Below the Radar Transcript
Episode 45: Urban Intimacy — with Hilda Fernandez and Fernanda Souza
Speakers: Paige Smith, Am Johal, Hilda Fernandez, Fernanda Souza
Paige Smith 0:06
Hello listeners, I'm Paige Smith with Below the Radar, a knowledge mobilization podcast. Below the Radar is created by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement and is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode Hilda Fernandez and Fernanda Souza. Join host Am Johal to talk about urban intimacy and the good life. Both Hilda and Fernanda, are psychoanalysts and therapists who practice in Vancouver. In their practice, they come across a variety of folks from different backgrounds and cultures, each with their own preconceived notions and experiences of love, intimacy, and what it means to have a good life. From technology, intergenerational differences, polyamory and more. Hilda and Fernanda take us into the conversations they're having on urban intimacy, the good life, and how it's all changing with the times.
[theme music fades]
Am Johal 1:08
Welcome to Below the Radar. We're really excited to have Fernanda Souza and Hilda Fernandez with us today. They're both psycho analysts and therapists. Welcome.
Hilda Fernandez 1:18
Fernanda Souza 1:18
Am Johal 1:19
We're going to be talking about urban intimacy and the good life today and I'm wondering if both of you can introduce yourselves a little bit more.
Hilda Fernandez 1:28
My name is Hilda Fernandez. I work as a lacanian psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist. I have been working in private practice in 2007. And also I have been working for Vancouver Coastal Health as a therapist, specifically for people who have been touched by suicide. My experience is mainly a one to one with adults recently, but I used to work with kids and families, but not any longer. And I'm very happy to be here.
Fernanda Souza 1:57
Yes, and I am Fernanda, I have private practice in downtown Vancouver. And I think I identify myself as mainly a relational therapist who sees a number of people who are in relationships, and also families, I think that my approach would be identified as attachment informed, and also very trauma sensitive. But then I think the conversation today will invite us to think a little bit more about what that even means in terms of being you know, attachment informed, I think that there are ways in which today will challenge some of those notions for couples work, or for relationship work.
Am Johal 2:40
And so as someone who's working as a psychotherapist in downtown Vancouver in private practice, what do, you are you noticing in terms of current trends with respect to intimate relationships, marrying, cohabiting hooking up all of those kinds of aspects of you know, what comes into the room for you who works in private practice?
Fernanda Souza 3:02
Yeah, that's a very pertinent question what comes into the room these days. I think that more than ever, I am noticing a shift in terms of how people are connecting intimately and sexually with each other in a, in a long term, committed relationship. And I think that the trend is really around challenging what might have been before taken for granted in terms of the dyad union of the couple ship that we would have seen in the generations past. And I think that even though some of the presentations may be along the lines of becoming interested in consensual non monogamous and polyamorous, there's still individuals who may comment I think Hilda can speak even more about that they're still individuals who are coming and thinking that there's something missing in their lives if they're not matching up. And through a relationship that might be much more similar to what they might have seen in previous generations in terms of a dyad, a more conventional traditional dyad in the family unit, maybe even the suburban family unit.
Am Johal 4:12
Hilda, a few years ago, you were involved in a conference on love where a number of these same notions were discussed. And I'm wondering sort of your take on contemporary relationships, urban life intimacies.
Hilda Fernandez 4:24
Yeah, I believe that what I see nowadays compare with even a few years ago, or even more, like 20 years ago, when I arrived in Vancouver, I think that there's a significant change in terms of sexual politics, given the great kind of struggles and political gains of different groups such as the queer, the transsexual the intersexual groups that have a pushed the kind of sexual politics to a different kind and this is obviously reflecting in the in the individual that look for services in terms of psychotherapy psychoanalysis. However, I am noticing and I would like to see how Fernanda reflects on that at the level of the couple. I'm seeing more and more loneliness. And, and this is not like old, the old good times. I think that really the changes that have occurred in the last well 50 years consistently, it has created a relationship with others that is more, kind of lonely, people are more alone in terms of the possibilities to connect. Technology is tricky because it brings the possibility of connecting with others through kind of social media and whatnot. But in the embodiment of their relations, I see a lot of loneliness, and then Vancouver, it's a cold city, and I don't, I say it as an immigrant, as a settler. But also I have heard that from other people from Canada, from Quebec, from the prairies, from the Northwest Territories, the Maritimes is what I meant. It's a difficult city to make friendships to find love. And that's what I am seeing in the day to day in the one to one.
Am Johal 6:19
Are you noticing in terms of differences in generation, ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, different parts of relationships coming into the clinical setting?
Fernanda Souza 6:31
Yes, I think that one way through which I would access this notion of loneliness would be by noticing that sometimes when people are in a couple ship, in a dyad, they may still find a profound sense of loneliness. And I have heard in my room that sometimes the sense of loneliness that comes up when you're lying next to someone from whom you feel massively disconnected, may be even more, I'd say even traumatizing than the sense of loneliness that you might have when you are on your own. So I think that that's very, that's a very interesting piece that that's come up in my in my practice now, in more direct way to your question, I think that there are massive shifts intergenerationally, that are also unfolding, as an immigrant myself, who comes from a collectivist culture and having a lot of clients who are first generation or who may be relatively recent immigrants themselves. And being able to compare that with what may be the experience of people who have been here for multiple generations, I think that there are different expectations and different pressures that they are experiencing in terms of their notions of what might constitute a good life. If in past generations may be up to up to at least 50, 30 years ago, the notion of a good life would have been solidly being in a couple ship being in a family unit being in a family unit that could you know, be transporting itself from a more urban center, even to a suburban life, that now maybe there is something that's happening for those who are millennials now as one permanent example I think of people who are coming in and who are talking about how their notion of a good life may be very different from what their parents notions of a good life would have been. And that might not include necessarily the couple ship in that traditional way, or even the formation of family and how they themselves may have experienced. I don't know if that responds to your question. I think that as we keep on talking, we'll probably go a little bit deeper into that in terms of say how coming from a collectivist culture may have a particular kind of influence that might be different from someone who has migrated to Vancouver to speak to the coldness of Vancouver, from the prairies that might still connect with a notion of family that might be more traditional than what we're seeing unfolding in that very urban center of this very progressive city and ever in so many ways.
