May 28, 2013

Jaimie Veale's study of gender variant people throw new light upon crossdreamers

Jaimie Veale believes in the diversity of
humanity (photo from Photos.com)
Extensive study confirms spectrum of gender variance and debunks the autogynephilia theory.

Jaimie Veale is a New Zealand scientist who has spent quite some time on understanding transgender and transsexual conditions, including what I call crossdreamers.

I 2011 she published her doctoral thesis on gender variant identities, a follow up on earlier work that had also discussed Blanchard's autogynephilia theory about birth assigned males who get aroused by the idea of having a woman's body.

In her Master thesis from 2005 she warned strongly against Blanchard's idea of dividing male to female transsexuals into two distinct groups ("autogynephiles" who are attracted to women on the one hand and "homosexual transsexuals" who are attracted to men on the other.).

Her own research supported a model with a wide diversity of gender identity and gender expressions, all with some kind of common core.

Her doctoral thesis efficiently debunks the whole model of Blanchard's. She finds none of the patterns he has projected upon the transgender populations. The sexual orientation of transsexual women (or transgender male bodied persons in general) cannot be used to sort them into two distinct groups with different origins.

Her study is based on a a survey of  of 2277 respondent, gender variant and gender typical, recruited via the internet. This makes it, to my knowledge, the largest survey of this kind, and the fact that she has included non-transsexual transgender persons as well, makes it much more reliable as a source of knowledge about crossdreamers.

By the way, the survey covers both female bodied and male bodied respondents. Later on, I will see if we can use the survey to learn more about female to male crossdreamers.


Reading Veale

A warning: Although Veale is a doctor in psychology, she is deeply embedded in the tradition of biologically oriented sexology. In this respect she uses a terminology and methodologies resembling Blanchard's own.

Like him she bases her research on surveys, and like him she does some heavy statistical work on her findings to identify collerations and causations between the various findings. 

If you are the kind of person who loves regression analysis and structural equation modeling, you will love the complexity of her work. If you have never heard about statistical modelling, you will probably find her thesis  hard to follow (with exception of the historical chapter, which gives an easy to read overview over the current scientific debate on gender identity).

Those who have followed this blog, know that I have some reservations regarding some of the research done within this tradition, as I feel that not all of the researchers are able to take the cultural bias of their own upbringing and cultural setting into consideration when doing research. In other words: They are often blind to their own prejudices.  Ray Blanchard gives us, for instance, an extreme example of sexual stereotyping masquerading as science.
Jaimie Veale, photo from her web site.

Veale has also an agenda (she is herself a transsexual woman), but she never hides it, and does everything in her power to cover all bases in an impartial manner, including using the methodology of people like Blanchard to argue her case.

She clearly believes that by using his terms on his terms, it will be harder for the "autogynephilia" school to shoot her down.

This is a risky strategy, though, as the terms and definitions you use will always limit what it is possible to see.

Executive Summary

I believe Veale deserves our full attention, so I am going to discuss her thesis in more detail in a later post. And I apologize for not having covered this study earlier.

The following abstract i based on Veale's own summary:

Compared with people with gender-typical identities, people with gender-variant identities are more likely to report having a gender variant family member. This indicates, according toVeale, that genes play a role in determining of gender identities.

Veale defines gender variant as "a subjective sense of not belonging  completely to the gender of one's birth-assigned sex." The term is very similar to the term "transgender", and includes both transsexual and non-transsexual people. The crossdreamers are definitely on board, as one of the phenomena she has looked into in her research, are people who experience erotic TG fantasies and who read  TG fiction.

Finger-length ratio, tendency towards systematizing, and a systematic review of case-reports of gender identity outcomes for adults with intersex and related conditions, all indicates prenatal hormone determinants of gender identities, according to Veale.

That is: Gender variance,  transsexual or non-transsexual, is at least partly grounded in some kind of biological variance. This variance is caused by the hormones the fetus was exposed to while in the womb.

Elevated levels of non-right handedness among birth-assigned females with gender-variant identities also indicate biological factors, she says.
There is a relationship between having experienced abuse when young and the degree of adult gender-variance.

It is unclear whether this abuse experience is a cause or an effect of gender identity development, though.

Contrary to other researchers, Veale finds no differences in biological and psycho-social factors between birth-assigned male participants of different sexual orientations. In other words: Blanchard is wrong when he says that "autogynephilic"  trans women are completely different from ""homosexual transsexuals" (i.e. man-loving trans women).

The study shows that the biological and psychosocial factors are the same for transsexuals as for persons with other gender-variant identities. This means that the difference between transseuxals and other transgender persons is a matter of degree, not a matter of completely different causes.
Veale concludes:

"Overall, these findings add support for a biological predisposition for gender-variant and gender-typical identities. Learning and social environment factors are likely to be complex and work in interaction with biological factors."

The study points a way out of the autogynephilia trap

Those who have followed this blog for a while, will know that Veale's conclusion is more or less the same as the one I have been presenting as the most viable explanation for crossdreaming and other transgender conditions.

Although there is a lot of variation among transgender people -- or "gender variants" as Veale calls us -- it is impossible to draw an absolute and clear line between these different variants.

This does not mean that a male to female crossdreamer who engage in gender bender fantasies to spice up his sex life is exactly the same as a gender dysphoric transsexual woman who knows in her heart and bones that her male body is not her own. The first is most likely a man at heart, the other definitely a woman (and yes, there are also people who fall between the gender normative chairs).

Veale shows us, however, that they have something in common, also as regards what causes their gender challenging dreams and desires.

So in my book, this makes the work of Veale and her New Zealand colleagues extremely important for the discussion of crossdreaming (or "autogynephilia", to use Blanchard's stigmatizing term). Indeed, the study has already led to much discussion among sexologist and gender researchers. It makes it much harder for people like Blanchard and Lawrence to present the "autogynephilia" theory as an unchallenged fact.

Doubts

That does not mean that I necessarily buy all of her findings.

For instance: When she makes use of the research of researchers like Simon Baron-Cohen, who refers to "systematizing" and "empathizing" as masculine vs. feminine traits respectively, I am afraid she might have fallen into a trap. Baron-Cohen's masculine and feminine brains look awfully much like the end result of socialization to me. I will come back to this in my in depth review of her work.

However, this does not weaken the positive effect her research may have in sexology circles, as many sexologist believe in the science of Baron-Cohen and his associates.

UPDATE: Read more about this study in this blog post!

See also the paper "Biological and psychosocial correlates of adult gender-variant identities: A review", by Jaimie F. Veale, David E. Clarke and Terri C. Lomax, from Personality and Personal Differences 48 (2010) 357-366, which presents high lights from the study. It can be read in the Crossdream Life library.

Jaimie F. Veale: Biological and Psychosocial Correlates of Gender Variant and Gender-typical Identities, a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirments for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand, 2011.

Other publications by Veale.

2 comments:

joanna Santos said...

I am hopeful that with new research like this we can finally put an end to the awful AGP theory and introduce less stigmatic language into the discussion. Let's get rid of paraphilia and target error baloney once and for all...

Jack Molay said...

This kind of research probably has a much greater effect than anything we can do. They cannot deny Veale and her colleagues the status of knowledgeable insiders.

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