"Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman, The"

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The treatment that Sigmund Freud relates in the article "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman" was a short one, lasting four months. He had broken it off one year or so earlier, upon recognizing the force of his patient's negative transference towards him.

Then aged nineteen years old, the young girl did not consider herself to be in any way ill and had only agreed to begin an analysis at her father's insistence. Her father was worried not only about his daughter's overt homosexuality but in particular about a recent suicide attempt; after he had encountered her in the street in the company of the woman with whom she was in love, she had thrown herself over a parapet wall on to a suburban railway line.

The second child and sole daughter of a family of four children from the Jewish bourgeoisie in Vienna, "assimilated" by baptism, the young girl had fallen passionately in love with a "cocotte " who was ten years older than she. In desperation, the family had decided to appeal to Freud, despite what he describes as the low esteem in which psychoanalysis was then generally held in Vienna.

This is the only case of female homosexuality that Freud reports and the analysis was conducted during a period when his daughter Anna, then aged twenty-four years old, was also in analysis with him. This text could be considered as the starting-point for a development in Freud's study of femininity, as he later elaborated it in "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes" (1925j), "Female Sexuality" (1931b), and "New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" (1933a).

"The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman" is noteworthy in that it simultaneously concerns:

  • Clinical questions: homosexuality in women but also in men; the concept of object-choice in relation to the Oedipus complex; the status of dreams with regard to the unconscious; adolescence and passage to the act; and suicide.
  • Technical observations on the treatment: the negative therapeutic reaction; the transfer of oedipal hostility onto the analyst; the therapeutic alliance; and the difficulty with analysis conducted at the request of a third party.
  • Epistemological developments: causality in the analysis and its unpredictability; innate and acquired characteristics; and the connections between psychoanalysis and biology.

It therefore becomes apparent once again how it is difficulty or even failure in clinical practice that lead Freud to reflect in a productive way, as is characteristic of scientific investigation.

Freud addresses the question of homosexuality from the outset of his work in many texts. He emphasizes here that "it is not for psycho-analysis to solve the problem of homosexuality" (1920a, p. 171); that is, he considers it to be a variant of the sexual organization that in common with heterosexuality represses the other part of the original bisexuality. For him, the analytic attitude consists in re-establishing the full bisexual function in a way that leaves open the subsequent choice.

The complex relations between object choice and identification with the object are demonstrated here: disappointed in her oedipal love by the birth of a new brother when she is in the throes of the pubertal resurgence of the Oedipus complex, the young homosexual girl turns away from her father and from men in general. She identifies with her new brother and takes first her mother and then another woman as love object in place of her father.

Rather than the oedipal competition, Freud emphasizes here the negative consequences of the "libidinal withdrawal" as a convenient position that avoids the conflict. He also resumes and continues his analysis of the origin of the compulsion to fall in love with women of "ill repute" who need to be "saved" (1910h).

Previously analyzed (1910g), suicide is emphasized here in its primary murderous and other-directed nature, which is secondarily turned back on the subject herself by identification. It is surprising, however, that the young girl's passage to the act, which she explains by her despair in love following her rejection by the woman who evidently did not want any trouble with the family, is not discussed any further by Freudparticularly in its dual character of destructiveness both toward the mother, represented by the loved and rejecting woman (who "drops" her), and toward the father against whom the act is directed as a supreme act of defiance.

The idea that the patient is attempting to mislead him with lying dreams leads Freud to an important observation that the dream is not the "unconscious" but the form into which a thought left over from conscious or preconscious waking life is recast.

This is to be understood in the context of the patient's negative transference and resistances, which he likens to Russian military tactics of encouraging the enemy to advance in order to ambush him later. Realizing that the patient has transferred to him "the sweeping repudiation of men which had dominated her ever since the disappointment she had suffered from her father" (1920a, p. 164), Freud breaks off the treatment and advises that she should resume it with a woman analyst.

In his view, the young girl has therefore proved incapable of successfully completing the second phase of the analysis, which follows the period in which information is obtained and is supposed to lead the patient herself to grasp hold of the material placed at her disposal. These technical observations had already appeared in another form in the concept of working-through (1914g).

Finally, the question of homosexuality leads Freud to distance himself from the received idea of a congenital homosexuality and to emphasize, alongside the somatic sexual characteristics and the type of object-choice, the importance of the psychic sexual characteristicsthat is, the "masculine and feminine positions"leaving the rest to biological research.

This article is therefore an important clinical, technical and epistemological work.

The therapeutic failure is productive not only because it leads Freud to reconsider the procedure of both analyst and analysand in the treatment, particularly in its beginnings, but also because it leads him to identify in part with the question posed by the parents: what should be done with regard to this young girl's homosexuality and, above all, could it have been foreseen and therefore avoided?

This concerns a fundamental question for psychoanalysis, to which Freud gives a firm answer: "Hence the chain of causation can always be recognized with certainty if we follow the line of analysis, whereas to predict along the line of synthesis is impossible" (1920a, p. 168).

There are so many causal factors at work that it is impossible to know in advance which will prove to be the strongest. The concept of "deferred action" that characterizes the specific nature of temporality in psychoanalysis emerges here in its epistemological dimension: prediction is impossible because it is only in deferred action that it can be said which elements were the strongest, for the sole reason that it is these that have prevailed. Although it may seem a truism, this observation is nevertheless of fundamental importance for child and adolescent psychology and it conflicts with primary pseudo-determinism.

On the ethical plane, it is also a perspective that leads to an active attitude of confidence in the possibility that psychic destiny is not fixed for all time. In fact, Freud does not take the view that homosexuality is a sexual pathology, although he does emphasize that female homosexuality is "much less glaring" than male homosexuality and that it is beyond the purview of the law.

Despite his annoyance at not managing to get through his young patient's defenses and polite contempt, Freud in fact appears respectful of her choices and firm with regard to the ethics of the analytic position, in which there is no question of defining a "good" sexuality to be imposed on the ailing "deviant."

A fascinating biography of the patient, Sidonie Csillag, was published in 2000 by Ines Rieder and Diana Voigt. It provides us with a useful reminder of the context of female homosexuality in this period and bisexuality as a phenomenon that accompanied women's emancipation. The book sheds light on the unusual fate of this woman, who was to die a centenarian, after leading a life that was as free, non-conformist, and adventurous as the one that had led her to Freud against her will at the age of nineteen.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Adolescence; Adolescent crisis; Female sexuality; Femininity; Feminism and psychoanalysis; Homosexuality; Masculinity/femininity; Negative therapeutic reaction; Negative transference; Psychic causality; Resistance; Sexuality; Sexualization; Sexuation, formulas of; Suicide.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1920a).Über die Psychogenese eines Falles von weiblicher Homosexualität. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, VI, 1920, pp. 1-24; GW, XII, pp. 271-302; The psychogenesis of a case of homosexuality in a woman. SE, 18: 145-172.


Freud, Sigmund. (1925j). Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes. SE, 19: 241-258.

. (1931b). Female sexuality. SE, 21: 221-243.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

Rieder, Ines, and Voigt, Diana. (2000). Heimliches Begehren: Die Geschichte der Sidonie C. Franz. Vienna/Munich: Deuticke Verlag.

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"Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman, The"