April 23, 2010

Genes, hormones, sex and gender identity

What does modern biology tell us about sex and gender? I have done some reading for you.

When working on my blog posts on Gilmartin's love shy male lesbians, I realized that I have never really tried to get to the bottom of what modern biology has to say about sex and gender.

In my post on What brain science says about M2F transsexuals I presented some recent research on various nuclei (brain sectors) that may or may not govern sexual orientation and gender identification.

Given that I am planning to present Gilmartin's explanation for the existence of male lesbians in my next post, I believe it could be useful to have a popular summary of what contemporary science says about genes, hormones, sex and gender.

And as always: These are theories being constantly revised by the scientific community. Do not read this as the final word on the biological basis for sex and gender.

The life of the fetus

There are several variables that influence the sexual orientation and the personality of the fetus. We all know about the sex chromosomes (XX for women and XY for men). What many do not know is that only a small number of sex differences are directly caused by the sex chromosomes.

The majority of sex differences are thought to be not sex linked, but sex limited. They are caused by genes that are present in both sexes. This means that men have most of the sex and gender relevant genes women have (and visa versa). Potentially an XY "male" can develop practically all of the traits that define a biological woman.

These sex difference genes can be dichotomous (which is a fancy word for an on/off switch) or they can be continuous, which large variation between two extremes. The combination of all the sex limited genes forms the biological basis of the sex identifying aspects of a personality.

I like to picture this as a huge audio mixing table of the kind they use to produce records. There are on and off switches to open or close channels and tracks. There are sliders to adjust volume, frequency, dynamics, and panoramic position. And there a buttons for special filters and effects. One slider may also be the slave of another. This means that the adjustment of one slider will make another one move as well.

In a similar (but not identical) way nature uses genes, hormones and hormone receptors to produce the unique "mix" of a human being. Some of us come out as R&B, others as hard rock and some as melancholy blues.

The modern sex narrative

The traditional narrative these days is that the male Y chromosome has a gene complex called TDF (the Testes Determining Factor). The TDF has a gene called SRY (Sex Determining Region of the Y-chromosome. Duh!).

The TDF acts as a trigger that turns on genes that are found on the non-sex specific chromosomes, the ones that controls the development of the male testes.

All embryos -- male or female -- have the genes that encode the blueprint for both male testes and female ovaries. If the TDF is not there, the genes that encode the blueprint for the ovaries will turn on instead. You can say that the female bodyplan is the default. We are all girls before the TDF swings into action, according to this story.

Roughgarden's more complex narrative

Joan Roughgarden (who I presented in my Sex, Gender, Nature series) argues that this narrative is too simple, and that the SRY can only partly influence gendered presentation.

She (and many other biologists) argue that the sex of an embryo is evident even before the gonads differentiate into ovaries or testes. The gonads can develop at least partially into testes on their own, even without the SRY.

There are other mammals and vertebra that do not have the SRY, but that develop testes all the same. Moreover, the SRY is changing fast from an evolutionary perspective, and varies a lot within specific species, homo sapiens included. What nature considers "masculine" varies.

But she also agrees that the SRY is important. And truth to be told, also the "traditionalists" agree that the SRY is not alone in switching on the process that gives men testes.

Making testes

Roughgarden gives the following explanation. (Evolution's Rainbow p. 199. Do not get caught up in the names and abbreviations. This is only to give you an impression of how damned complex these processes are):

1. The gene WTI prepares the genital ridge and adjacent kidney area. Then the genes SF-I and WTI together urge SOX9 to make a testis. SOX9 is found on a non-sex chromosome. It is not part of the male Y-chromosome.

2. In girls the "anti-male" gene DAX-I intervenes, preventing SF-I and WTI from activating SOX9, so an ovary forms instead. This is one of the reasons Roughgarden is skeptical towards the idea that the default body plan is female. In this case you may say that default is male, and DAX-I must be turned on to make a girl.

