March 30, 2016

The Faceless Man and The Transgender Totem

Felix writes about using active imagination in his new book, 
a tool that can help transgender people connect with
the other self or their truegender as he calls it.
(Photo by Mizina)
Felix Conrad, crossdreamer philosopher and agent provocateur, has published a new ebook: The Science & Art of Transgender Erotica.  

This book contains a mix of philosophical essays and transgender fiction.

Felix Conrad  does not give a damn about the kind of social conditioning that makes people cringe when they see a four letter word or make them squirm when they read some really explicit descriptions of "kinky" sex.

He puts it all out there,  because crossdreamers need to face their sexual fantasies and stop being ashamed of them.

In order to accept yourself, you have to see yourself, and in order to do that, you have to get past sexual and cultural hang-ups regarding gender violations, sexual orientation and cross-gender arousal.

That being said, it could be that including an explicit sissy humiliation short story in a book discussing the origins of crossdreaming and gender dysphoria might confuse both transgender erotica connoisseurs and the ones looking for info on trans. But I do get the point: The story serves as an illustration of one of the topics of the book: (1) Why humiliation can be such a turn-on for some crossdreamers.

The other main topics are: (2) The sexual orientation of male to female crossdreamers and the role of the faceless man in crossdreamer fantasies, and (3) The use of active imagination in transgender psychology.

All these discussions presents some really interesting, but controversial, takes on what it means to be a male to female crossdreaming transgender person. (Like me Felix uses the word transgender as an umbrella term for all types of gender variance, while crossdreamer refers to the fact that some transgender people get aroused by the idea of being their target sex.)

In this post I will look at his discussion of "the faceless man" and the "inner totem" of MTF (male to female) crossdreamers.

The faceless man

In the chapters on the faceless man, Felix discusses the fact that many male to female crossdreamers fantasize about being a woman (or -- in some cases--  a feminized man) having sex with a man.  In particular he discusses some MTF crossdreamer's fascination for the male sex organ.

Why is it, Felix wonders, that MTF crossdreamers who fall in love with women fantasize about having sex with well equipped masculine men?
An important experiment presented in Felix' book
takes place in the bar of the Majestic Hotel in Barcelona.
Felix has to admit that, try as he might, he is not
able to find the men there attractive. The women, on the
other hand.... (Photo: Majestic)

Felix dismisses the idea that they are closeted androphiles (i.e. that they are sexually oriented towards men):
"The superficiality of their attraction to men is revealed the second they go a little further up from the rippling chest and glorious manhood and actually look into the eyes. They get instantly turned off."
As Felix himself points out, this observation may easily lead to the conclusion made by Ray Blanchard in his autogynephilia theory: The men and their penises are fantasy props meant to affirm the crossdreamer's imagined femininity, and nothing more.

Felix even goes one step further:
"Basically, I'm raising the idea that just as we don't like men the way women do, we don't like women the way men do, either. Yes, we can fall in love with them, we can be just as good lovers as other men, and in almost every way be identical to a traditional hetero man, but let's consider a possibility which I will frame the way a fetish proponent would: we don't truly like women. (...) "
And this leads Felix to conclude that he does not have a sexual orientation in the traditional sense of the word.

Felix' evolutionary model

He then puts up a thought experiment aimed at explaining how his sexuality may come about. I am not going to present that experiment in detail here, but it is based on an evolutionary approach to the formation of gender and sexuality.

For Felix gender identity and sexual orientation are interconnected, even if the the diversity of individuals and communities may lead to much variation as regards how we identify and who we are attracted to. The original purpose of sex is procreation, Felix argues, and the two genders are part of that sexual dynamic.

Unlike the fetish enthusiasts, Felix strongly believe there is a biological basis for transgender conditions. There is a "gender core" that leads individuals to orient themselves in the social landscape, and behave in a "correct way". And for Felix, like many evolutionary psychologists, the basic "correct way" of nature is the one leading to having offspring.

In Felix' model, there are "errors" in the evolutionary system's programming that causes gender variance and different sexual orientations.

In the case of male to female crossdreamers, the gender core is female. But that is not all: Felix also proposes that in their case "the dopamine switch" (i.e. the "reward"system  that generates sexual arousal) is connected to the act of executing female behavior and being female, as opposed to the more traditional male/female interaction.

Felix argues that male to female crossdreamers have been hardwired not only to behave and feel like a woman... but to get a sexual reward out of it too.

The difference between Blanchard and Conrad

This sounds very much like Ray Blanchard's idea about "autogynephilia" being a separate sexual orientation to me.

Felix argues, though, that his theory is different from Blanchard's  in several important ways:
"In Blanchard's model -- although not stated explicitly -- it is very clear that he aims to convince the public that while this sexuality is based on the desire to be female, there is absolutely nothing female about the person who has it at all....

