November 23, 2010

On crossdreaming and autogynephilia as a fetish

Is autogynephilia a fetish? And is that why so many would rather not be associated with the term?

Autogynephilia (AGP) means to love oneself as a woman, and the researcher that coined the term, Ray Blanchard, argued that "autogynephiliacs" had internalized their external love object, so instead of loving a flesh and blood woman out there, they love the idea of themselves as a woman. He called it a paraphilia.

In the online debate about autogynephilia (or crossdreaming, which is the term I prefer) the most common used term for the condition is, however, that it is a fetish.

It was Blanchard's mentor Kurt Freund that called this condition for "cross-gender fetishism".

A note on terminology

Since this blog post was written, I have stopped using the term "autogynephiliac" to refer to MTF crossdreamers. The term is simply to closely associated with Ray Blanchard's misleading and transphobic explanation of transgender identities.

WHO on fetishistic transvestites

In modern medicine, crossdreaming is often classified as a fetishism. The World Health Organisation manual ICD-10, fives the following definition of crossdressing as a "disorder of sexual preference":

"Fetishistic transvestism: The wearing of clothes of the opposite sex principally to obtain sexual excitement and to create the appearance of a person of the opposite sex. Fetishistic transvestism is distinguished from transsexual transvestism by its clear association with sexual arousal and the strong desire to remove the clothing once orgasm occurs and sexual arousal declines. It can occur as an earlier phase in the development of transsexualism." (F65.1)

Under the category "gender identity orders" there is another type of crossdressers, unsullied by impure desires (F64.1):

"Dual-role transvestism: The wearing of clothes of the opposite sex for part of the individual's existence in order to enjoy the temporary experience of membership of the opposite sex, but without any desire for a more permanent sex change or associated surgical reassignment, and without sexual excitement accompanying the cross-dressing. Gender identity disorder of adolescence or adulthood, nontranssexual type. Excludes: fetishistic transvestism ( F65.1 ) "

This is an attempt to make sense of the group of crossdressers who do not report sexual arousal, but who nevertheless do not want to transition.

You can see that the authors have had a hard time distinguishing between crossdressers who crossdress for sexual purposes and the rest. To be honest with you: I think this distinction is completely bogus.

In this classification the experts use sexual desire as the most important factor for defining the two groups. This could make sense in a time when sexuality was considered impure and of the Devil. These days sexuality is considered a natural and good part of human existence. Heck, even fetishes are now normally considered an acceptable variation of human sexuality.

To argue that crossdressers who get aroused by crossdressing are fundamentally different from those that do not, must imply that "the fetishistic transvestites" (the crossdreamers) do not share the dreams of the asexual "dual-role transvestites ", i.e. the dream of temporary or permanently being members of the opposite sex. From what I see, many -- if not most of them -- do.

This becomes even more paradoxical when it argues that fetishistic transvestitism can be an earlier phase of transsexualism:

"Transsexualism: A desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one's anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one's body as congruent as possible with one's preferred sex."

(The WHO definitions are clearly based on Harry Benjamin's sex orientation scale. Benjamin solved the paradoxes presented above by arguing that there were no clear boundaries between the different types of fetishists and transsexuals.)

What is a fetish?

There are many definitions of sexual fetishism, but at the core of most of them is the notion that something nonsexual, such as an object or a part of the body, arouses sexual desire or is necessary for one to reach full sexual satisfaction. Since a lot of "autogynephiliacs" crossdress, it is easy to conclude that female clothing is this object.

November 19, 2010

Transgenderisms 5

Another Ray Blanchard comic for you. Click on image to enlarge!

November 14, 2010

Childhood crossdreamers

The myth says that crossdressers and crossdreamers (men who get aroused by the idea of being a woman) become what they are when puberty hits. The myth is wrong.

There are to many crossdreamer childhood stories around for this to be true.

Repressing your inner girl

Autogyn tells one harrowing child hood story over at "Living with Autogynephilia".