3. In males, SRY inhibits DAX-I, permitting SF-I plus WTI to activate SOX9, which in turn produces a testis.

In Roughgarden's words:

"The SRY stops a gene, DAX-I, which itself was stopping testis development according to SOX9's recipe. Wow, not simple. Notice that SRY and DAX-I don't contribute materially to the recipe for making a testis. They are at the conference table just to argue, like genetic lawyers." (p. 200)

Note that even if SRY manages to get the body to produce a testis, which again produces testosterone, the battle for male-hood has not been won:

"The genetic bureaucracy may partially implement the legislation by ensuring that testosterone has only little effect, or it may fail to implement the legislation at all, as in the case of complete androgen insensitivity." (p. 201)

An XY individual with complete androgen insensitivity will appear as fully female, as the lack of testosterone receptors means that process of masculinisation never gets going.

A Y does not a man make

Here's a comment made by Eric Vilain, an assistant professor of Human Genetics at UCLA:

"We know that, there are a number of babies born who are male-they have two testes and penis - and yet they do not have a Y chromosome. We started to decipher the molecular mechanisms that lead to this situation and we now know that there [are] a few other genes that can sometimes mimic the action of the genes in the Y chromosome. So the Y chromosome is not this single force that pushes the whole male sex determination pathway."

Vilain also makes the following comment that supports Roughgarden's argument:

"The idea is in instead of having a simplistic mechanism by which you have pro-male genes going all the way to make a male, in fact there is a solid balance between pro-male genes and anti-male genes and if there is a little too much of anti-male genes, there may be a female born and if there is a little too much of pro-male genes then there will be a male born. We [are] entering this new era in molecular biology of sex determination where it's a more subtle dosage of genes, some pro-males, some pro-females, some anti-males, some anti-females that all interplay with each other rather than a simple linear pathway of genes going one after the other which makes it very fascinating but very complicated to study."


Ok, back to the traditional narrative (the one were we all start out as female):

The fetal gonads (testes or ovaries) produce hormones, primarily testosterone in the testes and estrogen in the ovaries. The testes also produce a hormone called MIS (Mullerian Inhibiting Substance or Anti-Müllerian hormone). The MIS causes the regression of internal female genitalia (defeminization). The testosterone leads to development of male genitalia (masculinization). No specific hormone is needed to develop the female genitalia. They are the default.

So a man becomes a man through two processes: a process that removes the female genitalia, and -- presumably -- also reduces some feminine traits (defeminization), and one process that generates male genitalia and encourages male traits (masculinization).

The hormonal balance produced by the testes or the ovaries is not dichotomous (an on/off variable). The amount of hormones will vary from fetus to fetus, and that variation will influence the development of the fetal brain and the "sex mix" of that individual. It seems the hypothalamus is organized differently in males and females.

Hypothalamus etc.

The hypothalamus controls the pituitary gland, which again controls hormone production in other glands. Because of this fetal brain development may also influence the future production of sex hormones in the body, and through this also future sex differences.

But that is not all: The hypothalamus also governs various natural drives, including hunger, thirst and sex drives. Different aspects of the sex drive (like sexual orientation and sex drive intensity) are regulated by different nuclei (sectors) of the hypothalamus. Many researcher believes that the basis for gender identity is also found here.

Other parts of the brain may also respond to sex hormones, and some researchers believe these are relevant to the development of brain lateralety, visuospatial learning, spatial memory, aggression, motor activity, exploratory activity etc, which all are associated with typically male and female abilities according to this line of research.


Studies of birds and rats show that their gender behavior may be changed by giving them hormones or by removing certain parts of their brain.


"When pregnant female rats are stressed in the laboratory by shining bright lights on them all day long, the male embryos in the litter produce less testosterone during their fetal period. They wind up with smaller clusters of nerve cells in the preoptic area and fewer nerve cells in the spinal cord for control of the penile muscle." (p. 225)

When testosterone drives feminization fantasies

It is important to notice that there are two sides to the effect of hormones: hormone production and hormone receptors. It does not matter if the hormone production is normal, if the receptors are lacking or react differently. This adds another dimension to the complex interplay between genes, hormones and sexual development.

