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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Autogynophilia- Breaking It Down and What it Means to You

It has taken me awhile to think through the problem presented by the theory of "Autogynophilia". Instinctively, it felt wrong, but that is not part of consideration from an academic standpoint. A theory, has to have evidence to support it's existence and it must also be useful. After a long time reading about it, I do not think it exists for reasons I will discuss, but first we must understand what the actual theory says in detail.

From Wikipedia- "Ray Blanchard's transsexualism typology (also Blanchard autogynephilia theory (BAT) and Blanchard's taxonomy) is a psychological typology of male-to-female transsexualism created by Ray Blanchard  through the 1980s and 1990s, building on the work of his colleague, Kurt Freund. Blanchard divides male-to-female (MtF or M2F) transsexuals into two different groups: "homosexual transsexuals", who are attracted to men, and "non-homosexual transsexuals", who are "autogynephilic" (sexually aroused by the thought or image of themselves as a woman). The typology does not purport to identify the cause of transsexualism in natal males, but it has some implications for the cause—specifically, but it implies that the cause of transsexualism may not be the same for both groups."
It is true that the statistically significant majority of transsexuals do see themselves having sex as a woman and becoming aroused by it, and Blanchard got as far as identifying the phenomenon at least partially, given the limits of who he sees as experiencing the phenomonen. My opinion was that this was the only thing he did accomplish. He failed to observe the phenomenon completely.
There is a lot to digest there. This is a very controversial concept and I have felt that it was flawed for quite a long time, I just wasn't clear what the flaw in the concept was. To sum it up, Blanchard sees those who homosexual pre transition are thought to have a different etiology than heterosexual transsexuals who are pre transtion. His theory is that the homosexual group is better adjusted because of their homosexuality, while those oriented towards women are sexual deviants.
To understand the implication, we need to know what is the definition of a paraphilia. Merriam- Webster online dictionary defines Paraphilia "as a pattern of recurring sexually arousing mental imagery or behavior that involves unusual and especially socially unacceptable sexual practices (as sadism or pedophilia) have a paraphilia, and therefore have a mental illness and one that if true would be every bit as difficult to resolve as any other paraphilia. What Blanchard calls a paraphilia is the idea that a transsexual who is oriented towards women, is aroused by the thought of themself engaging in sexual activity as a woman. In order for this to be a paraphilia, it must rise to the standard of being considered a deviant thought or behavior. It is something that rises to the need for treatment and it is commonly not easily treated.

Here is where his theory breaks down. How could it be that a transsexual not find the prospect of being sexual in the right body arousing, whether that transsexual is oriented towards men, women, or both? Is not a genetic woman aroused by thinking of being sexual in her own correct body?
The answer is the same for each of these individuals. They are aroused by thinking of their bodies engaging in sexual activity. Therefore, this concept being defined as a paraphilia is a non starter. Some paraphilias are as relatively benign such as some fetishes, and can range to the very serious such as Sadism or Pedophilia.
The definition of a paraphilia does not include people who like to play with power in their intimate relationships unless one partner is significantly injured physically or psychologically as an ongoing aspect of this relationship.
I would also have you note that Blanchard's theory fails to address the phenomenon of the female to male transsexual. Because these people are not accounted for under Blanchard's theory, the theory is further weakened. His model only addresses the male to female transsexual.
Another problem with Blanchard is in asking how does his theory help or is useful in some way to the individual transsexual? It does not seem to help in any form and actually relegates a significant subpopulation of transsexuals to a pathological label that is not useful in any manner. It misinforms the public who will view transsexuals as sexually deviant as a result of this concept. There is no statistical evidence to suggest that within the population of transsexuals there are higher rates of having a paraphilia than the general public is prone to experience. Therefore it fails the test in describing something that is useful.
Perhaps the biggest confounding fact in Blanchard's theory is something that is quite well known and studied. It seems that transsexuals in all of Blanchard's typology find it is not uncommon to switch sexual orientation sometime three to five years into HRT. There are a number of transsexuals who lived and were heterosexual males who find they become heterosexual women. This applies for both types of male to females and less commonly so in female to male transsexuals. This is theorized to occur due to the brain that was primed prenatally by a crossgender hormonal wash of the developing brain,  which in turn maximizes the potential of activating these neural pathways with the induction of estrogen therapy. It allows this prewired biological potential to  maximize feminization of the brain. It works in the same manner for female to male transsexuals as well. The presence of testosterone after having had a prenatal wash of androgen will experience maximizing the masculinization of the brain too. This sexual orientation shift is most frequently observed after three or more years on HRT when and if it does occur.
What are your thoughts on autogynophobia? Anne Lawrence       has a different take on the concept of autogynophilia, while endorsing the concept. I'll look into bringing some information on her view and you can decide for yourself what your opinion is on autogynophobia.


