May 3, 2010

On Gilmartin's love-shy men and the male lesbian (Part 2)

In this post I take a look at the factors that may be causing love-shyness and the birth of male lesbians.

In my post On Gilmartin's love-shy men and the male lesbians (Part 1) I presented Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin's book from 1987: Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment.

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.

Many of the love-shy men included in Gilmartin's study describe themselves as male lesbians. 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.

Although Gilmartin does not cover crossdreaming or autogynephilia, and in spite of the fact that he is adamant about these men not being crossdressers, there are enough similarities to justify a more thorough discussion. I have had many comments and emails for men who identify as love-shy and male lesbians and who are also crossdreamers (autogynephiles) and/or crossdressers.

Note, however, that not all crossdreamers and crossdressers are love-shy men. Far from it. Many of them are outgoing and even promiscuous. But there seem to me there is some correlation between feminization, shyness and crossdreaming.

In this post I am going to look into Gilmartin's ideas about the origins of the love-shy men. The reason I decided to write a post about Genes, hormones, genes and gender identity before publishing this post, is that there are great similarities between Gilmartin's theory from 1987 and current ideas about hormones causing such variation.

In other words: If you have not read that post already, now may be a good time.

Nature and nurture

Gilmartin believes that love-shyness is a learned personality trait that is based on an inborn temperament. In other words: love-shyness is the result of an interaction between biological and psychological drivers.

The love shy is introvert by nature. This is a common trait among homo sapiens, and for most people being introvert does not cause too much trouble. In the case of the love-shy man, however, it stops him from establishing a relationship with a woman.

A love-shy man has also an inborn low anxiety threshold. He experiences anxiety much more frequently, and much more intensely and painfully than a person with a high or normal anxiety threshold.

"(...) there are two inborn components: one is the high emotionality (low anxiety threshold); the second component is inhibition/introversion. When a person is very high on both emotionalityand introversion (...), the chances are exceedingly good within the context of American society that he will develop into a chronically love- shy individual."

Some of the psychological and social problems of the love-shy men could be considered autistic because of the men's trouble in regards to peers, social interactions, and adjustment to change. Years later when asked in an email, Gilmartin felt that 40% of severely love-shy men would have Asperger syndrome.

The causes of love-shyness

Gilmartin suggests there is correlation between and love-shyness and different conditions, including low maternal testosterone during fetal development, nasal polyps, and hypoglycemia. His point is that natal development may lead to the development of an avalanche of different symptoms, many of whom are found among a significant number of love-shys.

Of special interest for crossdreamers is his reflections on the role of pre-natal testosterone (ps 57):

"If the brain of a fetus is left alone, it will develop into a female brain regardless of whether or not it is exposed to feminizing hormones. Inessence, this is one of the myriad reasons why the male is a more delicate organism than the female. Many more things can go wrong in male fetal development than in female fetal development.

As I noted in the gene post this is a common view also today. The female blueprint is the default one. Nature turns you into a male by adding masculinizing and defeminizating hormones.

People like Roughgarden disagrees, and says that both male and female gonad development are caused by a mix of processes that turns female and/or male development on and off. This does not make much of a difference in this context, as the idea that hormones in the womb influences sexual development is the same.

Jogols pointed me to an post on the cause of homosexuality and transgenderism that explains this in more or less the same way as Gilmartin.

Gilmartin again:

"Unless the male fetus is exposed to masculinizing hormones plus the enzymes which permit each of these hormones to work on various sections of the brain, that male fetus will develop a brain that is in at least some ways feminine. The number of ways in which it will be feminine will be determined bythe number of sections of the developing brain that had been deprived of the appropriate masculinizing enzymes. Again, the enzymes permit the male hormones to do their masculinizing job."

So although Gilmartin uses a somewhat different terminology, his story fits well with current biology.

Gimartin continues:

"...There are different sections of the fetal brain that need to be masculinized. And each of these sections calls for the propitious operation of a different enzyme. Some sections of the brain have to do with sexual/romantic directionality. When these brain sections are inadequately masculinized, the person stands a good chance of becoming a pre-homosexual or a pre-bisexual little boy. "

Two influential contemporary researchers on gender and biology, Aliicia Garcia-Falgueras and Dick F. Swaab, argue that the fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge.

