February 21, 2014

Is Crossdreaming really Transphobic and Cissexist?

I have been active over at tumblr lately, partly because of reports of harassment of girlfags and crossdreamers and partly because of so-called "truscum" (separatists FTM trans men) who are trying to throw crossdressers and gender queer people out of the transgender family.
Photo: Tomwang112

This has been a fascinating journey into a world of conspiracy theories and hazing, invalidation and marginalization.

But I have also learned to know many courageous, creative and intelligent crossdreamers and trans people, transsexual as well as non-transsexual, who stand up to the abuse, defending their right to define their own identity.

Weaponizing science and philosophy

What really fascinates me is the way some people are weaponizing philopsophy and science in order to put down people who threatens their point of view. In this post I am going to use  Mahō Shōjo Naomi's presentation of me and my Crossdreamer blog as an example.

This is an interesting attempt at developing a narrative aimed at undermining the legitimacy of your opponent, by presenting a clever mix of half truths and untruths.

I believe it is extremely important for gender variant people, including crossdreamers, crossdressers and genderqueer, to understand and see through these techniques.

I guess that the main reason for all this hurt is that most of us, consciously or unconsciously, have bought into the idea that there is something wrong with us, and that we are diseased, perverted or abnormal. This leads to a desperate scramble for a dry spot, where we at least appear a little bit more normal than all the other "freaks" out there. As one crossdreamer told me: "Thank God! At least I am not gay!" We had a loooong conversation about that one, believe me!

The messages I get from especially girlfags on tumblr, tells me that this quest for gender purity they can be extremely damaging to their self esteem and undermine their ability to explore their identity.

Define your opponent as transphobic from the start!

Mahō Shōjo Naomi calls herself a transfeminist. From what I can see from her blog, she and I are not really that far apart as regards our views of sex and gendeer. It is a bit hard to say, but she seems to believe in a broad and diverse family of transgender people, and like me she is a strong supporter of women's rights, as well as the rights of trans men and trans women. We also agree that there is a biological component to the transsexual identity, although I suspect I am a little bit more holistic than she is in this respect.

But she is also clearly one of those who have been hurt so much, that she is now lashing out angrily at a lot of people, rarely giving them the benefit of doubt, and mostly in order to redefine them as the enemy. I am clearly the enemy.

The blog post, with the telling headline "Crossdreaming: Its Transphobic Roots, and Current Transphobic, Cissexist Content" gets off to a promising start:

"Crossdreaming is a relatively new term created by Jack Molay. Jack Molay is person who was assigned male at birth, and currently identifies as a man who dreams about having a female body.
“There are men (like me) that fantasize about having a woman’s body and get sexually aroused by this.” [1]
"It is more than a little confusing, because — even if I cannot for my life think of having sex with a man as a man — my female self has no such scruples”"
So far so good, although the selection of quotes is a bit strange.

Define your opponent as a white, male, oppressor!

She continues:

"Jack Molay is a cisgender man. With the use of his website it is also easy enough to deduce that he is white, and heterosexual. To make this clear, he is a white cisgender heterosexual man who writes primarily about transgender, and transsexual issues. It is clear to any transsexual, or transgender woman that his narrative is different from our similar yet still varied backgrounds."

Some would probably argue that this is factual, as well. The totality of the text, however, makes me read this an an attempt at undermining my legitimacy as a spokesperson for any transgender man or woman.

First she calls me a cisgender (i.e. non-transgender) man, effectively denying me the right to call myself transgender. Indeed, she is negating my own sense of self by doing so. She also manages to associate me with the theory of male supremacy and male privilege, which does -- as we will see -- put me on the same side as those suppressing not only women, but also transsexual men and women.

My guess is that she does this more or less unconsciously. It is part of her ideological baggage. However, it can also be that she is doing so deliberately, in the hope of silencing me (due to the guilt I must feel from being a white man) or at least make me illegitimate in the eyes of anyone who knows anything about the suppression of women. The implicit message is: "You cannot take anyone this man says seriously, because he is part of the machinery of oppression."

Assigning me the role of the cis male also relieves her of any guilt she might have felt from attacking me. If she hurts my feelings, I probably deserve it.

I am Scandinavian. It is impossible to get much whiter than me. I am also presenting as a man in the richest country in the world, which probably makes me one of the most privileged persons in world history.

Unfortunately this does not change the fact that I am gender dysphoric and transgender. There are days when this fate is close to unbearable. I believe I have managed to turn this into something constructive, helping others like me in the process.  魔法少女ナオミ is not helping. And if such  attacks hurt me, I cannot even begin to imagine the effects they have on younger and more vulnerable trans persons.