"I don't remember the exact year or how old I was, but I'm sure it was somewhere before the age of ten. I remember losing a tooth. I remember my mother telling me to write a note to the tooth fairy- to accompany my tooth."

In the not s/he wrote that s/he wanted to be a girl. That was a mistake.

"Shortly after, days, weeks, I'm not sure, I caught my father trying on my mothers one-piece swimsuit. Only, I didn't actually *catch* anything, that is until he raised his index finger to his lips to shush me.

"I stood there watching him, and then something even stranger happened. He ran out of his bedroom, and all over the house and in front of my mother. He kept yelling, 'Look at me, I'm (my name),' repeatedly. My mother was laughing hysterically."

If someone is in doubt why some crossdreamers manage to suppress their inner woman, this should be an example good enough.

Crossdreamers are liers

The fact is that there are a lot of people, researchers as well as transwomen, who deny that M2F crossdressers and crossdreamers experienced gender dysphoria or gender confusion when they are kids. The idea is that since crossdreamers are purely sexually motivated, their fantasies and dreams cannot appear before puberty.

This is one of the reasons Ray Blanchard argued that "autogynephilic" transwomen are lying. Their childhood stories are constructs helping them appear as regular "classic transwomen". The idea is that the earlier your gender dysphoria appears, the more "real" it apparently is.

It is well known that for a long time many doctors and therapist only accepted M2F transgendered who did not report sexual arousal from feminization fantasies as real women ready for hormone treatment and surgery. At the time researchers seemed to believed that only men were perverts, and that women were pure as snow.

I do not doubt for a minute that some crossdreamers wanting to transition told the doctors what the doctors wanted to hear. Why shouldn't they, when the doctors at hand were so hung up in 19th century stereotypes of what it means to be a man or a woman?

But that does not mean that their childhood memories were false. Given the stories told on this site, and all the crossdreamers I have been in contact with, I can say with 100 percent certainty that yes, many crossdreamers dreamed of being girls at a very early age.

The life stories of Anne Lawrence

I went over to Anne Lawrence’s site and reread her narratives about autogynephilia.

She asked readers of her site to provide their life stories. She did not explicitly ask for childhood experiences, I believe, as Lawrence originally seemed to share Blanchard’s belief that autogynephilia (crossdreaming) appears at puberty.

She had to conclude, though, after having gathered these narratives, that “cross-gender feelings frequently preceded overt autogynephilic arousal, often by many years”.

This is no way a scientifically valid sample. Moreover, out of more than 100, she only presents 59 online . In spite of that I believe her survey proves that crossdreaming can be a childhood phenomenon.

Three types of childhood crossdreamers

Some of these narratives point to a childhood that is similar to the ones reported for androphilic transkids and classic transsexuals. That is, there seems to be at least three categories:

(1) Those kids that appear as “normal” boys, taking part in rough and tumble play etc. etc.

(2) Those that “pass” as boys, but display some “girl-like” behavior. They avoid rough and tumble play and do prefer more peaceful activities. I was one of them myself – a kind of “proto-nerd”, I guess. I preferred drawing to soccer and skiing, but also found building model warplanes a good thing.

(3) Those who clearly identify with girls, often cross-dress as kids and prefer playing with girls.
These are not absolute categories, I believe, but more like a gradual continuum.

This means that single cases of crossdreamer kids appearing “boyish” as kids do not prove anything, one way or the other, as regards the possible “femininity” of other crossdreamer kids.

Out of Anne Lawrence’s 58 autogynephilia narratives, the following report childhood transgender issues: 1, 3, 4?, 8, 9, 13?, 19, 23, 25, 26, 28, 31, 34, 35, 38?, 44, 48, 50?, 54, 55, 56.

That is 21 out of 59. It might be that some of the others would have reported childhood experiences, as well, had they been asked to. We can also speculate about how many crossdreamers suppress childhood dreams about becoming girls. (The question marks mark cases where the narratives may possible be interpreted in such a way that they do not confirm childhood experiences. To me they look genuine.)