Hilda Fernandez 9:12
Yeah, I just want to add, I am working recently with a lot of teenagers, like 14-19 and I used to work with that population in Mexico as well. And I noticed that right there are significant change in terms of the ease in which they engage in talking about their sexualities and kind of the acceptance of the fluidity of the gender, right? which I never observe before.
Am Johal 9:42
One of the questions I wanted to follow up with was just around the extent to which the kind of technological dissonance from cell phones the instantaneousness of Instagram and other pieces, how it distorts relationships, everything from Tinder to other pieces. The kind of proximity and instantaneity that people can follow up on to intimate scenarios. The extent to which this has an impact.
Hilda Fernandez 10:11
I wrote a paper that is called Will a Cyborg Steal My Jouissance? You actually organize that event for VISR. And it's now published, I talk a little bit about how them technological database, digital technologies, they are using all the sentiment, all our energy to profit from our most intimate sentiments, fantasies, unconscious labor. So what I see nowadays is that all the platforms, really what are presenting the world with is a version of the self as a commodity. So I kind of have my profile, we all have that we are somehow Well, there's still some people resisting to get into any platforms of social media, but at the same time, maintain certain connection with groups that are not locally or kind of not so proximate geographically, but I think that it's tending to have a disembodiment of relations. Like it is creating an obsessional way of dealing with the mind, with your own self, through the fantasy of what you are and how you project. And in the day to day embodiment, exchanges, let's say, if you like someone, or if you don't like someone, you have to come together with some sort of a response, right in the moment, body to body, and that affects very differently the way we engage with others. For example, I see when I differ from my political views with someone in the flesh, there's some dialogue, whereas in Twitter, for example, or even in Facebook, it doesn't produce the same because then you are protected through the technological device, these gadgets that are now part of our cyber condition in a way, right? So I really think that it's, yeah, it's, it's a form of commodifying love, it's a form of commodifying dating, and some people obviously go for that, because that's available. And that's a way of kind of finding love in a way. But some other people, in my experience clinically complained about the artificiality, or sometimes the discrepancy of the pictures and when look like 60 years before, and then yeah, it's kind of very disappointing. Some others, however, finding technology, the courage to really try. So it has many different perspectives.
Fernanda Souza 12:49
I love how you are speaking about what you're seeing in the room from the perspective of the individual work. And I'm also thinking and I think that that's a way of connecting with your previous question. And that even as I am also noticing, as you were speaking, this commodification of the self, and the commodification, and maybe superficial digitization of relationships, I'm also thinking that the possibility that technology or technological connections have brought in is a challenge of what might have been the reproduction of more conventional relationships of the past in the following sense. In other times before this facilitation that the technology has done, for people to pair up, maybe you would have been much more inclined to pair up with someone that would have been more contained in what past generations would have thought to be ideal, and that with the possibility of connecting so much outside of your regular jurisdiction, geographical jurisdiction, you're also exposed to a much broader possibility of connecting, I say that you end up in a sense diversifying your portfolio of potential sexual intimate connections. And I think that that provides possibilities of connecting across you know, intersectional nodal points that might be very different than would have been done otherwise. So to translate that into something simpler would be how someone who may be, you know, first generation or fifth generation would have had access to someone else who might have a very different social position, social, historical, cultural position. And without technology that would have been an impossibility and I think that there's some beauty in that.
Hilda Fernandez 14:51
Fernanda Souza 14:51
Does that make sense?
Hilda Fernandez 14:52
Totally, and I want to challenge something else in what you are saying. I'm a romantic. I have to confess, and I think that sometimes that I have heard in what people said is there's, you approach someone, knowing already the person in the first date, right? Like, what about those times that you just run into someone and just you get surprised by their gaze and then just fell in love, right?
Fernanda Souza 15:23
The organic encounter.
Hilda Fernandez 15:24
The organic encounter. I'm like old fashioned probably and romantic, but I think that that part, it's kind of missing through the technologically based dating and yeah, that's okay. That's part of the New World.
Am Johal 15:41
When you, when you say diversifying your portfolio, it sounds neoliberal in the sense.
Fernanda Souza 15:45
Yeah, very much economic language.
Am Johal 15:48
This the, I guess there is the kind of perhaps an anxiety or frustration or a blind spot that's arising from the traditional dyad relationship. Where does this anxiety from your viewpoint, from the perspective of being in a clinical setting arise from that's actually interrogating and raising questions about that kind of traditional dyad relationship?
Fernanda Souza 16:12
I think that part of that anxiety, I want to go back and talk a little bit about the kinds of trainings that couples therapists and couples emphasis on couples therapists get so someone who would have gone to a graduate program to become a therapist to become a registered clinical counselor or a registered psychologist, presumably would have to get a certain specific training in order to see couples. And nowadays, there's basically two very strong, mainstream, visible and interconnected trainings that are recognized in North America, one would have been from the United States, the Gottman Method, and from Canada, there would have been the work of Sue Johnson Emotionally Focused Therapy. And they're both informed by attachment, attachment theory and research. And what I think is so interesting about this training is that if you go to the theoretical underpinnings of attachment theory and research, you will notice that the notion of a secure attachment is connected with the notion of a dyad. So the idea would be something like this, say, from the cradle to the grave, so from the cradle, in a child who is born and needs to count on at least one consistent attachment figure would get, from a very asymmetrical framework, would get care, would take care from an adult, a consistent adult, so say provision of care comes from the adult into the child, that's like the surrogate preferred prefrontal cortex of the parent providing support appropriate, you know, appropriate support and nurturance to the child never, never the child providing care to the parent, that would be parentification in the language of you know, family systems or other kinds of training, I'm sure Hilda is familiar with it. Now, romantic attachment or attachment theory and research in forming couples work is a relationship that's mutually reciprocal between two adults. So one adult's prefrontal cortex with another adult's prefrontal cortex. And if you've have had, so the story goes like this, if you have had secure attachment, meaning you are, I'm going to use the N word, normal, then you would have had secure attachment from, from childhood and you're able to take turns in your adult romantic sexual relationship, there is a provision of care that's taking turns, so symmetrical in this way. Now, this is a model that's based on the notion of a dyad. So basically, the training that most of us will get to work with couples is based on the notion of a dyad. And anything that diverges from that would necessarily have to be in to a certain degree, if even if it's not spoken about very openly, to a certain degree, would have to be apologizing. And I have a problem with that. Because what I actually see from different cultural perspectives is that there is a possibility and I've seen some interesting research to that effect as well, there is a possibility of creating secure attachment with more than one figure. I'm thinking for example, I grew up in Brazil, and I'm thinking of, let's say Maria's family, who would have had her grandmother around the house and she would have had her mother around the house and her aunts around the house. And Maria would have called say, Mama Kika, Mama Nana, Mama Louisa, you know, she would call Mama all of this different Figures. And I don't think that I am qualified or anyone is qualified to deauthorize or to challenge Maria's perception of a secure attachment with all of these figures at once. Right? So I think that for the next little while there will be a lot of interesting research that's going to collapse the idea of an attachment that's appropriate only if connected and grounded on the dyad relationship. And I think that that's the model that needs to serve couples or relationship therapists when they are in the room with people who are subscribing to a consensual non monogamy and a full blown organized polyamory. And so maybe, maybe I'll stop at that for this piece. And I'll catch up later as more stuff comes in. Does this make any sense?
