Shame, identity and the “causes of transgenderism”

If you’ve ever felt shame about trans fantasies or practices, or being trans, read this now.

In right-wing hate site Unherd, a trans woman who is an anti-trans campaigner shares her misery. She asks, “why am I also transsexual? What could have caused psychological distress so severe that I felt I had no choice but to transition?” She calls herself a “man”, “real” in that she used to produce sperm, though not the cultural concept of “real man”, who is “probably not wearing a dress”. Her answer is “autogynephilia”, the idea that sexual fantasies about being female make trans women transition.

Poor thing. She is not the only one consumed with shame. The hate sites using her to promote this shame, disgust at trans women, and lie of autogynephilia are truly diabolical. She likes the attention she gets from writing such articles, and the pain of seeing the truth, and realising what a fool she has made of herself and the harm she has done, might drive her to suicide. So she probably will remain in self-torturing denial.

According to the autogynephilia myth, trans women who transition after adolescence, or are lesbian, bisexual or asexual, started having fantasies about themselves as women, and the fantasies caused them to desire to transition. Ray Blanchard asked trans women “Have you ever become sexually aroused” by such fantasies- not, do you regularly have them, so that even one fantasy was enough for a positive score. He said that lesbian trans women who denied such fantasies were lying. He claimed that there were two kinds of trans women- those attracted to men, whom he called “homosexual”, and those not exclusively attracted to men, whom he called autogynephilic.

Many trans women have had such fantasies, particularly if they felt unable to transition. Could this be a cause of their desire to transition, as the poor sad hater imagines?

In Western culture, women are taught to see themselves as the object of sexual desire, so often fantasise about being desired, or being naked and seen as sexually attractive. Possibly trans women have similar fantasies because we are women. But humans fantasise about impossible things, and a third of cis men have fantasised about being or becoming women. These fantasies do not cause them to become trans.

Some trans women exclusively attracted to men have female embodiment fantasies. That contradicted Blanchard’s division of trans women into two types, and he accused them of lying about their sexuality. But if you accept they are women, they are just having ordinary heterosexual fantasies, like any woman might.

You can’t prove that the poor sad hater’s transition was not caused by her female embodiment fantasies, against her insistence. But the onus of proof is on the person asserting the cause. She had fantasies, and she transitioned. But both these facts might be coincidental; or caused by a third factor; or the fact of being trans might cause someone to fantasise about having the body of their true gender. It is for Blanchard’s dupes to prove the causal link, not for others to prove its impossibility.

Imagine Philip, who had a normal boyhood until puberty, when he started to have fantasies about kissing other boys. These fantasies became more frequent and intense. Philip called them “compulsive” and “addictive”. He could not resist them, however hard he tried. Eventually he came out as gay, and is convinced the fantasies caused his being gay.

It’s far more credible to believe his being gay caused him to have gay fantasies. As for “compulsive”- I think about food a lot, and eat three meals and some snacks every day. You would not call that “compulsive” or “addictive” because it is seen as normal and healthy, just as heterosexual fantasies are, and increasingly gay fantasies are. Most people would say Philip was gay all the time, but in denial or not fully aware of it, and that caused the fantasies.

No-one would ever suggest that heterosexual fantasies “made them straight”. It’s the default, seen as normal and acceptable, in Patriarchal culture, which sees gay and trans as less.

“Compulsive” does not just mean, “I do it all the time”. It means there is a strong negative value judgment. People who define themselves as “addicted” to pornography do not necessarily spend more time with it, just see it as a bad thing.

In the 1980s, some psychiatrists and gay people imagined being gay was a bad thing, and imagined lots of possible causes for it- sexual abuse as a child, particular problems with parenting.

The self-hater’s anguish is real. “Why am I transsexual?” she asks, stricken. She imagines a shameful cause. But, trans is just how some people are, just as some people are gay, some straight, and some are cis.

