August 11, 2010

Autogynephilia, Bisexuality and Mr. Opportunity - the Alice Novic Interview, Part 1

Alice AKA Richard Novic is a refreshingly outspoken crossdresser, crossdreamer and psychiatrist who does not beat around the bush when it comes to discussing feminization fantasies. Nor does she hide the fact that she lives out her dreams in real life.

Some of you might have read her book, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age, or visited her site. Others will remember my post on her two type model of transgendered male to females: love-to-be-femme and act-femme.

If you have, you will know that she has taken the autogynephilia theory and given it her own unique twist.

Here's the first part of my interview with Alice.

On writing the book

Jack: I must admit I found your autobiography Alice in Genderland quite a revelation. Unlike many transgender men and women writing about their lives, you do not try to hide the sexual part of the motivation for what you do, in your case crossdressing.

I believe it is extremely important for male to female crossdreamers -- who you call "love to be femme transwomen" -- to see that there are others out there that share their dreams. Writing and publishing that book must have taken a lot of courage. What made you do it?

Alice: I guess two things really, Jack, the first is that I wasn’t satisfied with being just an average Jewish-American with a good career and a couple of kids. I had always stood out when I was young, so as an adult, I was looking out for something extra I might do.

When an opportunity to do neuro-imaging research at UCLA fell through in 2000, I looked to my transgenderism for inspiration. I was stunned by the fact that nobody had ever written the memoir of a crossdresser and that transsexual memoirists were just beginning to get real.

I thought we crossdressers could really use an honest, proud, and well-credentialed voice--I am, after all, a psychiatrist. I saw CD [crossdresser] after CD and many transsexuals wrack themselves with same kinds of confusion and self-doubt. I knew I could help them, and with a message that was much grittier and more thrilling than the standard stories we CDs and TSs use to comfort ourselves and our families. Alice in Genderland felt like a mission for me, and the courage for it came from a potent combination of compassion and ambition.

The two types of transwomen

Jack: You write and talk about the two types of transwomen: "love to be femmes", who include crossdressersand late transitioners, and "act femmes", who include early transitioners and drag queens. I can hear more than an echo of Ray Blanchard's
"autogynephiliacs" vs. "homosexual
transsexuals" here, so this is a controversial point of view.

Could you say a little about how you ended up with this model, and to what extent it differs from the one of Blanchard's?

Alice: Sure. Quite simply I read Blanchard—and [J. Michael] Bailey, especially his The Man Who Would Be Queen. I was blown away by what they had learned about MTF transpeople; it totally explained all the disparate things I had seen and heard over the years.

Our landscape is not divided north-south between crossdressers and transsexuals; it’s split east-west between those who start out straight and those who start out gay. What a brilliant idea! I was kicking myself for not having seen it myself, but as a transperson I was still too attached to our own propaganda to realize anything that ran counter to it.

Maybe Blanchard and Bailey as non-trans people were free of such blinders? Not bloody likely if you’d ask me. I don’t think I’ve known of anybody who has an abiding interest in trans folk who isn’t one themselves deep down. So kudos to them for somehow being secure enough to see past their own blinders.

I felt like I was a physicist who had the chance to discover the Law of Gravity and missed it. But when I saw how Blanchard, Bailey, and TG physician Anne Lawrence were as harassed for their insight as Galileo was, I figured that missing out on the most radical and accurate theory of our time might have been agood thing. Nonetheless, I was happy to learn what I could from their work and thereby write a memoir that’s less self-serving and much better equipped to stand the test of time.

By the way, my love-to-be-femme versus act-femme model doesn’t differ at all from Bailey’s model, nor do I believe from your crossdreamers model. Only our terms are different, and I’ve even updated mine in my undying quest to be brief, descriptive, and hopefully not too offensive.

For the last few years I’ve preferred to speak of started-out-straight transwomenand started-out-gay transwomen. Starting out straight or gay is determined by who you longed for in adolescense. I prefer terms like yours or mine, Jack, because Michael Bailey’s terms make us sound perverted and could easily be used against us TGs.

Born like this?

Jack: I must admit that the hardest part of making sense out of crossdreaming and crossdressing, is that it seems to be caused by a very complex system of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors.What do you think? Are we born like this or do we become like this?

Alice: We crossdreamers, crossdressers, and started-out straight transsexuals have a certain mix of male tendencies and female desires. To me as a psychiatrist, that’s not so different from intersex people—or gay people for that matter. We know that most intersex conditions have developmental rather than hereditary, early childhood, or other environmental causes. So why should we be so different from them just because their gender differences are immediate and anatomical and ours are emergent and behavioral?

Because our transgender differences don’t show up until later, could family and social pressure be important causes? Possibly, but nearly all the families and cultures I know give kids a push in just the opposite direction, i.e. to behave more in line with the sex they were born into. In my opinion, family and social pressure don’t cause anything; they’re high walls that should fill us with awe for any human drives able to breach them.

