Men who want to have a woman's body (Autogynephilia for Dummies)
On men who are turned on by the idea of having sex in a woman's body. Are they perverts or something natural?
Autogynephilia is a concept developed by Ray Blanchard. He argues that men who have erotic fantasies about having sex as a woman are not women trapped in a man's body, but heterosexual men. Instead of desiring a woman out there, they are turned on by the idea of themselves as a woman.
In this post I will try to illustrate what the theory is about, contrast it with other narratives and put up an alternative. It is based on a text published on my blog, Confessions of an Auotugynephiliac.
The illustrations are based on drawings I made on a paper napkin in a restaurant in Oslo. (I had beef. I am an autogynephiliac, after all, and eat manly food ;-)
All right, here we go: In these figures the Venus and Mars signs denotes gender (i.e. the gender identity of a person, whether he or she considers him or herself male or female, or -- in the cases where the theorists do not accept the gender concept -- their "true" sexual identity). The square denotes a male body with male sex organs, the circle a female body. Since this is a blog for and about autogynephiliacs, I focus on transgendered native men in this post.
In this first figure we see the classical image of gender relationships: There are manly men and feminine women who get attracted to each other, make love, have kids and a family, a Volvo, a divorce etc. etc.
During the previous century it became increasingly clear that this image did not fit everyone. The medical authorities, at least in some countries, came to accept that there are in fact, in some cases, same-sex attraction. Because of this the tale above was extended to include homosexuals:
Basically this is the story about manly men being attracted to manly men.
Finally, during the last century, there was also a growing realization that there was a third category, namely people who believe they have the wrong body. There are natural XY men who argue that they felt like XX women inside. Their gender identity seems to be female, while their biological sex is male.
This is the "woman trapped in a man's body" theory. This gave way for sex reassignment treatment and surgery, which helps harmonize the gender with the sex, like this:
What all these theories have in common is that they agree that there ought to be a match between gender and sex, between the mind and the body.
The problem of homosexuality
The most radical of these expansions of the traditional view of gender and sex is actually not the transsexual narrative, but the homosexual one. Gay men may look manly, but they do not behave like men ought to according to the stereotype. This especially applies to the ones that take a submissive position, "the catchers", "the bottoms", the ones that agree to anal penetration.
The reason for this is that it looks like they take the traditional role of the female.
Now, I know that this is a cliche, but we are talking about how people think about gays here, not necessarily what gay men really do.
Some scientists doing research on sex find this narrative disturbing. This applies to some of the so-called essentialist, researchers who believe that gender should have a biological foundation only. The evolutionary concepts must focus on the traditional male/female narrative, they argue, because that is the only model that naturally produces kids, and off-spring is necessary of the transmission of genes.
It is not that these researchers necessarily are homophobic. Most of them are not. It is just that from their evolutionary point of view homosexuality must be an deviation, an exception to the general rule.
If you read Michael Bailey's controversial book, The Man Who Would be Queen, it is clear that he suspects that homosexuals are not "manly men".
- Pronounced hip movements when walking
- Limp writs action
- Upper arms held fairly closely to the body
- Buttocks close to chair back when sitting
- Graceful hand motions.
- etc... (you get the picture)
Feminine homosexual transsexuals
Blanchard, Bailey & Co. now use this belief as a starting point for their alternative theory of transsexualism. Given that they think of at least some homosexual men as feminine, it is natural for them to also classify transsexuals as homosexuals.
Feminine homosexual men are not attracted to other feminine homosexual men, according to this theory. They are attracted to masculine heterosexual men.
Masculine heterosexual transsexuals
Blanchard and his followers realize, however, that there are men asking for sex reassignment surgery that are not particularly feminine. Nor are they sexually attracted to men. This category consisted mainly of men that are attracted to women, plus a few bisexuals and those that are attracted to neither sex.
For Blanchard, who sticks so closely to the male/female and heterosexual/homsexual dichotomies, this second group was originally a puzzle.
He finally came to the conclusion (without any real scientific proof, really) that they constituted a new type of paraphilia (sexual disorder or perversion). Unlike normal heterosexuals or homosexual transsexuals, who are attracted to other human beings, these men are attracted to the idea of themselves being a woman.