Crossdreaming before puberty

Lawrence admits that these narratives are in conflict with Ray Blanchard’s theory of crossdreaming (autgynephilia) being a sexually driven paraphilia:

“There was one way in which some of my respondents’ stories were less consistent with Blanchard’s ideas about autogynephilia. If the desire for sex reassignment is indeed an outgrowth of these persons’ autogynephilia, then we would expect autogynephilia to appear first, with cross-gender wishes appearing only later. But some of my respondents who freely acknowledged autogynephilic arousal reported that they had experienced cross-gender wishes long before their autogynephilia became evident. (…) It is hard to know whether accounts like these are accurate, or are simply retrospective re-writings of early memories to agree with accepted notions about transsexualism. I believe that we must at least consider the possibility that autogynephilia can, in different individuals, be either the cause or the effect of a desire for sex reassignment.”

Even childhood crossdreaming may have a sexual component (see On the Science of Changing Sex for a very interesting case). Children are sexual beings. But it becomes harder to explain why a M2F crossdreamer kid dressing up as a girl is more fetishistic or paraphilic than an androphilic transgirl trying out mama’s shoes.

Some quotes

I have copied the paragraphs from these narratives that are relevant to the childhood AGP question.

No 1: ” I have no doubt, as I look back on my past, that when I was five and wearing perfume, or making pretty necklaces out of colored beads, or arranging flowers, or when I was seven and volunteering to play ‘Mother Goose’ in the school play, that sexual motivation was a part of what I was experiencing.”

No. 3: “I began crossdressing at three or four. My absolute earliest lifetime memory is, in fact, of standing in a closet happily wearing my sister’s dress, knowing somehow that it was “wrong” and that I should never be caught. I fantasized a lot during my childhood about being a girl, or transforming into one, but I had friends of both sexes, and was feminine in appearance but not necessarily in action. I would have been a tomboy, if I [had been] a girl. My sister was my best friend, and we played with dolls and girlish fantasy games, but I also played cowboys and softball and ran around the badlands with my boy friends.”

No 4: “I do not believe myself to BE a woman, nor did I ever believe myself to BE a girl while growing up. I certainly wasn’t masculine — I played almost exclusively with girls and did not act at all macho, but I never thought I WAS a girl.”

No 6: “I really can’t trace autogynephilia back too much beyond adolescence — I never fit in and really didn’t do boy things, but I didn’t do much girlish stuff either (although I remember some interest, but avoided it because of fear of repercussions of peers).”

No 8: “I did dress in some of my mother’s underthings as I was growing up, but never did fully dress until around 10 years ago.”

No 9: “I had begun cross-dressing as a child and had fantasizing about being female. From puberty onwards, I was sexually aroused by the idea of being a women, wearing women’s clothes, fetish items, and being made love to as a women by a man. ”

No 13: “I did not engage in much crossdressing at an early age. I did sneak occasionally into my Mother’s room and try on a slip, panties, or a bra, but that was the extent of it.”

No 19: ” Following the classic definition of transsexuality, my feelings started at an early age, at least as early as five, years before puberty. I didn’t fit in with boys. I loathed sports and fighting, and war-related role-playing. I was quite drawn to trying on my mother’s and sister’s things, including clothes, makeup, perfume, and jewelry, both real and toy versions. My favorite toys were all my sisters, the dolls and the easy bake oven.”

No 23: “When I was six or seven, I used to masturbate with a piece of clothing — it did not need to be gendered clothing, I just did not want to touch my penis — and fantasize about not having a penis, [and] having a vagina.”

No 25: ” I am almost 100% sure that my desire to be a woman is more established than [my] autogynephilia, which I also recognize [in] myself. The former has been rather stable since the age of six, whereas I don’t recall any remotely autogynephilic fantasies before the age of 20.”
No 26: “I have distinct memories of having wanted to be a girl beginning at age four to five years old, and when I saw a rerun newsreel of Christine Jorgensen at 9 years old, I blurted out to my parents I wanted to do that (not smart). ”

No 28: “As an aside, I do not conform to the portrayal of standard physical characteristics of autogynephiles, as I was feminine as a child, transitioned at an early age, and have generally “passed” without effort.”