The psychologist Anne Vitale has speculated on the role of testosterone as a driver for feminization urges among some M2F transgender. This may sound completely counter intuitive, as testosterone is the hormone leading to a masculinization of the fetus and the grown man.

She argues that her observations of her own patients lead her to believe that a subset of genetic males appear to respond to testosterone in a manner that evokes an overwhelming desire to express feelings of femininity.

She notes that male patients with gender dysphoria who get estrogen often find that their anxiety and their desire to cross-dress subsiding. On the other hand, F2M transgendered find that an increased intake of testosterone makes them feel better.

Vitale says:

"It is beyond dispute that there are both androgen and estrogen receptors in the brain. Genetic males normally have more active androgen receptors than women and women have more active estrogen receptors then men. That this 'normal' distribution of estrogen and androgen receptor cells can be different in some individuals appears to be a possibility. It therefore follows that androgenic and estrogenic compounds will result in a modified-to-counter expected behavior in affected individuals. For reasons beyond the scope of this Note and as counterintuitive as it may seem, it can only be assumed that testosterone plays a crucial role in forcing certain male individuals to crossdress and experience femininity to the maximum degree possibly."

To add my own 2 cents: If testosterone plays a role in sexual arousal (and it most likely does), then an increase of testosterone will make M2F crossdreamers horny. But at least parts of their "wiring" is feminine, so the resulting arousal leads to feminization fantasies instead of the stereotypical "Me Tarzan, you Jane" behavior.

If you change the testosterone/estrogen balance by adding estrogen and/or anti-androgens, the sex drive diminishes and the feminization fantasies become less urgent. The brain remains as feminine as ever, though. Taking estrogen does not "cure" you.


The point of telling you all this is that concepts like sex and gender are highly complex even before you start talking about upbringing and the effects of the surrounding culture.

The confusion and dysphoria felt by crossdreamers regarding their gender identity are likely caused by a combination of genes, hormones and receptors that lies at the outskirts of the statistically normal distribution. Given that our culture has no language or roles that could help these men and women, they find it hard to make sense of their fate.

Roughgarden says this about the gender flexibility of a system based on XX and XY chromosome configuration:

"Although the genetics of transgender expression are unknown and, in human at least, may be superseded by late embryonic and early post-natal developmental experience [i.e. non-genetic influences], transgender bodies are fully consistent with an XY system of sex determination. Indeed feminine males might easily be feminine enough, and masculine females masculine enough, to count socially and to identify as women and men, respectively, even though they possess XY and XX bodies." (pp. 214)

Nature and nurture

In addition to the effects of genes and hormones recent research also indicates that human development may be even more complex than this story seems to tell us.

First of all genes are not stable. They can be turned on and off due to external factors. Secondly the mental state of a person, which again is influenced by his or her life situation and quality of life, does influence hormone production.

But that is not all. It turns out that the brain is much more flexible than originally imagined by researchers. They now talk about the plasticity of the brain. The brain is changing according to the way we use it. To what extent this may influence our sexuality or gender identity is unknown.

What is clear is that any simple explanation of gender identity is bound to be wrong. There is no one to one relationship between one factor (being that the X and Y chromosomes, one brain area or one feminine or masculine "essence") on the one hand and sexual orientation and gender identity on the other.

Nature is a DJ

Let me get back to the mixing table metaphor. Nature is a record producer that loves variation. There are not two human beings that are completely identical, not even identical twins. Every human being is a unique remix of the song of humanity. Sexual reproduction is important, as it makes the mixing possible, but Nature does not give a damn about our understanding of gender roles.

When mixing a biological male, she may turn up a sufficient number of female tracks to make "him" feel and think more like a woman than like a man.

