Book Review: The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies
When I was a young teen in the early ’70s, I scoured our home library (larger than most middle-class households) for anything that could help me with my horrible feelings that we now label “gender dysphoria”. We had a number of college psychology, biology, human anatomy texts, and one medical encyclopedia. I found exactly one reference of interest, but it declaimed, “There is no such thing as a ‘sex change’.” That’s it, one line reference in the negative. Of course, it was both a true statement and a lie of omission. It failed to explain that there was medical help, if only superficial. But superficial or not, hormones and SRS were good enough to make my life worth living. But before I found much better, and truthful, references at our local public library, that one reference left me despairing and despondent for my future.
As I’ve researched our collective LGBT history and science (especially when I was teaching my class on Transhistory through the Harvey Milk Institute), and of course, through my decades of LGB – and especially – T activism, I’ve read and collected many books and references. So one could imagine my delight in finding the SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies. But that was very short lived.
The first thing I do when I look at such purportedly comprehensive works is to see how they treat transsexual and transgender subjects. In this case. OMG! What a &^%$#@! mess! It is more than simply disappointing. It is deja vu. Consider the section on “Controversies”, the only section that deals with the central nature of transgender etiology,
“Autogynephilia – The term autogynephilia was first used in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, a sexologist, to describe a purported class of transgender women. Classifications of transgender women prior to this time tended to divide this group into those who were sexually and romantically interested in men as “homosexual transsexuals” and those who were sexually and romantically interested in women were classified as “heterosexual fetishistic transvestites.” Critiques of these classifications noted that the “homosexual” and “heterosexual labels were applied incorrectly, failing to recognize the gender identities of transwomen themselves. – These classifications also reflected mainstream stigma around transgender identity as they resigned many transgender women to little more than sexual fetishists. The autogynephilia label only intensified this view of some transgender women as sexual fetishists. The theory of autogynephilia asserted that many of the trans women classified into the “heterosexual fetishistic transvestites” category were primarily attracted not to women but to the idea of themselves as women. In this way, autogynephilia was proposed as a type of primary sexual-identity category for transgender women. Subsequent research has found little empirical basis for such a classification, and many researchers have criticized the classification as transphobic. – One particular critique of this classification system concerns its failure to recognize the way in which all sexual attraction depends on one’s own gender identity. For example, a critical component of both homosexual and heterosexual attraction among many cisgender men involves an erotic charge around one’s own manliness or manhood. To assume that such attachments to (and sexual desire motivated through) one’s own gender identity and expression, in relatation to another’s, exists only among transgender women, is misguided. Despite a relative lack of empirical support for the diagnoses of autogynephilia among transgender women, some segments of the radical feminist community endorse this diagnostic category in their own writing as well. … The most outspoken critiques of the theory of autogynephilia ahve emerged from self-identified transfeminist academics (e.g. Julia Serano and Talia Mae Bettcher), who have highlighted not only the lack of empirical support for these theories but also the underlying biases and assumption revealed in the very foundations of the theory itself.”
I highlighted three phrases as they demonstrate a rhetorical trick, repeat a lie three times and people will tend to believe it. Yes, I bolded the text because these are bald faced lies. The material claims that there is no empirical evidence for autogynephilia in transwomen. But we have numerous studies that put the lie to these statements, some of which were conducted by transwomen ourselves. To make this assertion is academic misconduct of the worst sort.
Because I know that most readers will only read this one page, I feel I need to point out that we have such empirical evidence in abundance, both prior and subsequent to Blanchard coining the term “autogynephilia” to replace the earlier terms “fetishistic femmiphilia” and “fetishistic transvestism”. Science depends upon repeatability, and these results regarding sexual orientation and autogynephilia have been replicated by Buhrich (1977), Freund (1982), Blanchard (1985), Doorn (1994), Smith (2005), Lawrence (2005), Veale (2008, 2014), and Nuttbrock (2009), in separate studies spanning four decades, collectively involving over a thousand transsexuals to date. In fact, this is one of the most repeated and reconfirmed scientific finding regarding transsexuality. The largest study, Nuttbrock et al. found that fully 82% of gynephilic transwomen acknowledge being autogynephilic, specifically, being sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothing. I have essays on this blog that extensively survey and discuss these papers and their abundant empirical evidence supporting the “assertion” that many transwomen are autogynephilic. Let me say this again in another way, we have empirical study after study after study that shows that the vast majority of gynephilic (attracted to women) transwomen fully admit to being autogynephilic. How much more plain empirical evidence do we need, proof using phallometry to measure the amount of sexual arousal? We have that too!