No 31: “I was used to wear my Mom’s clothing and shoes from the age of five years. I liked this very much, especially because I had the feeling that I was a woman. I was jealous of many school girls, especially the beautiful ones. I wore my mother’s clothes and shoes, and even had my own small wardrobe.”

No 34: “I have known since very early childhood that I was transsexual, though I had no term for it then. However, the standard or classic transsexual definitions did not seem to apply. ”

No 35: “But I don’t think that autogynephilic sexuality is the reason I am transsexual. Rather, I think it is a symptom of my transsexualism. I had my first feelings of wanting to be female around the age of 3-1/2. All through childhood, I prayed that I could become a girl. I started crossdressing around the age of seven. However, since I was an extremely shy child, I was also an extremely compliant child. I was told I was a boy and would always be a boy no matter what. And so, I tried as best I could to get on with life as a male.”

No 38: “I am a transsexual woman who has a sexual attraction towards women. I first knew of my lesbianism at age 10 or 11 when I was told the word and its meaning. (…) Since my pre-teens, I have behaved in a way that is quite consist with being a woman. While I may never have felt as if I “were” a woman (I still don’t — I feel like me and I’m a woman), my presentation, social attitudes, sexual behavior, etc. are all quite consistent with a life-long internal identity as a woman.”

No 44: “I have vivid memories starting from about age six or seven of wanting to be a girl, and of sexual desires which accompanied it. I also remember feeling ashamed of those feelings, though I do not remember any particular incident that instilled such feelings. Fantasies of intentionally becoming a girl began around age 10.”

No 48: “My first understanding that I desired to be a woman, and its accompanying excitement, came when I was around five years old. This occurred watching a Doris Day movie, and at first it involved the wonderful clothes she wore.”

No 50:” When I was younger, maybe eight years old, I always wanted to wear diapers and pee in them. Around this same age, I would often pull my penis and testes down, and cross my legs to hide them and see how I’d look with female genitalia. ”

No 54: “I started crossdressing as a child, probably about age five or six, and continued to do this most of my life.”

No 55: “I grew up wanting to be a girl. At age six or earlier, I can remember praying to God to let me be a girl.”

No 56: “I began having feelings of wanting to be female at a young age, and started crossdressing in my sister’s clothes at age five.”

By the way, many of the respondents confirm that they have been lying about their autogynephilia to health personnel: “I didn’t bring it up because I wanted SRS. I figured out early on that I had to present what they wanted to see, not what I really was. I had no belief at all that I could get approval without lying, so I lied.”

But I doubt that they lied about their childhood.

November 6, 2010

The Vernon Coleman study of Crossdressers

In 1995 the author and crossdresser Vernon Coleman made a survey of crossdressers.

The European Medical Journal Special Monograph On Transvestism/Crossdressing was based on questionnaires which were completed by 414 British males during July and August 1995 and on written communications from over 600 other British males during the same period.

Coleman belong to the crossdressers who think there is no connection between crossdressing and transsexualism. I think there is such a connection, although I understand his point about there being a big difference between the crossdresser who has no wish to become a woman for real, and the transsexuals who are driven by a gender identity dysphoria.

Coleman also denies the existence of crossdressers assigned female at birth. I know they exist.

His results are very interesting, though, and seems to confirm findings made by others.

I include some of the results below. The complete report, with Coleman's comments and quotes from crossdressers can be found over at his site.

How old were you when you began wearing womens clothes?

The average age at which males in this survey started dressing in womens' clothes was 13. The youngest respondent reported that he had started crossdressing at the age of 4. The oldest was 70 when he started dressing as a woman.

This confirms that the myth that the urge cannot "awaken" before puberty is exactly that: a myth.

Why do you do it?

