December 30, 2009

Blanchard does it again: another perversion

Ray Blanchard, the father of the autogynephilia concept, seems to have a strong need to classify all types of out of the norm sexual desire in order to label them as a disorder or paraphilia.

I think we need some kind of Latin term for this clearly unnatural urge to sort out the freaks of nature, maybe something in the line of anal paraphiliphiliac or ordinophiliac (after Latin Ordino, to set in order).

The New Scientist reports that Blanchard now wants the diagnosis hebephilia included in the new edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.

"... this obscure diagnosis has huge significance in the courts. If it becomes accepted it could lead to hundreds of sex offenders who have served their jail time being locked up indefinitely - on grounds that some say are spurious. Hebephilia refers to when adults are sexually fixated on teenagers around the time of puberty. This sets it apart from paedophilia, which refers to a focus on pre-pubescent children. The DSM-V work group on sexual disorders is likely to call for paedophilia to be renamed paedohebephilia, and include a hebephilic subtype."

If you have never heard about this condition, it will probably please you to know that there are more coined by Blanchard and like minded researchers :

Hebephilia (erotically attracted to 11 to 14 years old)
Ephebophilia (erotically attracted to 15 - 16 years old)
Gerontophilia (erotically attracted to the aged)
Gynandromorphophilia (erotically attracted to transwomen)
Andromimetophilia (erotically attracted to transmen)
Abasiophilia (erotically attracted to people who are physically disabled)
Acrotomophilia (erotically attracted to amputees)
Fat Fetishism (erotically attracted to fat people)

I would like to add:
Ageladagynephilia (erotically attracted to cowgirls, see illustration)

Blanchard has made a device that records the blood flow in the penis to measure the arousal of men while they are listening to sexual material. If you get a hard-on at the wrong time, you are in big trouble! (Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol 38, p 335)

He is meeting some resistance. There are those that argue that such preferences may be shaped through human evolution and that the attraction itself is not pathological. Whether it is illegal or unethical is another matter.

Gregory DeClue points out that Blanchard and his friends completely overlook the question of how we decide which sexual interest patterns should be considered a mental disorder. Pedophilia is a mental disorder. Homosexuality and masturbation used to be, but is no longer. What about ephebolofilia? What about an attraction to MILFs, red heads, Asians or women with a lisp?

This is relevant to Blanchard's classification of autogynephilia as a paraphilia (perversion). He clearly wants to classify all sexual desires outside the norm of middle-class WASP America as a disorder. The main exception to this seems to be homosexuals, as there are just too many of them, but then again he has spent a lot of time trying to make sense out of homosexuality from an evolutionary perspective.

According to the New Scientist, Karen Franklin, a forensic psychologist in El Cerrito, California, says that if hebephilia and paraphilic coercive disorder make it into DSM-V, they will be seized upon to consign men to a lifetime of incarceration.

Blanchard's reply is typical: "The clinical facts are what they are." But they are not. All clinical data is interpreted within the framework of a specific belief system or a paradigm, and it seems to me that Blanchard is unable to question the the cultural basis for his own research. What is normal? What is a paraphilia? This is why he always gest results that confirm his own prejudices.

December 23, 2009

Crossdreaming ("autogynephilia") and loneliness

How do you explain to the woman you love that you dream about taking her role?

Living with autogynephilia can be hell, there is no doubt about it. Here we are, living in a society that seems to judge us by our ability to live up to masculine ideals, while we dream about being women full time or at least about allowing our "inner woman" to be an important part of our otherwise "manly" lives.

We love women, and we fall in love with women, and we want to be with them, just like other men. But how do you approach women, when they have no reason to expect anything else than a "normal" man. How do you tell a woman that you dream about being the catcher, when she is looking for a pitcher?

I am going to republish parts of an email I have gotten from another autogynephiliac. Let's call him Anonymous 20+ The text expresses the pain and the anguish that can follow from this condition. He is in his twenties.

If you have any advice or experiences that can be of help, please add a comment!

Teenage love and acceptance

"I am a ... male with autogynephilia along with crossdressing. Almost all my fantasies involve identifying with the 'female' role, though this has not precluded me from a couple of fulfilling relationships in the past. I have had girlfriends, two of which were serious(...). I've had sex with two partners -- both were these two serious girlfriends. The last time was about four years ago....

My first girlfriend (let's call her FirstLove) knew about my crossdressing and fantasies (we dated [as teenagers]). I told her , though it was immensely painful to do so. Luckily, she accepted me for it. I kind of knew she would because she had a big heart. We were both each other's firsts etc. I suppose I am a fool for leaving her, but I was young and didn't know any better. Now she is married. She used to go shopping with me for clothes, and we had good sex and similar sex drives, and were very close to each other, she was aware of my fantasies and even sometimes played along, so I know it's possible to have a fulfilling relationship as an autogynephile.

Something's wrong with you

I did not tell my next girlfriend , in college. Let's call her SmartGirl. Our relationship slowly progressed to staying at each other's apartments, and we eventually had sex a few months in....Sometimes the sex with SmartGirl was good though, I think partly because we were together long enough to establish trust and build some physical chemistry, even though I didn't tell her my fantasies...

But SmartGirl had a feeling something was up with me. I think because later I avoided sex , partly I felt like I was hiding something (which I was) , partly because I didn't care , and partly because I felt "why be intimate if she could never accept the full picture?" So I remained kind of distant. I also had to fantasize about taking the female role to enjoy sex. And I still crossdressed by myself at my apartment....some months later, she eventually left me because I did not make her feel 'desirable'. So she cheated on me and left. Partly I think this was because I was not paying her enough attention and initiating sex enough.

So I pick up and move on...- then this whole thing happens again the next year with a third girl, let's call her ArtistGirl. That is, ArtistGirl leaves me after telling me I didn't make her feel desirable. SAME THING. You can imagine how I felt after that. ...

After that, I completely avoided relationships with women, just because I became so scared about this whole thing. I was literally in despair on and off for the past four years.

Two things kept running through my mind:

(1) I was a fool to have left FirstLove who I lost my virginity to and the only girl who KNEW and accepted my fantasies

(2) Having the same failure happen TWICE in a row with the next two girlfriends (SmartGirl and ArtistGirl) -- neither of whom I had the guts to tell about my fantasies or crossdressing -- and then have them both leave me , because I did not make them 'desirable' or 'wanted'. This made me realize this was something on my end.

What a horrible feeling.

I literally remember the second time when ArtistGirl told me the same thing as SmartGirl (basically, "what's wrong with you?", "don't you enjoy sex?", "don't you want me?") I just felt my stomach sink and my heart sink and I felt like I was going to cry. I felt ill and the room was spinning. I thought to myself, "am I going to be alone the rest of my life now?" I felt incredibly stupid, like I was misleading them as to who I was , since I wasn't a 'normal' guy, I was some damaged fuckup. Anyone who says it's easier to be gay or trans has no idea how painful this is.

In hiding

For the past several years, I simply lived alone and crossdressed on and off, despite my desire to have a girlfriend and to be in a long term relationship..

