November 9, 2016

Why we need a new narrative for transgender sexuality and crossdreaming

I have been reading Felix Conrad's new ebook on crossdreaming and sexology. Well written, interesting and provocative, as always. This post will not be so much a review of the book as a commentary on what it covers. We agree that we need a new narrative that makes sense of the sexuality of crossdreamers and other trans people.

Felix' main point in Quantum Desire: A Sexological Analysis of Crossdreaming is that we need a new sexology for crossdreaming and transgender thinking.

We need a new model, a new narrative, a new way of thinking about sexual desire and gender variance, because right now we are far too busy reacting to the belief systems of old:

You know, the ones that sort gender variant people into categories like "effeminate gay men" and "autogynephiliacs", "real trans women" and "fetishists", people "trapped in the wrong bodies" and "sexual perverts".

We are lacking a new synthesis

The fact that we are arguing against the old is inevitable. This is how human thought evolves. To use the vocabulary of Hegel: We start out with one way of looking at the world (thesis), which is then challenged by another (antithesis) until the world moves on to a third position (synthesis).

What we are lacking is the synthesis. Felix does not provide us with that new model in the book, or at least not fully, but he gives as a pretty good idea about where we have to go.

If I understand him correctly we have to get to the point where we discuss the sexuality and sexual desires of queer and gender variant people freely and openly. We have to get to a point where we are able to make those fantasies an integrated part of transgender identities of all kinds (and I use the word transgender here as an umbrella term for all types of gender variance here).

Right now sexual fantasies of the crossdreamer kind are considered invalidating not only for transsexual women and men -- who have transitioned or who want to do so -- but also for non-transitioning transgender people (including those genderqueer, crossdressing, drag  and more).


An extremely short history of transphobic science

I believe that if we are to liberate ourselves from the prejudices of old science, we need to know how we got into this mess in the first place.

When preparing this blog post I ended up writing so much about the history of transphobic science that I had to turn in into a separate blog post.

In that post I identified three historical trends from the late 19th century onward that has made crossdreaming toxic in the eyes of many:
  • The idea that women (or at least "decent" women") are less libidinous or sexual than men. This means that male to female transgender people who admit to having sexual desires about becoming their target gender are immediately classified as men.
  • The medicalization of transgender feelings. While transgender transgressions might have been considered a sin or a violations of laws, gender variance was not considered a mental disease until the late 19th century. Transgender and queer people have, since then, been easily dismissed as mentally ill.
  • This caused a decoupling of sexuality from gender identity, especially in the case of femininity and female identities, which makes it impossible to understand the role of sexual desire in transgender lives.
"What do you mean: I need to have sex on
my wedding night? Yuck! All I wanted
was a white wedding!"
Photo: Dreampictures
Within this framework the only kind of sexual fantasies a trans woman can admit to is vanilla woman  romantically in love with a man scenarios. Nothing out of the ordinary, please...(in spite of the fact that most cis people have kinky erotic fantasies.)

Indeed, I hear, over and over again, from some therapists and some transgender people, that gender identity has nothing to do with sexuality.

I realize that some of them refer to the fact that there is no one to one relationship between a trans person's target gender and their sexual orientation. This is, of course, true. But I often find that this idea is extended to sexuality and sexual fantasies in general.

Sex without sex

I must admit I find the concept of a gender identity decoupled from the deep biological drives of sexuality bizarre.

By all means, I do see the advantage of having a separate word for the cultural side of  male and female -- i.e. the ideas and concepts we use to understand the difference between men and women.

To use the word gender (which was originally a term taken from grammar) for this purpose is useful, because it reminds us that what we consider typical male and female behavior and personality traits cannot be reduced to biology (i.e. biological sex) and instincts alone.

Still, we have to keep in mind that the concept of cultural gender is exactly that: a concept we use to interpret the world. Gender is not something tangible "out there". The existence of the concept does not mean that biology has no effect on gendered behavior, feelings or traits.

Nor does it mean that biological sex, and the dynamics of sexuality, have no effect on how we understand ourselves as gendered beings: as men, women or something else.

The biologists are right in pointing out the similarities between human sex and sexuality and the ones of animals. We are animals as well. We have inherited similar instincts, and I find it completely unreasonable to believe that these instincts have no effect on the way we dream, the way we act.

Our concept of the horny teenager may be a social construct, but the hormones that drive that teenager to do what he or she does are not.

More than procreation

Some biologists derail the discussion, however, when they try to reduce this instinctual side of sex and sexuality to procreation. There is much more to sex than this.


