Autogynephilia: A method of character assassination, not a scientific theory


Content Notice: Trans-antagonistic nonsense of many varieties.

Miranda Yardley has, much to my despair, started clogging the “transgender” tag on Medium, which is one of many ways I try to track what is being discussed about gender variance. For those of you who don’t know her–congratulations, count yourself lucky–she’s a self-described “transsexual male” who has politically aligned herself with a group of people who gleefully argue for her own subordination. She gallivants about the United Kingdom, coasting in on the benefits hard won for her by trans activism, all while arguing how harmful trans activism is. It’s the sort of hypocritical blinkered nonsense you typically see from the forced-birther movement, who often access the very services they protest. She is, basically, a British Blaire White, carving out a niche in profiting from telling the trans-suspicious what they want to hear while being simultaneously trans. This includes her latest invocation of one of the anti-trans types’ favourite cudgel: Autogynephilia, an idea (calling it a “theory” would be an insult to science) promoted by Dr. Ray “transsexuals will sort themselves out later” Blanchard.

During the course of his practice, Blanchard proposed a two-type taxonomy of his trans patients, dividing perfectly and cleanly either into confusingly named “homosexual transsexuals,” “men” who were attracted exclusively to men and motivated by the notion that it would be easier to find sex with men while trans than while gay; and “autogynephilic transsexuals,” “men” who were aroused by the idea of themselves as woman, and that this was what motivated their transition instead. Blanchard distinguished between the two on the basis of sexual attraction–if you were anything but attracted to men exclusively, you were “just” motivated to transition based on an “erotic location error;” as well as on the basis of age–people who transition later in life (“after careers and family”) are motivated by this location error whereas the youngin’s think, contrary to all evidence, that it would be easier to date as a trans woman rather than an effeminate cis man. In effect, it’s an idea that bungles the long-established differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, claiming that the former causes the latter, in addition to aggressively misgendering its subjects.

The problems with this taxonomy are numerous.

The first is that Ray Blanchard never actually compared his results with a control group, which to anyone acquainted with the scientific method is a pretty egregious oversight. When Dr. Charles Moser did just that and posed Blanchard’s survey to cisgender women, he found that 93% of cisgender women classified as “autogynephilic.” If we were to accept AGP as a valid scientific theory, we would have to claim that 93% of cisgender women are suffering from a pandemic of “erotic location errors.” In other words, all Blanchard “discovered” was that most women pictured themselves with breasts and vulvae in their sexual fantasies, and are frequently aroused by the interactions they imagine with said characteristics. There is nothing specific to this that justifies singling out trans women the way Blanchard’s taxonomy does, unless you think women aren’t supposed to be sexual creatures and that the presence of sexual desire in trans women therefore deems us “men.” (One wonders where this puts all the allosexual and even some ace-spectrum women, who I’m sure will be surprised to learn they’ve been doing their sexual desire wrong all this time.)

I promise I’m really trying to not sound condescending, but this is literally the level the discourse is at. Discovery of the Year: 2009, Many Women Have Sexual Fantasies in Which They Picture Themselves.

The second is that Blanchard’s claim that we can be neatly sorted into a strict binary (like that’s never gone poorly before) is not corroborated by his own data. Subjects from his own studies frequently defied his two-type taxonomy, and Blanchard’s response to this was to accuse those subjects of lying. In other words, Blanchard’s own methodology rendered his theory unfalsifiable, because if you contradicted the model you were considered an outlier to be dismissed. You don’t need to know the scientific method to know that if your “rules” are riddled with exceptions then they ain’t rules at all, but for the record, the possibility of being falsified is necessary for a theory to be considered scientific.

This is not what science looks like.

Theories that can’t be falsified are better known as pseudoscience, which is a more polite way of saying “hot steaming bullshit.” For example, when Dr. Jaimie Veale applies Blanchard’s AGP questionnaire to trans women, Veale finds a broad range of sexual orientation among both those whose sexual fantasies feature themselves with breasts and vulvae as well as those whose fantasies do not. Dr. Veale concludes “they show little support for a taxonomy, which contradicts previous theory that has suggested MF transsexuals’ sexuality is typological.” In other words, Dr. Veale wasn’t able to locate any reliable correlation when she refused to dismiss half her data. How Blanchard was able to leap to causation is anyone’s guess. How anyone could look at this and say “yeah, that’s the stuff!” is even more mystifying.