The section also includes misleading statements regarding the nature of autogynephilia, trying to confuse the issue with non-autogynephilic sexuality. With deceptive cleverness this writer has substituted the usual “women are autogynephilic too” meme by referencing men instead. But here too, we see that they use the classic rhetorical trick of confusing the map for the territory. Here, they suggest that non-transmen, both homosexual and heterosexual, experience autoandrophilia. But in fact, this deliberately conflates, or rather confuses, pride or even vanity in one’s masculinity with sexual arousal to one’s own maleness. This can only be done because the casual reader doesn’t know the exact nature of autogynephilia and autoandrophilia. These men are not getting turned on by simply being men. They are not being turned on by simply wearing men’s clothing, although autogynephiles do exactly that. (As I pointed out, the vast majority fully admit to sexual arousal to wearing women’s clothing.)
So, we’ve caught them out in a outright lie, in misleading statements meant to confuse the issue, but what about lies of omission? Oh yes, this they have done as well, in that they totally fail to include any mention of transsexual and transgender scientists and writers who support the two type taxonomy and the role that autogynephilia plays in the etiology of one of the types. Where in all of this encyclopedia is Dr. Anne Lawrence?
Actually, they do reference her. But in safety, only mentioning her letter regarding the need for better transgender medical care. But where are her papers, book chapters, and even a book discussing the nature and role of autogynephilia in transwomen’s lives? How can they simply make such an important transwoman’s work on the subject disappear and call this work “encyclopedic”?
(This is especially ironic in that Lawrence has written material, currently in press, entitled, “Gender dysphoria: Overview; Gender dysphoria: Diagnosis; Gender dysphoria: Treatment; Sex reassignment surgery. In A. Wenzel (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology)
There is one other lie of omission… where in this “encyclopedia” is the voice of the exclusively androphilic and known to be non-autogynephilic transwomen? By printing this disinformation the editors of this work have given voice to only one of the two types of transsexual, and only the minority that are in denial of their autogynephilic nature at that, completely silencing the other. For an academic work that purports to give voice to the LGBTQ communities, this is a very serious cultural and political offense.
Finally, not content with outright lies, misleading comments, and lies of omission, they top it off with calumny, “underlying biases and assumption revealed in the very foundations of the theory itself.” That is to say, that this supposed academic work tops it off with character assassination of those of us, scientists and transsexual activists, who recognize the abundant (and socially obvious) empirical evidence for the theory, by implying that we are “transphobic” and “biased”.
I cannot condemn this work in any greater terms, knowing how deeply distorting it is of an area in which I have some knowledge. It leads me to distrust any areas where I may not have the in-depth knowledge to recognize any other lies it may contain.
I have to wonder, is deep disgust, how many transfolk are going to read this material in despair. As M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake, an autogynephilic and gender dysphoric (but not yet transitioned) individual wrote in reference to his own experience,
“A brief note on why all this matters. Independently of whether the two-type taxonomy is in fact taxonic, there are obvious political incentives to dismiss the explanatory value of autogynephilia, because it could be construed as invalidating trans women. I get that.
But here’s the thing: you can’t mislead the general public without thereby also misleading the next generation of trans-spectrum people. So when a mildly gender-dysphoric boy spends ten years assuming that his gender problems can’t possibly be in the same taxon as actual trans women, because the autogynephilia tag seems to fit him perfectly and everyone seems to think that the “Blanchard-Bailey theory of autogynephilia” is “clearly untrue”, he might feel a little bit betrayed when it turns out that it’s not clearly untrue and that the transgender community at large has been systematically lying to him, or, worse, is so systematically delusional that they might as well have been lying.”
