January 4, 2024

Gender variation, normalcy, "autogynephilia" and the culture war

I was talking to the transgender blogger Joanna Santos on WhatsApp the other day and we made some observations regarding generational shifts regarding the role of transphobic theories like "autogymephilia" in the lives of trans and gender variant people.

If we allow ourselves to generalize a bit we may say that the older generations (boomers and those 50+) have had to face several challenges:

  1. The oppression and shaming that is associated with such theories, when used in politics and public spaces.
  2. The way these theories can be used by family and friends.
  3. The way these narratives easily become internalized, leading to shame, suppression of transgender dreams, fear, anger and depression.

The younger generation, and especially Gen Z and the Millenials, more often face only one of these three:

  1. The oppression and shaming that is associated with such theories, when used in politics and public spaces.

The right wing and TERF backlash against transgender rights makes this remaining bullet-point painfully visible right now, but as Joanna pointed out to me, young people today get their gender affirmed by those who matter: Friends and family. 

A new culture for the young

Younger cis people may not fully understand what being trans means, but are more likely to have grown up in a cultural setting where you respect and accept the identities of others, and where marginalized groups are to be included and not ostracized.

So when the 50+ gender variant people come over the "autogynephilia" theory or the idea that gender variation is a "paraphilia" or sexual perversion, they are more likely to need help to get out of the transphobic narrative that underpins these concepts.  

When younger gender variant people hear about "autogynephilia", however, they are more likely to just dismiss it as transphobic nonsense right away, even if they have engaged in erotic crossdreaming themselves. They know that their own sexual fantasies are shaped by the context they live in. The more recent combination of gender freedom and acceptance of a wide variety of sexualities makes this possible.

The culture wars

The "culture war" the right wingers talk about is a real one. They started that war when they realized that the increasing tolerance and compassion for those that are different was not going away. 

Their sense of being the chosen ones, the righteous ones,  the "real" ones, the "natural" ones requires a very narrow concept of Normalcy, a myth that can be used to expel and erase those who are different from themselves. A culture that embraces all the colors of the Pride flag becomes a threat.

The gospel of inclusion and tolerance threatens their power and privileges, which are based on the idea that those who rule should continue to rule. 

Sure, many of them do not have these privileges themselves, but they find comfort in the idea that they, at least, belong to the right tribe, being that the tribe of white, cis, straight and conservative Americans or the tribe of white, middle class "gender critical" feminists (who have invested som much into an old concept of womanhood, that they are no longer able to recognize their own oppression in the oppression of those trans).

There are no normal people

Not that any of the oppressors are "normal" mind you. I have learned  that if you scratch the surface of a "normal person", you find unique traits, quirks and behaviors that do not fit their own concept of being "normal" at all – for good and for bad. That also applies to gender and sexuality.

No, this system is not based on the objective existence of "normalcy". It is uphold by the idea that it is possible to be "normal". So there are a lot of people who think they are "normal." It is this belief that makes the oppression possible.  The fear of being considered weird and the possibility of being expelled from the Garden of Normalcy causes them to lash out at any person or idea that threatens this imaginary status quo.

I guess it is the part of our primate brains that relies on the support of the tribe that kicks in and blocks equally natural tendencies towards love and compassion.

The reason that transphobic concepts like "autogynephilia" and "rapid onset gender dysphoria" can work, is that they are based on narrow concepts of normalcy. It is true that a lot of contemporary research is anchored in ideas of diversity and continuums, but the idea of a God given or Darwin given recipe for natural behavior lives on in some circles. Old and abandoned scientific tropes are weaponized to protect "normalcy".

The younger generations are less likely to feel threatened by such scenarios, simply because being tolerant is part of what they think of as being "normal".

It looks dark right now, but the backlash is caused by LGBTQ people winning, not losing. If the US manages to save  its soul in 2024, and Europe manages to stop the extremists, the LGBTQ community may win, and that victory will be a long term one.

Photo: Vladimir Vladimirov


  1. Again it was fantastic overlapping with you Jack. My jubilant attitude for the young today involves what you stated namely that normalcy is a societal fabrication where a significant percentage used to shoehorn themselves into. I am hoping that with this increasing change we will even see detransitioners become less of a thing as they learn they can be whatever version of a human being that suits them :)

  2. And yes models of pathology such as AGP were largely developoed as pushback for disobeying those societal rules interestingly by people who were themselves enslaved by them.

  3. Here's a generational piece of wisdom that transcends generations: pay no attention to what others think; you can't control what they think and they almost certainly pay far less attention to you than you think.

    It's pretty clear to me after a couple of decades as a CD that some measure of AGP enters into the vast majority of decisions to cross gender lines, from crossdressing right on up to SRS. Curiosity about the other gender is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Deal with it and don't deny it.

    A final piece of advice: nothing prohibits one from expressing themselves as they please 24/7/365. Express yourself in a way that makes you happy, but don't waste time worrying about how others express themselves. As my older sister would say when angry, "never try to teach a pig to think; it doesn't work and it annoys the pig."

    1. Yes agree live your best life but just avoid using AGP and call it arousal because otherwise you are buying into Blanchard that this is a primary motivator for transition. We just know that sexuality is indeed impacted and part of the lived experience and to say more is conjecture. Each person has their own unique motivation :)

    2. Additionally I am not a CD and my cross gender identification goes back to earliest memory. If arousal was driving my decisions I would have transitioned decades ago


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