Note: Respondents were invited to tick as many options as they liked.

a) Because I like the feeling of women’s clothes: 321 (77%)
b) Because it gives me a sexual kick: 244 (59%)
c) Because it helps me relax and deal with stress: 202 (48%)
d) Because I want to be like a woman: 262 (63%)

"Surprisingly, perhaps," Coleman says, "the most common reason given for cross dressing was the feeling of wearing women’s clothes."

The question is, of course: What does that mean? Is it the sensual feeling associated with the feminine, or is it just a practical way of avoiding an itch? The fact that close to 60 percent get a sexual kick out of this, seems to confirm the idea that sex is an important part of the motivation. This is why Ray Blanchard ends up reducing "autogynephilia" (the love of oneself as a woman) to a sexual perversion.

Coleman makes a very important point, however, by pointing out that there is more to this than sexual desire:

"A man who is under constant pressure to achieve, to perform and to make money may find that he can escape from those pressures most effectively by slipping on silky, feminine clothes. He can change his personality and his perception of society's expectations of him within seconds."

I see that a lot of people talk about "male privileges" when discussing transgender issues. For men caught in the web of gender stereotypes (the man being responsible, strong, untouchable, "uncryable") the "female privileges" give room for emotional relief.

"By dressing as women they can liberate their feminine, gentle side - and (temporarily at least) escape from their aggressive, ambitious, demanding masculine selves," Coleman says.

In Christian and Muslim cultures there is a tendency of keeping this "clean" longing for emotional relief from the "tainted" urge for sexual relief. I believe this division is artificial. Still, it is clear that crossdressing is much more than a "sexual fetish" for these men. It is also a way of expressing a feminine identity and to deal with stress.

If you had the opportunity would you have a sex change operation?

94 respondents (23%) answered 'yes'
320 respondents (77%) answered 'no'

Coleman argues that crossdressers are different from transsexuals:

"Many lay people who come into contact with transvestites confuse cross dressing with transsexualism. Wives, girlfriends, employers, workmates and friends often suspect that transvestism is merely a stepping stone on a longer journey; a half way house on the way to transsexualism. This mistaken view is also common among many professionals (doctors, psychologists and social workers) who assume that transvestites and transsexuals are merely variations on the same theme. Some psychiatrists regard transvestites as gender dysphorics but on the evidence obtained by this study I would regard that as a misnomer. Some transvestites would like to become transsexuals but most transvestites (over three quarters according to this survey) have no doubts about their gender and are perfectly happy about their crossdressing. "

I think Coleman is mixing etiology (the cause of both phenomena) with the expression of that etiology. The idea of there being several types of transgendered people (inincludingrossdressers and transsexuals) is based on the understanding that they have a common -- or related -- cause. The fact that as many as 23 percent want a sex reassignment operation points in that direction. Many MTF transwomen have started out as crossdressers.

But Coleman is of course right in insisting that most crossdressers do not want to transition. They want to remain men, while exploring their femininity through crossdressing.

Has being a transvestite ever lost you a job or a relationship?

66 respondents (16%) answered 'yes'
348 respondents (84%) answered 'no'

Coleman adds:

"At first sight the low percentage of crossdressers answering `yes' to this question seems surprising. It is clear, however, (particularly from the response to Question No 13: Do you live in fear of people finding out that you are a transvestite?) [69% said `yes' 31% said `no'] that a very large number of transvestites are extremely secretive about their crossdressing. These transvestites clearly believe that they would lose jobs or relationships if their secret became common knowledge. Most transvestites would probably prefer to be open about what they do. The secrecy tends to add to the guilt they feel. Many transvestites are also aware that it would be much better to tell their loved ones than to have them find out by accident."

The stigma attached to crossdressing makes this much harder than it need to.

Another important point, that Coleman does not make, is that the fear associated with crossdressing, is a strong indication of this not being a voluntary urge, something the crossdressers decide to do just for the thrill of it. The risk is too high for this to be the case. This points in the direction of this being some kind of inborn trait.