Indeed, when you think about it, there is not one man around that is completely masculine, regardless of what cultural template you are basing your benchmark on. The Dalai Lama is clearly a man, but shows a kind of compassion that is often identified as typical female. Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton are both women, but both show an agressiveness and a determination that are often recognized as male.

That being the case, it is not hard to imagine a tipping point where the "feminine" sides of a man become so strong that he is, in fact, a woman, regardless of what "he" has between his legs. At that point "he" does indeed become a woman trapped in a man's body.


April 17, 2010

Petition Opposing the Transvestic Disorder Diagnosis in the DSM-5

You may want to take a look at GID Reform Weblog's arguments for signing the petition against the inclusion of the transvestic disorder and autogynephilia in the the Fifth Edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

Kelly Winters argues that the proposed version is:

  • Punative: It punishes gender expression that differs from expectations of male birth-assignment and enforces conformity to masculine social stereotypes.

  • Sexist: The diagnostic category is limited to those assigned male at birth, holding them to a stricter standard of conformity than birth-assigned females. It labels behaviours and gender expression that are ordinary or even exemplary for birth-assigned women as pathological for others.

  • Stigmatizing: Transvestic Disorder is classified as a “paraphilic” sexual disorder, grouped with diagnoses of such harmful behaviors as pedophilia and exhibitionism. The resulting stereotypes of sexual deviance deny human dignity and civil justice to gender variant and transgender people.

  • Needlessly Pathologizing: This diagnosis pathologizes erotic crossdressing, a harmless consensual sexual expression, that does not meet any definition of mental illness.

  • Harmful to Closeted or Self-rejecting Crossdressers: This diagnosis pathologizes crossdressers who are distressed by internalized shame and societal prejudice, very much as the previous diagnosis of Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality in the DSM-III pathologized victims of social homophobia.

  • and more.
As I have argued before quite a few crossdressers and crossdreamers (autogynephiliacs or men that have feminization fantasies) have psychological problems, mainly because they find no room for this part of their identity in current society. Keeping an important part of your life secret out of fear of condemnation and the loss of your friends and family does that to you.

But this does not mean that crossdressing and crossdreaming are mental illnesses in themselves. Because of this they do not belong in a manual for mental diseases.

See my post DSM-V: What about autogynephilia? for a more detailed presentation of the DSM, transexualism, crossdressing and crossdreaming.

April 16, 2010

Effeminate men get the girls in rich societies

Just a short little update from the world of science.

In the snappy titled
paper "The health of a nation predicts their mate preferences: cross-cultural variation in women's preferences for masculinized male faces" Lisa M. DeBruine, Benedict C. Jones, John R. Crawford, Lisa L. M. Welling and Anthony C. Little of the Face Lab have looked at women's preferences for men.

Do they like them rough and masculine or more feminine looking?

Turns out there is an inverse relationship between women’s preference for masculine features and national health.

The Economist reports:

"In environments where disease is rampant and the child-mortality rate is high, women prefer masculine men. In places like America and Britain, where knowing how to analyse health-care plans is more important than fighting off infection, effeminate men are just as competitive."

In science speak:

"These findings show non-arbitrary cross-cultural differences in facial attractiveness judgements and demonstrate the use of trade-off theory for investigating cross-cultural variation in women's mate preferences."

The argument is apparently that the craggy physical characteristics associated with masculinity indicate a strong immune system. But such men are also more promiscuous and do not care as much about long-term relationships. So with a good public health system women go for the faithful feminine men.

The women were asked to look at manipulated photos like the one above and tell which one they found the most attractive. (More images here.)

I guess this explains why all the rough and tumble boys in America are against Obama's health plan. Before you know it the sissies will have taken over the whole country!

April 13, 2010

On Gilmartin's love-shy men and the male lesbians (Part 1)

In 1987 Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin published a book called Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment (available for free online), which presented the term "male lesbian".

It is probably the "male lesbians" that makes the book especially interesting for the readers of this blog, as many of you are woman-loving men who'd love to take the role of the woman in the sexual act.