Bisexuals

Jack: Blanchard argues that autogynephiliac's [M2F crossdreamers] are heterosexual (gynephilic) while what he calls homosexual transsexuals are attracted to men. As he is grouping all other sexual variants together with the autogynephiliacs, I guess there isn't much room for bisexuals in his model.

Alice: I believe you’re right about that, and I, though, very active sexually with both my wife and boyfriend must agree. Both in the confessions I hear at work and in my readings of the research, there just doesn’t seem to be nearly as much male bisexuality as Kinsey led us to believe, nor perhaps any true male bisexuality at all.

Men seem to come in the standard straight package or the standard gay package. There just doesn’t seem to be a continuum of fellows in the middle who aren’t just bi-capable but who really love men and women absolutely equally. For whatever reason, a small but significant number of women occupy this middle ground, and on the whole women experience more fluidity in their preferences over time.

Many of us bisexual started-out straight MTF types like myself would seem to be a big exception to this rule, and perhaps we are, though I’m inclined to agree with the view Blanchard would probably have of me. He’d see me as a transgender version of a straight man and see my sexual interest in men as fetishistic, i.e. that I use men as the ultimate prop in my autogynephilic imagine-I’m-a-girl fantasy. Ouch!

At first I was offended by such a notion, but, disturbing or not, in the end it just seemed true. I guess that’s a little sad, but again I can assure you as a medically sanctioned confessor of a thousand souls, whether TG or mainstream we all use each other in relationships and that’s . . . A-OK, as long as it’s mutual and well understood. It’s just called making a life with others in areal non-greeting-card or stump-speech way.

Sex with men

Jack: Still, there you are, biological male married to a woman, openly having a male lover on the side. Many crossdreamers or love to be femmes report that they are 100% into women. Still, in their fantasies they are having sex with men. What is your take on this?

Alice: I think sexual fantasies, especially recurrent ones, are meaningful. In my personal and professional experience, your fantasies represent the desires you’d pursue if you could design your own circumstances. Now, these circumstances might be bizarre and these desires deeply troubling, but they give an accurate read of your innards, nonetheless.

As a rugby playing Freshman at Harvard, for instance, I used to be plagued by the thought of being thrown into prison, forced into a dress, and having to submit sexually to another man. Of course, at the time that didn’t mean to me that I was in anyway bisexual . . . because I was entirely unprepared for the potentially devastating effects that could have on how I viewed myself and my future. Seriously, I might have committed suicide if I’d had to face the fact that I deeply and truly wanted to go to bed with man and get fucked like a woman.

I think the “I just fantasize about it but don’t really want it” crowd are in denial the way I was back then. Why own up to a desire that might break your wife’s heart and rip your family apart if you ever dare to satisfy it? Why? Really, why? So, I’m totally sympathetic with these people even though I don’t buy what they’re saying.

And most will never have to face the truth, not unless Mr. Opportunity comes knocking. And I hate to break it to you folks, but he doesn’t often come knocking, not with teeth and a job and reassuring things like that. Just because you’re out drunk and sloppy and ready to fall from grace, don’t expect sizzling things to happen to you. It takes a lot of work. You have to put yourself in the right place at the right time, have your act together as a woman, and hopefully be young and slender enough for anyone male to care.

Alas, most of you classic crossdressers in your forties aren’t gonna be confronted with the chance to act out your most toe-curling fantasies, and I’m sorry. But at least your illusion of being purely oriented to women won’t be put to the kind of terrifying test mine ultimately was. And the sexual offers you’re likely to see will come from other crossdressers . . .and they might not be so tempting . . . and you might not choose to count them as men.

To Be Continued.

Click under for Alice's regular book...



or the Kindle ebook:



15 comments:

Jamiegottagun said...

Awesome post. Thank you!

Lady Alexia said...

I thank you for this interview. Sometimes when I read about the theories you discuss and make available for us, it goes over my head. The stuff here was very relatable.

I must admit the bisexuality is very much something I am wondering about. I would not count myself as Homosexual. I have always been attracted to females and still in real life admire the beauty there. The thing now is a am more at ease also loving how a dress compliments her figure. I don't see men like that. I do imagine sex as a woman both with men and sex with women as a woman. I think though, if I had someone male that loved me and I trusted completely I would be able to do things with them. I think the unspoken things that the science can't really quantify is Love and Trust.

I forget the term for what I think I am, but I realize my sex organs are underdeveloped. I think as I have accepted who I am and act out my fantasies in my head and in solo sexual stimulation I have conditioned my organ to be as close to a female as realistically possible. I guess I have conditioned myself to not really have erections. I often think if I could remove my testes I could almost imagine being close to female.

