“One Size Fits All”… and other lies… Or “Why it matters”
Beyond mere scientific curiosity, there are other compelling reasons why we need to recognize the two types of transsexuals as distinct and having separate etiologies and life arcs. Research on appropriate treatment protocols is confounded when we don’t segregate them. Treatment itself is less effective and potentially counter productive when using the wrong protocol, or when using a ‘one-size-fits-all’, middle of the road protocol. Finally, we dishonor who we truly are when we don’t recognize the differences.
Consider that our present protocols for treating gender dysphoric teenagers is a muddled attempt to reconcile the experiences of autogynephilic (AGP) MTF adults and transkids, both FtM and the minority MTF feminine androphilic. If MTF “late transitioners” did not exist at all, would we be as concerned about attempting to delay puberty as a reversible treatment, given that transkid teenagers rarely have regrets or negative outcomes when given full HRT instead? But we do have AGP teens for whom transition and HRT are not warranted, who go on to live very satisfactory lives as heterosexual cross-dressers. If we fully recognized and diagnosed the two populations separately as teens and young adults, we would have very different treatment protocols.
Consider also, that our present protocols for adults have a requirement that a candidate for sex reassignment surgery have been living full time as their new sex before surgery, as though that fact somehow guaranteed that post-operative regret would not occur… or that surgery is simply providing genitals that match the social gender in which the client is living. Neither is the case! Sex reassignment surgery may, in fact I would strongly argue, is not contra-indicated by still living as one’s birth gender. If we didn’t have the example of transkids for whom living in their new gender and sex reassignment surgery are intimately linked, would we have this requirement?
It’s possible that without the existence and example of feminine androphilic MTF transkids, whom many AGP transwomen attempt to emulate closely, Western Society might not have developed and accepted the medical category “transsexual”. But now that we have decades of data that show that AGP transwomen are the majority, and that that majority does find improvement (at least palliatively in most cases), should we not review the assumptions that were made in the early years that only “true” transsexuals, those who needed to both live full time and rid themselves of their unused genitalia, are the only ones who would benefit from HRT and sex reassignment surgery?
Might the original purpose of the “real life test” have been not simply to reduce post-operative regret, but was (wrongly it turned out) a means of weeding out “transvestites” (autogynephiles) who were thought to not be able to pass such tests?
I would argue strongly that there is absolutely no association with living full time and lack of post-op regret. Further, I would argue that for many AGP individuals, the “real life test” requirement is needlessly socially and professionally destructive. How many AGP individuals would have benefited from HRT and/or sex reassignment surgery to rid themselves of the anatomic-autogynephilically induced gender dysphoria without having needed to live as women full time? How many of them would have found a life of integration far better? A life of the “bi-gender” individual, one who is professionally and socially a man during the weekday, but socially and sexually a woman during the evenings and weekends? Our present protocols discount these people. They must make a choice between no surgery, or up-ending their professional and social lives. How many individuals have been falsely declared to have been treatment failures because after SRS, they “de-transitioned”, having obtained their true objective and now free to live their lives without the so called “Standards of Care” dictating their lives?
In therapy, the two types have very different needs. First, most transkids do not need therapy. But our Standards of Care (at least as practiced, if not as written) require that one have been evaluated by a therapist or psychiatrist before any medical interventions. Why should a feminine androphilic transkid be treated differently than any other young woman? Why should she need to get “permission” before having breast implants and not a natal female? Could it be because she is conflated with autogynephiles for whom many practitioners are concerned may regret such interventions? What of FtMs? Many natal females have breast reduction surgery, but aren’t required to obtain letters from therapists before hand. I argue that our protocols for transgendered people have been developed with experience of autogynephilic MTFs, for whom such evaluations and therapies are recommended.
Autogynephiles suffer from severe shame and guilt. Many cross-dressers report a cycle of purging, throwing away their feminine wardrobes in self-loathing. Many autogynephilic transwomen have had similar histories, but rarely discuss this or other autogynphilic experiences with their therapists, rightly or wrongly, assuming that the therapist is wearing their “gate-keeper” hat and might not “OK” them for HRT or SRS if that were known. Because both the AGP transsexual community and their therapists fail to face head on the issue of autogynephilia, this shame and guilt remains untreated. Instead, the client is left with secret denial or other defenses. Because she has not faced her own autogynephilia, she may stigmatize others who are processing their autogynephilic experiences, shutting down group therapy discussions on the matter and even attacking other transwomen in public forums, harming the transgendered community at large. Worse, for the individual, is that the shame, guilt, and denial are lurking in her psyche, waiting for some dark moment to come crashing to the fore, when her defenses fail, and the reality of her autogynephilic sexuality come crashing upon her. The result may be catastrophic, perhaps even fatal.
The suicide rate among transgendered people is well known to be high. Medical intervention is intended to alleviate suffering; but because the two types are not fully differentiated and because autogynephilia is not openly acknowledged, AGP transsexuals remain at risk for mental heath problems, especially depression and anxiety.
The two types should never be grouped together for therapy. The two types have completely different goals and concerns. Further, there is a very unfortunate tendency for AGP transwomen to attempt to model themselves upon transkids, to the point where they edit and even confabulate histories to match those of transkids, interfering with the therapeutic process. Conversely, transkids are very often uncomfortable around autogynephiles, leading them to emotionally, and even physically, to withdraw from the group. Comparing themselves and their experiences to the other type is also very damaging to their self-images, for differing reasons for each type.
Would HRT protocols be different if the types were not conflated? Consider MPA, a synthetic progestin. It is well known to sharply reduce libido. Many AGP transwomen find their autogynephilic arousal intrusive and unwelcome. For them, MPA may be a welcome addition to estradiol… or even alone. But for feminine androphilic MTF transkids, reduction in libido is never desired. For them, micronized progesterone is a better addition to estradiol.
