July 21, 2015

What Caitlyn Jenner's Story Means for MTF Crossdressers, Crossdreamers and Transgender

Caitlyn Jenner's journey will make a huge difference for all transgender people, including crossdressers and crossdreamers. 
Caitlyn Jenner (Photo: Time)

2014 was declared the transgender tipping point, with black trans woman Laverne Cox on the cover of Time.

Fast forward to 2015: A late transitioning 65 year old transgender woman is on the cover of Vanity Fair. Like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock before her, Caitlyn Jenner gives transgender a human face. Laverne and Caitlyn express strong support for each other.

Late-onset trans icon

So why is this important, not only to transgender people in general, but also for male to female crossdressers and crossdreamers? Well, the big deal is that having Caitlyn Jenner as a trans icon in major media is no longer a big deal.

This also mean that more and more people ignore the old way of presenting trans women: as emotionally disturbed men.

According to the old narratives of transgender, the ones propagated by old fashioned researchers, transsexual separatists, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, Laverne and Caitlyn are two different species.

June 2014: Laverne Cox on the cover of Time
Laverne, who is sexually oriented towards men, is at best a "real transsexual" or -- according to researchers like Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey -- an effeminate homosexual man.

Cailtyn on the other hand, who would normally be classified as a "late-onset transsexual", and seen as a perverted heterosexual man, a transvestic fetishist or -- according to Blanchard -- a "autogynephiliac".

But no. This has not become a major issue in the public debate. With very few exceptions, no one cares.

Feminists criticize Jenner because she is a woman

Yes, Caitlyn has been criticized. Feminists activists have argued that she should not give in to the sexualized gender pressure of contemporary culture, dressing up as she did in the Vanity Fair photo shoot.

But when they say so they have already accepted her as a woman. Theirs is a feminist argument, and not an invalidation of Jenner's identity or of trans women in general.

The old paradigm states that the reason that some crossdreamers and crosdressers get aroused by the idea of becoming their target sex, proves that they are sexual deviants. I have no way of knowing if Jenner has been crossdreaming, and I am certainly not going to ask her. What we do know is that she wants to present herself to the world as an attractive, sexy woman, and I am sure some autogynephilia-enthusiasts will interpret this as proof of her being an autogynephile.

But the idea that her desire to appear as an attractive, sexy, woman implies that she is a perverted man, becomes meaningless in a Jenner/Kardashian family-context.
Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair

Caitlyn's step daughter has also been a cover girl this summer, and her Rolling Stone cover reminds us all that feeling sexy is not a male prerogative.  In this context the autogynephilia theory (where gynephilic/lesbian trans women are men in love with their inner woman) becomes absolutely absurd.

Kim Kardashian is clearly proud of her attractiveness and enjoys expressing that pride in many arenas. You may criticise Kim Kardashian for giving in to sexist stereotypes, but if she also is an autogynephile, then the whole trans-phobic argument falls apart.

This is, of course, a point related to the one Dr. Charles Moser made a few year back, when he identified "autogynephilia" in non-transgender women.

I know that some researchers will argue that I am missing the point here, and that Caitlyn's feeling of sexiness is fundamentally different from Kim's. I do not think so, and have explained why in this blog post.

The short version: Many transgender people cannot help getting aroused by the idea of being their target sex, as such a transformation will make it possible for them to explore the sexual side of their true identity. In other words: In a trans context feeling sexy and getting aroused by the idea of being sexy are two sides of the same coin.

Women have not only the right to present themselves as sexually attractive, many also expect them to do so. And at the moment you accept Jenner as a woman, her desire to be an attractive woman becomes as natural as Kim Kardashian's exploration of sexist stereotypes, whether we this way of presenting womanhood or not.

By living up to the perceived standards, Jenner changes the narrative

And this is where Caitlyn effective kills the narrative of the gynephilic (i.e. woman-loving), late-onset, trans woman as an ugly sexual predator in a frock. And by doing so she  inadvertently also helps the majority of late-onset trans women, including those who do not have the financial means needed for this kind of total makeover, or who do not want to play the glamour game.

Kim Kardashian on the cover of Rolling Stone
In other words: Even if I have qualms about the way Jenner presents her vision of being an attractive woman, I also see that she -- by presenting herself in this way -- makes transgender more acceptable in her own conservative, white, upper- and middle-class, circles. She is giving trans women a face this part of society can relate to.  She is humanizing trans for the conservative side of America.

