July 27, 2010

On Moser's critique of Blanchard's autogynephilia theory Part 2

The presentation of Charles Moser's critique of Ray Blanchard's autogynephilia theory continues.

Ray Blachard argues that there are two types of transwomen: homosexual transsexuals (androphilic transwomen) and autogynephiles (gynephilic men who erotically loves the idea of themselves being a woman). In a recent paper Charles Moser does his best to debunk the theory.

The two groups

Moser denies that the data Blanchard uses can be used to prove that there are two completely separate groups of transwomen: (1) autogynephilic "non-homosexual" MTFs and (2) androphilic "homosexual transsexuals".

"Blanchard (1989a) demonstrates that there is a statistically significant correlation between reported autogynephilic interests and a non-homosexual sexual orientation, suggesting that one can distinguish homosexual from non-homosexual MTFs on this basis. This approach is equivalent to distinguishing men from women by finding a statistically significant correlation between the presence of a Y chromosome and gynephilia (erotic attraction to women), which obscures the very real existence of gay men and lesbians."

The point here is, I believe, that although there is a statistically significant correlation between having autogynephilic fantasies and being a non-homosexual MTF, the dividing line between the two groups is not absolute. There will always be people who fall outside this binary system, in the same way there are men and women who are not heterosexual.

What is lacking in Moser's discussion is a discussion of the positive value of making such a distinction. There is a correlation between sexual orientation and reported autogynephilic fantasies. Why is that and what does it mean?

Furthermore: The fact that only a minority of transwomen are androphilic is interesting and requires an explanation. Among genetic XX women it is the other way round: the majority is androphilic. Why is that?

The love of others

If you have followed this blog, you will know that one of my deepest felt arguments against Blanchard & Co is that he denies me the ability to love another person. Autogynephiliacs are in love with themselves and cannot love others. My long time girlfriend can tell you otherwise and I get a lot of reports from crossdreamers who love their significant other deeply. The fact is that many of them give up on their dream of transitioning, because they do not want to lose the one they love.

Moser makes the same argument:

"Blanchard (...) states, 'autogynephilia is clinically significant because it interferes with normal interpersonal sexual attraction and because it is associated with gender dysphoria' (1993a, p. 301). There are no data to suggest that autogynephilia actually interferes with interpersonal sexual attraction or that homosexual MTFs do not experience problems with interpersonal sexual attraction or gender dysphoria (i.e., 'discontent with one’s biological sex, the desire to possess the body of the opposite sex and to be regarded by others as a member of the opposite sex' [Blanchard, Clemmensen, & Steiner, 1987, pp.139–140]). Most MTFs, autogynephilic or not, report both interpersonal attraction toward the partners of their choice and gender dysphoria."

My point exactly! Note that there is no data that shows that androphilic transwomen or ciswomen and cismen are more capable of developing lasting relationships.

Man as a dildo

I have mentioned the man as a masturbatory prop theory earlier. Given that crossdreamers or autogynephiliacs are considered gynephilic (they love women), the fact that they fantasize about having sex with a man becomes problematic. It threatens to destroy the neat division between heterosexual and homosexual. Blanchard does not allow for true bisexuality in his theory. The bisexuals are grouped together with the gynephiles in the "non-homosexual" category.

Blanchard suggests the male partner of a non-homosexual MTF “is usually a vague, anonymous figure rather than a real person and probably has little excitatory function beyond that of completing the fantasy of vaginal intercourse in the female role” (1989a, 1991).

Anne Lawrence suggests that the androphilic interests of “nonhomosexual” MTFs are focused upon an imagined partner who, “ is faceless or quite abstract, and seems to be present primarily to validate the femininity of the person having the fantasy, rather than as a desirable partner in his own right” (2004, 79–80).

I must admit this is one of the most puzzling parts of being a crossdreamer, and also the strongest argument for the target location error theory.

I think Blanchard's and Lawrence's observations are close to the mark. The male partners in feminization fantasies among crossdreamers are very often faceless, unlike the fantasy partners found in women and gay men's fantasies. I find this in TG erotica, I find it in the conversations I have had with fellow crossdreamers and you can see it in some of the comments made on this blog.

Stable relationships

Moser does not go into the fantasies themselves, but puts up the following hypothesis: If M2F "non-homosexual" MTFs uses males as props in fantasies, you would see them use men in the same way after transitioning.

The Blanchard theory would imply that non-homosexual MTFs attracted to men would have multiple male partners and no stable male partnered relationships. The data given by Anne Lawrence, a strong Blanchard supporter, says otherwise, according to Moser:

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"Of the MTFs who had exclusively female partners before SRS and exclusively male partners after SRS, 71% reported at least one stable partnered relationship post-SRS in comparison to the 64% of MTFs who had exclusively male partners before and after SRS (Lawrence, 2005). The MTFs with female partners before and male partners after SRS reported a mean of 2.8 male partners after SRS, in comparison to the 8.4 male partners for MTFs with exclusively male partners before and after SRS (Lawrence, 2005). "

Moser argues that androphilic MTFs are less likely to form stable relationships than the "non-homosexual" ones -- not that this in any way implies that they are more "autoerotic" than the autogynephiliacs.

