May 21, 2010

On transgender embarrassment

Shame and embarrassment

This is a blog that boldly goes where even angels fear to thread. I have decided to cover controversial and "embarrassing" topics, simply because I believe that knowledge sets us free.

I also believe that ethics is not about following rules, regulations and inherited customs. Being a good person is about being able to love others and help them get a good life where they can be whoever Nature or God meant them to be.

This is not about whether women should be allowed to wear miniskirts or burkas or whether it is OK for a grown man to play with model trains. This is also why I believe we have to go into the fantasy life of crossdreamers in order to understand what makes us feel the way we do.

Kinky sex is OK

It is interesting to note that even if we live in a society where psychologists and psychiatrists consider a rich sexual fantasy life healthy and enriching, and where most forms of consensual sex are considered acceptable, crossdreamer fantasies continues to be problematic.

One of the reason the more militant "classical transsexuals" try to distance themselves from crossdressers is partly this: They do not want to be associated with men that get turned on by dressing up as women. They believe the very existence of "the transgendered" stigmatizes them as freaks. In order to avoid that stigmatization they would like crossdressers and crossdreamers to climb back into their closets and suffer in silence.


This is of course exactly what society has told both gays and transsexual for ages. My old aunt used to say to me that she had nothing against gay people -- after all, uncle "Freddy" was clearly gay, and he was such a nice man who shared her love of orchids -- but why did they have to talk about it! It was embarrassing to talk about men doing unspeakable acts in polite conversations. 60 years of cultural conditioning had made an otherwise tolerant lady homophobic.

The post I wrote about the Norwegian politician Carl I. Hagen attacking his former son-in-law, now a woman, for causing his grandchildren pain by coming out as a transwoman is another example.

I believe Hagen when he says that he accepts that transwomen cannot be blamed for who they are and deserve our respect. But he is not willing to help change a society that makes the children of a transwoman despise "a man" that dresses up as a woman -- even if he acknowledges that this "man" is in fact a woman!

Autogynephilia yes, autoandrophilia no

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I write about men who dream of having a woman's body, or being a woman.

I have written about Ray Blanchard and his autogynephilia theory (autogynephilia=the love of one self as a woman). Blanchard believes this desire is caused by a target location error. The man feels desire for himself instead of the correct object: a woman out there. He is now trying to get autogynephilia into the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

There is a lot to say about theory, and I have already done so, but in this context the most interesting fact is the following: Blanchard wants autogynephilia into the DSM, but he has no parallel condition for women. There is no parallel autoandrophilia (the love of oneself as a man). This will actually be the only "mental illness" in the manual that is sex specific.

Blanchard is not interested in genetic females that dream of having a man's body. I don't think he believes they exist. This is a perversion limited to men only. Well, I believe this blog has proved pretty conclusively that female to male crossdreamers (autoandrophilacs) do exist. So what is it that makes an intelligent man like Blanchard do such an elementary mistake?

Man is OK, woman is not OK

I believe he and most of us are culturally programmed to find men wanting to become women perverts, while women who dream about becoming men are to be admired.
Photo: Phoro08

Look at this photo. She is sexy, isn't she? What story does this picture tell us?

Well, to me it is the story of a woman that has shared her bed with her lover and who is now looking up at him with love in her eyes. She is wearing his shirt. The fact that it is too big for her, makes her look smaller and more feminine. And the shirt itself symbolizes their secret community.

Would a picture of her male love wearing her negligee tell the same story? The small negligee would accentuate his strong masculine body, would it not, and him wearing the scent of her perfume would symbolize their love?

I think not!

The next picture is from the Witchblade TV series where Yancy Butler plays the tough detective Sara Pezini. In most of the series she is wearing jeans, boots and a simple sweatshirt. This masculine attire makes her look strong and powerful, but nevertheless immensely sexy.

Would David Caruso look equally sexy in a dress?

Logically the answer would be yes, but it isn't. This indicates to me that there are unconscious processes going on that we are not aware of. These processes determine what we consider good and what we think of as embarrassing perversions.

