Queerness has conquered America because it is the distilled essence of the country’s post-1960s therapeutic culture. The therapeutic originates with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. From its beginning, the goal of psychoanalysis has been the salvation of the suffering self. Therapeutic practices of introspection seek to reveal the unacknowledged sources of psychic suffering. Sexual desire plays an especially prominent role in therapeutic narratives. For Freud, sexual drive was the engine of the personality. He believed both men and women are bisexual in nature and direct their sexual drives toward diverse objects. In this way, the therapeutic not only obscures gender differences and grants wide berth to atypical sexual expressions, it also blurs the distinction between normality and pathology, making every self a neurotic one on an eternal quest for “mental health.”
Freud himself has largely fallen out of favor. Yet Freud’s therapeutic mission continues unabated, even heightened in the coronavirus era when no less an authority than the World Health Organization urges “self-care” practices as we face new stresses of work, home, and everyday life. Therapeutic discourse organizes our lives around emotional experience and a narrative of emotional suffering and healing. The therapeutic ethos holds up the authentic and liberated self as the ideal of character. Therapeutic politics instructs us to overcome both internal repression and external oppression by creating a society in which not simply the pursuit of happiness but happiness itself is a right owed to all. The long-running popularity of American psychotherapeutic or “mind-cure” movements including transcendentalism, New Thought, Christian Science, Scientology, and New Age spirituality has made the United States unusually fertile soil for the therapeutic. Its influence overflows the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and counseling to fill schools, churches, corporations, and the state. It stands today as our national collective moral philosophy.
Darel E. Paul, “Under The Rainbow Banner.”
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