They say:

" In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality.

"This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation."

("Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation", Pediatric Neuroendocrinology. Endocr Dev. Basel, Karger, 2010, vol 17, pp 22–35)

They are talking about gender identity here, not love-shyness, but it is not hard to see the relationship between the various forms of "feminine" or "non-masculine" men.

Gynephiles and androphiles

Gilmartin does differentiate between gynephilic (woman-loving) and androphilic (man-loving) non-masculine boys. He divides the gynephilic (heterosexual) boys into two sub-categories: Some of them are effeminate, some of them are not.

One of the major differences between Gimartin's love-shy men and Blanchard and Bailey's autogynephiliacs is that Blanchard and Bailey make a point out of the autogynephiliacs not being effeminate. For Bailey all effeminate men are "homosexual transsexuals". Woman-loving autogynephiliacs look and act in a masculine manner.

Gilmartin, on the other hand, argues that gynephilic (heterosexual) boys may very well be effeminate:

"Other brain sections have to do with effeminacy. When these are not masculinized, the person becomes an effeminate little boy. And contrary to popular impression, most effeminate men are NOT homosexual. Because of a specific enzyme deficiency during their prenatal period, they become effeminate heterosexuals. And most of them, like heterosexuals generally, will marry and become fathers. But because of rigid and often uncompromising gender role expectations for males, they will suffer much teasing and hazing throughout their formative years as a result of their effeminacy."

Different types of femininity

There can be several reasons for the difference between Gimartin's postition regarding gynephilic effeminate boys and the one of Blanchard and Bailey.

It could be that Blanchard's and particularly Bailey's discussion of effeminate gays and masculine woman-loving autogynephiliacs is based on a projection of their own prejudices. In other words: they see what they want to see. It is certainly true that this part of the autogynephilia theory is the least scientific one.

Blanchard and Bailey base their theory on the observation of transwomen and M2F transgendered seeking surgery. I suspect their impression is caused by the fact that gynephilic transsexuals -- on average -- transition much later than the androphilic ones. Older women look less feminine than younger ones. Moreover, late transitioners have spent a life time trying to live as men, picking up their mannerisms in the process.

But it could also be that Gilmartin has a view of being feminine that is much broader that Blanchard and Bailey's. For Gilmartin this is more than effeminate looks and mannerism. It is also a matter of stereotypical female interests and a lack of male typical assertiveness.

Gilmartin elaborates on this:

"(p. 58) Now, another section of the brain has to do with social assertiveness, competitiveness and drive—the opposite of 'feminine' passivity. And this is the brain section which has a very strong bearing upon shyness generally, and especially upon love-shyness and the behavioral inertia that typically accompanies it.

"The nonassertive, unaggressive little boy will commonly develop non-masculine interest patterns. In essence, he violates traditional gender role expectations in terms of interests and preferences rather than in terms of either effeminacy or in terms of homosexuality or erotic orientation. For example, he will prefer quiet, non-physical forms of play; working with arts and crafts, music and theatre arts, dolls and figurines, etc., all of which relate in different ways to violation of gender role expectation.

Friends, family and foes expect effeminate boys to be homosexual, and classify them as such.

"The shy, passive boy is very often mislabeled 'homosexual' just as the effeminate boy is perhaps even more often mislabeled 'homosexual'. Conservative and rigid people tend to apply the label 'homosexual' to any young boy who violates traditional gender role expectations, just as these same people commonly affix such labels as 'communist' and 'unAmerican' to any person who espouses a political, social or religious attitude or belief with which they happen to disagree."

The sliders of gender development

Like Natalie and me Gilmartin ends up with a model consisting of a large number of variables that may lead to the development of non-typical behavior and interests:

"To be sure, occasionally a number of different enzymes will malfunction while a child is intra utero. And in that case the child (if male) will develop a number of different problems. For example, he may develop BOTH effeminacy AND homosexuality. Or he may develop BOTH effeminacy and chronic shyness. Or he may develop chronic shyness and homosexuality. And in a few rare cases he may develop all three of these separate problems."

