December 19, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld's Theory of Transgender Intermediaries

The German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld presented a very radical theory of transgender and crossdreaming back in 1910, a theory that can enrich our understanding of sex and gender today.

Magnus Hirschfeld with friends. Hirschfeld with glasses, right.
In my previous post, I presented the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and his arguments against the tendency to pathologize transgender identities and sexualities.

While many -- if not most -- of the other sex researchers of his day developed elaborate classification schemes of sexual desire and sexual behavior in order protect the realm of imagined normalcy against "deviants" (see Tosh 2015), Hirschfeld mapped sex and gender variation for the exact opposite reason.

Elenea Mancini puts it this way in her book Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom:

"Hirschfeld canvassed and classified the rich diversity of people he encountered, not for the mere sake of accruing scientific data or accentuating that which separated certain groups of people from others, but rather to uncover the fundamental similarities between all people irrespective of their sexual orientation, identity, or ethnic and racial provenance. He did not establish hierarchies of qualities such as physical traits and characteristics or sexual practices. This gave his work a distinctive flavor in that it became not only an ethnographic recording of difference, but implicitly, a celebration of that difference as well." (p. 35)

Theory of intermediaries

What Hirschfeld suggests is an early incarnation of the non-binary continuum theory, i.e. that there is no clear and distinct boundary between the male and the female, the masculine and the feminine. He calls this his "theory of intermediaries" (Zwischenstufenlehre, literally: "the theory about the steps in between").

This theory of intermediaries applies to the physiological as well the psychological, as Hirschfeld understands it. In other words: He refuses to separate body from mind, biology from psychology. Instead he considers the human being as a complex system of mind and matter.


November 11, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld's Crossdreamers

It will probably come as a surprise when I say that the best book transgender in general and crossdreamers/crossdressers in particular was published in 1910. It was written by the German scientist Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the pioneers of sexology. In this and the following blog post I will present his theory and explain why Hirschfeld's thinking remains very relevant.

The book, named Die Transvestiten, covered a wide variety of gender variant people. Hirschfeld used the word "transvestite" in the way we use "transgender" today -- as an umbrella term embracing both transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens and other people transgressing the strict sex and gender binaries.

Unlike many later researchers and activists he did not shy away from the sexual aspect of these various transgender expression, and freely talked about the erotic desires of his various patients and contacts, including crossdreaming fantasies.

Die Transvestiten contains a lot of historical examples of different forms of gender variance, including 17 elaborate presentations of crossdressing individuals, many of whom would have been classified as transsexual today. There is even a case of a woman wearing men's clothes daily, a female to male crossdreamer travelling the world, working in traditional male occupations.

Hirschfeld was the first theoretician who argued that crossdressing can exist independently of sexual orientation. Indeed, he noted that most of his cases were heterosexual (relative to birth sex). Hirschfeld claimed that among the "transvestites" he had encountered, 35% were homosexual, 35% heterosexual, and the rest asexual or bisexual.  (Mancini, p. 67)

There is little here of the need to pathologize sexual variation and different gender expression found among other sexologists of his (and our) time. Indeed, he is very critical of any theory that tries to set up an absolute divide between men and women, the masculine and the feminine, and then goes on to label those who do not live up to such divides as deviants.

He writes:

"The separation of humanity into male and female halves belongs to the doctrines and guiding principles that have crossed over into the flesh and blood of every person. Those who occupy themselves uniting opposites such as energy and matter, God and nature, one and all, body and soul, also unmistakably hold fast to the dualism of the sexes and, in fact, the masculine and the feminine are, in themselves, effective realities the duality of which admits no doubt." (p 17)

"But it is a mistake if one imagines that both are two fully separate entities, one from the other; to the contrary, the constantly present merging of both into one, the unending condition of mixing variables that begins with the man's semen and the woman's egg, each creating masculine-feminine, hermaphroditic organizations, this monism of the sexes is the core for the genesis and substance of the personality." (p. 17)

On the basis of the 17 case studies and other life histories he discusses possible explanations for transgender conditions, presenting the dominant scientific theories of the day. And this is where it gets really interesting, because most of the theories he discusses are more or less the same we find discussed today, more than 100 years later.  There has been practically no substantial progress in our understanding of crossdreamers, crossdressers and transsexuals.