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Or, How the Big Tent Transgender Movement Distorts Science and Holds Back Civil Rights for Transsexuals
In the early ’90s, Beth Elliott, using her nom de plume Mustang Sally, wrote an essay entitled, “The Incredible Shrinking Identity” in which she decried the social effects of subsuming transsexual people into the larger umbrella of “transgender”, which with each passing year seemed to be growing at its margins to include more and more people who just a few years before, would never have been considered to be in the same grouping. Of course, she was mostly talking about cross-dressers, autogynephilic men, who as we know, are in fact in the same etiological taxon as autogynephilic MTF transsexuals. In the ’90s, it was possible to ignore this complaint as being specious on the social level, given already rampant socially unwanted and scientifically unwarranted lumping of autogynephilic and exclusively androphilic MTF transwomen.
But what started as merely political embarrassement (for AGP transwomen) has now become a serious scientific and civil rights issue as the term “transgender” has now been stretched to the point where it has little meaning as to actual sexual, social, or gendered behavior. It is no longer enough for scientists to differentiate between autogynephilic/late onset vs. androphilic/early onset MTF transwomen… nor even between autoandrophilic vs. androphilic FtM transmen… now we must differentiate between an ever growing host of self-defined “other” gender categories and underlying behaviors, identities that are lumped under “transgender” to the point of making the term meaningless to sexologists and social scientists alike.
Flashback, 1980: Hanging out in the L.A. transsexual community, as it gained a political self awareness, was a teenager; let’s call her “Lee”. Lee would tell anyone who asked that she was “transsexual”… yet caused great confusion to all who met her. She was natal female, short even for a woman, pleasantly plump, and decidedly feminine in both appearance and manner. She was in no sense gender atypical. And during the time that I knew her, over 18 months, she never made any attempt to present as a man, nor even as butch. She was always on the femmy side of androgenous to the point of being decidedly “cute” as she hung out, mostly with younger MTF transwomen whom she seemed to admire. Had she been hanging out in this same manner in the gay male scene, they would have likely labeled her a “Fag Hag”. The transsexual community, while leery of non-trans males who would have acted this way, affectionately accepted Lee’s non-threatening presence, while secretly rolling their eyes when she declared that she was “FtM”.
Thinking back on Lee, I’m fairly certain that she never transitioned and I’m willing to place fairly high odds that she married and had kids, probably now has grandchildren, none of which have any idea that she once hung out in the trans-scene. At the time, we had no label for her. Today, on the internet, the FtM transsexual community does have a label that would have applied, “tucute”, as in “Too Cute” to be trans. If you visit the FtM pages on Tumbler, you are sure to run into a few… and will also note that they in turn, grumble about the negative feedback they get from “Truscum” (androphilic FtM) for not accepting that they too are just as “trans”, even if they are in no sense gender atypical or gender dysphoric.
Recent Events: A couple years ago, via her facebook page, a very socially liberal, rather prominent (and wealthy) venture capitalist in my professional circle proudly announced that her teenaged child was “transgender”. I’ve been living “mostly stealth” in that most of my professional contacts do not know of my medical history (yes, I “pass”). But in a move to be supportive and perhaps even help her with the emotional issues that almost always come with a child’s transition I came out to her. BAD MOVE! Nope, upon learning more about her child, it became very clear that her daughter had always been very gender typical as a girl, was not the least bit gender dysphoric, and had no intention of legally, socially, nor medically transitioning. No, she just wanted to be recognized as “transgender” and have everyone around her use gender neutral pronouns (cause she is so special, she deserves it).
