September 4, 2009

Autogynephilia on a Napkin Part 2

The visual exploration of autogynephilia continues. Read part 1, the previous post, first!



Masculine heterosexual transsexuals

Blanchard and his followers realize, however, that there are men asking for sex reassignment surgery that are not particularly feminine. Nor are they sexually attracted to men. This category consisted mainly of men that are attracted to women, plus a few bisexuals and those that are attracted to neither sex.

For Blanchard, who sticks so closely to the male/female and heterosexual/homosexual dichotomies, this second group was originally a puzzle. He finally came to the conclusion (without any real scientific proof, really) that they constituted a new type of paraphilia (sexual disorder or perversion).

Unlike normal heterosexuals or homosexual transsexuals, who are attracted to other human beings, these men are attracted to the idea of themselves being a woman.

They are still men, and in some sense (given that they love women) they are heterosexual, but basically they belong to a new category. They do not love flesh and blood women out there. They love an internalized woman. They feel lust for themselves as a woman.

At this point I can no longer give you a simple and elegant figure to illustrate their theory. It is complex and convoluted, so much so, actually, that that in and for itself speaks against it. (At least if you believe in Occam's Razor.) Why stick to this kind of explanation, when there are simpler theories that can explain the same findings?

Anyway, here we go:

  1. The man is basically heterosexual. He is genetically predisposed to love women.
  2. Unlike other men, however, he moves the desired female characteristics over to his own body. He gets turned on by imagining himself as a woman, even if he is not a woman. Something has clearly gone wrong in his psyche. He should be desiring a woman out there. Instead he has the hots for himself with tits. Why this is so, is never explained.
  3. When such a man gets sex reassignment surgery (which both Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey often recommend), they are not "real women" anymore than the homosexual transsexuals. They are even less so, actually. The homosexuals are, after all, feminine in both behavior and appearance. The autogynephiliacs are not. They have become masculine men in a woman's body.
It is a sad story indeed, and why Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey believe this can help autogynephiliacs is hard to understand.

I believe them when they say their intentions are good, however. They are clearly trying to find out the truth about autogynephiliacs, but is this really the truth?

Masculine and feminine, mutually exclusive?

What are we talking about when we talk about masculine and feminine traits? Are there are two clear cut mutually exclusive categories in this respect? I mean, is their division of transsexuals into two distinct categories absolute?

As you might have surmised, I find the category autogynephilia useful, having a term for people who get aroused by the idea of being their target sex useful. and I know for a fact that there are transgender people that are much more feminine than me. (I do not look feminine at all!) But I cannot see that Blanchard & Co have proved that this is not an issue of a gradual transition from one category to the other. There is no clear cut borderline, so you do not need two separate theories to explain the two categories.

Madeline Wyndszen, a transgendered professor in psychology has an interesting article where she discusses the statistics used by Blanchard, and reproduces a figure from one of his articles.



The figure shows his categorization of some of the respondents in his study, distributed according to the extent they are attracted to men (androphilia) or women (gynephilia). Annalloerotic means there is attraction to neither men nor women.

Wyndszen says:

"Just looking at Blanchard's data, I do not see these two clusters of dots. If anything, I see a cluster of those with attractions to men (i.e., "homosexual" and bisexual as one group and a second group of "hetrosexual" and "non-sexual" transsexuals)."

Indeed, Blanchard's own research shows that there are all kinds of variations in his group of transgender, but these variations are gradual, with no mutually excluding categories.

Blanchard admits as much. He writes:

"It must be emphasized that the cluster analysis was not performed to discover or to confirm the existence of clusters among the transsexual subjects. It was chosen as a convenient and relatively non-arbitrary way of assigning subjects to a set of predetermined groups".

Now, you would never expect a clear cut division into categories in a study like this one. For that both human respondents and the tools of the statistics are to "messy". But it should definitely be more clear cut than this.

All this leads me to suspect that although the categories are useful for discussions and self-discovery, they are not "real" in the sense my sex (male) is real, the chair I sit on is real or the virus that causes the swine flu is real.

It is true that I look pretty masculine. But this "autogynephiliac" has also clear "feminine" traits: I am called a good listener, non-aggressive, creative, I have a background from the humanities, etc., traits I have in common with many "homosexual transsexuals". If we look at sexual orientation (homosexual vs. heterosexual) as something distinct from the masculine/feminine scale, the borders do become blurred, indeed.

An alternative model for autogynephilia

I do believe that many transgender phenomena have a biological basis. The variation we see can probably be explained by different variations in the biological make-up, whether this is based in the genome, the proteom, in pre-natal hormone balance or whatever. The way this syndrome plays out is also influenced by personal experience and the social and cultural surroundings.

