Monday, July 13, 2015

The real "autogynephilia deniers"

Note: updated links and additional entries were added to this post in October, 2019. A more thorough review of autogynephilia theory and the many lines of evidence against it can be found in my peer-reviewed article Autogynephilia: A scientific review, feminist analysis, and alternative ‘embodiment fantasies’ model [PDF link]. The underlying rationales that lead some people to still support the theory despite its lack of scientific validity are explored in Making Sense of Autogynephilia Debates. Finally, toward the end of this essay, I provide examples of how the theory is routinely cited by those who wish to undermine transgender people, rights, and/or healthcare—many more recent examples of this are discussed in my 2021 piece Autogynephilia and Anti-Transgender Activism

A little over a week ago, James Cantor (a sexologist who works at CAMH) published the following provocative tweet:

Of course, the trope of "autogynephilia deniers" has existed for about as long as the theory itself has.

Ray Blanchard first proposed the theory of autogynephilia in the late 1980's - it asserts that there are two fundamentally different types of trans women, and that only one of these groups (the so-called "autogynephiles") not only experience sexual arousal or fantasies involving the “thought or image of oneself as a woman" (what, for clarity's sake, I will call female/feminine embodiment fantasies or FEFs), but that FEFs are the cause of any gender dysphoria & desire to transition that those individuals experience.

But the problem is that in *every single one* of Blanchard's research studies on the matter, he found a significant number of subjects who defied his two-subtype model and his assumption of causality (i.e., that FEFs are the supposed cause of transsexuality in those who experience them). Rather than question his model, Blanchard dismissed these many exceptions by accusing those research subjects of "misreporting" their experiences; other proponents of autogynephilia theory have subsequently followed suit. As I explained in my article The Case Against Autogynephilia:

Notably, it is always those transsexuals who are constructed as “autogynephiles” that are accused of either lying about their sexual orientation, or of supposedly denying their experiences with cross-gender arousal [i.e., FEFs]; in contrast, the reports of those who neatly fit the “androphile” archetype are never questioned . . . This double standard is not only illogical . . . but it is tantamount to hand-picking which evidence counts and which does not based upon how well it conforms to the model . . . If proponents of autogynephilia insist that every exception to the model is due to misreporting, then autogynephilia theory must be rejected on the grounds that it is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. If, on the other hand, we accept that these exceptions are legitimate, then it is clear that autogynephilia theory’s two-subtype taxonomy does not hold true.

I don't doubt that *some* trans women who have experienced FEFs deny those experiences. Given the way that autogynephilia theory has been repeatedly used to slut-shame trans women, dismiss our identities, and/or to depict us as "sexually deviant men" (as described in detail at the end of this article), I completely understand why some trans women would be reluctant to discuss their relationship to this subject matter.

But what people like Cantor and others who invoke this notion of "autogynephilia deniers" consistently refuse to address is the *countless* trans women who acknowledge the existence of FEFs (in their own lives and/or others), yet reject Blanchard's autogynephilia theory.

And frankly, all the science is on our side, not theirs.

Who is doing the denying here?

To believe that Blanchard's autogynephilia theory is correct, you need to either 1) transport yourself back in time to around 2005, when the only scientific literature on this topic had been published by Ray Blanchard and his two biggest fans Anne Lawrence & J. Michael Bailey, or 2) purposefully ignore all of the scientific/sexology literature that has been published since.

Since James Cantor seems not to be up to speed on the *actual* scientific literature on this matter, here is a little reading list that I've prepared for him and anyone else who denies the fact that Blanchard's autogynephilia theory has been thoroughly disproven:

--The Case Against Autogynephilia (by Julia Serano, 2010) &  Blanchard's Autogynephilia Theory: A Critique (by Charles Moser, 2010)
These are both review articles published in peer-reviewed journals (a whopping five years ago!) summarizing the many flaws inherent in Blanchard's theory and the overwhelming evidence against it. A few of the research studies cited in those article are listed individually below.

--Sexuality of male-to-female transsexuals (by Veale et al., 2008)
This was the first study testing autogynephilia theory that was conducted on a non-clinical population of trans women, as well as the first that actually used a control group of cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) women. Their results contradict Blanchard's theory in a number of ways, most notably in that their "autogynephilic" and "nonautogynephilic" groups did not segregate along lines of sexual orientation (which had been a foundational premise of Blanchard's theory) and that many of their cisgender female controls were "autogynephilic" (with 52% experiencing FEFs at levels comparable to trans women that Blanchard classified as “autogynephiles”; see also Moser, 2010), demonstrating that FEFs are not a transgender-specific phenomenon.

--Autogynephilia in women (by Charles Moser, 2009)
Moser administered a survey (almost identical to the one Blanchard used) to cisgender women and found that: "By the common definition of ever having erotic arousal to the thought or image of oneself as a woman, 93% of the respondents would be classified as autogynephilic. Using a more rigorous definition of 'frequent' arousal to multiple items, 28% would be classified as autogynephilic."

