Here are some other autogynephilia resources:

  1. "Men Trapped in Men's Bodies" -- Dr. Anne Lawrence's introduction to the concept of Autogynephilia.
  2. Anne Lawrence's Autogynephilia FAQ
  3. Janice Raymond and Autogynephilia -- Dr. Becky's rebuttal to Anne Lawrence's papers.
  4. Heike Bödeker's densly-written response to Dr. Becky.

B.C. on Gender: Autogynephilia

About Autogynephilia

They say that there are two types of people: those who categorize the world into two group, and those who don't.

I bring this up because the transgender community has always been at the receiving end of categorization by the medical community. It's commonly held that there's two types of TGs: transvestites and transsexuals. And within the category of transsexual, there's two types: MTF and FTM.

And now, the medical community has come up with a new way to categorize. According to Dr. Ray Blanchard of the Gender Identity Clinic of Ontario's Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, within the category of male-to-femal (MTF) transsexuals, there's two types: homosexual transsexuals and autogynephilic transsexuals.

Homosexual transsexuals, Dr. Blanchard argues, are people who are born male and who feel sexual attraction to men. He further suggests that the sexual attraction is a big part of the desire to change sex. (And, yes, I think that the fact that Blanchard describes these people as "homosexual" is evidence that he Just Doesn't Get It).

It gets better. He additionally suggests that autogynephilic transsexuals are people who are born male, and who seek sex reassignment because they are sexually aroused by the idea of being feminized. Basically, he equated it to some kind of fetishism or paraphilia.

There's None So Queer as Folk

Autogynephilia. What are we to think about this idea? Should we embrace the concept? Does it describe our lives, and our motivations, or is it poorly thought-out?

For my part, I have conflicting feelings about the idea. On the one hand, I think that some of the ideas are interesting, and should be talked about, but on the other hand, I have some real problems with the way those ideas have been packaged into a "classification".

First, let's look at the cast of characters in this debate:

Dr. Anne Lawrence

First, I want to clarify my opinion about Dr. Anne Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence has prepared one of the most (if not the most) popular TG web sites on the web. Her pages strive to be factual, and to present information that will help transgendered women understand the medical options available to them.

I am certain that Dr. Lawrence has helped hundreds, or thousands -- or perhaps even tens of thousands -- of transgendered women. And she does this on an entirely volunteer basis. The community owes a great debt to Dr. Lawrence, and I admire her greatly.

I do, however, have great problems with many of the things that she says about autogynephilia.

There's a saying: "When your only tool is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail." I mention this because many of my problems with her statements about autogynephilia have to do with some of the medical/scientific justification she uses in her claims.

I hold the rather unpopular opinion that science goes through fashions. I believe that people will dismiss evidence because it doesn't fit a particular scientific theory that just happens to be in vogue. And I think that's what Dr. Lawrence is doing, here.

Dr. Ray Blanchard

Dr. Ray Blanchard, as I mentioned above, is a clinical sexologist at Ontario's Clarke Institute. The Clarke houses one of only two Gender Identity clinics in Canada, and it's not so much famous as infamous.

The Clarke is despised by many Canadian TGs. In fact, I would go so far as to opine that it is despised by the majority of TGs in Ontario. To be fair, I have heard of TGs who tell me that "it's not so bad", and that they were able to get the help that they needed, but those have been the exception rather than the rule.

Further, if you get a bunch of Toronto trannies in a room together, chances are that they'll start talking about what the people at the Clarke want to hear, and what you should and should not say to them.

I'm sure that Dr. Blanchard's intentions are good; I think that he perceives himself as furthering the field of sex research for the benefit of people. But I still question his findings.

Tracy

Some time ago, while participating on the Transgender Canada Mailing List (TGC-L), a TS friend of mine, whom I'll call "Tracy", was talking about fetishism among transsexuals. In short, she was saying that it was interesting that trannies never really talk about this -- that there's a great silence about the sexual component of changing gender, although many TSs experience some sexual response to the process.

And I agree with her. I think it is odd that this is never discussed. I think it should be discussed more.

Heike Bödeker

Heike Bödeker is a new name for me. And I only know of her from a theoretical (although densly-written) response to Dr. Becky. (It's an odd thing, the Internet. I'm responding to Heike's critique of Dr. Becky's objections to Dr. Lawrence's restatement of Dr. Blanchard. Hmmm...)