Here's my alternative napkin drawing for the relationship between gender and sex. And again: This is a theory, not something I can prove scientifically.

In most "normal" men the masculine traits are dominating. It is not that they do not have a feminine side. We know of a world famous soccer player that likes to wear dresses and long hair. But his feminine side does not threaten his overall gender identity as being male.



Note also that the "traits" represented by my Venus and Mars symbols are not necessarily exclusively female or male. When you read some of this literature you might be led into believing that acting out and aggressiveness are for men only. Read your Shakespeare, folks!

Moreover, some of the traits are clearly culturally determined. The feeling of long hair as being something feminine cannot have a biological basis. Men had long hair in 17th century Europe, as did men in most of the tribes of the Native Americans.

The figure below shows a a male with both feminine and masculine traits, but where the feminine side is dominating. He might not be a "pure blooded woman" in a wolf's clothing, but he is definitely much more of a woman than a man, mentally speaking. His/her degree of femininity has reached a critical mass, so to speak.

There are probably a large number of non-transgender women out there that are more masculine than he is. If the male to female transgender undergoes sex reassignment surgery she has the same right to be considered a woman as   as they do.



The perversion

The fact that the sexuality of the "autogynephilic" seems "disturbed", can be explained by the fact that feeling like a woman in a man's body is traumatic. In some cases the feminine and masculine traits are so mixed up that it is hard to decide whether you are a man and a woman at heart. As identity formation go, that is even more disturbing than being a "traditional transsexual". No wonder many "autogynephiliacs" find it hard to establish a harmonious sex life. That doesn't make them perverts.

Besides, transgenderism is still stigmatized in most communities, and it isn't easy to communicate to friends, family and colleagues that you are a woman or (which is probably even more complicated) something in between. No wonder their deepest longing try to find an outlet in "unorthodox" activities, being that cross-dressing or the consummation of TG erotica.

The clusters of gender identity

One final napkin drawing:

I do believe gender identity has some kind of biological basis. The idea of gender as a pure social construct makes no sense to me, especially because of the existence of transgender people.

I didn't ask for this, my parents didn't and my culture didn't even have a word for what I am. My autogynephilia is not caused by language or culture, although I admit that psychological trauma may have strengthened it.

But what we call feminine or masculine is not determined by the existence or absence of an Y chromosome. It is much more complex than that.

In this figure I give my hypothetical vision of humanity and their gender: There are two large clusters around the traditional male and female roles, but there are also a large number that fall outside those groups. That's where I believe I belong.





UPDATE ON TERMINOLOGY

Since this blog post was written I have stopped using the terms "autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia" to describe people. The reason for this is that the terms implicitly communicates an explanation for why some people get aroused by imagining themselves as the opposite sex . This explanation, that this is some kind of autoerotic paraphilia,  is both wrong and stigmatizing. Instead I use the neutral term "crossdreamers".

Minor edits February 2014.

Click here for a discussion of the dark side of the autogynephilia theory.

18 comments:

  1. another great writing as usual! I think we (autogynephiliacs) all fall somewhere right between, and this is what causes us to sort of float right in the middle, which is extremely confusing. If we were men with more femminine traits, then we would just tranisition. If we had more masculine traits (but still had some feminine traits), we would be like any normal guy.

    What's still confusing is why thinking of ourselves as women is what turns us on? Is this a glitch in the brain, or do we only think of ourselves as women when it comes to sex.

    Lately I've been theorizing that if it were somehow possible to body swap as easily as syncing your iphone, that every one of us would be satisfied and finally feel normal. We could have sex as women, fulfill our sexual needs, and then transfer back to our male bodies, which we are comfortable with most of the time (anytime that doesn't involve sex). Of course this technology doesn't' exist yet (perhaps it never will), and because of that reason we're left feeling like the outsider, perhaps even a little bit crazy.

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  2. TG Captioner: "What's still confusing is why thinking of ourselves as women is what turns us on? Is this a glitch in the brain, or do we only think of ourselves as women when it comes to sex."

    This is the most important question, isn't it? There could be different reasons:

    1. The Blanchard theory (heterosexual men internalizing the external woman)

    2. We are real women eroticising our femininity. If managed to look beyond the sex, we would see that we are women in other ways to. (We may not look like women or move like women, but may have other typical feminine traits like compassion, social orientation, etc.)

    3. We have the kind of mix of traits that make neither the feminine nor the masculine side the dominant one.

    I am reading John Varley at the moment. He is describing a society where you can change your body from time to time, exploring both possibilities. In such a society transgenderism becomes the norm.

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  3. One thought that keeps coming to mind to explain why homosexuality is natural is:

    Back in prehistoric times, tribes of humans would be lead by an alpha male. The alpha male gets all the females, right? So what are all the non-alpha males suppose to do to relieve their sexual tension?