Part of me just wants to say fuck it and be alone. But that gets incredibly lonely. It's only fun for a little while. Part of me wants to seek out a partner, but I feel like we'd have differing expectations -- what could I offer her, and what could she possibly expect to offer me?

I mean, if a girl is attracted to the 'male' me and wants me to be the 'top' in her fantasies, how can I possibly explain to her I am fantasizing about being in her role? Can this even work? And further, how can I possibly expect her to accept that *her* role is what I find sexually arousing? I suppose FirstLove did... I mean I realize it's possible but how to go about this? The logistics seem impossible. When to bring it up? I don't mind switching off roles, but I just don't know how to get to that point in intimacy anymore... I seriously wish this never happened to me.

I avoided all opportunities with women the past few years due to an immense fear of failure and internal pain. (ie. I am damaged goods, why should I bother, etc). Recently I decided that , well , I'm 26, I better try to find a girlfriend if I ever want someone to accept me and to have children with etc. If I fail, I fail, whatever I'll just live by myself and crossdress and get on with things.

So I go out and make an effort to find a girlfriend. I've been working out, staying fit, healthy, etc. I don't really crossdress that much these days, maybe once every month or two. It's more the fantasies that are the problem.


Anyway, this is somewhat successful, and within a few months I have a girl , lets call her Girl4, who is interested in me. I could now hypothetically go over to her house whenever I wanted to sleep with her. But I don't really want to... I do and I don't... For example, we have given each other backrubs and explored each other's bodies somewhat. But I am scared out of my mind. I feel like we don't know each other that well, and we have mismatched expectations. For example, we are lying together, and she's asking me all the things I want to do to her. She is talking dirty to me in a 'hetero' way. I just feel so lost.

... Part of the problem here is that we have the SAME fantasies. She wants to be the female role and to be sexually submissive. ... She is fantasizing about me in the dominant role! I don't mind indulging this as long as she understands where I'm coming from.. that I identify with HER role and I am playing along for our mutual enjoyment. But obviously she doesn't understand this . because I haven't explained it yet.

I might feel differently if I knew that we were in a relationship and that she was committed to making things work etc at least for a little while. Then I might feel more comfortable trying to make things work, experimenting with my 'male/dominant' role etc. I don't mind 'switching' sexual roles (dominant / submissive) or trying it at least, if we switch off. I might even be able to enjoy taking the dominant role , based on identifying with her reactions . But there is zero comittment here , and I feel she thinks I'm something I'm not.

I explained to her when she asked that I was 50% dominant and 50% submissive (which I suppose was misleading because I left out the 50/50 gender component), I also explained that I was nervous about being with a new girl, it had been a few years, etc. I think she understands that I'm unusually sensitive and understanding as a lover -- and I can also tell she really likes it -- but I don't think she understands the full implications and all the associated problems. I feel like I'm navigating a sea of postmodern schizophrenic sexuality with no markers or reference points.

I am curious if I can perhaps enjoy sex with her by taking the 'male' role , then by identifying with her in the submissive role, but then I get back to , "well, why not just dress up by myself?" This is way less effort and I know it's at least partially gratifying. Then I think , well maybe I can make it work with this new girl if I explain to her my fantasies at some point, and she is okay with it, and we switch off or something. But then we go through the circle of maybe I should just have sex with her first, then explain. Very confusing...

So that's where I'm at today. A potential girlfriend and I'm scared and I just don't know what to do. ...

As for me -- I don't want a sex change, though sometimes I fantasize about it, but I think that's just a fantasy. I am somewhat comfortable in my male role. I don't mind leading when I have to. But I also like to be in a female role sometimes. I feel like I'm 50% male and 50% female. I am open to fulfilling my girlfriends fantasies if she accepts me for mine, but reaching this level of intimacy is a catch-22. I simply don't know how to go forward. It's much easier at this age to be alone, and it doesn't help that I've cut myself off from female contact for four years.

Not knowing makes it easier

It was much easier when I was younger because I didn't think about all these things. My girlfriend and I just fell in love. It didn't really occur to me how messed up I actually was. Part of it was that we were both virgins and I didn't think about the details. She loved me so much she didn't care I was damaged goods. But now ... there is a completely different set of expectations. Girls are looking for guys with alpha qualities, not damaged goods they can fix up. On top of this, Casual sex is the norm in my peer group -- but I find casual sex absolutely repulsive. Vanilla Sex in general I don't even find arousing.

I did enjoy sex with my first girlfriend, but this was because I trusted her immensely and we loved and took care of each other. Part of it was also I could get away with autogynephilic fantasizing and my first love didn't seem to care. She even played along because she loved me. But now I seem to need to establish a high level of intimacy before I can perform and even enjoy sex because I'm so scared about the extent of my fantasies. Hell I don't even care that much about sex. It's more about giving my partner what she likes , and in return she loves and accepts me.

Two failed relationships though have really made me worried that I'm too damaged for this anymore.

So I have no idea what to do. Whether I should keep trying to find a partner, whether I should just give up and spare myself the pain, how I should proceed , whether I should explain myself up front, whether I should try to have sex first and then explain myself, how other autogynephiles approach their sex life, etc.

Anonymous 20+

Jack's comment

I have added my own reply to this email as the first comment. I am afraid I might have written something wrong, because I haven't heard from Anonymous 20+ since. I have permission to republish the text, though.

Let me add here that this email and others like it tells me that it is far too easy to dismiss autoghynephilia as a mere "fetish" that can be controlled by free will. It runs deeper, much deeper, which is why it is so hard to handle.

This email is also relevant to the debate on whether autogynephiliacs are self-obsessed "autoerotics" in love with their inner woman. The theory of Blanchard & Co classifies autogynephilia as a paraphilia, saying -- in essence -- that autogynephiliacs are unable to establish regular relationships with women, because they have internalized their external object of desire.

This email tells me that there is a much simpler explanation. Autogynephiliacs are caught in a Catch 22 of shame and confusion, and find it hard to believe that a regular love life is even possible. No wonder they escape into a secret life of hidden cross-dressing or erotic fantasies. The question is: What can we do about it?


Since this blog post was written I have stopped using the terms "autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia" to describe people. The reason for this is that the terms implicitly communicates an explanation for why some people get aroused by imagining themselves as the opposite sex . This explanation, that this is some kind of autoerotic paraphilia,  is both wrong and stigmatizing. Instead I use the neutral term "crossdreamers".

Click here for a discussion of the dark side of the autogynephilia theory.

December 20, 2009

Transgender animals

The third part in a series about sex, gender and nature. In this post I look at the strange world of transgendered animals.

In her book Evolution's Rainbow (2004) Roughgarden has a separate chapter named "Multiple-Gender Families" which really took me by surprise.

I had heard the "Discovery Channel alpha male scaring the others males away" story so many times that I had come to believe that there are only two "genders" in the animal kingdom: male and female.

I need to make a little detour here. "Gender" is often understood to be the "socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." (WHO) Hence gender differences are defined by culture, sex differences by biology.

