On the Science of Changing Sex

Advice for Wives/Girlfriends of Autogynephiles

Or, “Help!  My Husband Wants A Sex Change!”

This page is for the wives and girlfriends of autogynephiles: Transgenders / Cross-Dreamers / Cross-Dressers / Transvestites / and “late transitioning” Transsexuals.  Although the title of this essay reads, “advice”, it should perhaps better be taken as “advise”… as I hope to advise, provide information, rather than tell women what to do, which would be presumptuous in the extreme.

There is considerable clinical and scientific evidence that there are two separate and distinct biological etiologies (basic medical causes) leading to two separate and distinct types of “transsexuality”  The classic picture of a transsexual is one of life long gender atypicality (girlishness in a young boy – extreme tomboyishness in a young girl) who grows up needing to live as the other sex to fit into society in a natural and true-to-one-self manner… I’M NOT WRITING ABOUT THESE PEOPLE HERE!!!  This kind of Male-To-Female (MTF) transsexual is NOT going grow up to marry a woman.  She wants much the same things that you do; she dreams of a loving husband and adopting children.  You can, if you wish, read all about them elsewhere on my blog, but here, I’m talking about the OTHER KIND.

The other kind were quite ordinary boys growing up… but they had a deep dark secret… they wanted to be girls… because they were autogynephilic.  They have an unusual ‘sexual orientation’ in which their originally heterosexual desires and affections are partially or wholly directed, mapped, onto themselves.  That is to say, that they find the thought, and perhaps the eventual reality, of being or becoming female/feminine to be sexually arousing and affectionally rewarding.  Autogynephilia may express itself in childhood, but is especially noticable in adolescence.  Conventionally heterosexual boys fantasize about having sex with girls.  Autogynephiles fantasize about being girls.  As Dr. Anne Vitale, an expert gender therapist, described their sexuality and relationship to girls/women, “The fantasy is not to make love to her but to actually be her.”  

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 underlies the entire “transgender spectrum” (save for those much more rare gender atypical kids I mentioned earlier).

You may wish to read more about autogynephilia in my essay on the subject here.  It is useful to understand how autogynephilia operates and is expressed.

If you are interested in the clinical differences between the two types of MTF transsexuals you may wish to read how noted gender therapist Dr. Anne Vitale describes, compares and contrasts the two.

Three’s a Crowd

If you are engaged to a man who you are very much in love, and he with you, and he tells you of his cross-dressing habit, but says that being with you has meant that he doesn’t need to do it as much, or at all… beware!  Don’t deceive yourself into believing that your love will overcome all.  It won’t.  Your choices are stark; either accept that there will be “another woman” (his fantasy of himself as a woman) in the relationship; or break-up.

As autogynephilia directly depends upon and competes with heterosexuality, the more that an autogynephile indulges in autogynephilic behavior and ideation (“cross-dreaming”), the less interest he will have for you.  In a very real sense, you will be competing for his sexual attention and affection with his “other woman”.  This “other woman” may also experience jealousy and envy of your femininity, appearance, and experience.

Just as there is a wide range of expression and accommodation to autogynephilia in the transgender community, there is a wide range of attitudes and choices for their wives and girlfriends, ranging from divorce / breakup to joyful acceptance / celebration of their autogynephilic partners sexuality and identity.  As my reader, the one whose life and love is most effected, only you can know what is best for you and possibly others in your family.

Think of the Children!

Many women are concerned that autogynephiles may cause confusion in their children, but research has shown just the opposite.  The children of Cross-Dressers on through post-operative MTF AGP transsexuals have been evaluated and found to be happy and well adjusted.  Their sire’s transgender status per se does not cause harm in any way.  However, in years past, divorce courts and child protective services did not always understand this.  Fortunately, this is changing and many courts award joint, shared custody of their children to both parents.  And on occasion, award sole custody to the transgendered parent, as the evidence may decree.  The message here is simple, the manner and quality of parenting that your husband has been parenting so far, will be the way that he/she will be parenting in the future… so… if your husband has been a good father, you may rest assured that continuing to share your life with an autogynephilic partner will likely be a blessing to your children.  If your husband has been a poor or abusive father, he/she will most assuredly remain a poor parent, whether transitioned or not.  Transitioning does not effect the quality of parenting.

Why did he lie to me?

Having reassured you that your children are safe and will be well parented (as may be), we now come to yourself.  Unless you knowingly entered into this relationship, having been fully informed of your partner’s sexuality, you may be angry and hurt for not having been told, and rightly so.  It is very common that an autogynephile will have kept that a secret from their parents, siblings, girlfriends and even their fiancee.  How long into the marriage one keeps such a secret is also a varying, but sadly common, occurrence.  Why did your husband keep this a secret?  One reason is the very nature of autogynephilia, which simultaneously depends upon and competes with conventional heterosexuality.  When your husband fell in love with you, his autogynephilia likely took a back seat for a while.  He may have believed that it was gone, like many youthful fancies.  But infatuation, like all such strong passions as they mature into committed love, dies down and competing autogynephilia comes creeping back.  Your husband may again have felt the need to cross-dress or express other autogynephilic behaviors. Another reason is shame.  For a, naturally masculine, heterosexual man to admit that he secretly yearns to be female and is sexually aroused by cross-dressing or cross-dreaming is often experienced as shameful and guilt inducing.  You may have been told of this in a moment of honesty or you may have uncovered evidence, or even have found him cross-dressed!  This shocking discovery is often enough the cause for break-up and divorce, but is not universal.  We don’t have good statistics on how many wives share in their husband’s secret and still remain in the marriage.  But when such autogynephiles progress to needing to live full-time as a transwoman, many more leave than stay.

