On the Science of Changing Sex

Why not take part of me?

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on January 27, 2011

narcissus♫…Take my arms… I’ll never use them…♫

As I had discussed earlier, autogynephilia is a phenomena, not a theory… but has been theorized to be caused by Erotic Target Location Error.  If this theory is true, it predicts that men who are both gynephilically attracted to female amputees and have a deep desire to have a limb, such an arm or leg, removed (xenomelia) to be like their erotic target, would also be likely to want to be female and have other autogynephilic arousal patterns.  In one of the few studies to test this prediction, we see exactly that, as described by Lawrence:

Recently, First (2005) used semistructured telephone interviews to survey 52 persons who had expressed a wish to become an amputee or who had succeeded in doing so. About two thirds of participants were recruited from Internet discussion groups and about one third from referrals by other participants. Forty-seven (90%) participants were male, 4 (8%) were female, and 1 was intersexed and raised as a male; 32 (62%) participants reported that they were heterosexual and the remainder reported that they were homosexual or bisexual. First (2005) noted that the high proportion of nonheterosexual participants was “partly explained by the fact that nine of the subjects were referred to the study by one subject who was himself homosexual, eight of whom were also homosexual” (p. 921). Nine (17%) participants had undergone a major limb amputation. Forty-eight (92%) participants had pretended to be an amputee and 45 (87%) acknowledged sexual attraction to amputees. Fifteen (29%) participants reported other paraphilic interests, including 8 (15%) with transvestic fetishism. Ten (19%) participants reported they had sometimes wished to be the opposite sex or felt that they were in the body of the wrong sex; of these, 7 (13%) participants had crossed-dressed, not including the 8 participants who had cross-dressed in connection with transvestic fetishism. Six (12%) participants had considered sex reassignment and 1 (2%) had undergone sex reassignment.

How likely are we to find in any random group of only 52 people, a post-op transsexual and six more that have thought about it?  How about finding 15% who report erotic arousal to cross-dressing?  And add to 13% more that cross-dress and experience some gender dysphoria?  Looking at the above description, at least 15 of the 52 showed some level of gender dysphoria.  Though we can’t tell from the paragraph, I’d predict that all 15 (possibly 18) were heterosexual, which if true, would mean that 15 out of 32  people (47%) reported gender dysphoria or autogynephilic arousal.  But, at the very least, 15 out of 52 “wannabe” people (29%) reported such.

So, Erotic Target Location Error theory’s prediction that “wannabes” will also be more likely to be autogynephilic and gender dysphoric than would be expected by random chance, is very strongly supported.  Thus, the theory of Erotic Target Location Errors explaining autogynephilia is also supported by the data.

Addendum 3/3/2014:

Some researchers have suggested that “wannabes” are suffering from a disorder akin to somatoparaphrenia, where people deny ownership of a paralysed limb.  Somatoparaphrenia can be treated using a technique in which caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS), involving pouring cold water into the ear canal induces sensations in the brain. The flow of water induces an illusion of motion, and is thought to stimulate regions of the brain that create a mental map of the body.  The hypothesis is that the parts of the brain that form the somatosensory map of the limb that the individual wishes to have removed is somehow disordered in a similar manner as somatoparaphrenia.  If CVS works to relieve the desire for limb amputation, this would contradict the very strong evidence that “wannabeism” is an erotic target location error.  A recent paper showed that CVS does NOT reduce the desire, supporting the paraphilic hypothesis and not supporting the somatoparaphrenic hypothesis.


Lawrence, A., “Clinical and Theoretical Parallels Between Desire for Limb
Amputation and Gender Identity Disorder”

Leggenhager, B. et al., “Vestibular stimulation does not diminish the desire for amputation”


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Phenomena and Theory…

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on December 31, 2009

…or how to confuse fact and fiction

narcissusOne of the things that drives me nuts in trying to have a conversation with anyone on the topic of the two type taxonomy of transsexual etiology is those who oppose it confuse theory and phenomena, often trying to paint the presentation of autogynephilia, which is an observable phenomena, as “merely a theory”.  This reminds me greatly of the tactic of Creationists, to paint the observable phenomena, “evolution” as “only a theory”!  Seriously, one first observes phenomena, then develops a theory that places this phenomena into a greater picture of how it operates and interrelates to other observed phenomena.

For example, we observe that all mass objects here on earth “fall down”.  We observe that big objects in space orbit each other.  Two phenomena, one theory, gravity.  Through much observation, testing, calculation, etc.  Newton developed his “Universal Theory of Gravity” which stated that all masses attract all other masses proportionally to their masses and inversely proportionally to the square of their distances.  The theory has a predictive power.  This is an important point of science.  A theory should have both the ability to explain the already observed phenomena and to predict other, potentially as yet, unobserved phenomena, so that we can test this theory.  In the case of Newton’s gravity, that seemed to pass all tests until the early 20th Century when the orbit of Mercury didn’t agree perfectly… but a new theory of gravity, called “General Relativity” proposed by Albert Einstein, did explain all previously observed phenomena, including the issue of the orbit of Mercury.  Plus, it made a rather startling new prediction, one that could only be observed when a solar eclipse was observed, that the light of distant stars would be bent by the intense gravity found near the surface of the sun.  This was observed, and General Relativity became the new and improved theory to understand how gravity behaved.

