‘Freud did not hesitate to repeat Napoleon’s saying, “anatomy is destiny.” Lacan challenges this idea and advances a formula that seems to mark the end of any norm coming from nature: as far as being a man or a woman goes, “they”—subjects—“have a choice.” [. . .] Subjects identify so little with their anatomy that they are inclined to worry about their sexed being. The extreme cases of transexualist delirium or the luring games of transvestism are at one here with more common cases, in which someone wonders whether he is really a man, sometimes to the point of being obliged to show that he is. Meanwhile, another person is preoccupied with knowing whether she is a true woman and finds no better way to assure herself of this than the famous masquerade.
For a century, analytic theory itself has been confronting the problem of defining what makes a person belong to one sex or the other, for if anatomy decides one’s legal status, it commands neither desire nor the drive; the existence of perversions could already have made us suspect this a long time ago. At the beginning of the child’s life, anatomy is reduced to the presence and absence of the penis, which decides whether the baby is to be called a boy or a girl and how, in consequence, s/he is going to be indoctrinated. There must, obviously, however, be more than this simple opposition if a child is to be made a man or a woman. Now there is little chance that the gene for sexual normality is going to be discovered. Freud’s saying itself, contrary to what it may seem to suggest, does not advocate any naturalism. It refers, rather, to this fact of “denaturing” by language, according to which the natural difference between the sexes has consequences only by being submitted to the signifier; it has repercussions at the level of the “speakingbeing” only by passing through the twists and turns of discourse.’
[. . .]
‘The term “sexuation,” which Lacan suggests, and the logical formulas that he gives for it in “L’étourdit,” identify man and woman, in the final analysis, by their modes of jouissance. The formulas of sexuation note and explain what we observe every day: the reign of the Other’s norms stops, it could be said, at the foot of the bed. As soon as what is in question is sexed bodies, the order inaugurated by discourse is unable to correct the denaturing of the speakingbeing; it has nothing to make up for this denaturing other than the phallic semblance. These formulas write the distribution of subjects between two ways of being inscribed in the phallic function; what is in question is nothing other than the function of jouissance inasmuch as, by the fact of language, it comes within the grip of castration.
A man is the subject who has submitted completely to the phallic function. Consequently, castration is his lot, as well as phallic jouissance, to which he accedes by the mediation of the fantasy. A woman, on the contrary, is anyone who has not submitted completely to the regime of phallic jouissance; she has access to an other, supplementary jouissance, without the support of any object or semblance.
This distribution, as we see, is as binary as that of the sex ratio, which, for reasons that we do not know, and until the situation changes, divides the species more or less equally, into male and female. According to Lacan, however, the binary quality of sex, far from being a simple effect of this natural division, depends on a completely different necessity; this other necessity is appended to the constraints of signifiance, and, curiously, reduces the artificiality of sex to the single choice between the phallic whole and not-whole.
The thesis therefore makes a strange homology emerge between two heterogeneous alternatives—male/female and man/woman—both of which can, however, be said to be real: one—that of the living sexed being—depends on nature and its recognized regularities; the other—that of the speakingbeing—is a matter of the logical constraints of language. Such constraints, which do not cease not to be written, are equivalent to the real in the symbolic.
[. . .]
The claim that we can choose between being a man or a woman does not depend, therefore, on any reference to free will; it means first of all that the two alternatives are not isomorphic and that what slides in the gap between them is all the discords, attested to by the clinic, between our “official” sex and erogenous sex. We can verify, indeed, that anatomy is not the destiny of Eros, although for each “speakingbeing,” it is a priori an injury. in other words, there are “men” and “women,” in our usual understanding of these terms, who are not men and women in the sense of sexed being—and thus there is a choice.
The term “choice,” however, remains paradoxical, in regard to the most common experience, which would attest, instead, to the rigors of constraint; subjects either recognize themselves so fully in their sexed aspirations that they suppose that the latter come from nature, or on the contrary, they feel so much that these positions have been forced on them that they live them out only as a symptom and in a state of pain. In both cases, if there is a choice, it is very much a forced choice: the choice between the phallic whole and the not-whole. In reality, the one who is designated as the subject, far from being the agent of this choice, bears its brunt.