Would protocols be different for the two regarding fertility? Many AGP transwomen are already natural parents, having sired children with their wives or girlfriends. But what of the young AGP transwomen who have not yet sired children? Would they not benefit from banking their sperm before beginning HRT? Would the same be right for MTF transkids? I would argue not. First, it would mean that they would have to wait for spermatogenesis, which would also mean damaging exposure to endogenous testosterone. Better to begin HRT without ever being able to generate sperm. Further, for the slightly older (post-pubertal) transitioning transkid, consider the psychological implications for her future husband… surely if they elect to pursue surrogacy, it should be his sperm, not hers?
For these, and yet other practical reasons, it matters that the two types be officially, scientifically, medically, and socially recognized as distinct.
♫♫I know what guys want…
They want to touch me,
But I won’t let them.♫♫
A while back, I explored one of the very few studies that tested Stoller’s observation that “true” MTF transsexuals, which we now recognize as exclusively androphilic MTF transkids, are “avoidant”. That is, that though they have intimate relations with their boyfriends before SRS, they refuse to use or allow contact with their pre-operative genitalia. Stoller (and others) held that non-exclusive androphilic women would not be “avoidant”, but would find pleasure in the use of their male genitals prior to SRS. Now a new study explores this behavior. But sadly, since it comes out of Europe, where they believe that age of onset of gender dysphoria, early or late, is the most important typology, the study failed to explicitly report avoidant behavior by sexual orientation. However, I hypothesize that Stoller is correct, and that even though we don’t have explicit data in this new study, we will see a direct correlation with the percentage of exclusively androphilic transwomen in the two onset age categories and avoidant behavior. Data is reported in the number of transwomen for each category except for that reported as percentage:
Sexual Orientation vs. Age of Onset
Onset Early Late
Androphilic N= 54 20
Non-exclusively Androphilic 53 78
Percentage Androphilic: 51% 20%
Avoidant vs. Age of Onset
Onset Early Late
Avoidant N= 38 15
Pleasure 34 47
Percentage Avoidant: 53% 24%
Note the essentially identical percentages of exclusively androphilic transwomen in each onset category and the percentages of avoidant behavior? Thus the data supports the hypothesis perfectly. This of course is not definitive, since we would really like to have seen the direct comparason, but if the numbers had been wildly different between them, it would have supported the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis still cannot be ruled out… but seriously? Seriously?
It has been my personal observation, from talking to MTFs, during my entire lifetime, that “avoidant” behavior is near universal in transkids, but very rare in “late transitioning” transwomen. Such late transitioning transwomen have very often been sexually active with women, married to women, and have had children. Obviously, the easiest way to have sired children is to have had vaginal intercourse (penile penetration).
S. Cerwenka, et al., “Sexual Behavior of Gender Dysphoric Individuals Before Gender-Confirming Interventions: A European Multicenter Study” (2014)
Here is an opportunity for the parents of transkids to give feedback to a researcher looking into their experiences,
“Researchers at Case Western Reserve University are currently conducting an online study of the experiences of families of gender variant, transgender, or otherwise non-cisgender kids ages 10-17. The study involves completing questionnaires online about your experiences with the process of your child disclosing their gender identity to you and/or the process of your child’s transition, as well as questions regarding your emotions, attitudes, and preferences for potential psychotherapy interventions for families of gender variant children. Your child will also complete several brief questionnaires about their emotions and experiences with disclosing their gender identity. To participate, you must be the parent or primary caregiver of a child or teen ages 10-17 who identifies as gender variant, transgender, or otherwise non-cisgender and you yourself must be at least 18 years of age. You will have the option of including your contact information in order to receive a $10 gift card, although providing your contact information is not necessary to participate in the study. The information gathered from this study may help us to better understand the needs of families of gender variant children and ultimately help us to design therapies to help families better cope with the changes associated with their child’s transition.”
Please participate if you qualify, as we need as many voices and as broad range of experiences as possible:
If you are a transkid or gender-non-conforming teen living in or near New York City, consider Becoming More Visible. It’s time to talk about your lives… but only if you are comfortable doing so. Seriously, if your goal is to live “stealth”, then this is not for you… and I totally support being stealth, truly I do. It’s your life and your decision.
I have heard and read a number of “late transitioning” transsexuals state that the two type taxonomy is not accepted in the “real world” of today’s gender therapists, the people most intimately knowledgeable of the transsexual population, thus proving that Blanchard’s theory is “wrong”. Although I have met, during my prior research on our collective history, a few therapists who were completely unaware of Blanchard’s theory, most therapists are VERY well versed in the scientific literature. Further, as I will show here, those who have been in the field the longest, have a strong psychology background, and have kept up with the literature, have come to understand and write about the two types. But, many therapists who are fully aware of the issue, choose not to publicize that fact, or they may attempt to smooth over the issue, avoid directly using the word “autogynephilia“, using euphemistic and obscurantist terms instead. After all, their lively-hood depends on autogynephilic transgendered people coming for help.
One of the most experienced gender therapists is Dr. Anne Vitale, having entered the field in 1978. In a paper she wrote in 2001, she clearly describes the two types of MTF transsexuals and compares them to FtMs,
“Group One (G1) is best described as those natal males who have a high degree of cross-sexed gender identity. In these individuals, we can hypothesize that the prenatal androgenization process–if there was any at all–was minimal, leaving the default female identity intact. Furthermore, the expression of female identity of those individuals appears impossible or very difficult for them to conceal.
Group Two (G2) is composed of natal females who almost universally report a life- long history of rejecting female dress conventions along with, girls’ toys and activities, and have a strong distaste for their female secondary sex characteristics. These individuals typically take full advantage of the social permissiveness allowed women in many societies to wear their hair short and dress in loose, gender-neutral clothing. These individuals rarely marry, preferring instead to partner with women who may or may not identify as lesbian. Group Two is the mirror image of Group One.
Group Three (G3) is composed of natal males who identify as female but who act and appear normally male. … They tend to live secretive lives, often making increasingly stronger attempts to convince themselves and others that they are male.