Are we wrong about sexual orientation?

The fact that "autogynephiliacs" are as likely to form stable relationships as others is a good point. But it does not answer the puzzle of seemingly gynephilic M2Fs getting male partners.

I wonder if we are barking up the wrong tree here. The word "non-homosexual"makes sense in this context, but not for the reasons Blanchard intended. The phenomenon we are describing is a journey from one form of heterosexuality to another. The biological male starts out as gynephilic (heterosexual) and ends up as an androphilic woman (heterosexual).

Given Blanchard's starting point (that there are only two types of normal sexual orientation), some explanations cannot be considered by him. The following three are, for instance, out of the question:
  1. The gynephilic crossdreamers who become androphilic were bisexual all along, but given the fact that they have tried to live as men, they have suppressed their desire for men. As women it makes much more sense for them to approach men. The gynephilic crossdreamers who were truly gynephilic only, remain gynephilic after the transition.
  2. Some gynephilic crossdreamers do indeed change their orientation from loving women to loving men, as sexual orientation is not unalterable, but is the end result of a complex set of natural and psychological factors, some of which may be changed when transitioning (for instance due to hormones or psychological realignments).
  3. Sigmund Freud was right all along: All men and women are basically bisexual. However, the surrounding culture and their basic copulation instinct (catcher/pitcher) lead them to preferring one sex and suppress the longing for the other. When they change sex, they are allowed to -- yes, even encouraged to -- turn to the other sex, which allows them to do what their natural instincts asked for all the time.
During my exploration of my own crossdreamer psyche, I have slowly come to the point where I can see that it actually might be possible for a crossdreamer to switch allegiance in this way, i.e. the point where the male body actually becomes physically attractive, but I must admit that I do not understand how this happens. I suspect there may something inherently wrong about the way we look at sexual orientation. We oversimplify a complex phenomenon. This is definitely a topic for further study.

Cohabitation and erotic-romantic identification

As for Moser dismissing the man as a prop theory using cohabitation statistics: Well, the data are interesting, but these data say nothing about how these transwomen experience their sexual relationship with men. There may be friendship, there may be love, but if this is anything like the attraction a cisgendered ("normal") woman feels for a man, or a gay man feels for another is unknown.

Anne Lawrence has a highly speculative theory about the crossdreamers ("autogynephiliacs") being romantically in love with the image of themselves as women. She says:

"Moreover, it seems obvious that erotic-romantic orientations involving erotic target location errors would contribute especially strongly to personal identity, because they define one’s ideal self: the person whom one wants to become or wants to change one’s body to resemble. It is easy, then, to understand why becoming what one loves would feel like an identity-driven process. It is also easy to understand how the erotic feelings that putatively contribute to the creation of identity in nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals could seem relatively unimportant, especially if they had diminished with time or were never strong to begin with." (Lawrence 2004)

The reason why autogynephiliacs imagine faceless men, according to Lawrence, is that they are not attracted to men, but to the idea of being a beautiful woman lusted for by men.

Moser's argument quite efficiently destroys Lawrence's idea that autogynephilia represents some alternative kind of erotic-romantic orientation - an alternative to heterosexual and homosexual love. Moser demonstrates that crossdreamers are perfectly capable of having long lasting relationships with real people. However, the fact that they do so, does not in itself prove that their condition cannot be caused by some kind of erotic-romantic identification with the other sex.

Personally I think there may be such a erotic-romantic identification. However, that does not in itself prove Lawrence right. If crossdreaming or autogynephilia is inborn -- i.e. these biological men have strong "inner women" -- it would only be natural for them to identify romantically with the idea of being a woman. They love women, they are partly or fully wired as women, and many of them therefore identify as women. If this is the case it would be close to impossible for them to differentiate between these types of love in their subconscious. A erotic-romantic identification with "womanhood" does not therefore stop gynephilic transwomen from being "real women".

Maybe it does not matter. Maybe this is all part of the wonderful variety of life.

Androphilic with autogynephilic fantasies

Moser says that he cannot find reports of any substantial differences between the gender dysphoria (psychological discomfort) of homosexual and non-homosexual (autogynephilic) transsexuals. Nor does he find any differences in their post-op life experiences.

He also dismisses the idea that androphilic transwomen cannot have autogynephilic fantasies. Since Blanchard argues that 90 percent of the autogynephiliacs have also been aroused by the idea of wearing women's clothes, Moser makes use of research on crossdressing among androphilic MTFs:

"Blanchard (1985b) found approximately 15% of his homosexual MTFs reported a history of cross-gender fetishism. Bentler (1976) found 23% of his sample of homosexual transsexuals admitted sexual arousal by cross-dressing. Leavitt and Berger (1990) reported almost 36% of their androphilic transsexuals had a history of sexual arousal by crossdressing (using an item from Blanchard’s [1985b] inventory to measure this cross-dressing fetishism). It is hard to dismiss all these studies as systematic distortions and misrepresentations."

