December 30, 2018

What the sexual fantasies of non-transgender people tell us about the dreams of those who are trans

A recent survey of Americans documents that one third of the respondents have had crossdreamer fantasies. The survey tells us that the erotic fantasies of gender variant people are just variations of the ones of non-transgender people.

We have all seen the mechanism at work. Marginalized people are judged by other standards than those who think of themselves as "normal". If a black man commits a crime, it is because he is black. If a white man commits a crime, it is because he is a criminal. If a cis woman has a kink, it is because she is sexually liberated. If a trans woman has a kink, she is that kink.

This is obviously why so many transphobes try to reduce transgender identities to sexual perversions and "paraphilias". If a male to female crossdreamer gets turned on by dressing up sexy, it is because he is a creepy fetishist, and not because she is a woman that wants to have her sexuality and identity affirmed.

Normalcy is not as normal as "normal people" think

All of this rests on the premise that cis (i.e. non-transgender) women and cis men shares some kind of sexual normalcy that is completely different from the one of transgender men and women.

The truth is, however, that there is only one single sexual fantasy found among trans people that is not found among cis people, and that is the arousal that might follow from the fantasy of being transformed into your target sex or real gender.

Such fantasies, which I have referred to as "erotic crossdreaming", most often lead to that transformed person having sex in some way or the other, most often in a way that affirms their new gender status.

There is an obvious explanation for why this fantasy is not found among cis people: They already have a body in alignment with their experienced gender. A transformation that allows you to have sex as yourself, is therefore not arousing.

Tell Me What You Want

Earlier this year Justin J. Lehmiller presented the results of a comprehensive study of sexual desire in the book Tell Me What You WantThe book is based on a survey of more than 4000 Americans.

Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller has a Ph.D. from Purdue University in the United States and is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute.

The survey may not be completely representative of the American population as a whole, as the data is gathered through social media, but as Lehmiller says: "it consists of an incredibly diverse groups of individuals. "

Anyway, since the purpose of this article is to document that we can find fantasies similar to the ones of trans people among cis people, the research does not have to be 100 percent representative.

There are, to my knowledge, no directly comparable survey of the sexual fantasies of transgender, queer and non-binary people (although this survey does include gender variant people).

My presentation of transgender sexual fantasies is based on the discussions found in transgender forums like the Crossdream Life forum, transgender erotica (as presented, for instance, at a site like Fictionmania), writings by transgender people and research on trans sexualities.

So let us compare fantasies found among transgender people with the fantasies of cis people, and start with the fantasy already mention: Getting a different body.

Having a different body

Lehmiller writes:
We often become different people in our sexual fantasies. Most of my participants reported that, when they appear in their own sexual fantasies, they change themselves in some way, whether it is having a different body shape, genital appearance, or personality.
Given this fact, it should probably come as no surprise that some female to male (FTM) transgender persons fantasize about being a sexy man, and  that some male to female (MTF) crossdreamers get turned on by the idea of being a sexy woman.

In their study of how people use online pornography, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam argue that women's urge to feel irresistible is a "primal component of female sexuality, as basic as a man's urge to chase and seduce."

That sounds too much like gender stereotypes turned into pseudo-science for me. However, it is a fact that many women frequently fantasize – as they point out –  "about being a stripper, harem girl, or Las Vegas showgirl and 'delighting many men".

You may argue that this need to become someone attractive in sexual fantasies is a sign of a sexualized, beauty-fixated, oppressive society, but this observation cannot be used to invalidate crossdreamers and trans people in particular.

Group sex

Group sex is, to my knowledge, not the most common fantasy found in transgender erotica (which is remarkably traditionally romantic in most cases), but there are stories that include such scenarios.

Here's what Lehmiller found:
The result of my investigation reveal that the single most popular sex fantasy among Americans today is – drum roll please – group sex.
Enough said.

Power, control and rough sex

Among crossdreamers and other transgender people there is an ongoing discussion on the topic of dominance and submission. I have found FTM erotica where the protagonist is dominating other men, while there are quite a few MTF fantasies and stories where the one transformed takes a submissive role in sex play.

Lehmiller again:
Rivalling group sex for the most popular fantasy theme in America is bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism – or BDSM for short... In fact, it was rare for people not to have any BDSM fantasies at all – just 4 percent of women and 7 percent of men had never had them.
He points out that the submission fantasies reported were "fundamentally about giving oneself over completely to another person to be used for that person's pleasure."

