Autogynephilia is the hypothesis that despite constant rebuttal refuses to die. Julia Serano, in a long essay, summarises the refutations, and suggests reasons why people might cling to it despite them. The whole is worth reading, but as Medium predicts that could take half an hour here is my summary.
Ray Blanchard came up with the idea that people assigned male at birth, through fantasising about becoming women, caused themselves to develop gender dysphoria and then transitioned. He thought there were four kinds of fantasies, including but not limited to having a woman’s body: one was of stereotypical women’s activities. He imagined that people fantasise about knitting and sewing.
Blanchard’s only evidence for AGP was correlation, that trans lesbians had female embodiment fantasies (FEFs). But the correlation is poor- some trans lesbians don’t have FEFs, and some androphile trans women have. We experience FEFs after feeling the desire to be women, and they diminish or cease after transition. Rather than two distinct kinds of trans women, our sexualities fall on a continuum, and we have different experiences of desire and of FEFs. Intense FEFs may be caused by having to hide or repress gender dysphoria- they are most prevalent in older white trans women.
Cis women have FEFs too. 11% of cis women have fantasies about becoming men. People probably experience embodiment fantasies for a variety of reasons.
Trans women have many reasons for opposing AGP theory, besides that it is false. It is rigid and simplistic, reducing our complex experience to two simple subgroups. Blanchard insisted any trans woman opposing his hypothesis was in denial or lying. That is, he twists and minimises all the evidence contradicting his hypothesis.
He says our motivation for transition is sexual. It is far more complex. People should not be classified or stigmatised because of sexual fantasies. Science is about following the evidence wherever it leads.
So who still believes AGP theory, and why?
Blanchard failed to distinguish AGP and FEFs, which had been observed before his research. We use AGP to refer to the discredited hypothesis, but he and his supporters use the name to refer to FEFs in trans women.
Unfortunately some people have only read about AGP from Blanchard supporters, and have not read further. Laypeople may favour Blanchard’s simple but false explanation over a more complex understanding of complex traits. They may dismiss trans women because of sexism, so be happy to imagine all our motivation is sexual: they cannot imagine why someone would want to join the second sex. The stereotypes come from sexist ideas about women, not observation of trans people.
Other researchers are recognising and correcting for old unconscious sexism.
Older sexology referred to atypical and non-reproductive variants of sexuality as deviant or pathological, but sexuality is so varied, so inextricable from all aspects of life, that this is outdated. There is no clear line around “normal” sexuality.
Gender and sexuality are infinitely varied, but the old idea of sexual inversion still influences some people. They are gender essentialists, saying men should be a particular way so that when some are feminine, they are repelled. Such people conflate gender and sexuality, imagining it is “masculine” to be attracted to women.
AGP believers don’t take account of the social pressures on trans people, such as external and internal transphobia, homophobia and sexism. Gender diverse people exist across cultures and throughout history but our social roles vary considerably. Ideas of gender fluidity and non-binary increase our freedom. As societal transphobia decreases we transition younger, without being forced into a secret crossdressing stage. Younger trans lesbians experience far fewer FEFs.
We are not a “type” of trans woman. We are humans with vastly different life experiences. Stereotypes are useful for the most basic understanding but inhibit any greater understanding. People like Blanchard cling to their stereotypes to avoid the need to think. Male heterosexuality is normalised, women are sexualised, and trans women are hypersexualised.
Some trans women, such as Anne Lawrence, accept the AGP hypothesis because they imagine it relates to their experience and describes the fantasies that they were ashamed of. Their beliefs do not trump the overwhelming evidence against AGP.
Transmedicalists or truscum are tempted to portray other trans women as perverts in the hope that they will be recognised as real transsexuals, and accepted. This never works.
Transphobes looking for justification for their beliefs-religious conservatives and TERFs who are ideologically opposed to our existence and who actively work to undermine transgender recognition and acceptance- cling to the hypothesis. It’s like slut-shaming: it sexualises us in an attempt to discredit us. It gives a pseudo-scientific justification to portray us as perverted predators, a threat to women and children. Blanchard writes articles for such transphobes.
Julia promises another article on the absurd complications, like epicycles in Ptolemaic astronomy, that AGP diehards resort to, to wave away the mass of contradictory evidence. But the AGP hypothesis is discredited, and the reasons people still believe it are outdated.