So why does a theory that’s leakier than the HMS Titanic have Yardley’s support? It’s obvious to anyone with even a shallow understanding of the scientific method that it’s a bunch of bunk, so why hasn’t she recognized that the ship is sinking? These deficiencies in the research have never been acknowledged by AGP proponents, including Yardley herself, but I’ll give credit to Julia Serano for noticing why it remains so staunchly defended by the Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence-Cantor-Dreger crowd: It’s because it provides a convenient and permanently available method of character assassination to instantly dismiss any trans women who dissent. See how Yardley uses it when someone points out the inadequacies of the research: (emphasis added)

[Commentator], you sound to me like someone who doth protest too much. You’re not even making a coherent argument, it’s just dogma that belies your ignorance to the academic arguments made in the subject matter. I see you, and I know what you are, and I know full well that you know exactly what you are. I’d suggest that you own it, and live your life free of your rather obvious cognitive dissonance.

Much like the theory she purports, it’s impossible to falsify her claims. For example, because I recognize AGP as the sort of nonsense that would’ve had me laughed out of my undergrad education, I’m an autogynephile “in denial:” (emphasis added)

Autogynephilia as an idea suffers from far more talk than understanding. A fair barometer of whether an individual understands even the first thing about autogynephilia is their denial, either of its existence, its veracity as a scientific framework within which to understand key aspects of transsexualism, or the role of autogynephilia in the process which creates the non-homosexual transsexual [Shiv: i.e. queer trans women].

Never mind that I’ve described the theory, never mind that I can name the papers in which Blanchard collected his data, never mind that I know his methodology, never mind that I investigated how his methodology fared when it was reproduced by others post-2005I’m the one in denial! How convenient. In such a construct it is physically impossible for me to engage the material without being accused as unreliable, and thus, all the problems with the theory wash away in an instant along with the inconvenient critic.

But you know what, I’ll still work with it. Let’s accept AGP at face value (despite its many deficiencies) and accept that I have the condition because I am not exclusively attracted to men (despite the fact that I transitioned at 19 contrary to the “late transitioner” claim). Now what? I have an erotic location error which has vastly improved my self-esteem, done far more for my mental health than any therapy or medication ever has, and has actually resulted in the first time in my entire life than I could ever said to be happy. I’m not engaging in any behaviour that could constitute harm towards another person. I am performing well in my career and volunteering extra hours and money into community functions like homeless shelters and food banks. I pay my taxes and take up only one seat on the bus. I’ve demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness during crisis. I’m in a relationship where I am consistently treated with respect and affirmation. How does it follow Yardley’s assertion that I am motivated to transition specifically “to impose myself on women” (“cis” being implicit–she’s a denialist of cis privilege too), especially since I usually distrust “women’s” spaces too much to enter them?

Does she assume that I have coerced all my lovers? (I don’t so much as hug without explicit consent)

Is she assuming I haven’t slept with other trans women? (I have)

Does she assume I actually want to be in a women’s space that considers me an invader? (I don’t)

What conclusions are we actually supposed to derive from this? What “cognitive dissonance” am I supposed to experience? If Yardley means to argue that this is an undesirable pathology, then surely the happy and well-adjusted lives of queer trans women damage that assertion. Yardley tries to argue that the taxonomy hasn’t been politicized, and then seeks to politicize her conclusion by arguing that autogynephilia makes me “untrustworthy” and an “imposter.” If it were really true that all Yardley wanted to talk about was the legitimacy of the research, why has so much of her career been defined by providing excuses to de-legitimize trans women under the auspices of Blanchard’s theory?

Simply put: Because it’s easier than becoming acquainted with the background knowledge necessary to actually understand Blanchard’s work. Just shout “bad trans!” and you “win.” Yardley can’t actually just say “I’m personally grossed out by your sexual narratives and you disgust me because trans people disgust me,” so she dresses it up in a bunch of academic-sounding jargon to keep up the illusion that it’s just about the research, that she has some kind of empirical phenomenon to justify her opinion, rather than expressing a much less coherent personal aversion. It’s an act that is utterly transparent to anyone that can bother to open her citations.

