “in between.”


This already tells us that the Other is at stake in his narcissistic image and more precisely in the form of a critical view. The other sees this as having failed to form a satisfactory narcissistic image. [1] In addition, the solution she chose to somehow set the law in stone allows him to push to the extreme limit or to infinity having to declare oneself man or woman. This is to say, to have anything to do with the phallic meaning in the unconscious drives forced choice.


She realizes, taken to the extreme, because the speaking, the spoken does not find good sexual identification. She takes this literally in her case. Her being is neither male nor female, nonetheless it must be done using the common signifying pair male / female and the opposition it contains in order to deny its validity.


As Helen Bonnaud reported in her article in Lacan Quotidien 396: Norrie invents a solution. She also made a name, spokesman activist of a “movement” supported by lawyers and other activists could not bear to be stowed under the weight of a meaning to refuse to apply their body “this empty sack” (I am referring to the note leads to another JAM in Seminar XXIII P214). We can say that the language is based on the forced choice, as it would mark a reported lesser body (Lacan would have said the phallic significance in its classical period) is unbearable for Norrie (whether carrying the phallus or that it is private). This body outside body is not sustainable because it carries with it the castration. Hence the surprising solution: deny that there is a signifier of sexual difference that applies to her body. It takes a symbolic apparatus for her body, imagined without sex, to withstand a knot, which makes Sinthome. I refer to page 139 of the XXIII Seminar: Norrie makes the solution in an attempt to keep as a symptom rejection of the law of anatomy, and it is especially important that we as psychoanalysts, the law of articulation of language functioning in opposition. Something outside meaning, namely neither-nor, no law, no order. (See my paper ‘la part perdue” Freudian Cause 37) The real that belies anatomy and all the scientific reason as well as the nature and is based on a “choice” but she has no idea that it is a choice of jouissance. Her imaginary solution that excludes a symbolic term does keep the body.


It is a way to block the other, and this is not how the neurotic body with which the language brings with itself castration, i.e. lack. But it still makes use of the symbolic to put her castration “outside” with a device that makes the Other inconsistent instead of a registration of an absolute truth that could say: the lack in the Other does not exist but is designated still by a form of lacking.  See the “God of Schreber” which it is often said that he stops the Other but we must see that he is split. See also what Lacan called “The Woman does not exist.”


It is difficult to predict what the strength of the knot is, or if it will be as strong as that of Joyce. In this case we could say that with the Lacan of this page of Seminar 23 that the Unconscious of Norrie is real or even with older formulations of Lacan it is the open sky that house the truth of her certainty. By formally placing the body it is immune to gender differences. It is the origin of sexual ambiguity in the mind and thus may well call herself “intersex” (interview on You tube) then she was born male, but with an intersex mind!


She uses the theories of gender identity and a metonymic reference to neuroscience and biology to make a symbolic object out of words and yet is torn in different discourses.


Admire the feat. (Admirons le tour de force)



This quaint character highlights by contrast the weak point of gender theories that she uses in her own way by deconstructing and kneading them as Joyce does with literature (Ulysses).


She relies primarily on Queer discourse and seems in the YouTube interview, to makes her fate a voyage between the various subcultures of the LGBT world. “At first I was more at ease as gay then as a drag queen and then more feminine then after contacting transsexuals, I wanted to have surgery and I become even more feminine … but not entirely. ” She explains her journey as if it was a metonymic drift in the register of the appointment of a symptom rather than a choice of jouissance.


The solution that was eventually chosen, which is not to choose and invent an intersex mind should probably be fine in her case, especially since it makes use the terms used by Lacan in his Seminar on Joyce. This solution is elevated to the height of a sublimation, allowing it to support a cause in the media suddenly summoned to illustrate this “first”, with the added benefit of opening up the way for the rights of a “person.”


Certainly the idea of a third sex can register on identity papers will cause those backwards souls who linger to the idea that nature, as the divine law, prescribes the straight model, to complain. But also a good number of gay or trans who would like models of enjoyment for universal use (even if it is within a subculture) and say that like marriage between people of the same gender, it affects the revolutionary root of “sexual transgressions.” There was a time when the Chevalier d’Eon seemed to move in the world without raising many problems …


Norrie and Daniel Paul


Having said that, psychoanalysis has its great man who had invented an alternative for his own use: President Schreber. A man up to 50 years, non-operated, yet enjoying a fantasy of being a woman of God.


