Erotic structuralism

390px-Falero_Luis_Ricardo_Lily_Fairy_1888 Erotic structuralism is almost a Googlewhack: five hits all referring to whenselves, which I found here. It claims to reject the “controversial notion of autogynephilia”.

Scientists make observations, but it is useful for philosophers trained to find relations, distinctions and implications to elucidate them.

In this article, Bettcher argues that sexual attraction must be re-conceptualized in light of transgender experience. In particular, Bettcher defends the theory of “erotic structuralism,” which replaces an exclusively other-directed account of gendered attraction with one that includes a gendered eroticization of self as an essential component. This erotic experience of self is necessary for other-directed gendered desire, where the two are bound together and mutually informing. One consequence of the theory is that the controversial notion of “autogynephilia” is rejected. Another consequence is that the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation is softened.

To Dr Blanchard, who proposed the theory of autogynephilia, I am attracted to the thought of myself as a woman, and this motivates me to approximate myself to the appearance of a woman. For Dr Bettcher, my own physical body is necessarily part of the erotic content of a relationship. We make love with our bodies, and for a trans man, his penis substitute is part of his interaction with the other person. He is not attracted to his penis any more than a man born with a penis is.

461px-Egyptian_Woman_With_Harp,_by_Luis_Ricardo_FaleroUnfortunately, this may merely be semantic. I was aroused by the thought of myself as female. Fantasising about this aroused me, though the fantasy did not necessarily involve another person or any sort of lovemaking. Sometimes it involved being dominated, “forced” to present female.

So it depends how important “attraction” is to the theory. If mere “arousal” is possible then arousal fits the theory. The suffix -philia would have moved a little further from its etymology.

I am happy that autogynephilia is a trivial observation, rather than an explanation of gynephilic trans women. We are at some point in the transition process aroused by fantasising that we are physically female, and expressing ourselves female. Why would such a fantasy be pleasant, rather than ghastly and horrible? Because it is real, because it is what I want separate from the arousal. That is the challenge for Blanchard.

Consider “normal” heterosexual cis men. Could they ever find the thought of being women arousing? If not, then there has to be some propensity towards expressing ourselves female before we trans women start having those fantasies.

I am not certain I understand all the subtleties of Dr Bettcher’s argument. Do read her article if you want more.

7 thoughts on “Erotic structuralism

  1. Ah, well, experts will have their theories, but we know what we know. And, again, what does it matter, really? Does the sum total of all this theorising increase the total of human happiness? That is the only reason I might want to think about it, really. The rest, as you say, may be semantic.

    I am not expressing irritation with your article, btw, which is beautifully concise and considered. I am just annoyed that people should waste so much of their time in abstruse consideration of what might or might not be true if….and it is a pity that good souls have to waste their time defending their own knowledge of self against such idiotic theorising.


    • If you bother with such things, you can easily find blogs arguing that homosexuality is immoral and unChristian and bad. So one value of the theorising is that it subverts and shifts such ill-thought out beliefs. I have read of Blanchard that his theories have made it more difficult for trans women to transition, and made it easier- I have not gone into it in enough depth to find which- so again it might increase human happiness.

      If my knowledge of self had not been damaged by my upbringing, within that kyriarchy which oppressed my self-being, then I would not need to bother with the theorising.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this one, Claire. I didn’t know about this. These reflections are extremely important. For instance: feeling sexy, feeling that you are affirmed as a beautiful, attractive person, strengthens the bond you have with someone else. Blanchard reduces everything to the morphology of the love objects, and forgets the importance of the love subject. Crossdreamers are often never affirmed as their real self. No wonder so many stay alone.

    @Anne: Theories are very important. They can be used to set you free, or they can be used to impridon you. The fact that you do not think about your own theory of youself, does not mean that you do not have one. You are simply blind to what it does to you.


    • I can think of another use for theories, to understand the world. We all work like that to an extent. I read of autogynephilia and felt it was Bad, so I should fight it, and I did until I could fight no longer. Strange that I read the theory and found myself to be wrong.