There is another name for this behavior, “TransTrender”, as in it is now “trendy” to be transgender. Back in my college years, hanging around Stanford University, I would often hear complaints from actual gynephilic women, real lesbians, about the phenomena of primarily androphilic women taking social positions as “Political Lesbians” and “Lesbians Until Graduation”. The “transgender” community now has the same phenomena. It seems to have become “cool” in some comfortably well off, very socially liberal teenaged and young adult circles to be associated with the LGB and now T community, as though being associated with a marginalized group made up for their obvious social privilege.
One could well imagine the growing resentment felt by those of us who have experienced familial rejection, social disapprobation, economic deprivation, and psychic pain from a lifetime of gender atypicality and dysphoria towards those who misappropriate an identity from the protective cocoon of indulgent family, liberal universities, and the anonymity of the internet.
If these issues had stayed on the pages of tumbler and facebook, it wouldn’t be a problem for science or those seeking better civil rights for transitioning transfolk. But it hasn’t.
Consider a recent paper published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in which the authors very laudably explore the issues of safety and bathroom access for “transgender” youth. Ah… you are probably anticipating some of the problems that this might entail and you would be right. But let’s explore each of them carefully.
The authors cite the now popular William’s estimate of 0.7% of the population in the US as “transgendered”. The problem with that study is the number who identify as “transgendered” because William’s did not apply any operational definition beyond asking if they were “transgendered”. Yet we know that only 0.03% of the U.S. population has actually socially transitioned, according to US Census study that cross-correlated with name/sex status changes to Social Security cards (arguably the absolute best estimate we will ever get to the number of individuals who actually transitioned). This means that less than 5% of those who identify as “transgender” ever transition. Thus, by definition, more than 95% of those who identify as “transgender” never transition, that in fact, they aren’t all that gender dysphoric. So who are they? Well, given that 80 to 90% of MTF transsexuals are autogynephilic and that 4.6% of men in the general population are autogynephilic, while only 0.5% of women are autoandrophilic, we can surmise that the vast bulk of those who identify as “transgender” adults are autogynephilic males, otherwise gender typical heterosexual men who cross-dress in the privacy of their homes and perhaps occasionally have a “girls’ night out” with other cross-dressers.
We know that autogynephilic males are gender typical growing up. They are also gynephilic. These are, save for their secret cross-dressing and sexual fantasies of being or becoming female, typical, average, run of the mill straight men. Thus, autogynephilic males who have not transitioned are not socially visible. Further, we know that the median and average ages of transition for autogynephilic transsexuals (the moment that they become socially visible) is 35 and 40 respectively. In fact, in the Nuttbrook study, which surveyed 571 transgender women, only one gynephilic (and presumably autogynephilic) individual had begun transition before age 20 and of those who had begun transition before age 20, only 7% said that they were bisexual (of which a number of them are likely to be autogynephilic, as we know from other studies).
Now, compare that to the number of early onset / androphilic transwomen who transition before age 20… that number is half. HALF. Further, we know from study after study that such transwomen are very notably gender atypical, as well as gender dysphoric. THESE are the kids who will be the most socially visible as youth, NOT autogynephilic “transgender”. On the FtM side, the Autoandrophilic population similarly transition later as adults, not teens. It will be the rare, very rare (remember, only 0.03% of the total US population transition) exclusively gynephilic, gender dysphoric kids that will be socially visible as youth, not the TuCutes and the TransTrenders. These are the kids who are socially and personally vulnerable as youth, not the vastly larger number of individuals who will identify as “transgender”.
How badly off are the numbers? In the Wernick study they found 86 individuals who self-identified as transgendered out of 935 students. Seriously, 9%? NINE &^%$#@ percent?!? That’s more than ten times the number of adults who self-identify and three hundred times the number who actually transition. That’s on the same order as are found to be gay or lesbian. Are all of the LGB kids claiming to be “transgendered”??? Or is this representative of all of the secretly cross-dressing and cross-dreaming boys plus the TuCutes and the TransTrenders, all balled into one? Because, if the schools were statistically representative of the population as a whole, with only a thousand or so students, we could only expect a one in three chance of finding an actual transsexual among them, most likely an autogynephile who will transition as an adult and only one in fifteen chance of finding a transkid.