So, if you are in a relationship with a Cross Dresser, it would be wise to recognize that though it is not a certainty, there is the possibility that your husband will progress to become a “late transitioning transsexual”.  It is this possibility that I address in this essay.

What now?

No matter what you eventually decide, there is one piece of advice that I do wish to directly offer:  Obtain legal counsel. You must know your options and legal rights.  While one might wish it were not so, historically, the odds are simply that you will find yourself divorced, either by your choice or your ‘ex’.  In this same vein, look into your joint finances, NOW.  Unless your family can afford to drop around a hundred thousand dollars on a whim, protect your, and your children’s assets, NOW.

Autogynephilic transsexuals will often spend every last dollar they can lay hand to in their quest for their perfect female self.  It is very much as if they are both spending and gifting on both themselves and to the ‘other woman’.  As well as spending rather lavishly on women’s clothing, often more than you, they will spend tens of thousands of dollars on each of multiple procedures including; Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS), breast implants, hair removal (beard and even scrotum), hair transplants (to cover male pattern baldness), tracheal shave (to remove Adam’s Apple), voice feminization surgery, Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), etc.  Insurance may or may not pay for SRS, but is very unlikely to pay for much else.  The least expensive item will be feminizing Hormone Replacement Therapy.  And speaking of ‘therapy’, they will spend thousands on weekly visits to a gender therapist.  They may also spend thousands on voice coaching, comportment coaching, etc…. in order to improve their feminine presentation, since, as I mentioned above, it doesn’t come naturally.

Thus, I highly recommend that in reviewing your family’s finances, you jointly negotiate and enforce a set budget.  Ensure that “medical” does NOT mean “every possible procedure”.

As an autogynephile progresses from simple cross dressing to thinking about transsexual transition, they often go through a period of extreme emotional torment, as their  erotic ideal of being a woman wars with their previous psychosexual adjustment as a man.  They will also wrestle with shame and guilt over their desires.  This pain is very real and must be addressed in some meaningful way.

At this point, an autogynephile may put their female partner in a very invidious position, asking, or even demanding, that their partner be the “trans police”, setting boundaries on their cross-gender activities, so as to make it her problem instead of his.  My advice?  In a word, “Don’t”.  Seriously, don’t.  This only reduces the guilt for him, as you give “permission” for each new escalation of his cross-gender journey, but at the expense of transfering the guilt and shame to you.  Don’t.  This is their responsibility, not yours.

As he wrestles with his guilt and shame, he will likely lash out at you, blaming you for “holding her back” from transitioning earlier, that you weren’t supportive and understanding of his needs, projecting onto to you their self-loathing.  Don’t believe it.  You are not the one who held anyone back.  You are not to blame.

You may ask, “Could he not seek therapy to cure himself?”  Decades of research and attempted therapy to provide a “cure” have come to only one conclusion: No.  Seriously, no; there is no “cure” for autogynephilia or the gender dysphoria that may develop.  Autogynephilia is deeply and permanently embedded in their sexuality.  It is life long and often progressive.  They can only come to some accommodation with it.  There is a “spectrum” of such accommodations that may be made with autogynephilia and its oft accompanying gender dysphoria, depending upon its severity.  This spectrum of accommodations gives rise to the “spectrum” of autogynephilic “transgender identities”.

It is common for them to go through a period of being “gender fluid”, “bi-gendered”, or “non-binary”, in which they spend much of their time cross dressed and trying out their new social and personal identity in a new social environment, often in a social organization of other autogynephiles.  At this time, they may attempt to reassure themselves, and you, that this is just so that they can express their imagined “natural inner femininity”, their “second self”.  While it is entirely possible that this is as far as it will go… and statistics bear this out… the histories of AGP transwomen often, very often, show exactly this ‘stepping stone’ to full transition, toward their “true selves” as they then see it, to assuage their unrelenting and growing gender dysphoria.

It’s also quite common enough for autogynephiles to have given very little warning other than emotional turmoil, before they suddenly announce, seemingly out of the blue, that they are “really a woman” and proceed at breakneck speed toward transition and surgery.  There have even been cases, many cases actually, of seemingly very typical,  straight, masculine, even hypermasculine (e.g. Navy Seal), men who make just such an unexpected announcement to their wives and family, without ever having shown issues before, not even cross dressing.  That’s because they have secretly been fantasizing (cross-dreaming) about being female, often while having otherwise typical heterosexual intercourse with their wives.  As one of my long time acquaintance / middle and high school classmate said as he began transition at age 40, when I asked how he was so sure that he was a woman, “Because ever since having met (his ex-wife / high school sweetheart), I have had to imagine myself as a lesbian to get any response.”  His “proof” that he was “a woman inside” was simple autogynephilic sexual ideation.