--A further assessment of Blanchard’s typology of homosexual versus non-homosexual or autogynephilic gender dysphoria (by Nuttbrock et al., 2011)
This study examined the frequency of FEFs in a non-clinical sample of 571 MtF transgender individuals living in New York City - this sample is far more diverse with regard to age and ethnicity than any previous study. As with Veale et al. (2008), they found many exceptions to Blanchard's two-subtype model. Notably, they also found that the incidence of FEFs were significantly higher in whites compared with non-whites, and in older subjects compared with younger subjects, suggesting that other cultural factors (independent of sexual orientation) lead to this phenomenon. The reduced levels of FEFs in younger subjects led the authors to suggest that FEFs (i.e., what Blanchard calls "autogynephilia") “may be a historically fading phenomenon.” In a follow up response to Lawrence, Nuttbrock et al. further showed that these latter disparities are best explained by "secrecy" – i.e., the prevalence of FEFs was a whopping five times greater in subjects who dressed femininely in private compared to those who dress femininely full-time in public. This finding lends further support to alternative models that have proposed that especially intense or frequent FEFs may be a by-product of, or exacerbated by, being forced to hide or repress one’s gender dysphoria and/or feminine inclinations—see Serano, 2007 (pp. 253–271, 283–306), 2016, forthcoming; Veale, Clarke, & Lomax, 2010.

--When Selves Have Sex: What the Phenomenology of Trans Sexuality Can Teach About Sexual Orientation (by Talia Mae Bettcher, 2013)
This is a more theoretical paper (rather than a research study), but it elegantly explains how the popular conceptualization of sexual orientation as strictly "attraction to" other people has essentially erased the importance of our own bodies in our erotic thoughts and sexual fantasies & experiences. Bettcher instead forwards a theory of "erotic structuralism" that is far more consistent with real-life sexual experiences and all the available science on this particular subject than Blanchard's theory.

--Evidence Against a Typology: A Taxometric Analysis of the Sexuality of Male-to-Female Transsexuals (by Jaimie Veale, 2014)
This study demonstrates that trans women's sexualities (including sexual orientation and experiences with FEFs) are dimensional (i.e., they fall on a continuum) rather than categorical (i.e., falling into distinct categories), thus further disproving Blanchard's two-subtype taxonomy.

--Reconceptualizing “Autogynephilia” as Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs) (by Julia Serano, 2015, 2016)
This is the first article listed thus far that has not appeared in a peer-reviewed science/sexology journal. But I included it because it summarizes my multifactorial model (originally forwarded in my 2007 book Whipping Girl, pp. 253–271, 283–306) to explain the existence of FEFs (i.e., what others call "autogynephilia") and why this phenomenon occurs more frequently or intensely in certain subpopulations but not others. Unlike Blanchard's theory, this multifactorial model is consistent with *all* the available evidence on this subject.

--Tell Me What You Want (by Justin Lehmiller, 2018) and Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies (by Emily Dubberley, 2013)
Lehmiller’s book describes a recent study of 4,175 Americans’ sexual fantasies which found that “. . . about one-quarter of men and women had fantasized about cross-dressing, and nearly a third had fantasized about trading bodies with someone of the other sex.” While Blanchard and others have denied the existence of male/masculine embodiment fantasies (MEFs), Lehmiller found that, “11 percent of the women I surveyed reported sexual fantasies about becoming men and that 20 percent had fantasized about dressing up as men.” This latter finding is corroborated by Dubberley's qualitative study of women’s sexual fantasies, which chronicled numerous examples of MEFs (pp. 158–159, 164–167, 218–232). Taken together, it appears that cisgender people also experience FEFs and MEFs fairly regularly and in a variety of forms, further undermining the notion that this is a trans female/feminine specific phenomenon. (Note: along these lines, I recommend this Jack Molay post, which relates Lehmiller’s findings to research by Jacobson and Joel.)

So that is but some the evidence against Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia. And if Cantor or anyone else wants to assert that the theory remains valid – or that it is even still up for consideration! – they must actually address this significant body of research and reasoning.

And if they do not, then they are the ones who are in denial.

Indeed, today in 2015, the phrase "autogynephilia deniers" more appropriately describes those who continue to latch onto autogynephilia theory despite the overwhelming theoretical & scientific evidence against it. People like Anne Lawrence, who writes angry Letters to the Editor any time a research paper challenging Blanchard's theory is published (see here and here and here and here – quite honestly, there may be more that I have missed). Or people like Alice Dreger, who just released a 2015 pop-science book discussing autogynephilia theory in depth (circa 2005) without discussing or addressing *any* of the post-2005 research & reviews on the subject.

They are the real "autogynephilia deniers," not us.

Or to put it in the form of a catchy tweet (à la James Cantor):

What the real "autogynephilia deniers" are denying (besides the scientific evidence)

The real "autogynephilia deniers" not only ignore all of the post-2005 research on the subject, but they also repeatedly ignore the many ways in which (the now disproven) autogynephilia theory has been, and continues to be, used as a tool to dismiss and degrade trans women and others on the trans female/feminine spectrum. A few examples:

--Religious fundamentalists opposed to the existence of trans people invoking the theory to undermine trans folks (e.g., here and here).

--Trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) opposed to the existence of trans people invoking autogynephilia, despite how patriarchal & heteronormative Blanchard's theory is (e.g., Sheila Jeffreys's books Gender Hurts & Beauty and Misogyny, plus numerous TERF websites that I refuse to link to).

--Here is the IRS using autogynephilia as an excuse to deny a trans person's right to deduct legitimate medical expenses on their tax filings.

--I also personally know trans women who were denied trans-related healthcare because they were deemed by therapists to be merely "autogynephiles" rather than "real transsexuals" - unfortunately, I don't have easily linkable/non-doxxing materials for these instances. But they happen. And if you don't think so, it's probably because you don't know many trans women personally.

--Here is Rolling Stone Magazine invoking autogynephilia for no reason other than to sensationalize and delegitimize Lana Wachowski.

--Here is my response to The New Yorker magazine invoking autogynephilia for no reason other than to delegitimize me and other trans activists.

--Hey, while were at it, let's speculate and sensationalize Caitlyn Jenner's (entirely presumed) sexual history here.

I explain why "autogynephilia" is such an effective tool to dehumanize trans women in my essay Psychology, Sexualization and Trans-Invalidations (especially the second half of it). For those who'd rather not read an essay-length explanation, here is the take-home point: Reducing a person to their sexual bodies or behaviors sexualizes them. And in our culture, sexualizing someone (i.e., reducing them to their sexuality, rather than seeing them as a whole person) is one of the most effective ways of invalidating a person.

It is one thing to discuss people's sexual fantasies or behaviors in an abstract or generalized manner. It is a completely different thing to define and stereotype specific people based upon their (actual or presumed) sexual behaviors. My favorite analogy (from The Case Against Autogynephlia) to demonstrate this point:

Many [nontransgender] women have rape fantasies. It is one thing to respectfully attempt to explore and understand such fantasies. It is an entirely different thing to insist that there are two subtypes of women — those who have rape fantasies and those who do not; to use the label “autoraptophiles” when describing women who have such fantasies and to insist that they are primarily motivated by their desire to be raped; to include “autoraptophilia” as a modifier in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; and to encourage the lay public to actively distinguish between those women who are “autoraptophiles” and those who are not. Such actions would undoubtedly have a severe, negative impact on women (who are already routinely sexualized and marginalized in our culture). Yet, proponents of autogynephilia have argued that transsexual women should be viewed and treated in an analogous manner.

James Cantor is an out gay man, so perhaps he might appreciate the following (purposefully satirical) analogy: When you get right down to it, there are two fundamentally distinct types of gay men - those who are primarily driven by erotic thoughts and images of themselves as being sexually on top (apicalphiles) and those who are primarily driven by erotic thoughts and images of themselves as being on the bottom (basalphiles). Anyone who says that gay men's identities are more complex than this, or that their sexualities fall more on a continuum, are clearly basalphiles in denial. And since I have a PhD in *science* (even though I don't put it in my Twitter handle à la @JamesCantorPhD), what I'm saying must be undeniably true. And as a scientist, I think we should talk more about gay men's identities in terms of their apicalphilia or basalphilia. Because you can't really understand gay men unless you know what sexual positions they strive for in their fantasies & in their bedrooms. And if you think that information about gay men's sexual histories and proclivities is a personal matter and not a public one, well then, you have clearly established yourself as a basalphile-denier.

So to summarize

James Cantor's tweet dismissing "autogynephile-deniers" targets either one of two classes of people:

1) those of us who believe in the existence of FEFs, but reject Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia because the scientific evidence does not support it. Because the science *doesn't* support it.


2) trans women who are disinclined to discuss the details of their sexual histories or proclivities with the general public because they are aware of how those details will likely be used against them. These people fall under the general umbrella of human beings (whether men or women, straight or queer, cisgender or transgender) who strongly feel that their sexual fantasies & sex lives ARE NONE OF ANYONE ELSE'S GODDAMN BUSINESS!!!

If James Cantor intended to target group 1, then he is blatantly promoting pseudoscience.

And if James Cantor intended to target group 2, then perhaps we should instead focus on Cantor's basalphilic tendencies. Because the public really should know about how he is so relentlessly driven by all those erotic thoughts and images of himself as being anally penetrated by more aggressive apicalphilic gay men. In fact, it seems quite clear that Cantor's predilections to dismiss trans women's experiences stem from the "narcissistic rage" that many basalphiles experience. And of course, basalphiles' obsessive need to sexualize other people likely originates with the "fact" (in the minds of some people who have PhDs) that they are quite clearly not nearly as attractive as their apicalphile counterparts. Because, you know, science. Truth . . .
#BasalphilesInDenial #ObviouslySatire

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*Note: I will not be publishing *any* comments for this piece. Not a single one. So please don't even bother. Thanks. -julia

1 comment:

  1. *Note: I will not be publishing *any* comments for this piece. Not a single one (aside from this one). So please don't even bother. Thanks. -julia