The one-sex model

Thomas Walter Laqueur has written a fascinating book about how Western society has considered the role of biological sex throughout the ages.

In the book Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud he argues that the idea of having two biological sexes is pretty recent. In antiquity, the middle ages and the renaissance scholars believed there was only one sex: the male one.

I'll come back to this book in a later post, but short version is this:

The old Europeans believed the body and soul was the product of a mix of various essences, including the four humors black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, which again referred to the four elements and their masculine and feminine attributes.

In addition the sign of the zodiac would influence a person's personality. Some of the signs were male and some female. Each person is therefore a mix of various traits, masculine and feminine. In one way the model is a bit similar to the remix model I have presented here at this blog.

A woman's sexual organs were considered the same as the man's, only on the inside. The vaginal canal equaled the penis, the ovaries the testicles and so on. Again, the theory is uncannily similar to the modern one, where the clitoris has the same origin as the penis.

So they did accept that a man had female traits and visa versa. That did not mean that they considered the two genders to be equal, however.

A woman was a man with too little fire in her body. A lack of blood meant a lack of heat, and given that fire was the upper, superior, element (the one moving up to the stars, which symbolized spirit and intellect), this meant that woman was an inferior version of man.

We have a lot of reports if sex changes in pre-modern times, and the doctors did not find them strange. Add the necessary heat and a woman can become a man. Her vaginal canal would pop out of her body and become a penis. A man, however, could never become a woman. That would mean a reduction in life force and perfection, and that was medically impossible.

Physical strength equaled power and that power could be used to stop women from becoming scholars and politicians. And the fact that there were no (or few) female scholars and politicians was taken as proof of the inferiority of women.

A man who wanted to become a woman had to be a pervert and a sinner. After all, he wanted to lose his freedom, and become physically weak, mentally feeble and submissive, and no sane man would want that.

The old prejudices are still with us

I live in a country that probably is the most equal of all gender wise. Young Scandinavian girls take it for granted that they have the right to become whatever they want. They may not choose to become fighter pilots, but they know that they have the right to become one. However, even in such a society it is hard for a man to take on the female role. There are very few male nurses and kindergarten assistants.

I believe we are seeing the effect if subconscious archetypes that continue to affect our judgment even if we consciously know that the genders are equal. And I believe that these subconscious mental structures -- which are partly instinctual and partly cultural -- also influences the dreams and fantasies of crossdreamers.

I think it is time we took a closer look at these archetypes, so that we can come to understand why crossdreamers feel the way they do. And if we are to do that, we also have to look at the embarrassing stuff.

That's what I am going to do next. Be warned!

Image from the book by Thomas Laqueur. It documents what the 17th century scholar considered the similarity between male and female sex organs. Scientists have often found what they were looking for, even if it wasn't there.

Today scientist believe the clitoris is the female parallel to the penis.

Top illustration: Ponomariova_Maria


  1. Brilliant post. Your observations about the disparate aesthetic judgments we make about women in men's clothes vs. men in women's clothes are spot on.

  2. My goodness, that in turn means greater freedom for females and less for males, in a way....

  3. Jack,

    Man is OK, woman is not OK

    You are mixing apples and oranges and coming up with pulp instead of a nice fruit salad...

    The women in the pictures are sexy not because of what they are wearing... Their sexiness oozes from their natural femininity NO MATTER WHAT THEY WEAR! There is no indication that they are masculine or want to be masculine by their clothes... Clothing is sexaully neutral. You ask why a man isn't sexy wearing lingerie when a woman is sexy wearing a man's shirt? Well, a man wearing lingerie or a dress MIGHT BE sexy to some people. Personally, I do not find men attractive at all so I really cannot judge here... However, just as some women are very sexy no matter what they wear, some men are probably very sexy no matter what they wear because their masculinity is not hidden by their clothing.