Roughgarden, however, is a biologist - not a social scientist - and in her tradition it is possible to use the word gender to denote the physical basis for the behavioral differences between males and females.

Roughgarden needs the term gender in addition to the term sex, simply because many animals have several variants for one or both of the two sexes!

This came as a total surprise to me. How is it possible than no one has ever told me this extremely important fact before? The answer, of course, is that it does not fit well with the sexual selection theory.

Gender multiplicity

So what does "multiple gendered animals" or "within-sex polymorphism" mean?

Roughgarden explains it this way:

"Males and females in a species may come in two or more sizes or colors. The morphological [pertaining to the form, structure and configuration of an organism] differences are the tip of the iceberg.

"The two morphs [i.e. gender variants of a sex] approach courtship differently, have different numbers of mates, have different arrangements of between-sex and same-sex relationships, live different life spans, prefer different types of real estate for their homes, exercise different degrees of parental care, and so on." (2004, p. 75)

Here are a few examples:

Singing fish

There are hundreds of known fish species that have two distinct types of males. The Californian singing fish (Porichthys notatus), for instance, have one large and one small type of males. The large type defend territories and guard eggs. A large male guards a big collection of eggs laid by several females. The small male defend no territories. They dart in to fertilize eggs laid in the large male's territory. (p. 77)

Male red deer or elk (Cervus elaphus) has a secondary type of males that have no antlers. They may at times be more successful at mating, according to Roughgarden (p. 78).

Three types of male

The North American bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) has no less than three male genders, of different sizes and different colors and markings. The large males try to repel the small ones from their territories. The females spawn readily with the small males while the large male is busy with all his chasing (p. 80). The medium sized males may be schooling with the females. Roghgarden continues:
"A medium male approach the territory of a large male from above in the water and descends without agression or hesitation into the large male's territory. The two males then begin a courtship turning that continues for as long as ten minutes. In the end, the medium male joins the large male, sharing the territory that the large male originally made and defends." (p. 80)

A popular way of explaining away this strange phenomenon is to say that the medium male deceives the large one into believing he is a female.

But, as Roughgarden points out, this is the male chauvinist talking. Sunfish have great eyesight, and the medium "feminine" male may be similar to females, but they are not identical.

An alternative theory is that two males may defend the territory in a better way than one, and the females appreciate this.

Roughgarden prefers a third explanation:

"A female might wonder if she will suffer domestic violence from this male who's trying to look big and powerful...Perhaps the courtship between the large male and the medium male offers the female a chance to see how the large male behave with a feminine-looking fish who is slightly smaller than she is." (p. 84)

It gets weirder!

White-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) of Ontario have two male and two female genders! In both males and females the white-striped individuals are more aggressive than the tan-striped individuals. Still, they can all find mates.

Not to be outdone the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) from the American Southwest has three male types and two female.

The flycatcher

Just a few kilometers from where I live now, you will find the pied flycatcher bird (Ficedula hypoleuca). Males vary from striking black and white to brown.

I have taken the liberty of reproducing a Russian drawing of the bird. Note that there is nothing here to signify that this bird violates the rule of having two genders. Indeed, the superiority of the male is displayed by the fact that there are no less than four drawings of the "normal" male, one of the female and none of the "feminine" male.

Roughgarden presents a Norwegian experiment where male flycatchers who had set up territories were presented with individual caged birds to see if they could distinguish the sexes:

"A territory-holding male who hadn't already attracted a female reacted to a female by showing off the entrance to his hole and calling enticingly. When the same male was presented with a macho black-and-white male, he was not so hospitable, and jumped on the cage of the visitor, pecking at it, trying to attack, and not bothering with any welcoming calls. When a feminine brown male was presented, the male again showed off his nest hole and called invitingly." (2004, p. 93)

Note that the research Roughgarden bases this description on argues that "the female-like males gain an advantage because they are in control of when to initiate a fight because of the opponent's poor sex recognition ability." (Sætre and Slagsvold 1995) The masculine male is therefore fooled into believing the feminine male is a peaceful girl. The Norwegian researchers see, as most of their colleagues, violence and deceit, where Roughgarden sees collaboration and the division of labor.

Roughgarden does not believe the male flycatcher is fooled by the feminine male. The problem with deceit theories, she says, is that not only must some animals be implausibly dumb, but others must be remarkably devious. The masculine flycatcher cannot be that stupid, because later in the year they tend to fend the feminine ones off.

"A simpler explanation is that territorial males who have not yet attracted a female are horny and invite romance with feminine males. Once the territorial ['masculine'] males have attracted a female, they are no longer horny and no longer interested in courting a feminine male... These birds may be neighbors building a cooperative relationship based on same-sex attraction." (p. 94-95)

Moreover, it is better for a masculine male to have a feminine "gynomorphic" male as a neighbor, than a much more aggressive masculine one.

Summing up

Many biologists have done their best to ignore this strange phenomenon. But there are just too many of these cases. They require an explanation. The sexual selection theorists therefore argue that the large aggressive territory-holding male gender is "the reference male", i.e. the real thing. The other types are at best considered "alternative mating strategies" and often described as "sexual parasites". They are cheaters.

But where the traditionalists sees conflict and deceit, Roughgarden sees a practical division of labor. Roughgarden says:

"According to social selection, economic theory for the elemental one-male-one-female economic team is extended to larger teams with more 'social niches'." (2009. p. 243.)

In general feminine imagery seems to be adapted by males to reduce hostility and promote friendship (p. 99).

Roughgarden argues that the different genders represent different sectors within a kind of community economy. While some of the genders compete, others are like service providers working under contract. In return for a peaceful behavior and care for the young, they get the opportunity to mate. (p. 105)

Roughgarden argues that markings and colors on animals represents their "body English". This is how animals tell one another what their social role is, what their intentions are, and what activities they promise to perform:

"Feminine males are participating in a conversation on topics and with words used more frequently by females than by masculine males [and visa versa for the masculine females]." (2009, p. 244)

This is why they look more like females.

Now I guess you are all waiting for the punch line: trangender people are like the transgender animals. That is not given. It is definitely hard to argue that most male to female crossdreamers are feminine looking men! My main point with these posts is first and foremost to help us all think outside the box, and to demonstrate how deeply mainstream biology is anchored in traditional gender roles. Still, I will discuss the possibility of trans people being a separate gender in the final post in this series.

Up next: Gay animals!

December 14, 2009

Joan Roughgarden on social evolution

Second part in a series about sex, gender and nature. In this post I look at the social selection theory of Joan Roughgarden.

Joan Roughgarden is a professor in evolutionary biology over at Stanford. I found her via a review of her new book The Genial Gene in the New Scientist.

The Genial Gene is one of the most radical attacks on Darwin I have seen in a long time. Not that she is a creationist arguing against natural selection, mind you. She does not, but she finds that the biologist's obsession with sexual selection to be questionable, and she and her research team puts up a fascinating alternative, called social selection.