Hilda Fernandez 20:49
Yeah, totally. Yeah, it's kind of how to decolonize in a way, ways of approaching attachment, and how that polyamory and consensual non monogamy, I was going to say non monogamy, consensual, non consensual monogamy. That's the other thing. But I wanted to respond a little bit to this, the couple and it's urban discontent in this moment. And I could say that, from a psychoanalytic perspective, since Freud, and then with Lacan, there's dissatisfaction there's a non sexual relationship, meaning that there's no reciprocity, that there's always a gap that is gonna be present in couples, right? Like there's no perfect relationship ever. There's always something that doesn't connect that doesn't necessarily maintain that imaginary dyad that we imagine. And in light of that, in light of the drive, particularly, what do we do? The drive is a force that comes from a sexual source that Lacan says, one's satisfied by means of any moderation. So it's excessive by nature, right? So what I want to say is that monogamy it's a system that goes against the psyche of human beings, right? We are always wanting something else the desire is the desire of the other, there's no way that you are going to be interested one and only in one person forever. So because there's something for example,
Fernanda Souza 22:32
The floating signifier.
Hilda Fernandez 22:33
That's right. And there's this phenomenon that is called the Coleridge Effect, it's basic research with animals, but it has been also researched with humans in these kinds of scientific approaches to sexuality. And they find that the Coleridge Effect means that people get a renewed sexual desire when they encounter a different sexual partner. So in terms of our psyche, our desire is always for something new for something different. Now, that desire that part of the drive, let's say, encounters our ethical limit, and our love, right with our loved ones. And then it's how do we go about that kind of arrangement of the non sexual relationship in an ethical way, and honoring the love for the person that you have, but also honoring your own self. How not to betray yourself in trying to do something with your sexual drive, with your erotic needs. With your, yeah, kind of the boredom that sometimes comes from monogamy relations. And I think that this is something that I hear very clearly, in my practice, when people says, I love my wife, I don't want to cheat her. But I just feel really dissatisfied sexually, and she doesn't want to go and open the relationship. And then it's, it's kind of sitting with that question. What are you gonna do, right? In light of these truths, this erotic truth? How you can sustain ethically, and some people are very afraid, because immediately they imagine some cynicism or some kind of solution that is gonna go against their values. But the question is, can you sustain whatever you decide in terms of your own erotic truth, as I mentioned before, in an ethical way, can you sustain that? That's the ongoing question in in the treatment.
Am Johal 24:35
In Lacanian terms then where does the polyamorous scenario function? Where does it rest in terms of his work and you working as a Lacanian analyst?
Hilda Fernandez 24:46
Yeah, that I am aware he'd never kind of really work particularly on that. Maybe just, just like, almost like footnotes, but I could say that it relates from a Lacanian perspective to the non sexual relationship. So trying to reconsider the kind of discontent of the sexual relationship with a different modality. From this perspective, it could say polyamory might allow you to get, like let's say another partner or whatever, but it doesn't save you from the non sexual relationship. In other words, polyamorous relationships, they they are going to encounter rivalry again, they are going to encounter difficulties, they are going to encounter boredom, they what, they are going to encounter the same that the dyads. So there's not a panacea to resolve the non sexual relationship to the discontent of sex and love.
Am Johal 25:48
You reference a sort of a gap in the literature, Fernanda in terms of how people go about trying to think through polyamory within the clinical setting. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about that, because in some sense, it's it's referenced as a kind of pathology, but what you're seeing is maybe something a bit more complicated and in some contexts, this can be a healthy scenario.
Fernanda Souza 26:11
Yeah, I think there's less of a gap in the literature, especially literature that I've been accessing more recently and more of a gap and the training programs that are available for therapists to do and get training in relationship work. I think I want to respond this by connecting further with something that Hilda said that I thought was extremely important, which is this notion that our human nature is such that it seems to be compelled by transgression, compelled by an impulse towards transgression.
Hilda Fernandez 26:41
Fernanda Souza 26:42
Yes, and I think that that's very much what, let's go back all the way to our friend Freud here, that you know is a connection with a lifedrive, right and expanding and so if I bring it back to attachment theory, and research may be what is referred to sometimes as the primary relationship in polyamorous connections, it may be the safe haven, and the secure base that is provided for one to expand from that, in adventure or in transgressing, and you're right, even in polyamorous relationships that have been very ethically organized and organized through a lot of communication, a lot of dialogue. In fact, you will see a lot more communication and dialogue, in people who are interested in negotiating a consensual non monogamy, then you will in couples who are not having these conversations dyads that are not having these conversations. Then what I do notice as well is that even when all of these conversations happen, there's still issues with respect to transgression, and they may look like this. The way that we're going to organize our relationship now is that we are open. And we are consensually non monogamous. However there is this group of people here say people at work that now we're deciding that we're not going to have relationships with, or there may be containment of certain people as forbidden as off bounds for the development of that relationship. And of course, what we see is
Hilda Fernandez 26:54
They will go for that, exactly.