As a psychotherapist I have found female identified males (G1) to be clinically similar to male-identified females (G2). That is, individuals in both groups have little or no compunction against openly presenting themselves as the other sex. Further, they make little or no effort to engage in what they feel for them would be wrong gendered social practices (i.e., the gender role assigned at birth as the basis of authority). Although I have seen some notable exceptions, especially in male-identified females, these individuals–at the time of presentation for treatment–are rarely married or have children, are rarely involved in the corporate or academic culture and are typically involved in the service industry at a blue- or pink-collar level. With little investment in trying to live as their assigned birth sex and with a lot of practice in living as closely as possible to their desired sex, these individuals report relatively low levels of anxiety about their dilemma. For those who decide transition is in their best interest, they accomplish the change with relatively little difficulty, particularly compared to G3, female-identified males.
The story is very different for Group Three. In the hope of ridding themselves of their dysphoria they tend to invest heavily in typical male activities. Being largely heterosexual, they marry and have children, hold advanced educational degrees and are involved at high levels of corporate and academic cultures. These are the invisible or cloistered gender dysphorics. They develop an aura of deep secrecy based on shame and risk of ridicule and their secret desire to be female is protected at all costs. The risk of being found out adds to the psychological and physiological pressures they experience. Transitioning from this deeply entrenched defensive position is very difficult. The irony here is that gender dysphoric symptoms appear to worsen in direct proportion to their self-enforced entrenchment in the male world. The further an individual gets from believing he can ever live as a female, the more acute and disruptive his dysphoria becomes”
As I’ve noted before, the social consequences for the two types of MTF transsexuals is quite dissimilar. Before transition, Vitale’s “Group One”, is very visible, but becomes invisible after transition, while the opposite is true for her “Group Three”. This brings up the matter of ‘Identity Politics’ in the larger ‘Transgender’ world. Language is important. For these essays, I’ve often, “held my nose” as I used terminology in the papers I’m citing, so as not to confuse my reader. Here, Vitale has side-stepped the issue, by inventing de novo, just for the purposes of her paper, totally neutral language that is also completely non-descriptive and had it not been for her carefully describing the characteristics that define and contrast each type, we might not be able to compare her types with other authors. But here, I can provide that map. Her “Group One”, as Vitale makes clear, consists of MTF transkids. Other names have been “core”, “true”, “early onset”, “ego syntonic”, and most controversially, “homosexual”.
“G1 boys, who have a strong feminine core identity, typically develop a sexual interest in other boys during adolescence and prefer girls as peer friends. Although they still desire to be girls, they appear to have significantly less anxiety over not being female then that reported by the boys in G3. I believe this is due to the relatively uninhibited open expression of their femininity. For example Monica was 19 years old when she reported to my office accompanied by her mother. She wore gender-neutral clothing but otherwise presented as female in voice inflection and mannerisms. The problem, of course, was that Monica was genetically male. Monica’s mother related to me that Monica had been more like a girl then a boy all her life. Her and her husband loved her dearly but thought of her more as a daughter then a son. Over the course of treating Monica, it became clear that although she was distressed over her male physiology, she was otherwise emotionally stable and very aware of the seriousness of her situation. Once it became clear that she was her own person and ready to undergo transition, a course of hormone replacement therapy was introduced. With the exception of having to face some extreme religious issues brought up by her much older brother, she accomplished an almost effortless transition from male to female. The presence of family support and little or no investment by the family or Monica in her being male made this transition straight forward.”
Vitale’s use of the phrase “feminine core identity” harks back to earlier work showing that this type of transsexual has developed a female gender identity as a young child, while the other type, had not. She remarks that this type is very comfortable with their femininity and naturally find the idea of living as a girl to be agreeable. This is called “ego syntonic” behavior, as opposed to Group Three’s “ego dystonic” behavior, where their desire to be female is unwelcome and out of step with their core identity as male. Note also the reference to Group One being “emotionally stable”, making a tacit comparison to “Group Three”, who, as Smith put it,
“Homosexual transsexuals were found to be younger when applying for sex reassignment, reported a stronger cross-gender identity in childhood, had a more convincing cross-gender appearance, and functioned psychologically better than nonhomosexual transsexuals. … The more vulnerable nonhomosexual transsexuals may particularly benefit from additional professional guidance before and/or during treatment.”
Compare Vitale’s description of her “Group One” to the one I gave of transkids in a previous essay.
“The prototypical feminine androphilic transsexual was called a “sissy” by her peers growing up. She avoided rough & tumble activities. Her primary social circle consisted of one or two girls. She actively participated in girls games and imaginary play. … As a young teen, she became interested in girls fashion and make-up, often exploring how she might look as a girl by dressing up and experimenting with make-up, with occasional trips out shopping or hanging out with her friends. This did not, of course, involve erotic cross-dressing. She had crushes on boys at school. … She was hassled, perhaps even bullied, by homophobic boys, but otherwise was reasonably popular in her chosen circle. She was considered very neat and well dressed in boy’s clothes. … As she approached adulthood, looking at her own nature, her potential future, both romantic and economic, made a rational decision to transition to living as a girl so as to grow up to be a woman socially. Her family may or may not have disowned her in late adolescence. As she is naturally feminine and passes quite well, she found that she was socially and romantically more successful as a woman.”
Vitale goes on to describe her “Group Three”,
“To add to their confusion, and counter to behavior typically reported in openly gender dysphoric boys, many cloistered boys actually preferred solo play with boys’ toys and had little or no interest in girls’ toys. For example I have heard more than one long-time post-op male-to-female transsexual speak fondly of having spent countless hours playing with an Erector Set or a Lionel model train set-up that their father had helped them build. Others described of designing and making detailed model airplanes, race cars and sailing ships. The more academic of this group report little or no interest in sports and rough and tumble play. To avoid castigation from their peers, they report spending a lot of time reading and studying. However, although these children appeared to be normal boys doing what most people would consider some normal boy activities, they may very well have been doing so while secretly wearing their mother’s or sister’s underwear, fantasizing about being a girl or both if they could manage it.
