April 5, 2020

Julia Serano gives us the perfect antidote to transphobic pseudoscience

The trans activist and philosopher Julia Serano has written an excellent overview of the autogynephilia theory of Ray Blanchard, its history, its scientific flaws and its roots in traditionalist prejudices.

Crossdreaming is common

I joined the autogynephilia debate some 10 years ago, and have been trying to reduce the damages the theory has caused among gender variant people ever since.

I would say that one of the most important insights that have been brought up since then, is the insight that erotic crossdreaming or cross-gender fantasies are found among all kinds of people and not only among male to female "crossdressers" and gynephilic ("woman-loving")  and bisexual transgender women.

You find cross-gender fantasies among cis people. You find crossdreaming among trans women who love men. You find it among many of those assigned female at birth. This alone falsifies the theory, which requires that only "straight men" (i.e. lesbian and bisexual trans women) have such fantasies.

MTF crossdreamer sexual fantasies resembles the ones of cis women

What newer research has also shown is that the sexual fantasies that Blanchard & Co use to categorize trans women as "paraphilacs" are actually very similar to the ones found among many cis women. Instead of proving that these trans women are perverted men, they actually point to them having a sexuality close to the one of many cis women.

Serano puts it this way:
It now seems clear that Blanchard’s autogynephilia scales are (to some degree) measuring female-typical sexual fantasies. Being that trans women identify as women, we should very much expect them to experience FEFs [female embodiment fantasies]! And given Moser’s (2009) and Veale et al.’s (2008a) findings regarding cisgender women, there is absolutely no justification for singling out trans women’s FEFs as constituting “autogynephilia” or deeming them to be “paraphilic” — unless, of course, what is supposedly “abnormal” about said FEFs is the fact that they occur in people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB). This latter position (which some proponents of autogynephilia theory seem to hold) is not only cissexist (in that it holds trans women to different standards than cis women), but it also ignores the fact that cisgender people sometimes have fantasies about being a sex other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Julia Serano’s article presents the science and the arguments documenting this in an excellent way.

And I am proud to say that she also refers to a couple of my articles in this context, namely:

As soon as you free yourself of the traditionalist view of sex and gender, everything changes

She also makes a strong argument for why the autogynephilia theory only makes sense in a traditionalist and cis/heteronormative setting (and barely there). 

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know how easily the supporters of the autogynephilia theory make use of terms like "compulsive" and "narcissistic". Indeed, a lot of crossdreamers do the same thing. They experience their cross-gender fantasies as "obsessive". 

Still, in our culture we actually expect cis and heterosexual people to be obsessed with sexy. There are whole entertainment and advertising industries based on this fact.  Serano writes:
Similarly, most people experience heterosexual desires and fantasies on a regular basis — these people simply cannot stop themselves from finding certain people attractive and imagining themselves having sex with them! Yet, virtually nobody describes their own heterosexuality as “compulsive,” as it is expected in our culture, and deemed natural, normal, and healthy. However, if your sexual desires or fantasies veer into territory that is deemed unnatural, abnormal, or unhealthy for some reason (as was historically the case for homosexuality), then many people (perhaps including yourself) will view those thoughts as “compulsive.” Indeed, back when it was formally pathologized, psychiatrists often described homosexuality as “compulsive,” and cited this “compulsivity” in their justifications of what we now call conversion therapy (see e.g., Gershman, 1957; McConaghy et al., 1981).
Let me also add that many crossdreamers and trans people do not find an outlet for their sexuality as long as they try to present and live as their assigned gender. So no wonder their dreaming may become a bit obsessive.

Yes, the article is a long read. But it is worth your time. And do bookmark it, so that you can refer to it the next time a right wing extremist, a religious fanatic or a “gender critical feminist” bring it up in a debate. This stuff is the antidote to pseudo-scientific transphobia!

You will find “Autogynephilia, Ad Hoc Hypotheses, and Handwaving” over at Medium.

More resources on the autogynephilia theory and debate.

Illustration: Gender dysphoria by N-B-R-artwork


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  3. Hi Jack, I think this theory has been safely debunked and I thank Julia Serano for her efforts in contributing to this effort but I have now taken the position that it is not up to people who do not subscribe to Blanchard's pseudoscience to disprove of AGP. The onus is instead on those true believers to prove something which is not scientifically provable. This is why I think at this point in our history that trans people should simply live their lives in peace.

    The vast majority of the general public has never heard of AGP. I know I was guilty of this myself at one time, but by giving exposure to this theory we continue to breath needless life into it. I even occasionally see a sexologist who knows Blanchard personally who does not agree with him at all; big surprise.

    I also have trans friends with different sexual orientations who have admitted to me that they have crossdreamed. Well what a surprise indeed :)

    be safe!

  4. Hi Jack, thanks for bringing Julia Serano's article to my attention. Wow, she nailed it!

    Her writing about Dr. Anne Lawrence reminded me of how much I was at risk early on in my investigations about myself. I lived south of San Francisco and as I recall her office was just north of SF in Marin County or thereabouts. I considered going to see her but—thank goodness—didn't. I remain astonished that as a trans woman herself that not only does she support Blanchard's nonsense she used her professional position as some sort of validation.

    A moment ago I tried to find her old website to determine where she lives; it seems to be taken down. At 69 (according to Wikipedia) I guess she's retired. Good riddance.

  5. // I think this theory has been safely debunked//

    I agree, and the only reason I continue to write about it from time to time is that the TERFs make use of it. But they do not have much traction either outside the UK, so we are getting closer to the day that we may put AGP in the history books.

    //Her writing about Dr. Anne Lawrence reminded me of how much I was at risk early on in my investigations about myself.//

    Trans activists have been very kind to Lawrence, as I see it, because she is a trans women herself. To me, however, that makes what she has done even worse.

  6. "so we are getting closer to the day that we may put AGP in the history books" indeed we are Jack :)

  7. The problem with the autogynephilia hypothesis is not whether it's transphobic or not because science doesn't deal with the moral implications of the facts. The problem is that in order for a hypothesis to be a valid one it has to show causal relationships between categories of things. Simply put: One thing must lead to another. The question is this: Is it necessary for a person to be a MtF transgender person to have the desire to have sex as a sexy woman? If the answer is no then causality cannot be established.


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