On the Science of Changing Sex

The Gostak Distims the Doshes…

Posted in Science Criticism by Kay Brown on January 5, 2010

… or context is everything.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ — Lewis Carrol

Context in language is everything.  When we compose a message, the context in which it is used must be considered.  The goal of communication is to chose symbols that elicit the same meaning in the receiver that they do in the sender.  The sender chooses their words, while imagining how the receiver will interpret them, the receiver examines the words and interprets, as best they can, the most likely meaning that they had been intended to connote.  But, if context is not considered, this may not occur.  Consider the following short dialog:

“Do you like football?”

“Oh, yes, I love football, its a great game.”

So, we can see that there was proper communication?  That the sender in each case was understood by the receiver?  Perhaps not.  Consider that the first speaker was an American, and the second speaker was from the United Kingdom.  Does that change what happened?  We now see that the first speaker was discussing a game where the ball is kicked only a few times an hour, while the second was discussing a game where the ball is kicked many times a minute.  They haven’t communicated anything at all!

OK, I can hear you thinking, of course, that’s because of the different cultural meaning of the word “football”… but that can’t happen in the same culture.  Well… context for men and women may be quite different.  But lets consider another set of words first; I’ll even provide the context:

A new car owner hears a funny noise in the engine compartment and the car smells funny, so pulls into the dealership where s/he asks the mechanic to look at it.  The mechanic opens the hood, fiddles with something and says, “That your problem.”

Has the mechanic:

A) sympathized with the owner and acknowledged which component is at fault.

B) disavowed any responsibility for the problem, noting that the part was misused.

We can’t tell, can we (?), not until we learn yet more of the context, as a question or two… or be very good at detecting perhaps a contextual inflection:

That’s your problem.”

“That’s your problem.”

Context is everything… and so is asking for clarification as to what is being asked, and what is being answered.  Without that:

“What we have here is a failure to communicate”

This is the case with Moser’s recent study of autogynephilia in women.  Seriously, can we really expect to get the same meaning in the receiver, in a message whose original intended receiver had a completely different context, namely, that message having been intended for males who were requesting somatic feminization, to be understood in the same way by a group of random women?  We can expect even those who weren’t themselves seriously AGP to have at least heard of it, and possibly observed it, in others, in a gender clinic!  Can we say the same for a group of random women, who may not know the context in which the original instrument was used?


The test instrument (questionnaire) he devised was cleverly (re-)written to obtain positive answers to ambiguous questions that only superficially resembled questions used in Blanchard’s original instrument that are only valid for gender dysphoric males.  For example, one question asked if one fantasized about having a “sexier” body?  (One would hardly expect that women would fantasize about having an uglier one!)  Another question asked about becoming aroused while preparing for a sexual encounter with a lover.  (Such arousal would arise due to anticipation, not the mere fact of getting dressed in womens’ clothing!) The results of the questionnaire point out a difficulty that exists in all such instruments, that of “validity”.  Does the instrument measure what we want to measure?  One way to find out is to test the validity of the instrument against a known group, use a set of those who we know have the condition for which we would like an easy-to-administer survey, and a control group that do not.  The validity of Blanchard’s survey instrument (or was it originally Freund’s?) was developed against a group of known autogynephilic males and a control group of men that was known not to be so.  Thus, the validity has only been made for males, in a gender clinic setting.  But, this instrument was not thoroughly validated with random women, in a completely different setting.

Does anyone doubt that there is a difference between a man answering, in the affirmative, the question, “I have been aroused by wearing womens’ underwear?”  A man who is likely to be thinking of the first time he snuck into his sister’s underwear drawer, slipped into his own bedroom, and posed with panties and bra, observing how he has made his body look more like the girls he daydreams about at school, and ends up masturbating… compared to a woman, likely to be thinking of how she grabbed the stuff to put on this morning, while thinking about how much she is looking forward to that night with her boyfriend?

Now, consider that same question being answered by a male who has never even worn womens’ underwear!  Not going to have a false positive with that man!  But… we can easily imagine many false positives for women who wear such underwear everyday… after all, even a stray thought might have some erotic meaning and be arousing… but was it *caused* by the mere presence of their own body being female, or of wearing items culturally associated with being female?

We can reverse that, how many men will answer, truthfully, “I have been aroused while wearing mens’ underwear”?  Actually, if they have not the contextual clues that they are being asked about possible fetishist use of mens’ underwear, then, yes, they answer, “I’ve gotten aroused while being dressed… and somewhat undressed… I don’t have to be fully nude with my girlfriend before I find myself saluting her.”  He may have a completely different interpretation of the sender’s intended meaning.

Context is everything.

(Addendum 10/31/2015:  Given that I’ve been seeing this so called study remaining to be popular among autogynephilic transwomen, I thought I should share some factoids about it.  First, it was published in the Journal of Homosexuality a journal with such a low impact factor one would have trouble finding one lower.  The impact factor is only 1.364.  For comparison, the impact factor for Nature is 41.456 and for Science is 33.611.  The impact factor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, where most of the serious papers on transsexuality are published is 2.589, about twice that of the Journal of Homosexuality.  Oh… and second, Dr. Charles Moser is on the journal’s editorial board.  Now, do you think that might have an effect on whether a really weak paper that he himself wrote could get published there? Can you imagine any scenario where the journal would NOT publish a paper by one of its own editors?  Third, where in the study is the validation data?  What is the alpha value (test-retest correlation)?  Where is the control group?  Where is the clinical observations of autogynephilic behavior in women that led to the trial construction of the instrument?  In fact, where in all of the voluminous studies of female sexuality has there been ANY hint that women experience sexual arousal to the thought of or contemplation / examination of their own female bodies?)

(Addendum 11/10/2017:  Anne Lawrence in a recently published paper covering the issues dealt with Moser thus,

“Moser (2009) reported the responses of 29 female hospital employees to his Female Autogynephilia Scale, which used items modified from scales originally devised by Blanchard (1985, 1989b) to measure autogynephilia and related traits (Lawrence, 2010b). About half of respondents reported at least occasional “autogynephilic” arousal. But Moser modified Blanchard’s original language on the advice of female colleagues and friends, to better investigate the specifics of their self-reported arousal or to provide “needed context” (Moser, 2010a, p. 694). Consequently, Moser’s modified items arguably did not adequately distinguish between being aroused by wearing sexy clothing or by imagining that a potential romantic partner finds one attractive — which natal women apparently do experience — and being aroused simply by the idea that one is wearing women’s clothing or has a woman’s body — which natal women probably rarely if ever experience (Lawrence, 2010b). Moser (2009) conceded that “It is possible that autogynephilia among MTFs and natal women are different phenomena and the present inventories lack the sophistication to distinguish these differences” (p. 544). Lawrence (2010b) argued that this was probable, on the grounds that Moser’s items “fail[ed] to adequately assess the essential element of autogynephilia — sexual arousal simply to the thought of being a female” (p. 3).”

Emphasis on “needed context” is mine… sadly, this context was misinterpreted.  Note also that Moser concedes that the inventory is invalid to detect autogynephilia in women!)

Further Reading:

No, Women Are NOT Autogynephilic!

Critique of a new instrument to measure autogynephilia in males showing validity testing against a control group.

Clinical description of autogynephilia in males.



Lawrence, A., “Autogynephilia and the Typology of Male-to-Female Transsexualism: Concepts and Controversies”, European Psychologist, 22, 39-54. (2017)

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