January 18, 2010

The Autogynephilia Debate 2: On Mr. A

This is the story about a video blog on autogynephilia and the reaction of transsexual activists. I also dare asking the question of whether AGP transsexuals can be called "real women".

Mr. A's controversial video blog

Over at YouTube, a 18 year old young man, who we will refer to as Mr. A, has established a video blog on autogynephilia. He is from the new generation of Internet savvy youngsters who use the social web to find themselves, helping others like him in the process. I admire his openness and his bravery -- you can feel his confusion and pain -- and the fact that he invite others to help him understand what he is going through.

[Update: The videoblog has been removed.]

Unfortunately, some TS activists cannot even stomach that someone uses the very word "autogynephiliac". Still, it is hard to attack an 18 year old male that admits to being transphobic while at the same time feels the urge to become a woman, and at first their protests didn't gain much traction.

If you watch his vlogs, it is pretty clear that his condition cannot be reduced to some innocent fetish -- a man that gets off by wearing women's clothes. It is clear that his whole identity as a man (or woman) is at stake, and that his gender dysphoria is as real as it is for any classic transsexual. So for a while he was able to publish his musings about his life and autogynephilia unmolested.


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.

Samantha Zero as a role model

Mr. A even managed to get an absolutely wonderful video comment from Samantha Zero, a M2F vlogger who has made a lot of insightful videos about transitioning. To me her video was a revelation, because here is a transwoman that openly admits that she had had autogynephile fantasies before transitioning (i.e. having sexual fantasies about becoming a woman) but who does not fit the stereotypes of autogynephiliac women presented by for instance Michael Bailey.

Samanta Zero is a young, intelligent and beautiful woman that could be a role model for may autogynephiliacs who wonder about transitioning. The problem is, of course, that she does not fit the traditional TS narrative. Nor does she identify as a transsexual. Given her intelligence, charisma and enthusiasm that seemed to make her video a threat.

Mr. A walks into a minefield

At this point Mr. A made the mistake the activists needed. He prematurely made a video presenting his own theory of autogynephilia. I am probably partly to blame for this, as he had found many of the elements of his theory here on this blog.

When presenting the theories of Blanchard & Co, I have probably not been clear enough about what are their ideas as opposed to mine or alternative views on autogynephilia.

A transgender/transexual continuum?

The essence of his thinking deserves further discussion, however.

He tries to make sense of the two types of transpeople presented above, by arguing that they represent different mixes of gender orientation. Hence a "primary transsexual" could, according to him, be about 75 to 100 percent female, while the "secondary transsexual" (the autogynephiliac) is about 50 to 75 percent female. (Let's not get hung up in the numbers. They are nothing more than guesstimates on his part.)

He writes:

"Secondary transsexuals have a weaker feminine side. They would benefit from transition but would still remain very self conscious about their femininity. He may also chose to continue living as an Autogynephiliac with a 'transvestic fetich'.

Primary transsexuals according to this theory would benefit much more from transition. It would remove the dysphoria which they feel towards their masculine bodies and would go on to live as very comfortable and feminine women." (Quote from his YouTube video-presentation)

All right. He seems to argue that there is a continuum between autogynephiliacs and what I have called "classic transsexuals". That has not been proved in any way, but is a possibility. I, for one, is exploring that avenue, although I think that if there is such a continuum, we are talking about two clearly identifiable, but overlapping clusters of people.

Among scientist who have argued for a continuum between various forms of gender variations we find James Weinrich and Harry Benjamin.

Pure and unclean transsexuals

But there are some TS activists who cannot stand that idea. They are not even willing to discuss it. It seems to threatens the purity of their own femininity. They do not want any ambiguity as to what being a woman means, and most of all: they do not want to be associated with autogynephiliacs, mostly because they consider us perverts.

And Mr. Autogynephiliac used a type of language in his presentation that made it easy to shoot down. In general his use of terminology reflected the confusion he so courageously had presented in his other video blogs. But it is one thing to talk about your personal experience and beliefs, another thing to present something that looks like a scientific theory. The rules of the games change.

In one bullet point he said that "Gender dysphoria=Transgender=Transvestism", in spite of the fact that he elsewhere in the same presentation he makes it perfectly clear that he means that transgender issues encompasses much more than transvestism (i.e. crossdressing).

Next he used the words "male" and "homosexual transsexuals" when describing what he calls "primary transsexuals". Having discussed this with him, I know that he meant nothing more than that these persons were biologically male before transitioning, which is true, but when he uses these terms while referring to Blanchard most readers who have read Blanchard will believe that Mr. A share all of Blanchard's ideas.