Some of her concerns are that:

  • Dr. Becky refuses to accept the idea that sexual response is the motivation of all transsexuals. I hope that I've made clear that I want to acknowledge the existence of sexual response. I merely remain unconvinced that it's the motivator behind "autogynephilic transsexualism".
  • Heike dislikes the way both Dr. Becky and I discredit Blanchard; she claims that it's generally the autogynephilic transsexuals who dislike the Clarke, "while, in fact, many, not only Canadian, [homosexual] TS strongly prefer this oldschool type of gender clinics as they neither can afford commercialized gender programs, nor get adequate support there." [1999]

    If that's true, then a few things come to mind. First, there must be a hell of a lot more autogynephilic TSs than homosexual transsexuals, 'cause frankly, the ratios that I've seen first-hand are stunningly one-sided.

    Second, if what she says is true, then maybe one reason why the idea of an autogynephilia classification really sucks is that organizations like the Clarke are marginalizing the autogynephiles -- these TSs clearly don't think that they're getting what they want out of the organization, and they're complaining a lot.

    Thirdly, I think that she's confusing two concepts here: the Clarke sucks, not because it's a public sector gender clinic; instead, it sucks because it's a bad gender clinic. The clinic in British Columbia has a really good reputation, and it is also funded by provincial health care, rather than a "commercialized" gender clinic.

    For my part, I think that Heike has the facts wrong, and that she doesn't know what she's talking about, here.

Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

Here's the most succinct example of why I am against the theory of autogynephilia: Dr. Lawrence has posted an essay from "a colleague" who considers herself a homosexual transsexual. This essay was written in response to Dr. Becky, and consistently aligns homosexual transsexualism with "realness", and autogynephilic transsexualism with artifice.

She writes:

When I did transition, I was put in touch with an older transsexual for advice and help. She insisted that I had to do everything just so -- make-up just so, dress just so, voice and body language just so -- because it said so in her books. She'd criticize me whenever I didn't behave exactly as it said in her books. I felt like a waxwork; but I assumed that since she was the expert, she must know what she was doing.

Now, I really didn't need this. When I asked to be referred to Charing Cross, I was already living a pretty androgynous lifestyle. The doctor who referred me told me "You seem to be halfway there already." -- i.e., to being a woman. In retrospect, I can see that the transsexual who gave me advice was probably autogynephilic, and that what she was doing was probably right for her. In the end, I ignored her and went my own way.

I hope this provides some context for the negative remarks I sometimes make about autogynephilic transsexuals. Ironically, autogynephilia itself is something I can accept without difficulty. In fact, I applaud you for attempting to be open and honest about it. I have no problem with autogynephilic transsexuals, except when they invade my space. I know exactly what biological females mean when they say that, because I've felt it.

Note what this says. It says:

  1. I am a real woman, so much so that it is obvious to everyone else around me.
  2. Transsexuals who are different than me -- the older transsexual for example -- was obsessed with the appearance of womanhood, not true womanhood
  3. And hence, she was obviously an autogynephilic transsexual
  4. And I resent people like her invading my space -- woman's space. They don't belong in those spaces.

This is the kind of divisive thinking that, well, sickens me. It is the attitude that exemplifies the worst members of our community. I think her meaning is clearest when she says:

If I hadn't thought I would pass well enough to live a fulfilling life in this way, I certainly wouldn't have transitioned -- there would have been no point.

She is implying that people who have difficulty passing aren't real women -- they're sexually motivated autogynephiles. And I can't help but wonder if "autogynephelia" is just a new way of talking about an old issue: passing.

I mean, consider the following questions on a "test" to determine whether or not someone is an autogynephilic transsexual or a homosexual transsexual:

Q: If you didn't already know that the person was transsexual, would you have never suspected that she was not a natural-born woman?

Q: (If the person has been on hormones for at least 6 months) Do you find it difficult to imagine that this person could ever pass as a woman?

Q: Would some of your male friends find this person sexy?

So, basically, this test suggests that transsexuals who don't pass must therefore be autogynephilic. Because, hey, isn't it obvious that our ability to pass affects the gender identity formed when we were babies?

If the Clue Phone Rings...

