January 10, 2016

Felix Conrad Unmasks the Autogynephilia Theory in New Book on Transgender

Felix Conrad has written a new book on crossdreaming and being male to female transgender. It is definitely worth the read!
Felix Conrad argues that we will have to leave the
autogynephilia and fetish theories behind.

Photo: Ron Chapple Stock

Three years ago Felix Conrad launched his Transcend Movement site with a discussion of crossdreaming.

Since then there has been a wide variety of interesting blog posts, controversial video podcasts, and a book on how to survive as a male to female transgender/crossdreamer when not transitioning. He has even interviewed me.

And he has done all of this with a sense of style and flair previously unheard of in this corner of the web.

Serious humor

He is the master of what I call -- for lack of a better word-- a Catalan-British sense of humor. His use of irony has caused some bewilderment in crossdreamer and transgender circles, but no more than is needed in this field of gender confusion.

As soon as you move beyond the provocative headlines and  imagery, you find  deep, serious, thought-provoking analysis of the various myths and misconceptions found in the world of crossdreaming, crossdressing and gender variance.

He calls himself a philosopher, and has every right to do so.

(I am using male pronouns here, as he is presenting as male publicly, and is using them himself.)

Transgender: Fact or Fetish

A couple of weeks ago he published a new ebook called Transgender: Fact or Fetish - Reality or Delusion? 

While his previous book was more of a practical guide for living as a male to female non-transitioning "late onset" transgender person, this one is a bit more philosophical.

Felix, being a male to female transgender person himself, is cleaning out his closet, so to speak, realizing that he has to understand the main theories of what makes crossdreamers crossdream, before finding his own answer to the ultimate question: Who am I?

This could have become a very dry and theoretical book. It is the exact opposite. Conrad writes in a way that will make perfect sense to people who do not have a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Felix Conrad's book on transgender.

He is using everyday language in a way that helps us see through the convoluted jargon of -- for instance -- Ray Blanchard, the sexologist who has most strongly tried to define male to female (MTF) crossdreamers, crossdressers and transgender women as "paraphiliacs" or sexual perverts.

Indeed, this book can be considered Felix'  final farewell to the autogynephilia and fetish explanations of what causes transgender feelings and identities. He has tested them and found them seriously lacking.

Debunking the Autogynephilia theory

Ray Blanchard does, as many of my readers will know, divide trans women (and non-transitioning male to female gender variant people) into two distinct categories:

(1) "Homosexual transsexuals" (i.e. MTF trans people who are attracted to men), who -- according to Blanchard -- are hypefeminine gay men.

(2) "Autogynephiliacs" (i.e. MTF trans people who are attracted to women or are bisexual), who are considered sexually perverted straight men. These -- and these only, according to Blanchard -- get aroused by the idea of being a woman.

This means that all trans women are men in Blanchard's book, and he rarely miss an opportunity to say so.

The emperor has no clothes!
From The Happy Reading App.
Felix is like the child in H.C. Andersen's tale "The Emperor's New Clothes." He is the little kid that  breaks the spell by pointing out the obvious: Ray Blanchard "has no clothes".

Philosophically and scientifically speaking the theory is just a mirage based on old-fashioned prejudice.

The trans women who do not crossdream are proof

Felix does this by turning quite a few commonly held beliefs in the crossdreamer and transgender communities on their heads.

To give one example:

In Blanchard's world the existence of transgender women who do not experience cross-gender arousal prove that there are two distinct and unrelated types.

Blanchard is not the only one saying this. For some hundred years or so sexologists have distinguished between "classic transsexuals" (who love men and never crossdream) and "transvestic fetishists" (perverted heterosexual men who get a kick out of wearing lace and frills).

To Felix, however, the very existence of trans women who do not fetishize their transgender longings, and who have never experienced cross-arousal of the crossdreamer kind, is overwhelming evidence of there being only one type of trans women:

"...imagine we have a line of a thousand people who are transgender, and you tell me that their condition is caused by a fetish. I then find out that half of the people of this condition caused by a fetish don't fucking have the fetish."

The smoking egg-nogg
Detective Felix Conrad to the rescue!

This is the smoking gun in Felix' detective story. And he actually presents this as a detective story, where the detectives Conrad and Blanchard are out to identify the cause of an outbreak of serious food poisoning:

"[Detective Blanchard] -- impetuous and keen to make a name for himself -- rushes to the scene, finds out twenty people ate chicken and insists that it was the chicken which caused the outbreak.

Conrad -- the handsome, more intelligent one -- discovers there's a whole bunch of people who ate veggie burgers instead of chicken, but still got food poisoning. Obviously, it's impossible the food poisoning was chicken, and so he switches the investigation to the egg-nogg as it was made with raw eggs."

Detective Blanchard does not admit defeat in Felix Conrad's episode of CSI, however. Instead he argues that some got food poisoning from the chicken and the others got "non-chicken" food poisoning from the veggie burger, ignoring the poisoned egg-nog.

When you put the story this way, it become why Felix finds Blanchard's theory forced and contrived.

What MTF trans have in common

In the transgender case Felix insists on focusing on the many factors the two groups have in common.

Felix lists them up:

"Both of these supposedly different types of transgender person present at their physicians with exactly the same 'desire to live as a member of the opposite sex', suffering from the same degree of dysphoria, with the same 'sense of discomfort with their anatomic sex,' and the same desire to have surgery and/or hormones. Why in the name of God would we start trying to say that they were different types of transsexual?"

Conrad's logic leads to there being an underpinning, common, cause for the dysphoria of all trans women, and that one cannot be "the chicken" (effeminate homosexuality in men) or "the veggie burger" (a fetish-like "erotic target location error"). It has to be something else, and that makes it so much harder to reduce the identity of trans women to some kind of male sexual aberration.

