Stoller, Robert J. (1925-1991)

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STOLLER, ROBERT J. (1925-1991)

American psychoanalyst, professor of psychiatry, UCLA Medical School, was born December 15, 1925, in Crestwood, New York and died on September 6, 1991, in Los Angeles.

He was born and raised in suburban New York to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, attended Columbia University and Stanford Medical School, was married for 43 years, and had four sons. Stoller underwent psychoanalytic training at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute from 1953 to 1961 with analysis by Hanna Fenichel. He was the author of nine books, co-author of three others, and publisher of over one hundred and fifteen articles. Stoller's writing is unique in its clarity and accessibility as well as its critical perspective on psychoanalytic methodology.

Stoller is known for his theories and research concerning the development of gender and the dynamics of sexual excitement. In Sex and Gender (1968), Stoller articulates a challenge to Freud's belief in biological bisexuality. Drawing on his extensive research with transsexuals at UCLA's Gender Identity Clinic and new advances in the science of sex, Stoller, in "Primary Femininity," advances his belief in the initial orientation of both biological tissue and psychological identification toward feminine development. This early, non-conflictual phase contributes to a feminine core gender identity in both boys and girls unless a masculine force is present to interrupt the symbiotic relationship with mother. Stoller identifies three components in the formation of core gender identity, an innate and immutable sense of maleness or femaleness, usually consolidated by the second year of life: 1) Biological and hormonal influences; 2) Sex assignment at birth; and 3) Environmental and psychological influences with effects similar to imprinting. Stoller asserts that threats to core gender identity are like threats to the sense of self and result in the defenses known as perversions.

In his most notable contribution, Perversion (1975), Stoller attempts to illuminate the dynamics of sexual perversion which he fights valiantly to normalize. Stoller suggests that perversion inevitably entails an expression of unconscious aggression in the form of revenge against a person who, in early years, made some form of threat to the child's core gender identity, either in the form of overt trauma or through the frustrations of the oedipal conflict.

In Sexual Excitement (1979), Stoller finds the same perverse dynamics at work in all sexual excitement on a continuum from overt aggression to subtle fantasy. In focusing on the unconscious fantasy, and not the behavior, Stoller provides a way of analyzing the mental dynamics of sexuality, which he terms "erotics," while simultaneously de-emphasizing the pathology of any particular form of behavior. Stoller does not consider homosexuality as a monolithic behavior but rather as a range of sexual styles as diverse as heterosexuality.

Less well known is Stoller's contribution toward making psychoanalysis a legitimate research tool through the publication of the analyst's dataverbatim notes and transcripts of interviews. Stoller melds the work of the ethnographer and the analyst as a means of producing scientifically valid psychological data. Many of Stoller's books, like Splitting (1973), are devoted to the documentation of the interviews on which he based his research.

Christopher Gelber

Notion developed: Sexual identity.

See also: Homosexuality; Perversion; Principle of identity; Transsexualism; Voyeurism.


Stoller, Robert J. (1968). Sex and gender: On the development of masculinity and feminity. New York: Science House.

. (1973). Splitting: A case of female masculinity. New York: Quadrangle Books.

. (1975). Perversion: The erotic form of hatred. New York: Pantheon.

. (1979). Sexual excitement: dynamics of erotic life. New York: Pantheon.

. (1985). Observing the erotic imagination. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

. (1985). Presentations of gender. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.