September 25, 2014

Strong support for broad transgender and LGBT alliances found among gender variant people

The Crossdreamer Survey of Gender Variance shows that a great majority of gender variant people support broader transgender, queer and LGBT alliances.
Illustration by incomible

There has been a lot of discussion in transgender and queer circles about social, cultural and political collaboration.

This is partly a discussion on political convenience (they face similar types of oppression), and partly a discussion of what it means to be trans and/or queer.


The continuum interpretation

Since the early 1990s the dominant interpretation of the word transgender has been as an umbrella term embracing a wide variety of gender variant people, including crossdressers, drag queens, transsexuals and various shades of genderqueer.

The terms queer and genderqueer are normally understood to refer to those who fall outside the gender binary of strictly male and strictly female.

People supporting this position often believe in models describing continuums of both sexual orientation and gender variance. In other words: Transgender people may identify completely with one gender (their target gender), or they may see themselves as partly male and partly female or something outside the gender binary.

This kind of thinking is found both among gender variant people, the researchers studying them and the health personnel trying to help them.


The binary interpretation

Others focus more on the differences than the similarities between the different types of gender variant people. This especially applies to those who want to distinguish between transsexual men and women on the one hand and other gender variant people on the other.

They may argue that these two groups are fundamentally different (in the sense that the different "conditions" are caused by completely different phenomena), or that the problems they are facing are so different that it makes little sense for them to collaborate.

This position will be found among some representatives of the health systems, especially those who believe in more traditional gender norms, and among transsexual men and women who do not feel at home under the broader transgender umbrella. There are also gender variant people who do not like to be associated with transsexuals.

When we carried out our survey of gender variance, one of many objectives was to see if we could learn more about how gender variant people feel about collaboration and reciprocal support between various shades of queer and transgender, transsexuals included.

In this blog post we are going to present some preliminary findings from this survey. A more in depth analysis will follow later on.


September 21, 2014

The Crossdreamer Survey of Gender Variance, Some Preliminary Results

The Crossdreamer Survey on Gender Variance received 1202 responses, representing a wide variety of queer and transgender people. Here are some preliminary results.

In August we invited readers to fill in a survey on gender variance. There remains a lot of serious number crunching to do, but we would like to present some preliminary findings.

We have written a separate article that presents various methodological issues. Please read it if you have questions about why we carried out the survey the way we did.

Please note that this presentation is temporary. We will come back with an in depth analysis based on a more complex cluster analysis later on.


The number of respondents

All in all we received 1202 responses, out of which 1199 we consider valid and useful for analytical purposes.

1199 is a high response rate for a survey like this one. We are confident  that the data can be used to draw some general conclusions regarding the lives and attitudes of this group of gender variant people.

We were very much aware of the fact that the readers of Crossdreamers.com are not necessarily representative for the population of gender variant people as a whole. With the help of our friends we therefore distributed the invitation to a large number of sites, forums and social media groups. (A warm thank you to all of those who helped us!)

We knew, however, that many of these channels were dominated by people assigned male at birth. To get input from more gender variant people assigned female at birth, we developed a separate (but similar) questionnaire to be published on tumblr. This invitation was eventually published on -- and reblogged by -- 105 different tumblr blogs. This second survey also gave us more data on the younger cohort.


More about the two sub-surveys

Here are the main numbers regarding the respondents:

The Crossdreamer.com Survey (distributed via Crossdreamers.com and forums and sites targeting crossdressers, crossdreamers and genderqueer people).
Number of respondents: 720 in all (out of which 718 will be used in the final analysis)
93% were assigned male at birth, 6% female.
The crossdreamer.com sample is dominated by adults, as shown in the figure below.

September 1, 2014

"I am something that does not exist!" (On queer schwulwomen, girlfags and guydykes)

In this guest blog post Ili tells about her life as schwul (girlfag). How do you explain something when the language you speak lacks the words for it, she asks, and when the culture you live in doesn't see it as possible? 
American comedian Margaret Cho modelling
the girlfag T-shirt over at Beyond the Binary

Guest post by Ili 
Note: I will use the German word schwul for “gay male” in this article because English has no single word for the concept, and because schwul has a subtly different meaning from "gay male".