The design of this study was flawed from inception, as the numbers surveyed were never enough to find any statistically valid number of transkids, while using self report of being “transgendered” without a valid operational definition lead only to a measure of the trendiness of the label in the teenaged population.
So we see, that truly gender atypical and gender dysphoric individuals will be a very small percentage of youth who will self-identify as “transgender”. These are the kids who social scientists and policy makers should be concerned with, not those who have yet to transition or never will. These are the kids who, while finding more and more visibility in the press as they transition, are the ones who are getting lost in the crowd in social science studies and policy making because of the failure to apply appropriate operational definitions.
Wernick, et Al, “Gender Identity Disparities in Bathroom Safety and Wellbeing in High School Students”, Journal of Youth and Adolescence
Or, Confusing The Map For the Territory
There has been a long tradition within the transsexual and transgender communities of trying to argue away the key role that autogynephilia plays in the development of late onset gender dysphoria. Some simply deny it’s existence. But this has lately fallen out of favor in the more realistic segments of the late transitioning MTF community in recognition of how obviously prevalent it is. Though not new, it has become au currant to insist that it is either a normal part of female sexuality or that it is a natural consequence, an after effect, of gender dysphoria. Both efforts confuse the map for the territory. Both efforts ignore the logical consequences of their assertions and how they fail to match the evidence, the data collected over the years, concerning the phenomena.
First, there is the wonderfully creative, if fallacious, redefinition of autogynephilia, the softening of the language, more than simple euphemism, of calling it “female embodiment fantasies”. How delightfully it allows one to then state that, of course, women naturally see themselves as female embodied as they have sexual fantasies. See, women are autogynephilic too. Or, as some twist it around, “Blanchard is defining normal female sexuality as a paraphilia!”
But this is confusing the map for the territory. The phenomena being described are not the same, though they are deliberately described using the same words. Women are not sexually aroused by, nor become romantically enamored with, their femaleness (nor the thought of, contemplation of, their femaleness or femininity). But that is what autogynephilia is… sexual arousal and/or romantic attachment to the contemplation of becoming or being female in and of itself. Where women only incidentally see themselves as female, because they are female, in their erotic imaginings, the autogynephilic individual is specifically and deliberately seeing themselves as female/feminine as that is a key element to which they sexually and romantically respond.
Just because someone labels a portion of a map, “Here be dragons” doesn’t mean there are.
If autogynephilia were an effect of gender dysphoria and a female gender identity, we would predict several consequences from that effect to show up in the data. We would expect that those who were the most gender dysphoric from an early age, those who are the most naturally feminine from an early age, those who transition the soonest, to report the most autogynephilia.
But this is not the case. Early onset / early transitioners have the lowest reported autogynephilia. We can see this in study after study. In Lawrence (2005), those who self reported being exclusively androphilic only 18% reported experiencing “hundreds” of autogynephilic episodes of erotic cross-dressing compared to 52-58% of non-androphilic, which division also showed correlations with age of transition and self-reported childhood gender atypicality. In Nuttbrock (2009), those who had begun Hormone Replacement Therapy as teenagers only 14% reported having any autogynephilic arousal to cross-dressing compared to 82% of the gynephilic subjects (of whom only one had started HRT as a teen).
Just because someone labels a portion of a map, “Here be dragons” doesn’t mean there are.
Further, if it is an effect of gender dysphoria and of a female gender identity, we would expect that only those who experience gender dysphoria and claim a female gender identity, to experience autogynephilia. But this too is not the case. Post-transition people (both MTF and FTM total) only make up one in four thousand people, yet studies have shown that 4.6% of men, that’s nearly five out of a hundred, experience autogynephilic arousal to cross-dressing. That is to say, significantly less than one out of one hundred males who are autogynephilic develop gender dysphoria and a female gender identity.
Just because someone labels a portion of a map, “Here be dragons” doesn’t mean there are.
Can we please stop with the erroneous rationalizations? It’s time to recognize not only the Two Types… but the underlying autogynephilic etiology of one of them.