None of this would have been possible without the struggle of all the transgender activists that came before her, but by bringing more people into the trans-accepting fold, Jenner is helping us over the tipping point.

We should keep in mind that the reason that so many right wing Americans now accept gay marriage is (1) that they now know (or know of) gay and lesbian people, and therefore find it harder to dehumanize them, and (2) they are now able to reinterpret gay and lesbian living into a traditional setting: life long marriage.

This is  a bit different in a Norwegian setting, where a married, Conservative gay Minister of Health attacks trans separatist dogma, allowing trans people to determine their own identity and legal status -outside the medical system. But let's face it: What happens in the US has a greater effect on the tipping point than what takes place in Scandinavia. Besides,  in both countries this is about reinterpreting  trans women to mean real women.

Still a hero

Cailtyn has also been criticized for accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. The main argument has been that there are others that deserve the award more than her.

The most negative commentators would like to give the award to men in the military. There is something in parts of American culture that will always rank men with guns above anyone else, courage wise.
The White House celebrates same-sex marriage.
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Pos

But again: Their reluctance to go out openly and say that they believe Caitlyn is a man is revealing.

I truly believe many of them do see her as a woman, although of the radical type they do not like. Others have now become afraid of revealing themselves as transphobic, that they do not dare to play the perversion card.

No wonder: we have now male soldiers coming out in defence of Jenner. And the US military has decided to accept transgender members.

And that is the tipping point in action: When the transphobes become afraid of appearing transphobic the narrative has shifted dramatically in a positive direction.

It is no coincidence that this happens in the year the Conferderate flag is taken down in America, and the White House is covered with the LGBT rainbow. At this point the idea of dividing trans women into two categories, sorting the autogynephilic wolves from the androphilic sheep, becomes pedantic and meaningless.

No more Stockholm syndrome

The main reason a minority of trans women supported this dichotomy was the fear of becoming labelled as perverts themselves. Some of those suffering from severe gender dysphoria have tried to survive by defining themselves as something else: "I am a real woman trapped in a man's body and not some creepy autogynephile!"

And the reason some crossdressers and crossdreamers  have tried to distance themselves from transsexual women, has been to avoid the stigma of being an trans woman (or, sadly enough, the stigma of being a woman).

The fear of not being a proper man has forced some MTF crossdreamers to accept the theory, courageously: "I may be a paraphilic fetishist, but at least I am not a woman."

Both of these extremes have internalized the transphobic world view of their culture, to the point where they felt they had no choice but to adapt to it. Now that the overall culture and narrative is shifting, their urgent need to distance themselves from those lower on the social hierarchy becomes less important.

Young transgender people are not crossdressers

My wife Sally and I are curating trans and LGBT news for the younger generations over at tumblr (here and here). That has been a valuable learning experience for both of us. It is clear that gender variant and queer people in their teens and twenties do not relate to the traditional conflicts of the previous transgender generations.
Social media like tumblr is
pushing trans-acceptance forward

Young queer and transgender people, for instance, do not identify as crossdressers. Crossdressing is something they do, not something they are. They prefer words like trans, transgender, queer, and nonbinary to describe themselves.

When a tiny group of FTM transsexual separatists back in 2013 tried to take over the word transgender and exclude those that could not live up to their gender stereotypes, they caused a lot of suffering. (See this post on the truscum phenomenon)

Still, that attempt collapsed within a year. The great majority of trans and queer youth on tumblr would have nothing of it. Most of them believe in a continuum model of sex, sexuality and gender, dismissing the strict binary. And in this context theories like "transvestic fetishism" and "autogynephilia" become meaningless and uninteresting.

In general the gender variant youth on tumblr seem unwilling to like and repost blog post related to crossdressers and older trans women, and for a while we wondered whether this could be caused by some internalized transphobia based on the old "crossdressers and old trans women are creepy guys" paradigm.

The Caitlyn Jenner story showed us that this is not the case. Caitlyn has become a role model and trans icon among both female to male, male to female and nonbinary trans youth. Caitlyn's willingness to talk about the challenges facing young trans and queer people has only strengthened this effect.

The ones who do care

This does not mean that the autogynephilia argument has not been made lately. Ray Blanchard's friend James Cantor tried to breathe some life into the debate on twitter by calling "autogynephilia-deniers the anti-vaxxers of sexology", effectively saying that anyone who denied the autogynephilia-theory also denied the existence of crossdreaming.