    There is nothing going on here in the subconscious... On the other hand, if you had posted pictures of women deliberately trying to hide their femininity and trying to appear as much like a man as possible, I would not find those women attractive at all...

    There is a certain "je ne sais quoi" about the attractiveness of men and women that is really hard to generalize because everyone's tastes are so very different. Vive la différence!

    The one-sex model
    Those "scholars" in the Middle Ages were obviously very wrong, weren't they? They were probably the same knowledgeable people who taught that the earth was flat.

    Personally, I think this "one-sex model" was pushed by those "men" who felt superior to women and that women should be treated as chattel property. Their "one-sex model" justifed their position. They did not want to admit the fact that there always have been two distinct sexes, different, equal in personhood, and complementary in nature. They would NEVER consider women to be equal to men!

    It sounds like they are wrong about the "spontaneous" FTM sex changes...

    It is refreshing to know that Scandinavian girls have the right to become whatever they want such as a fighter pilot. How about if they want to become the King of Sweden? Do they have that right? If not, why not?

    I think your proposition that the two genders are equal is somewhat misleading. The genders are equal in the sense that one is not superior or better than the other. However, they are very different in nature. This difference between the genders makes each gender very complimentary to each other. Which is why some women can be incredibly sexy wearing nothing but their man's shirt!

  4. Robyn P,
    I dont think Jack is trying to say the two genders are equal. He intends to point out that a man can have a capacity to be feminine and a woman can have a capacity to be masculine, provided some natural genetic permuations out of the norm occur. He intends to point out that when such a gener variation occurs, it should not be considered as an anomaly. To me,he just mentions this very fact in a satirical way that women when masculine are more readily accepted but men when feminine find it more difficult to be accepted, though both are normal variations.

  5. I find it hard to believe that a man is denied the slightest of femininity these days, even in 2010, leave alone the luxury of crossdressing.
    I am a fun loving feminine guy who likes the metrosexual lifestyle. I am doing pedicures and manicures recently and have also been into hair-coloring. I am bisexual. My sister recently came to visit me from the countryside and was shocked to see me in this style. I have not even dressed as woman, but she called me a pussy for doing these feminine things. She asked me who made me a pussy. I said I am not a woman, but I justy happen to like being feminine despite being guy. She said guys must toil in office for their wives at home while all those feminine stuff belong to ONLY women, and that I was violating all rules by being this feminine.
    I just did not react, but thought-"Can her stupid social norms overrule basic biology of mankind which loves variation?"

  6. @Robyn

    "Personally, I think this "one-sex model" was pushed by those 'men' who felt superior to women and that women should be treated as chattel property."

    Yes, it were. My point is not that the theory was scientifically right (although it is surprisingly modern as far as the mix of traits go). My point is that you had a theory that naturally leads to the conclusion that men and women are equal and that both men and women can display a mix of feminine and masculine traits. In spite of this, the scholars of the time, manages to conclude that women are inferior, and that the only mix permitted is women becoming men. That says a lot of how strong our degradation of women has been and is.

    There are a lot of cases of women turning into men, and I will present them later. What these women/men ultimately were, we will never know (although they were most likely intersexed), but the doctors accepted them as men. A woman crossdressing as a man, without becoming a man, was punished severely, however, as she violated the very foundation of the social order. Joan of Arc was most likely burned as the stake as she dressed and fought like a man.

    Scandinavian girls can become "king". Danmark has a queen. Victoria is next in line in Sweden, and the daughter of the Norwegian crown prince is also most likely to become head of state. I come from the future and I can tell you: the days of political discrimination is over in this part of the world.

    When mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland became Prime Minister of Norway, I heard the story of a young boy who nervously asked his mother: "Mum, is it possible for boys to become Prime Ministers?"

  7. Monty,

    Certainly, men can be feminine and women can be masculine. However, men cannot be women and women cannot be men. Or, more precisely, males cannot be females and females cannot be males. Yes, a girl can become Queen of Sweden but she cannot ever become the King. A young girl may dream and desire to become the queen, the monarch, or the ruler of her country which might be achievable but becoming the king is not.