  1. Sometimes I think that people like Dr. Blanchard just have to publish controversial stuff in order to continue to receive research funding.

    Then again he could be hiding his homophobia and/or his disdain for transsexual people behind pseudo-science.

    It seems that he does not buy in to the concept of gender identity as a valid, gender trait, let alone an important (if not the most important or only true) determiner of one's gender. Do you know what he thinks about gender identity?

    The reason I ask is that if gender identity is the chief determiner of gender, then a transsexual woman (which Blanchard would call a transsexual male - hence the homophobic transsexual term) is a woman just as a cissexual woman is a woman. Therefore any lesbian, whose dreams of having sex includes using her gynecological equipment, would have to be considered to be autogynephilic.

    Perhaps his theory comes out of the old days when trans women had to at least pretend to be heterosexual to be approved for SRS. Perhaps it comes out of his personal homophobia.

    Either way, Blanchard never seems to consider a transsexual woman to be a woman, but always a man. In the case of the homosexual transsexual - a gay male who wants his sex to be legal, and in the case of the autogynephilic transsexual - a man who must fantasize about having a vagina in order to achieve sexual pleasure.

    Oops, I just said vagina in Michigan! ;-P

  2. I never understood those who buy into Blanchard's theory. It seem counterintuitive to think that the though of being sexual in the correct body would be any different that how many if not most ciswomen would see them self anyway unless Blanchard can not envision a woman as a sexual being

  3. Autogynophilia does not qualify as a scientific theory because it cannot be reduced to objective experimentation. The one scientific study that Blanchard offers does not even come close to proving the theory both by design and result. The end. No need to pay any more attention to it were it not for trans-detractors use of it to throw mud.
    The data for his typology is weak and contaminated by influences on TS by health professionals to declare one sexual orientation or another in order to get into transition. At best it is a clinical opinion and does not rise to the level of scientific theory.
    TSTG need to stand up to these folks and demand proof of such claims.

  4. While I think Blanchard's concept of an "autogynephilic" as he tries relating it in a very general way to M2F transsexuals who remain attracted primarily to women seems a bit off the mark, I would most definetly not go so far as to claim the condition does not exist. I've personally met three individuals now who have admitted more than once that indeed they chose to undergo feminization therapy and SRS/GRS because they were so obsessed with the female form and that it was only afterwards that they each had realized what a terrible mistake they'd actually made. I'm a little suspect in cases where a post-op with what we all know to be "buyer's remorse" begins spinning tales about how the therapist(s) convinced them that they were such and such (how many of these claims are actually true, I do not know), and have to wonder if at least some of the time if a variation of "autogynophilia" is what we are actually seeing.

    My own experience as transsexual seems far different from these types of claims, as I knew decades before I ever set foot in the office of a therapist.. making the idea that someone might have convinced me to choose this path almost laughable.

  5. This is a great post, and I agree with everything you say.

    It would probably be useful for you to know that there are many of us who now try to reclaim the ground lost to Blanchard due to his autogynephilia theory.

    As you point out the arousal following cross-gender fantasies is real among many gender variant and transgeder people, both among those that are gender dysphoric and those that are not.

    You should be able to find a lot of relevant information and discussions over at my blog: Crossdreamers.

    The term "crossdreamers" is meant to be a neutral term for describing such arousal -- one which do not bring up the stigmatizing associations brought up by the term "autogynephilia":

    My blog also includes a debate on female to male crossdreamers, as well as historical precedents.

    There is also a discussion forum over at Crossdream Life which documents not only the diversity of "crossdreamers", but also the many ways they try to make sense of their own lives.

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  7. Very well stated, Sandra-Isabell.

    Thank you for contributing. I am always interested in opinions from other transwomen outside of the USA to share their perspectives!

    Sherri Lynne