Fernanda Souza 28:14
That's exactly how it ends up unfolding. Not every time but I do see it often enough. Now. I think that another piece that I would like to bring up Am might be in the direction of responding to your question is the notion of how in polyamorous and full on developed polyamorys in North America, and more even so in the United States then here from what I've been reading in and from what I'm noticing in the room, is that there is an interest in an investment in the notion of a primary, and then what may be other relationships. But there is the centralization of this primary. But now in my office, what I'm seeing is because Vancouver is such a progressive place in so many ways, there's a true interest in democratizing it further and collapsing binaries further. So one of the binaries, or one of the higher accusations that is being collapsed is this notion of primary because it creates a hierarchy between who gets to be the primary and who gets to not be the primary, even if who I'm seeing in the room is one particular dyad of the polyamory. Now, the interesting question to me becomes the question of, you know, the political question, the political question that creates legal boundaries on the material that are also connected, that the material dimension of these people's lives.
Hilda Fernandez 29:39
Fernanda Souza 29:40
Exactly. property, who gets to count as a spouse in extended health care, who gets to say, there are so many ways in which legally the couple is still being sustained materially, even if symbolically there are all kinds of other conversations that are also happening. Now the other part that I think is really interesting and it's, I think it's a rather controversial piece that I'm noticing in my room. And I know that my sample is very definitely a selective bias in who comes to do this kind of work in therapy. But what I am noticing is two interesting trends that I think connect with not just intergenerational differences, but also cross cultural differences. One is that some of my Latin American, particularly Brazilian, but not exclusively, couples, for example, if a couple who identifies as a gay couple comes to me, they may be less aware of this conversation about polyamory or concessional monogamys if they have immigrated more recently. So this helps me to think about how, okay, the context of Latin America as more religiously inclined more Catholicly inclined, may still be reproducing more of that model of marriage, that was more conventionally established than say, someone who might be third, fourth generation Canadian. And the other piece is how, at least in my very biased sample, those who seem to be most interested in collapsing binaries with respect to say, primary relationships and who may not identify themselves in a particular gender position, or in a particular sexual orientation position. So they're very invested in collapsing all of this binary ways of thinking they are sometimes in my practice exclusively, they belong to groups who are privileged, at least by virtue of what would have been the conceptualization of race. And that helps me to think and I, and this is the part that I think is controversial, but I am noticing it and I have questions about that. I don't have answers. I have questions about that. And maybe you can speak to it as well. What I'm noticing is that people who may belong to a marginalized racialized group may not be as invested in collapsing all binaries, including their own ethnic, racialized identity, because sometimes, that is what help them access resources. I'm thinking of affirmative action for many, stay in the context of the American South. And so this is one of the questions that I have and I and I walk from it from a national background, that conceptualized rase very differently along the lines of miscegenation, rather than the lines of one drop rule Jim Crow segregation that would have happened in the United States. And so I get really curious about that, about the meaning of that and collapsing binaries, who gets to collapse binaries, who gets to even be empowered enough to be fully invested in collapsing binaries entirely, and who may still want to subscribe to what Gayatri Spivak called strategic essentialism, which is to create some kind of a container around one's identity, at least as a temporarily, provisionally connected, signifier only for the accessing of resources. Not to essentialize and to think of as existing in the real, but as is in being symbolized provisionally strategically, just for virtue of accessing resource.
Hilda Fernandez 33:11
Right, right, right, yeah.
Fernanda Souza 33:12
So I think that there there is, there's any important question here that I don't have an answer for, and I again, I realize that my sample is very biased, but it's something that I got interested in noticing. And to bring it back to the notion of polyamory, again, is when there's a couple in front of me, and there's a little bit of a discrepancy in commitment to, to being polyamorous, but maybe one or maybe even both, are really not wanting to hierarchize, because of their ethical commitment. They're not wanting to hierarchize the notion of primary relationship and other relationships. I'm thinking about the material effects of that, you know, because we don't, we certainly don't have a framework, a legal framework that allows, for example, for three people to get married. Right?
Fernanda Souza 33:12
Yeah, yeah, I just wanted to point out.
Fernanda Souza 33:56
Yes please go ahead.
Hilda Fernandez 33:58
There's a study that was conducted in the University of Manchester by Christian Klesse. And he precisely talks about that, that you Fernanda brought here so eloquently about the, what could be the repercussions in the intimate practices to turn polyamory or non consensual monogamy into a sexual orientation or an identity. He kind of highlights that it loses the possibility of maintaining this queerness that in search of trying to gain some political and material gain such as insurance against criminalization of bigamy, etc, that elusive, that fluidity. So it's an impasse in a way right there. There are some material reality that that needs to be sorted out by legal kind of gains, but at the same time by doing that you kind of engage again in these dyadic in this kind of normativizing, categorizing boxes that put relations in to.
Am Johal 35:13
I'm just wondering in terms of the psychoanalytic context where the principle of, the psychoanalytic principle of lack is brought into considering the polyamorous situation because in some senses as you're describing, it can be healthy and thought through In other cases, it's coming from a lack of something or some other things within the dyadic context. And how do you think that through from a psychoanalytic point of view?
Hilda Fernandez 35:40
Well, we are all in lack, right? We are all in lack, good thing, because that is what allows us to desire, right? It's what allows us to really engage in exchanges, if you are saturated, if you are complete, then you are dead, or you are suture for any exchange. Yeah, we need that space to let the other end.
Like for this exchange the lack in, in our relationship, it's, it's a very important term. Rather than seeing it as a pathology or kind unhealthy, I could say that a couple that cherish the lack, it's a more kind of functional or more satisfied couple, the lack meaning that there's something that keeps desiring in the couple, right, that there's something that allows one of the couple to bring flowers, and the other to cook for the other and the other to stare like, I don't know, something of that a courtship. That can happen after 20 years, or it can happen after three months, right? That that lack of I want something else with you. That lack is healthy, is it allows to reinvent love in the couple or the triad or whatever. I still think that love as the Badu says this is an issue of the two. And I always think that, for example, with polyamory, there's always some discourses that say, this is more like a communal form of love. But love is complicated. I agree with the for example, what this great poet from Mexico, Octavio Paz, he says the Republic could be only through friendship, not through lovers. Why? Because then you could be in rivalry, you could be like, no, she's mine, his mine and etc. Whereas friendship is what could allow really certain community. I imagine that also in the polyamory, friendship is an important element. And not only these two of the love. But anyways, going back to the lack, I think that a couple that cherished, the lack is a healthy or more satisfied. I like always to think the mainstream concept of health more in terms of satisfaction, and what people call pathology, more related to the level of suffering or dissatisfaction that the symptom brings you right? Like we all have symptoms, and we have to deal with them and figure out what to do with them. And, and I think that the analysis precisely goes to worse. How do you convert this suffering, this pain into something that satisfies and at the same time asserts you socially with others?