Blanchard does not, as my regular readers will know, accept that classical transsexuals are women in any sense of the word. They are feminine homosexual men and nothing more. The gist of Mr. A's presentation, however, leads to the conclusion that they are, in fact, women in a man's body, but his terminology seems to indicate that they are men.

In this respect the flame war that followed is understandable. Mr. A had presented his theory too early and had not worked hard enough on his typology. He even used the word "fetish" to describe autogynephilia, not understanding that this word makes it impossible to argue that autogynephilia is another type of gender dysphoria. No transsexual, classic or otherwise, would like to hear that they have transitioned because of a fetish only.

Samantha Zero removes her video

Samantha Zero was furious and took down her video, which is a terrible shame, because it could have made a huge difference, especially for young autogynephiliacs, but I am afraid there is no way she will put it up again.

In her response to Mr. A she strongly recommended that he made "more statements that start with 'I think', "I feel', 'I believe, instead of 'you should', 'you are', or 'if you'" She made it totally clear that she is not a man, no matter what sort of label anyone would like to impose upon her. She was right on all points.

Promoting dialog as opposed to ideological warfare

Still, I cannot help thinking that it must be possible to treat an 18 year old man with the respect he deserves, and give him constructive advice instead of calling him and idiot that should shut up. (These are my words, but they do in fact sum up many of the comments from some of the activists pretty well, Samantha not included).

The reason I am worried is not that the activists criticize the video of Mr. A, but the way they are doing it. There is a pattern here, and here are some of the techniques they are using online,at his vlog and elsewhere:

Master suppression techniques

First, they label anyone who does not have a thorough knowledge of their own favorite literature as ignorants who do not have the right to offer an opinion on this topic. They argue that arguments must be based on science. Strangely enough, the only science who makes it into their libraries is the type that supports their own point of view.

Second, they argue that only transsexuals themselves have the right to make arguments about what it is like to be a transsexual. This would mean, that I, as a man, should have no opinion about women, or that a liberal should offer no view on what makes a conservative tick. Of course I can never fully understand how it is to be a M2F transsexual, but to the extent their lives are relevant to mine, I must at least try to empathize.

Third, they either deny that autogynephiliacs exist (i.e. that Mr. A and me are misled or lying) or that we are nothing but fetishists. That is, they are not even willing to discuss the possibility of there being another type of transpeople than their own. Note the irony in all this: M2F transsexual women who deny others the right to define their lives, feel no qualms about defining the lives of autogynephiliacs.

Fourth, they seem to believe that any statement on transgender issues is to be interpreted as an article of faith, and not as an intervention in an ongoing debate. The truth is that we know remarkable little about sex and gender in general, not to speak about transgender issues, which means that we all should show a little humility when discussing such issues. This applies to Mr. A as well as his opponents.

In some cases they also threaten with what I will call "online violence". In my case it was destroying my blog.

In the debates I have seen all of Berit Ås' Master Suppression Techniques (Norwegian hersketeknikker, directly translated as "rule" or "domineer techniques") used against autogynephiliacs and also by transsexual women against other transwomen. This has to stop!

What can we do about it?

For those of us who do communicate online about autogynephilia the question is what we can do about this. I am not going to look over my shoulder every time I publish a post, being afraid of another hateful attack. I spent nine years in school being bullied for being a weirdo, and I am sick of it.

On the other hand I really believe that these people have life experiences and ideas I and other autogynephiliacs can learn from, which is why I think a complete breakdown in communications will not benefit anyone, not even them.

So what can we do?

First, I think we have to draw a line somewhere, and that line goes against what I have called online violence. We are not going to accept threats of reporting our sites to ISPs or the owners of our publishing platforms (Blogger, Wordpress, YouTube etc.) We will not be censored! If anyone of you are threatened this way, let me know. There are proper procedures for handling such complaints.

Second, I believe we should be pretty liberal about what we accept as comments at our own sites. Unless we are talking about pure hate-posts and abuse, I believe we should let anyone speak their mind. Anyway, their posts say as much about them as they say about autogynephiliacs.

Third, we should not accept as a rule that we cannot link to their sites. If they make a great point about a theme that is of relevance to us, we should be able to link to it in a blog post. I, for one, want to hear what they have to say. This is what web communication is about. If they asks us to be removed from resource pages, link collections and blogrolls, however, I believe we should respect that request.

Continues in Part 3.


  1. On a differnent AGP subject matter I was wondering if the use of she male porn is common umungst AGP people. As a form of enacting out the fantasy by proxy imagining you are the she male, who is after all in some cases living out the AGP fantasy? Thoughts.