    It seems to me that at some time in our past most males were homosexual. It's only in the last couple of thousand years that monogamy has become the dominate relationship.

    Being the "catcher" or effeminate partner in a relationship seems to be natural for both males and females.

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  4. There are places where we can change bodies at will, if only virtually. I'm sure you're aware that in MMOs like World of Warcraft, and virtual worlds like Second Life, it's cliche that many people who are physically male in Real Life play female characters at least some of them time, and (although, it's generally thought, to a smaller extent) females play male characters.

    One interesting thing about this is that even many men who identify as men in the real world, and have no history of any sort of gender unhappiness, still often play as women.

    Whether this is because they're desires to be female are just very very mild (and were therefore not even noticed until they got to an environment where it was easy), or because they are moved by a different set of causes than people who are TG in whatever sense in real life, strikes me as a very interesting question.

    I'd be interested in your thoughts and that sort of thing, and what if anything it means. And apologies if you've already written about that; I've just recently discovered you. :)

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  5. That is a very interesting comment, Dale! People joke about this all the time:

    "The sexy 18 year old college girl you chatted with last night might be a 50 year old bald man."

    The jokes do not necessary *prove* that a lot of people switch genders online, but the fact that people are telling the jokes proves that many are able to imagine the scenario.

    That tells me that genderbender fantasies are much more common than people tend to believe.

    The problem is that so few are willing to admit that they would do such a thing, even to a researcher, which means that underreporting will be a huge problem.

    To me the phenomenon is a strong indication that the binary systems of male vs. female or for that matter cissexual ("normal") vs transsexual might be too narrow. My point is that there may be a gradient from "mostly masculine" to "mostly feminine", or more precise: different mixes of feminine and masculine traits.

    If that is the case it is easy to imagine a man, fully grounded in his masculine identity, go online to fight dragons as Princess Whatevera. The game tickles the part of him that is female.

    Again, this should not be too surprising. When we start out in the womb we are all female. You need special male hormones to trigger the development of male characteristics in a fetus.

    Does anyone know if there has been done research on online role playing and gender identity?

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  6. Here's one article:

    http://webpages.scu.edu/ftp/ktolentino/linearhypertext.html

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  7. In Second Life, gender is a radio button in your Appearance window. One click of the mouse and you move from male to female or vice versa.

    http://www.blog.markwbell.com/?p=9

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  8. here's one more:

    http://www.pharostribune.com/weirdnews/local_story_224004733.html

    "By day, Freeman Williams manages a small dental practice in suburban Houston. But on any given night, he’s prowling crime-ridden streets and battling ne’er-do-wells in the video game “City of Heroes” as his virtual alter-ego: a female superhero named Robotrixie."

    "In an informal survey she conducted with 64 males, more than half said choosing a female character gave them a distinct gameplay advantage. And while a quarter said they played women characters because it added to the role-playing experience, Wright said others had a simpler explanation: visual stimulation.

    “They’d rather look at a character that looks like Lara Croft than a character that looks like Rambo,” she said."

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  9. One more:

    http://community.livejournal.com/hazels_room/3020.html

    "Generally, men roleplay women as either The Bitch or The Slut.

    The Bitch is a powerful, masculine woman who is beautiful, unforgiving, and uninterested. Oddly, some Bitches have a hidden inner Slut who will (seemingly randomly) warm up to a particular male. The Slut is a powerful, feminine woman who was beautiful, warmly caring, and easy. An interesting possible trend (which I can't confirm) is that in fantasy, Bitches tend to be warriors while Sluts tend to be mages."

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  10. Thanks for the replies and the source materials! I know from personal experience that males playing as females in both Second Life and World of Warcraft is pretty common. Females playing as males (again just from personal experience) also happens in both, but seems more common in WoW than in SL, maybe (pure speculation) because WoW is the more traditional-male-flavored environment (battle, as opposed to shopping and decorating and socializing).

    It would definitely be interesting to get some hard data! I don't think the stigma attached to virtual gender crossing is all that large (at least not among the people I hang out with?), but it's certainly non-zero, which would tend to corrupt the data.

    In WoW I've heard the "if I have to stare at someone's bottom 10 hours a day, I'd rather it be a hot chick" argument more than once. :) Haven't heard it as much in SL, maybe again because SL players don't feel the same need to provide a het-sounding excuse. :)

    I play as both male and female in both worlds; in real life I have no really strong gender identification: I'm biologically male, and that's okay with me, although it'd be fun to be able to switch now and then here also.

    Some weblog thoughts on the subject:

    http://daleinnis.wordpress.com/2008/12/31/tg-or-not-tg/
    http://daleinnis.wordpress.com/tag/gender/

    I definitely agree with the idea that gender is a continuum, not a binary choice. To some extent even biological gender is; psychological far moreso.