Stick to the binary!

I suspect that she is one of those who believe that transsexual equals transgender, in spite of her praise of diversity. She manages to present the dichotmomy transgender and cisgender as a simple and clear cut binary, dismissing the possibility of a kind of ambiguity that leaves a space for people like me. By ambiguity I mean the fact that not all transgender are gender dysphoric and not all those gender dysphoric decide to transition.  This is a very efficient way of silencing the great majority of transgender people.

She then goes on to describe what she believes is the ideology of Jack Molay and the Crossdreamer blog, and this is where her analysis goes completely off the rails.

Associate your opponent with a toxic theory!

She writes:

"Now then, onto the theory.

Crossdreaming is based on Ray Blanchard’s theory of autogynephillia. Blanchard’s theory is a theory which forwards that late (after childhood) transitioners who are not attracted to men are not real transsexuals but men with a paraphillic mental disorder. If you need more information I suggest using Google to look up the term. It is not supported by the accepted standards of care for transsexual people, is rejected by the transgender community, and not accepted by both the American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychological Association. Many in the psychological community have discredited Blanchard’s work and his theory is regard as junk science.
Ray Blanchard, Photo: University of Toronto

Beyond Blanchard, Jack Molay likes to quote Anne Lawarance [sic], a supporter of Blanchard’s work, to describe autogynephillia. To see why this is a problem reference the above paragraph.
Julia Serano, in her The Case Against Autogynephilia, had this to say about the theory:
"…there were flaws in Blanchard’s original papers, including that they were conducted among overlapping populations primarily at the Clarke Institute in Toronto without nontranssexual controls, that the subtypes were not empirically derived but instead were "begging the question that transsexuals fall into subtypes based on their sexual orientation," and that further research had found that a non-deterministic correlation between cross-gender arousal and sexual orientation. She said that Blanchard did not discuss the idea that cross-gender arousal may be an effect, rather than a cause, of gender dysphoria, and that Blanchard assumed that correlation implied causation. Serano also stated that the wider idea of cross-gender arousal was affected by the prominence of sexual objectification of women, accounting for both a relative lack of cross-gender arousal in transsexual men and similar patterns of gynephilic arousal in non-transsexual women. [2]
Serano also criticised proponents of the theory, claiming that they dismiss non-autogynephilic, non-androphilic transsexuals as misreporting or lying while not questioning androphilic transsexuals, describing it as:
”tantamount to hand-picking which evidence counts and which does not based upon how well it conforms to the model” [2]
The article at Wikipedia also had this to say in an a summation of Serano’s criticism:
Further criticisms alleged that the theory undermined lived experience of transsexual women, contributed to pathologisation and sexualisation of transsexual women, and the literature itself fed into the stereotype of transsexuals as “purposefully deceptive”, which could be used to justify discrimination and violence against transsexuals. [3]
You can read the entire paper at provided citation. Suffice it to say that noted trans woman, and activist Julia Serano does not agree with the theory of autogynephillia."

Notice what she does here: She argues that crossdreaming is based on the theory of autogynephilia, clearly implying that I support the theory of Dr. Ray Blanchard. She then goes on to quote a prominent trans activist, Julia Serano, who debunks Blanchard's theory.

She has now proven that Jack Molay supports a theory that is stigmatizing for trans people. Right?


Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I am a strong opponent of Ray Blanchard. I believe there are very few trans bloggers who have spent more time than me at deconstructing and dismissing the explanation Blanchard gives for crossdreaming. I have even popularized Julia Serano's writings on the matter, because I agree completely with her analysis, as it is referred above.

The irony is that if there is one transsexual thinker I feel a strong ideological kinship to, it is Julia Serano. Indeed, without her book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive , I would probably not have been able to write this blog post, because she has taught me much  bout the techniques used to marginalize trans people.

To be fair, Mahō Shōjo Naomi has seen that I have argued against the autogynephilia theory. She writes:

"Originally Jack stated:
“Again: the reason I have found the term so useful, is because I recognize my own life in these descriptions. That does not mean that I necessarily [sic] will accept the theories that lies behind these terms.”
He later noted he no longer supports the term autogynephillia, but that has not deterred him from using it as the basis of his theory of crossdreamers. That’s correct his theory is rooted in a poorly regarded transphobic and cissexist theory."

She is basically covering her back here, admitting that I have criticized the theory, while sticking to her argument that I am Blanchard supporter. She manages to do this because  she is glossing over the difference between phenomenon/symptom of crossdreaming on the one hand, and what causes crossdreaming on the other.