Video on the sex life of our closest relative, the bonobos. Nor suitable for a work environment!

The frolicking bonobos are frolicking because their frolicking serves as a social glue and a conflict solver. Or, as the bonobos  probably would say (if they could be bothered to learn English), because it feels so good. They have sex with everyone, regardless of age or gender, so this is clearly not about procreation alone.

On top of that we, the bonobos, the baboons and most other primates are social beings, and our survival depends on the support of our local community, our tribe and our family.

The reason young boys and girls seek out
gender typical toys is not because they are
wired for war or child care; it is because
they are wired to seek out a place as
men or women, regardless of what the
local culture defines as proper gender behavior.
No wonder young girls and boys spend so much time trying out gender roles and gender expressions. They are, among other things,  trying to find out what behavior will give them social acceptance and ensure their belonging.

And they may not know it yet, but they are also preparing for an adult life as a sexual being, where their ability to find both a sexual partner, love and a family depends on them being accepted as a good partner.

I suspect our sexual fantasies are created at the crossroads between our inner instinctual drives and the need to adapt to our surroundings.

In any case: This is about so much more than procreation, but sex as in sexuality is definitely an important part of gender.

Sex is the problem of transgender

I would argue that the main problem for nearly trans people is that their lives have become negatively defined by their sexuality.

Their sexual desire condemns them, which is why they often end up in three equally unsatisfying positions:
  • Denying their sexual desires, becoming "real transsexuals" whose male past becomes some kind of unreal mirage.
  • Denying their sexual desires and suppressing their gender variance, playing the roles of "real non-transgender men" or "real cis women" in the hope of gaining the love and respect of so-called normal people.
  • Wholeheartedly embracing the sexual side of their gender variance, reducing it to a fetish or a kink, while playing the part of the cultural rebel.
Their sexual desire is never considered a natural part of them being some shade of  transgender.

Gender identity reduced to a perversion

Ironically, this has left the door open to exactly the kind of researchers that want to reduce transgender identities to some kind of derailed sexuality, being that a kind of homosexuality or a fetishistic perversion.

In this book, as in others, Felix aggressively and convincingly deconstructs concepts like autogynephilia, transvestic fetishism, masochistic emasculation, which all try to reduce crossdreaming to a sexual aberration.
Crossdressing can be seen as the psyche's way
of expressing a gender identity and/or
traits like masculinity/femininity.
Photo: Discovod

For instance:
"Transvestic fetishism is the reduction of everything we feel and experience...to a fetish for playing'dress up'. Not only is it insulting but it shows a remarkable lack of acumen. You don't have to be a master psychologist to figure that clothing is just a prop to channel a deeper lust for womanhood."
And those who have read some of the other of Felix' books will know that he does not accept that the erection an MTF experiences while imagining themselves as a woman is proof of a male sexuality:
"The lifeblood of MtF crossgender sexuality is being, in some form or another, female...therefore we must necessarily become female in our fantasies."
Transgender does not necessarily mean transitioning

That does not mean that Felix believes that all MTF crossdreamers are transsexual or that they should  transition. In this book he argues, more strongly than ever, that he does not believe transitioning should be considered the obvious solution to gender dysphoria:
"To be honest, I do think we've gone a little over the top with the whole trans thing, and I'm deeply skeptical about transition as the best cure for gender dysphoria...but any harm that results from our condition comes because the medical and psychiatric community haven't found the best way to cure gender dysphoria."
I am not so sure about this. I think transitioning can often be a good and legitimate response to severe gender dysphoria, and that this will also be the case in the future.

But I do think that a more tolerant and understanding society (the medical establishment included) will make it unnecessary for some other trans people to transition. And a new and more tolerant sexology will remove science from the arsenal of aggressive transphobes, leaving trans people more room to find out and decide for themselves.

In other words: We have to let go of the concept of the asexual "true" transsexual as well. It has become a straight-jacket that stops us all from coming to terms with the complexity of transgender sexualities and identities.

I still think the metaphor "a woman trapped in a man's body" makes sense as a metaphor, though. It describes the intense dysphoria of some transgender people well.

Where some doctors and trans activists go wrong is when they interpret the metaphor literally: as if there was some kind of complete miniature stereotype woman sitting somewhere in their brain, dreaming of dresses, knitting and home baked cookies.

Both Felix and I speculate that we have some kind of inborn female orientation that compels us to orient ourselves in the world as women. But this brain based driver is not a complete program for female interests, abilities and behaviors. I do not think cis women are born with that kind of "software" either. I see far too much variation for that to be the case.