In that sense, she’s no different than any other TERF. Linda Shanko* on gendertrender (“What Many Transgender Activists Don’t Want You to Know”) writes a similarly even-toned piece, trying to claim it’s just about discussing the research, and then spends the entirety of her comments demonizing “AGP men” as abusive rapists. Alice Dreger has a page on her author website that comes off as entirely reasonable–then you look at her behaviour elsewhere and you find her hurling it as an insult at her critics. And, of course, Ray Blanchard’s first instinct in responding to Zinnia Jones challenging the quality of his work is to find her porn and shame her for her sex work with–you guessed it–an AGP diagnosis over Twitter.

So, you tell me dearest readers: Reasonable theory beset by hysterical transgender activists, or a smart-sounding smokescreen to dismiss someone for who they are?

-Shiv

*NEVER EVER LINK DIRECTLY TO SHANKO’S BLOG IN THIS SPACE.

 

Comments

  1. cartomancer says

    I am curious – does this Blanchard character posit an equivalent “Autoandrophilia” for trans men who were assigned female at birth? Or are they erased from the whole situation?

  2. Siobhan says

    @1 cartomancer

    I am curious – does this Blanchard character posit an equivalent “Autoandrophilia” for trans men who were assigned female at birth? Or are they erased from the whole situation?

    A couple decades after he proposed his idea, he proposed autoandrophilia to, and I quote, “not to be accused of sexism.” SCIENCE!

    Source: [Content Notice ALL THE CISHETERO-SUPREMACY] https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/ypp93m/heres-how-the-guy-who-wrote-the-manual-on-sex-talks-about-sex

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Never mind that …—I’m the one in denial!

    A page straight out of Dr. Freud’s book – all stand and pledge allegiance to Traditional Values!

    … most women pictured themselves with breasts and vulvae in their sexual fantasies …

    Uh, how many of each?

  4. says

    Wow.

    So desperate to make the scary thing go away that they turned normal sexual mentalizing into pathology. I am frequently aroused by the presence and involvement of my own genetalia in my physical and mental experience of sex. In fact it’s not really as effective without it. If someone needed and did have their external anatomy changed to more closely map onto what they need it’s not hard to think they would then follow the same pattern.

  5. says

    I hope you don’t mind if I share some of my thoughts on transgender and autogynephilia. As a late transitioning non-binary genderqueer, I fit into the autogynephilia target just about perfectly. I struggled to integrate those feelings with my feelings of being trans, being scared I wasn’t “really trans”.

    Worth mentioning in discussing autogynephilia is the work of Anne Lawrence, some of who’s papers I have read with fascination and self-loathing (fair warning to transgender people who look up her work – I found it extremely triggering). What I noticed, though, was her wonder at some things arising from the research she did which she found difficult to explain, but which seem self-evident to me.

    First off, she noticed that autogynephilic tendencies reduce for most people when they start transitioning. She posits that this is because the sexual feelings morph into romantic feelings for their “female self”, an idea that seems a bit of a stretch (beyond how we should all love ourselves). Second, she notes that, in the research, she cannot tell whether autogynephilic tendencies cause someone to be trans, or whether it happens the other way around.

    Now, I can’t speak for others, but for myself these suggest a common solution. When I imagined myself as a woman, I felt good, and right. In puberty, this triggered a sexual response (as so many things do during puberty), and my repression of this side of myself caused the response to get fixed that way. I had autogynephilic tendencies because it felt good to be a woman, because I was always trans. Starting transition has led to a reduction in autogynephilic response, because the motivation was never sexual in the first place. This model seems to me to make much more sense than those proposed by Blanchard and Lawrence, and I struggle to understand why it hasn’t occurred to either of them.

    In this, of course, I only speak for myself, and if the reader is someone for whom autogynephilic tendencies came first and transness after, I believe that takes nothing from your transness. I believe you are your most authentic gender identity, and that people who do not support you in that are prejudiced.

  6. Trickster Goddess says

    When I was being interviewed by the provincial Gatekeeper for assessment for surgery, one of the questions he asked was if I thought of myself as a woman when I was having sex. What a stupid question. I told him I thought of myself as a woman every minute of every day, no matter what I was doing and that didn’t change when I was having sex.

