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Psychoanalytic Dialogues

The International Journal of Relational Perspectives
Volume 32, 2022 - Issue 2
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A Safe Space to Play Dangerously: Contextualizing Gender Play in Therapy

, L.C.S.W.ORCID Icon
Pages 198-206
Published online: 30 Mar 2022


In my response to Guzzardi’s paper, I trouble the notion of gender play by arguing that it must be contextualized in order to be comprehended and fruitfully used for therapeutic purposes. It goes without saying that a certain amount of safety is required for play to be possible. In my paper, I inquire into the nature of the safety necessary for gendered play. I argue that embedding the patient, the therapist, and the dyad in context, history, and sociopolitical conditions is a fundamental component of said safety, that without this embedding, gender play is not only not possible, it is itself unsafe. Finally, I offer a way for clinicians to engage in this process of embedding through the notion of the systemic enactment, which opens a path for healing that surpasses the individual and extends out into the community, the very space in which we are all embedded together. This embedding represents the sort of safety needed for gendered play to be generative and enlivening, and for therapy to be liberatory.

View addendum:
Nicki, Nicholas, Nicole: Play as Relational Therapeutic Action on the Transgender Edge
View responses to this article:
Danger and Discovery, Privilege and Possibility: Response to Goldner and Malamed

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


1 Of course, Guzzardi might have felt that acknowledgment would have collapsed an unfolding dyadic fantasy space, in which case the decision to not explicitly acknowledge it makes sense.

2 See Corbet (Citation2009a, Citation2009b, Citation2011), Goldner (Citation1991, Citation2011a, Citation2011b), Pula (Citation2015), Hansbury (Citation2005), Saketopoulou (Citation2018, Citation2020a, Citation2020b), among others. Gherovici (Citation2019), argues that Lacan’s work represents an important exception in psychoanalytic history.

3 “Hangman” is a popular children’s game in the United States. How are we to understand what happened to Nicki on that bus in the context of a childhood in the United States, where children play a game premised on lynching?

4 “Not knowing” without appropriate training/expertise is ignorance.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Charla R. Malamed

Charla R. Malamed, L.C.S.W. is a postgraduate fellow in the Program for Psychotherapy at Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School, where they work as a clinician and as lead researcher for a qualitative project exploring the experience of White clinicians working with White clients. This research follows their 2021 paper, “A White Person Problem: Conducting White/White Treatment with a Social Justice Lens,” (Psychoanalytic Social Work) and their 2022 paper, “Does your institute have an anti-racism commitment?”: Interrogating anti-racism commitments in psychoanalytic institutes (in press, Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society). Charla is on the steering committee of Reflective Spaces/Material Places (RSMP-Boston) and on the Board of Section IX (Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility) of APA Division 39.

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