On the Science of Changing Sex

Autogynephilia…

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on December 28, 2009

Uhmmm, your what hurts?

No, it’s not a body part, but the pain of having this condition can be intense.

The word comes from “auto”, meaning ‘self’, “gyne”, meaning ‘female’, and “philia” meaning ‘love’.  In other words, the “love of oneself as a woman”. In the simplest analysis, autogynephilia (AGP) is a set of sexual interests and behaviors that includes the more commonly understood term, transvestism.  But where transvestites use garments of the opposite sex as aids to their autogynephilic ideation, there are other people who do not use such physical aids.  Instead, they may imagine having part or all of their body being or becoming the opposite sex.  So, Autogynephilia is to Transvestism as Rectangles are to Squares, simple huh?

OK, we know most transvestites are men… so most autogynephilics are men?  Well… duh!  Although there are women who are autoandrophilic, including transvestism, it’s really really rare.  We don’t know why.

But back to autogynephilia, the word literally means the love of oneself as a woman.  Although transvestism is the most common expression, it can exist without it.  For example, a fairly common AGP sexual fantasy is for a man to imagine oneself as a nude woman.  One might also include an admirer in the room, but the focus is on the physical self.  One can’t use female garments to aid in a fantasy where one is nude!  Blanchard’s study of such AGPs has shown that the more sexually aroused by, focused, a man is on having a vagina, the more likely he is to go onto to transition and request Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS).  After all, if an AGP is satisfied by temporarily assuming the clothed form of a woman, the more likely he is to be comfortable with remaining simply a transvestite.  But, if one’s sexuality depends on obligatory autogynephilic ideation of being anatomically female, then one grows ever more hungry to realize that fantasy in real life.  Of course, both forms of autogynephilic expression often coexist.  After all, one could fantasize about being female bodied, underneath that glamorous Versace dress.  In sexual relations with their girlfriends and wives, a common fantasy for an autogynephilic man is to imagine that he is a lesbian having sex with his lesbian partner.

I had a friend in Jr. High.  Lets call him MJ.  MJ was the ugliest boy in the class.  No joke, no insult intended, he was.  He was also short, clumsy and klutzy.  There was nothing feminine about him, though he was quiet and withdrawn. He had a funny way of slurring his words that suggested a birth defect like a split palate.   Because of this nearly no one liked him as he seemed to have an invisible sign stuck to his back that read, “kick me”.  He tended to drive away potential friends with his tendency to whining and neediness.  He could count on one hand people who would be civil to him.  I was one of them.

Our freshman year in high school, a group of mischievous “popular” (i.e. “mean”) girls set out to play match-maker for one of the girls in school, lets call her JM.  JM was the ugliest girl in the class.  No joke, no insult intended, she was.  JM was loud, boisterous, exuberant, and you couldn’t help but like her.  The match-makers settled on my friend MJ as her match, thinking it a funny (and cruel) joke.  But the joke was on them… they had indeed made a perfect match.  Her outgoing personality brought his personality out.  His quiet thoughtfulness calmed and soothed her over-exuberance.  They were literally joined at the hip, often walking side by side with a hand in each others’ back pocket.  Together, they canceled out the ugly and were the cutest couple on campus… as in the way that really ugly, funny looking but lovable dogs are “cute”.  One couldn’t help but smile seeing them together, so happy and in love.  They married right after graduation… but I had moved prior to that, so lost touch.

Years spin by…. and I end up back in touch with them, still together.  But now, MJ is fawning all over me, saying how “lucky” I was to have transitioned so early, as a teen in high school… yes… he, at the age of 40, had decided it was high time to transition.

I counseled caution, knowing that he was never going to pass.  I asked, “How are you so sure that you are a woman?”

“Because every time we have sex, I have to imagine myself as a lesbian to have any response.”