If you go out crossdressed, in your opinion, how many of the people who see you are convinced that you are a woman?

82 respondents (20%) reported that they never went out crossdressed
125 respondents (30%) reported that no one who saw them would be convinced that they were women
95 respondents (23%) reported that a few of those who saw them would be convinced that they were women
87 respondents (21%) reported that most of those who saw them would be convinced that they were women
23 respondents (6%) reported that all of those who saw them would be convinced that they were women

These numbers show that the men have a pretty realistic understanding of how they appear. They still crossdress, and the fantasy of being a woman brings emotional relief all the same.

Those who believe they could pass, are not necessarily lying. If they are a bit feminine looking at the outset, they may be able to get away with it.

Have you ever had sex with another man?

82 respondents (20%) said 'yes'
332 respondents (80%) said 'no'

Coleman adds:

"The incidence of any homosexual experience among transvestites (1 in 5) is slightly lower than the incidence of any homosexual experience among non transvestite heterosexuals (usually regarded as 1 in 3). Most of those transvestites who admitted to having had sex with another man said that their homosexual experiences were isolated. The incidence of genuine homosexuality and bisexuality among transvestites is considerably less than 1 in 5 and probably close to the normal figure for non transvestite males of between 5% and 10%."

Coleman draws our attention to a very important fact. A significant proportion of heterosexual cismen do report having sexual experiences with other men. I would guess that this proportion would be even higher in cultures where being the active part in a homoerotic relationship is not considered gay or effeminate, and therefore OK. In other words: Our strict division into homosexual and heterosexual is misleading.

If we are anything like our closest relative in the animal kingdom, the bonobos, you may even postulate that bisexual behavior is the default, and that heterosexual relationships is just one of many natural variations.

I believe we need to develop a more sophisticated and nuanced view of sexual orientation. Being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual is not one simple, unified, permanent and stable trait that is valid for all sides of life. This is especially true for crossdreamers, as they may distinguish between:
  1. Sexual practice (some of them report having had sex with men, even if they fall in love with women)
  2. Sexual attraction (some of them report being attracted to the male physique at the same time as they are attracted to women)
  3. Romantic attraction (some are sexually attracted to men, but fall in love with women)
  4. Sexual fantasy (some report having fantasies about having sex with men, even if they are not attracted to them)
  5. Sexual identity (some consider themselves homosexual or bisexual, but their interpretations of these words may vary)
  6. Gender identity (most of them identify as men, some as women and some as something in between)
  7. Gender expression (when crossdressing these male bodied person express their own understanding of femininity, when they are not they express their idea of maculinity)

Have you ever had sex with a woman while you've been dressed as a woman?

228 respondents (55%) answered 'yes'
186 respondents (45%) answered 'no'

This response shows that a surprisingly large percentage of crossdressers are able to integrate their crossdressing into their sex lives.

Coleman adds:

"The number of transvestites who have made love to their wives or girlfriends while crossdressed will probably surprise many - particularly those who, quite wrongly, assume that transvestites are gay."

308 respondents (74%) answered 'yes' to the question "Does your partner know of your transvestism?" 106 respondents ( 26%) answered 'no'

When asked whether their partner approve of their crossdressing 177 respondents (43%) answered 'yes', while 237 respondents (57%) answered 'no'. Although a surprisingly large percentage of female partners accept this part of their man, it is also clear that many of them just tolerate it.

That being said, as many as 153 respondents (37%) answered 'yes' to the question of their partner helping them choose clothes, make up etc.

The good new is that it may be possible to establish stable relationships where the partner accept the crossdreamer's inner woman.

November 1, 2010

An autogynephilia historical time line

Zagria has put up part two of her useful timeline of the history of autogynephila. The overview includes links to relevant sites and books, and helps you get an overview over the sequence of events. Part 1: 1910 - 2000 Part 2: 2001 - 2010 The Crossdreamers blog is now part of transgender history. Who would have thought...