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Beginning Thoughts on the Psychosexual
Development of Children in Nontraditional
Toni Vaughn Heineman, DMH
San Francisco, California

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The author examines the ways in which a psychoanalytic perspective may

illuminate the underlying developmental dynamics of children of lesbian par
ents. Families headed by gay and lesbian parents demand reconsideration of a
theory of oedipal development based on heterosexual parents. If triangulation,
the move from dyadic to triadic object relationships, depends on 2 primary
processes-the child's acceptance of the immutability of generations and the
child's recognition that children are excluded from the world of adult sexual
ity-parental gender or sexual orientation assumes less importance. The emer
gence of conscience from multifaceted processes of identification is consistent
with this view of triangulation as a developmental phase. Children of gay and
lesbian parents must be offered theories of healthy development that include
Although this article has had many beginnings over the past few years, its original impetu
grew from a family visit to welcome the newborn son of our friends Nancy and Susan. As
we drove away, our then 10-year-old son mused from the backseat, "I wonder what they'll
want him to be-whether they'll want him to be like them and be with a man, or be like
them and be with a woman."
This question astounded and sobered his parents in the front seat. We had grown up
in a world of closeted homosexuality and, until well into adulthood, had had little reason,
either personally or professionally, to consider a universe that did not assume the heteroToni Vaughn Heineman, DMH, independent practice, San Francisco, California.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Toni Vaughn Heineman, DMH,
2481 Clay Street, Number 201, San Francisco, CA 94115. E-mail:



exuality of parent . ot only would we not have been able to ask the que tion as
uccinctly, but at his age, we wouldn't even have thought to a k such a que lion.
My incentive for pursuing thi inquiry . terns, in large part, from my recognition that
l did not even begin to have an an wer to my son' very intriguing and legitimate question.
Often l have thought I've begun to find a way into que tion about how a male child
parented by two women might experience him elf as a exual being in relation to hi
parent and the world. More often than not, I have found my elf lost in the confu ion and
contradiction offered by my own mu ing and the theoretical con truction and decontruction offered by profes ional writings and conver ation with colleagues.

In an effort to tep outside the heterocentric assumptions and theories that have shaped and
continue to influence our idea. about children and families, I have posited a model that
recognize the es ential element of thi pivotal developmental stage without reference to
the parent ' exual orientation or exual object choice. However, thi model doe. not
exclude sexuality; it simply demand that children recognize and accept their parents a
living in the world of adult exuality. Thi world, from which the male child of le bian
parent i excluded, can and doe include men who e exual partner are women and tho e
who e partners are men. It include women who e romantic eye are for men and tho e
who long for and eek romance with other women. It i a model that recognizes that our
inherent bisexuality is expre sed in different ways by parent and their children.

Theoretical Homophobia
We have pent decade trying to understand the intrap ychic and interper onal proce se
by which children of heterosexual parent develop healthy hetero exual identitie . In the
pa t decade we have witne sed ignificant, u. tained attention to the development of a
fuller under landing of the intrapsychic and interpersonal proce e by which ome chil
dren of heterosexual parent develop healthy homo exual identitie (see, e.g., Benjamin,
2002; Corbett, 1993; Dimen & Goldner, 2002; Ehren aft, 2001; Eli e, 1999; Gro man,
1996; Lewe , 1988; Stein, 1998). Although alternative and nontraditional familie have
begun to appear in our clinical discu ions, the developmental and theoretical que tions
posed by familie headed by two men, two women, or multiple parent with a variety
of sexual orientation have not made their way into the main tream of p ychoanalytic
discour. e.
The pa t decade of theoretical writing enormou ly expanded our understanding of the
development of gender identity, exual orientation, and exual object choice ( ee, e.g.,
Burch, 1995, 1998; Butler, 1995; Corbett, 1993; Dimen, 200 I; Domenici & Le er, 1995;
Han ell, 1998; Kernberg, 2002; Schwartz, 1998; Schafer, 1999). Thi continuing truggle
to understand the development of the full range of human sexuality has heightened our
appreciation for the hifting nuance of individual sexual de ire , choices, and construc
tions (Aron, 1995; Chodorow, 1994; Freud, 1905/1953). Yet when considering exual
development, we tend to assume that children continue to grow up in familie virtually
identical to the generic father-mother-child configuration on which Freud founded his
original theorie of sexuality. Con equently, we continue to rely on theories ba ed, wheth-

er explicitly or implic
parents. We have faile
er or in what way chi
their parents; that fail
No doubt the rea
practical level, only i
le bian and gay paren
parent openly. Clo ete
allowed the institution
dren to per i t unque:
particular of a child'
development continue
uppo ition stem , in
create a child. Howev
construction that pare1
daily life.
Although the incre
expand our under tan<
alone provide a uffici1
After all, ince the be!
the conflict confronti
logical, and day-to-da
internal and external ,
cerns the effects on d
child configuration, u
Homophobia is dee
homosexuality into tht
ha demanded extraon
that until we can accer
con idering the likelih1
uncon ciously held ide
healthy children.
Research on the ch
the children of heteros
ero exual mother , run
current developmental
in the larger p ycholog
edly nece ary to di pe
are them elve perverte
defective (Cameron, 11
development, and oci
Drexler, 200 I; Dunne.
comparative research h
surable difference betw
times inadvertently (Cc
heterocentric value by
implicitly uggesting ti'
families mu t be mea t