  2. Following on from my above comment about she male porn. A while ago I found a You Tube video of a post tranition TS (pre op) who confessed such an interest prior to treatment. She said she was addicted to fantasising over such pornography. After hormone treatment and social transition she was very happy. Prior to this she was very traumatised about this as it was making her unhappy. Not sure if the video is still up.

  3. Jack,

    I think the biggest thing to note is that we all know way too little on this subject and can only talk about our own experiences and what we are doing based on these experiences.

    I have met a couple TS who I would say probably fit the AGP pattern yet are happily transitioned. I do not think transition is a good idea for AGPs in general but.. *shrug* I have even met AGPs who are "stealth" as women.

    In general, what I am trying to do is be part of helping people figure out what is the best route for themselves as I meander down what I feel is the best route for myself.

    I also want to be an intelligent voice in helping to define when a person who was born male needs to transition and live as a women and what caring for gender confused children should be like. Those are issues I care a lot about because they are quality of life issues that would have definitely impacted my life.

    I am not a member of some elite club.. I just bring my life to the table and I like to think I do it honestly. In general I am a very kind person but I am not above anger. But fundamentally, I am just here as a human being.

    Thanks for your work :)

  4. You wrote: "When presenting the theories of Blanchard & Co, I have probably not been clear enough about what are their ideas as opposed to mine or alternative views on autogynephilia."

    That would probably help. Keep in mind, however, that because of the way autogynephilia is defined by its originator and designed to undermine the identities of transsexual women (AG is a little vague on FTM transsexualism), it's going to have some negative baggage no matter how you try to define it.

    You mention "classic transsexuals," which gives me a pretty good idea of the kind of feedback you've been getting. There has been a diversion of thought lately between "classic transsexualism" and genderqueer thought, with some of us settling somewhat down the middle.

    I'll attach a few links here. I'll warn you, they're mostly long articles, but feel free to have a look and think about them.

    You mention the idea of a continuum of gender variance -- I've had a few thoughts on that (and AG) at:

    There are some serious flaws in the way "fetish" (i.e. as paraphilia) is used and how it gets applied to any trans-related diagnosis or mode of thought, discussed here: http://dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/fetish-the-other-f-word/

    A bit about self-definitions and how they sometimes divide: http://dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/rocky-horror-and-the-holy-grail-or-the-problem-with-defining-to-exclusion/

    And tying it all together with a bit more clarity about "fetish:" http://dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/risky-thinking/

    I should let you know (because the mentions of it may otherwise seem confusing) that between the first of those articles and the later ones, I reversed my decision on having surgery for personal reasons (more of that to follow at a later time).

    I'm not partial to the theory of autogynephilia. I do think that categorization can be seen as an overcomplicated pathologization of something that is naturally-occurring in some people, in the same way that "nymphomania" was once created to make all women ashamed of any sexual desire they may have had. Cisgender (non-transgender) women certainly have moments of wanting to dress up and look exciting -- I think the biggest difference here has to do with the amount of testosterone in the body, plus a bit to do with socialization (i.e. male-raised people developing such an emphatic dependence on the sense of sight).

    Anyway, have a look through the links. Feel free to disagree if you want, but there might be some things in there to reflect on, and certainly it'll give you another side of the "classic transsexual" vs. everything else conflict happening.

  5. You are a sort of operative, aren't you Jack? Your postings follow a pattern and you have a very pointed agenda. You should try to make your next effort a little less obvious. Be careful with this one people.

  6. Mercedes! Thank you very much for the links. This is very helpful, indeed. I will probably include most of them in my resource section.

    To ariablue:

    Yes, I do have an agenda, and you are right when you point out that I have a plan for my posting.

    This plan is no secret, though.

    My overall goal is to help myself an other autogynephiliacs develop a language or a narrative that helps us understand ourselves in a better way. I hope that such a narrative may remove some of the stigma attached to this condition, so that we ultimately can find some kind of peace with ourselves, and through that be able to live better lives with those we love.

    Although I find the category of AGP useful -- because we do exist! -- I find Blanchard and Bailey's tendency of labeling us (as well as others) as paraphiliacs very problematic.

    It is not that I do not see that autogynephiliacs often struggle with mental illnesses (depressions, obsessions or even fetish-like behavior), but based on my own experience and the experience of others I have been in contact with, I see that our condition cannot be reduced to being a perversion or a fetish. Nor can I see that Blanchard has any proof whatsoever for his idea that autogynephiliacs are internalizing their external love object, being -- in fact -- nothing but self-obsessed narcissists.