"In my hypothesis however, the gender core of the man is female (...) and the gender core is not only the CPU of each gender, but its very soul and driving force."
Felix also points out that another difference is that his theory is based on 21st century thinking, unlike Blanchard's, which is rooted in the 20th century (I would say 19th century).

Within the old belief system sexuality is something you can divorce from the rest of your personality. It is this that makes many MTF crossdreamers believe that if they get aroused by the idea of being their target sex, their dreams of being a woman is nothing but sexual desire. "It is only a fetish!"

Conrad disagrees:
"The fact, is though, that the desire to dress like a woman is never found in isolation but always with other female-oriented desires -- for example, he will posture himself like a woman ready to receive coitus like a woman. It is this wide ranging desire with its multiple permutations that show this is not a fetish and more likely to come from a biological, hardwired trigger."
I believe he is  right about this. Being transgender is as complex as being non-transgender, and sexuality is only one factor among many defining who a transgender person is and what makes him or her tick.

Stop the press! Jack Molay and Felix Conrad finally disagree on something!

I like the fact that Felix does not hesitate to discuss some of the most controversial sides of being transgender and -- for that matter -- transgender orthodoxy. The model he presents is interesting and forces me to rethink some of my own ideas about the causes of crossdreaming.

I am still not convinced MTF gynephilic crossdreamers have a different kind of sexual orientation, though. Blanchard has tried a similar approach, with no great success.

I understand why Felix argues this way, because he is right when he says that MTF crossdreamers do not love women in the same way other men do.

I believe that this is because MTF crossdreamers are not really men. We have, to use Felix's own terminology, some kind of "female gender core" and are therefore, in some fundamental way, women.

Compared to lesbians

I am perfectly aware of the fact that social upbringing gives MTF crossdreamers a very different framework for interpreting the world. We do not share the same life experience as non-transgender women (to the extent it is even possible to posit a "typical female life experience").

But if we follow Felix' logic -- that there is some kind of biological trigger that causes us to orient ourselves in the world as women would -- then it makes just as much sense to compare us to lesbian women as to heterosexual men.

Lesbians may also feel
a fascination for the penis.
(From an article on  lesbian sex).
Lesbian women have also a very different upbringing from MTF crossdreamers raised as heterosexual men. You cannot expect to find the exact same fantasies and desires among lesbian women.  Still, there are some amazing similarities.

Felix devotes more than a chapter to his fascination for penises. Many lesbians share this fascination. They are not attracted to men, but many of them are drawn to the phallus. They may, for instance,  make use of strapons and dildos. This usage is much more than a matter of mechanics.

Curious as always, I have actually taken the time reading lesbian erotica, and found that for some lesbians the "bulge" down there is arousing in itself.  Sometimes the phallus is associated with butch lesbians and masculinity, but it does not have to.

Some lesbians actually go out in public "packing", using "limp" strapon penises [NSFW] to get that alluring bulge. And the fact that trans men may do the same, does not in any way undermine my point. In this landscape of gender ambiguity the desire for c*ck is not limited to heterosexual women and gay cis men,

In other words: As soon as we open our minds to the insane number of combinations and constellations of personality traits, sexual desires and gender identities, the fact that a sexual fascination for the penis may be decoupled from procreation -- or for that matter: from men --- should come as no surprise.

Those who have seen the movie The Kids Are All Right, will also know that some lesbian women watch gay male porn, Again: This is not because they are attracted to men, but because they find the man on man dynamic alluring, including -- I would guess -- the act of penetration.

Clip from The Kids Are All RightA lesbian couple, played by Julianne Moore and Anette Benning, has to explain to their son why his mothers are watching gay male porn. Their explanation reminds me of the MTF crossdreamer experience.

Diversity rocks!

If we on top of this adds the bisexual/polysexual dimension -- the fact that many people are attracted to both gender to a varying degree  -- there is ample room for the ambiguity of MTF crossdreamer sexual orientation.

Indeed, recent research on the sexual orientations of young people who have been raised in a more tolerant society as regards sexual orientation, tells us that among  the youngest Americans and Brits, between 40 and 50% now identify as some kind of bisexual. What this actually means, is not clear, but I suspect some of them may experience different types of attraction to the two (or more) genders, as do many MTF crossdreamers.

Many trans women report that they come to realize that they are bisexual post transitioning, There is a lot of internalized homophobia among MTF transgender people, which may have made them suppress this side of themselves when they have felt forced to present as men.

My point here is not that Felix is wrong when he says that he is not sexually attracted to men. I am sure he is right about this. I feel the same way myself. My point is simply that there is so much variation here that we do not have to propose the existence of some completely different kind of sexual orientation driven by an eroticized gender identity to explain these feelings.

More than trigger/response

I would also argue that the traditional evolutionary approach brings with it some premises that are probably false -- the main one being that sexual arousal is the effect of a simplistic trigger/response system, where it is visual clues given by a sexy person that triggers arousal.