My hunch is that what we have in common is this need to orient ourselves in the world as women, and to express ourselves as women, and that sexuality is an integrated part of this orientation. It seems to me Felix is saying something similar.

There is light at the end of the tunnel

I am glad to say important players in the transgender community have moved on. In one way you might say that the openness and tolerance found in the other strand of sexology, the one I would like to call the humanist one, is getting the upper hand (the tradition of researchers like Magnus Hirschfeld, Harry Benjamin and Alfred Kinsey).

In spite of what Felix seems to imply in the book, most trans activists -- including Julia Serano -- do not believe in a "feminine essence". They openly discuss much more complex and diverse models of sex, gender and identity, where a transgender gender identity may -- for instance -- grow out a complex interplay between biological, cultural and personal factors.

Health care professionals are also coming around to a more nuanced view of sex and gender, arguing that since we now accept that women have sexual desires and fantasies (and may even act on them,) it is also OK for male to female transgender people to do the same.

In Norway, the legal side of gender identity is taken out of the hands of the more conservative medical gatekeepers (by a Conservative government!). All you need to change your legal gender now is to fill in an online form. Hormones or  surgery are not required. Sexual fantasies are no longer stopping you. More and more countries are adopting this position.

Since we have also come to the point where many admit that there is no absolute and clear divide between male and female personality traits, interests, abilities and desires, there is also room for transgender people who do not live up to the clich├ęs of the "true transsexual" or "real men"/"real women". The millennials embrace terms like nonbinary and genderqueer.

I know that the American psychiatric manual still has a chapter of paraphilias that includes "autogynephilia", but the main chapter on gender dysphoria reflects a much more radical and tolerant approach to gender variance.

It is not perfect, far from it, but that chapter does not think crossdreaming invalidates a trans gender identity, and it opens the door to a wide variety of gender identities and gender expressions. Moreover, it no longer considers gender dysphoria a mental illness. The work done in preparation for the new UN ICD manual points in the same direction.

In many ways both activists and scientists in this area is moving towards the position Felix calls "transgender realism" in the book, where we no longer think of MTF transgender people's identity and sexuality as being  carbon copies of the ones of an idealized cis woman.

Their life experience must be understood in context, and that context is that these persons normally have lived their lives being raised as, and presenting as, their assigned gender.

We still need a new sexology for transgender sexuality

So everything is all right, then? We do not need a new sexology? Felix is wrong about this?

No, he is not. In spite of all the progress, we are still fighting old battles. Felix puts it this way:
"Think about it: sexology in its current form is dominated by a binary system -- and I do not mean with respect to gender -- I mean with respect to sexual behavior. There is orientation on the one hand and fetishes (including paraphilias) on the others. This binary is so deeply ingrained that we all follow it, instinctively believing that there is a baseline sexuality...hetero, homo and bi... and then the weird extras that get imprinted and picked up along the way -- fetishes. And to be honest, I think it's a pretty good system... 
...until you start to think about cross gender sexuality... 
... and then it becomes a conceptual prison."
The very existence of transgender people and their sexuality falsifies this model, as I see it. And I believe that is why the system fights so hard to normalize us, to put into boxes that does not mess up the model.

As Felix points out this desire is not an orientation (which seeks people); it is not a fetish (which seeks objects); it is not a paraphilia (which seeks situations). We seek, instead, a state of being, whether this is full identification with our target sex or a need to express sides of being our target sex, This sense of self cannot be reduced to sexuality, but nor can you decouple sexuality from this state of being.

And that is the main problem. Modern, progressive, sexologists may accept and understand that sexual fantasies are natural parts of transgender psychology, but they show -- in general -- little interest in this side of being trans.

The ones that do show an interest are mostly those that still use terms like "autogynephilia" and who believe that any debate on this topic will have to start with the  typology of Ray Blanchard. Even if they despise Blanchard's theory of transgender, they nevertheless help keep that belief system alive, simply by responding to it.

As Felix points out, this is why we need a new approach to the complex phenomenon of sexuality and transgender identities -- why we need a new transgender sexology.

There are other reasons, as well.

Both research and health services have had a strong focus on those transgender people who transition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we also need more research on non-transitioning trans people. They also need help, whether they are gender dysphoric or not.

Autogynephilia gurus like Blanchard and Bailey have obsessively focused on developing classification schemes of perversions. They have done next to nothing in order to develop methods and treatments that can actually help crossdreamers survive and thrive.

