“Autogynephilia” refuted

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.

21 thoughts on ““Autogynephilia” refuted

  1. But I like the epicycles in Ptolemaic astronomy. I really blame Copernicus for screwing everything up. Next thing you’re going to tell me is I’m not allowed to believe in phlogiston or the Dean Drive anymore either!

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    • Epicycles are cool, but the more accurate observation is, the more epicycles were needed to explain the motion of the planets. Observation in the 19th century was accurate enough to cast doubt on Newton and pave the way for Einstein, and now it is accurate enough to reveal exoplanets. The epicycles needed would be wonderfully complex, especially if, following Aristotle, they had to be perfect crcles- and who dare contradict Aristotle? Not Blanchard.

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  2. Blanchard is an effeminate gay male as I know a sexologist who personally knows him. She tells me that there is a long standing animosity of gay men towards trans women and given the generation he is from it is even less surprising. Blanchard’s problem was that his theory was unprovable because having cross gender arousal doesn’t mean it is the cause of your being trans. Today he has been relegated to Twitter because no one else will listen.

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        • I am the wife of a trans woman who came out to me after our marriage. I love her very much, and I can’t imagine being with anyone other than her—she is still the very same person I married, she has not “changed” as I see so many other women in similar situations claiming. It does help that I am bisexual myself, but I digress.

          I only recently learned of AGP and it was from the blog of a trans woman who transitioned at an early age. I did not like the way she described people like my wife; she did not say it in so many words, but her tone in the post seemed to imply that late-transition trans women were somehow “lesser” for not being openly effeminate since childhood. She spoke of an old classmate who transitioned late and then chose to detransition as if she “knew all along” that the classmate was “not truly trans.”

          In my wife’s case, she lived in a family where homophobia/transphobia were the norm (as do many of us in conservative Christian households), and her early childhood attempts at exploring her femininity were crushed by her family; of course she could not have known that she was trans until she had the opportunity to escape that stifling mentality and could truly accept herself for what she was! She started out identifying as genderfluid, but after about a year she came out to me as trans. And I’d seen the signs, based on our long relationship and discussions of kinks (which is SO important in a healthy marriage!!!). Even before she identified as genderfluid, I offered to let her try wearing some of my skirts and dresses, but she refused, ashamed and in denial. When she finally accepted my offer for the first time, she glowed. She is so beautiful and happy when she dresses up or does her makeup, I fall in love with her even more.

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  3. Yet ironically you describe yourself with all the traits that Blanchard ascribes to AGPs. It’s frankly not that big of a deal to be AGP as long as you are not a harm to yourself and others.

    Basically there are two types of crossdresser, homosexual and heterosexual. What on earth is wrong with that idea? It’s just like there are two sexual orientations (plus bi) amongst and other men – gay and straight.

    What is so terrible about having a sexual fantasy about being a woman? Just leave others out of it and don’t pretend to be what you’re not.

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    • Welcome, and thank you for commenting. Of course there is nothing wrong per se with sexual fantasies. However Blanchard postulated a causal link, the fantasy causes dysphoria causes transition, and there is no evidence for that. There is only evidence of correlation.

      “Leave others out of it”. What would that mean, do you think? Not transitioning? What do you want of all the “genuine transsexuals” like me, with a psychiatric diagnosis and a gender recognition certificate? If we are “living as women”, (of course we could debate what that means, but culturally it appears coherent) should we change our lives in any way, do you think?

      Some would say women should have no concern with men’s distress. That’s a view. What do you think of the distress of those who don’t transition?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Found my self here rather late my take is. What (on earth) is wrong with the idea “Basically there are two types of crossdresser, homosexual and heterosexual” is that it excludes the possibility there are bisexual ones. It also uses an confounding expression “crossdresser” which in itself is only a thing because society is historically so strongly gendered that it has felt that natural sexual diamorphism has to be enhanced by clothing taboos. Especially clothing taboos around males that instantly associate clothing choice with a sexual orientation or fetish.

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  4. It never ceases to fascinate me. You know that that doesn’t even represent the fetish in question. You know that it never has really been about the “idea of being a woman”. Each cue of arousal in the fetishist’s fantasies are fundamentally constituted in the following: “as a male it is distressing to imagine myself being associated with this”. A masochistic emasculation fetish.

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  5. Autogynephilia is definitely real. I have seen so many men write about it online! How they get aroused by dressing as women, and (and this part is a bit distressing) how they enjoy being called ‘bitches’ and being humiliated and used as sex objects in their ‘female role’. It seems they link the two: Being female and being dominated. So I think it is basically a form of erotic masochism. Whether there is a relation between this paraphilia and people who decide to go through a sex change (i.e. transwomen) is a totally different matter, no? I can totally understand how transwomen would find it insulting if people would think their motives were erotic. But really: autogynephilia as such is definitely real. The evidence stares you in the face if you go online!

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    • Welcome, Elisa. Thank you for commenting.

      The failed hypothesis of Autogynephilia does not just concern the arousal, but the suggestion that this arousal causes trans women to transition. The observation is reasonable, it’s the alleged causal link that has no basis in fact.

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    • I think here it is important not to underestimate the effects of stigmatizing children as they develop struggling to find their place and sense of self. If you feel at odds with the way world expects you to be because of your sex and all the baggage of assigned gender that goes with it you might naturally desire to be seen as the ‘other’ sex so you do not have to live under those expectations. As you develop into a sexual being that desire to be the other sex can enter into your sexual desires. This is possibly the bifurcation point between the developing homosexual and the developing transsexual, whether it is nature or nurture is moot, but it’s probably unethical to experiment with human beings at this point, rather than just being accepting, supportive and compassionate and waiting to see how they turn out. Back to stigma, if you are constantly told your desire to be the other sex, especially during sex, is wrong, perverted, dirty, you feel shame and guilt about it, you feel the pain of the stigma. An escape from the guilt is to weave that stigma into the desire. If I am forced to be the other sex against my will, by someone who is reminding me how degrading this is, then it is not my fault. I can have this desire guilt free. Again the taboo provokes the very phenomenon it then uses to further stigmatise the target. Why someone who has cross-sex sexual desires might couch those desires in degragation fantasies says nothing about what they think the status of their preferred sex to be is, but more about how society stigmatises those of their assigned sex who have those desires. And as Clare rightly points out one of the problems with Blanchard’s theories are they confuse cause and effect. The other is they are just unscientific mumbo-jumbo based on prejudice, convenience sampling and really really dodgy twisting of facts and data, believing phallometric testing works when it seems to confirm one’s theories and claiming it is easily deceived by fetishists when the data doesn’t confirm one’s theories.

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  6. I read Dr. Anne’s book recently. Initially it appeared to describe me perfectly. Upon further introspection however, I feel that this theory does not account for the over-whelming fear of rejection and ridicule that a child growing up in a hyper masculine society might experience. Seeing other kids being bullied for appearing even slightly different by peers or being shamed for not living upto a masculine ideal by adults meant to 10 year old me that I should never express my genuine self in front of other people. The reason I was a hyper masculine teenager was because I thought there was something deeply wrong with me and tried everything to bury it. The only place when I could be myself was in my imagination. Sometimes sexual and sometimes not. To take this behaviour and call it unremarkably male except for an autogynephillic fetish does not sit right with me. It’s not that I didn’t want to be me when I was younger, it’s that I couldn’t.

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