I do not deny the existence of the people Blanchard is describing. I deny his explanation for why they feel what they feel.

Ignore the history of a blog!

When I started this blog at the end of 2008, "autogynephilia" was the only term that popped up when you researched male bodied persons who get aroused by the idea of being a woman. I hadn't read Julia Serano's Whipping Girl at the time, and did not know that there were trans women out there who had perfectly reasonable explanations for what caused this phenomenon.

Like for so many crossdreamers before and after me, it looked as if Blanchard was the only person who actually saw me and recognized me. Given that the term "autogynephilia" was also used in some of the science literature, I started using the term, because this was the term other crossdreamers would use if they wanted to find my blog. I wanted to find others like me. I wanted to learn from others like me. I wanted to help others like me.

The blog lay dormant for a few months, but in 2009 I came back, writing a series of blog posts attacking the bigotry of the autogynephila theory. See for instance "Autogynephilia as something normal,", "Autogynephilia: The Dark Side" (which Naomi has read, as she is quoting it), "Beyond the Perversion", "Beyond the binary" and "Trapped in a too narrow view of sexuality." I used the writings of Dr. Joan Roughgarden to suggest another narrative, a narrative that is much closer to the one of Naomi herself. By the way, Roughgarden is a trans woman.

Since then I have probably spent too much time debunking Blanchard, to the point where some of my readers got tired of it all and left.

Given good advice from  a helpful female trans activists I changed the name of the blog in 2010 to crossdreamers. I stopped using the term "autogynephile" or "autogynephiliac" when refering to crossdreamers, as it became abundantly clear that most people were not able to distinguish between the fact that there are people who get aroused by becoming their target sex and Blanchard's "erotic target location error" explanation. The word, after all, means "love of oneself as a woman". I now only use the word to refer to the theory, not the persons experiencing crossdreaming fantasies.

We are all OK, but not really!

Having established the fact that it is OK to ignore what Jack Molay actually means, Naomi now goes on to the obligatory "we are all OK" litany. You have heard the sound of it before: "I do not mind that you are gay/trans/black/diabled, honey, as long as you do not move into my neighborhood."

Here is Naomi:

"If Jack Molay wanted to solely claim this identity for himself and other men like himself who fantasize about having a woman’s body for the purposes of sex many of trans people and I would probably not care."

Notice how she indirectly defines her view of what I am. My condition is all about sexual desire, and nothing else.

You are not one of us! You are not one of us!

Then comes the coup de grâce:

"The issue is that he continually attempts to redefine transgender, and transsexual narratives from a cisgender and heterosexual perspective with a junk theory that has historically oppressed trans women."

Now we are getting close to the core of her frustration.

The problem is that I have the audacity to say that Naomi and I are related. Not that I say that we are the same, mind you, because I have never said that. I have been very clear about the fact that trans men and trans women are men and women respectively, and therefore not the same as a MTF crossdresser who identifies as male, a girlfag who feels at home in her female body or -- as in my case -- a gender dysphoric MTF transgender who is not going to transition.  But I do think that most, if not all, trans people have something in common.

So I am basically crashing her party, without -- apparently -- having the right social and cultural credentials needed to gain access to her tribe.

This becomes abundantly clear in the next section where she quotes some of my early blog posts in an attempt to prove that I do not know the tribal language of trans people and can therefor not be one of them. She reminds me of the mother of a childhood friend of me, who once told me that her family did not fraternize with the Olsens, because they, as she said,  "did not know how to eat with a knife and a fork."

Here is her list of complaints:

"All while simultaneously using problematic language such as:
I find it hard to understand transgenderism without the sex.
the fact that transgendered men get sexually aroused by imagining themselves with a female body is pretty obvious
I mean, look at "genuine girls" biological women
most genuine XX girls (natal women)
why the idea that M2F transgendered fantasizing about being women
There is no denying that something has gone wrong in the lives of male to female transsexuals (also called “transwomen”), She is after all trapped in a man’s body, even if her personality may be sound. [3]
At this point it should be evident that Jack Molay is not in touch with the transgender community. He does not understand us, and does not understand what we find offensive. If it’s not apparent, let me break it down for you."

I stand guilty as charged.

I did use terms like "transgendered" (instead of "transgender"). I have even been guilty of writing  "transwoman" instead of "trans woman" a few times.

