Family Reactions to Gender Transitions: What Is Lost and What Is Gained?
Presenter: JoAnn Ponder, PhD
March 7, 2018
Austin Energy Building, 721 Barton Springs Road
This presentation explores family reactions to a member’s gender transition. Sexual reassignment has gradually increased in the U.S. since the early 1950s. Psychoanalysts pathologized transsexuals or attributed the gender identifications to parental dysfunction, however, over the next 40 years until the emergence of relational models and postmodern views of gender. There is still little psychoanalytic literature about gender transitions, however, and virtually nothing about its impact on family. Empirical findings indicate that physical transition reduces gender dysphoria, but the individual has high risk for violent victimization, social rejection, and suicide. The suicide risk is significantly lower for transgender individuals with family support. Hansbury (2005) hypothesized that the individual’s successful adjustment to transition involves grief for the loss of the former self, goodbye to the persecutory object of the past, and relinquishment of idealized images of the future. I envision similar processes for family members’ adaptation: grief for the lost object, relinquishment of idealizations of the past, and a lessening of fear and pessimism for the future, in order to be open to new growth and joy. I’ll explore family reactions in films, biographies, and clinical vignettes, supplementing psychoanalytic theory with gender studies, queer theory, etc.
After attending the program in its entirety, attendees will be able to:
1) Identify the correlations between gender transition and the transgender individual’s mental health, and between family support and the transgender individual’s mental health
2) Compare and contrast 2 psychological processes in the individual’s gender transition with 2 psychological processes in a family member’s adaptation to an individual’s gender transition.
Elliot, P. (2001). A psychoanalytic reading of transsexual embodiment. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 2: 295-325.
Grant, J. M.; Mottet, L. A.; Tanis, J.; Harrison, J.; Herman, J. L. & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Hansbury, G. (2005). Mourning the loss of the idealized self: A transsexual passage. Psychoanalytic Social Work, 12: 19-35.
Lemma, A. (2012). Research off the couch: Re-visiting the transsexual conundrum. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 26: 263-281.
Saketopoulou, A. (2014). Mourning the body as bedrock: Developmental considerations in treating transsexual patients. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 62: 773-806.
JoAnn Ponder, PhD is a psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice in Austin. She’s a graduate and faculty member of the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies in Houston and Austin. She also completed postgraduate training in object relational couples and family therapy. Her publications include two book chapters on family issues from a psychoanalytic perspective and a journal article on the intergenerational transmission of trauma. In addition, JoAnn has presented numerous papers at national and international psychoanalytic conferences. She served four terms as president of ASPP, currently serves on the board of the Division of Psychoanalysis of the American Psychological Association, and also serves on the Council of the American Psychoanalytic Association.