Is the Phallus Uncut?

On the Role of Anatomy in Lacanian Subjectivization

TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

Page 497-517

DOI: 10.1215/23289252-4189938

This article examines the role of anatomy in Lacan’s theory of the phallus, focusing on a fundamental question insufficiently addressed in Lacanian thought: Does the penis really matter, and if so, why and how? The question is addressed by analyzing Lacan’s work on the imaginary and symbolic dimensions of the phallus alongside a series of examples in which a subjective relation to the biological organ is particularly fraught, beginning with the case of David Reimer, a man who was raised a girl after losing his penis to a botched circumcision, and moving on to accounts from trans people and circumcised men who attempt foreskin restoration. The varying ways in which subjects strive to symbolize an imaginary encounter with lack are foregrounded, and anatomically determinist theories of sexual difference are challenged. Anatomy is shown to play a fundamental but nondeterministic role in the process of assuming a desiring position.

1 Nov 2017