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The Absence Of Anxiety: A Case Of Transvestism

The Letter, Issue 6, Spring 1996, Pages 91 - 98


Aisling Campbell

Anxiety is so universal a human experience that it is remarkable only when it is absent. It is generally accepted as ubiquitous in the neurotic and the psychotic. Only the perverse individual seems to escape its insistence, albeit briefly, when he is playing out his phantasy. In this situation, it is not just that his anxiety is suppressed - it is completely absent. Rather, he induces anxiety in others; witness the panic engendered by the paedophile priest. I would like to discuss the case of a man whose absolute lack of anxiety when he is engaged in transvestism is instructive of the particular structure of the pervert as differing from that of the neurotic or the psychotic.

I have given him the name Brian to facilitate my discussion. His life was by no means free of anxiety: he came with symptoms of severe anxiety when he was required to speak to anyone outside his own family, especially with anyone in authority. He was barely able to carry on a conversation even with his workmates without being crippled by this anxiety. His most distressing symptom, however, as far as he was concerned, was his habit of dressing in womens' clothing. He had begun by buying and dressing in underwear but progressed to wearing more and more complete feminine outfits. When he felt anxious and frustrated - which was often - he would experience an irresistible urge to "dress up", and would dress in front of the mirror to the accompaniment of frenetic masturbation. This was the only time he got pleasure out of anything at all in his life and the only time he was free of anxiety. He is thirty-three, married and his first child is a boy of seven. He came to analysis following the birth of his second child, also a boy, now three. His father was a butcher and was addicted to alcohol for as long as Brian could remember: in fact his father died of alcohol-related diseases soon after he began analysis. His mother also drank, but secretly. His father made no secret of it, falling down drunk just outside the front door every night, so that it was impossible to ignore him; Brian would regularly have to step over him in order to enter the house, a house he thought of as his mother's house. His mother continually put his father down to himself and his brothers and sisters - but she spoke about the father constantly, his failure as a husband and father permeating her discourse. He made an energetic attempt as a child never to take sides in his parents' arguments. He is the third eldest of five; his older brother is psychotic, uncontrollable and deluded, and lives at home with his mother. Brian is constantly called upon by his mother to run errands for her, to take his brother to the psychiatric hospital; he finds it difficult to refuse her.

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