And finally: We need sexologists who can look more closely into what Felix calls the quantum mechanics of transgender, i.e. the fact that our gender variance often seems to change according to the way you approach it.

If we look at it as something sexual, it may appear as a fetish. If you dream about crossing genders, on the other hand, gender variance will often appear as a gender identity phenomenon.

I guess this has partly to do with the fact that gender variance varies between people and over time, but also because language and culture will always influence the way you see things. Gender variance can be, in the words of Felix, both "a gender event" and "a sexual event" at the same time.

We need to know more about what causes crossdreamers and transgender people to interpret their experience in this or that way.

If there are any potential sexology Ph.D. students out there who read this. Start researching! We can help you.

See also:
On Quantum Desire and why we need a new sexology of gender variance, where Felix talks about his new book.

The cause of crossdreaming - an alternative model
Magnus Hirschfeld's Crossdreamers
The Two Traditions of Thinking about Transgender
What Dr. Zhana Vrangalova Taught Me About Transphobia in Science
The Autogynephilia Theory is in Violation of Basic Research and Health Care Ethics

Ogas and Gaddam: A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships (a study of sexual fantasies which clearly proves that not only transgender people can have kinky dreams.)

19 comments:

joanna Santos said...

Exceedingly well thought out and explained Jack and Felix clearly has hit the nail on the head because the guilt and shame over what we thought was aberrant sexuality is what caused so much damage to transgender people. Once we get beyond this point we then realize that transition can be one of many options. Yes it can be very good for some but for others a grave mistake. If you remove the false narrative of asexual birth condition versus pervert for the rest (which is a falsehood) you open up more options for transgender and gender variant people to lead happy and productive lives. Bravo!

Jack Molay said...

Thank you, Joanna!

By the way, in her new book Outspoken, Julia Serano is very outspoken about the crossdreaming side of her life. (There are even references to this blog on the topic of FTM crossdreamers!). The fact that one of the leading trans thinkers and activists do not shy away from writing about feminization erotica is of great help when it comes to decontaminating transgender sexualities.

joanna Santos said...

Julia is doing us all a big service as I struggled with my sexuality for years but that is now over. Prudishness and denial were only helping to feed into a culture and shame and guilt and understanding the mechanisms that got me where I am have literally saved my psyche..

Xenocarthic said...

The real problem (and therefore the real challenge), is that the false dichotomy of sexuality applies to everyone - not just trans people. Those Bonobos demonstrate that as do certain human social settings in which all sorts of sexual behaviour is acceptable or even normalised. Single sex environments such as public schools (in the British sense) and prisons are illustrations of this, but it is also applicable to more all-encompassing cultural environments such as classical Sparta.

Trans identity is not the only thing that breaks the model of sexuality that corresponds to (physical) sex. Gender is a construct, but even in the acceptance of such it's seen as a binary (even when there is acknowledgement of non-binary individuals). In fact it's a vast and nebulous collection of behaviours, character traits, pursuits, dispositions and just about any damn thing human beings do. Just about everything about social activity can be assigned a gender it corresponds to or typifies. In the 21st century it's possibly truer (although it's always been true), that huge numbers of these things are shifting and realigning, not least because of the work of women's movements. We are however still living with the vestiges of a misogynistic social perspective which retains the idea that female (and therefore woman-gendered) sexuality is a delicate matter. In some respects some feminist movements have (I believe) unwittingling collaborated with a masculine hegemony of sex by de-sexualising themselves in reaction to what they perceive as objectification of the female state (not that that doesn't exist, but reaction is playing the game as it has been paternally devised).

Therefore there is not transgender politics, just gender politics. Transgender people can help, but it is common cause and the last thing the transgendered need is a silo for their concerns, because this is not a tactical conflict in one socially discrete segment of our social order; it's total war. There are minor victories all the time and progress is being made (along with inevitable setbacks), but what we are looking at is a fundamental restructuring of the way humans view themselves. Very few (if any) of us are ready for this brave new world because we define ourselves within the parameters of our existing models.

It is to going to happen overnight, but perhaps it will be swifter if we have sight of what the strategic goal is rather then concerning ourselves with the merely symptomatic problems on the direction of travel.

Jonathan said...

It seems I need to read both this and Julia Serano's new book. It was the dichotomy between gender and sexuality (i.e. either one or the other) in trans discourse that took me to femme as a paradigm (where gender and sexuality are intertwined).

Jack Molay said...

