Autogynephilia: The Dark Side

Jack Molay's picture

 In my blog post over at Confessions of an Autogynephiliac I presented the concept of autogynephilia and what it means to me. In this diary I will try to explain why it has become so controversial in trangender circles, and what I personally find most disturbing about it.

Why the term is so controversial
The controversial part is the idea that autogynephiliacs are driven by sexual desire.
To quote Anne Lawrence, self-confessed autogynephiliac,  transsexual and follower of Ray Blanchard, the man that developed the concept in the first place:

"In 1989, psychologist Ray Blanchard made the controversial proposal that the “atypical” male-to-female transsexuals (...), and the heterosexual cross-dressers with whom they seemed to have so much in common, both experienced a powerful sexual attraction to the idea of being or becoming women. This unusual sexual interest, or paraphilia, he theorized, was the driving force behind their behavior. Blanchard called this paraphilia autogynephilia, meaning 'love of oneself as a woman' (1989a). 

"He formally defined autogynephilia as 'a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female' (1989b). According to Blanchard’s formulation, heterosexual cross-dressers were men who were sexually attracted to women and who had a paraphilic sexual interest that made them want to episodically impersonate the objects of their attraction. Autogynephilic transsexuals, he theorized, were men who were also sexually attracted to women, but whose paraphilic sexual interest made them want to go farther and permanently change their bodies to become the objects of their attraction, or the best possible facsimiles thereof."

This theory caused an uproar in transgender circles. Lawrence find this, for some reason, surprising. I do not.

The sexless transgendered
Now, if you read the debate, it might seem that the main issue is that Blanchard argued that the driving force for these transgendered men is sexual desire.
It is argued that many transgendered found that this undermined their legitimacy vis-a-vis the doctors, and that they would not get surgery if they admitted they found feminization to be sexually arousing.
Because of this, the story goes, many transgender activists opposed Blanchard because it would damage the cause of transsexuals. Some of them argued strongly that they were not driven by sexual desire; others admitted that you needed to keep the erotic component hidden in order to get the surgery.
I find it hard to understand transgenderism without the sex. To me the sexual drive and gender identification is strongly connected, and the fact that transgendered men get sexually aroused by imagining themselves with a female body is pretty obvious.
I mean, look at "genuine girls". Many of them spend hours shopping for clothes, dressing up, putting on make-up, looking at themselves in the mirror. Of course there is a sexual component in this behavior. Many of them like their own bodies and femininity. They are at peace with themselves. That is a good thing! Moreover, research indicate that most genuine XX girls (natal women) are autogynephiliacs!
Moreover, male autogynephiliacs are in a life situation where it is hard for them to have a normal sex life. They love women, but find themselves inadquate as men. This may lead to a lot of sexual frustration -- celibacy even. No wonder their sexaul libido is channeled into fantasies of this kind.
So why the idea that M2F transgendered fantasizing about being women get aroused should be offensive, is hard to understand.
There are transsexuals, though, that argue that what they find offensive is the not the coupling og sexual desire and the need for transformation per se, but the idea that sexual desire is the only reason for this need. They argue that the primary reason is the mismatch between their female identity and their male bodies, not the sexual fantasies.
It is a sad fact,  that the medical establishment used to frown uponthe idea of giving sex reassignment surgery to men who admitted to having sexual fantasies about having a woman's body, and that M2F transgendered kept quiet about it. They often pretended to be sexless women trapped in a sexless man's body.
The real reason why Blanchard's and Lawrence's theory is problematic
The real reason I find Blanchard and Lawrence's theory so problematic is another one.
What this theory says is that these men are suffering from "erotic target location errors”. They are supposed to feel desire for the women out there. Instead they internalize the object of desire. They want to become that woman.

The narrative here is that the autogynephiliac is really a normal heterosexual man that would -- under normal circumstances -- go out and find a woman to desire. But, because of some error (being that biochemical or psychological) he has "malfunctioned".

His sexual desire (or, as Lawrence expands: his erotic-romantic orientation, which also includes other forms of pair-bonding) is channeled inwards instead of outwards.
If we now for a moment drop the scientific jargon, what I read is the following message:

This man is not only a "freak" in the eyes of others. He is truly a dysfunctional person. Scientific words like dysphoria and paraphilia cannot hide this message. I am sure Blanchard and Lawrence do not feel this way, but unless you think this kind of self-obsession is a good thing the verdict is devastating.
Lawrence's solution to this problem is (in some places, but not in others) to define autogynephilia as a sexual orientation in itself (on par with heterosexuality I suppose).
She defends the rights of autogynephiliacs to have sexual reassignment surgery on this basis. She doesn't say as much, but I guess the underlying message is that since autogynephilia is a natural phenomenon the autogynephiliacs should be allowed to live out their obsession.
The problem is, however, that as the phenomenon is described by Blanchard and Lawrence the autogynephiliac does come out as a kind of narcissist, a self-lover, a person who wants to become the object he loves, and therefore wants to make love to himself as a woman. That does not sound  so good to me.
The potential male partners in this narrative become mere props: large human dildos the autogynephiliacs can use to fulfill their fantasies.
Because of this is seems like Lawrence and Blanchard think that autogynephiliacs will be unable to enter into a normal love/sex relationship with another human being.

The controversy summarized
Here is a crystal clear summary of the Blanchard narrative made by the notorious Michael Bailey:
"Currently the predominant cultural understanding of male-to-female transsexualism is that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men's bodies. This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations. Ray Blanchard has shown that there are two distinct subtypes of MtF transsexuals. Members of one subtype, homosexual transsexuals, are best understood as a type of homosexual male. The other subtype, autogynephilic transsexuals, are motivated by the erotic desire to become women. The persistence of the predominant cultural understanding, while explicable, is damaging to science and to many transsexuals."
What this means is that M2F trangendered men having undergone the transformations are not women at all. They are at best a category in themselves, or they remain men in spite of their appearances. There is no "feminine essence" that makes them women; they are an evolutionary blind alley.
The other transgender narrative

Now, compare this narrative to the one that is gaining acceptance in modern societies: A male to female transsexual is really a woman, truly a woman, a normal woman living "inside" her male body.

There is no denying that something has gone wrong in the lives of male to female transsexuals (also called "transwomen"). She is after all trapped in a man's body, even if her personality may be sound. But she is not a freak. What's needed is a sex reassignment therapy that gives her the body she should have had all along.

Note that in this narrative it does not matter whether she is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. In the US and Europe at least, these sexualities are accepted as normal for both women and men.
So an autogynephiliac accepting this narrative can think of herself as a healthy woman that has become herself in body and soul.
An autogynephiliac accepting Blanchard's narrative in full will naturally think of himself as disturbed person even after having had the sexual reassignment surgery.

Is it possible to reconcile the concept of autogynephilia with a narrative we can live with, or do people like me just have to accept that we are perverts?

I written another post over at my blog that discusses autogynephilia in more depth.


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