Many trans people, me included, have theorized that MTF submission fantasies may relieve the dreamer of guilt. This would especially apply to MTF forced sex fantasies: "I am forced to have sex as a woman, so I cannot be blamed".

This study indicates that crossdreamer submission fantasies may simply be a variation of such sexual fantasies in general.

Lehmiller does suggest, however,  that my explanation may apply to cis people as well:
This might be, in part, because some don't want the responsibility that comes with taking control; however, it is likely that it is also due to the fact that submission psychologically changes you from a person to an object and helps to take you out of your head. This is something that may be appealing to people who are easily distracted or tend to be anxious during sex.
Note that Lehmiller finds that submission fantasies are much more common that dominance fantasies.

Lehmiller is not the first researcher to describe the popularity of submission fantasies. Nancy Friday puts it this way in her study of erotic fantasies, Beyond my Control, Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age:
The fact remains that in real life and in fantasy, domination remains one of the few forbidden acts that still sexually excites. It is not pain that is wanted – that is reserved for the chapter on S&M – but a powerlessness, a chance to relieve ourselves of all responsibility for the delicious, forbidden sex we crave. We who reach for this kind of imagery in order to let go of the iron self control that stands in the way of orgasm are wanting a cocktail that "knocks me out beyond my control."
In the realm of sexual fantasies many actually take this desire all the way over to imagery of forced sex.

Forced sex

Let me get this out of the way right now: Having a fantasy about forced sex does not mean that you want to be raped in real life. Sexual fantasies are not about real life. Indeed, sexual role playing is not about real life either.

When it comes to sex, adults are like kids playing: We play imaginary games in our heads and out there, with others. Children know the difference between play and real life, and so should we.

There is a lot of research that documents rape fantasies among women. I have seen numbers around 50 percent. Lehmiller's research confirms this observation. The most common types of BDSM fantasies reported to him was forced sex. He reports that two-thirds of the women he surveyed reported having them.
Most of my participants with forced sex fantasies described them as "rape". Though that's the word they chose to use, it's probably not the most accurate one, given that these fantasies really tend to focus on token resistance and feature a scenario in which the fantasiser remain in complete control at all times and is not harmed.
As Lehmiller points out, such scenarios are appealing because it takes place entirely in your head, where you remain in control the entire time.

Faceless men

Ray Blanchard and his supporters make a big deal out of the fact that some MTF crossdreamers report that the men they have sex with as women in their dreams are faceless and not identifiable as real persons. The fact that these men seem to be "props" in these fantasies is taken as proof of the dreamers being sexual perverts and not female in any sense of the word.

This argument rests on the premise that straight cis women never dream of faceless men. There is nothing in Lehmiller's book that indicates that this is true.

He argues that women appear more likely than men to see themselves as the object of desire in their sexual fantasies:
Therefore, having a specific person in mind may not matter as much to women because they themselves are usually – although certainly not always – the focus of the fantasy, not their partners. By contrast, it appears that men are more likely than women to view their fantasy selves not as objects of desire but as acting on an object of desire, which would make having a specific partner in mind more important for men.
He is not the first researcher to discuss the anonymous nature of many fantasy sex partners. Nancy Friday presents many female fantasies about faceless men and women in her books. She gives, for instance, the following summary of the fantasy of "Sally", a 22 year old black woman:
In my fantasy, I imagine myself as a lusty and insatiable woman who has to be reprimanded by her man. (Usually he is a faceless man, but once in a while, he's my boyfriend.) I have an hourglass figure, huge, buoyant, perky breasts that want to pop out of my tiny black bra. My nipples are big and rosy. I traipse around the house wearing a sheer blouse and a short flared skirt. Underneath, I am wearing thigh-high stockings and a thong bikini.
This reads like an MTF feminization fantasy. It even includes a fascination for sexy lingerie. As soon as you see what many cis women are really fantasizing about, such crossdreamer fantasies look pretty normal.

Reality versus TERF ideals

I have noted that some "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" try to invalidate transgender women as men, since some MTF trans people describe fantasies where they are sex objects for "the male gaze". The TERFs seem to imply that being affirmed as an independent woman with agency is a good thing, while being affirmed as a sexy woman is a sin.

Now, there is much to be said about the way the Patriarchy controls women by sexualizing them, but you cannot use the fantasy of being a sexy woman to invalidate a transgender woman's gender identity, unless – of course – you do the same to cis women.

It might be that both cis and transgender women have internalized the misogyny of society in equal measure, but such MTF crossdreamer fantasies cannot be said to reflect a male psyche if cis women share the same fantasies.