There is much more to arousal that this. How we feel about ourselves also plays an important role. "Feeling sexy" makes us comfortable in our own skins, which leads to a positive feedback loop of reciprocal affirmation. I get horny because you find me attractive and vise versa.

These are the kind of feedback loops non-transitioning crossdreamers rarely experience, and that must have an effect on the sex they have with  their partner. Sure, MTF crossdreamers may be affirmed by their partner, but they are normally affirmed as men, not as women. This may make them conclude that they do not love women as heterosexual men (and lesbians?) do, but I would argue that this is mostly a matter of lack of opportunity.  Their lives do not allow for this kind of experience.  (More about this here!)

Maybe the difference between Felix and my position here is that I am less enthused about  these types of evolutionary models. Not that I do not believe in evolution, mind you, or that sexuality and gender are -- in some ways -- relevant for evolutionary selection. They clearly are.

But sex and gender have functions that go far beyond procreation. Felix himself documents this in his discussion of different sexualities and gender roles among other animals. Among many animals, humans and bonobos included, sex has a strong social function, which means that insemination is not the only way sex and gender leads to "evolutionary fitness". 

The average human being has sex more than 100 times a year, far more often than is needed to produced the required 2.4 kids during a life time. Sex is a tool for social bonding, comfort and health. That is why I am reluctant to think of gender variance or homosexuality as evolutionary "errors" of any kind. The MTF crossdreamers "lesbian" approach to sex, may lead to a strong "evolutionary fitness". It is not wrong, just different from the traditional cishet relationship.

If I read the book correctly, this is also Felix' fundamental belief, but he uses a language that can easily lead readers to think of crossdreamer sexuality as an error.

The Real Self: Stephanie

Transgender persons may explore
their other self by imagining their
totem. Stephanie is Felix'
(Photo of Allssandra Ambrosio).
My favorite part of the book is the short story about Stephanie. It is a body swap story of sorts. A man wakes up inexplicably in the body of a woman, and have to cope with the fact that everyone now believes that he -- now she -- is Stephanie.

This is the part of the book were Felix really shows us who he truly is, much more so than when he writes about c*cks and sexual humiliation.

The story about Stephanie is his story, a touching story about his inner woman, and it must have taken a lot of courage for him to write it down and share it.

Stephanie is everything he never was, and everything he never had.

He writes:
"...every transgender person has a Stephanie. In a way, it's kind of like the definition of being transgender. And today I'm hoping to convince you that your relationship with Stephanie is extremely important. Far from being the product of idle fantasy, she holds the key to who you are and where you need to go. That's why Stephanie is not just a fantasy, she is a totem."
Felix uses the term totem in the way I have used the term ponyo, as a term for the "inner woman" (in the case of MTF transgender persons), a kind of symbolic representation of the part of you that has been lost.

Felix puts it this way:
"In this case, the totem is an imagined self -- a spirit being -- who has deep personal significance and who shows you the way. A totem, as defined by Native American scholar, Basil H. Johnston, is .. 'that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being.'"
The autogynephilia and fetish approaches to crossdreaming are  destructive mainly because they dismiss this fundamental part of our personalities as an unreal product of a sexual kink or a perversion. It is, in fact, it is, the most important part of who transgender people truly are.

Regardless of how this side of us came to be, it demands to be heard and accepted.

Use your imagination!

Human beings are, as Felix points out, wired for using our imagination for self-discovery and individuation. Children explore their sense of self and their relationship with society around them in play. Adults do the same, through play, games and art, if they are allowed to do so. This kind of play gives their lives meaning and joy.
Children explore their potential and their
identity through role playing. So should
transgender people, Felix argues.
(Photo: kiankhoon)

Crossdreamers are often driven to do the same, through cross-gender fantasies, role playing, crossdressing and through writing down fantasies of the kind presented in the book.

Felix writes:
"In my opinion, imagination is the key to truegender. It is a psychological time-travel machine that permits you to see what you have suffered and lost in the past, how you truly feel in the present, and where you want to go in the future."

The fantasy girl that lies at the center of a crossdreamer's fantasy is -- in one sense -- the real person, and not the mask that person shows to the world:
"The following may not sound very flattering but as a trangender being ... you are uniquely broken. When I look at you I think of one of those beautiful golden hearts with a crack down the center. You have a body, a social identity and a history, but girls like Stephanie are the way the universe tells you that it's all a lie. So yes, you are uniquely broken, and that's why phrases like 'the real you' have real meaning for people like us."
Those who have read books and blog posts by Felix will know that this does not mean he believes that all transgender people should transition. But it does meant that we should gather the courage to look our own Stephanie in the eye. And one way of doing that is to learn to know your totem.

The ebook is available over at Amazon.

See also:
Felix Conrad's site:
Must Read Transgender and Crossdreamer Reflections by Felix Conrad
Felix Conrad Talks about Transgender Research, Crossdreaming and Beach Clubbing
Felix Conrad Unmasks the Autogynephilia Theory in New Book on Transgender

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