I was floored!  MJ’s “proof” that he was a woman inside was simple autogynephilic ideation.  It had worn at him… over the years he first tried to use anti-psychotics, tranquilizers, alcohol… anything to push back the shame that he felt for his sexuality.  But with each passing year, the need to do more to include that aspect of his inner life as part of his everyday life grew.  First, he wore skirts privately at home.  Then in public.  Never popular, he drove away all of his remaining friends due to his constant obsessing over whether this meant that he was a woman or a man.  Then, at the age of 40, he was asking me for advice about hormones.  I told him to see a doc… and looked over his head at poor JM, who though still loving MJ, knew this was the end of their marriage, their high school sweethearts, 26 year romance.

MJ’s experience is similar to most autogynephilic transsexuals, in that autogynephilia is both a spectrum and a progression from secret transvestite to open transsexual.  As an old joke in the transgender community has it:  What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual?  Two years!

There are five major categories of autogynephilic expression / interests:  Transvestic, Anatomic, Behavioral, Interpersonal, and Physiological.

Transvestic, crossdressing to simulate the appearance of a woman, is the most common, or at least visible, type.  It is listed in the DSM as “transvestic fetishism” but this is a misnomer, since it is not a fetish per se.  A fetish is the use of objects as an erotic focus (e.g. shoes), as a substitute for a live person.  But here, a live person is most definately still the focus, themselves.  Transvestic autogynephilia is an erotic focus on temporarily changing one’s appearance to that of a woman.  The clothes are not a true fetish object, just a means to the appearance change.  A more extreme form of this is to wear latex/silicone femmeform ‘skin’ and ‘mask’ that cover much of or the entire body.  While commonly found in AGP transsexuals, not all males who experience transvestic autogynephilia become transsexual, most remain cross-dressers.

Anatomic autogynephilia is sexual arousal and desire to physically embody a female, with breasts and/or genitalia.  It has been hypothesized to be the root cause of AGP transsexuality.  Research suggests that those who experience complete anatomic autogynephilia are the most likely to want, and later to actually, socially transition.  Though other research suggests that interpersonal autogynephilia may also play a large part in such decisions.  Conversely, there are also those who, for lack of a better term, experience “partial” autogynephilia, in that they want to have women’s breasts, but retain male genitalia.  Typically, those who experience partial autogynephilia, choose not to socially transition full time, but may live as ‘gender fluid’ or ‘non-binary’ and take low doses of feminizing hormones.

Behavioral autogynephilia is arousal to activities culturally associated with women.  It can be almost anything, from getting one’s hair or nails done at the beauty parlor in the company of women, shopping for women’s clothing while crossdressed, to speaking or singing in a feminine voice.

Interpersonal autogynephilia is arousal to the thought of being accepted as a woman, admired as a woman, to receiving admiring gazes from others, to having sex with others as a woman, even to having sex with men, even though they aren’t actually physically attracted to men.  This last is also called autogynephilic pseudo-androphilia, and is fairly common.  In these cases, the individual must be dressed as a woman, or be post-operative, to experience themselves as being a woman during the sexual encounter in order to be aroused in the company of men; the focus remains on the female self, the man is only there to admire that female self.

Physiological autogynephilia is arousal to the thought or simulation of female physiological functions.  It can include sitting down to urinate, pretending to have menstrual symptoms (taking Midol for imagined cramps, bloating, bleeding, using pads, and even placing tampons into one’s anus), pretending to be pregnant (pillows under maternity clothing, etc.), nursing a baby, and so on.

Autogynephilia often co-exists with other unusual erotic interests, most notably masochism including autoerotic-asphyxiation, sexual submission, bondage, and humiliation.  Many combine the two where it becomes an intense interest in “forced feminization” fantasies and enactments in which an attractive women “forces” them to dress and take on female “submissive” roles such as “french maid”, etc.  Research shows that about one of four autogynephiles have such interests.

Any individual AGP male may experience any of the above in any combination and intensity.  These sexual arousal patterns and interests usually surface in puberty, though occasionally they may surface earlier.  Their overt sexual nature is most observable in adolescence, when these behaviors and fantasies are often enacted along with masturbation.  As an autogynephilic individual matures, the overt sexual nature may become less apparent, while the need for the behavior, especially crossdressing and MTF transition, grows.  Thus, erotic transvestism and autogynephilic transsexuality are both a continuum and a progression.