Trying to reduce gender identification to one or two variables is therefore impossible. There are not two types of non-masculine born men in this narrative (gynephilic vs. androphilic), but rather a large number of possible combinations of traits. Trying to force them all into a model based on on only one of these variables -- sexual orientation in the case of Blanchard and Bailey -- is to oversimplify the matter.

An explanation for the development of love-shyness

Gilmartin has no final explanation for the variation of hormone and enzyme levels. He does point to some East German research of the time that indicated that there is a strong relationship between a pregnant woman's state of mind, and her male fetus' blood testosterone level. Certain personality traits of a pregnant woman had the effect of neutralizing either the testosterone that is released into the bloodstream of the fetus, or the enzymes which metabolize the testosterone to the point of permitting it to do its job on the various parts of the male. (p. 145).

As far as I know, this theory has not been completely abandoned by modern biologists. There are those that argue that the emotional or physical state of the mother can influence the development of the fetus.

Alicia Garcia-Falgueras and Dick F. Swaab point to several possible factors that may explain variation in gender identity and sexual orientation. Contemporary research indicates that the chance that a boy will be homosexual increases with the number of older
brothers he has:

"This phenomenon is known as the fraternal birth order effect and is putatively explained by an immunological response by the mother to a product of the Y chromosome of her sons. The chance of such an immune response to male factors would increase with every pregnancy resulting in the birth of a son."

Like Gilmartin they consider the emotional state of the mother:

"A stressed pregnant woman has a greater chance of giving birth to a homosexual son. An interesting hypothesis is that the changes in androgen concentration during pregnancy as a result of environmental stress factors may influence the fetal central nervous system as an adaptive adjustment to the environment"

Needless to say, this may also have consequences for the development of other traits linked to our understanding of gender role: introversion/extroversion and level of aggressiveness included.


  1. "Gilmartin felt that 40% of severely love-shy men would have Asperger syndrome"

    This is a question tormenting me of late. Many of the TG men I have interacted with in online forums like susans, have told me they suspect they have some Aspergers, some definite lack of social skills and also narrow fields of interests.
    Could there be really some correlation between Aspergers in men and love-shyness in men?

  2. "Some sections of the brain have to do with sexual/romantic directionality."

    Could it be that there are different areas of the brain even for sexual and romantic orientation?
    I find myself at odds here too. I am usually feminine. But I get sexually turned on by female bodies. However I don't find how I would enjoy any emotional connection with a woman.
    For some reason, I always find I get emotionally turned on by guys though male bodies don't turn me on. I would love some romantic foreplays with a guy but thats really not due to pleasure of physical intimacy. Its really something emotional. I dont get the same flings about women, though their body could be turn-on.
    I am hence something like both heterosexual and homoromantic type. Could it mean something? I am really very confused with this strange phenomenon.

  3. The love shy is introverted by nature...A love-shy man has also an inborn low anxiety threshold. He experiences anxiety much more frequently, and much more intensely and painfully than a person with a high or normal anxiety threshold.

    This fits me to a "T" (no pun intended)

    Gilmartin suggests there is correlation between and love-shyness and different conditions, including low maternal testosterone during fetal development, nasal polyps, and hypoglycemia.

    I am hypoglycemic as are my sisters

    Now, another section of the brain has to do with social assertiveness, competitiveness and drive—the opposite of 'feminine' passivity. And this is the brain section which has a very strong bearing upon shyness generally, and especially upon love-shyness and the behavioral inertia that typically accompanies it.

    I lack these traits, but have chocked it up to my Meyers-Briggs personality type (ISFP) here is the definition:

    Though they struggle constantly to maintain visibility, there is in the ISFP a love and sensitivity for others, as well as serenity and appreciation for life. The combination of Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving puts ISFPs more in touch with both themselves and the world around them than any other type.

    ISFPs have a very low need to lead and control others, and yet are driven by a desire to see everything -- plants, animals, and people -- living harmoniously. ISFPs are not invaders of any living creature's space but instead want to relate to and encourage all life to fulfill its potential. As a result of being so much in tune with and respectful of the natural boundaries of life around them, it can become difficult for ISFPs to understand the need of some people to impose limits or structure on others. Unfortunately, in their desire not in influence, they often forgo expressing themselves and their wishes in favor of blending in with others. This nonimposing nature and seeming lack of direction is so much a part of ISFPs that they can easily be either overlooked or overpowered by others. In a sense, they are the most invisible of the sixteen types.

