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.
Unfortunately, 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.