//The real problem (and therefore the real challenge), is that the false dichotomy of sexuality applies to everyone - not just trans people.//

This is important! I'll see if I can retrace it, but I remember a metastudy of sexual behavior that ended up concluding that some 60 to 70 percent of "normal" people could be classified as having some kind of sexual perversion, as defined by psychology and psychiatry. But we have made a social system where "normal" people never talk about this, or they do so in closed circles.

But for some reason the crossdreamers and the transgender women who visited Blanchard could not stop talking about their dreams and desires. I guess they were so grateful that there was someone there who was willing to listen to this side of their story, that they forgot to check if he really was on their side. It turns out it wasn't.

//It was the dichotomy between gender and sexuality (i.e. either one or the other) in trans discourse that took me to femme as a paradigm (where gender and sexuality are intertwined).//

When I try to approach terms like femininity and masculinity and femme and butch I definitely enter the "quantum level" of being human, to follow Felix' metaphor. We know what it is, but find it so hard to define, for the simple reason that the way these dimensions express themselves may vary with the expressions and symbols available in that culture. I have learned a lot from you there, Jonathan, but not enough to dare to write a blog post about it.

M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake said...

"The ones that do show an interest are mostly those that still use terms like 'autogynephilia' and who believe that any debate on this topic will have to start with the typology of Ray Blanchard."

I don't understand what you have against Blanchard et al. When evaluating scientific research, I don't care whether it will be construed as invalidating or stigmatizing by people who hate us anyway. I care about whether it's true.

We know that there are biologically-male people with very overtly feminine behavior from early childhood. And we know that there are biologically-male people like you and me and Felix who have these beautiful pure self-identity feelings that seem related to our sexuality. These don't look like the same psychological condition. What's so terrible about saying that they're separate things that need to be studied separately?

Jack Molay said...

From a scientific point of view it is obviously legitimate to study observable differences and explore the possibility of there being some kind of fundamental factor causing them.

But this approach must also take into account other possible explanations, like -- as in this case -- whether the observed difference in behavior and looks may be caused by other factors associated with sexual orientation.

Blanchard & Co do bad science because they do not seriously consider factors that may undermine their own very simplistic theory, i.e. the idea the conditions of these two groups of people are caused by two completely different types of male sexuality.

Ozymandias recently wrote a blog post that demonstrates how easy it is to come up with an alternative and believable theory that explains the differences as an effect of access to (or no access to) arenas for self-explanation.

In short: If you love men, you can use gay culture to find role models, ways of expressing femininity and people to love.

The MTF crossdreamers who love women will consciously or subconsciously try to suppress their gender variance in order to attract straight, cis, women. That explains why gynephilic crossdreamers, up till now, have often appear less feminine than the androphilic ones.

These observable differences are, by the way, slowly fading away, as the Internet has given gynephilic trans women access to a larger community, role models and health services.

As gynephilic trans women start transitioning at an earlier age, it becomes increasingly clear that Blanchard & Co have been mislead by visible differences caused by long exposure to testosterone. Young gynephilic transitioners look as feminine as the androphilic ones.

By the way: Jaimie Veale has come up with another interesting explanation for the differences between gynephilic and androphilic MTF transgender people.

Blanchard's theories contains a large number of logical and methodological errors, are based on insufficient data and make use of so many deliberately offensive terms, that there is no doubt in my mind that this is not really a scientific endeavor aimed at finding the truth.

These researchers are developing models that aims at reaffirming old fashioned prejudices. (More about this here.)

And that matters. Because whether you like it or not, quasi-science of this kind does have an effect of the lives of transgender people:

1. It gives transphobic people a weapon they can use to harass and marginalize transgender people, because it reaffirms prejudices about trans women being sexual perverts. The theory is now actively used by TERFs and alt-right activists to destroy the lives of trans people.

2. It induces shame and guilt in transgender people which may cause them to suppress their gender variance, causing immense suffering and pain.

There is no doubt in my mind that the "autogynephilia" and "homosexual transsexual" theories have caused a lot of suicides among transgender people.

Can I prove it? No. Because no one has looked into this relationship. But given the large number of suicidal crossdreamers I have been in contact with, I am convinced the number is very high indeed.

M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake said...

"Ozymandias recently wrote a blog post"

Yes, I saw that, and wrote a reply.

"easy it is to come up with an alternative and believable theory that explains the differences as an effect of access to (or no access to) arenas for self-explanation. In short: If you love men, you can use gay culture to find role models, ways of expressing femininity and people to love."

Unfortunately, I'm afraid I don't find this believable. One of the observations that needs to be explained is androphilic trans women displaying greater levels of gender-atypical behavior in childhood. The behavior of small children who do not yet have a concept of sexual orientation is not going to be influenced by acess to gay culture.