This is pure nonsense, as readers of this blog will know. Most trans people accept that crossdreaming is a thing; they simply interpret it differently. (See Julia Serano's response to Cantor's argument).

J Michael Bailey has argued that Caitlyn Jenner is an autogynephiliac over at Patheos, a religous site, where he is engaging in double-speak, referring to her as "she" while at the same time calling her a man.

That post generated an intense, partly toxic and partly quite interesting, discussion on autogynephilia and being trans. But it is also quite clear that that discussion was for insiders only. It has had no effect on the overall trend towards trans acceptance.
The Tipping Point: The G makes
a point about the T in LGBT (tumblr)

Beyond this tiny group of insiders, the only people who now use the autogynephilia theory actively  are trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and a few religious extremists. If you judge people by the company they keep, that does not bode well for the longevity of autogynephilia theory.

If you bring up the autogynephilia theory in transgender circles these days, the most common response is: "Really? Is this still a thing?"

I am not saying that the autogynephilia-promoters cannot continue to cause damage. They most certainly can. But on the grand scale their traditionalist sexism is now seen for what it is, or it is not seen at all.

The autogynephilia theory has become the Confederate flag of modern psychiatry. It is only a matter of time before the Powers that Be realize that it has to be removed from the DSM-manual. The current draft of the WHO ICD-11 manual has even removed the fetishistic transvestism category, and there is no sign of autogynephilia.

What this means for crossdressers and crossdreamers

Concepts like "transvestic fetishism" and "autogynephilia" are tools used by the system to uphold the gender binary and force men to live up to masculine stereotypes. And up till now they have been very effective.

The new acceptance of transgender people makes transgender infighting based on these stereotypes meaningless. If sex and gender is not a strict binary, there is room for trans women who completely identify with their target sex and nonbinary trans people who find their identity somewhere in between (or somewhere else completely). There is also room for  crossdreamers and crossdressers who feel comfortable in their assigned gender, but who want to explore other gender expressions.

We can already see that this has changed the concept of the late-onset, late-transitioning, trans woman. These days gynephilic and bisexual trans women increasingly transition when they are young. The Internet has given them the language and community they need to express and defend themselves at an earlier age.

I am sure that we will see more male to female crossdressers and crossdreamers identify as women, and choose to transition. This also applies to those who have found it hardest to get out of their shell -- married crossdressers and crossdreamers with family, kids and careers. They may now use the Jenner story to explain their own suffering to family, friends and colleagues. And the acceptance of Jenner will increase the chances of them finding acceptance as well.

We may also find that crossdreamers who previously would have felt that there was no alternative  to the medical system's insistence on trans people living up to the gender stereotypes -- and who have bought the whole package (hormones and surgery) out of pure desperation -- may now find alternative ways of becoming themselves.

More and more countries now abandon the idea that you have to be castrated and sterilized in order be legally recognized as your target sex. Both WPATH and the DSM manual now accept non-binary trans people, and the next edition of the WHO ICD-manual will most likely do so, as well.

Why? Because we are now at the other side of the tipping point.

More about crossdreaming, autogynephilia and being transgender.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. We have passed the tipping point to be sure. Whether we like Caitlyn Jenner or not is irrelevant because what is more interesting is that the world has come to a place where she can exist and be taken seriously by a large segment of the population. The fact is that gender dysphoria exists and has a sexual component should not be surprising to anyone as we are all sexual beings. The fact that few people care or even know about Blanchard's toxic work proves that it never stood a chance to gain any traction in the long term.

    The past work of Hirschfeld and Benjamin still stands up to scrutiny and the current work by Anne Vitale will continue to try and shed light on the complexities of this condition while we await for a confirmed biological tracer. But whether we find one or not, we can rest assured that the transgender condition has gotten the type of attention it merits simply due to the sheer numbers of people who have been born with it and how their stories correlate with one another. As more of them come into the light of day they will be even more impossible to ignore.

  3. I agree, and given the large number of trans people who have stayed in the closet because of general transphobic and homophobic attitudes of society, as well as stigmatizing theories like "transvestic fetishism" and "autougynephili", I believe we will find that the percentage of transgender people is much, much higher than the present numbers indicate.

    I still consider Magnus Hirschfeld the greatest researcher on trans ever. Benjamin showed compassion for trans women. That is more than you can say of the AGP school.

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  5. @Sandy

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