Sexual selection

Sexual selection is based on the idea that individuals battle for their gene's survival in a fierce completion to get laid and get as many descendants as possible.

If you watch nature programs on Discovery or National Geographic you hear the same story over and over again: The tail of the peacock is large and colorful so that the male can attract females and have sex with them.

This narrative also confirms the stereotypes of human gender roles. According to Darwin males are passionate and females are coy. Still, the females have one important sphere of power: They select which male to have sex with, which is why males compete so hard between them. The fast and furious gets the girl.

This is relevant for transpeople, because these theories strengthen the social stereotypes of what it is to male or female. Any deviation from these stereotypes are therefore easily defined as something unnatural (in the true meaning of the word) and therefore something negative.

Sex and roles

Roughgarden does not deny that there males and females have different roles in the animal kingdom. But she does two things that are important for our understanding of the natural basis for sex differences:
  1. She reinterprets the behavior of males and females according to a new overarching understanding of evolution. By doing that she kills some of the stereotypes.

  2. She adds variety to the behavior of both males and females. There is no ideal macho male or sexy chick out there. In some species there are even different types of males and females, types that look and behave differently from others of the same sex.
Choosing a mate

The social selection theory of Roughgarden and her friends downplay the role of aggression and completion and focus instead on collaboration. She argues convincingly that there is no way the peacock hen can determine which male has the best genes based on the look of his tail. Indeed, research shows that the female disregard male plumage (Roughgarden 2009, p. 37).

Instead Roughgarden believes the female chooses to mate with the one she reckons will be the best to help her raise her offspring. Actually how the hen determines the parental capabilities of the male is a bit unclear to me, but in this respect her theory is at least as plausible as the old one.

Moreover, her theory (as opposed to the sexual selection theory) does not rest on the female's capability of finding the best man. You see, there is no hierarchy of genetic quality:

"All males are equivalent in genetic quality, except a rare fraction that obviously contain deleterious mutations and are present in a mutation-selection balance" (2009, p. 240).

I can remember how I as a young man reading about evolution, found it so hard to make sexual selection fit with what I saw around me. Clearly, it was not just the Queen of the Prom or the sexy soccer player that got kids? Most of my class mates got offspring, regardless of their looks or the brand of their car.

And if only the "fittest" of animals get offspring, why don't they all look the same? Why is there so much variation between individuals?

Reading Roughgarden makes it all make more sense, even if I think she downplays the role of aggression and violence a bit too much.

Compassionate Darwinism

Roughgarden says:

"According to social selection, what each sex does is subject to negotiation in local circumstances and statistical regularities in sex roles reflect commonness of circumstance.... Natural selection arises from differences in the number of offspring successfully reared, and particular behaviors are viewed as contributing to producing offspring and to building and maintaining a social infrastructure within which offspring are reared (Roughgarden 2009, p. 239)."

It is not the one who gets laid most often that win the race, but the one that manages to help his or her offspring survive through childhood. The best way of ensuring that is through collaboration and the division of labor, and that requires other skills than aggression and deceit.


Roughgarden again and again points to the enormous amount of variety found in nature. Collaboration can take many forms, and the behavior also changes over time. This is why closely related species like the chimpanzee, the bonobo and homo sapiens behave so differently.

There are, however, logical -- yes, even mathematical -- models that explain why such models of collaboration helps the survival of the species. I am not going into the details here, but if you have a mathematically inclined mind, take a look at The Genial Gene. In that book she demonstrates through game theory that collaboration is more effective than cheating for the survival of your own genetic lineage.

Sex and collaboration

According to the sexual selection narrative, male and females are in conflict and cooperation is at best a secondary development.

In Roughgarden's world things are different:

"According to social selection, male and female mates begin with a cooperative relationship because they have committed themselves to a common 'bank account' of evolutionary success. Their offspring represent indivisible earnings from a common investment. As such, conflict develops only secondarily if a division of labor cannot be successfully negotiated."

Roughgarden takes this propensity towards collaboration so far that she argues that males are not promiscuous by default. Male promiscuity is a strategy of last resort that occurs when males are excluded from control of offspring rearing. (I am not so sure about this one, especially when it comes to the males of homo sapiens, but I am willing to go give her -- and men -- the benefit of doubt.)

Sexual selection theory on the other hand describes monogamy as an entrapment of males by females. Males do not want all the hassle of rearing kids, but they accept it anyway in order to get laid.

Roughgarden takes the logic of collaboration down to the level of sperm and eggs.

In biology the difference between male and female is determined on the basis of the size of the gametes (sex cells). Following the logic of sexual selection the sperm seem to be cheating on the egg by forcing "her" to do all the hard work. In social selection the difference in sizes is a practical way of ensuring a successful conception. The big egg is easier to find for the sperm. Moreover, it contains the provisions needed for the first period of growth.

Power cliques

So what about the peacock's tail?

Well, Roughgarden does not think male ornaments (feathers, antlers etc.) are there for the female to judge the genetic quality of the male. She believes male and female ornaments serve as "admission tickets" to "power-holding cliques" that control the opportunity for successful rearing of offspring.

Again, this makes sense to me. A man doesn't buy an expensive car just to impress the girls. He buys it to impress his mates. He signals that he is successful and that he is one to be invited to the parties of the in-crowd.

Again and again I have been told that women dress up etc. to attract males, but the fact is that most men (apart from cross-dressers, that is :-) are unable to distinguish one brand of make-up, clothing or perfume from another. They will find a decently dressed woman attractive without knowing the secret language of women. The reason women put so much effort into shopping and brands, is first of all that they want to fit in with their fellow sisters, i.e. "the power cliques" of Roughgarden.

All right, but if this is the case, why doesn't the peacock hen have colorful plumage? The hens should, like human women, also strive to join cliques, right?

This is where Roughgarden gets a little vague. She has no general explanation of why male animals, as Darwin argued, seems to have more ornaments in general. In the case of the peacock, however, the explanation is simple: The female protects the eggs, so she has developed camouflage colors. I guess all the blue hens were killed off before their eggs hatched.

Another obvious argument would be that our tendency of interpreting blue feathers as more sexy than brown feathers, or big antlers as more impressive than no antlers, is biased. The male peacock clearly find the brown hen amazingly attractive.

Why is woman more ornamental?

As you probably have understood by now, I find this immensely fascinating, and again I am reminded of discussions I had when I was younger.

I guess it was the crossdreamer in me that had to ask the obvious question: If the male is the one with the colorful feathers, why is it that it is the human males who are grey and bland and the human females who are beautiful, colorful and have the more prominent curvy "ornaments"?

I admit I am a bit gynephiliacly biased here, but my impression is strengthened by the fact that in most cultures women also wear more ornamental and colorful clothes.

Believe it or not, but evolutionary biologists have taken the lack of male plumage seriously. Some of them argue that the human male ornament (the one used to impress the girls) is not their body but their brain. Men have developed huge brains to outsmart other men and thereby win their way into a girls heart. (No, I am not making this up!)

This immediately leads to the question: Why have females developed equally smart brains? Well, to appreciate the genetic quality of the male brain, of course!