Fetish objects

One of the enduring myths about transgender sexuality is that the gender identity of trans people is based on or caused by a fetish. Or – alternatively – there are two types of transgender people: fetishists on the one hand and "true transsexuals" on the other.

This myth was probably caused by doctors who observed that some male to female transgender people did get aroused by dressing up as their target gender. This led them to conclude that the arousal was caused by the garments and not the gender identification in itself.

Some crossdreamers have embraced this narrative, as it may relieve them of a fear of being trans.

Crossdressing is not a necessary part of crossdreaming. I have never been a crossdresser and female clothing does not turn me on.

On the other hand, a lot of trans women have – before transitioning – gone through periods of crossdressing, and even erotic crossdressing, in the same way many cis women may explore, express and enjoy their sexuality by "dressing up sexy".

In other words: Trans people may, like cis people, fetishize clothes, objects and body parts. In the same way the gender identity of a cis person is not defined by their fascination for e.g. leather, the gender identity of an MTF trans person cannot be reduced to a fascination for – let's say  – garter belts.

Lehmiller reports that 45 percent of the respondents reported they fantasize about fetish objects – objects they rely on for feelings of sexual arousal. He explains it as an effect of one-trial learning, "which refers to the idea that sometimes we learn association between a stimulus and response on the very first try."

The fact that many transgender persons come to associate their gender and their sexuality with gender typical clothing should come as no surprise. They would have realized as relatively young children that clothes signify and express gender.


The majority of the transgender erotic fantasies I have read are anchored in the dream of being affirmed as your target gender romantically and sexually. Most of them are pretty traditional in this respect, and very much "vanilla", to put it that way.

Lehmiller writes:
Fantasies about being desired, validated, loved, and bonded to a partner are common among both women and men – and in part, that's because the need to belong is not something that's specific to one gender.
Wise words, indeed.

Lehmiller quotes a woman in her twenties who said:
I love imagining myself with a man who is crazy about my body, especially my breasts. I love that feeling when I imagine that I am his fantasy girl and my body is his fantasy body.
If this reads like an MTF crossdreamer fantasy, this is not because she is an MTF transgender woman (she is not); it is simply because this is a common fantasy for many women.

Breaking gender norms

As I see it, male to female crossdreamers who fantasize about having sex as women, are not necessarily breaking traditional gender norms. The extent they do so, depends on what gender they identify with in the first place. Some male to female crossdreamers identify as men, others as women, and some as something in between.

But it could be that this distinction is purely academic, as it turns out that "gender bending" fantasies are found among many different people.

Lehmiller gives, for instance, this example:
Some may be surprised to learn that many women – gay, straight, and bisexual – said they had fantasised about wearing a strap-on and giving anal sex to someone else, while a lot of men – heterosexual and bisexual – said they had fantasized about receiving anal sex from a woman wearing a strap-on.
The popularity of "pegging", as this is called, tells me that the fascination for penetrating and being penetrated is not unique to one or the other gender. We are, after all, at the start, wired for both a stereotypically female and male sexuality, and it should come as no surprise that this is reflected in sexual fantasies.

Still, this is exactly the kind of ideas the traditionalists fear the most. As they see it sexual fantasies have to follow the gender stereotypes to the letter. If not, the social fabric may unravel.

This is also why so many crossdreamers feel so much shame and guilt about their fantasies. They have internalized the homophobia and the transphobia of their surroundings, not realizing that "gender bending" is quite common, also among those who are safely anchored in their assigned gender.

"Autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia"

Readers who have followed this blog, will know that I am extremely critical of the "autogynephilia" theory of Ray Blanchard, a pseudo-science that essentially uses the 19th century inversion model to invalidate transgender identities. It defines trans women either as effeminate gay men preying on straight cis men, or sexually perverted straight men who are in love with their inner female.

This is also why I early abandoned the term "autogynephilia" when describing erotic crossdreaming. There is absolutely no proof for Blanchard's theory.

But since "autogynephilia" is the term found in the scientific literature, Lehmiller refers to it in his book.