    The answer to the boy's question of ""Mum, is it possible for boys to become Prime Ministers?" should have been "No, boys cannot become Prime Ministers. They have to grow up to become men first..."

  8. Robyn P,
    "However, men cannot be women and women cannot be men. Or, more precisely, males cannot be females and females cannot be males. "

    Yes, this is absolutely true and the real problem starts right here. But indeed we have girls who wish to live like men and men who wish to live more like women, without becoming the opposite gender through a sex-change. And these are the people who are in far greater problem than the classic transsexuals, because they don't conform to the gender binary. Joan of Arc kept her identity as woman intact, yet she lived and fought like a male. She was burnt and called as pervert. In contrast, Christine Jorgensen (born as male)changed into a woman and she faced less ridicule than she would if she were to live as male but in a womanly way.
    You yourself say that you wouldnt find a woman sexy any longer if you knew she was trying to dress up to be more like a man. Which indeed means people are not prepared to see a guy as a girl and a girl as a guy, unless they are the classic transsexuals. But that is society.
    This is the major reason I belive why male lesbians and autogynphiliacs are likely to face far more discrimination than classic TS people, because they don't completely identify with the opposite gender, yet have a large number of mixed opposite gender traits.
    So, what do you call them? Are they men who feel female but are still not entirely female? Or are they mere fetishists?
    The most appropriate answer I am convinced of is that gender being actually non-binary (though soicety intends to believe otherwise), natural variation will always create people who don't belong to either end of the spectrum.People always would want to see a boy as a boy and a girl as girl, but that is not what nature always creates in reality. We do have women who are practically male and males who are practically female, though they dont have a full gender identity mismatch like the classic TS.

  9. I totally agree that there is a real big difference as to how people look at men crossdressing or women crossdressing in our various cultures today. Your pictures were good points on that. Some would say it's not fair, that people should be okay with men dressing like that. But I would say, it's not right that we aren't disturbed when women do it. But that's another story.

    Part of the issue though is that there isn't much left that is distinctly masculine clothing. Just about everything men wear, there are female versions of. So it's hard for women to actually be "crossdressing." But it doesn't work the same way for men. There is a lot of feminine clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes, etc, that have no parallels in mens fashion, so therefore if a man wears anything like that it really stands out and is shocking.

    So the dynamic could just be that clothing difference, rather than our cultures still believing its good to be men or be more manly, and bad to be a woman or be more womanly (but I would agree that that element is still there too, and it's one we should work to change).

  10. I just saw this link yesterday:

    I don't think male crossdressing is as shocking as it used to be...

  11. @Thorin

    "So the dynamic could just be that clothing difference, rather than our cultures still believing its good to be men or be more manly,"

    I agree, but I cannot help asking why crossdressing in one direction is more OK than in the other.


    Fascinating. I have tweeted this one.

  12. I'm sure you're broadly right, but there's a couple of language issues.

    Nobody is "transgendered". The term is transgender person - it is not done to them. Verbing the noun is always a no-no.

    Nobody is a "transwoman" - trans is an adjective. The term is trans women - women who are trans, not a single word that is an alternative to woman.

    Also, just FYI, autogynephilia is already on the DSM. Nobody's a fan of it, but it's there.

  13. @anaris

    Yes, 'transgendered' is to be avoided. This post was written some time ago.

    I have also started following Julia Serano's practice of writing trans woman instead of transwoman, for the reason you have mentioned.

    'Auotgynephilia' is definitely in the DSM, both in the 4th and the 5th edition. Hoever, the latest edition accepts crossdreaming trans women as gender dysphoric. That is, they are to be diagnosed as autogynephilic (which is a paraphilia) and gender dysphoric (which is no longer a mental illness) at the same time. This reflects the divide within the psychatric community. Blanchard is losing. In Scandianavia the parallell condition, transvestic fetishism, has already been removed.


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