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller puts it this way:

"If hominid females happened to develop a sexual preference for creative intelligence, then males with more creative intelligence would attract more sexual partners and would produce more offspring. Those offspring would inherit both the taste for clever courtship and the capacity for producing it. Over many generations, average creative intelligence in the lineage would increase rapidly, perhaps explaining why brain size tripled in just two million years."

Note that Miller doesn't make the obvious conclusion: that the females' have gotten bigger brains in order to attract males. Males are clearly not able to appreciate female intelligence! We go for tits and asses, and not for the woman's ability to help us raise our kids. So much for the big brain!

Seriously, I don't know where to begin...

Why am I telling you all this? Because we have to read all of this "authoritative" science for what it is: stories told by men and women like you an me: people who have their own hang-ups and prejudices.

Sexual differences

Let's get back on track:

Sexual selection theory find it hard to explain why some species have no or only small visible differences between the sexes (cp. penguins, sparrows or wolves). They normally explain this by saying that this happens when females lack a sense of aesthetics (!). This very argument does, of course, weaken the whole sexual selection theory.

For Roughgarden "sexual monomorphism" signals the absence of same-sex power cliques: "This should occur in ecological situations where the economically efficient coalition is the coalition of the whole," she says (p. 243).

Sex-role reversal

In some species we see sex-role reversal: The male provide more parental investment than the female.

This should not happen according to the sexual selection narrative. This narrative says that males should do less parenting, because the sperm is smaller than the egg (long story!). According to Roughgarden, this kind of natural feminism makes perfect sense. It is just another type of useful contract based on negotiations in that particular ecological niche.

Transgender animals

It is when Joan Roughgarden goes on to describe "gender multiplicity" it gets really interesting for a transgendered person. That's the topic of my next post.

Postscript on Joan Roughgarden

As I noted earlier, most scientist do not rock the boat. They do not challenge the ruling paradigm for a lot of reasons, the main one being probably that it was the dominant mentality or belief system of a discipline that attracted them to it in the first place.

That leads to the question of why Roughgarden has made such a radical stance.

I didn't read her own history until after having read The Genial Gene. Then it all became clear. Roughgarden is an M2F transsexual.

So far I haven't seen any serious attempts at debunking her theory on the basis of her personal history. It seems her position in the academic world is too strong for that to happen.

[Photo of Roughgarden: Nature]

She did not have to leave Stanford after her transition, partly because of strong support from Condoleezza Rice, the university provost. Yes, we are talking about the Condy Rice! Some times real life is much stranger than fiction.

Anyway, we must be as critical towards her science as we are towards the traditionalists. She openly admit that she has an agenda: to develop a theory with room for outsiders like gays and transsexuals. That might lead her to ignore findings that go against her theory of collaboration.

See also:
Roughgarden on transgender animals


Roughgarden, Joan: The Genial Gene, Berkely 2009. Click here for Google Books excerpt.
Nudging Darwin over the rainbow SFGate on Roughgarden

December 13, 2009

Samantha Zero on Autogynephilia

I have already presented Mr. A's vlog over at YouTube. He is discussing how he is handling this condition with his viewers, changing his understanding of autogynephilia in the process.

Samantha Zero, an M2F American living in Denmark, has responded to one of his videos with this interesting comment.

UPDATE: Samantha has now taken down this video. Too bad. It was really helpful!

December 10, 2009

Sex, gender and nature, part 1

First part in a series about sex, gender and nature. In this post I look at how science works and scientific ideas are shaped.

One thing I have learned from working on this blog is that as regards crossdreaming (offensively called "autogynephilia") and transgender conditions, you have to question everything, even the most basic knowledge taught in school.

And the more I read about the research done on these topics, the more it is clear to me that scientists are like the rest of us: caught by their own prejudices, fears and dreams.

The fact that something is published in a scientific journal does not mean that it is true. As regards the transgender topic, one scientific paper will say the exact opposite of another, which is as it should be, of course, for science is supposed to be a discourse between knowledgeable people of good will.

The main problem with transgender issues, however, is that they challenge the very basis biology, psychology and psychiatry are based on. This means that we not only have to discuss the merit of the individual research report, we must also question the the world view of that researcher -- i.e. the scientific paradigm, to use Thomas Kuhn's term.

Why the concept of autogynephilia makes transpeople mad

To give one obvious example: The debate on autogynephilia is full of angry words, hatred and despair. The reason for this is not primarily that Ray Blanchard, the man who coined the term, is arguing that it is useful to have a separate category for men who fantasize about being women, being that cross-dressers or cross-dreamers. Such a category may or may not be a useful one.

No. the main reason for all the strong feelings is that Blanchard starts out with two premises that have not yet been proven:

1. Such a condition is a paraphilia. It is unnatural.

2. There is no such thing as a woman trapped in a man's body. Transsexuals are men, and as such either homosexual or heterosexual.

Science as the objective truth

I guess there are those that would say that the reactions from the transgender community are mainly emotional and unscientific, even if they are understandable.

Many scientists would argue that if science concludes that many of the transgendered are "autogynephiliacs" and that this condition is a disease or a paraphilia, well, then the scientists cannot just rewrite their findings to avoid offending a small proportion of society.

In science the truth comes first, regardless how painful it may be. Instead the medical society should develop psychiatric treatments that can help the poor bastards back to a normal life.

This all makes sense. But (and this is a huge "but"!) what if the scientific findings are not based on a critical and unbiased exploration of the world? What if the relevant conclusions are not the result of the research itself, but instead are implicit in the very world view of the researchers themselves?

What if the researchers find what they set out to find, simply because they are unable to think outside their own box?

As for male to female crossdreaming (by them called "autogynephila"), it may be that Blanchard & Co are right about it being some kind of "target location error" and that there are two distinct types of transgender people (autogynephiliacs and "homosexual transsexuals"). My jury is still out on this.

[Update of 2013: The target location error the has been thoroughly debunked. Moreover, there are both female crossdreamers and gay and lesbian crossdreamers.]

Healthy heterosexuality

Nevertheless, it could also be that everything Blanchard and his followers do is to find confirmation for their initial world view, namely that there is one and only one natural and healthy sexuality: heterosexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

That is: Their conclusion could be nothing more than the effect of their basic world view. They would be like the night time drunk that kept looking for his lost keys under the lamp post, because that was the only place he was able to see anything.

This would imply that any sexual fantasy going outside the heterosexual pattern is interesting to them mainly because it is a deviation, a puzzle that has to be explained. Indeed, it does seem like Blanchard and Bailey never seriously question the world-view their theory is based on.

The way they insist on calling M2F classic transsexuals homosexual men is a clear indication of this. If they accept that these men are so feminine that they feel a strong need to change their sex, it should not be too hard to accept that they are in many ways "women trapped in men's bodies". After all, "feminine" means "womanly" or "the trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women".

But they cannot do that, as it would violate their belief that basic biology comes first. If it walks like a woman and talks like a woman, but used to have a penis between its legs, it is definitely a man, because that is how you classify the sex of mammals.

