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Sigmund Freud’s lesbian daughter and the failure of conversion therapy

Sigmund Freud’s lesbian daughter and the failure of conversion therapy

CREATED ON // Friday, 05 August 2016 Author // Andrew Shaw

Would Sigmund Freud – the father of psychoanalysis – have approved of gay conversion therapy? That’s the question asked by author Rebecca Coffey, who has written a book about Freud’s daughter, Anna.

In an article for the Seattle Times, Coffey says she hopes Freud – as a man of science – would have recognised that gay conversion therapy is “unnecessary and cruel”.

After Freud and his family fled Nazi-occupied Vienna for London in 1938, Anna lived with Tiffany heiress Dorothy Burlingham and the couple raised Dorothy’s children together.

Their 54-year relationship was described as “close and intimate”, and a “deep and abiding friendship” – a polite way of saying they were lesbians.

However, back in Austria, Freud had tried to “convert” his daughter, failing spectacularly.

That’s because, writes Coffey, Freud considered lesbianism both a moral death sentence and a gateway to mental illnes: 

“Why? Because Sigmund Freud thought it had to do with male genitalia. (No surprise, right?) The castration complex is a boy’s fear, inherited from apes, that Papa will chop off his member for misbehavior. Fear of castration imbues a boy with morality.

“Having nothing protuberant to lose, according to Freud, girls never learn right from wrong. Worse, babies are their penis substitutes — or so Freud thought — and girls want them so badly that they hone skills like lying and manipulating, all in hopes of ensnaring a sperm donor.”


‘What do you mean I’m standing a bit camp?’ Sigmund Freud enjoys one of his vices.

Freud thought homosexuality in men was a neurosis, but not a particularly worrying one.

“I like to think that, were he alive today, Sigmund Freud would be impressed enough by the morality displayed by Anna and Dorothy to change his ideas about lesbians and women in general,” Coffey writes.

“Today, almost 100 years after he started analyzing his own daughter, no one has produced credible evidence that sexual orientation can be altered therapeutically. There is just as little real evidence that it should be attempted. And it’s a terrible thing to do to a child.”

Rebecca Coffey is the author of Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story (a novel). 



Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw is editor of QP [queensland pride magazine].

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