      The article is not yet published, and is valuable.


    • The article is behind a pay-wall, and no longer available on the cited blog. This is what Dr Bettcher has to say about autogynephilia:

      rather than critiquing Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia, I critique the very notion of female embodiment eroticism as autogynephilic in nature. There are two false assumptions involved. First, it is falsely assumed that attraction is simple (i.e., to be a source of attraction is merely to be a part of the erotic content). Second, interest and attraction are conflated. Once these assumptions have been rejected in favor of erotic structuralism, there is no longer any reason to construe female embodiment eroticism as a kind of “misdirected” attraction. Instead, an erotic interest in oneself as a gendered being can be recognized as a legitimate (indeed, necessary) part of all normally-directed sexual attraction to others. Indeed, the alleged misdirected attraction is actually impossible, according to erotic structuralism, insofar as a decrease in interpersonal distance between one and oneself is unintelligible (and therefore cannot be eroticized). “Autogynephilia” is, therefore, a seriously misleading term insofar it explicitly characterizes the nature of the phenomenon in a distorted way.

      To be sure, there can be cases of arousal when this eroticized self appears by itself (without an “other”), particularly in solitary fantasy. And this is the phenomenon to which “autogynephilia” typically refers. But the question is whether this phenomenon is to be framed as “attraction to oneself as a woman.” According to erotic structuralism, it cannot. There is, however, an alternative view. In fantasy, one can produce scenarios that, while arousing, do not constitute (or even replicate) attraction per se. In order for an erotic interest to be implicated in attraction, recall, it must be subject to the appropriate structure. Such interests, may, however, be replications of parts of the larger structure (from whence they derive their erotic power). For example, a woman may be erotically interested in a sexual scenario that does not include her own involvement as part of it. While the scenario may be arousing, this will not be a case of attraction since crucial elements of interpersonal interaction (the self, intimate access) have been omitted. Instead, it can be characterized as an “erotic fragment.” Similarly, a woman might have erotic narratives about herself as a gendered being that do not include a well-defined “other” to whom she is attracted. In such cases, female embodiment eroticism is, rather than a misdirected attraction, an erotic fragment that abstracts (and yet gets its erotic force from) the interactional structure of attraction. This account predicts that “other-exclusive” fantasies will shade into ones with a more explicitly eroticized self (or at least implicit identifications) and that “self-exclusive” fantasies will shade into ones that involve (or imply) an other Of course, one might argue that “self-exclusive” female embodiment fantasies are still pathological since they involve a truncated eroticism that replicates only a fragment of sexual attraction to another. I do not see the value of such assessments, however. They are too detached from the health and happiness of the individual. And I suspect a host of different types of erotic fragments can be found in the fantasy lives of “normal” people. The important question is what role solitary fantasy plays in the overall well-being of the individual. And in light of the intersubjective “re-coding” practices discussed earlier, it seems appropriate to regard such selfexclusive female-embodiment fragments occurring among trans women as likewise productively allowing them to “recode” their bodies (Serano 2007, 2010). That view accords well with the transient nature of such fantasies, unlike Blanchard’s (1992) theory in which they somehow constitute a permanent orientation (Moser 2009, Serano 2010).

      Moreover, it is worth noting that if “self-exclusive” fantasies are viewed as pathological (on the grounds that they are erotic fragments), it follows that “other-exclusive” fantasies should be viewed as pathological as well. Yet such a result is surely implausible. And, indeed, in heterosexuality there tends to be a mutual emphasis on the objectification of the woman, suggesting that it is not unlikely the fantasies of heterosexual men will tend towards those that shade into “other-exclusive” ones (and that it is not unlikely the fantasies of heterosexual women will tend towards those that shade into self-exclusive ones).8 One ironic result of the view that “self-exclusive” fantasies are pathological, therefore, is that much non-transgender, heterosexual male fantasies are similarly pathological. It is preferable, I think, to avoid this route of pathologization altogether.


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