    This type, often creative, artsy, and skilled in a variety of practical disciplines where people and nature are served, tends to be shy about offering his or her services -- depriving the world of their contributions as a result. All too often, more aggressive, demanding and less capable types fill the void.

    This description seems remarkably similar Gilmartin's effeminate male to me...

    To be sure, occasionally a number of different enzymes will malfunction while a child is intra utero. And in that case the child (if male) will develop a number of different problems.

    Could it be this type of "malfunctioning" could produce a predispotion (i.e. personality type) like the one I described above?

    Have any studies been performed to attempt to correlate personality type with the desire for gender expression?

  4. BTW, two famous figures who were likely ISFP's include...wait for it...

    Charlie Brown (The first love shy male I ever met)

    Michael Jackson (A black man who really wanted to be a little white girl)

  5. @jogols

    It with Aspergers as it is with autogynephilia, it is a term that tries to capture a part of a continuum. In the suggested version of DSM 5 Aperger is replaced with autism.

    One thing is certain: not all crossdreamers (autogynephiliacs) are shy and introvert, but some are -- even in the extreme. So the question becomes: Is this shyness causing the crossdreaming, or is the crossdreaming causing the shyness.

    In my own case, I have come to believe that even though I did not understand my condition when I was young, I realized that something was out of the ordinary, and it could be that this caused me to fear the rejection of women. After all: There would be a reason for this anxiety: I am not as manly sexually as many women would like me to be.


    "Could it be that there are different areas of the brain even for sexual and romantic orientation?"

    That could be the case, or there may be a combination of various traits that leads to the split between sexual and romantic orientation.

    I have another, related, possible explanations:

    There is a split between the sexual orientation (gynephilic) and the copulatory instinct (crossdreamers long to be the bottom). The fantasies involving men is a response to the desire to be the catcher. We are less likely to be turned on by the male physique however.


    The reference to the Myers Briggs test ( ) is interesting, as it presents the introvert and sensitive as a normal variation. Maybe there is a correlation between love-shyness and ISFP on the one hand and crossdreaming/autogynephilia on the other, because there is a parallel correlation between these personality types and stereotypical female roles in our society.

    I think this is the case, but the fact that crossdreaming fantasies are so erotically charged leads me to believe that there is more to it than this. There is an element of a partial or full female gender identity as well.

    There seems to be a parallel tendency among F2M transgendered people: not all tomboys are transgendered, but some of them are. They want to behave like boys do.

    Charlie Brown is one of us, which is why I used him to illustrate this blog post:

    "Have any studies been performed to attempt to correlate personality type with the desire for gender expression?"

    I haven't seen such a study. If any of you know about such a study, add a comment!

  6. Jack,
    Really thank you for this wonder post. One thing I would like to point out is that the word "love-shy" is really a misnomer to me. I would call it rather as "love-catcher", meaning I would want to be desirable rather than being the active or desiring one- which directly means I am feminine.
    But the word "shy" is really incorrect in my opinion. I am not more shy than the average man or woman. I just have a different personality, which is not masculine. It does not mean I am shy at all. Just because of the fact that I am not into the stereotypical male role does not make me a shy. It only makes my gender different rather than anything else.

  7. @bulu

    Love-catcher is a great word! Gilmartin's study was admittedly on really shy men, and many crossdreamers are (or have been) shy.

    But as you point out, many like us as never been shy in the traditional sense of the word, no more than a love-catching woman is.

    Me, i changed from a very shy person to one who today is considered outgoing and very visible.

    But I am still "gender different" as you put it.


  8. Got to read some more discussions among male lesbians in one forum:

  9. In response to Mandy.

    And hence they call it the love-shy phenomenon. It's the invisible "gay".

    Anyways I too feel myself being sexually attracted to women, but attracted to men in a quasi "demisexual" way.

  10. Yes, we need to develop a language that makes more complex combinations of sex,gender,gender expression, sexual orientation and temperament possible.

    Many MTF crossdreamers are romantically attracted to women and women only, but may feel a sexual attraction to men as well.


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