The self-hater shows negativity bias. She judges herself for being trans, and so obsesses over this bad thing, and ascribes it to some cause. Nobody worries what made them straight. Seeing being trans as bad, she feels huge relief at coming upon this [false] explanation, a cause she can blame. So she has huge emotional attachment to it. That does not make it true.

I get this from Julia Serano, whose 45 minute read is worth every minute. She explains how scientists have disproved the hypothesis of autogynephilia conclusively, and the dishonest arguments its proponents indulge in. They have the gall to claim that those critiquing their hot mess of a theory are “trans activists”, but this is a mere ad hominem attack. They make ad hoc amendments to the myth, to fit any contradictory evidence, and so make their myth unfalsifiable.

It is incredibly hard to overcome the idea that trans is bad, when so much of the culture insists on that, and when we are relentlessly shamed when we have little power to resist. We internalise transphobia, and even find it reassuring to believe the same that our culture does.

But being trans is just part of ordinary human diversity. The sooner I accept that the sooner I will be able to deal with my real problems.

Opie, John; The Angry Father (The Discovery… Correspondence); Birmingham Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-angry-father-the-discovery-correspondence-33360

9 thoughts on “Shame, identity and the “causes of transgenderism”

  1. Clare, I’ve read through some of Julia’s articles, and am working my way through Whipping Girl. I’ve read a number of your posts, though I don’t know what percentage of them. IIRC, at one point you wondered in your writing whether you were living out a sexual fantasy in transitioning, and your next line was (and I’m paraphrasing), “so what if I am? More fun for me if that’s true!” (I don’t mean to mischaracterize you, hopefully I got the meaning of what you wrote).

    I recall reading in one of Julia’s articles that (at least anecdotally) some trans women who start off with FEFs experience a decline over time as they transition. Did you experience such a decline? For me, they’re basically the entirety of my fantasy/sex life. At least, in every fantasy I have I’m a woman, and it’s very sexually-rooted.

    The last thing I want to do is transition and THEN experience gender dysphoria at my new body. I know a lot of it can be undone (to a point), though not necessarily easily. I wonder if I’d be happier. I wonder if I’d be living a lie. I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to emotionally dump on you. I’m just looking for some lived experience to draw from.

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    • In 2011, I wrote, “But if I am autogynephiliac, I get to do my sex thing all the time! How cool is that?” I would not write that now, because “autogynephilia” is an incoherent concept- see above. The evidence does not support the ridiculous notion that fantasies make people trans. I don’t have the fantasies now.

      Why not transition by role without transitioning physically? Or, take hormones and have your face lasered, but don’t have an operation. You would experience less trouble shaving- the sacrifice if you reverted would be you would be unable to grow a beard. Hormones may make you physically incapable of sex, and infertile, but not immediately. I would not advise surgery until you were quite sure you would not revert, and even then it’s a choice- don’t ask “what do real trans women do?” but “what do you want?”

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  2. I see you updated your section on AGP and it reads very well. The great thing about non verifiable pseudoscience is that it can always work in favor of the detractor who can always claim you are deluded. Trusting your own instincts in a world that teaches you what you should think from a very young age isn’t the least bit obvious but it must be done if we are to be genuine.

    To add another point; the self hating transsexual who agrees with Blanchard and couldn’t help themselves but to transition due to an illness, cannot possibly lead a very happy life.

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    • Yes. We must trust our own instincts. But, contemplating the great change of transition, that is difficult. Ten years later, in 2012, I wrote here “I am autogynephiliac”. I would not say that now. I was myself, and deeply uncomfortable about it. I am grateful to Julia Serano, doing the work to show AGP an incoherent and ridiculous concept. This is the evolution of my thinking on AGP– as it’s a blog tag, it’s most recent first.

      This self-hating transsexual is “Debbie Hayton”. She is a teacher. She shared two desires with me: to be a writer, and to reconcile trans with feminist anti-trans campaigners. Because she is willing to write what she does, she is treated as a mascot or pet by some anti-trans campaigners, and gets to write for moderately large-readership websites.

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