It's only human

You could argue that the reason Blanchard and Bailey believe in what we can call a "natural heterosexuality" could be found in their own cultural upbringing and the fact that disciplines like biology and psychiatry have been steeped in the same ideology.

No, I am not going to go all relativist and postmodernist on you! I have the deepest respect for science. Indeed, I am going to make active use of science in future blog posts. My point is that the scientific method does not stop researchers from being like all the rest of us. They have their prejudices and their hang-ups.

The scientific career has its price

Furthermore: In spite of what scientists may tell you, it is not always a good career move to question the very foundation your discipline is based on. If you do that, you question all the researchers that have gone before you, the very ones that right now control research funding and any chance you have for a promotion.

Moreover, if you want to produce the necessary number of peer reviewed papers, you need to take some facts for given. You cannot question everything all the time, so why not stick to the facts your colleagues agree on? After all, they are the peers in the peer review panels.

There is more than enough to disagree on anyway, to make your research interesting and to give you a standing in the scientific community.

The biological foundation for natural heterosexuality

So what are the basic tenets of "natural heterosexuality", this particular scientific ideology?

Well, these are the ones that makes it hard to believe that MTF crossdreaming can be anything but a "paraphilia", a disease and a perversion:

1. The basis for much of evolution is the battle of the sexes. Inheritable traits are selected through a process whereby females select the males with the best genes and mate with them.

2. There is an underlying premise that there exists some kind of "perfect" male: the one with the best genes. This male has to be aggressive to succeed in outperforming the other males, both through fighting and in order to impress the female.

3. Although there is variation in nature, and also between individual animals, it is given that each sex has one standard way of behaving that is common for all members of that sex and that is different from the behavior of the members of the other sex.

If these three premises were to be proved wrong, it would at least open up the possibility that transgender people in general should not be considered freaks of nature. Instead they could be explained as the result of natural variation. It would also force the scientist look for transgender roles that makes sense evolution wise.

This is why biology and zoology matters. Not because we can use animal behavior as a guide line for human ethics -- we cannot! -- but because these disciplines have the power to define what's natural and what's not.

Darwin and the roles of the sexes

This is what Darwin said about the roles of males and females (The Decent of Man):

"Throughout the animal kingdom, when the sexes differ in external appearance, it is, with rare exceptions, the male which has been the more modified; for, generally, the female retains a closer resemblance to the young of her own species, and to other adult members of the same group. The cause of this seems to lie in the males of almost all animals having stronger passions than the females. Hence it is the males that fight together and sedulously display their charms before the females; and the victors transmit their superiority to their male offspring...

"The female, on the other hand, with the rarest exceptions, is less eager than the male. As the illustrious Hunter long ago observed, she generally 'requires to be courted;' she is coy, and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male.... It is shewn by various facts, given hereafter, and by the results fairly attributable to sexual selection, that the female, though comparatively passive, generally exerts some choice and accepts one male in preference to others."

This narrative makes it extremely hard to understand and accept males that do not strive to become the alpha male, who are not trying to sire as many sons as possible, who are not attracted to females, or who - heavens forbid! -- act like a coy female.

It is interesting to see how hard biologists have worked to explain away homosexuality. How on earth can same-sex attraction exist, when the evolution of the species only reward "natural" sex that produces off-spring?

The very existence of homosexuality challenges basic beliefs within these sciences. No wonder it took time for homosexuality to be declassified as a perversion.

Even now a lot of scientists in this area probably believe they were forced to do so for political reasons, not because science proved them wrong.

As a matter of fact, most biologist continue to look at homosexuality among animals as an error, a kind of deception or -- at best -- as a way for one male to dominate another (in order to prevent the other guy from getting access to the girls, of course...).

Alternative paradigms

For transgender people and crossdreamers struggling with shame and low self-esteem caused by a society labeling them as perverts, it should therefore be of interest to know that this basic scientific paradigm -- the one about heterosexual relationships and fantasies being the only natural ones -- is being challenged, not only by gay and trensgender activists, but also by renowned scientists within these very disciplines.

There are alternative models for understanding sexuality and evolution that make equally much sense and that do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that all homosexuals and transpeople are generated by genetic errors or traumatic upbringings.

I am going to present one such scientist to you in a series of posts. Although I do not necessarily agree with all she has to say, she is one of the very few scientists living today that has actually changed my view of the world, and that says a lot. I am not easily impressed!

Joan Roughgarden will be the topic of my next post.

[Edit of March 2014: The offensive  terrm autogynephiliac has been replaced by crossdreamer, unless there is a clear reference to the theory of Blanchard.]

November 26, 2009

Anonymous 18 and autogynephilia

Questions from a young cross-dreamer.

I got the following email the other day:

"Hey, my name is [Anonymous 18]. Im an 18 year old kid and my whole life I have used the fetish that you talk about in your blog as a sexually arousing fantasy.

I am a regular guy (in my mind) and heterosexual but my whole life I couldnt shake the feeling that these sex dreams that I have are unhealthy.

Until recentlly I started doing research on the internet and was even convinced for a little while that I was a transgendered man and then I went a few weeks thinking that I would rather kill myself than have a sex reassignment surgery.

As soon as I found your site and other sites defining autogynephillia I was so releaved and surprised, however, that this term isn't spoken about amongst others who have it.

As a beginner in the A-G community I just want to know in your words how you feel about this term. What's your gender, age, lifestyle? Do you crossdress in public (which I think is weird)?Just to hear from someone else who has this and how they deal with it would be a relief for me. Thanks!"

I asked Anonymous 18 for permission to republish this email on the blog, for truth to be told, I do not feel qualified to be the only one giving him advice on such a tough topic. Those of you that have followed this blog, know that it is definitely more of an explorative nature than evangelical.

Love life of an autogynephiliac

Anyway, this is what I wrote back:

"It is great hearing from you! One of the reasons I started this blog was the fact that I found so little written by 'autogynephiliacs' out there, which made this so much harder to bear. The problem now is that the more I write and think about this the less I trust all the words we take for granted, words like fetish, unhealthy, perversions, unnatural etc. etc.

I believe that I have come to the conclusion that the basis for what we feel is quite natural. We are part of what Joan Roughgarden call 'Evolution's Rainbow' (good book by the way!). However, since most people do not know about the condition, nor how to understand it, we end up hiding us from the rest of the world, full of shame.

I believe that 'autogynephilia' is a useful term, even if I do not buy the explanations given by the people who coined it.

There seems to be two main types of 'autogynephiliacs': cross-dressers and what I call cross-dreamers (men who dream about having a woman's body). Many are both. I am a cross-dreamer. I tried cross-dressing. It didn't work for me, I am sorry to say (!), because cross-dressing is something open-minded women actually can understand and live with.

That is the good news for you at 18: There are many cross-dressers out there that live happily married lives with women they love. There are many women who are willing to live with a cross-dresser. And most of these cross-dressers live this way without going through a sex change. It seems to me that they often do not have to transition, as they get to know and accept their feminine side through cross-dressing.