However, when reading many of the crossdreamer life stories I find in this blog, in emails and in research I also see that there are a lot of socially inhibited persons among the crossdreamers/autogynephiliacs.

Not all biologically male crossdreamers find it hard to approach women. Nor are all love-shy men into feminization fantasies, but there seem to be an interesting overlap that deserves further study.

Well researched

Shyness & Love is a well researched book. It gives a good overview of the research on shyness up till that time, and also includes an original and extensive survey of what he calls "love-shy men".

The fact that it also contains chapters on astrology, karma and reincarnation, however, means that it has not been given the attention it probably deserves by other experts in the field. Any association with "New Age" is a kiss of death in traditional scientific circles. However, the book makes sense even if you disregard the few "unorthodox" parts of the publication, so I believe it deserves to be taken seriously.

Moreover, many "love-shy" men have embraced the book, as it is one of the few that seems to make sense of their lives. That means a lot to me.

Who are the love-shy?

Gilmartin explains that love-shy people are men and women who find it extremely hard to approach the other sex, in spite of the fact that they long for such a relationship more than anything else.

In his study Gilmartin only includes heterosexual men.

There are six criteria for being a love-shy man, according to Gilmartin:
  • You are a virgin.
  • You rarely go out socially with women more than just friends.
  • You have no history of any emotionally close, meaningful relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature with any member of the opposite sex.
  • You have suffered and is continuing to suffer emotionally because of a lack of meaningful female companionship.
  • You have become extremely anxiety-ridden over so much as the mere thought of asserting himself vis-a-vis a woman in a casual, friendly way.
  • You are strictly heterosexual in your romantic and erotic orientations.
In a modern Western cultural context most of the love-shy are men, as women are not -- to the same extent -- expected to be assertive in love.

Gilmartin makes the following argument:

"In American society some degree of shyness is considered tolerable and even quite socially acceptable in females. In males of all ages from kindergarten through all the years of adulthood, in contrast, shyness is widely viewed as very deviant and highly undesirable. Moreover, shyness in males inspires bullying, hazing, disparaging labeling, discrimination, etc. In females shyness is often looked upon as being 'pleasantly feminine' and 'nice'."
Shy women are just as likely as non-shy women to date, to get married, and to have children, according to Gilmartin. Love-shy men find it much, much harder to lose their virginity, find love and get married.

I am not sure love-shy women find life as easy as Gilmartin may imply, but there is a difference, and that difference tells us a lot about the main problem of the love shy man: Society expects him to be assertive, proactive and adventurous vis-a-vis women. By nature, however, this man finds it extremely hard to live up to this stereotypical image of what it means to be a man. He is shy and introvert and would prefer to play the traditional role of the woman in the game of courtship.

He is a prince waiting in his castle. In a fair world the beautiful girl would come riding like a female warrior in shining armor. She would open the door and wake him with a kiss. Given the gender roles of modern day America or Europe, this scenario seldom adds up. He is sitting alone in his emotional fortress, while the love of his life sits brooding in another castle, unless -- of course -- Dr. McDreamy has not already broken down her walls and swept her off her feet. McDreamy often does.

Gilmartin believes that as many as 1.5 percent of American males are love-shy.

Love-shy factors

Gilmartin has a long list of factors that make love-shy men different from other men. It may seem like a haphazard kind of list, including far too many variables, but I think he is on to something. It makes sense to me that there is a group of men who have many of these factors in common, maybe because I have been one of them myself.