Fernanda Souza 38:45
Yeah, I think I only have one small comment, I thought that Hilda spoke about the lack in such a sophisticated way, I always get impressed with Hilda's speaking. And then I also want to bring in the notion of compersion, which is the pleasure of seeing another or seeing your lover with another with another lover. And how I am witnessing, I'm getting to witness clients even reeroticize their dyad, their original dyad or their you know, one of their dyads through a connecting with this compersion, with this happiness for seeing his lover or their lover or her lover with another and I think that that's really something that I get really curious about in noticing in my room. And from her, I want to see if there's a way to connect. And I know I'm thinking out loud here. So if you bear with me, I'm wondering how we can think further in terms of community building, maybe not in the way that past would have spoken but in a way that may still be community building or the development of a village That may no longer be in a city like Vancouver where many were not born here, or if born here, they may still be living a life that's very much, you know, outside of their original mithya. And so I kept thinking that polyamory may well be a way of developing a village in which you get to have different needs met by different participants by different partners. One of the most compelling examples that I've heard of that experience, in addition to my clients, and it's one that's very visible in the US is, Attorney Diana Adams speaks very openly, and she helps to write policy, she, she works with a lot of poly families in the US. And she speaks about her own experience just she's an advocate for polyamory. And she's highly consulted around the legal frameworks that can still be protective of people who want to be together in a family unit, in a family set up along the lines of polyamory. And her description of how she and her primary partner, she does speak of a primary partner, we're planning to have a child, that they had a number of people who were very consistent in their lives as lovers who they absolutely wanted to elect to participate in the raising of this child. And in listening to her speak, I kept thinking about some of the parents that are in my room, and especially if they don't have their own villages, their own parents around them how challenging it is, to start a family, when you don't have, you know, your village around you. And how this could be, if well developed, with, always with the best interest of the child in mind, this could be a replacement of what might have been the village for our grandparents or our parents. Maybe I'm not as romantic as you Hilda up, but I am certainly an nutopian, I'm certainly an idealist. And so I kept thinking that that might be, you know, one of the frontiers that could be developed further to create a better experience in raising families, rather than the isolation of the couple that is suburban, and that may be, you know, experiencing all kinds of post partum conditions as they are living in that more isolated state. Even in that, you know, in the reproduction of the family unit, I hear a lot about that experience to in my room with couples who are not subscribing to anything other than the traditional way of being a couple. And I am in no way I know that probably by now. There may be a wondering whether I am some kind of a portavoce, I dont know how say this in english.
Hilda Fernandez 42:59
Portavoce, yes. Broadcaster or kind of a...
Fernanda Souza 43:04
Yes, yes, of polyamory. And it's in neither way for me, certainly. But I am noticing these changes and I'm often thinking about how can we create community? What are the ways in which people are less isolated? What are the ways in which that people can become more connected, more grounded, more united. And what I am getting the privilege of witnessing in my room is that sometimes it is possible to be done through this growing way of being in a loving relationship in a loving, sexualized, intimate relationship. So it's, it's undeniable that there's something going on.
Am Johal 43:46
You're talking about as well, I imagine in the future that legal questions begin to arise, say in a polyamorous scenario, questions of adoption, you bought health benefits, those types of things but have you been following certain sort of legal implications of these new forms of relationships that are becoming normalized or mainstream?
Fernanda Souza 44:07
Yeah, that's, that's a very interesting question. Not too many years ago, in Vancouver, there was a first example of three people going in on the birth certificate of a child and this was in the context, which now has this growing legal framework to accommodate a context in which a sperm donor who wanted to be a participant, in the life of this child was put in the birth certificate together with the two women who identified as you know, lesbian women who were married and had this child. And so that was an example that happened locally, I think it would have been something around four years ago. And more recently, there seems to have been the example of three adults who in a polyamorous relationship, parents were declared legal parents by a Newfoundland court, and this would have been I think, the very first Illegal example of a polyamory of three, being legally, I guess authorized is the term, to adopt a child. And the argument from the judge was something to the effect that there was no reason to think that, that union, that connection, that, that way of being in a family was not in the best interest of the child. And I think that that's really interesting, because it does create a fairly significant shift in the legal framework that, that becomes possible. We may not see anytime soon, a marriage between three people. But there are other ways to go about it. When people say form a company, say a limited partnership, or incorporate to own property in a triad, for example. These are the ways through which people are still exercising their agency to not have to subscribe exclusively to the patriarchal framework of the marriage in a dyad. I think that these are interesting times.
Am Johal 46:04
So Hilda, there's clearly differences between engaging in couples therapy to being with somebody individually, talking about encounters of intimacy or issues in relationships. And I'm wondering if you can speak from your perspective in a clinical setting, the differences that arise particularly in thinking through urban intimacies today in terms of individuals that you're encountering.
Hilda Fernandez 46:29
Right. Yeah, there are different forms of intimacy, right? The majority of people or the mainstream signified for intimacy refers to the sexual encounter, but also there are intimacy in friendships, intimacy with ideas, intimacy with groups and I think that in terms of the work that I do with one to one people, there's always this question about the body, which is the question of sexuality. What do I do with this? Right? And that's a question that cannot be answered, very simplistic. It's something that involves a process. JOHN cook jack talked about how sexualities add an ontological balise. Lacan says, everybody thought that Freud was answering the question of sexuality when he said precisely that it's an unanswerable, that it's something that we keep going over and over to try to come to terms with this thing that bites us in a way that surpasses our way to symbolize to articulate with words so then that's always the question what do you do in terms of that. That's why my romantic view goes a little bit against the utopia of polyamorous because I think what we were talking before about the transgression, love is not contractual. And then let's say that in this progressive city, there are some contracts, okay, we are going to be able to fuck with this, but not with that, that kind of thing. Sorry for my Spanish, but then those arrangements are gonna be challenged. I have experience with friends and I have experiences with clients that they make certain arrangements, and then there's always the little transgression, right? They, they're cheating. I really like for example, the concept of non identity philosophies, for example, Adorno, Lacan, a psychoanalyst, that, that really embraces this negativity, about love. You love regardless of symmetry or reciprocity. I brought my book of just, just because I really wanted to, I'm just gonna, in Minima Moralia Adorno, talks about the demand by the subject of quote, "inalienable and unindictable human right to be loved by the beloved," on quote, and he answers, quote, "The secret of justice in love, is the annulment of all rights, to which love mutely points, so forever cheated and foolish love must be." Out. So that tells us a little bit of a non romantic form of love and yet, a radical form of love. So, in spite of this arrangement, that is a structural art to love that is not reciprocal, necessarily, that there's always something that is gone and disrupted. Still, love is still pushing for that radical signification of being with the other. So this is something that it's an ongoing question in individual therapy, right? Like, how do I do with my sexuality? What do I do in light of the transgressive drive that lives in me more than me? And how do I ethically reconcile desires that sometimes are opposed, I want to have some fun with someone else. But I also want to maintain my relationship. And I think that, maybe at some point in, I don't know, 50 years, we are gonna start to see like, really kind of this modality of polyamory as mainstream, but I think that's still difficult because what I hear a lot in the clinical setting is that sometimes some people are really open about that, and have kind of, you know, examine on on their own lives and challenge the conventions, but a lot of other people don't. But also something that I wanted to say, after what you commented Fernanda, about the effect of increasing sexual desire, when the partner is having sex with someone. This is something that long ago, when I was, I don't know, 20 years old, I was starting my immersion into psychoanalysis. I heard an analyst in Mexico that said, affairs are a good thing in a couple, and I was like, so shocked, and so mortified and offended by that, but then that intrusion of a third in the dyad.