A great many English-speakers are offended by the English term "girlfag," given that both"girl" and "fag" are at least potentially pejorative - a linguistic battle to which nobody has yet figured out a workable solution. Perhaps the German schwule m├Ądchen will eventually be adopted into English.
I am something that many people will tell you does not exist. Schwulwomen (“girlfags”) and lesbian men (“guydykes”) cannot, by current gender-bound linguistic standards, be real.

While the advent of trans identities in the last few decades has brought significant changes in the meanings of “man” and “woman," the words “
schwul and “lesbian” still have rigid definitions, even within the LGBTQ communities: only men can be schwul, only women can be lesbians. Anything else isn’t possible, per definition.

And yet I, as well as an uncountable but significant number of men and women like me, feel strongly that we are these impossible identities, the schwul female, the male lesbian. To say that these identities are problematic is to understate the case dramatically.

Thinking the impossible

To begin with, it often takes years, perhaps even decades, for a nascent girlfag or guydyke to realize her or his tendencies. A woman may identify with schwul culture since puberty – but until she accepts the "impossible," she may think she’s crazy, or the only one of her kind. She may try for years to reconcile herself to normative heterosexuality - after all, she likes guys, she must be straight, right?


August 18, 2014

Take Part in our Survey on Gender Variance!

You are invited to take part in our survey on gender variance and cross-gender expressions, identities, concepts and fantasies.
Illustration:Robert Churchill

The objective is to gain a better insight into the self conception and ideas of gender variant people of all shades and colors.

These include -- but are in no way not limited to -- crossdressers, crossdreamers, transsexuals, drag queens and drag kings, girlfags and guydykes, non-binary identities, queer and genderqueer.

The results will be published on the Crossdreamers blog, but the data will also be made available to researchers.

The survey is completely anonymous. You will not be asked for your name or email address, and we have no way of tracking your real identity. 

CLICK HERE TO TAKE PART IN THE SURVEY!

August 17, 2014

The Gay Male Friends of Girlfags

In spite of what the girlfag-bashers on tumblr say, gay men are not the enemies of girlfags and female to male crossdreamers.
Katharine Hepburn, the girlfag


Tumblr is one of the favorite social tools of the new generation, including male to female crossdreamers and girlfags.

Some of you will have noticed that I have put up a tumblr blog in order to get in touch with them. My wife, Sally, is also blogging on transgender issues over there.

(By girlfags I mean female bodied persons who are attracted to gay and bisexual men. A majority of them can be understood as female to male crossdreamers, as they express some kind of masculine sexuality and/or identity.)

The young and restless

One strength of tumblr is that the audience is young. 66% of all visitors are under the age of 35, while 39% are under 25 years old. If you want to know about their interests and problems, this is the place to go.

On the other hand, the young age of the majority of users is also a problem, as some of them have still not developed the social antennas needed to sense the suffering of others. Some are also too angry and frustrated to treat people with love and respect. Tumblr is like a school yard where the bullies roam unsupervised.

Bullies and trolls

I have rarely seen so much aggression and hate. The girlfags are targeted by some bloggers. Some of them are separatist "truscum" FTM transsexuals, who clearly see the female bodied crossdreamers as a threat to their own social acceptance.
Another one with Hepburn

The standard argument is that girlfags are "sexual fetishists", who are objectifying and preying on gay men. And yes, the autogynephilia theory has been used, as well.

Because I defend these fellow crossdreamers, many of them believe I am a young girlfag. This has made me the target of much aggressive misogyny. The levels of irony in this scenario are mind-boggling.

Gay men accept girlfags

But here's the thing: I find no such hostility towards girlfags among gay men in general.

My girlfag friends report the same. Their gay male friends are just that: friends. They accept them in the same way they accept the "fag hags". The whole "fetish" argument makes little sense to them, probably because gay male culture has a lot of "fetishistic" expressions of the gay identity.

I am going to share a quote with you which illustrates this. It was written by a gay man in a girlfag Facebook group. I have his permission to republish it.


August 10, 2014

Input on Crossdreamer Survey

I am planning a short survey where I ask readers of this blog and the Crossdream Life forum about their lives and ideas.

Photo: Andrey Popov
I would, for instance, like to ask you questions about gender identity, how open you are about your crossdreaming, what you think causes crossdreaming, and how you feel about being (or not being) part of the transgender alliance.

Are there any questions you would like to see included?

Are there any methodological traps I should avoid?

You could add a comment to this post or reply over at Crossdream Life.

Thank you for your help!