We know that there are androphilic crossdressers. Some of them use their crossdressing on stage, exploring their femininity as drag queens. The arguments is that a drag queen differs from autogynephiliacs in that she is (1) androphilic and (2) she "is dressing like a woman, not because it turns them on, but because it is a fun character and a form of entertainment."

But why? If we use Blanchard's methodology and allow ourselves to suspect a cover up, this might be one of them. I for one find it strange that no drag queen will get a tingling of erotic excitement performing as a sexy woman in a bar, even if her spectators are all gay men. We are definitely missing something important here. Maybe I will have to look into the sexuality of gay men as well.

Blanchard and his followers will of course argue that if a drag queen admits to getting turned on by performing as a woman, she cannot be androphilic at all. She must be a "non-homosexual" autogynephiliac, which brings us back to square one: If you don't like what they tell you, they are liars.

No feminization fantasies

A significant proportion of the non-homosexual group does not follow the rules laid down by Blanchard & Co. They do not report autogynephilic arousal, Moser says:

"There are non-homosexual MTFs who do not report any history of autogynephilic arousal. Lawrence (2005) found approximately 10% of her non-homosexual MTF sample reported that they never experienced autogynephilic arousal prior to SRS. Blanchard (1985b) reported that almost 27% of his sample of non-homosexual transsexuals did not acknowledge a history of
sexual arousal while cross-dressing.

"Blanchard et al. (1987) classified 82.2% of their heterosexual male transsexuals to be fetishistic (autogynephilic), suggesting that 17.8% were not. Bentler (1976) noted only 18% of his 'Asexual' MTF group and 50% of his 'Heterosexual' MTF group indicated that crossdressing was sexually arousing presurgery, suggesting a majority did not find it sexually arousing. Again, it is difficult to dismiss all these findings as systematic distortion and misrepresentation."

Moser makes the same point I have been making. Moreover, if this is all caused by mistaken or deceiving respondents, all the data must be disregarded. That would mean that the methodologies used are useless and will have to be abandoned. This would mean that all of Blanchard's research is bogus. It is not!

Moser does not have any good explanation for why there is a significant difference in the proportion of people having autogynephilic fantasies in the two groups, though, and he really needs such an explanation to kill the Blanchard theory once and for all. Why are gynephilic transwomen more likely than the androphilic to have had feminization fantasies? I think I have the answer to that one, but that discussion requires a separate post.

Autogynephilia as a paraphilia

Moser's paper is clearly an intervention in the DSM-V debate, which I have covered elsewhere. Moser argues that autogynephilia does not belong in the Fifth Edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, not because autogynephilic fantasies do not exist, but because they cannot be the main cause for the desire to transition.

Moser says:

"If the impetus for gender transition is a paraphilia (autogynephilia), then reduction of the sex interest should decrease the desire for the transition. Low testosterone, either due to anti-androgens or other causes, is associated with decreased sexual interest in individuals with or without a paraphilia. Estrogen acts to decrease testosterone levels, but most transsexuals are prescribed anti-androgens to reduce further their testosterone level, often to the undetectable range. The result is often decreased sexual interest, as expected, but this rarely causes any discomfort or regret. Most MTFs report their drive for gender transition is unabated; Blanchard (1991) also observed this same phenomenon."

In other words: the hormone treatment given to them to feminize their body should cure them of their autogynephilia and stop them from transitioning. It does not.

He also points out that many individuals diagnosed with a paraphilia [like pedophilia, I guess] and treated with anti-androgens [which is a form for chemical castration] report a significant decrease in their desire to act on their paraphilic interests. This is not seen with MTF transwomen. This is a strong indication for autogynephilia being a symptom of a deeper gender dysphoria and not its root cause.

A very useful contribution to the debate

Moser does not say anything new in this paper, but he makes a coherent and convincing argument for why Blanchard's theory is too simplistic and too weak to be the foundation for a classification in the DSM.

He also undermines the idea of all "non-homosexual" transgendered being motivated by sexual desire only. Instead he opens the door to an explanation where the sexual fantasies as well as other expressions of femininity among crossdreamers, is caused by an unknown underlying factor.

He does not give an alternative explanation for crossdreaming (autogynephilia), but then again, that was not the objective of his paper. What we really need now is for some researchers outside the Blanchard tradition to take a look at crossdreaming and what it means. Maybe Moser can take a shot at it?


Moser's paper is not available for free online. I had to pay 30 USD for it, and they printed my name on every page to stop me from sharing it with you. I do understand that the publishers need to secure some revenue, but this kind of policy is stifling debate outside the scientific circles. I'll see if can be possible to find a way of making the article accessible to you. Fortunately there is a process in both the US and other countries towards open access, where publicly supported research is made available to all.

Charles Moser MDa
Journal of Homosexuality, 57: 6, 790 — 809

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