Maybe one day we’ll know more about the jouissance of Norrie.


How can this case, however, continue to teach us? Maybe by taking a few comparative clinical distinctions with the Schreber case.


Subject to other information, we do not know if Norrie knew such acute episodes as those in which Schreber describes the connection signifying chain as completely defeated and where the voice comes back in a terrifying form that Schreber called the miracle of howl. We do not know if she also had sufferings such as those Schreber spoke of and which are the current clinical extraordinary psychoses where exactly the body, its image and the language unravel. She however spoke on YouTube of a postoperative depression.


However, it is important to remember that psychoanalysis can comment, unlike gender theory, on the impact of the unconscious in humans and in particular warn of unconscious determinations of their own and which ones they should individually  “know and do .”


Helen Bonnaud rightly points out that for Lacan “to err on the male side or female side on the table of sexuation formulas is not about sex but about jouissance. The enjoyment of the body is a symptom for Norrie just as it is for everyone. For her there is no connection between her sexual jouissance and sexual identity. She does not find it because it can not exist outside these two signifiers that are somehow markers of sexual difference ….


Genevieve Morel said this in a different article in the Cause freudienne N°37:


Are identifications sufficient to establish the sexualization of a subject? This is what makes the proponents of gender theory advocate. Psychoanalysis objects clinically without disregarding their importance.


On the one hand, psychoanalysis of neurotics, when carried far enough, shows that options for jouissance are taken very early by the subject, indicating a sex selection. … Lacan’s teachings of the seventies propose a logic of gendering, for quantification of propositional functions of jouissance, which is not a logic of identification, which is the class and the attribute. The whole is the peak of this logic: it is in itself anti-identification par excellence. (It does not in effect include existence, the very least necessary for identification). This is what makes it inconvenient for the subject and growth, paradoxically, to take many identifications to deal with the discomfort of that choice. Hence the frequency of hysteria in women.


On the other hand, psychoanalysis of psychotics shows, in the study of certain triggers, a disruption of sexuation of the subject, with a collapse of identification which is then found to have effectively defined a hitherto sexuation, but labile. These identifications framed life, gave meaning to certain organs or body functions, and included sex. But when these identifications are let go, the subject must invent something else, sometimes relentlessly. Sometimes there has been a push to the feminine, but it may be the reverse. This shows the inadequacy of such identifications, prior to the outbreak, to firmly establish the sexuation of a subject, even though his “gender” was sometimes yet well defined by them.


However, there are identifications, which, by the classificatory logic they imply, have a real impact on the jouissance of the subject …”


I recall to strengthen this position but also to complete it on some points, what Jacques -Alain Miller stated in his course in January 1983 under the title, Du symptôme au fantasme et retour.

He warned us against misuse of the category of psychosis resulting from contamination of psychoanalysis by psychiatry. (Mainly by referencing Ecrits: Question préliminaire… Du trieb de Freud et Subversion)


About desire, for example, on p.852, Miller rectifies certain prejudices supporting the lecture of Lacan which tended to entrench the psychotic state in a segregated ghetto.


He first mentions that for Lacan desire is prior to the Act; even in cases of serious psychoses desire is there, it is the desire of the primordial other and it does not need to be standardized by the NDP. This is evident in the case of Norrie and her desire for her uniqueness to be recognized. Lacan goes so far as to say that the desire is autonomous in relation to the Act.


Not independent of the signifier but compared to the standard Act that the paternal metaphor imposes the desire of the mother in the most typical cases.



And as Miller points out if we stuck to the failure of the paternal metaphor that subordinates the desire of the act so then we could not speak of desire in the psychotic: if we can doubt whether there is desire in psychosiswe can not in any case doubt that there is the substance of desire he said, i.e. jouissance, specifically. And in the case of Schreber, Lacan called it jouissance transsexualiste. It is difficult to think when viewing images of Norrie there is no jouissance when we see a clip of her dressed for the cameras, as an attractive woman and not like a drag queen. Scopic jouissance that should probably take many forms without a doubt.