In authorizing themselves as sexed beings, according to an expression from the seminar Les non dupes errent, subjects are constrained by the fault of the speaking unconscious. This is a curse! It is a misfortune, for the unconscious speaks the Sex badly, without our always noticing it, since we know that it is structured like a language, “by speaking so much, this heavy step (pas) that is said of it.” [Jacques Lacan, “L’étourdit,” p. 24.] The unconscious does not (pas) speak the Sex any better than does the phallic One, with its narcissistic adherence, which can say nothing of “what takes refuge from it,” [Ibid.]—nothing of the Other—who ex-sists all the more from it. Thus it is concluded that the unconscious is homosexual [This expression is Jacques-Alain Miller’s.]; this is another way of saying, as Freud did, that there is only one libido. Such is the curse that leaves the Other of sex foreclosed. The statement that “there is no sexual relation (rapport),” by which Lacan formulates Freud’s implicit saying (dire), means that in the physical sexual relation (relation) itself—despite love and desire—jouissance, as phallic, gives no access whatsoever to the jouissance of the Other.’
‘Men and women, Lacan remarks, are real. No idealism has gone to the point of arguing that the division between the sexes is only a representation. Nothing, however, can be said of this real—the real of the sexed living body. Nothing can be said of it because of the “wall” of language; the real is outside the symbolic, but we deal with it, nevertheless, in the very precise form of jouissance.’
[. . .]
‘We speak as a man or a woman, and we speak about difference because there are signifiers. We do not, however, know what difference is. Freud had already insisted on the fact that there was no representation of the masculine/feminine distinction in the unconscious. What we certainly see functioning is either the refusal to be a man or a woman or, more frequently, the aspiration to be a real man or a woman. There is no doubt, however, that what is aimed at in these cases, beyond what is imagined about men and women, is always only the phallus, in terms of having or being it. Thus we speak about men and women without being able to make any judgment of attribution about them.’
[. . .]
‘[. . .] when we say that they are different, we are not only designating a difference in the form of the body, we are also implying that they are different as subjects. We can imply this because the phallus is already a signifier that differentiates them. To grasp this, one only has to compare it with other anatomical differences: for example, having blue or brown eyes. A difference in being cannot be concluded from this difference in having. It is true that this is what racism, particularly Aryan racism, tries to do: to reproduce, on the basis of an anatomical trait, a difference as radical as that between the sexes. Such racists raise another anatomical trait—the Aryan or Mediterranean type—to the function of a signifier, a signifier in relation to which symbolic places could be apportioned.
It is thus because there is already the phallic signifier that we say men and women are different because we call them different, they are going to relate differently to the question of difference.
I am insisting on this in order to make you perceive Lacan’s effort at formulating a difference that is not a matter of the judgment of attribution, that is, does not operate according to the following form: men are this and women are that. This is the form in which all the ideologies on the question are deployed, and it always supposes, behind the attribution, the reference to a substance.
How then, on the basis of this single term, the phallus, do we obtain the apportionment of individuals into two superimposable halves— the “sex ration”—an apportionment that “does not become mixed up in their ‘coïteration’”?
The distinction between being and having he phallus, which, in “The Signification of the Phallus,” Lacan used to approach the division of the sexes, can be clarified by the use of propositional functions.
[. . .]
When one writes (for every x, phi of x), the argument , before being related to the function, is, as Lacan says, totally undetermined. What allows it to be determined, and thus to be differentiated, is the modality inscribed in the quantifier . Therefore, when one says, as Lacan does, that there is a universal for man, one can write “all men.” Man is completely in the phallic function and what must be noted is that it is not because he is man that he is in the phallic function; on the contrary, it is because such-and-such an undetermined x is placed completely in the phallic function that he can be called man. It is thus a conditional imputation. The signifier “man” will be imputed to every x that is completely situated in the phallic function; this leaves entirely open the question of knowing whether even one of them really exists.
Likewise, when one writes , there is no universal of woman, woman does not exist, women are not wholly in the phallic function, it is not because they are women that they are “not whole,” but if they are lined up on the side of the “not whole,” then they can be called women.
There is no essence of masculine and feminine and consequently there is no obligation, since anatomy is not destiny. Each of us is free, Lacan says, to line him/herself up on one side or the other; there is a choice for both sexes. If such is the case, it is meaningless to ask why discourse imputes to women the choice of lining themselves up on the side of the “not at all” (pas du tout), a choice that make them radically Other. We could indeed object that it is not because they are women that they have to situate themselves there, but only because they situate themselves there that they are called women.
