Experts May Have Uncovered Why Men Are Transitioning to Women
Autogynephilia, a condition where males experience sexual arousal from the thought or image of themselves as a female, is a controversial concept in the transgender community. The term was coined by sexual researcher Dr. Ray Blanchard in the late 1980s and has been met with criticism from some activists who believe it pathologizes trans individuals. However, Blanchard and others argue that it is a legitimate categorization of male-to-female transgender individuals who experience this type of arousal.
According to Blanchard, autogynephilia is not a matter of gender identity but rather a sexual orientation towards oneself. In other words, the individual is not seeking to change their gender but rather to conform their physical appearance to fit their sexual desires. Blanchard’s theory suggests that there are two main types of transgender individuals: those who have a “female essence” and those who are attracted to the idea of being a woman.
Many in the transgender community have rejected Blanchard’s theory, arguing that it is stigmatizing and based on outdated and narrow understandings of gender and sexuality. Trans activist Julia Serano argues that the theory has “little merit” as a theory of transsexual etiology and that its terminology is “maligning” to transgender individuals. In an effort to be more sensitive and accurate, Serano suggests that language associated with autogynephilia theory should be avoided in favor of less stigmatizing terminology.
However, Blanchard and others contend that autogynephilia is a widely observed phenomenon within the transgender community. Dr. Susan Bradley and Dr. Kenneth Zucker both observed that most male-to-female transgender patients seeking sex reassignment surgeries experience autogynephilic feelings and fantasies. Bradley notes that autogynephiles do not make up the entire population of male-to-female transgender individuals and that a significant proportion of those individuals are gay men transitioning in response to homophobia.
For those individuals who do experience autogynephilia, it can be a distressing and confusing experience. Writer and activist Debbie Hayton, who identifies as an autogynephile, describes it as a “target location error of male sexuality” where individuals are attracted to their own bodies in a way that causes distress. Hayton is critical of movements that promote childhood transitions, arguing that they can be iatrogenic (medically induced) and the result of a pressure to conform to societal norms.
Despite the controversy surrounding autogynephilia, Dr. Stephen Levine notes that the transgender community has changed dramatically over the years. Younger individuals, particularly adolescent trans females, are less likely to experience autogynephilia and are not necessarily fetishistic in their behavior. As I’ve said in the past, with the younger people, I feel like it’s more of a trendy thing to do, just like being a lesbian was when I was in school. None of those women who I knew in school who identified as such are lesbian today. Funny isn’t it?