On the relationship to women and men:
  • they often feel women are more privileged than men
  • they place great, often disproportionate importance on physical beauty (especially facial beauty)
  • they like girls, but are afraid to talk to them because they're very afraid of rejection
  • they develop interest in females at an earlier age than usual, particularly in the third to fifth grade range
  • they most often only want to have female children
  • they are not as likely to be interested in male friendships as non-shy men
  • most of the love-shy men, but none of the non-shy men in Gimartin's survey, report that they have never had any friends
  • they have been bullied by children their own age due to their inhibitions and interests
  • they have normally completed higher education, but...
  • they have often unstable careers and have salaries below the average
The interests of the love-shy:
  • they are in below-average physical shape as a group
  • they tend to be less interested in sports
  • they tend to be more interested in movies and music, and prefer watching different types of movies from non-love-shy men (e.g. more romances)
The psychology of the love-shy:
  • they often have a hard time expressing their emotions
  • they are sometimes passive aggressive
  • they are melancholic
  • they were usually quiet as infants, while non-love-shy men are rarely so
  • they are often very serious
  • they are easily upset
  • they are often poorly adjusted, unhappy with their lives and have a high in rates of anxiety disorders
  • they have often more violent fantasies, and are very pessimistic and cynical about the world
The birth family of the love-shy:
  • they have often had a physically difficult birth
  • they have often had tense, nervous, angry and/or two-faced mothers who disallowed dates with girls
  • they often have no sisters, and rarely have more than one
  • they often had no adults to turn to for emotional support as children, and continue to be that way as adults
  • they often felt they had little influence on family decisions as children
  • they have demanding parents who invade their privacy
  • they have often been physically abused by their parents
  • they often go through an excessive amount of psychological trauma
  • their parents were overprotective
  • they grew up in isolation
  • their parents and pressured them into being "real boys"
Non-masculine gender role identification

Love-shy men do not identify with the typical male gender role of modern Western society. In fact, they hate it. Gilmartin argues that love-shys usually renounce aspects of the masculine sex-role stereotype.

"Love-shy men hate football, baseball, basketball, weight-lifting, beer-drinking, swearing and carousing with same-sexed assoctates, etc. They are far more likely to be interested in 'settling down', and in the sorts of things women are likely to be interested in."

Love-shy men do not normally hide their hatred of the stereotypical male role. Gilmartin is probably right when he says that such honest and open self-revelation frightens women away when it occurs early on in a relationship.

Moreover, expressed disinterest in and hostility towards prototypically "masculine" sex-role activities and interests is also quite likely to be regarded as weird and strange by a woman. Indeed, one of his points is that the love-shy men may appear strange and socially awkward.

The male lesbian

Gilmartin does not write about crossdreaming or autogynephilia in the way I have presented this in this blog. He does not focus on the erotic fantasies of the love-shy, so I have no way of proving that there is an overlap between his category and the crossdreamers.

Still, there are some very interesting similarities. This is what he says about a sub-category of the love-shy men (p.125):

"...a 'male lesbian' is a heterosexual man who wishes that he had been born a woman, but who (even if he had been a woman) could only make love to another woman and never to a man. Unlike the transsexual, the 'male lesbian' does not feel himself to be 'a woman trapped inside the body of a man'. Moreover, none of the love-shy men studied for this research entertained any wishes or fantasies of any kind pertinent to the idea of obtaining a sex change operation. All wanted to keep their male genitalia; all wanted to remain as males. However, all deeply envied the perogatives of the female gender and truly believed that these perogatives fitted their own inborn temperaments far more harmoniously than the pattern of behavioral expectations to which males are required to adhere."

Since they could not be a woman, most of them visualized themselves as a man romancing a beautiful woman.

" He is a person who had always felt rather strange, detached, and disinterested around age-mates of his own gender, and who had always entertained the fantasy that if he could only win acceptance from an all-girl peer group he could feel 'at home' there. The 'male lesbian' state of consciousness may be related to inborn temperament, and may at least partly explain why the love-shy men tended to have become very romantically attracted to girls from an early point in life."

Note that in his survey Gilmartin focused on heterosexual male virgins. He deliberately excluded homosexual men from his study:

"Interestingly, 94 percent of the love-shy men who were interviewed for this study turned out to be strong believers in homosexual rights. Yet at the same time every single man interviewed for this study indicated disgust at the mere thought of kissing or making love to another man... Loving and romancing a beautiful woman was the only thing many of these deprived men ever seemed to think about in their almost incessant fantasies and daydreams."