It must, however, be remarked that we are not free to be indifferent to anatomy, for the signifier is linked to anatomy. An organ of the body makes manifest what the phallic signifier will represent, and because of this, individuals are called boys or girls before they take any position as subject. If there is a choice, it is one about which, at the very least, we have been given some strong advice. We could not understand in any other way the fact that the two halves of humanity can roughly be superimposed on each other as a sex ratio so that the reproduction of the species is continuing. This, indeed, was what had already astonished Freud, in a note to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he remarks that if there are only, as he has established, partial drives, it must then be explained how heterosexuality remains so general. It is certain, in any case, that since the signifiers “man” and “woman” are not unrelated to anatomy, the subject is going to be represented a priori by one or the other of these signifiers, and that s/he cannot choose not to confront them. The question therefore remains with us.
The “all” and this “not at all” represent two possibilities for the speaking subject, two sides of structure. In “L’étourdit,” Lacan asks what means. It means that every subject as such is inscribed in the phallic function, and this is why he can also say that is women are not wholly (pas toutes) in the phallic function, they are “not not there at all.” [Lacan, Encore, p. 72.]
To define this Φx. and the phallic jouissance that it supports, I will use, among all possible expressions, the following one: the phallic function is the castration function that is due to lalangue. Because the jouissance of the body is organized by lalangue, it becomes something that is “outside the body,” anomalous and identical with the jouissance operating in the symptom. The signifier is the cause of jouissance, but it is also what makes it partial and irremediably exterior. The phallic function therefore designates the way in which the body and the subject are caught in lalangue.
What can be said about the not whole? If the phallic function is as we have just stated and if the subject is as Lacan has described it—that which is supposed in relation to the signifier, in the space between two signifiers—it immediately seems paradoxical to speak of a subject who would not be completely in the phallic function. Lacan relates it explicitly to the [. . . .] This is because there is a gap in the Other as place of speech and this place always remains other, which can be formulated by saying that there is no Other of the Other, or no absolute knowledge is possible. Discourse cannot embrace something that would be a totality of knowledge. In other words, in the Other, there is a hole. What is designated here is an internal limit to the symbolic order.
[. . .]
There are [. . .] two aspects of the absolute Other: the Other which, as the place of the signifier, is barred, is always Other, and the real, inasmuch as it is absolutely other than the symbolic, which ex-sists to it. This double aspect seems implicitly to be present when Lacan speaks in “La troisième” of the jouissance of the Other, the jouissance that he calls impossible, and that is as much “outside language, outside the symbolic” as phallic jouissance is “outside the body.” The Other designates, first of all, the substance of the other body, and as body, it can only be hugged or destroyed, or a piece of it can be caught (ou en attraper un morceau). On the other hand, the partner’s real body symbolizes the Other as the impregnable place of the signifier.
To say that women are “not whole” is therefore to say that the signifier “woman” connotes what escapes discourse and makes present to us whatever is beyond what can be reached by speech. This beyond is certainly due to the symbolic structure and the lack that is inherent in it, but it would remain totally indeterminate if there were no real—here, that of the body—outside the symbolic. For this reason, the disputes about the sex of angels deserved to be called Byzantine. To claim to be a woman is thus to give body to an aspect of structure: to be, “by relation with what can be said (se dire) of the unconscious, radically Other.” The opacity of the real of the body (of the real by which a body enjoys itself [se jouit] and which is the most foreign to the symbolic as such) comes here at the place of the gap in the symbolic.
Why is it the feminine body that is called, by preference, to take this place and what does this imply for subjects?
Perhaps we should go back to the thing—the aspect of the real that remains foreign, outside the symbolic—the thing encountered, first of all, by every subject as the maternal thing. This is a bad encounter if it is an encounter at all, since it is that of the wall that cuts the speakingbeing from the real. Yet the mother, here, has a double aspect: she is both body and speech, the mystery of the speaking body, to repeat an expression that Lacan applies to the unconscious. The relation with the mother, indeed, is a double one.