When I read Anne Lawrence's discussions about autogynephilia, I'm inclined to ask a question that might be very basic: what is the evidence? Dr. Lawrence tries to answer this question on her web site. She says that Blanchard's theory is informed by "clinical observations". Basically, the claim here is that of all the transsexuals seen in counseling sessions, two general types of experiences being described.

First up, is it possible that the observations are mistaken? Is it possible that some of the people who, say, attend the Clarke are lying? This is a very interesting question, because, you see, I've sat in countless groups of transsexuals who talk about what the shrinks really want to hear. Basically, if you get a bunch of Toronto-area transsexuals together in a room, they counsel each other about how to lie to the Clarke. What does that do to Blanchard's "clinical observations"?

Secondly, even if all the patients are telling the truth, is it possible that the differences being reported have more to do with the ways people cope with gender dysphoria, rather than nature of the dysphoria itself? Our society does a fairly thorough job of teaching us how to repress the desire to change genders. So if we're doing all that repressing, when might those feelings be let out? Is it possible that those feelings are only allowed when we're engaged in early sexual experimentation another thing we're supposed to suppress? And might that not cause transsexuals to report a relationship between sexual release and gender-changing "fantasies"?

But wait a minute! Dr. Lawrence says that there are statistics about this:

Although the correlations between autogynephilic sexual arousal and other parts of the autogynephilic symptom cluster seemed to be very strong among Blanchard's gender dysphoric males, they were not perfect. For example: Blanchard found that 10 - 15% of his homosexual subjects gave a history of sexual arousal with crossdressing, compared to 66 - 87% of his non-homosexual subjects.

But why might that be? Here are two possible explanations:

  1. Dr. Lawrence suggests that sexual orientation is gendered. She says that the "expected" female sexual orientation is toward men (this terminology is pretty dismissive of lesbians and bisexuals). So if "homosexual transsexuals" have sexual fantasies involving males, perhaps that helps to calm those repressed cross-gender feelings. Transsexuals who are not sexually oriented toward men cannot get the same type of relief in that situation, and might learn to cope with their dysphoria in different ways -- say, by thinking about other cross-gendered behaviours such as crossdressing.

  2. As we speculated earlier, there may be a relationship between people who don't pass and autogynephilia. Many writers, such as Phyllis Burke, have talked about how one's appearance affects how one is treated by others. "Boys" who are somewhat feminine might be taunted as a sissy. Such kids would be reminded regularly that they are gender different. But "boys" who look masculine could learn to repress cross-gender feelings much more thoroughly, and might therefore have a greater need to let those feelings out during private moments -- perhaps even during early sexual experimentation.

"Nyah, Nyah. I'm Not Listening to You"

I think that when people, especially scientists, want to narrow-mindedly stick with a theory, they tend to ignore evidence that contradicts their theory. Does Dr. Lawrence do that? Well, consider the following questions and answers from her web site:

Q: Some of us who fit the autogynephilic pattern are clear in our own minds that sexual desire had nothing to do with our decisions to transition. We transitioned in order to express our inner personal identities as women. Why do you disregard our experiences?

A: [...] It is hardly surprising that some transsexuals with a history of autogynephilic arousal would want to deny that their transitions had anything to do with sexuality. [...] I suspect that transsexuals who deny that sexuality played a part in their transitions are being less than honest with themselves.

[...]

Q: Blanchard's theory ignores the fact that people's sexual orientation often changes after surgery. Before I transitioned, I was attracted to women, and had no sexual interest in men. But since transition, I've lost interest in women, and suddenly find myself attracted to men instead. Don't experiences like mine call Blanchard's theory into question?

A: If any non-transsexual person were to give such a history of a sudden reversal in sexual orientation, most people would probably be skeptical. But people often seem to uncritically accept stories like these from transsexuals, perhaps because they believe that the resulting "heterosexuality" is somehow natural. [...] I am not convinced that we should take such reports by transsexuals at face value.

Do these situations not sound like someone who is choosing to ignore certain facts because they don't fit in with a theory?

Conclusions

Put simply, I have a lot of problems with Anne Lawrence's position on autogynephilia. I think that it's, at best, a wild guess about what's going on in the minds of transsexuals. What's more, I think that categorizing nature of the theory is almost certain to cause huge rifts in an already over-categorized community.

I think that there are some ideas that are worth pursuing, but I really think that the way those ideas are expressed could stand to be rethought.


Copyright © 1999, 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated February 11th, 2000.
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