September 19, 2009

Trapped in a too narrow view of human sexuality

Blanchard, who coined the term "autogynephilia", wrote about two types of transsexuals: homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals. (See previous posts!)

Although I see that there may be more than one type of transgendered, I find these terms very confusing, as his terms are based on the male identity of the male to female transgendered.

You can only call a male to female (M2F) transsexual that is attracted to men for "gay" if you believe that she (he?) really is a man. After all, if she truly is a woman she is a heterosexual.

Blanchard and Freund do offer an alternative terminology, that avoids this confusion:

For homosexual men, the preferred erotic target is mature men, an erotic preference called androphilia (a opposed to gynephilia, an attraction to women).

[Andro=male, gyne=female, filia=love of]

I like this terminology, as it can be used for both women and men, transwomen and transmen, and still make sense.

Feminine androphile male to female transsexuals then are, according to Blanchard & Co, not victims of a "target location error". They are basically "healthy" homosexuals.

But they are not women, whatever they might feel.

They may ask for sex reassignment surgery, but they remain homosexual men also after the surgery.

This one of the major problems with Blanchard's theory. To him male to female transsexuals are either heterosexual or homosexual men, as their biological sex cannot change. They remain men regardless of how they feel or how much estrogen is running through their veins.

This is the kind of terminology that makes me really frustrated, not because it is hard to understand -- it is pretty simple really -- but because it so clearly masks the complexity of both sex (the biological part) and gender (the identity part) sides of being a man or a woman.

If this binary system of gay and straight is the starting point for your thinking, you will -- as a researcher -- be incapable to even see any of the many phenomena that might enrich or challenge your understanding of transgendered people. It is impossible, because the theory won't allow it.

This says a lot about science, really, because the traditional view of all science as being objective and evidence based clearly has no factual basis.

In many ways Blanchard & Co try to be objective and look at their findings in a disinterested way. I mean, you have to be pretty brave to forward politically incorrect opinions of this kind, and in one way I admire that kind of bravery. They are definitely not letting the feelings of transsexuals get in the way of their line of enquiry. I can actually accept that.

The problem is that their interpretation of their research based "facts" is restricted by a very narrow view of what it means to be human. So narrow in fact, that I am afraid they do much more harm than good.

I believe the physicist Thomas Kuhn once said that great scientific revolutions were only possible when the previous generation of scientists went to their grave. The reason for this, he argued, was that very few scientist were unable to think outside their own box, belief system or "paradigm" as Kuhn called it.

For that to happen, there had to be a challenge so great that the scientists were unable to find satisfactory solutions to their research questions inside the ruling way of thinking.

One should think that the growing visibility of transsexual men and women should offer science an exciting new challenge that made the researcher look at traditional concepts in a new way. Just think about it: Here you have men who first love women and who after they have gone through a sex change become attracted to men!

How amazing is that?! I mean, it should be totally clear that you need a revision of concepts like straight and gay, right? Well, not according to this school.

Think of what we could learn about what it means to be a man or a woman by studying their lives and their experience. Instead the researchers end up pigeonholing them into old categories that no longer make any sense. What a waste!


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.


  1. Hi Jack,

    I appreciate your blog, and it's reassuring to discover others with feelings like mine. I'm not just attracted to women - I admire women as role models. I'm as fascinated by female culture and socialization as I am by the things most men like about women. I see myself in some of Blanchard's autogynephilia, but my impulses do not end with sexuality. I want to relate to women not just as lovers but as peers. In social situations, I wish I could sit and talk as "one of the girls."

    I'm bisexual, and until I learned about autogynephilia, I called myself a "mental transvestite." Where a transvestite wears women's clothes as a means of feeling feminine, I would focus on my idea of how women think and perceive the world - including female heterosexuality. The more I told myself I prefer men, the more feminine I felt - which was just what I wanted. This created cognitive dissonance because, like other commenters on your blog, I fancy women. Men just don't turn my head like women do. However, the more feminine I feel, the better I like men.