As sexual maturity advances, Group Three, cloistered gender dysphoric boys, often combine excessive masturbation (one individual reported masturbating up to 5 and even 6 times a day) with an increase in secret cross-dressing activity to release anxiety. In a post-op group I facilitated, Jenna (age 43) spoke fondly of the delight she experienced as a boy when she would find something of her mom’s in the dirty clothes’ hamper in the bathroom. Two others in the group laughingly agreed that they too took many a trip to the bathroom for the same reason. At the same time, in their public life, these boys report employing overtly stereotypical efforts to draw attention from their secret desires to be female by affecting appearances of being normally male. This includes dating girls, participating in individual sports activities such as swimming, running, golf, tennis, and for some, even body building.
Cloistered (G3) gender dysphoric boys appear to others and even to themselves to be heterosexual. Although as a group they are not especially active daters, they clearly prefer to date girls when they do date. Significantly, unlike other boys, their dating motives are markedly different. For these boys, being on a date with a girl is a chance to spend time with a girl in a way not generally allowed under other circumstances. Dating serves two purposes for these boys. The first is social, as it gives them the all-important appearance of being normal. The second is therapeutic. Being close to a girl’s softness, and even her female smell, has a mitigating effect on gender expression deprivation anxiety. The fantasy is not to make love to her but to actually be her.”
Note the rather direct description of use of female clothing as an aid to sexual arousal during masturbation. We have another name for this behavior, “autogynephilic erotic cross-dressing”. Note also the reference to dating girls. Though she calls it “therapeutic”, I believe that she is describing the phenomena of autogynephilia being simultaneously dependent upon and in competition with conventional gynephilia. Being with a girl has “mitigating effect” on experiencing autogynephilia, which Vitale euphemistically refers to as “gender expression deprivation anxiety”. I’ve remarked on Vitale’s seeming obtuseness on the issue of recognizing autogynephilic sexuality when she sees it in a previous essay. This is remarkable, in that even in her own words, she clearly describes autogynephilia, “The fantasy is not to make love to her but to actually be her”.
Very tellingly, as Vitale continues to describe older gender dysphoric individuals, her “Group One” simply disappear from her essay. This is because, by that age, they have either transitioned and become invisible, or they don’t ever transition. Simply put, there is no “late transitioning” “Group One” transsexual, while “Group Three” digs in and clings to their socially formed (core) male identity, while trying to ignore the cognitive dissonance created by their growing awareness of their autogynephilically enforced erotic ideal, their “desires to be female”,
“As more information about transition to one’s felt gender identity becomes available to the general public, we are seeing genetic males with strong core female identities and genetic females with strong core male gender identities present in their early twenties with the clear objective to being sexually reassigned.
The cloistered, natal males, on the other hand typically start to realize the seriousness of their dilemma at this age. It is common to hear reports of these individuals increasing the intensity with which they try to rid themselves of the ever-increasing gender-related anxiety. Many individuals paradoxically adopt homophobic, transphobic, and overtly sexist attitudes in the hope that they will override their desires to be female.”
As she describes her “Group Three” as adults, we clearly see the pattern of late transitioning MTF transsexuals,
“For those who continue to struggle inwardly with their gender issues into mid-life, new issues come to the fore. As a time when most people realize that about half of life has been lived and feel the need to make an accounting of who they are and what they have done with their lives, this period can be especially anxiety provoking for the gender-dysphoric individual. Decades of trying to overcome an increasing gender expression deprivation anxiety begin to weigh heavily on the individual. Family and career are now as deeply rooted as they will ever be. The idea of starting over as a member of a different sex has become seemingly impossible. The fact that the need to change sex has increased rather than diminished, despite Herculean efforts, is now undeniable.”
Thus, we see clearly two mutually exclusive clinical patterns described by a veteran gender therapist. It is painfully obvious that there are two distinctly different types, with two different etiologies and life arcs. Blanchard’s model of “homosexual” (yes, holding my nose) vs. autogynephilic transsexuality completely explains the clinical experience.
Anne Vitale, “The Gender Variant Phenomenon–A Developmental Review” http://www.avitale.com/developmentalreview.htm
Yolanda L.S. Smith, Stephanie H.M. van Goozen, A.J. Kuiper, Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, “Transsexual subtypes: Clinical and theoretical significance”
Book Review: Male Femaling – A grounded theory approach to cross-dressing and sex-changing
Richard Ekins’ 1997 book is not light reading, especially Part II, which is rather densely written in “grounded theory” method of sociology. But it is an important book for sexologists to read and understand since it delves into the world of what Ekins has termed, “male femaling”. This is a wonderful way of putting it, since it succinctly pulls together catagories that are often treated separately and instills ‘agency’ (if I may be allowed to use post-modernist cant) to these practitioners, placing the phenomena as a verb, rather than treating these people as nouns.
Before I read this book, I was completely unaware of “grounded theory”. I think it is worth reading up on it at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grounded_theory
There one may read that,
“Grounded theory method is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the discovery of theory through the analysis of data. … If the researcher’s goal is accurate description, then another method should be chosen since grounded theory is not a descriptive method. Instead it has the goal of generating concepts that explain the way that people resolve their central concerns regardless of time and place. The use of description in a theory generated by the grounded theory method is mainly to illustrate concepts.”
Thus, this book is not simply a travel guide, but a serious attempt to discern the social and introspective means of “meaning”.