And what's more: I have left the original blog posts more or less alone, out of respect for the people who made comments at the time. Most of thee few changes I have made have been clearly visible, as is shown in the quotes included by Naomi. In addition I have added clearly marked disclaimers regarding the use of the word "autogynephilia" to some posts, for the benefit of new readers.

This has clearly had no positive effect, and given Naomi's use of my text,  I may have to reconsider this policy.

Accept no period of learning!

The reason I erred was very simple: I was new to the community. As so many other crossdreamers and trans people I had lived a life  in denial. I had suppressed my other self. I had done everything I could to live up to the role of the Big White Man, and failed miserably. I decided to reach out to the community, and made a few mistakes in the process. Still, I learned something important during this time: I learned to listen, to read, to be patient and understanding.

These days I am the one who helps crossdreamers with the pronouns, explaining to them that writing trans woman in one word (transwoman) may be interpreted as a negation of that woman's true identity.

Anyone who says there is sex in sex is sexist!

After this Naomi moves on to the sex, the most offensive part of the crossdreamer narrative. She quotes me as saying:

"I find it hard to understand transgenderism without the sex.
He can’t imagine being a trans person without sex. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding in how being trans is about far more than just sex."

Hm, that is not what I said, was it? I did not say that being trans is only about sex (as in sexual desire). Actually, some of my crossdreamer friends are slightly annoyed at me because I argue that crossdreaming is not a fetish, not a sexual perversion, and something more than getting horny from dressing up or reading transformation stories.

I have also argued some crossdreamers (but in no way all) are truly transsexual. Since only a minority of transsexual women and trans men are asexual, they have probably had sexual fantasies before transitioning. In those fantasies they must have imagined themselves as their target sex, and when doing so they will most likely have felt arousal.

I do indeed believe crossdreaming is natural and hard to avoid if you are trans. By saying this I am also in conflict with the autogynephilia theory which says that only heterosexual men (and by implication gynephilic trans women) can be crossdreamers. I have found a large number of female bodied crossdressers and crossdreamers, crossdreaming butches as well as male crossdreamers who love men. 

Use authorities to undermine your opponent!

Allow me to make use  of the "quote the legitimate authority game" of Naomi:

Julia Serano, who once identified as a closeted male crossdresser, wrote about crossdreaming in Whipping Girl, admittedly not using the word crossdreaming. She often uses the term "cross-gender arousal" to describe the same thing.

Notice how Serano makes an argument that is very close to mine:

"For quite a while, I thought of myself as a crossdresser and viewed my female subconscious sex as a 'feminine side' that was trying to get out. But after years of crossdressing, I eventually lost interest in it, realizing that my desire to be female had nothing to do with clothing or femininity per se. There was also a period of time when I embraced the word 'pervert' and viewed my desire to be female as some sort of sexual kink. But after exploring that path, it became obvious that explanation could not account for the vast majority of instances when I thought about being female in a nonsexual context. And after reading Kate Bornstein's and Leslie Feinberg's writings for the first time, I embraced the words 'transgender' and 'queer'. I began to think of myself as bigendered, viewing my female subconscious sex as being just as legitimate as my physical maleness. In the years just prior to my transition, I started to express my femaleness as much as possible within the context of having a male body; I became a very androgynous queer boy in the end of the world.... After twenty years of exploration and experimentation, I eventually reached the conclusion that my female subconscious sex had nothing to do with gender roles, femininity, or sexual expression -- it was about the personal relationship I had with my own body." (Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity , page 85)

Serano explored her own identity over time, coming gradually to the conclusion that she was, is and always had been a woman. This is definitely not the journey of all crossdreamers. Many male to female crossdreamers identify as men, and continue to do so for the rest of their lives. Others find that genderqueer is a term that fits them better.

In other words: Not only may the crossdreamer's understanding of self develop over time, there is also much diversity as regards their actual identity, that is the whole of their subconscuous and conscious selves.

If Naomi really had read Serano, as she implies, she would have seen that Serano, as well as many other trans women and activists, do not deny their crossdreamer past. They see it as a natural expression of their female selves.

Use language to split and conquer!

But Naomi won't have it. She continues to quote me, trying to find other ways of undermining my credibility, sticking hard-fast to my earliest blog posts, the ones where I were still were able to mess up the terminology.
"the fact that transgendered men get sexually aroused by imagining themselves with a female body is pretty obvious
Using the term 'transgendered men' to mean trans women should be obvious as to why it is offensive. Not to mention his reinforcement that our bodies are not somehow already female.
I mean, look at "genuine girls" biological women
most genuine XX girls (natal women)
Despite crossing out and having used scare quotes around genuine girls, biological women is hardly any better and still comes from a place of cissexism. The same goes for his use of XX, and “natal” women. To see a more in depth explanation on this please see this post of mine.
There is no denying that something has gone wrong in the lives of male to female transsexuals (also called “transwomen”), She is after all trapped in a man’s body, even if her personality may be sound."
Using MTF transsexual while using both scare quotes on an incorrect form of trans women is also mildly cissexist in that it fails to explicitly just call us women."