For others, however, the urge to transition becomes so strong that they do it, maybe because they are classic transsexuals, "women trapped in men's bodies", or maybe for other reasons. I guess you yourself will have to find out what your needs are. It seems to me that you have already concluded that you feel no need to transition in real life, only in your fantasy life, which is fine with me!

I am in my early forties, living in Scandinavia. From the outside there is nothing to tell people that I feel what I feel, nor have I shared this with many of my friends. I suspect that I might have chosen differently if I lived in California, for instance. See Alice Dreger's book Alice in Genderland for an example of an autogynephiliac who has chosen another path (you can read the first chapters online for free) . Alice decided to search out the club scene in California and not only cross-dress in public, but to live a double life as a part-time woman dating men!

I guess my point is that even if this is a tough burden to bear, you have a lot of opportunities. You can turn this into something really good!"

Recommendations from a psychiatrist

Anonymous 18 has one great advantage compared to many of us "elders": He has grown up with the Internet and the possibility of discussing this strange phenomenon with others online. When I was at his age, I hadn't gotten my first computer yet, and the only thing I knew about transgender issues was the few articles I had read in the newspapers. They said, of course, nothing about autogynephilia.

Anonymous 18 has also taken the step of consulting a psychiatrist, which I think can be a sensible thing to do.

I know that many transgendered report about very bad experiences when it comes to psychotherapy. The reason for this is that there are as many bigoted and prejudiced people in that crowd as in any other. Still, if you find an open minded one, he or she may be of great help. The point is not to cure the autogynephilia, but to help the autogynephiliac come to terms with what this condition is.

The psychiatrist of Anonymous 18 is clearly one searching for an answer, as he or she recommended that A18 should ask people like us for advice!

The sex life of autogynephiliacs

Anonymous 18 asks:

"What's the sex life of an autogynephilliac like? I have never spoken to any and my psychiatrist recommended me to reach out to a few. This way I can clean myself of my insecurities. Are you heterosexual, homosexual? I have always felt attracted to women and have yet to have sex but I am beginning to think that these feelings may interfere in some way with my future sexual relationships.

The thing about sex that is real scary for me is that I am attracted to women's bodies but I can't 'get over the hill' unless the fantasy of myself becoming one is fantasies. So even in sex with a woman I would have to fantasies which would probably interfere with the sex."

This is where I need your help.

I think A18 and others like him would find it really helpful to get examples on how to live with this condition. When I read comments made on this blog and in other online fora, I know that opinions are divided on this issue.

Some argue that autogynephiliacs are too self-absorbed to make long term relationships work. Others report that they have managed to integrate this into their marriages. The other day I got a thank you mail from an autogynephiliac who told me had been reading from this blog to his wife. They are still together.

Here is my response:

"Yes, this is the case with autogynephiliacs. We are attracted to women (being heterosexual/gynephiliac), and can enjoy sex with women very much. However, the real turn on for an autogynephiliac -- even when being with a woman -- is the fantasy of being a woman yourself.

So the question is whether it is possible to integrate this fantasy life into a real sexual relationship with a woman.

Many autogynephiliacs report that they manage to do that, and there are as many explanations for this as there are happily married or partnered autogynephiliacs:

1. Some enjoy the role of the man as much as of the woman. They act out the role of the man with the woman and the role of the woman in privacy. The main problem here is that the cross-dressing or cross-dreaming may become dominant.

2. They integrate the role-playing into their sex life with their partner. I have heard of pairs where the man dreams of being the woman, and the woman of being the man! The woman takes the active role, and may even use a strap-on dildo on the man. Now, there may not be many 'androphiliac' women out there (we don't know), but there are many who wouldn't mind playing along -- at least from time to time.

3. They keep their autogynephilia secret, but fantasize about being the woman while being with their partner. This may be very frustrating in the long run.

4. It has to be said that a lot of relationships break up because of autogynephilia. Some therefore end up living alone. They cross-dress and cross-dream and leave it at that.

5. Some decide to go the whole way and undergo surgery. Many of them go on to live good lives together with a woman or a another transgendered. There is also a significant proportion that changes their sexual orientation throughout the hormone therapy/surgery and end up living with a man.

As for whether an autogynephiliac is truly heterosexual or homosexual, I have a feeling reality is more complicated than that. It seems most cross-dressers and cross-dreamers are heterosexual as men. Like you, they are attracted to women. In their fantasy-life however, when dreaming about being a woman, they may imagine themselves being with a man. I would say that they are heterosexual as women as well. However, the researchers that coined the term autogynephilia deny this."

To transition or not to transition

Anonymous 18 is worried that he would end up having a sex change. There are quite a few autogynephiliacs who would say that would be a good thing. A18 does not:

"The scariest thing about being autogynaphiliac and being aware of it at such a young age is that it seems like most 'happy ending stories' involve other autogynephilliac men who eventually have sex changes. And I have no desire to transition at all, however, it seems to be a 1 way road. I'm crossed between my real life where I am happy living my life as a guy and my odd sexual desire to be a woman. In the end it's like living two very different lives and it's just difficult to ensure that I am going to win the battle.

What is your sexual orientation as an autoginaphiliac?"
My response:

My sexual orientation is gynephilic male. In real life I am attracted to women and women only. And yes, I have been with the same woman for more than 10 years!

She doesn't know everything about my autogynephilia and since I am not a cross-dresser it isn't all that visible. But she knows that I am somewhat different than other men and doesn't seem to mind.

I believe my feminine side was what she found attractive in the first place.

It isn't easy to be an autogynephiliac, but don't let anyone tell you that you cannot have a fruitful love life! It is possible, if you find the right woman. Needless to say, you may be in for quite a few disappointments before you find her -- but then again, that is true for all men, not only autogynephiliacs."

Do you have any advice for A18?


Since this blog post was written I have stopped using the terms "autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia" to describe people. The reason for this is that the terms implicitly communicates an explanation for why some people get aroused by imagining themselves as the opposite sex . This explanation, that this is some kind of autoerotic paraphilia,  is both wrong and stigmatizing. Instead I use the neutral term "crossdreamers".

Click here for a discussion of the dark side of the autogynephilia theory.

November 7, 2009

I Wish I Was a Girl

The Internet is a very interesting place, indeed. When searching for material to use in this blog, I came across a relevant question over at Is it Normal.

(Is it Normal? is a site where you can find out if other people think about your thoughts and your practices.)

The question goes like this:

"When I'm alone, I sometimes wish I was a girl. I'd want to do it just for the experience and answer the unknow questions about them. Then turn back, write a book, get rich."

To be honest, I think this person is looking for more than a new source of income. However, it is the answers that fascinates me. Yes, there are a few sane responses, but the hatred found among some of the others is disturbing:

One has a very practical approach. You can fix this:

"If you think you are a girl then you have a social problem or a psychological one like personality disorder. I suggest you seek professional help. It's amazing how fast they cure people. All you have to do is communicate your problem to them."

I have so far heard of no one who has been cured of such fantasies.