So, the male lesbian does not want to play with males, does not want to experience sex with males, and does not have male recreational interests. He is actually so alienated from the very idea of being a man that he does not even want to procreate male children:

"The vast majority of the love-shy men interviewed for this book confessed that if they ever did become fathers they would want to have girl children only—NO BOYS. In stark contrast, only one percent of the self-confident, non-shy men felt that way. In fact, the non-shy men preferred the idea of fathering male children to the idea of fathering female children by a ratio of almost three to two."

My guess is that he finds the very idea of tackling a rough and tumble boy impossible. After all; He fears them or even detests them. Or maybe he does not believe that he can serve as a good role model for such a boy, and that the kid would end up in the same situation as himself.

Love-shyness and crossdreaming/autogynephilia

Gilmartin argues that the love-shy men studied for his book all reluctantly accepted the fact that they are males. He says that none of them had ever revealed any transvestite tendencies:

"...none of them had ever experienced any urge to dress up as a woman or to put on lipstick or nail polish, etc." (p. 126)

He has not asked them about erotic feminization fantasies in general, however. The concept of autogynephilia had not been invented when he wrote the book, so it would be hard for him to ask. In fact, his understanding of transsexuals is also somewhat simplistic, as he seems to believe that all transsexuals are androphilic. This is not correct.

I suspect there may be crossdreamers among his respondents. The fact that I have had several emails from love-shy men urging me to write a post like this one, strengthens this belief, as does the fact that I recognize myself in many of Gilmartin's descriptions.

I need to stress, however, that from what I see in the research and from the comments made at this and other blogs and in other forums, there is no reason to believe that all crossdreamers or autogynephiliacs are love-shy male lesbians. Many crossdreamers report an active sex life from a very early age. Some of them are promiscuous, even, and a large number of them get married and have children.

All of this points to an underlying variation where love-shyness may be one of many factors that can be associated with crossdreaming.

Gilmartin gives an explanation for love-shyness that may give us an indication for why this is so. That's the topic for my next post.

Postscript on male lesbians:

Note that the term male lesbian has been used for men who are clearly not love shy, or who at least are not love-shy anymore.

The British comedian Eddie Izzard (pictured right) calls himself a lesbian trapped in a man's body. He may perfectly well be a crossdreamer, but it would be very hard for a love-shy to go on stage like that.

The "male lesbian" Lisa from the American TV series The L Word is definitely not love-shy!


Download Dr. Gilmartin's Shyness and Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment

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April 5, 2010

The Cuckoo's Nest

I am doing a lot of searches for academic papers on autogynephilia, transsexualism, transvestitism and the like, in order to see if there is anything that can be of help.

Sometimes I come over the most amazing research.

I think the following abstracts could speak for themselves.

Still, just to make sure: The original papers were published in the seventies, at a time when the experts continued to believe that crossdressers could be treated with aversion therapy.

At the time these papers were written behaviorism was big in the US. One highly influential psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner held that since you could not (and should not) read the minds of people, you should only do research on displayed behavior.

He believed that all behavior was the result of reinforcement processes, stimuli and responses. Throughout your life your behavior was punished (negative reinforcement) or rewarded (positive reinforcement) by the environment, which led to specific behavioral patterns. The doctors used conditioning to encourage behavior they deemed good and productive.

Much of the theory was based on research on rats and pigeons. Behaviorism is an extreme example of how useful observations of some aspects of animal life, can be turned into a complete theory of life, love, art, and human values, killing our very humanity in the process.

Skinner followed the scientific methods of the day, and a majority of American psychiatrists and psychologist considered this kind of research as objective and sound as it could get. Based on that world view they went on to torturing their patients with various forms of aversion therapy, including the use of induced vomiting and electroshocks.