She is right, of course, about the error of using a phrase like "transgendered men" for describing "trans women". I was probably referring to male bodied crossdreamers who identified as men at the time, but that does not make the terminology less confusing.

I also struggled hard to find terms to describe the difference between trans and non-trans women at the time, failing miserably, as it is easy to see. I am still struggling, to tell the truth, as I find terms like "XX women" and "women born women", and "cis-women" problematic, as well.

But I am mostly communicating with people who are not familiar with transgender culture, and I have to use shorthand expressions to stop the blog posts from becoming too unwieldy. At the moment I mostly write "non-transgender women", hoping that this makes sense to most of my readers.

What Jack Molay really means

I have probably hoped that people read my texts in good faith. Yeah, that didn't work out, now, did it?

Maybe Naomi should study my blog a little bit more carefully, especially the more recent blog posts, and look for the intended message instead. It is not hard to find. She will find that in my opinion:
  • Transsexual women are women, 100 percent, no footnotes involved.
  • Transsexual men are men, 100 percents, no ambiguity implied.
  • Like Serano and Naomi I believe that trans men and women are born as men and women, even if their genitalia indicates the opposite. And like Serano I believe that strong social pressure and cultural conditioning may lead them to suppress that identity.
  • But not all trans people are clearly anchored in one sex or the other. 
  • I strongly oppose the recent attempts at changing the term transgender from being an umbrella term for all gender variant people to becoming a synonym for transsexual.
  • Moreover, there is a huge diversity of constellations of temperaments, abilities, interests and desires, and trying to put up clear cut rules for defining who are out and who are in, is not only a violation of reality; it is a violation of the identity of those that falls outside the sexist norms of society.
Crossdreamer imperialism

Naomi ends her litany by complaining that I am somehow trying to replace terms like transgender and transsexual with crossdreaming:

"Perhaps what angers me even more that his use offensive terminology is his coercive inclusion of trans people into this theory. At what point Jack Molay decided to make crossdreaming supersede identities under the transgender umbrella I do not know. However all of his recent blog posting include transsexuals and other transgender identities as a subset of crossdreamers or forces cisgender identities into transgender identities. This is both highly offensive and wrong."

I am a bit at loss here, as I have never argued that the diversity of transgender identity should be a subset of crossdreamers. In fact, I do not think of "crossdreamer" as an identity at all. For me "crossdreamer" is a descriptive term, describing one small part of the complex lives of a diverse group of transgender people.

It is my sincere hope that I live long enough to see a time where we do not need the term "crossdreamer" at all -- a time when people take it for granted that also trans people are sexual people with sexual desires, a time when transgender men and women -- transsexual or not transsexual -- are given the same leeway as cis people to explore their desires.

As it is now trans people are reduced to fetishists or perverts if they admit to having sexual fantasies beyond the cis-sexual normative of submissive girl meeting dominant man.

Naomi has, probably unwillingly, become part of the social machinery that forces trans people to adapt to a cis-normative society. They must either deny their transgender nature and pretend to be happy heterosexual "normal" people, or they must go all the way and transition, becoming -- again -- what appears to be normal  heterosexual cisgendered people.

I guess that she needs to reduced me to a perverted, fetishistic, man, as my very existence as transgender threatens her own dreams of normalcy. I am contagious.

She writes:

"His work continues to present itself in a cissexist manner and is an obvious appropriation of the transsexual and transgender narrative.Particularly the oppression of trans women. At best he is appropriating the theory of transgender activists for a cisgender fetish, and at worst he is appropriating to establish and monetize a theory of the behavior of cisgender and cissexual persons’ sexuality. Regardless crossdreaming is just as transphobic and cissexist as the theory that it is based."

If I had any common sense at all, I would probably left tumblr and closed down my blog over there. The amount of abuse girlfags, crossdreamers and trans people must take is mind boggling. But then I get message from trans people who says that they suffer tremendously from the same kind of abuse and who need someone to stand up for them. It is worth it.

And I have learned something important from this debacle. I will have to do something about the older blog posts, as they are clearly not interpreted in the way I intended.

Click here for Naomi's presentation of her own journey.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!