July 5, 2014

The Autogynephilia Theory, Again...

With irregular intervals there pops up a new article discussing Ray Blanchard's "autogynephilia" theory, often written by someone who knows enough about crossdreaming to be interested, but not enough to see through the jargon of Blanchard.

Autogynephilia times two.
Photo: Dmitrii Kotin
This is a comment I wrote as a reply to Joseph Burgo's recent article on autogynephilia.

Autogynephilia, huh?

Blanchard argues that there two separate types of transgender, both defined by the sexual orientation of the transgender person. The theory covers both male to female crossdressers and trans women, but the vocabulary refers mostly to trans women.

The first type is the "homosexual transsexual" (by which he means trans women attracted to men). These are effeminate gay men who transition in order to attract straight men, according to Blanchard.

The other is the "autogynephilic transsexual" (those who are not attracted to men). These he considers heterosexual paraphiliacs (perverts) who are sexually attracted to the image of themselves as female. Neither Blanchard nor his supporter J. Michael Bailey, recognize any of these as women.

Blinded by Science

Needless to say, the Blanchard model invalidates the identities of trans women. And from where I am standing it is also clear that the theory does not reflect the real lives of non-transsexual crossdreamers and crossdressers.

We live in a culture, however, where scientists are expected to be disinterested and objective, while the trans activists are -- for obviously reasons -- both emotionally and existentially involved in what's being said about them. This has led some to believe Blanchard (who is not transgender) knows more about transgender issues than transsexual women, crossdreamers and crossdressers.

Let me therefore make this perfectly clear: The theory has been thoroughly falsified and dismissed, also by scientists.

Here are some of the main arguments raised against it:

1. Crossdreaming is not limited to men who love women

The "autogynephiliacs" are defined by what I have called crossdreaming. Crossdreamers may get aroused by the fantasy of being their target sex. The androphilic trans women ("homosexual transsexuals" in Blanchard's misleading and offending terminology, i.e. those who are attracted to men) never experience such fantasies, according to Blanchard.

Well, I have been in touch with many androphilic crossdreamers, and Jaimie Veale's recent studies also confirm that they exist. There are also woman-loving (gynephilic) trans women who report no crossdreaming. This should be impossible, according to Blanchard.

It should be noted that Blanchard's own data shows the same thing. He dismisses his own findings by arguing that the relevant "autogynephiles" are lying. I am sure some of them are, but the androphilic ones have the same reasons for not telling the truth. Blanchard does not even consider this option, because it would make a mockery out of his theory.

2. There is no clear divide between straight and homosexual

The theory is based on the premise that homosexuality on the one hand, and heterosexuality and bisexuality on the other, are two completely different categories with no overlap. This is a dogma of his. It is not something he is able to prove.

We have known since Alfred Kinsey that sex. gender, gender identity and sexual orientation are fluid and often overlapping categories. Preferences may also change over time. Some woman-loving trans women actually report a change in their sexual orientation after transitioning. This may be caused by them now being allowed to recognize feelings which they have previously considered taboo, but that does not change the fact that Blanchard's classification system is too crude to capture what is truly going on.

3. Blanchard is not a disinterested and objective scientist 

Had he been wise enough to stick to publishing in academic journals, he might have gotten away with this, but in 2013 he agreed to an interview with the web site Motherboard. In this he speaks plainly about his own beliefs.

The interview shows us a man trapped in a 19th century male view of sex and sexuality, where anyone who does not conform to his strict rules of sexual normalcy are considered paraphiliacs (perverts). He defends the use of terms like "sissy" and "tranny", and argues that homosexuality should have been kept in the American psychiatric manual.

4. There are female bodied crossdreamers

In the Motherboard interview Blanchard also confirms that he believes that sexual perversions are only found among men, and that there therefore can be no female bodied crossdreamers ("autoandrophiliacs"). It seems his view is based on some kind of quasi-evolutionary idea that men are the sexually aggressive, while women are passive wall-flowers.

My female to male crossdreamer friends (sometimes referred to as "girlfags") are a bit miffed by having a researcher telling them that they do not exist. I tell them not to worry. There is a thriving FTM crossdreamer culture out there, with its own literary genres (like yaoi and M/M). But that's not all: You also find crossdreamers among lesbians and pre-transitioning trans men.  In many (but not all) of the FTM crossdreamer  fantasies of being a gay man with a gay man, the dreamers or trans men take on the traditional aggressive male role.

5. The theory is based on an extremely narrow view of sexuality

Blanchard reduces desire to some kind of simplistic stimulus/response system, where the image of  a man's or a woman's body or body parts triggers arousal, and such signals only.

Blanchard & Co completely miss the point that non-transgender men and women may also get aroused by the idea of being sexy or being desired. Arousal, desire, affection and love are complex phenomena with a lot of biological and psychological feedback loops.

Dr. Charles Moser has documented "autogynephilia" in non-transgender straight women, and I have found it among some lesbians and trans men.

6. There are simpler explanations

Blanchard is so locked into his old fashioned view of sex and sexuality, that he forgets to consider simpler explanations for what he sees. There is no doubt that crossdreamers (whom he calls "autogynephiliacs") exist. I am one of them. But for most crossdreamers there is a more elegant explanation that makes much more sense: Crossdreaming is not an "erotic target location error" or a separate sexuality. It is, rather, an obvious expression of a repressed sexuality and/or gender identity.

The trans activist and philosopher Julia Serano refers to a subconscious sex which has been repressed throughout a misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic upbringing. Dr. Jaimie Veale argues that many crossdreamers start out as introvert people pleasers, who are willing to do anything to gain the respect and love of family, friends and peers -- to the point of completely obliterating their gender variance. This is a reaction similar to the total denial found among some gays and lesbians. The sex drive is strong, though, and it pushes its way through into dreams and fantasies.

The difference between crossdreamers and non-crossdreaming transgender, or between "late onset" and "early onset" transsexuals, is therefore not primarily about sexual orientation, but about personality traits and temperament.

As a shy kid I managed to completely separate my crossdreamer fantasies from my understanding of myself as a non-transgender straight man. I interpreted my gender dysphoria as anxiety and depression caused by other factors. The fear of being considered a freak was so strong that I found it hard to approach women.

The isolation some crossdreamers' experience is not a lack of a capacity for the love of others, but a belief that there is no one there who would love them for who they are. They are wrong about this. I am happily married to a woman who loves me as I am. But the fear is not without reason. Having people like Blanchard running around classifying us as mentally ill perverts is certainly not helping crossdreamers find love and respect!

References and further reading

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