So, back to autogynephilia.  This is an observed phenomena.  NOT a theory.  I’ve already explained how one hypothesis has met several tests… that there are two types of transsexuals who have been shown statistically to have certain common traits with-in each type and two correlated and mutually exclusive traits.  As a reminder, those traits that correlate are gynephilia and autogynephilia.  The traits that are anti-correlated are exclusive androphilia and autogynephilia.

This correlation leads to proposing another hypothesis, namely, that for autogynephilia to exist, there must be an underlying gynephilia.  For someone who is androphilic, there is no existing gynephilia to lead to autogynephilia.  The data would support this hypothesis extremely well.  In fact, as I have shown in my earlier post, analyzing Leavitt and Berger’s study, that correlation is very, very high… perhaps showing an effect size that is higher than many experimental results in psychology that are accepted and not considered in any way controversial.  Just to remind ourselves just how strong the effect size is, let’s revisit the data, looking at only the issue of reported autogynephilia and a history of sex with females:

AGP:         6.7%         33.3%          50%

Sex w/f:  0%            33.3%         58%

This data, as all real data sets, is expected to have some “noise” in it.  That is, real human lives are messy.  We all have things that make us a little different than anybody else in the world.  But, this data set is amazing in that the groupings were made on an entirely different basis, yet we discover, that the more transsexuals that are in a group that have had sex with women, the more that group will have transsexuals that also report being autogynephilic.  Further, the ratio, from the data, is nearly one to one.  Again, given the noise, and the relatively small number of subjects  (n=81), this is an amazingly strong correlation.  I feel perfectly confident that we can now create the “formula” that for a transsexual to be AGP, they must also have gynephilia.  As I already pointed out in my earlier post, another hypothesis is that for a gynephilic male to be “transsexual”, that male must also be autogynephilic.

So, that’s a testable and now tested hypothesis.  But not quite a theory.  The theory which has been developed is that autogynephilia is related to another phenomena in a theory called “Erotic Target Location Error”.  Although, perhaps the word “error” is both unnecessary and potentially judgmental.  I would have suggested “auto-mapped”, that is that the erotic target is mapped back onto the self, which is both accurate, descriptive, and free of pre-judgment.  So, how does this larger theory fit?

The theory of Erotic Target Location Error states that there is an independent dimension to erotic desire in which for each erotic target that is observed in the human population, there will be those minority of people who will remap that erotic target back onto themselves.  That is, if there are men that are attracted to women, there will be a small minority of them that remap that image onto themselves, i.e., exhibit autogynephilic arousal.  That also means that if one is attracted to something as esoteric as amputees, there will be a smaller group who will also remap that onto themselves, and exhibit the erotic desire to appear to be, or actually be, amputees.  This is in fact observed.

Shown below is a table of a few possible erotic targets and their associated Erotic Target Location Error  behaviors:

So, according to this theory, we can explain the appearance of apotemnophilia, the erotic desire to become an amputee.  It also explains the appearance of pedovestism (erotically dressing as children), and the erotic desire to surgically alter one’s appearance to more closely approximate that of a child’s (Michael Jackson comes to mind).  It also predicts the appearance of autoandrophilia in men.  This last one was suggested as possibly being found in body-building gay men, but it would be difficult to detect and differentiate from simple desire to better one’s sexual appeal to other gay men.  However, Lawrence has found an example and published his case history:

Lawrence, A. A. (2009). Anatomic autoandrophilia in an adult male. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 1050-1056.

This theory also predicts the existence of autoandrophilia in female bodied people.  It has been noted that female bodied people are much less likely to show any sort of “other” sexuality, when compared to male bodied people.  However, in large numbers, we should be able to find examples… and in fact we do.  There have been any number of documented cases of female transvestism, erotic cross-dressing in very masculine clothing.  There is also the interesting phenomena of “transfags”, Female-to-Male (FtM) transsexuals who are primarily interested in men.  Although considerably less numerous than gynephilic MtF TS, they do exist.  Further, studies show that they, in an exact mirror parallel with their autogynephilic MTF counter-parts, show greater femininity in childhood than their gynephilic FtM compatriots, etc.

On a personal note, I have personally met and conversed with over a dozen such autoandrophilic FtM transsexuals since first encountering one in 1977.  Although the plural of anecdote is not data, these conversations have convinced me that they are indeed the mirror of the far more common AGP MTF transsexual.  And in the case of two of them, in a conversation in 1996, in company with a masculine gynephilic FtM,  independently noted the similarity of themselves to AGP MTFs, and the similarity of the gynephilic FtM and myself, using the terms, “early” vs. “late” transitioning, how refreshingly honest and insightful, compared to today’s near universal denial found in the AGP TS community.

Further Reading:

Essay on Apotemnophilia and Autogynephilia Co-morbidity



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