"Raptor Jesus" gets right to the point:

"I'll rape you either way"

That's interesting, as it means that this TG-hater subconsiously would consider having sex with a transwoman!

"Vagina King" is also pretty clear:

"Your a f**king crazy ass. Sounds like the only way you'll ever be happy is if you kill yourself."

Fortunately, the question also brought up some positive responses:

"I want to be a girl too! It would be easier to spend all my time around girls, I could do sleepovers and stuff, just imagine, sleeping at a hot girls house with like 10 other girls around all in pink pajamas and stuff, that would be awesome."


"My point is, its ok to live the other gender, this is 2009! Thats why people do these kind o things...there is nothing wrong with it...just have fun, enjoy who you are or wish to be on any given day and be safe. "

Fortunately, there were also some girls telling their stories:

"sh*t you made me feel like being a girl sucks :( but I think I would make a bad guy... I'd get boners in horrible places like funerals."

"Neuroticism" seems a little bit confused to me. I am not sure whether she is condemning or supporting:

"I would love to be a guy for a month, because I have penis envy. I want to know how they think, why they think so differently from us, why they think their role in life is worse than ours because they're forced to play the society's 'you're not a man if you...'

(Some men think that, not all).

It's just a perverse morbid curiousity that'll never be fulfilled. I'd have fantasties on it, my friend, but unless you want to, don't cross-dress. However, I take pride in men who cross dress because being a girl and wearing all that sh*t is just a hassel, it's not functional or practical (for me). Nothing wrong with it."

There is a similar question over at Yahoo! Answers, with much more constructive responses. It could be that Yahoo! is able to sort out the crackpots in a better way.

So what can we learn from this?

1. Cross-gender fantasies are highly controversial and may bring out hatred and disgust in some people.

2. Quite a few forum participants are open to the idea, and questions like these also lure transgendered people out in the open.

3. A lot of people are veeeery confused. To be expected, I suppose!

October 28, 2009

The Hero and the Princess (Should Autogynephilia be Treated?)

I need your help again!

One of my readers have added an interesting comment to one of my previous post. The comment is about an hormone treatment aimed at reducing his libido (sex drive) and through that his feminization fantasies.

Have any of you been offered such a treatment or any other treatment for autogynephilia, and would you care to share your experience? Moreover, do you think autogynephilia should be treated as disorder or disease?

The comment

"What would be interesting is some research into treatment options for sufferers of autogynephilia. A treatment option I use is to take low dose female hormones via my doctor. 25mg patches. This does seem to to keep my GID [Gender Identity Disorder] under control. The low dose hormone works well and keeps my head clear.

I have fully confessed my autogynephilia to both my care givers who seem to feel this is a good treatment option for me.

I guess I'm allergic to my own testosterone or its own natural levels are to high for me. My autogynephilia demands that I feminise myself, whilst doing so I'm also damping the nasty nagging of autogynephilia.

The desire does not go completly but it's easier to deal with. I have had a six month break from hormones (after 2 years) , and the autogynephilic desires are back stronger than ever.

I'm fighting with myself as to what to do, either go back on the patches and accept a more feminine lifestyle or battle with myself as a male.

The autogynephilic demon is offering me the ability to obtain my life long desire of feminisation. But at the same time something which is so desirable for me is also so very frightening."

A disease or something natural?

Here is my comment:

Actually, there isn't much online regarding treatment for autogynephilia, nor is there any agreement on whether this is a disorder that actually requires treatment.

Although I am not completely sure, I have become more and more convinced that autogynephilia is an expression of a natural phenomena, not a disease.

Some men have some kind of mix of female and male traits, and their feminine side expresses itself through cross-dressing and/or erotic fantasies of having a woman's body.

I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice. As a fellow autogynephiliac, though, I find it strange that you seem to think that your autogynephilia is caused by some kind of testosterone overdose.

You have clearly a strong sex drive (which is not unnatural) , and being an autogynephiliac it is quite natural that this libido is channeled into fantasies of this kind. This is the case for me as well. Had I been a "normal" man I would have fantasized about "normal" sex, and no doctor would have found that strange or worrying.

Overwhelming feelings

Still, I do understand that these feelings can at times get so overwhelming, dominating and frightening, that it may seem that the only way to get a normal life is to go for a mild form of hormone or drug treatment (e.g by using female hormones to reduce the sex drive, but not to generate a transition to womanhood).

I wonder if it would be better to go to some kind of open-minded psychologist instead, not to get cured of your autogynephilia, but to get a sound outlet for your anxiety and fears. This might help you get a better understanding of yourself and help you find peace with your feminine side.

Personally I have found that I have learned more from facing my demons, and from integrating the seemingly "nasty" side of my own psyche into my own personality. I have also learned that by facing my shadow side -- i.e. the parts of my own personality that may seem negative and frightening --- I have become a more complete person and, I believe, a better person.

The Hero's Journey

I believe thinkers like Carl Gustav Jung and Joseph Campbell are right when they say that the stories, myths and fairy tales about heros battling trolls and dragons, are really about our own struggle with repressed desires.

The hero has to confront these desires and come to terms with them (kill the dragon).
When he does so, the psychic energies are let loose. The wasteland again becomes fertile and the hero gets his princess.

That is: What seemed to be something dangerous and negative, turned out to be something good - the life force itself. We have to change our attitude towards that life force in order to get access to it.

You are the hero of your own life, but it seems to me that your helpers are actually stopping you from coming to terms with your feminine side, and that might be a mistake.

Giving your desires form

Two years ago I was completely overwhelmed with the desire for feminization. I had suppressed this side of me for so long, that I was no longer able to keep the flood back. Hadn't it been for the fact that I knew quite a lot about psychic processes, I would probably have feared for my own sanity.

I did understand what was going on, though, so instead of repressing these desires, I let them find their expression by writing down the fantasies. I guess other art forms or talk therapy could have worked equally well.

Then I started this blog, in order to talk with other autogynephiliacs like you and in order to develop a language that might make what was happening make more sense.

Now, two years later, the feelings are no longer overwhelming. The fantasies are still there (and probably always will be), but they no longer stop me from having a "normal" life. I am determined to continue working with my autogynephilia, not to kill my "inner princess" but to accept her as a natural part of myself.

Whether this means that I will go for sex reassignment, I don't know. And whether you should seriously consider a sex change is not for me to say either, as that would depend on your unique life situation, which I do not know.

I seriously think that you should take the hero's journey, though, battle your dragon and get to know your princess. It is best to have someone around to help you on that journey, because it can be very hard indeed. Find an understanding loved one, an open-minded therapist or a non-condemning spiritual adviser to talk to!


Since this blog post was written I have stopped using the terms "autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia" to describe people. The reason for this is that the terms implicitly communicates an explanation for why some people get aroused by imagining themselves as the opposite sex . This explanation, that this is some kind of autoerotic paraphilia,  is both wrong and stigmatizing. Instead I use the neutral term "crossdreamers".

Click here for a discussion of the dark side of the autogynephilia theory.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!