While discussing feminization fantasies and elements of dominance/submission and humiliation, he notes that "gender-bending" fantasies may go beyond crossdressing.
...other folks' gender-bending fantasies went well beyond cross-dressing and involved a desire to physically become a member of the opposite sex, or at least have the genitalia of the other sex.... The arousal in these fantasies is often based on how transforming into the other sex makes them feel."
His main example of this is the fantasy reported by a "mostly straight" woman in her twenties:
Since I was quite young I have used the fantasy of being a male and having a woman (usually myself to avoid feelings of guilt) give me a blow job. I enjoy this because imagining being a male puts me in a more dominant headspace, a selfish one, and I feel strongly desired since I know how confronting giving a blow job can be. I recently purchased a cock that I can wear and use as a double ended dildo which has allowed me to explore this fantasy further and I hope to one day find a partner that enjoys that role play with me.
It is pretty well known that lesbian "butch" women may "pack" (wear a strap-on or false penis), but this book documents that this is a fantasy shared by FTM crossdreamers who are attracted to men as well.

Lehmiller also refers to another "mostly straight" woman who fantasize about having sex with a man who is forced to crossdress:
I dominate my male lover, make him wear lingerie. I have sex with my other male lover, who is young and fit and beautiful. I also make my lingerie-clad lover have sex with him.
Note that many of the crossdreaming fantasies reported in this book are from women (or more precisely: people assigned female at birth). Ray Blanchard has repeatedly argued that there are no FTM crossdreamers (or "autoandrophiles" to use his term.)

Lehmiller disagrees:
...if the results of my fantasy survey are any indication, autoandrophilia most definitely is real, and it's probably more common than Blanchard thinks. Indeed I found that 11 percent of the women I surveyed reported sexual fantasies about becoming men and that 20 percent had fantasised about dressing up as men (although I should clarify that just 2-3 percent said they fantasised about these things often...)
Lehmiller is clearly taken a bit back about how common such crossdreaming fantasies are:
For instance, about one-quarter of men and women had fantasised about cross-dressing, and nearly a third had fantasised about trading bodies with someone of the other sex. In addition, about one in four men and one in six women had fantasised about having sex with a cross-dresser, and even more (about one in three men and one in four women) had fantasised about sex with a transsexual partner.
I need to repeat this, because it is absolutely mind-blowing: According to Lehmiller one third of the respondents have had crossdreaming fantasies.

I suppose the crossdreaming fantasies have to be persistent over a longer period of time for someone to call themselves a crossdreamer or be categorized as some shade of transgender, but come on, it is impossible to call a fantasy shared by one out of three a sexual perversion.

At the start of this article I argued that there was only one erotic transgender fantasy not found among cis people, namely the fantasy of becoming "the other sex". I might have been wrong about that.

Autogynephilia debunked

Lehmiller's book is a repository of facts that effectively debunks the autogynephilia theory. In spite of this he puts up a defense of the theory, to the point of repeating the myth of the two types of transgender women:
Most transsexuals are probably best described as being motivated not by sexual desire but by feeling trapped in the body of the wrong sex.
Lehmiller has fallen into the trap of turning crossdreaming into a thing and crossdreamers into a distinct category of human beings. Because of this he does not see that many trans women can be both gender dysphoric and alienated from their male bodies. They may nevertheless have (had) erotic crossdreamer fantasies.

The only way pre-transitioning transgender women can fantasize about having sex is by imagining themselves as having a female body. So its no wonder getting a female body becomes arousing. The transformation opens the door to having a sex life in harmony with their real selves.

As I see it crossdreaming is an act, not a thing.

And as soon as we look at crossdreaming as an act, as opposed to a distinct pathology or paraphilia, it also becomes easier to understand why there is so much variation between those who crossdream –  from those who transition at the one end to those who identify with their assigned gender at the other.

Gender is better described as a multidimensional continuum where someone's identification with a specific gender, gender expressions and/or sexuality will vary as regards both content and intensity. This exactly the kind of diversity Lehmiller's book presents.

I am not a transphobe, but...

Lehmiller paints himself into a "I am not a racist, but..." corner by presenting "autogynephilia" as a kink.

He calls himself a transgender ally, and I am sure he means it well when he writes:
Moreover, I believe that trans persons deserve equal rights and should be able to live their lives as they please without being persecuted for doing so, regardless of whether they are autogynephilic, autoandrophilic, or neither. In short, I am a trans ally. However, I am also a scientists – and being a scientists means not letting my personal beliefs stand in the way if my ability to accept and report what the data say.
Still, it seems Lehmiller has bought into the narrative the leading transgender activists are denying that crossdreaming is part of transgender sexualities. This is a myth propagated by Blanchard and his allies in order to turn transgender people into oppressors, like in "trans people are oppressing free speech and denying science".