Being 37 I know I am locked in a reality that I can never really become a form that would be appealing to trustworthy men that are not just looking for a trans person to abuse. Sadly, I think there is a relation to this and the reason so many of us suffer from depression and the love shyness you have discussed here.

Sorry, I got a bit TMI I guess, but this has been one of the best post on here for me. Thank You.

Alexia Rose Alexander

MgS said...

I think I would argue that Bailey's model is based on a false dichotomy - one that is every bit as invalid as drawing a strong dichotomy between crossdreamers (or crossdressers - whichever you prefer) and transsexuals. Drawing a strong dichotomy between heterosexual and homosexual people is also a very flawed dichotomy.

During my own transition, I spent a lot of time in the clinical literature (trying to understand my own experiences from both an internal and external perspective)and in discussions with my therapist, and I found that the material which was the most logically complete tended to speak of human behaviour and experience as happening in terms analogous to a light spectrum or continuum. (BTW - gender in particular this holds true for, and the notion of gender is likely made up of multiple attributes intersecting with each other, IMO)

I've criticized Bailey's work in The Man Who Would Be Queen quite extensively in my own blog - frankly I think the conclusions he draws are deeply flawed because they are based on a very problematic sampling technique that failed utterly to explore the breadth and depth of transgender experiences. (a key flaw is that he did his interviews with people he met in drag bars - that is at best one or two facets of the transgender population, many never go near those places)

The notion of sexuality as being on a spectrum is very nicely described in Johnson's The Sexual Spectrum (without getting too mired in the clinical literature) She touches briefly on transgender identities as well, although her treatment of transgender issues is far from complete. She does do a good job of showing how the spectrum model applies in both cases.

I tend to think that the Bailey/Blanchard/Lawrence model dances around the notion of how different attributes intersect with each other. (Gender and sexuality in particular) Because of this misunderstanding, there is a tendency to apply absolute categorizations which don't really work in the bigger picture.

(Please note - I'm not saying that there aren't people who are autogynephiles, but rather that theirs is an expression of a particular intersection of gender and sexual identities and that there are a good many other intersections which are considerably different)

Christy Martins said...

I enjoyed reading the interview, but am left wondering where I fit in to all of this as I self-identify as a femme dyke when presenting as female.

Anonymous said...

This is a great interview and site. I know that the Blanchard, Bailey, Lawrence ideas have been heavily criticized, often hysterically so, but I have found them to fit perfectly with my life and my quest for understanding myself.

Jack Molay said...

@MgS

Thanks for the tip about the book. I'll buy it and see if I can write about it. You have a great blog, by the way!

@Christy

I think many crossdreamers have a "femme dyke" inside. We want to be a woman that gives in to a more dominant woman...

Mosa said...

"Men seem to come in the standard straight package or the standard gay package. There just doesn’t seem to be a continuum of fellows in the middle who aren’t just bi-capable but who really love men and women absolutely equally. For whatever reason, a small but significant number of women occupy this middle ground, and on the whole women experience more fluidity in their preferences over time."

There is nothing farther from truth than this. Infact it is male bisexuality which is actually more common than female bisexuality but this has been largely hidden under the carpet by both researchers as well as men who tend to put mostly all the "inferior" emotions and feelings to women.
It might be that the submissive bisexual guys like me might fit into some mould of genderqueer. I do love girls beauty but I also get sexual feelings about men and in none of my fantasies so far, i have had fantasy of myself as a woman. My sexual role has been confined to a feminine guy during sex with guys and a masculine guy during sex with women and I enjoy both my roles with ease. Also what would you say of the dominant bi guys I have dated before?
I simply don't get how a widespread phenomenon of male bisexuality has been relegated to something both inferior as well as totally rare.

Christy Martins said...

I simply don't get how a widespread phenomenon of male bisexuality has been relegated to something both inferior as well as totally rare.

Well I think that is in part due to the extreme stigma attached to men who admit to being intimate with another man...

Take it from me as a person who had one gay experience in his life and tried to be honest about it. Every girl I ever told about that immediately became fearful that I was gay. So I just stopped telling...

Admitting to being with another man will mark you for life in the world of females, so understandably mostly-straight men or bi-sexual men decline to talk about their activity.

BTW, I think it complete BS that women can skate in and out of being a lesbian with little or no social sanctions for doing so...pretty much the same way they can wear articles of clothing from the opposite gender with little or no social sanction...

But oh boy...just let a man try and wear a skirt or admit that he had the hots for another guy and acted on it...now THAT is a cause for concern

right ladies?

Amanda said...

