Friday, December 30, 2005

La Plus Ça Change

As the landscape turns white here in New England at the end of 2005, the entire western world approaches the end of a few notable celebrations and a few less than notable ones. 2005 was the centennial of Einstein’s theory of relativity. It was the centennial of Las Vegas, of Saskatchewan and Alberta becoming Canadian provinces, and, in Vermont (where I live) of Montpelier's Lodge of Elks #924.

2005 was also the centennial of Sigmund Freud's theory of vaginal orgasms. In 1905, Freud declared "infantile" any orgasm a woman has by any means other than penile penetration. Recent survey data suggest that only 20-30% of women have orgasms by the means Freud favored. I can't find data showing how many men believe their women partners to have "vaginal orgasms." But if it's more than 20-30%, 2005 is probably also the centennial of the faked orgasm. In which case it marks, to cop a title from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 100 hundred years of solitude, or at least of loneliness and disappointment.

Another centennial: 100 years before 2005, Anna Freud, Sigmund's Freuds daughter, turned 10. "Not a big deal," you might say. How many 10-year-olds' birthdays do we celebrate 100 years later?

Not a lot. But, you see, Sigmund wasn't an easy father for any 10-year-old to have, much less this 10-year-old. W. H. Auden once described Sigmund as "not a person but a whole climate of opinion." Not only did he declare anything but vaginal orgasms infantile, he declared homosexuality sick and lesbianism the fault of the father. Way back when Anna was turning 10, Sigmund's ideas were blasting across Europe like a weather front. Unfortunately, while she hunkered in her father's shadow, she was probably developing inklings that she wasn't going to live a life replete with the kind of orgasms he specifically extolled. For while her sisters and friends were getting their first serious crushes on boys, Anna was probably getting her first crushes -- on other girls. And that was something that she probably had to deal with very, very creatively, given who her father was and what her father pronounced.

I’ll wager that no Freudian psychoanalyst you will ever meet will acknowledge to you that Anna Freud was gay. They tend to protect Sigmund's theories, which means that they refer to her as a life-long vestal virgin. (That's what her father called her.) But the truth is that Anna lived the last 50+ years of her life in a monogamous relationship with Dorothy Burlingham, who was heir to the Tiffany fortune. It was a dignified Boston marriage typical of the time. Anna doesn't seem to proclaimed her love for Dorothy to anyone but Dorothy. Their friends and family were far too polite, far too reserved, far too awed by Sigmund's intellectual legacy to ask them direct and personal questions, as, apparently, were tabloid journalists.

However, in the late 1970s, when Anna and Dorothy were very old women, the Research Director of the Freud Archives was Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson, Ph.D. Dr. Masson is a rather colorful gourmand of gossip. He was so colorful in the 1970's that Janet Malcolm profiled him in a series of articles in The New Yorker (for which she and The New Yorker got sued, but that's another story). Anyway, while in the employ of the Freud Archives, Dr. Masson became curious about the two old dears. They doted on each other so sweetly. Dr. Masson was oh, so fascinated and oh, so inquisitive. He asked Freud family friends about the nature of Anna and Dorothy's relationship. They replied to his questions with blank stares. So, frustrated and a bit too restlessly, perhaps, Dr. Masson did the obvious. He asked Paula Fichtl, who had been Dorothy's maid since the 1920s. "Do Miss Burlingham and Miss Freud share a bed?" the Research Director asked Paula. Laughing with surprise, Paula stumbled in her answer, "Why no, sir. They each have their own beds." And then, guiltily, rather by way of explanation: "They sleep together in one or another, whichever they please."

Of course, I paraphrase and probably embellish. But you get the point.

The way I see it, 2005 -- which, as I've said, was the centennial of the vaginal orgasm and all of those faked ones -- may have also been the centennial of 10-year-old Anna's very first steps in a long and ultimately successful struggle to define herself as separate from her father's ideas and to live a productive, laudable life that included romantic, homosexual love. Actually, she did become a psychoanalyst, so I guess the apple didn't fall very far from the tree in some respects. But she was a psychoanalyst of a different kind, specializing in the analysis of traumatized children, a group with which she may have had cause to identify, given the fact that her homophobic father analyzed her for about five years. They talked about her sexual inclinations and fantasies.

So as 2005 closes, while we are recognizing Einstein’s relativity theory, Las Vegas, Saskatchawan, and Alberta in the closing days of their centennials and while we are lauding the Elks of Montpelier, Vermont's Lodge 924, are there any women (gay or straight) out there who want to raise a glass to 100 years of faked orgasms? Any women who want to raise one to Anna Freud? She found someone with whom she didn't have to fake and she lived the rest of her life in a this-is-who-I-am-dear, pass-the-tea-and-hang-the-crumpets, happily-ever-after sort of way. To me anyway, a married heterosexual woman writing from the woods of Vermont, that seems like something to toast. Bob (husband), dear, would you hang the crumpets?