Fernanda Souza 46:34
The shadow of the third.
Hilda Fernandez 51:34
Shadow of the third, my shake of the ground might, might be very painful, right? Because then this whole notion of fidelity, which I always say, fidelity to your own nature first and negotiate the other, I always kind of maintain that approach, but it kind of moves the sexual and erotic energies of a couple that thing. I mean, I'm not saying that is good or not good, as that analyst said. But the reality is that has some effects that if the couple wants to continue together, that may serve as a source of fodder for eroticism.
Fernanda Souza 52:18
I think it is so interesting that you would, would speak from this perspective, and I'm thinking that many couples in a dyad are quite capable of bringing the shadow of the third in fantasy, and the work from that perspective to serve some of the same functions that others might have to do more materially in a polyamory. Now, I'm thinking that, you know, as you're bringing in Adorno, and I'm thinking about Althusser, and then it didn't take me long to go to Foucault. I guess I am a Foucauldian at heart. I'm thinking that potentially there is a dialectic way of accepting the need for this consistent lack, and still bring, you know, a very structure modern, rather than postmodern material lens, to understand what may be some of the effects of creating different ways of managing the passion, and the maintenance of that lack that always leaves desiring at the same time that we also move around the legal framework to accommodate something other than just what was initiated, imposed, subscribed to, not as a movement towards truth, but a move towards power in terms of the legal framework of marriage. And so I wonder if there is a space and a dialectic to hold both at the same time, rather than one or the other?
Hilda Fernandez 53:43
Right, right. Yeah.
Fernanda Souza 53:44
Am Johal 53:46
One of the things you mentioned were talking about the good life in an urban setting, there's this sort of trend towards living alone that you mentioned Fernanda, before we talked before and in how you sort of placed this historically and what you think the affect of that is, because this is a recent phenomenon, in some sense, in terms of how mainstream it is and the extent and the percentages of people in urban setting that are living alone.
Fernanda Souza 54:12
Yes, I think it was Eric Klinenberg, that helped me to think about that with his book Going Solo, in which he notices that trans across he just, it seems like for our species, and the hundreds of thousands of years of our experience, we've always lived and needed to live in groups to survive. And in a very recent history, as in from the 50s on there has been this increasing trend in living alone. The example that he gives, which I think is, he gives many but this is this is a very poignant one, in my view, is that in New York City, but in Manhattan itself, in the 50s, there would have been a very or in the US in general, there would have been a very small percentage of people who would have lived alone Something around 9% if I, if I remember correctly, but that currently in Manhattan in the island of Manhattan, there is almost a 50% rate of people who live alone. And that's, of course across the lifespan. So there may have been people who lost their spouse who might have been in a traditional family setup, and then ended up being alone in their very old age, but there is also the young who are coming into adulthood by leaving their parents home early enough and moving into this configuration of living alone. And that was never possible before in the history of our species. And it helps me to think about how there is probably something going on here a much, a very significant trend that is going on here, that is also probably going to inform how we are going to do marriage moving forward, how we're going to do intimate sexual relationships moving forward. And I don't know if this is your experience, Hilda, I have a number of 30 some year old, I'm going to gender this women, cis women who are in Vancouver who are conventionally very attractive and who have good jobs, who are very educated, and who are seeking relationship and who are highly frustrated, you're feeling the frustrations, of not being able to find pairing up and in ways that you know, they grew up thinking that was ideal, and that they have their felt experience as being an ideal, this isn't just you know, other people's lenses imposed upon them, they themselves want that for themselves, and having real difficulties with establishing that kind of connection or speaking to their difficulties in finding and establishing that connection. And often they are coming in thinking that there is something broken about them. And I get really, you know, I get really scared that in other therapy rooms, there is some kind of an exploration as to who they are, that is, you know, even if not overtly, in some ways pathologizing of what they are and this interminable search for what it is about their you know, love blueprint from the past, and that is informing their not being able to pair up. And I just don't want to lose completely, I did say I was a Foucauldian this much broader trend in a sociological way that may also be forming this moment in a city like Vancouver, right? We can't just lose track of that. I think that there is a real question here about these women who come into my room, who in other times in other social historical cultural spaces, would have probably been paired up already or would be more successful in pairing up but then in Vancouver are starting to think that there is something about them and so I worry about all their therapy rooms and how that is being signified there and I wanted to call attention to the fact that there's something a lot bigger happening that's informing this moment.