To give you a flavor of the denseness of the text, in part of the book, Ekins explores what he calls, “masked awareness”. This is what most of us would call, “information management”, or simply, secrecy or disclosure, passing or being read. I’m simplifing here of course, but neccessary to translate this to a more lay reader. He also makes indiscriminent reference to philosphers, scientists, and pseudo-scientists (e.g. Freud). He makes a point of showing the “umbilical” relationship between sexologists, their theories, and “male femalers” without explicating how these theories have evolved as the science has moved forward, or how “male femalers” dissimulations have historically distorted some of those theories. He simply isn’t interested. He cares more about how these individuals resolve their search for “meaning”.
As I read the book, each and every word, from begining to end, I searched for references and examples of transkids (HSTS). I found only hints, like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, whispering offstage. I was dissappointed, as I had hoped that Ekins would compare and contrast transkids from AGPs. It was only at the very end of the book that I learned that this had been deliberate, as his concluding notes on where he thought others should pick up on his research explains in recommendation 4:
“In my detailed illustrative material, the focus was on male femalers who consider themselves heterosexual or bisexual. Although homosexual male femalers were quoted, such material is sparse. The emphasis is, in part, a feature of the arena, but was also, once again, of my own predilictions, training, and abilities. Certainly, the gay studies literature is a vast one and it largely fell beyond the scope of this study. I leave to others the possibility of applying the conceptual framework developed here to predominately homosexual male femalers.”
Thus, two conclusions may be drawn from this. First, Ekins, though he never mentioned it anywhere else, is keenly aware of the profound differences between “homosexual” and “non-homosexual” types. And second, that though he never mentions the word, this book is ALL about autogynephilia, which he only obliquely refers to as “male femaling impulses” and “erotic femaling”. The proof of this is found in the very descriptions of what these individuals do in the course of their careers as male femalers, in search of “meaning”.
Ekins divides the “ideal” path into five phases. Where Ekins used “ideal”, I would have used “prototypical”, as “ideal” would seem to imply a normative value to this sequence, which may or may not apply. The phases are:
Begining Male Femaling
Fantasying Male Femaling
Doing Male Femaling
Constituting Male Femaling
Consolidating Male Femaling
IF this repetitive use of the term “male femaling” feels odd… it certainly did to me… especially as though it seems to constantly screem, on every page, “MALE … MALE … MALE!” As though to say, “Get it… these people are forever MALE!!! Don’t you forget it!”
The illustrative examples used for “Begining Male Femaling” were universally autogynephilic, as this example shows,
“… I was 13 when I stepped, quivering with excitement into a pair of French knickers belonging to my sister. I ejaculated almost immediately… The feeling was glorious and yet quite alarming and I felt as though I was leaking urine. … Some three days after this first ‘event’ I got home from school to find my mother out. I went upstairs to do my homework and through the half-opened door of my mother’s bedroom I saw, hanging over a chair, a pair of her pink directoire knickers, obviously discarded in a hurry as she changed before going out. That soft gleaming bundle turned my whole body and senses into a jelly-like state of desire and longing. I had to wear them, to try and see if I was all right. Would it happen again? My answer was there almost immediately in my swift gathering erection as I struggled out of my clothes. …”
Likewise, the later phases involved autogynephilic fantasy and enactments, sometimes very overtly erotic, sometimes more genteel, but still recognizably autogynephilic in substance. In many of these fantasies and enactments, they were scripted, ritualized even. I think this is a very important aspect of autogynephilic experience that can and does impact how autogynephilia will develop and express itself in the “real world”. The examples were manifold and various, deeply detailed. For me… I found myself skimming the pages, as there is nothing more boring than reading about someone else’s erotic scripts, which one does not share. I suppose that for Ekins this isn’t an issue, given his own self referenced “predilictions”?
I found the section on ‘Private Networking and the Constitution of Meanings’ to be very informative and enlightening. This may be the most important part of the book, as Ekins demonstrates that peer interactions and the ‘umbilical’ relationship between sexological theories and male femalers influences how one comes to identify oneself and how that subsequently influences one’s career as a male femaler. Specifically, how does one come to think of oneself as a transvestite / Cross-Dresser or as a transsexual. Ekins as much as states that there is no substantive or essential difference between them, to which I whole-heartedly must agree.
In the final phase, Ekins lays out three possible paths that a male femaler might take, in typical fashion, ignoring that we already have names for these paths, he calls them, “aparting”, “substituting”, and “integrating”, I would have called them “closeted cross-dresser”, “transition / transsexual”, and “out / gender fluid”.
“It is instructive to organize the major modes of consolidating around three possible ‘solutions’ to the problems posed by disjuctures between male and male femaling selves and worlds. I call these ‘aparting’, substituting’, and ‘integrating’. In ‘aparting’ the emphasis is upon maintaining rigid boundaries between male worlds and male femaling worlds. In ‘substituting’ the male femaling world increasingly takes over from the male world. It is in fact, to a greater or lesser extent, substituted for it. Finally, in ‘integrating’, the attempt is made to transcend previous positions which entailed disjuctures between male and male femaling selves and world, in order to foster the emergence of an ‘integrated’ position which seeks to transcend the conventional arrangement between the sexes.”
This book is mildly dated in that it was written in 1997, before Blanchard’s work become as widely known today. I would recommend this book for sexologists and therapists, to explicate more fully the lives and search for meanings of autogynephilic cross-dressers and transsexuals. But I would not recommend it for either the general public or for cross-dressers and transsexuals themselves, unless they have a strong interest in theory. It just doesn’t read very easily.
The Kickstarter campaign has ended and has reached our goal. Thank you for your support of this very important film.
A new kickstarter funding effort is under way to fund a film on homeless transkids… something worth supporting… and I’m putting my money where my mouth is… How about you? Together, we can help our community.
This project has its own website as well. Transkids teens are the most likely population to become and remain homeless of ANY single group. Why? Because we make our parents uncomfortable. We make potential employers uncomfortable. This is not a new problem… but it is a problem that should and can be solved. But first, we need society to recognize transkids unique issues and vulnerability. We need to increase the visibility of this “invisible” population of transgendered people.
