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18 February 2019

Lance (1959 - ) UCLA GIRC’s first trans child

Lance had, almost since his first year, loved to parade in the shoes and clothes of his mother and sister. He also loved jewelry and makeup. The mother regarded this as just childhood play, but then a neighbor complained, and a teacher at school reported that he involved his friends in games of cross-dressing. At age five, Lance was taken by his mother to the University of California Los Angeles Gender Identity Research Clinic (UCLA GIRC).

Richard Green saw him twice weekly for six months, until called away, and then psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson continued the treatment. Robert Stoller, psychoanalyst and head of the GIRC analyzed the mother.

Greenson was a celebrity psychoanalyst in Los Angeles and had analyzed several film stars, such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis, and most famously had been Marilyn Monroe’s analyst at the time of her death in 1962. Lance was his first time treating a child.

He quickly noticed the child’s intelligence and athletic ability. He treated Lance mainly at the swimming pool at his own home, where he even taught Lance to swim. Most of the sessions were comprised of games in the water. This helped Lance to overcome his fears about being alone with a male adult. One day, while out for a walk, they encountered a group of girls playing with a Barbie doll, and Lance, becoming excited, asked to watch. At first he was mocked by the girls, but then became the center of their game. Later he begged Greenson to buy him a Barbie doll. Greenson did so, but on the condition that Lance could play with it only when with Greenson. After this point Lance largely stopped wearing female clothing. Lance did a drawing of the happiest day of his life, which was of himself in the pool, with a man outside watching. Lance avoided touching Greenson until the fifth month when they were playing together in the pool. Greenson was replacing Lance playing with the doll by playing with an adult male. According to Greenson, Lance had had difficulty differentiating loving an object from wanting to be the object. Initially he had referred to the doll as ‘me’.

Stoller analyzed the mother. She was in her forties, and had also an 11-year-old daughter. Her grandparents had been prize-winning lace-makers, and her father was noted for his needlework and weaving. She had been a creative dress designer before marriage, and still made all her own clothes. She permitted her children to see her nude and engaged in much body contact with them. Stoller describes her as looking ‘boyish’, and with shortish hair, although usually in a skirt. She took pride in her teenage photographs where she appeared to be a boy. She had passed as male whenever convenient; competed with boys in athletics and games; and played both male and female parts in theatricals. This was quite accepted by her family. She said:
"When you take off your own clothes and put on different clothes, you can be anyone".
Her own mother was emotionally distant, but her father comforted her, bought her clothes and took her, but not her brothers, to sports events. That is, until her younger sister was born. However at puberty she accepted her anatomical destiny, and developed her femininity. A brother 13 years younger was also a cross-dresser. She left home at 16. She married a man who was frequently away at work. They had a daughter and then Lance. Stoller describes both her mother and her husband as ‘empty’. He also diagnoses the mother as having ‘penis envy’. He summarizes:
“Let us review what has happened in this particular case. A strongly bisexual woman, with severe penis envy derived from her father and older brothers, in its turn the result of a sense of emptiness produced by her mother, married an empty man and had a son. On the one hand, the boy was (the phallus) of her flesh; on the other, he was clearly a male and no longer of her flesh. He was therefore both to be kept as a part of herself, by identification, and treated as an object whom she would feminize. He was his mother's feminized phallus.”
After many months of analysis, it came out that it was she, rather than her mother, who had brought up the brother, 13 years younger, who was also a cross-dresser. And he had the same name that she gave to her own son.