    At the end he told me he concluded that surgery would only _marginally_ (his emphasis) improve my life, but he would approve it anyway. I’m a non-violent person but I so wanted to punch that condescending and demeaning prick in the face. Fortunately, the rational part of my brain convinced me to take the “yes” as an answer and I got the fuck out of that room as fast as I could.

  7. jazzlet says

    As you say, not falsifiable? Not science, so slug slime (bullshit is useful in a garden, but has anyone ever found a use for slug slime? And its a pig to get off thing so it fits this sort of rubbish rather well).

  8. Siobhan says

    @7 Trickster Goddess

    What a stupid question. I told him I thought of myself as a woman every minute of every day, no matter what I was doing and that didn’t change when I was having sex.

    I agree with the sentiment, although I would preferably characterize the question as “arrogant” (cissexist, ignorant, clueless, misogynist) rather than stupid. There’s plenty to disparage about a thought-pattern like your High and Holy Gatekeeper’s without bringing ability into the picture.

  9. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Anne Lawrence always struck me as credulous and way too enamored of the brilliance of the AGP hypothesis. Haven’t interacted with her in a long time, but always wondered what was up with that.

    @Shiv: thanks for this. The AGP model, unfortunately, still needs to be killed some more. Sad that it won’t stay properly dead.

  10. says

    Blanchard has never stated what actual score on the Core Autogynephila (AGP) and Interpersonal Fantasy tests you needed to have a diagnosis of AGP.

    Noting that neither test measures frequency (how often you have felt that way), intensity (how strong were the feelings) or timeliness (when was the last time you felt that way).

    He only tried (and failed) to see of there was an average difference in scores between the so called ‘homosexual transsexuals’ and the others (heterosexual, bisexual and asexual). He then extrapolated that to saying that sexual orientation was the ONLY criteria for being AGP.

    So if I have a Core AGP score of 1 and I am bisexual, and a HSTS has the exact same score, I have AGP only because of my bisexuality and the HSTS hasn’t, despite our identical scores. Therefore he invalidates the very tests he bases his ideology on.

    Let’s apply Blanchard’s ‘logic’ to something else.
    We measure the heights of Japanese women and Dutch women.

    We find on average that Dutch women are taller.
    We then say ‘All tall women are Dutch and all small women are Japanese’.

    When someone points out a tall Japanese woman we reply ‘they are really Dutch’…. And of course when a short Dutch woman is pointed out we say ‘they are really Japanese ’.
    When someone points out that the tall Japanese women was born in Japan, to Japanese parents, we say ‘they are deluded, they are really Dutch’.
    If someone else points out a small woman and says ‘they are small and British’, we reply ‘they are really Japanese, British women don’t exist’.

    That’s the Blanchard ‘logic’, absurd isn’t it.

  11. says

    Dee Moore: It is a classic mistake (long promoted by the BBL, etc Toronto cult) to conflate ‘autogynephila’ and having sexual fantasies involving you being a woman. The Core AGP test is very specific it is ONLY about being sexually aroused at thinking of yourself having a female body…or having parts of such…and nothing else.
    It is not about imagining you having sex as a female at all, not even about touching yourself up, using sex toys or masturbating as one.

    The 2nd test (Interpersonal Fantasy) is only about being admired as a female..again not about having sex with someone else. Arousal from being desired by others is a common cis female fantasy and/or reaction, I have personally know quite a few like that, they got turned on by turning on others.

    This has been ‘inflated’ (as part of general ‘AGP inflation’) into any sexual fantasy. Another part of the great ‘con’.

    As I said before the tests are very poor, neither test measures frequency (how often you have felt that way), intensity (how strong were the feelings) or timeliness (when was the last time you felt that way). A singe occurrence 30 years ago when you were drunk is ‘apparently’ enough to have a positive AGP score.

    It is of the ‘question, sub question’ structure type, that while useful for drilling down into more detail is inappropriate for scoring purposes as it leads to score inflation (if you answer yes to a master question then you will nearly always answer yes to one or more sub questions).

    So, using me as an example I score zero on the Core AGP test, because though I always had sexual fantasies about being a woman* it was always about having sex with others.

    * By today’s standards I was a pretty typical trans kid, when I hit puberty what sexual fantasies did I have? Hint:not about being a big burly hairy bloke rogering a little blond woman.

Leave a Reply