Before we can solve a problem, we need to recognize that it is a problem. Transkids comprise only a tiny fraction of teenagers, but a disproportionate percentage of homeless teens. Transkids are extremely likely to be rejected by their natal families. Over half of rejected transkids experience homelessness. They are difficult to place with foster families, who are typically unprepared to help transkids, and often just as likely to reject them for the same reasons that their natal family did. Group homes can be just as bad, as they expose transkids to daily belittling and bullying, both subtle and unsubtle. Further, many group homes will insist that transkids dress and present themselves in their natal sex, disrespecting their gender expression.
This is your chance to be part of the solution. This film will document the lives of real transkids, allowing them to express the issues they face, in their own voices. But this film needs your support to reach the screen. So pull out that credit card and pledge your support.
Also, please Share this on your facebook page and post on forums to help get the word out!
Review: The Man Who Would Be Queen – The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
J. Michael Bailey’s book was written ten years ago, in 2003; So I thought this last month of 2013 was a good time to review and look back on the book and its aftermath. The importance of a book is measured in how it encourages people to think about and discuss, even if they don’t agree… maybe especially if they don’t agree… on its thesis.
The main thesis of TMWWBQ is that homosexuality and gender atypicality are highly correlated. Most of the book is about the scientific research that has shown that the folk-wisdom (sounds better said that way than “stereotype”) that gay men were usually notably “sissy” or “effeminate” as boys and that most “sissy” boys grow up to be gay men. Of course, also as part of this thesis, is that there is a continuum of femininity, and that the most feminine of such “homosexual” males grow up to live as women, to seek out hormone and surgical interventions to feminize their bodies to match their feminine personalities and natural manners. But to explain who he meant, he also had to describe and delineate those who were not on that continuum, but are often conflated and confused with them, namely, autogynephiles, especially, autogynephilic transsexuals (AGP).
This set off a firestorm that quickly became a witch-hunt against Bailey, led by several noted transwomen. I needn’t explore that episode, as it was well documented by Alice Dreger in 2008. Instead, I want to explore how the science regarding transsexuality that Bailey touched upon has evolved since then, in part because of TMWWBQ and the fuss that those transwomen made, and continue to make.
But first, I should point out that it is very likely that Bailey understood that his book might upset some in the AGP transsexual community, as in his closing notes on suggested further reading made clear, “For an article that angered many autogynephiles – but which provides a sympathetic portrayal of both cross-dressers and their wives – See Amy Bloom’s “Conservative men in Conservative Dresses, “… ” or when he suggests reading Anne Lawrence’s website,
“Anne Lawrence maintains an awesome website for transsexuals, Transsexual Women’s Resources, (www.annelawrence.com/twr), and one section of her site is devoted to autogynephilia. … Not only does she have clear explanations of autogynephilia, but she also includes testimonials of transsexuals who have visited her site and read about the concept. Most of them are thankful that someone is finally talking about the sexual side of transsexualism.. Some say that the finally understand themselves. A few are angry with Anne for embracing Blanchard’s “wrongheaded” ideas. … “
But Bailey could not foresee that he would be vilified and deliberately defamed as he was in the aftermath of the book’s publication. Many of the people who continue to do so have never read his book, even though they can read the key chapter regarding AGP transsexual women online, or even know that Bailey was sympathetic to transfolk, speaking warmly and openly, that they should be respected and supported. For example, after quoting Paul McHugh, the &^%$#@! (expletive deleted) who shut down the Gender Clinic at John Hopkins, “[The focus on surgery] has distracted effort from genuine investigations attempting to find out just what has gone wrong for these people – what has, by their own testimony, given them years of torment and psychological distress and prompted them to accept these grim and disfiguring surgical procedures.” Bailey rebukes McHugh,
“One problem with McHugh’s analysis is that we simply have no idea how to make gender dysphoria go away. I suspect that both autogynephilic and homosexual gender dysphoria result from early and irreversible developmental processes in the brain. If so, learning more about the origins of transsexualism will not get us much closer to curing it. Given our present state of knowledge, saying that we should focus on removing transsexual’s desire to change sex is equivalent to saying that it is better that they should suffer permanently from gender dysphoria than they should obtain sex reassignment surgery.”
Bailey is being too polite, but basically spells it out, McHugh has no sympathy for transfolk, saying to us instead that we should suck it up and be men, or more colorfully, that we should “eat $#!+ and die”. I doubt it would surprise many of my readers to learn that McHugh is a conservative observant Catholic, who substitutes religious intolerance for pragmatic palliative medicine. It astounds me that Bailey, friend as he was to the trans-community, should be vilified and hounded, while the likes of McHugh are barely noticed. But then, I think an observation made by one of the original 2004 authors of the transkids.us website explains it all, it wasn’t that Bailey was wrong, but that he was too right.
When Bailey wrote his book, Blanchard’s papers were the latest thing in transsexual research. It summed up and explained the confusion of the past researcher’s work, most notably Person & Oversey, Stoller, and Meyer. It brought together and explicated, in a concise way, what had been coming together already, but slowly, and sadly, under the burden of psycho-analysis. Blanchard swept away the unscientific notions and put the study of transsexuality on a firm scientific foundation. But, as all will admit, much of his original research had yet to be properly replicated.
Ironically, I believe that the transsexual community’s violent objections to Bailey’s book, and by extension, his defense of Blanchard’s work, inspired others to replicate his research. Most of the key data showing that there are two (and likely only two) types of MTF transsexual have been very convincingly replicated by Lawrence, Smith, and Nuttbrock. The only paper that no one has attempted to replicate yet has been the one where Blanchard tested “non-homosexual” transwomen who denied being aroused by autogynephilic ideation on whether that was really true. His paper showed that they did become sexually aroused by listening to spoken narratives of cross-dressing, while control (non-AGP) men did not. I sincerely hope that this study is replicated, as it would answer the only remaining possible question as whether there was a “third” type of transsexual as some claim.