"These observable differences are, by the way, slowly fading away, as the Internet has given gynephilic trans women access to a larger community, role models and health services."

Inosfar as access to resources results in gynephilic trans women transitioning earlier, then yes, we will expect the specific differences that are mediated by age of transition to decrease. But if Blanchard et al. are correct that androphilic and gynephilic trans women have genuinely distinct etiologies, we should expect other differences to remain.

"By the way: Jaimie Veale has come up with another interesting explanation for the differences between gynephilic and androphilic MTF transgender people."

Thanks for the reference! I've skimmed Veale's thesis, but haven't yet found time to examine her ideas in detail.

"The theory is now actively used by"

Again, this is logically irrelevant: the fact that the theory is construed in a harmful way by people who would hate us anyway does not have any bearing on whether the theory is actually true. Ozymandias wrote a post about this as well.
If we want to weigh the consequences of the two-type taxonomy being more generally accepted (those consequences being, again, a separate issue from whether the theory is actually true), you have to count the benefits as well as the costs.

Speaking only for myself: I spent ten years assuming I wasn't legitimately trans because autogynephilia was clearly the correct concept to describe my experiences, but the standard view seemed to be that transgender was solely about gender identity discordant from sex assigned at birth, which was clearly not my problem. Thanks to the writings of Blanchardian authors Anne Lawrence and Kay Brown, I now believe that I'm not such a different thing from actual trans women, which gave me the confidence to actually take steps towards experimenting with hormone replacement therapy (haven't started yet; next clinic appointment is the 8th!). If we must appeal to consequences, then insofar as you seek to discredit Blanchard, you're hurting people like me.

Jack Molay said...

//One of the observations that needs to be explained is androphilic trans women displaying greater levels of gender-atypical behavior in childhood. The behavior of small children who do not yet have a concept of sexual orientation is not going to be influenced by acess to gay culture.//

When I started this blog, there was this myth about gynephilic MTF crossdreamers not having childhood memories of being gender variant. This was actually one of the main arguments for there being a difference between the two groups.

When presented with such memories, people like Blanchard accused "autogynephiliacs" for lying both to themselves and others. These were false memories, they said.

I still have a tin foil wrapper "magical" ring I made as a kid, imagining that it could transform me into a girl. I know that my memory of being a trans kid is not a false one. I have also heard so many tales of childhood crossdreaming among those who are attracted to women, that I know that there are no significant differences here.

So what is left is the stereotypical feminine expressions of the "classical trans kid". And this is where the explanations provided by Jaimie Veale, Julia Serano, Ozymandias and Felix Conrad bring clarity.

Children may not be part of gay or straight culture, but their sexual orientation may play a role from an early age. Through play and dreams they prepare for a life as adults.

Those who have a primarily gynephilic orientation soon get the message: If you want women to love and respect you, be a man. Those who love men, get the opposite message: If you want men to love you, be a woman.

Now, I am sure the processes leading up to the different shades of transgender is much more complicated than this simple model suggests, but it gives you an idea about alternative ways of explaining the different ways transgender kids handle life.

(By the way: Jaimie Veale proposes another explanation: "Autogynephiles" may be people-pleasers who reject their attraction to men in order to conform to the homophobic standards of a cis-normative society. In her model it is the personality profile that determines whether you go one way or the other.)

Jack Molay said...

//the fact that the theory is construed in a harmful way by people who would hate us anyway does not have any bearing on whether the theory is actually true.//

That is obviously true, but there are three things to take into consideration here:

Firstly, as a fellow human being I have to take the cultural, moral and social effects of ideas and statements into consideration. When people are dying we do not have the luxury of reducing the transgender debate to some kind of disinterested debate on "objective facts". Words do break bones.

Secondly, the history of science proves beyond any doubt that scientists, like the rest of us, are the children of specific cultural settings and contemporary prejudices.

Science in totality, through the scientific discourse over time, has the tools needed to overcome such biases. But as the individual researcher is concerned, we have to be extremely critical and vigilant.

And as one who has studied the history of science extensively, I will argue that Blanchard & Co represent a dangerous and misleading reductionism, not representative of research on transgender conditions today.

Since Nuremberg there has been a wide discussion on the ethics of science, and Blanchard & Co violate a large number of the guidelines provided.

And thirdly: Blanchard's theory has been thoroughly debunked by both researchers and activists.