They are still men, and in some sense (given that they love women) they are heterosexual, but basically they belong to a new category. They do not love flesh and blood women out there. They love an internalized woman. They feel lust for themselves as a woman.
At this point I can no longer give you a simple and elegant figure to illustrate their theory. It is complex and convoluted, so much so, actually, that that in and for itself speaks against it. (At least if you believe in Occam's Razor.) Why stick to this kind of explanation, when there are simpler theories that can explain the same findings? Anyway, here we go:
- The man is basically heterosexual. He is genetically predisposed to love women.
- Unlike other men, however, he moves the desired female characteristics over to his own body. He gets turned on by imagining himself as a woman, even if he is not a woman. Something has clearly gone wrong in his psyche. He should be desiring a woman out there. Instead he has the hots for himself with tits. Why this is so, is never explained.
- When such a man gets sex reassignment surgery (which both Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey often recommend), they are not "real women" anymore than the homosexual transsexuals. They are even less so, actually. The homosexuals are, after all, feminine in both behavior and appearance. The autogynephiliacs are not. They have become masculine men in a woman's body.
It is a sad story indeed, and why Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey believe this can help autogynephiliacs is hard to understand. I believe them when they say their intentions are good, however. They are clearly trying to find out the truth about autogynephiliacs, but is this really the truth?
Masculine and feminine, mutually exclusive?
What are we talking about when we talk about masculine and feminine traits? Are there are two clear cut mutually exclusive categories in this respect? I mean, is their division of transsexuals into two distinct categories absolute?
As you might have surmised, I find the category autogynephilia useful, and I know for a fact that there are transgendered that are much more feminine than me. (I do not look feminine at all!) But I cannot see that Blanchard & Co has proved that this is not an issue of a gradual transition from one category to the other.
There is no clear cut borderline, so you do not need two separate theories to explain the two categories.
Madeline Wyndszen, a transgendered professor in psychology has an interesting article where she discusses the statistics used by Blanchard, and reproduces a figure from one of his articles.
The figure shows his categorization of some of the respondents in his study, distributed according to the extent they are attracted to men (androphilia) or women (gynephilia). Annalloerotic means there is attraction to neither men nor women.
"Just looking at Blanchard's data, I do not see these two clusters of dots. If anything, I see a cluster of those with attractions to men (i.e., "homosexual" and bisexual as one group and a second group of "hetrosexual" and "non-sexual" transsexuals)."
Indeed, Blanchard's own research shows that there are all kinds of variations in his group of transgendered, but these variations are gradual, with no mutually excluding categories. Blanchard admits as much.
He writes: "It must be emphasized that the cluster analysis was not performed to discover or to confirm the existence of clusters among the transsexual subjects. It was chosen as a convenient and relatively non-arbitrary way of assigning subjects to a set of predetermined groups".
Now, you would never expect a clear cut division into categories in a study like this one. For that both human respondents and the tools of the statistics are to "messy". But it should definitely be more clear cut than this.
All this leads me to suspect that although the categories are useful for discussions and self-discovery, they are not "real" in the sense my sex (male) is real, the chair I sit on is real or the virus that causes the swine flu is real.
It is true that I look pretty masculine. But this autogynephiliac has also clear "feminine" traits: I am called a good listener, non-aggressive, creative, I have a background from the humanities, etc., traits I have in common with many "homosexual transsexuals".
If we look at sexual orientation (homosexual vs. heterosexual) as something distinct from the masculine/feminine scale, the borders do become blurred, indeed.
An alternative model for autogynephilia
I do believe that many transgender phenomena have a biological basis. The variation we see can probably be explained by different variations in the biological make-up, whether this is based in the genome, the proteom, in pre-natal hormone balance or whatever.
The way this syndrome plays out is also influenced by personal experience and the social and cultural surroundings. Here's my alternative napkin drawing for the relationship between gender and sex. And again: This is a theory, not something I can prove scientifically.
Moreover, some of the traits are clearly culturally determined. The feeling of long hair as being something feminine cannot have a biological basis. Men had long hair in 17th century Europe, as did men in most of the tribes of the Native Americans.