This is total BS. Trans people have been openly discussing crossdreaming for years, actively making use of science. This blog is proof of that, as is – for instance – trans philosopher Julia Serano's discussion of "female embodiment fantasies",  and Natalie Wynn's more recent discussion of "autogynephilia".

The fact that crossdreaming exists does not mean that Ray Blanchard's explanation for it is correct, or that arguing against his theory is to deny science.

Lehmiller's book effectively debunks the autogynephilia theory's explanation for crossdreamingHe might as well embrace that fact and be a true trans supporter.

More about the autogynephilia theory here. 

See also:
Photos: Werner Images, AntonioGuillem and Wavebreakmedia
Minor edits January 1 2019.


  1. Hi Jack,

    I fully support your contention that trans people have crossdreamer fantasies. Maybe not all, but I well recall having them as early as four or five years old. I often went to sleep dreaming about what it would be like, and had a number of fantasies that were favorites.

    As I grew older, still before puberty, I felt that what I wished for was wrong and worried that my fantasizing was habitual, shameful, and I needed to break the habit. Like we hear so often, I tried and failed.

    After puberty I had sexual fantasies but actually more loving scenes than pornographic. Always with women, girls, or occasionally with women who crossdressed as men, while I became the woman.

    Thank you for this interesting article. I’m sure it took a lot of work to write it. Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year!

  2. I agree, such fantasies are very common, and they often start at a very early age.

    I guess trans people are hit twice as hard as cis people by the sexual hang-ups of our societies.

    Everyone is hurting because of cultural mores that says that sex is sinful or bad (unless you stick to the narrow ideas of what proper sex can be in a specific social group).

    Ideas of what constitutes proper sex are used to discipline and control people socially and psychologically. This may even apply to those who think of themselves as liberal.

    So trans people will suffer from the same shame- and guilt-inducing prejudices as those not trans.

    On top of that comes the fact that trans people are violating a gender binary that is considered sacred by both right wing conservatives and left wing radical feminists.

    For many this is the ultimate taboo. Members of the misogynistic right wing believe trans women are committing the ultimate crime: A "man" that dreams of being a woman undermines the belief that men are superior.

    For the trans-exclusionary radical feminists, trans women undermines the idea that only cis women can be victims of the patriarchy. Or maybe they are just channeling the transphobia of all others, not understanding that this is what they are doing.

    By presenting transgender dreams as sexual perversions, the transphobes are weaponizing the sexual hang-ups of our society and using this weapon to make us go into hiding again.

    But we will not let them. Not again!

  3. Excellent article Jack. All of this research once again confirms just how varied the human species is and attempts to pigeon hole and categorize just brings up more exceptions than before. It is interesting to note that for theorists hell bent on delegitimizing, things work best when you can put people into neat little categories.

    AGP has been debunked for some time now but there are still remnants of it out there on the web. It won't be long before it ends up alongside other false conditions like nymphomania as forming part of our historical record of curiosities.

  4. good topic,and complex,I personally am a mtof wanta be,sexually 100% female role, so my fantasies are always of myself of being in female role with a male,treating me like a lady

  5. The sexual fantasies of this non-transgender person are about a generalized attraction to *being* specific individuals. I don't see how to conceptualize my sexuality without a concept like the erotic target location error. Lacking such a concept has caused me all kinds of distress, confusion, and shame. With such a concept, I can feel normal and healthy. For me,

    - it is not a reflection of an innate quality like gender identity. These are fictional and fantastical characters and their personalities are quite different from each other and from mine. They are more likely to be the gender I was assigned, but also may not be.

    - it is not about having a more attractive body. I much prefer to fantasize about being characters whose bodies are more like mine.

    - it is absolutely inextricable from auto-romantic attraction to the same targets. I have a single "auto crush" for years at a time, I feel love and that the character is a wonderful person, and my attraction as a whole is primarily romantic and becomes sexual in a way that romantic attraction normally becomes sexual.

    - it is not merely "improper sex" or a fantasy that stays in the bedroom and makes me happy. It is an auto-romantic desire that I am unable to fulfill in the rest of my life, and this causes a feeling of distress, pointlessness, disconnection from and dissatisfaction with life. I reflexively picture myself "being" fictional characters in elaborate costumes in a variety of situations, and the idea brings me great joy, but knowing how awkward and socially messy it would be in real life. makes it unpleasant.

    As far as I'm aware, no framework allows for this to be a genuine and serious feeling except the framework of auto*philia. Therefore, I would like to hear your better framework.

    I don't have normal interpersonal or sexual-act fantasies, by the way, and I do have the (very) faceless lover.


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