//Thanks to the writings of Blanchardian authors Anne Lawrence and Kay Brown, I now believe that I'm not such a different thing from actual trans women, which gave me the confidence to actually take steps towards experimenting with hormone replacement therapy (haven't started yet; next clinic appointment is the 8th!). If we must appeal to consequences, then insofar as you seek to discredit Blanchard, you're hurting people like me.//

No, I am not. One of the main objectives of this blog has been to stop the pathologization of all transgender variant people, crossdreamers included.

I have argued over and over again that crossdreaming is a natural and expected part of being transgender. How can you not crossdream and get aroused by the idea of being your target sex, if you have some kind of female sense of self?

And I know what I am talking about, as I am a crossdreaming gender dysphoric male to female transgender person myself.

It seems to me that you believe that if someone is against Blanchard, they have to support the old fashioned "classical transsexual" narrative, where trans women had to live up to the stereotype of an American house wife with a low libido. That is not me.

I am glad that you have managed to accept and embrace your female side, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey. I believe that your gender identity is not the end result of a misdirected male sexuality or a sexual perversion, but a genuine expression of something good and real.

M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake said...

"I believe that your gender identity is not the end result of a misdirected male sexuality or a sexual perversion, but a genuine expression of something good and real."

I think it is the end result of misdirected male sexuality, and that it's a good thing. It's as "real" as any other psychological phenomenon—I just don't think it's an intersex condition (at least, not before starting hormones!). And I'm okay with that.

"I have also heard so many tales of childhood crossdreaming among those who are attracted to women, that I know that there are no significant differences here."

Yes, accounts of childhood crossdreaming are a very important piece of evidence. (It's less salient to me personally, because I don't remember doing any day-to-day crossdreaming until after starting to have erotic female transformation fantasies at puberty.) If we believe that children never exhibit signs of future sexual orientation before puberty, then this would indeed be fairly strong evidence against an autogynephilic sexual orientation being a cause of gender dysphoria. However, I'm given to understand that it's not that uncommon for children to display precursors to sexual behavior (including affectionate love that may not be experienced as particularly erotic) before puberty.

"the history of science proves beyond any doubt that scientists, like the rest of us, are the children of specific cultural settings and contemporary prejudices. [...] as the individual researcher is concerned, we have to be extremely critical and vigilant."

I definitely agree with this. I would add, however, that it cuts both ways: a skeptical truthseeker reading the literature should simultaneously be suspicious that Ray Blanchard is ideologically blinded by mid-20th-century sexism and suspicious that Julia Serano is ideologically blinded by early-21st century trans activism. Nullius in verba!

M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake said...

"Since Nuremberg there has been a wide discussion on the ethics of science, and Blanchard & Co violate a large number of the guidelines provided."

I think we have some ethical disagreements. The reason the Nazi scientists tried at Nuremberg were unethical is because they tortured people. In contrast, your linked post talks about invalidating people's identities and contributing to marginalization by publishing ideas that get used by transphobes.

I'm sorry to repeat myself so much, but if you're going to keep making appeals to consequences, I'm not sure what else I can say: I don't care if the theory gets construed as stigmatizing; I care whether the theory is true. The job of a psychology researcher is not to validate people's pre-existing beliefs about themselves (identities are beliefs and beliefs can be false). The job of a psychology researcher is to understand the human mind. Sometimes, this might involve entertaining politically inconvenient hypotheses, or hypotheses that imply that some people have false beliefs about themselves! Surely you agree that it's possible for some people to have false beliefs about themselves, or you wouldn't have told me that I'm wrong about my gender feelings being the end result of misdirected male sexuality.

"Blanchard's theory has been thoroughly debunked by both researchers and activists."

I don't know what to tell you; I keep reading these triumphant debunkings (Serano, Moser, Ozy, your summary of Veale) and finding them much less plausible than the thing they're purportedly debunking.

"It seems to me that you believe that if someone is against Blanchard, they have to support the old fashioned 'classical transsexual' narrative"