    "Generally, men roleplay women as either The Bitch or The Slut. "

    Couldn't help but laugh at that one. :) Overgeneralization from a teeny-weeny sample of an enormous universe. Even in my own very limited experience, there's much wider variety than that sentence implies.

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  11. I very intersting article. Thanks

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  12. tg_captioner, your comment about "syncing your iphone" is exaclty on target. I have long felt that, if I could change my gender on a whim and change it back on a whim, I wouldn't hesitate. But going through transition, or trying to pass as a woman, without that technological breakthrough holds no appeal for me.

    I am more disturbed by other aspects of my body than my gender, but I'm not rushing to have lap band surgery, liposuction, hair restoration, and so on. Without those things I would not even try to pass, or have reassignment surgery. The woman in my personality wouldn't be satisfied.

    I do play online games as female characters, because they are just more comfortable. Being happily married though, I can't see myself flirting it up in SL. My wife somewhat understands my gender situation but I don't intend to cause jealousy or put anything between us. We have a great relationship. It may help that she's bi though.

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  13. WOW. Thanks for helping me understand myself. Danni

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  15. Thank you so much for your blog!
    Parts of your the biogrpahies ive read online of AGP type people are so strikingly on the money its astonishing to find other people have been through the same processes.
    Up to the point where it says " She married and had children. Her need to cross-dress… and use autogynephilic ideation grew,".
    I recently turned 30 and decided it was time to get my life in order. I came out as bisexual to my parents and some friends, and so far it has been a rewarding, frankly quite happy experience in the main. As a label it doesnt really fit, but its better than any of the others.
    This is where all the answers youre writing has given me spawn questions. Am I infact a trannsexual?
    After following the typical AGP profile to the letter, I found my desire to crossdress dropped off at around aged 17 in secondary (senior) school, as has my desire to be a female. It used to be a comforting thought when I was a kid, but now I don't really feel like I can relate to it anymore. I no longer envy girls for being girls. Ive grown to like the way I look, my body and my genitals and sexual characteristics. I enjoy being male.
    I suppose if someone had a magical machine that could make me a woman Id say yes sure, Ill try it for a while, why not, but I have no desire to be a late-transition transexual.
    However Ive found an example of what must be some kind of autogynephilic projection, in that while I dont feel excited by crossdressing at all anymore, I feel strongly attracted to both girls and attractive, effeminate males who crossdress for fun. Often at different times.

    I guess my question here is what is my prognosis? All the story arcs on your blog seem so bleak; collapsing or hollow marriages (ie someone elses life in tatters too) loss of family and job and so on, hollow, frankly nightmareish-sounding relationships with men as autoerotic sex-as-a-woman fantasies, all through some need transition.
    Is this inevitable? As I say, I have no desire currently to take hormones or become a woman, or wear womens clothes at home or outside, but because of my childhood am I destined to have only lightweight relationships with men and women, and eventually snap in my 50s for some reason and decide transitioning will somehow make everything perfect? Being a 62 year old transexual who looks like a man in a dress and whos kids wont talk to him sounds pretty lonely. How much of this is set in stone, and how much is my choice?

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  16. @vk

    There is so much diversity among crossdreamers and transgender, that it is in no way possible for me to make a "diagnosis" based on a comment.

    The problem is twofold: You are probably the only person that actually has the information needed to decide if you are truly transsexual. And secondly: You may yourself has suppressed so much of yourself, that even you do not have the facts available.

    As you point out: This is a journey of self discovery.

    That being said. If the following phrase truly reflects what you feel, i would say that you are not gender dysphoric and therefore not a transsexual:

    "I no longer envy girls for being girls. Ive grown to like the way I look, my body and my genitals and sexual characteristics. I enjoy being male."

    This does not sound like the words of a transsexual to me.

    I do not think the narratives you are referring to are inevitable. I guess most of the crossdreamers who tell their stories here are the ones that are suffering. The ones that are able to include their MTF crossdreaming in their lives as men, are less likely to tell their stories.

    It is true that for some the dysphoria intesifies as they get older. But there are also those that report no dysphoria whatsoever.

    Which leads me to my conclusion: Your uncertainty tells me that you should continue working on discovering your true self, and to do so now, before you realize at 50 that you are transsexual (if you truly are one).

    I recommend finding an open-minded therapist of some kind.

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  17. "I am reading John Varley at the moment. He is describing a society where you can change your body from time to time, exploring both possibilities. In such a society transgenderism becomes the norm."

    Oh! The Eight Worlds series? Just read The Ophiucus Hotline, and waiting for Steel Beach (in French translation).

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  18. Yes, the Eight World series, and Steel Beach is one of them.

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