As well as being Blanchard’s “Bulldog”, Bailey also speculated about the nature and behavior of the two types of transwomen. The most disturbing to me was on the relative paucity of marriages or even just long term relationships among “homosexual” (feminine androphilic / MTF transkid) transsexuals. This hit home, as I myself had trouble finding a suitable long term partner. In my younger days, I came to the conclusion that I may never find a husband, so I lived in communal housing with other transwomen and/or ally lesbian/bisexual/straight women. These women became my “family” (platonic, though a few of them most definitely wished it had been more), even as I continued to date men, who never seemed to stick around more than a few months after they learned of my medical history… until my husband surprised me by asking me to marry him. I still insisted upon a long engagement, because in my cynical and wounded heart, I feared that he would be like all who came before, and would wake up one day and say to himself, “WTF am I doing?”. Bailey reports,
“Do transsexuals find partners? Certainly, homosexual transsexuals find sex partners after their surgery, but do they find steady partners? Do they get married? I have already mentioned my impression that homosexual transsexuals are not very successful at finding desirable men willing to commit to them. In part, this reflects the difficulty that men have with the notion of coupling with women who used to be men (no matter how attractive such women may be), as well as the difficulty most transsexuals have keeping their secret.”
So far, I could agree totally with Bailey. It is difficult, but not impossible, as Green documented decades before him. However, he goes on,
“But it also reflects the choices that homosexual transsexuals are prone to make. My impression is that they would rather have a relatively uncommitted relationship with a very attractive man than a committed relationship with a less desirable partner. Although the homosexual transsexuals I have met are all searching for “Mr. Right,” perhaps in vain, their sex lives have all clearly improved after surgery. They can hide their past identities for a while, at least, and no longer have to worry about how to respond to attractive men who hit on them in bars.”
Here, I suspect that Bailey means, that MTF transkids would rather have a physically attractive partner… but he does understand the reality that those men who are most likely to want a transsexual wife are themselves transgendered, closeted cross-dressers, who transkids rarely find truly desirable. So, he is partly right, but massively wrong. He goes on to admit that he has only known street transkids, the type who work as “escorts”. Thus, he has the classic issue of a “sampling bias” in that at the time he wrote the book, he had never had contact with the more respectable, “invisible transsexual” population of transkids who had managed to stay off of the street, and out of bars. (For myself, I rarely went to bars, as I found the selection of men there to be of very low quality, and never of my own socio-economic or educational background.) It is important to note that two thirds of transkids have never been ‘escorts’. (Elsewhere in his book, Bailey notes that although common, around half of the transkids in one of his studies were never prostitutes.) For this, less street wise population, their difficulty in finding husbands is not related to any putative desire to continue to date other handsome men when they already have a fine man in hand.
“When I asked Jaunita [...] about the best, and worst, reactions she had had from lovers after she revealed that she used to be a a man, she replied, “I have really never had a good experience. The men always leave.” … All the homosexual transsexuals I have talked to say that they wish they could find a man they could tell and who would love them anyway, but they all worry that such a man does not exist. And they are all deeply suspicious of men who prefer transsexual to real women. (These men have something similar to “sexual interest in she-males” and transsexuals find them weird.) There is little incentive for the postoperative homosexual transsexual to be honest.”
Bailey’s book, because he fully understands and acknowledges that transkids are different than AGP, is one of the few books that really discusses the the problems that MTF transkids face. It was refreshing… and at the same time… very disturbing and sad, to read what is essentially a tour guide to both my life and many of my past transkid friends and acquaintances.
“They [HSTS] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common. … They have, in fact, had to cope with rejection and disapproval since childhood, because of their extreme femininity. And they have not had the advantages that tend to instill respect in the social order. The early chaotic backgrounds of so many homosexual transsexuals might help explain why they do not defeminize the way that most very feminine boys do. A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future.”
I should note, that I was subjected to just such “disapproval” from an early age… and that I am from an upper-middle-class family that was extremely homophobic, and also very dysfunctional, though outwardly appearing normal. Nothing less than being totally straight would have satisfied my mother, though my father actually tried to convince me to live as a closeted gay man when I was a teen (in essence, to live like his gay brother did). I am estranged from my mother and all of my siblings… but my father, who was unwillingly divorced from my mother when I was a teen, is very supportive and proud of my accomplishments, both personal and professional. Although I’m not at all convinced that Bailey is right, he is onto something, as it is likely that socio-economic status is likely one of the important factors in transkid decision making about whether to transition or not.
Bailey remarked upon the ethnic background of the transkids, noting that most of them were either Black or Latina, while the opposite is true of AGP transsexuals. He related some speculations from his transkid informants about why this might come about, which didn’t seem to satisfy him. Since the book was published, his observation has been confirmed in the Nuttbrock study of the trans-scene in New York City. But more importantly, Lawrence has shown that the percentage of AGP transsexuals in a country is highly correlated with that country’s Hofstede Individuality Index. I wish to point out here that the Black and Latino/a communities are both subcultures in the US, which have much lower Individuality Index scores… and thus are less likely to have AGPs transition within them.
In writing about transkids and AGPs, Bailey found himself having to educate his readers about the differences between them. He wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek quiz, which I earlier blogged about, which is useful in learning the differences.
Bailey remarked upon and speculated on the general intelligence of “homosexual” transsexuals, saying he thought that they were below average intelligence generally. As we now know, this is simply not true, as studies in the Netherlands show that as a group they have average IQ (98.86 to be exact, where 100 is by definition, average).
Thus, all in all, Bailey’s book has helped spur further research… and has largely been shown to have been prophetic and insightful. I recommend that this book should be read, carefully read, by transsexuals and their allies, with an open mind and heart. Don’t let a few unhappy, and very loud, individuals tell you what is “wrong” with Bailey’s book. Find out for yourself. I predict you won’t find that is it “wrong”, but “too right” for comfort.