    I have recently begun to experiment with other forms of feminine expression - mild crossdressing, and reading blogs like this one. I still consider myself bisexual, but now I realize that gender, not sexuality, is where my itch resides. I don't know if I'm a crossdresser, a transsexual, or something I've yet to define. But I wanted to mention that autogynephilia (if that's what I have) does not always focus on having a woman's body.


  2. When I see discussions about Transexuals in non-transexual type communities, is there is often debate about what gender is. Scientists will always see the gender that your chromosomes give XX or XY. This is a classification that can't be avoided. The problem I often see people saying the chromosome determines whether the person is "techincally" a man or woman. So usually the discussion goes as to one thing being sex, and the other thing being gender. We are obsessed with classifying things- after all, each of us has a name. I just avoid all of that. The things we classify have no obligation to conform to whatever expectations we have of them.

    My own point of view on the whole situation, is that children inherit traits from their parents. He has his mothers nose, or she has her fathers eyes. I don't see it as a stretch to say that a child can inherit personality traits of either parent. This hypothesis easily explains our...challenge in life: we would have inherited some traits from our mothers instead of our fathers (that is assuming our fathers didn't already carry these traits). But the problem with that hypothesis is that is seems to suggest that there would be a lot more people who are gay/bi and a lot more people who are not in the "right" body.

    I have my own ideas about that, but something to keep in mind is that "man" and "woman" are one of the very first stereotypes we are taught as children. You have to be very aware to over come preconceived notions of how we are supposed to act and feel.

  3. I take a lot of exception to Blanchard (and Bailey for that matter) using the Autogynephilia model to describe transsexuals in general.

    First of all, the Autogynephilia hypothesis suffers from being irrefutable. In essence, a TS who denies what Blanchard et. al. project on them is assumed to be lying - either to themselves or their therapist. (Bailey's work in particular underscores this point) It is a poor model indeed that has to rely on declaring someone's personal narrative invalid in order to sustain itself.

    Second, the choice of language - in particular the suffix "philia" casts the condition in much the same light as the various sexual paraphilias described in the DSM. Yet few transsexuals describe their need to transition solely in terms of their sexuality. In fact, if it were primarily a sexual paraphilia, I think the management of transsexual cases would be quite different than it is today.

    My third criticism of the hypothesis is that it only applies to MTF transsexuals, and does not describe FTM transsexualism at all. This is profoundly limiting and, in my view, nearly fatal to the validity of the concept. (I have found no literature talking about "autoandrophilia")

    While I am sure that there are some for whom the concept of being female is inherently erotic, I think I would have to suspect that they would find transition itself very difficult to sustain over time because so little of real life is focused on the erotic. The current WPATH Standards of Care recommend a path of treatment that such people are unlikely to be able to successfully execute.

    Personally, I believe that the current models which distinguish gender and sexual identities from each other describe the breadth of gender and sexual identity far more effectively on the whole, and leave room for combinations that few would ever think to articulate.

    Please recognize that I speak to this as a transwoman - and my personal experience very much influences my understanding of the subject.

  4. To Tiresias:

    I agree, autogynephilia does not always has to focus on having a woman's body. Even Blanchard, who coined the term, believed as much, as he added crossdressers to the mix. He was, of course, totally focused on the sexual aspect. I, on the other hand, find your idea of mental crossdressing very interesting!

    To Pyjamaperson:

    If gender was the result of various mixes of genetic traits inherited from the father and mother, independent of the biological sex, you should expect a lot more feminine men and masculine women. Some of this uneven distribution of gender orientation among biological men (i.e. that most men consider themselves masculine) could be explained by culture and upbringing, but not all of it. My take on this -- at least for the time being -- will be that statistically speaking, a majority of "mixes" do not lead to a conflict between sex and gender, but that some do. Why this is so, is not known.

    To MgS:

    I find two uses of the word androphilia, one of which is about women fantasizing about being men ( see ). The term is also used by Lawrence, but then to designate gay males who impersonates other men (see )

    I agree that distinguishing gender and sexual identities from each other is very useful, analytically speaking, although I see that it is often hard to keep the two apart. It is hard to define the dividing line between what is biology and what is culture.


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