Christy,

While I absolutely agree that male bisexuality should not be a matter of stigma, I think that some of your comments are very unfair to women. Two wrongs do not make a right and based onto some female sexual research it seems doubtful that women skate in and out of anything. My guess is that bisexuality in women and lesbians are more accepted because in a historical context female sexuality appears to be both more complicated and fluid than male sexuality (google sexual fluidity in women and read up on it). This is not the place to debate whether that is true or not.

Also gender aberrent behavior is more common in women and less so (and far more heavily stigmatized in men). But this might be because it appears more irregular in men or because men are viewed by society as being better than women and the idea that they might not grow up to be healthy hetrosexual males is simply too abhorent. One could postulate that the reasons women may want to cross dress as children are simply because they see all these things that are part of them too and the image society sends is that women can not do things like I play sports, etc. This is changing but I would suspect that a lot of gender variance in females is backlash against an overly restrictive gender role that does not reflect all women. It could be argued that some cross dressing is a backlash against hypermasculinity in many societies (ie. the U.S.)

A lot of women dress in suits because they want to convey a message that they are entering the workplace to perform work rather than flirt with men. A couple might wear such clothing because of gender issues but the case of female cross dressing is more a matter of women trying to integrate into roles that they have been excluded from and establish a measure or equality than something else.

Rather than supporting the behavior of people facing similiar problems as your own of the opposite sex, you are condemning them. That is wrong. What is right is just right.

As far as men wearing dresses, as long as the incidence of men forcing themselves on women is much higher than vice versa, general social condemnation is unsuprising. In the right environments, tg people are people who admire the feminine but they have also been wolves in sheep's clothing. If transgendered people want to be allowed to publicly fulfill their desires, they must prove that their desires are, in general, of no danger to society.

Christy Martins said...

Maybe I was a little harsh on womankind there, but the double standard exists nonetheless and men are still reluctant to talk about their same-sex experiences because of the social sanctions it will produce.

Christy Martins said...

Let me put this a different way...

bi-curious and questioning females can explore their sexual identity and return to the straight world with little attached stigma while the male who does so has great stigma attached to his behavior as long he admits to it.

Hence we don't talk about it and the numbers are under-reported thus.

John said...

"Also gender aberrent behavior is more common in women and less so (and far more heavily stigmatized in men)"

LOL, whenever I have told my mom I don't like being manly like other guys, she told me that from her lifelong observations being queer is a trait mostly seen in men, as men are somehow perverts and want everything, while females tend to be contented with that they get.

Absolutely contrasting views!!

Amanda said...

John,

Your mother has some very strange views.

Being queer is not by nature aberrant. Even many fetishes could theoretically be argued to be a normal part of psychology. A good question is not whether a behavior exists but when it becomes dysfunctional. Like on this board, AGP is obviously a nature behavior and one that is probably present to some degree in a very large percentage of people and like all behaviors, it is what someone does with it rather than the root psychology itself that makes it a good or bad thing.

As far as gender aberrant behavior, maybe your mother's experiences were true for her generation but not for current generations. Many of the psychological literature I have read claims that more gender aberrant behavior occurs in women then men. Of course, figure out the box you want to define as gender and everything else falls outside so it is a matter of perspective.

There are statistics that seem to support the thoery that men are more dangerous than women; however, the divergence in those numbers could as easily be explained by saying that men are in general stronger than women and hence better equiped to commit said crimes. So are men naturally less well behaved than women?

It is easy to understand how male behavior could be seen as perverted but as a spectator to most normal masculine behavior, all I can really do (without unfair bias) is note behaviors presense and effects rather than label them. Many perversions are actually fairly normal conditions and fit the general understanding of male or female psychology.

Take pornography. Pornography is viewed as a perversion. Some women view pornography but the largest audience is usually believed to be men. The increased prevalence is usually beleived to occur because it is currently believed men are more visual in their attractions. Given that men's sexuality often behaves differently than female sexuality, the behavior becomes un-understandable and "perverse" but still is largely natural.

Personally, I try to not criticize what I can't understand unless it is obviously dysfunctional. Of course, I am not perfect :)

Jack Molay said...

When I was young, we had several teenage girls living in our house for a while (relatives). I was an avid reader at the time, and borrowed some of their books and magazines.

That was a revelation. I had been led to believe that these sweet girls were innocent beings more focused on romance and clothes than sex, while it was boys and men who read pornography.

Well, the magazines had no explicit photos, but the stories were full of hard core steaming sex. So, behind innocent titles like "Romance" or "My Life" I found the hidden dreams of women, who were not that different from my own, it turned out.

Still, this was and is not considered porn, as there are no photos. So the myth that men are sex maniacs and that women are not lives on.

This myth is also reflected in the total lack of interest in female to male crossdreamers found among researchers. Only men can get aroused by crossdressing or sex change fantasies, right? Wrong!

Anonymous said...

Sex with men in the role or the woman is the best feeling that a transvestite can feel !!!

You feel as if you can fly !

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