It seems like this blog is already becoming a frequent for posts on trans issues. I do intend to talk about more than just things like this, but, well, this is just what has been inspiring enough for me to write about it.
Quite recently, I had a conversation with a few people who were not the most hospitable to trans people. A number of tiresome arguments ensued, long story short, I seemingly either got ignored by the people I was talking to or I embarrassed them so badly they stopped responding. It was quite a conversation, but I believe that the people I talked to were too hardened to open up to any of the information I shared with them. They were too set in labeling transsexuals as tools of oppression, or as fetishist activists.
Yes, “fetishist activists.” This is literally something they called the entire trans community– based on something they brought up known as “autogynephilia.”
Now, after hearing more about this autogynephilia garbage, boy, oh boy, did it piss me off. This is why I’m writing about it now, to tell to the world what it is and how it’s merely a load of slanderous hogwash.
Allow me to explain what the theory of autogynephilia is. According to the Wikipedia article and the sources it gives, here is a description of Blanchard’s theory:
“Blanchard divided trans women into two different groups: homosexual transsexuals, whom Blanchard says seek SRS to romantically and sexualy attract men, and “autogynephilic transsexuals” who purportedly are sexually aroused at the idea of having a female body. The typology suggests distinctions between male-to-female transsexuals, but does not speculate on the causes of transsexualism.”
So, basically, Blanchard’s theory says that transsexuals are motivated by a tendency of sexual arousal at the thought of themselves as women. This theory has received a huge amount of criticism for a number of reasons, to the point where it can be considered essentially debunked. Let me explain how.
-What is Transsexualism?-
Allow me to first explain what transsexualism is, as far as we know.
We know for a fact what transsexualism is and how it is treated. When someone born with a specific set of sex characteristics experiences dysphoria due to those characteristics– dysphoria which is believed to be experienced because parts of their neurological structure are, at least, typical characteristics for the opposite sex– to the point where their distress affects them noticeably (often causing depression and anxiety, and in more extreme cases, it can lead to suicide or self-mutilation), and to minimize this dysphoria, they are given treatment to alter their sex characteristics– be it medicine (hormones) or surgery– so that they no longer have the sex characteristics that cause them dysphoria. For some, dysphoria is so minimal (and perhaps even their genetics have them with features characteristic of the opposite sex already) that they don’t need any treatment, and for others, their dysphoria is so great that they require the full package to deal with it– most usually receive hormones, and perhaps just one surgery. The point of this is just so that these people can live normal lives without being haunted by their agonizing dysphoria.
A number of voices in the trans community say that gender is heavily based on and influenced by biological characteristics, and that both gender and sex are biological, and set at birth, and that, about 99.7% of the time, they match up, but 0.3% of the time, they don’t match properly, and that’s how you get transsexuals.
-Lack of Empirical Evidence-
Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory is infamously known for having a lack of empirical evidence, something that has been pointed out several times by a number of sources.
Physician Charles Allen Moser makes this criticism, stating that Blanchard’s theory uses “an overly-broad definition, is not sufficiently relevant to male-to-female transsexual patients, fails to account for all information on sexual/romantic interests of homosexual and transsexual people, relies too heavily on phallometry, and lacks supporting data.”
Male-to-female transgender biochemist and trans activist Julia Serano also criticized Blanchard’s theory and papers, stating that “they were conducted among overlapping populations without non-transsexual controls, that the sub-types were not empirically derived but instead were “begging the question that transsexuals fall into sub-types based on their sexual orientation,” and that further research had found a non-deterministic correlation between cross-gender arousal and sexual orientation.” Serano stated that “Blanchard did not discuss the idea that cross-gender arousal may be an effect, rather than a cause, of gender dysphoria, and that Blanchard assumed that correlation implied causation.” Serano also notes that they dismiss non-autogynephilic, non-androphilic transsexuals as misreporting or lying while not questioning androphilic transsexuals, either making the theory unscientific due to its unfalsifiable nature, or invalid due to the non-deterministic correlation that later studies found.
Here is a message by James Barrett (in an e-mail to a friend of mine), giving what he knows about autogynephilia:
-Derogatory to Transsexuals-
Here, now, I give what is more of an opinion.
The idea of the Blanchard autogynephilia theory is one that, besides being inaccurate, seems like somewhat of an intentional smear on trans people. The theory itself paints transsexuals as fetishists who seek to live out a perceived arousing fantasy so excruciatingly that they intentionally alter their bodies just to do so. It adds onto transsexuals a quality of perversion, when this is far from the case.
Transsexuals transition out of necessity, due to the experience of dysphoria with their bodies. It has nothing to do with living out a sexual fantasy, but rather making an attempt to live a normal life without overbearing depression.
While there is not a denial that autogynephiles may exist, they certainly DO NOT represent a majority of the trans community, hardly even a noticeable minority, I’d bet.
So it’s highly offensive when transsexuals are painted off as fetishists, sexual deviants, or perverts just for being who they are and seeking the proper treatment for a medical condition. As I mentioned earlier, I kept hearing about autogynephilia from people who sought to insult transsexuals. It’s clear that the idea of it being spread as if it were, in any way, proven fact, is harmful and a misrepresentation of truth.
I honestly see this as similar to attacks that were common against other marginalized groups, as methods used to stratify and shame them for nonexistent reasons. Homosexuals even today are seen as perverts, deviants, people who “defy nature and God,” as if what they are and what they do is a revolting and unnatural sexual concept, when, in reality, they are just people with a different sexuality. Interracial couples are also often stratified as being fetishistic of other races, like they actively sought to objectify people of other races by being in a sexual relationship with them, when really this is just people in love, people with their own preferences in dating. The whole shaming and stratification act has been a thing for a long time, and all the time, it’s been just as bigoted and disgusting– it’s no different now.
I want to criticize Blanchard for how the tests were done. It seemed like the results were forced, like the result hypothesized in the beginning was not reached naturally, but unnaturally sought out. As if Blanchard wanted to paint transsexuals as fetishists. This is a practice which I find just, despicable and reprehensible for a scientist, to try and mislead and assert a reality different from the truth. I don’t know Blanchard’s story, but I do hope that he feels ashamed for his bold-faced manipulation used to spin a narrative. And I am thankful for the many gender specialists who went forth to criticize Blanchard’s theory as baseless and unscientific. Although rumors do take time to die out, it does help when there is a persistent reminder of the falsehoods and inaccuracies presented.
And so, in summary: autogynephilia is an unscientific theory that holds absolutely no water, and is presented only as a disingenuous, offensive smear of transsexuals. It is not science, it is just a hollow insult. The people who contributed to the idea gaining traction should feel shame for misrepresenting the facts as they did.
Bancroft J (2009). “Transgender gender nonconformity and transvestism”. Human sexuality and its problems. Elsevier. pp. 290–1. ISBN 978-0-443-05161-6