Echoing the same idea that was common at the time that there is no subject in psychosis due to the notation of the “death of the subject” that Lacan uses about Schreber, Miller takes the opposite of the traditional reading saying that the subject of psychosis is not the place of truth and there are no effects of truth that would be written S barred under minus-phi, but a knowledge and it is not for nothing that Lacan spoke of a successful paranoia about analysis itself. The knowledge of Norrie is a version of the Lacanian saying since Seminar 18: “There is no sexual relationship.” She translates as “neither male nor female,” is what we would call her psychotic certainty. The solution seems less complex than that of Scherber who must go through God and a complex anatomy of channels of jouissance but does not doubt whether he strengthens the jouissance  by wearing jewelry and woman’s undergarments. (note that like Norrie, Schreber manufactures an imaginary anatomy to ensure the enjoyment of his body).


Then, still commenting on the Schreber case, Miller indicates that this is an effect of identifying signification which replaces the effect of phallic sense when the operation of the NDP fails and it follows Lacan, who indicates that there is an identification whatever it may be by which the subject assumed the desire of his mother.


Here the whatever it may be is of fundamental importance. We identify, for example, who has  kept the desire of Schreber until his release.


Miller continues that the phrase whatever it may be does not mean it is just anything. We have an example for Schreber by the fact of his well-known fantasy: it would be nice to be a woman undergoing copulation. Norrie is more discreet to my knowledge but note that she is like Schreber and like Joyce in her own manner–they wanted to make known their special status publicly. Schreber in his memory, Norrie in her activism and media action, Joyce by his writing and his care for fame.


Lacan postulated that in the case of Schreber (but is it so generalized) that “Without a doubt the divination of the unconscious warned the subject early because they without being the phallus that misses the mother, there remains the solution to be the woman missing men.”


For Norrie we do not have the elements to decide, so we will refrain. However, her refusal to place herself under the signifier evokes Lacan’s phrase: “The woman who does not exist.” She would therefore be deeply Lacanian without knowing.


Besides Miller again gives an interesting idea by pointing out that what we call with Lacan the delirious metaphor of Schreber goes in the same direction, “Schreber is dedicated to creating the signifier of the woman, he wishes for inclusion in the field of the Other of the signifier of the woman. Whereas the common man in the Other Woman does not exist as Lacan would say later. Because the only signifier we have is the phallus against which the subject fits in different ways depending on whether he falls to the side of man or woman…


Norrie has not always devoted her life to this. Note her passage as Drag Queen exactly where the woman exists for the phallic show. It is possible that the crisis she calls Nervous Breakdown and has known as the result of the intervention has actually dropped the  low identification that allowed her to remain on the side of the men who are imitating the crazy woman of popular Australian style “Mad Priscilla of the desert.”


Here again the lesson of 1983 Miller raises the real issue: that concerning the libidinal investment of the body of a subject such as Schreber, how can the parlêtre fill the “empty bag” with a quantum of libido. How to resume the way Miller treated in cause freudienne N°44 extracted from his current “experience of the real” Biophore the object, bearing life can it animate those who are going through the experience itself called death subjective?


In other words we arrive there at the question of how Lacan invited us to consider the position of fantasy in psychoanalysis, particularly in psychosis. This is the most sensible point. Indeed, the fundamental fantasy, the one who organizes the jouissance of a subject contains both jouissance and its prohibition. (anna Freud: to be a boy and to be beaten for this at times). Miller recalls “The constant position of Lacan is that the fantasy contains minus-Phi and without the minus-Phi it impossible to give reason to the fantasy.”


So the fantasy vehicle therefore prohibited and impotence and Miller raises the question of psychotic fantasy in these words: The effect of phallic significance is also an effect of interdictive signification and this is what is raised in the psychotic fantasy: what is suddenly both denied this is the meaning of this phallic effect, indeed, what is denied is sexual non-connection since the fantasy is realized.


In the next lesson in the May 4, 1983 he explains that for Schreber it is by his fantasy of being the object of divine erotomania but of a god who, is himself instead divided instead of the subject. The subject in the fantasy has to satisfy his god, it’s the jouissance of his body, while in the case of the neurotic, the subject is caught between the temptation to fulfill the fantasy and the prohibition or rather the inability to be satisfied.


I will finish with these considerations we could identify with Seminar XX and XXIII.


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