August 5, 2009

Autogynephilia defined

The autogynephilia theory classifies male to female transgender persons into two distinct categories based on their sexual orientation.
Illustration by castanedasevilla.

There are men  who fantasize about having a woman's body and get sexually aroused by this. There are also women who get excited by the idea of being a man, and by having sex as a man.

I call this crossdreaming. Dr. Jaimie Veale, who has done extensive research on transgender people, calls it cross-gender arousal. Trans-philosopher Julia Serano has suggested the term female/feminine or male/masculine embodiement fantasies. 

Not all crossdreamers are transsexual, but some of them suffer from gender dysphoria (distress caused by a mismatch between gender identity on the one hand and biological sex and/or social role on the other).

Trans women and trans men may have been crossdreamers in the past.  This should not come a surprise. If you present as male, and your inner sense of self is female, one of the few ways you can explore your female sexuality is by imagine yourself having a female body, and fantasize about having sex as a woman.

Because of this even the idea of being transformed into a woman can become arousing. The transformation makes the full life of a woman possible.

Misogyny and transphobic medicine

Unfortunately we live in a world that has been quite unforgiving as regards gender violations of this kind. In the previous century doctors and other "experts" found it hard to believe that this kind of arousal could be caused by a female sexuality. Women were not supposed to have strong sexual desires.

Besides, this was the age of misogyny. A man who wanted to be a woman had to be mentally ill.

The only trans women who were accepted as "real" women (if they were accepted at all) were therefore those that could say that they had never had such erotic fantasies. Those who had were dismissed as "transvestic fetishists" (sexual deviants).

The autogynephilia theory of Dr. Ray Blanchard of Toronto, Canada, is part of this tradition.

In this post I will, for practical reasons, quote Blanchard-supporter Anne Lawrence when presenting the theory. Blanchard has given her interpretation of the theory strong support.

Summary of autogynephilia

Anne Lawrence gives the following summary of autogyenphilia:

"Ray Blanchard proposed that these transsexuals have a paraphilia [i.e. sexual disorder] he called autogynephilia, which is the propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of oneself as female.

"Autogynephilia defines a transsexual typology and provides a theory of transsexual motivation, in that Blanchard proposed that MtF transsexuals are either sexually attracted exclusively to men (homosexual) or are sexually attracted primarily to the thought or image of themselves as female (autogynephilic), and that autogynephilic transsexuals seek sex reassignment to actualize their autogynephilic desires."

Two categories of male to female transsexuals

In another article, she makes the following summary:

"One category of MtF [male to female] transsexualism includes persons who were overtly feminine as children, who are very feminine as adults, and who are exclusively sexually attracted to men; these individuals are usually referred to as homosexual MtF transsexuals. [called nonautogyephiliac by Lawrence].

"The other category of MtF transsexualism includes persons who were not overtly feminine during childhood, who are not remarkably feminine as adults, and who are not exclusively sexually attracted to men, but who may be sexually attracted to women, to women and men, or to neither sex; these individuals are usually referred to as nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals.

"Nearly all persons of this second MtF transsexual type have a history of transvestic fetishism or sexual arousal with cross-dressing."

Four types of autogynephiliacs

If autogynephilia denotes a man's propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as female, this imagening may take different forms. Blanchard operates with four types of autogynephilia:
  1. Transvestic (fantasy of wearing women's clothing)
  2. Behavioural (fantasy of engaging in typical feminine behaviour, let's say knitting together with women)
  3. Physiologic (fantasy of pregnancy, breast feeding, menstruating)
  4. Anatomic (fantasy of having a woman's body, including partial autogynephilia, where the focus is on a mix of male and female bodyparts, as in -- for instance -- becoming a "she-male".

More autogynephiliacs take the plunge

The autogynephiliacs are now, according to Lawrence, dominating the group of men who undergo sex reassignment surgery:

"Most of the increase in MtF transsexualism can be accounted for by men who would have been considered atypical—and probably inappropriate—candidates for sex reassignment only a few decades earlier. These men are usually unremarkably masculine in their appearance and behavior, and they typically seek sex reassignment after having lived outwardly successful lives as men, often in male-dominated professions such as engineering or computer science.

"Most have been married to women, and many have fathered children. They invariably have a history of sexual arousal with crossdressing or cross-gender fantasy. Most MtF transsexuals who undergo sex reassignment in the United States and the United Kingdom now appear to fit this pattern."

Autogynephilia falsified

The autogynephilia theory has been falsified, not only by trans activists, but also by researchers.

Even Blanchard's own research shows that there are "homosexual transsexuals" (that is trans women who are attracted to men) who experience "autogynephilic fantasies. And the only way Blanchard can dismiss the existence of "aotugynephiliacs" who do not crossdream, is by dismissing all of them as liars.

The difference seen between late transitioning and early transitioning trans women is mostly caused by cultural factors. Lesbian trans women have normally transitioned later precisely because they are attracted to women. It is much harder for them to believe they can find love as a woman. They therefore try to live up to the role of "a real man" as long as possible. The Caitlyn Jenner story is a good example of this.

Internalized transphobia and homophobia may cause male to female transgender persons who love women to repress their transgender side completely. The reason they may appear as more masculine than their man-loving sisters, is because they have been socialized as men for a longer time and because testosterone has had more time to masculinize their bodies.

Trans women who love men have no hope of living up to the ideal of the straight, manly, man. That doesn't stop many of them from trying, but since they have much less to lose in the sense of status and privilege, they are more likely to transition earlier. Being part of a more tolerant gay community, may also help them.

Young trans women, like women in general, normally look more feminine than older women. The differences observed by Blanchard and Lawrence are therefore simple artefacts of age and cultural training.

Now that we see more openness and tolerance regarding trans issues, bisexual and woman-loving trans women tend to transition much earlier.

There is no female bodied equivalent to autogynephiliacs according to this theory. Only men can suffer from sexual disorders of this kind, as they express a uniquely male sexuality. This is pure nonsense. I know many female to male crossdreamers.

The following blog posts give more detailed arguments for why the autogynephilia theory is not only bad science, but transphobic and stigmatizing:

In the next blog post in this series I will take a look at why this terminology has been considered so controversial.

The original version of this blog post caused some readers to believe that I am a supporter of the autogynephilia theory. Because of this I have had to revise the text quite extensively. I have posted the original version over at my Sidebar blog, for reference purposes. Comments posted before August 1 2015 refers to the previous version of the post.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!