Hilda Fernandez 57:59
Yeah, no, definitely I always go with that lens, particularly with regards to the larger issues of what are the repercussions of race or racism class or classism in the individual problems and how that has been internalized, Ferenczi called the internalize aggressor, which was already discussed by Freud but for Ferenczi marketed. So yes, those things are very important to engage in, in dialogue with regards to that particular social political element that influence individual problems. Yeah, I share a lot of similar situations, particularly among women, but also through men that that's why I was saying that it's a cold lonely city because a lot of people are looking for love. You know, sometimes I have this fantasy like in a movie that I saw long ago by, he's a therapist, and he wants to start a love agency. I have that fantasy sometimes, oh, this could be like a good, but I would never do that. But anyways, you know what, also I see and this is kind of maybe reaching a little bit out of our core discussion of urban setting, but it is related in a way. I see a lot of the intimacy especially among single and it's it's getting more common, one only child, the relationship that is developed with the parents are very intimate, right. It's very, very close, but it happens also with people who are not only child and how that kind of intimacy my have developed our form of emotional incest. And when I say that, I know that Deleuze, he could be slapping my face right away. But sometimes we have to suspend the social political, in the consulting room to really engage with the ways in which the individual is deriving certain painful enjoyment, masochistic enjoyment from ways of remaining a child, rather than an adult. Rather than getting that separation that needs to happen to be able to engage in other love relationships, I see that a lot in terms of that relationship with parents or family in general.
Fernanda Souza 1:00:38
Thomas does in postponing of adulting. Is that what you remember?
Hilda Fernandez 1:00:41
Yeah, yeah, you're like kind of the adulthood until early 40s?
Fernanda Souza 1:00:46
Hilda Fernandez 1:00:47
Deferral, deferral. Yeah. That obviously affects the ability to position yourself as a subject of enjoyment rather than an object of enjoyment for others,
Am Johal 1:00:59
Less people are living longer lives as well, the questions of intimacy that come up with seniors or people in long standing relationships or in the context of how it comes into the clinical settings. What are you, what are you finding?
Fernanda Souza 1:01:15
Okay, I'll take a stab at that first. I think that that's another really interesting question. I think that at first, I was hearing conversations in my room about how some people may be inherently polyamorously inclined, whereas others might have been more monogamously inclined. And now what I'm hearing is, again, a positioning in a spectrum in which at different phases of one's lives at different times at one's lives, there may be a particular kind of inclination that will show up, maybe in an earlier married life, people may be comfortably settled in a monogamic dyad. And as life expands, and as there is the possibility of other experiences, then there may be a contemplation of a polyamorous experimentation or experiencing or shifting. And so the fact that we're living longer and longer bears tremendous influence, in how romantic, intimate sexual relationships unfold. Now, in addition to that, and that's me always bring the sociological lens. We can't lose sight of the fact that along this really long life, something else that's collapsing is maybe the number of institutions that before might have been really supporting of the marriage and the dyad. So religious organizations, the notion of being surrounded by neighbors that you're going to be raising your children with, rather than say, taking a job across the world and starting over in a different city, with your wife or with your husband, and that more conventional, you know, dyad. So I think that together with the extension of life, there is also the collapsing of this institutional structures that also informed the conventional marriage.
Hilda Fernandez 1:03:12
Right, and also that, that is deeply connected to the neoliberal economic model of the social bonding. It's being diluted into these rigidities of what is to be accepted and what's not. That's part of my current dissertation in with regards to the, the mental health institution. What allows really for exchanges that are based on community and what becomes something that is mainly determined by the markets, determined by the kind of search for a surplus value, even if that is completely devoid of any meaning for the community that is working and is receiving services. So I think that that's absolutely a very important point. I really like the work that Fisher did around the privatization of stress in terms of how all these things affect the ways we interact, the ways we are with others in the moment that we live currently. I wanted just to mention something in terms with the older populations or more mature populations. The difficulty, at least here in Vancouver, I'm sure must be different in Latin America, with regards to the touch, the lack of touch, like we haven't touched here each other at all.
Hilda Fernandez 1:04:07
We're touching each other all over now.
Hilda Fernandez 1:04:45
But you know, when I got to Mexico, it's so shocking because we are talking and people are like touching my body all the time. I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, I forgot about that." So the lack of touch is something super important in, in this city. I Like when there's people out there saying "free hugs", because particularly this population of Vancouver, we don't have that within the culture. It's it's a very boundary base in terms of your space and the burden
Fernanda Souza 1:05:16
Importantly, concentually based.
Hilda Fernandez 1:05:18
Yes, yeah, and very, very, very big, right? Very big bubble of consensual touch. And then I hear a lot of the older people complaining about the lack of touch, because they live alone. And they don't have sometimes that availability to be hugged and touched which is important.
Fernanda Souza 1:05:40
Such an important point and if we had more time, and maybe that could be another, another talk another day about, you know, the neurophysiology of touch and how it helps people to effectively regulate. But before we go into that direction, I'm sure we won't have time for that today, I was thinking about what you said in terms of neoliberalist frameworks and what I was thinking is, when I spoke about the numbers in Vancouver, the numbers of singledom in Vancouver, I was thinking about how if you go into the direction of other provinces, usually provinces that may have been more central or right wing inclined, and provinces that are more also or, or areas, you know, around the central Vancouver, or even down to the south to the US, you will notice that people marry more, people marry earlier and they marry more often. I guess they marry more easily, I guess, would be one way of saying that. But we can begin to construct that later. And I'm thinking that the fact that Vancouver is this progressive city, but it's also a city that within Canada, is provided with the universal health care, you know, the welfare state provides this kind of support, may make it easier for people to not engage in a conventional marriage as they might have. Or they might feel that they have to do in the US, as a welfare state of two, as a social support system of two. I think that there may be something to be said about how, in the United States or other countries where there isn't the universal health care, people's perception of a sense of protection for the self may be by joining legally, in the framework of marriage. So I think that that's another way to think about the politics of perpetuating exactly and perpetuating the conventional dyad. And how the state framework of support systems may also add on to the decision making process that people engage in.
Fernanda Souza 1:05:58
I was gonna ask you, Hilda, you'd previously said earlier in the interview this afternoon that you know, 50 years from now you see polyamory becoming a very kind of mainstream thing, but you're making the assumption that we're still going to be here 50 years from now.
Hilda Fernandez 1:08:00
I know right.
Am Johal 1:08:00
And so these questions of, you know, climate, Armageddon, authoritarianism, the politics of the moment, and how do those kind of polarizing aspects and kind of end of days scenarios, like every moment has big political moments, there was the nuclear question in a previous era. But how did these affect intimacy today?