Jesse Bering’s latest book is very ambitious, attempting to cover nearly the entire gamut of sexual orientations and paraphilias known to science. But this is not a text book. It is written in a conversational style that at times (unfortunately) uses modern pop culture references that date the book even as it reaches the book stores. At its heart, this book is a plea for understanding and tolerance for sexual minorities and paraphiliacs. The title promises to show that we are all “deviants” of one sort or another, but ultimately fails, as he attempts to draw upon misguided ideas from our pre-scientific and sexually prudish past as his evidence. As he delves into modern sexology, it becomes clear that most people are really quite boringly vanilla. Oh… but those wonderfully “perverted” erotic outliers that he describes make the book worth the read.
Reading the book was like ‘homecoming week’, as Bering references and mentions many of my favorite (and not-so-favorite*) sexologists: Anne Lawrence, Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard, Meredith Chivers, Milton Diamond, James Cantor, Kurt Fruend, Richard Green, Ken Zucker, *John Money, and *Charles Moser.
Given that Bering attempts to cover the full range of modern research into sexual orientation and the paraphilias for a wider lay readership, his text necessarily skips along the surface, never dipping too deeply, like a stone skipping over the surface of a pond. I found the book fun to read, but often wished it went deeper into each of the subjects. But then, this book wasn’t really written for me, though there were a few hints of deeper import.
One of those deeper ideas, was a restrained, yet clearly scathing underneath, criticism of the trend in modern psychiatry to evaluate the paraphilias based on its supposed “normality” or lack of it. Digging deeper, he criticizes Wakefield’s ideas of dysfunction and pathology based on evolutionary selected function. (My reader may recall this from my essay on Anne Lawrence’s exposition on why autogynephilia was such a dysfunction.) Instead, Bering would see an evaluation of paraphilias, especially by our larger culture, based on a metric of harmfulness. (Here, I totally agree… as I already touched upon in the essay I referenced above.)
In keeping with his plea for understanding, in the hopes of generating tolerance in his readers, Bering touches upon the nature of intolerance, how we find sexual interests that don’t match our own to be “disgusting” and why that comes about. The book would be worth reading for this alone. I have to admit, I thought I was inured to just about every paraphilia out there… but Bering managed to squig even me.
No book so broadly covering sexual orientation minorities and paraphilias would be complete without covering transsexual and transgender experience and the research concerning them. Gratifyingly for me, he gets it (mostly) right. Bering takes note of the two types of MTF transsexuals and their relative percentages in different cultures, “There’s one big difference between male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals, however, and this is the fact that whereas the vast majority (around 75% in the West) of the former are “heterosexual,” nearly all of the latter are “homosexual”, referencing Anne Lawrence’s research in a footnote.
Bering also takes note of the other differences between the two, briefly discussing the two types of MTF transwomen and the controversy surrounding Blanchard’s research and Bailey’s book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen”.
Here’s where that considerable conflict I spoke of earlier rears its ugly head (and really, it’s all gotten quite brutal, complete with harassment and social-media wars between the opposing theoretical camps). Whereas it’s clear enough to most researchers that homosexual transsexuals aren’t erotically motivated to permanently transform themselves into women (or men, in the case of FTM individuals) but simply want to rid themselves of the horrible gender dysphoria that has gnawed at them their entire lives (more often than not, these are individuals who’ve lived as very effeminate males or very masculine females since their early childhoods), some prominent sexologists believe that it’s a different story altogether for heterosexual MTF transsexuals (who tend not to have as many stereotypically “effeminate” characteristics as their homosexual MTF cohorts). Thus, although it’s often misunderstood, the controversial theory that I’m about to describe applies only to one specific subcategory of transgender individuals: those born as biological males, who have a female gender, and who’ve only ever been attracted to females.
The controversy over the “real” motivations of these biological males who are attracted to women dates back to 1989, when the psychologist Ray Blanchard postulated the existence of a paraphilia involving “a male’s propensity to be aroused by the thought of himself as a female.” He called this “autogynephilia.” To Blanchard and others, heterosexual MTF transsexuals want to become women not so much to relieve their gender dysphoria as to actually incarnate their erotic target. … But Blanchard didn’t just pull his autogynephilic theory out of thin air. … In any event, if Blanchard is correct, then autogynephilia is basically a more pronounced form of transvestism; it’s not the clothes alone that arouse such men but the entire character and essence of the woman they seek to bring to life. … Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia is one of the most battle scarred in all of modern sex research. … But valid or not, the very idea of autogynephilia is about as benign a paraphilia as I can possibly think of. (Essentially, one is aroused by oneself as an idealized member of the opposite sex.) Whether their “real” motives are erotic or the result of gender dysphoria, the personal distress so often experienced by any transsexual is the result of living a life ensconced as a harmless minority among an intolerant majority.
Thus, Bering makes it clear that the science has shown that HSTS, both MTF and FtM, clearly do not have (directly) erotic motives to transition, and expounds on how autogynephilia paraphilically motivates non-HSTS MTF transsexuals, but makes it abundantly clear that all transsexuals are deserving of respect and tolerance. Importantly, it is in the footnotes that we see Bering supporting the theory, as printed on the bottom of page 163:
In her memoir, “Mirror Image – The Odyssey of a Male-to-Female Transsexual” (… 1978), the now-adult MTF Nancy Hunt describes her adolescent feelings as a boy in this way: “I was feverishly interested in girls. I studied their hair, their clothes, their figures… brood[ing] about the differences between us. I seethed with envy while at the same time becoming sexually aroused – I wanted to possess them as I wanted to become them. In my night-time fantasies, as I masturbated or floated towards, sleep, I combined compulsions, dreaming of sex but with myself as the girl” (60). And in her rather deliberately titled book, Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism (… 2013), the self-described autogynephilic transsexual therapist Anne Lawrence provides many similar anonymous accounts of an underlying erotic motivation as shared by her heterosexual MTF patients.
I would recommend PERV for my readers, to gain a broader perspective on paraphilias.