A Grounded Theory…
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.