Hilda Fernandez 1:08:21
Yeah, it's a very, very important point, I was actually thinking about that, when you were talking in terms for example of having children, we are like really struggling at the moment with significant crisis emergency, the most number of displaced people, stateless people since World War Two, the effects of significant extinction, mass extinction of species in their shortest geological time. Like this is serious stuff. And I know every time has been a political crisis of sorts in during the Cold War, World War One, World War Two, etc. But this is a very, very different one, because it involves our home, nature. And this is impacting the way people are approaching the questions of, do I bring a child into this world and we are getting a lot of suggestions from researchers. So those things are one of the most significant issues. So that for sure is gonna determine the way we relate in couples. There's going to be something that happens. We are kind of envisioning a flood or something because of the sea level rising.
Am Johal 1:09:42
Do you encounter this in a clinical setting?
Hilda Fernandez 1:09:44
Yes, very much very much people are talking,
Fernanda Souza 1:09:48
About anxiety around that.
Hilda Fernandez 1:09:49
Yeah anxiety, big, big anxiety. You know, I have been doing this for 25 years and I've never encountered the kind of sharp anxiety about the socio political conditions that we are living. So people are asking themselves this question: what I am going to do? How can I help? How can I join? Other. So, so there's a political inquiry that I haven't seen before, it is very palpable constantly. But I was thinking about this kind of modality, I think, it's their phalanstery, utopian model of kind of living together like a communal living, maybe that is going out with less space with less available resources, maybe that's going to be something that changes intimacy, but at the moment, they're still the questions of, I would say, the most sharp, significant question, is the reproduction? And the having children? I don't know, if you encounter something else in the consulting room?
Fernanda Souza 1:11:00
Oh, I think that you spoke very well to this topic. And towards the end there, I was thinking of what was the name of the, of this, I think it's a, it's title from the, I want to say the 80s stranger in a stranger land is that it was? Which was a fictional account that seems to have inspired some of my clients to also think about polyamorous ways of being in a family that's also informed by this more catastrophic views and realistic views of our market, and that seems to be, you know, about the way ahead.
Hilda Fernandez 1:11:35
Right, right, right. Yeah, I also was thinking that maybe it can be the polyamory structure in the future. But also, going back to the friendship, I think that many people that come to Canada, immigrants, settlers that come here, they don't bring all the family and then you have to create your tribe, your community, your village, and many times that is created through groups of friends that you hang around with. I have the privilege of having a group of good friends that I call mi familia, like they are from all different parts of the world. And then it creates that sense of unconditional support and intimacy that is not necessarily sexual, but that it gives you that sense of groundedness in community,
Am Johal 1:12:26
A mafia, mafia, that comes from my family,
Fernanda Souza 1:12:29
A mafia, [laughs] familia.
Am Johal 1:12:30
In terms of thinking through relationships and intimacy, what do you think of as the good life today?
Fernanda Souza 1:12:37
I think that it is being mapped with unconditional positive regard in a relationship that's interested in your internal life in which you mutually reciprocally offer that to the other, I think that is a central piece of developing the energy, the drive, to go, you know, sublimate the other aspects of your erotic desire into productive tasks. It's being met with unconditional positive regard from a non judgmental perspective.
Hilda Fernandez 1:13:12
Yeah, I like that you brought sublimation there, because yeah, when I was talking about the difficulties of dealing with their sexual drive, yeah, you can repress it, you can turn it into the other and instead of feeling a masochistic, you become a sadist, which is not a good thing for anyone, including the individual. Or you sublimate and you sublimate in something that has to do with transforming that energy into something that doesn't betray you. But that allows you to live a life of more satisfactory and nature and I absolutely good goal. Similarly, like you Fernanda with this unconditional love, radical love. And radical love means that you have to see the object, you have to enter losing the object. What do I mean by that is that you are not trying to engage in imaginary rivalries, and imaginary property of that object. By that you know that, that is just the fantasy and that you just unconditionally love without looking for that reciprocity, just for the sake of moving forward with your best energy doing with others, but disengaging from these imaginary ideals and mainly their reciprocity or their symmetric and to just go for what it is rather than what is not.
Fernanda Souza 1:14:47
And I think that I would like to maybe pose an invitation here to other therapists or other clinicians to engage with that further offer of unconditional positive regard to clients who are presenting with whatever it may be, and who also participate in polyamorous relationships or who subscribe to BDSM practices. And that may have nothing to do with their reason for being in our room, they may be coming in with, with a very different presenting problem that has nothing to do with neither one of those fields. And I think that there is, there's a need for therapists and clinicians to, to further refine their lens to notice that it's not up to them to problematize something that our clients are bringing into the room. It is up to our clients and their autonomy to talk to us about what it is that may be problematic for them and then stem from there and to hunt down the academic works, the training texts that will help them to refine this lens.
Hilda Fernandez 1:15:59
Yeah, so, so focusing on the radical truth of the subject rather than trying to feed that big question with pre digested knowledge.
Am Johal 1:16:12
Fernanda, Hilda, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.
Fernanda Souza 1:16:15
Thank you Thank you Am and Hilda.
Hilda Fernandez 1:16:18
Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure.
Paige Smith 1:16:24
Thank you again to Hilda Fernandez and Fernanda Souza, for joining us on Below the Radar. To learn more about their practice, work and the research they do, you can check out their respective websites. We will share both of those in the episode description below. As well, you may remember Hilda from our previous episode that we did with her. We'll share her conversation on psychoanalyzing love and desire in the description as well. On our next episode, Stuart Poyntz and Joanna Habdank from SFUs Community-Engaged Research Initiative, or CERI will join us.
Stuart Poyntz 1:16:58
Communities are the sites where action experience histories are happening. So it's not surprising that researchers are out in the community.
Joanna Habdank 1:17:07
Whenever you consider having any community engaged projects. How do you approach it? How do you lower the barriers for nonprofits to be part of that? How do you empower their voices? How do you bring them forward and checking yourself in that process as well? Because I don't think that's really recognized sometimes from the researchers perspective that, that it's even there, and I think that's definitely a challenge.
Paige Smith 1:17:28
Stay connected with Below the Radar by following us on Facebook and Twitter. And you can listen and subscribe to Below the Radar wherever you listen to your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Overcast and Player FM. If you love what you're hearing, we'd appreciate if you left us a review as it helps other folks find the show as well. As always, thank you to the team that puts this podcast together, including myself, Paige Smith, Rachel Wong, Fiorella Pinillos and Kathy Feng. David Steele is the composer of our theme music and thank you for listening. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand new episode of Below the Radar.