    There is an underlying cause for all this, and that is what I am trying to explore here.

    As for future postings, I have the following plan, and given time I hope I will be able to carry it through:

    1. I will finish my series on Roughgarden, as I think she has developed a narrative that allows for a broader view of sex and gender issues.

    2. I will try to describe different alternative interpretations of what we know about autogyenphilia, not because I can prove that they are more true than the one delivered by Blanchard, but in order to show that his is not the only one that fits the "facts".

    3. I will go deeper into current biological and evolutionary research on sex and gender, again in order to show that alternative narratives are possible.

  7. continued...

    4. I will make a few posts on how other cultures have integrated the existence of what I (for a lack of better words) call transgender and transsexual people. I am especially interested in the Inanna cult of Sumeria and the "twin souls" of some Native American tribes. This is not because I believe that these people were autogynephiliacs, but because they remind us that our categorization should not be taken for granted.

    I am _not_ going to discuss the lives of "classic" transsexual women in any depth. From the latest discussions, I see though, that there might be a need to go more into the lives of "post-autogynephile post-op transsexual women" (God, I hate this term! We have to find a better one!), but only if I get input from some of these women themselves.

    Apart from that, I might make posts based on comments from the readers of this blog. I have one in the pipeline on a survey of autogynephiliacs made in the 90's.

    As for my interactions with other bloggers, I have I dialog going with Susanne over at My Husband is an Autogynephiliac and Mr. Autogynephilia over at YouTube. Apart from that I have made posts at a few other blogs, including your own.

    Your latest post over at your blog (http://ariablue.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/interim-post/) may be interpreted to mean that my blog is part of an coordinated effort to "damn the physiological basis of transsexualism".

    Let me assure you, that that is not the case. I strongly believe there is a biological basis for transsexualism, and I believe "classic" transsexual women are exactly what they claim to be: women - no "buts" involved.

    What may be a controversial move, though, is that I have come to believe that there is some kind of biological basis for the condition underpinning autogynephilia as well.It is impossible to prove this, given the current state of research, but it is at least a topic that deserves a thorough discussion.


  8. Jack,

    What would be truly helpful is a glossary of terms. Especially the acronyms (AGP, HSTS, etc...). Also, most people new to these subjects don't know the difference between transgendered and transexual so their definitions would be nice (don't sex and gender mean the same thing?).

    It looks like most transexuals don't like being included in the transgender camp.



  9. This sort of ideological purity regarding transgender phenomenon, to the point of threatening to REMOVE open debate, positively frightens me.

    These threats remind me of aspects of fascist mass movements, not of open debates in an open society.

    I hope you will continue to publish your blog, as I continue to attempt to understand myself and others.


  10. 1. nobody HAS to take down a youtube video from negative comments, you can turn off commenting (unless they were threatening to flag the video, and possibly get her account deleted. youtube doesn't have the time to discuss legitimacy of complaints. if there are enough of them, they will take action without recourse).
    2. I don't understand why any group, who they themselves are persecuted, would attack another (somewhat) similar group when they themselves are struggling just as they are? It's almost like blacks against blacks (you blacks over there stealing and murdering are giving us law abiding blacks a bad name). That or possibly comparing us to that movie "soul man" where the rich kid pretends to be black so he can get a free scholarship since his parents won't pay tuition, then gets caught, and the lesson he learns is that he can never truly know what it is to be black and feel racism, because he could take his mask off whenever he wanted to. Perhaps this is similiar hatred, as transgendered folk look at us like "oh, you just dress up and become female whenever you want, and when the heels hurt or you want the higher paying job as a man, you just take off the mask when it's convenient.

    just my 2 cents

  11. My take is that the classical transexuals feel that they have always been women. They have felt that way since birth (or soon after). They don't want to be lumped in with the transgendered because once you're in that group the psychiatrists start finding other explanations for their behavior like AGP, HSTS, etc... And to a classical transexual who has always been a woman with a birth defect (either corrected or not) this is unacceptable.

    I don't think most transexuals are upset by this. But the ones that do are very vocal. But I can see their point and I agree with them.

    I'm an engineer by trade and I know that for most problems there are more than one acceptable solution. A corollary is that there is more than one path to being a true transexual. Some realize it from birth. Some don't make the connection until puberty, and others may not realize it until much later.

    There is also a sliding scale to how much of a transexual someone is. On that scale are classical transexuals, TS's that don't make the connection until puberty, AGP's, HSTS's, etc...



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