Indeed, as Felix points out, if the transgender impulse came from a paraphilia, a trans woman "would lose interest the second she castrated herself -- chemically or literally." But she does not lose interest.

Does a crossdresser
dressing up feel
sexy as a man or as
a woman?
Photo: Discovod

For Felix, this analysis has clearly helped him come closer to a view of himself that makes sense to him.

I am not going to present the arguments here, but he believes his gender variance is caused by biological factors. He has a core gender, a "truegender", that causes him to dream about being a woman.

As I have noted elsewhere, I have also come to the conclusion that "the egg-nogg" at least has some important biological components, even if I tend to stress the covariance between biological, psychological and cultural factors more clearly than Felix does in this book. But then again, this is a book written to cut through the crap of sexist sexology, so I do get Felix' need to simplify.

In the same process he also undermines the arguments made by those who think that transgender identities and/or crossdreaming are caused by some kind of fetish. The autogynephilia theory and the transvestic fetish approach have so much in common that arguments debunking the first effectively debunk the other.

The trans boogieman

Then why do we spend so much time discussing these theories? Why don't we move on, and leave all the shame and stigma behind?

Felix describes Blanchard as "a canvas on which gender variant people project emotions about the desperate need to affirm their inner woman or the desperate need to bump her off." We are driven by shame, stupidity and anger.

Shame, because so many consider feminization fantasies embarrassing, and because they have been used to invalidate "any non-sexual cross gender desire".

Stupidity, because we are, as Felix points out, "not designed to assimilate complex explanations, and in our quest to understand something we will always go for sequential causes, child-like logic and the blaring obvious."

The following logic is irresistible to someone in desperate need for an explanation:
  1. I had a sexual desire to be a woman.
  2. Now I desire to be a woman all the time.
  3. That desire must come from my sexual desire.
"What would you say to Ray Blanchard if you
saw him in a bar?" (Question for further
consideration in Felix Conrad's book.
(Photo: University of Toronto)
Anyone who really knows something about the complexity and systemic nature of nature, mind or society, will know that this is too simplistic, but as human beings we feel angst when we do not know who we are. It is easy to believe that it is better to have a simplistic explanation than none at all.

And yes, Blanchard's theory makes us angry: 

"Casting a theory based around the Neanderthal logic outlines above (they are women in their fantasies... that's why they want to be women) is outrageous. If it was a theory about the lesser spotted chaffinch or why people like trainspotting then that would be fine, but a speculative theory on an entire sector of society is irresponsible, unless you describe it for what it is: speculation."

The failure of sexology

Felix argues that from transvestic fetishism to autogynephilia, sexologists have consistently failed to understand transgender sexuality and have "thrown it in the paraphilia pot with all the other behaviours it doesn't understand."

I am actually not so sure this is only about failing to understand. I think this strand of sexology is driven by people who have inherited and absorbed the sexist stereotypes and who now look for ways of disciplining men who violate the gender clich├ęs.

A real radical feminist would call them "tools of the patriarchy". Felix puts it this way:

"Blanchard represents that Victorian strain in twentieth century thinking with respect to sex and the moralising terminology that underpins it: fetish and paraphilia."

Autogynephilia is definitely a pseudo-science, but I will not go as far as Felix and dismiss all of sexology.

There have been several trans-positive sexologists, including giants like Magnus Hirschfeld and Alfred Kinsey, and the idea of combining the knowledge of several disciplines in order to understand sex, sexuality and gender makes sense to me. Besides, much of the violence of conversion therapy was not carried out by sexologists, but by regular Freudian psychiatrists and psychologists.

Unfortunately sexology as a discipline has attracted a large number of bigots obsessed with sex, and it has clearly not had the number of ethical champions needed stop their persecution of LGBT-people. The fact that autogynephilia remains in the DSM psychiatric manual, attests to this.

Nature more than nurture

Felix also spends much time discussing the most likely causes of crossdreaming and transgender conditions as well as the interaction between biological and psychological factors. He argues well for why he believes the main driving force behind both crossdreaming and transgender identities is biological.

This is clearly the only explanation that makes sense to him, given the extreme forces involved in gender dysphoria:

"Once the walls of repression collapse and your truegender emerges, a force has been unleashed which will, if not expressed and assimilated correctly, kill you. Maybe it'll be metaphorical -- you'll die inside -- and maybe you'll end up as another trans suicide, but whatever happens, havoc of one sort or another will be wreaked."

But Felix' truegender is not based on a simplistic "female brain in a man's body" model:

"Although you have a female gender core, it's soaked in male hormones and male socialisation. That's why it takes some people so long before they actually listen to their gender core: it has to compete with a shedload of male neurology, plumbing and brain-washing. The result is it may take years before truegender dominates."

If I understand Felix correctly, the core gender is not the sum total of gender stereotypes, but rather an underlying urge to see and express yourself as a woman, whatever that may be in your cultural and personal context.

He also discusses the role of fetishes in both cisgender and transgender people, and presents his own explanation for why crossdreaming is most likely found among MTF transgender people  attracted to women.

Felix is clearly open to the idea that crossdreaming may vary in intensity and that some male to female crossdreamers are not gender dysphoric and will not identify as women. But the focus of this book is on those who experience a strong dissonance between their assigned gender and gender core.

All crossdreamers and people interested in transgender lives will benefit from reading it, however.

Felix Conrad: Transgender: Fact or Fetish - Reality or Delusion?

See also my interview with Felix: "Felix Conrad Talks about Transgender Research, Crossdreaming and Beach Clubbing"

The Transcend Movement site

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