It is important to note that autogynephilic males are not naturally feminine, in either appearance or behavior.  Rather, they find simulating the appearance and behavior of women to be sexually and affectionally rewarding.  Thus, over time, dedicated cross-dressers and AGP transsexuals work to perfect their appearance and presentation as women, or rather more often, their ideal woman, but it doesn’t come naturally.  Since, as children, teens, and young adults, AGP individuals do not exhibit naturally feminine behavior, and may in fact be quite naturally masculine, even hypermasculine (e.g. Bruce Jenner / Navy Seal / fireman/police officer) right up to the moment that they announce that they are transgendered, this is why parents, siblings, and wives of AGP transsexuals are so often surprised when an AGP transsexual announces their intention to transition.  Over time, their secret autogynephilic ideal of being female has warred with their original identity of being a man, until finally, the cognitive dissonance between the two must be resolved by abandoning their previous gender identity as a man.  They may then state that they had always been feminine but hid it.  But no one who is truly feminine can “hide” that fact from close associates for years on end.  What they mean is that they always felt a desire to be feminine/female and hid that desire.

An important aspect of any sexual orientation is that of love, romance, emotional bonding.  In a very real sense, autogynephilic cross-dressers and transwomen fall in love with their feminine self-image and want to give her more life and expression, not unlike the way that that a straight man who loves his wife wishes to provide her a safe and comforting home.  Autogynephiles often have trouble expressing their feelings, finding it mysterious and confusing.  This is why they cling to the notion that they “feel like a woman”, as short-hand for their love for their idealized feminine image.

Autogynephilia is an Erotic Target Location Error, in which the erotic object, femaleness / femininity, is sought after on one’s self, in addition to, or even as a substitute for, other people.  It simultaneously depends upon and competes with heterosexual interest in women.  Because of this, autogynephilia is not found in exclusively homosexual males (nor in heterosexual females, for the same reason).  This is important in that there are two etiologies leading to MTF transsexuality, one is autogynephilia, as discussed here, the other is found in extremely feminine, exclusively “homosexual” males, who from early childhood, clearly act like and wish to be female.  Think: Caitlin (nee Bruce) Jenner vs. Laverne Cox.  These two types of MTF transsexuals should not be confused with each other, but often are by the media, the public, and even many in the the ‘transgender community’.

An interesting thing about autogynephilia is that it tends to run in families.  It’s quite common to find two brothers, or father and son, who only after years of hiding their shameful secret, find out about each other.  This suggests that there may be something genetic, or epigenetic, that leads to autogynephilia.  Maybe someday we will know what it is… the question will be, will we be able to prevent it?  And if we could, should we?

MJ and JM no longer live together, no longer speak to each other.  MJ is going through periods of despondency, since she lost her wife, her home, and can’t find a job.  She blames society’s transphobia for her problems, never taking responsibility for her own bad decisions and poor social skills.  She has edited her history, placing the blame of her childhood unpopularity upon being “transgendered”… even though no one knew, nor suspected.  Transition has not improved her life by any objective measure, in fact has been a complete disaster socially and financially.  Yet, she is glad that she did so… and wishes she had done it earlier.  I remained distant friends with both MJ and JM for years, but lately lost touch with them both again.  Strange, but when I looked at MJ, she was happier… with a community of other AGPs surrounding her.  And she’s no longer drinking herself to death.  She may never pass… but she has found her place in the world.  I wouldn’t take it away from her for anything.

For more information:

Lawrence, A., “Autogynephilia: A Paraphilic Model of Gender Identity Disorder”

Lawrence, A., “BECOMING WHAT WE LOVE – autogynephilic transsexualism conceptualized as an expression of romantic love”

Further reading:

Book review of Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies by Anne Lawrence

Essay on the Origins of Cross-Gender Identity in Transsexuals

Essay on Autogynephilia as the Root Cause of Gynephilic MTF Transsexuality

Essay on Autogynephilia as an Erotic Target Location Error

Essay on Autogynephilic Psuedo-Androphilia

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