After Lance’s sessions with Greenson, he was deemed to be cured. Stoller, in a different essay (1968: 254) says:
“The first successfully treated case of childhood transsexualism is that of Greenson; a report written after the treatment was ended gives a vivid and warm account of this boy's rescue.”
A few years later when Agnes confessed to Stoller that she had taken external estrogens before first seeing him, she agreed for him to meet her mother, and he was able to analyze her. He found a pattern similar to that of Lance’s mother. He found a few more such, and proposed his intergenerational model of transsexual etiology, for which he became famous.
  • Robert Stoller. “ Mother’s Contribution to Infantile Transvestic Behavior”. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47, 1966: 384-395.
  • Ralph R. Greenson. “A transvestite boy and a hypothesis”. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47, 1966: 396–403.
  • Robert Stoller. Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity, Science House, 1968.
  • Ralph R Greenson. Explorations in Psychoanalysis. International Universities Press, 1978.
  • Pierre-Henri Castel. La métamorphose impensable: essai sur le transsexualisme et l'identité personnelle. Gallimard, 2003: 88-9, 432n17.
  • Riccardo Galiani. “Un cas, deux écritures, une catégorie “. Topique, 3, 108, 2009 : 143-156. Online.
  • Richard Green. “Robert Stoller’s Sex and Gender: 40 Years on”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 2010: 1460-1.
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When Stoller reprinted his article in his 1968 collection of papers, he renamed it “Mother’s Contribution to Transsexualism”; likewise when Greenson reprinted his in his 1978 collection, he renamed it “A transsexual boy and a hypothesis”.   Stoller (1968: 131) explains how he distinguishes the words: "I found myself, on calling the child an "infantile transvestite," continuously having to explain that although he cross-dressed, he did not have essential qualities of the adolescent or adult male transvestite (e.g., love of and anxious regard for his penis)." 

As is often the case with psychoanalytical studies, we have no follow-up. Lance became an adult at the end of the 1970s, and will now be turning 60. Did Lance later return to being a woman? Did he, like the presumed pre-transsexuals in the UCLA/Richard Green Feminine Boy Project of the 1970s,  become a gay man instead? Does the claim that he was ‘cured’ by Greenson mean that he was not really trans to begin with? We know of apparent trans kids who desist. A major example from the 1960s would be Kim Christy who grew up to be cis heterosexual, father and grandfather. No adult, cis man or trans woman has come forward to identify with Lance. Unlike Freud’s published case studies where the corresponding real-life persons have been identified.

If Stoller and Greenson were right about what they were doing, then it was wrong in that it was conversion therapy, which today would be illegal. However if the only result of Greenson’s therapy was to teach Lance to swim, and to make him comfortable in the presence of an adult male, then no real harm was done.  However to the extent that an attempt was made to induce an Oedipal complex through the transferential interventions of a male therapist, than that is something else.

Stoller is critical of Lance’s mother’s lifestyle: nudity in front of the kids, body touching, interest in clothes, freedom to wear whatever clothing. A few years later this kind of lifestyle was dubbed ‘hippie’. Surely there was much in it that is positive.   Stoller implies that the mother's passing as a teenage male was somehow perverse.   This would have been the early 1930s.   Her accepting her body changes at puberty, and switching to being a woman, could equally well imply a healthy attitude to reality.

Stoller regards it as important that she admitted that it was she, rather than her own mother, who had raised the brother who cross-dressed.  However he was 13 years younger, and she left home at 16.   So she raised him only for the first three years. Yet Stoller implies that she repeatedly turned boys into cross-dressers.

Stoller calls the mother 'bisexual'.   He is not using the term as we do today.  There is no suggestion of a female lover.   It would be better if he used 'bigender'.

Did the UCLA GIRC provide the therapy sessions pro bono (as it was research) or was the family sent a bill? As usual, we are not told.

Castel (p88) describes Lance as the archetype of a child transsexual. Really! This, of course was long before the recent expansion of numbers of trans kids, but there are serious candidates for the term from the 1950s/1960s: Sally Barry, Jill Monroe, Hedy Jo Star and of course Agnes.

Stoller writes of “a mother's unconscious wishes on the infant who is later to become perverse.*" and immediately adds a footnote: “After studying transexuals , I am much less certain what the word "perverse" means”.

To my mind the most perverse thing in the article is Stoller’s designation of the mother’s mother and of her husband as “empty”. However that is just a word. Stoller does not explain how he is using the word, and more importantly he does so on the word of a single analysand.

Stoller adds a footnote that after three years Lance’s father was persuaded to come in once a week and to see a different team member, but we are told nothing further.

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