As though all of this is not alarming enough, there is one other behavior during this time about which I would offer more concrete advice, not just to the wives/girlfriends, but other family members as well.  It is common for AGP transwomen, as they enter into transition, to begin editing their history to make it seem more “classically transsexual”, to appear to be more like the much more rare feminine since early childhood type, to fit the standard trope of having been “a woman in a man’s body”.  They may express interest, and even experiment, with the idea of having been, or becoming, attracted to men.  They will likely begin to deny, or attempt to rationalize away, their autogynephilic nature.  They will reinterpret experiences to “prove” that they were always a “woman inside”, crafting their idealized transsexual narrative.  Don’t participate.  Seriously, that way lies madness.  Well, maybe not literally, but certainly it is ‘crazy making’.  Insisting that you accept such edited history is a form of emotional abuse, akin to “gas lighting”, suggesting that your perceptions of your shared experience are faulty.  Don’t acquiesce.  It may be comforting to an AGP transwoman to believe that she has always been so… but it does no one else any good to have to twist their own memories to fit this trope.  I would argue that it doesn’t do AGP transwomen any good either, as it sets them up for crisis when this coping mechanism fails and reality comes crashing back.

You may wonder why your husband is so determined to rewrite history, noted science historian, sexology researcher, and author, Alice Dreger answered this best:

“There’s a critical difference between autogynephilia and most other sexual orientations; Most other orientations aren’t erotically disrupted simply by being labeled.  When you call a typical gay man homosexual, you’re not disturbing his sexual hopes and desires.  By contrast, autogynephilia is perhaps best understood as a love that would really rather we didn’t speak its name.  The ultimate eroticism of autogynephilia lies in the idea of really becoming or being a woman, not in being a natal male who desires to be a woman. … The erotic fantasy is to really be a woman.  Indeed, according to a vision of transsexualism common among those transitioning from lives as privileged straight men to trans women, sex reassignment procedures are restorative rather than transformative… to call someone with armour de soi en femme an autogynephile or even a transgender woman – rather than simply a woman – is at some level to interfere with her core sexual desire.  Such naming also risks questioning her core self-identity … That’s what talking openly about autogynephilia necessarily does.”

“Above all, to thine own self be true.”

Although not universal, autogynephiles, like many people in general, may have a “type”.  You may be their “type”.  If so, the ‘other woman’, the one that an autogynephile wishes to be, may be like you.  Thus, they may wish to dress and look like you.  Unless this appeals to your personal vanity, it can feel quite creepy.  In a similar vein, it is NOT your duty to “stand by your…” er… spouse during or after this transition.  This process is about sexuality.  And like all things regarding sexuality and intimacy, it should be joyously mutual and consensual.  So, if this development is NOT to your taste.  You don’t have to participate.

On the other hand, it would be just as wrong for you to demand that they ignore their own gender dysphoria.  Your choice is either acceptance or separation.

If you do choose to divorce, please do it with kindness.  Yes, I know that your partner may be a selfish jerk.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to be.  Although many women who divorce their transitioning AGP partner follow a “scorched earth” policy, not all do.  I’ve known a fair number of women who remained friends with their ex’es.  Just because these women didn’t want to become “lesbian” to stay with their post-op AGP transwoman ex, doesn’t mean that they have to hate them either.

But, should you elect to remain friends, set very clear boundaries and enforce them.  Autogynephiles, from a life time of socialization as privileged men, often do not recognize appropriate boundaries with women in their nominal new social position.

I know that this development may have brought great pain and loss.  Even if you stay friends, you will mourn the loss of what you had before.  For many, this feels like the death of one’s husband; and in a very real sense this is what has happened.  I highly recommend finding someone to talk to and help you grieve this loss.

If you have had children together, you will need to discuss all of the usual things that divorcing parents do… plus one other rather uncomfortable topic, how to explain your ex’s transition.  This will depend upon age.  Consider this sage advise that has come down from the ages, “less is more”.  Kids are resilient. Kids are often wise.  Let them figure things out on their own.  Oh… but one more thing I would advise:  Don’t use or encourage the same appellation for each of you.  If you are “mommie”… your ex is NOT “mommie” as well.   It can still be an affectionate label, but it should be something else.   Because, well… you are NOT the same people, and did NOT have the same role in bringing these children into the world.

If you do decide to stay with your AGP transsexual partner, as there are others who do, you may wish to reach out to other women who have done so, for knowing friendship and advice, more than I’ll ever be in a position to offer.

You have my sincere best wishes for you and yours, Good Luck to you both.

Further Reading: 

My husband, the woman: The private anguish of having a spouse in transition – From Salon Magazine, March 2015

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