At the time nearly all of them were convinced that it could also be used to cure what they considered "sexual perversions", including homosexuality. For a while it seemed they were right. It turned out most of the "cured" gay patients were bisexual, however. Gay men were never "cured", as there was no disease to cure.

Crossdressers were asked to dress up and stand barefooted on a wire mat. A series of electric shocks were delivered to his/her feet, until the "patient" had removed all of the offensive clothing. Again, there therapy did not work, simply because the "transvestitism" was not the result of conditioning.

Anyone who believes that science always gives you the truth and nothing but the truth, should say 25 Ave Marias and go back to Start. There is no reason to believe that modern scientists are less caught up in their theories and prejudices than the scientists of the 1960s and 70s.

Penile plethysmography and biofeedback in the treatment of a transvestite-exhibitionist

Describes an innovative application of penile plethysmography and analog biofeedback procedures for the successful direct modification of chronic deviant sexual arousal.

The target of treatment was the compulsive transvestite-exhibitionistic sexual behavior of a 45-yr-old married male. Preliminary clinical interviews and laboratory assessment (baseline) sessions were followed by 12 treatment sessions while the patient was hospitalized in a psychiatric inpatient facility.

Sexual arousal was monitored during treatment by a mercury-in-rubber strain gauge. The patient's response to a videotape of the target behavior (transvestite-exhibitionist videotape) was gradually eliminated through the use of analog biofeedback procedures.

The posttreatment and 4 follow-up laboratory assessments provided direct evidence of lasting treatment effects. Assessment of appropriate heterosexual arousal revealed a consistent specific treatment effect not attributable to habituation or generalized suppression of sexual arousal.

After 2 yrs of apparently successful follow-up, the client's wife disclosed that he had resumed cross-dressing and exposure and had deliberately deceived the therapists during the greater part of the follow-up period. This is a dramatic example of the unreliability of self-report as a treatment-outcome measure.

Raymond C. Rosena and Steven A. Kopela
Rutgers Medical School, Coll of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Volume 45, Issue 5, October 1977, Pages 908-916

The experiment was a total failure. There is no reason to believe that crossdressing can be cured with aversion therapy.

And here is one from 1970:

Case conference: A transvestite fantasy treated by thought-stopping, covert sensitization and aversive shock

Abstract: The subject of this case conference is a 22-year-old college senior with a transvestite fantasy whose origin dated back to preschool days. It was successfully treated in six sessions using the behavioral techniques of thought-stopping, covert sensitization and aversive shock. Questions concerning goals, procedures, timing of approaches, and practical issues are discussed.

Louis GershmanVillanova University and Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, USAReceived 21 January 1970.
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Volume 1, Issue 2, June 1970, Pages 153-161

Another one from 1973 shows us how they regarded homosexuals.

Aversion therapy for sexual deviation: Contingent shock and covert sensitization

Studied 2 different aversion therapy approaches to the treatment of sexual deviation (e.g., homosexuality) in 6 clinical referrals.

Covert sensitization, which provides an imagined aversive event following imagined sexual behavior, was compared with contingent shock, which provides a physical aversive event following erection to slides depicting sexually deviant material. Replicated, counterbalanced within-S presentations of each technique were used.

Treatment effects were monitored by measurement of penile circumference changes during slides presented prior to treatment sessions, and by daily subjective recording of sexual urges and fantasies as well as masturbation and sexual acts. No clear difference was found between the treatments on the penile circumference measure.

On suppression of subjective measures of sexual arousal, however, covert sensitization appeared to be more effective than contingent shock. Follow-up of 4-18 mo. is reported for the individual cases. (37 ref.)

Edward J. Callahana and Harold LeitenbergaaCarmarillo State Hosp., Calif
Journal of Abnormal Psychology
Volume 81, Issue 1, February 1973, Pages 60-73

So who were the real perverts here: the crossdressers and the homosexuals or the doctors treating them?

The image is from the movie A Clockwork Orange, which came out in 1971.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!