On the Science of Changing Sex

Mommy, Where Do Autogynephiles Come From?

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on May 31, 2017

female_scientistOr, What Causes Erotic Target Location Errors?

Everyone who has an unusual quirk in their psyche asks one time or another what made them that way.  Most people in our modern society look to their past for psychogenic causal factors.  For example, people who are depressed look for events in their lives that were depressing.  This is likely the result of the pseudoscientific pontifications of psychoanalysts and their spiritual offspring, always trying to explain all behavior in psychodynamic terms.  As we shall see, these explanations don’t hold up when examined against the evidence.

Perhaps the most easily debunked hypothesis is that autogynephilia is caused by too much exposure to pornography.  Yes, I’ve seen this being seriously put forth.  It’s not totally a crazy idea in that autogynephiles often are interested in erotica, especially autogynephilic erotica.  But this is confusing cause and effect.  Interviews with a large number of autogynephilic men reveals that their autogynephilic ideation and interest began around puberty, before they had exposure to erotica or porn, and usually long before they had access to autogynephilically oriented erotica.  When they do find such erotica, their interest is rewarded be their previous experiences of cross-dressing or cross-dreaming associated sexual arousal and masturbation.

Interestingly, for both autogynephilic and autoandrophilic youth, certain genres of anime and manga offer a soft-core, romantic, erotica.  This too has been suggested as the source of their sexual interests.  One can well imagine coming across and finding such material interesting and rewarding viewing/reading before one becomes fully aware of one’s sexuality.  But again, it is the cause?  Would a young person with no underlying erotic target location error proneness find such material sexually arousing or romantically rewarding?  I sincerely doubt it.

We know, from direct observation and from parental report, that autogynephilic arousal can occur before puberty, before learning to read even.  Thus, exposure to material around puberty and subsequently seeking further material is likely to be a result, rather than a cause.

One of the most bizarre neo-freudian hypothesis that is fervently supported by a small minority of autogynephiles is that it is the result of “emasculinization trauma”.  In this model, sometime in a male child’s past, a little boy has his fragile masculine ‘feefees’ so badly hurt that he retreats to romantic and later sexualized fantasies of not only being female but being forced to be female or feminized.  This hypothesis seeks to explain both why they are autogynephilic, but also masochistic, combining the two.  It is true that “forced feminization” is a very common autogynephilic/masochistic fantasy.  However, the evidence for actual childhood trauma associated with autogynephilia is weak to non-existent.  Further, while it is well known that paraphilias tend to cluster, and that autogynephilia and masochism is one of the most well documented of such clustering, only 25% to 30% of autogynephiles also exhibit masochism, while the converse is also true, that only 30% of masochistic men are also autogynephilic.  But, for the rest?

Another problem with these psychogenic hypothesis is that they don’t explain the rather well known phenomena of familiar clustering of both autogynephilia and autoandrophilia wherein if we find one proband in a family, the odds of finding another are very high.  For example, consider the Wachowski family with two siblings that are both “late transitioners”.  Given that only 90,000 people out of over 300,000,000 people in the US transition, this would seem to be far above random chance, and it is.

Of course, the majority of autogynephilic transgender folk, from serious cross-dressers to post-op transwomen, reject the above hypothesis in favor of those they deem ‘gender affirming’.  There are a number of them ranging from the non-specific idea that somehow being gender dysphoric leads one to become autogynephilic in some unspecified mechanism to the odd notion that all women are autogynephilic, that autogynephila is just part of normal female sexuality.  Given that these obviously implausable hypothesis seem to be popular among autogynephiles themselves, when we see a minority of sexologists and transgender caregivers voice support for them, we naturally suspect that they may themselves be secretly autogynephilic.

Consider the notion put forth in the Nuttbrock study (which looking at the actual data otherwise fully supported the Two Type Taxonomy) that sexual arousal to cross-dressing is caused by finding cross-dressing to be “exotic”, invoking Daryl Bem’s “exotic becomes erotic” hypothesis.

Lawrence took exception to this misuse of Bem’s conception of the origin of sexual orientation that, “individuals can become erotically attracted to a class of individuals from whom they felt different during childhood’’.  I would take this a step further and point out that Bem’s idea is invalid on the face of it.  Same sex sexual orientation does indeed correlate with childhood gender atypicality, but is not caused by it.  Although not a valid scientific nor logical argument, I do find it noteworthy to explore Daryl Bem’s career of proposing equally bogus hypothesis including his ludicrous support for psychic phenomena and violating accepting scientific research norms.  In short, Bem is a pseudoscientific crank that has lead others to waste many thousands of research hours to debunk him.

But back to Nuttbrock, the idea that somehow an individual just happened to cross-dress one day and found it personally and/or culturally “exotic” leads to the obvious question… just how did this just happen?  How do pubescent boys accidently fall into their mother’s or sister’s underwear drawer and come out wearing some of them?  Seriously?  Of course, Nuttbrock is actually assuming that “late transitioners” cross-dress because their “female gender identity”.  But this also fails to match the evidence.  Recall that nearly 5% of men find the thought of wearing women’s clothing potentially sexually arousing, 2.8% have actually done so, and that 0.7% “identify” as “transgender”, these men are NOT accidentally or incidentally coming to wear these items.  Further, by these very numbers, we know that the vast majority of these transgender people are not gender dysphoric nor have female gender identities (yet), so it isn’t the case that they chose to wear these clothes as part of a sincere effort to pass as female (as is the case for androphilic transsexuals).  The well documented case histories of hundreds of both non-dysphoric cross-dressers and gender dysphoric “late transitioners” includes voluntary private cross-dressing, usually in lingerie, as teens, accompanied by sexual arousal and masturbation, while “early transitioners”/androphilic transwomen do not have histories of such autogynephilic behavior.  One would assume that for these androphilic transwomen, wearing women’s clothing would have been just as “exotic”.  The evidence clearly shows that autogynephilia causes gender dysphoria in a minority of these males, not the other way around.  Thus, Nuttbrock’s hypothesis fails to fit the evidence.

Putting oneself into the shoes of those who experience these phenomena, one could vaguely sense why these hypothesis might feel right given the specific nature of their experiences.  But those on the outside must rely on evidence, not experience.  The evidence does not support the hypothesis.

So if all of these ideas fail to explain or match the evidence, what does?  Truthfully?  We haven’t a clue.

We haven’t a clue.

Further Reading:

Essay on autogynephilic sexual arousal in childhood

Essay on autogynephilia causing “late transitioning” gender dysphoria

Essay on Nuttbrock Study and cross-dressing as “exotic”

“Follow up on Bem’s Psi Research” by Steve Novella


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