On the one hand, it must be said that there is no jouissance of the body of the mother. There is certainly sonorous, olfactory, and tactile contact, but this body remains other, foreign, withdrawn into its internal opacity, which the specular image envelops. The child’s sadism seems to me to have no other meaning that that of designating the encounter with this first limit: one can try to cut, to gobble up, to smash the other body, but it remains other. This is what the child’s real and imaginary aggressions stumble up against, before the interdiction carried by discourse comes and puts an end to them. The inability to catch the maternal thing, the impossibility of incest with the thing, means that the subject can do no better than obtain pieces of it, bits of objects—breast, voice, gaze, and so on. The child sets up the partial drives, if, however, the Other allows him/her to do so.
Yet the mother also speaks [. . .] and in speaking, she provides the signifiers that organize the drives in the body. She sets up, with the dimension of the demand, those of desire and the phallic signifier: the dimensions of the very enigma of the Other. What must be emphasized, however, is that this enigma of her desire as articulated, at the horizon of which the emerges, intensifies the enigma of the real of her body. Here again, we find the same superimposition as the one that concerns the “not whole.” It is essential to note that I am not saying that the real in itself is enigmatic. It is simply there, devoid of interest, beyond reality, which itself is constructed. The enigma comes from the symbolic. The real constitutes an enigma for the speakingbeing because the symbolic separates him/her from it. It remains therefore only as a limit, which can be imaginarized in the form of the container.’
‘[. . .] the relation that a mother has with her child according to its sex: she gets jouissance differently from a daughter than from a son.
That the child plays the part of an “erotic thing” for a mother is what Freud located precisely from the beginning. Yet the child is evoked here as a signifier, caught in the “equation” of the little separable objects. This is the most obvious and the most general aspect of the mother’s feeling, but it does nothing other than emphasize how much the child is placed in a woman’s relation to the phallic function. I think that there is more, however, and that it is not emphasized often enough. Here, again, the signifier is incarnated, takes on a body, is knotted to the real, and because of this, the child—who is certainly the most integrated into the economy of the signifier—also makes present what most escapes this economy: the incommensurable real. S/he represents it all the more since s/he is a being who is still marked only to a minimal degree by the signifier and is quite close to “the organic night” [The expression is Michèle Montrelay’s.]; the child is still reduced to the mystery of the life of the body, between cry and sleep. In this, s/he can be [S/he can be, but is not necessarily this. What conditions this possibility should be examined.], for a mother, for a period of time, the persisting encounter with what concerns her most particularly as a woman: beyond the symbolic and the limits of all knowledge (tout savoir). In this case, the child, as a bit of the real, comes to symbolize for her mother the itself. Precisely in this sense, s/he participates in her/his own division; for the mother, s/he is the Other that woman is for every subject. Perhaps it is also from the child’s status as Other that the mother gets jouissance.
In this respect, the situation is not equivalent for the boy and the girl. For the latter, there is an effect of intensification. To the extent that anatomy and the signifier, which is grafted onto it, place her on the feminine side, she becomes the external place, for the mother, of her own otherness (autreté) as a woman. Recent texts insist, once again and quite correctly, on what is interminable in the narcissistic struggle with the mother, on how one gets bogged down in an imaginary—or real—duel whose maddening effects (effets d’égarement) are obvious. Yet the identity of specular images would not be enough to account for this duel, which, indeed, also occurs in the father/son relation; it could not account for it if the feminine did not represent the Other, perhaps for reasons that I have tried to say. Here again, therefore, the imaginary is sustained by the symbolic, and, indeed, is sustained very precisely by the fact that the Other is always other and that thus, nothing can be said about it. Nothing can be said, except what Hadewijch of Antwerp says about God: everything that he is not, for he is beyond everything that can pass into language.
For women, to whom discourse imputes the task of representing this limit, there remains then, in the relation to the other, what I will call the fundamental “we” of the communication between women: the “we” of effusions and affinities, of the confided maternal secret that always calls for losing some phallic hope, which is what would distance the daughter from the intimacy of their silent jouissance and which would leave the mother to her solitude. Yet this is also the reverse side of the situation of being trapped and stuck in relation to the maternal figure; it is the enthusiastic “we,” the “we” of the confidence of being carried by what, for lack of another word, we call life. In other words, it is what carries the discourses along.’
 Colette Soler, What Lacan Said about Women: A Psychoanalytic Study, trans. John Holland (Other Press: New York, 2006), pp. 175–6.
 Ibid., pp. 177–9.
 Ibid., p. 296.
 Ibid., pp. 300–5.
 Ibid., pp. 306–8.