No, I'm more familiar with your work than that; sorry for the miscommunication. Put it this way: I want the most accurate, non-politicized informational resources possible about the true nature of the beautiful feeling at the center of my life, so that I can make an informed choice about which quality-of-life interventions to pursue based on their actual costs and benefits. (My current plan is to experiment with HRT at some dosage for some amount of time, but without social transition.) So far, the best such resource I've found is Anne Lawrence's Men Trapped in Men's Bodies (forward by Dr. Ray Blanchard). Demonizing Anne Lawrence because her ideas hurt someone's feelings is not helping me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for allowing an anonymous post; after 20 years of progress exploring my gender identity I am still basically closeted - allowing only a few trusted people know about that side of me. I used to actively seek out other trans-folk because I needed that contact. These people knew what I was going through and my partner - while very supportive - did not. That changed about 14 years ago or there about and it was all due to encounters I had with Blanchard's ideas of fetishism and the Hierarchy of transgenderism supported by HB. In 2002, after a great deal of anguish, I had made a decision to pursue HRT. I eventually backed out of that due to the effect that it was having on my partner - whom I still love very deeply today. It does not mean that I stopped dreaming of being female (M2F btw) it just meant (to me) that I had a competing set of feelings and desires and had to make a choice.
A friend who had begun her transition told me flat out that I had done that because I did not really want it - whereas she was not letting anything stop her. I still do not know why I felt this at the time but I felt I was being talk down to by her and that hurt. A few months later she actually got into a relationship with a woman we both knew - someone in the community - but even though she liked to associate with our community she was not into women. My friend promptly stopped taking hormones.
That is only one example but what that experience demonstrated to me was that my feelings and motivations were just as valid as those of my friend - even though I decided not to go ahead with HRT. A couple of years later I found myself in another T-group only this time I a person who solidly believed in the ideas of Blanchard and Anne Lawrence. No surprise that I broke off relations with this person as well.
I started dreaming about switching my gender a couple of years before puberty and those dreams continue today. I refuse to accept that this makes me some sort of sad fetishist simply because I have erotic dreams! I have long believed (with no data to back it up - just my own personal experience) that there must be a wide spectrum of T-folk and the ultimate goal is not necessarily transition. I am so glad to have found this blog!
I cannot really talk about this stuff in any meaningful way with my partner - I know I need to talk about it again (I had a blog many years ago) because after many years of self-imposed isolation I find myself once again reaching out.

Thanks for reading my entire rant.

Bobbi Dare *hugs*

Jack Molay said...

Thank you for a very helpful comment, Bobbi Dare!

There are a lot of trans people who decide, for various reasons, not to transition. That does not make their feelings less real or less valid.

I am sorry to hear that the Blanchard ideology and transsexual separatism stopped you from getting more help from the transgender community. I am glad to say that this has become less of a problem now, but these ideas still stop many MTF crossdreamers from truly exploring their identities, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack,
What I did was to move away from people who were not helpful. Like M. Taylor SW I am looking for answers and guidance and experts do seem to have all of the answers. But what I learned was how illusory such expertise really is when dealing with transgender issues - or indeed with social/psychological issues in general. Psychologists like to think that they are collecting good data for their programs that treat those with GD, but in my experience, listening to friends that have gone through the process of consulting with a psychologist, the GD person is only interested in one thing - when do I get my pills? They will say whatever the therapist wants them to say in order to get the candy. If this is how conclusions are made in the psychiatric community about GD persons then it is easy to see how misconceptions arise. BTW, I did go to a psychiatrist for a time and I was totally up front with him about my personal journey. He was still willing to help me move forward and transition.

Point being - I got professional help and in the end I made my own choices. Looking back objectively ... I don't think that he, or the other 2 doctors I consulted with actually helped me very much.

In another post I think you said that Norway has a program you can sign up for on line. Brilliant idea! That is about as helpful as making the GD person jump through the hoops we make them do in Canada and the and result is the same.

Bobbi Dare *hugs*

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bobbi Dare said...

... I have not had an on-line profile since GeoCities went down (I know I am dating myself).

Bobbi *hugs*

Jack Molay said...

My problem with much of the research here is that the scientists are locked into existing concepts of sex and gender that it stops them from asking the right questions. Instead they use terms and concepts that leads them to generate and interpret data in a way that confirms the prejudices of their research communities.

It all looks very scientific with all the statistics and pseudo-Greek terminology, but you do not have to read much of it to see that it is all built on sand.

Fortunately there are quite a few out there who are actually listening to what trans people have to tell them and who are willing to open their minds to other possible explanations. So your point about talking to other trans people and learn from their experience makes very much sense to me.

Norway doesn't have a therapy program you can sign up for online. Truth to be told, it is still hard to find a sexologist or other relevant expert here.

But the good news is that the government has done two things that helps transgender people, including those that are/have been crossdreamers: (1) They have removed fetishistic transvestism from the ICD manual (crossdreaming/crossdressing is no longer considered a mental illness) and (2) You can use an online form to change your legal gender without having to gone through the medical gate-keepers or have surgery.