"Ever since I was a child, I've always dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons including but not limited to my poor eyesight and distaste for formal schooling, my life took a different path. I still like to indulge the fantasy as much as I can—attending space camp, dressing up in the realistic space suit that I bought, reading and writing erotic fiction about ordinary people being kidnapped and forced to become astronauts—but sadly, given the enormous costs of actually pursuing astronaut training, it doesn't look like I'll get the chance to fulfill my dream—barring unforeseen advances in spaceflight technology that drastically lower the costs of becoming an astronaut, of course—and I am gracefully resigned to this reality."
"Well, I think you literally are an astronaut and always have been!"
"Um. Thank you? But I've never been to space."
"Oh, well, you're not a cis astronaut. But trans astronauts are astronauts! Anyone who asks questions about the detailed truth conditions of this statement will be socially punished!"
On 6 August 2006 (I was eighteen years old), while browsing Wikipedia (likely the 31 July revision of what is now the "Blanchard's transsexualism typology" article?), I came across the word autogynephilia for the first time, and immediately recognized that this was the word; this was the word for my thing.
I didn't know it was supposed to be controversial, and was actually surprised that it had been coined in the context of a theory of transsexualism; I had never had any reason to come up with any ludicrous rationalizations that I was somehow literally a girl in some unspecified metaphysical sense.
I wrote in my notebook:
THERE'S A WORD FOR IT. There's a word for it. I don't know whether to be happy that there's an adjective for what I have, or sad that other men have it, & that it's not mine, & only mine. Bless Wikipedia for showing me [...] But still, after all emotions have fitted themselves away, there is the word. "Autogynephilia." So simple; I know all the foreign roots; I should have thought of it. "Autogynephilic." That's what I am.
Scarcity is a metaphysical fact, so why am I hurt when my word (which I didn't invent & only discovered a few hours ago) has so many connotations attached to it that I don't like? The dictionary definition is perfect for me, but all the exposition after that has to do with transsexualism, which annoys me, although thinking of it now, I suppose it would seem to be a logical extension to some. I'm autogynephilic without being gender-dysphoric—or am I? If transitioning cheap & fast & painless & perfect—wouldn't I at least be tempted? What I can't stand is transsexuals who want to express the man/woman they "truly are inside"—because I don't think there's any such thing. It has to be about sex—because gender shouldn't exist.
My views on gender have changed a lot over the past ten years—most notably, I'm not a psychological sex differences denialist anymore, so I'm afraid I can no longer endorse that "gender shouldn't exist" stance. (Given that sex differences exist and people aren't going to pretend not to notice, social-role defaults are inevitably going to accrete around them.)
The funny part is that, in retrospect, it looks like a lot of the appeal to me of psychological sex differences denialism—besides its being ideologically fashionable—was an autogynephilia-inspired rationalization: I didn't want to believe that girls were a different thing that I didn't understand. (This theme is very explicit in my writings at the time. In the same notebook, I wrote: "Heterosexuality should already imply antisexism, as people don't generally want to slander their lovers.") And the "woman I truly am inside" gender-identity narrative that I so disdained also looks like an autogynephilia-inspired rationalization, on the part of autogynephilic males (perhaps growing up in a less egalitarianist memetic environment than me) who took the other route, of successfully deluding themselves into believing that they themselves are feminine, rather than my route of successfully deluding myself into believing that femininity isn't a real thing. (Contrast to androphilic "true" transsexuals who have just been really feminine their entire lives and don't need any delusions to justify their desire to be women.)
Still, despite everything I've learned in the past decade, what's striking—at least, striking in contrast to the utter raving lunacy I see trotted about around me in the name of transgender rights—is how much I got right even then. I've had these desires since puberty, and have grown to cherish them, to let the fantasy shape my morals and ambitions. I didn't think it would be wrong to do something about it, if the costs and benefits added up. But I never took the fantasy literally, let alone expected the rest of the world to take it literally.
Ten years later, this still seems like the only sane approach.
"Hey Mark, a bunch of us are going to a concert tomorrow night: the Holograms are headlining at the Rose Garden, and I have an extra ticket. You want in?" offered Caleb.
"Maybe ..." said Mark. "Who's the opening act?"
"Let me check," said Caleb, fiddling with his phone. "Geez, that's a weird band name."
"Who is it?"
"It says, 'Late-Onset Gender Dysphoria in Males Is Not an Intersex Condition, You Lying Bastards'."
I wish I were more self-aware. People tell me caffiene is a stimulant, and I believe them, but I tend to doubt if I could tell, double-blind, from the inside, whether an iced-coffee I just drank was decaf or not.
Similarly, I applied my sixth patch today and should have had elevated estrogen levels in my system for a month now, but don't seem noticeably more female-like or otherwise effected in any easily-discernible way. Are there some kind of measurements I should be taking in order to pick up on subtle changes? (Bust size?) I guess I got a little teary a few times in the past week or so, which hasn't been common for me in recent years? (I used to cry a lot when I was younger.)
My dayjob performance has been utterly abysmal because I've been too upset to think about code, instead continuing to hyperfocus on how (virtually) everyone has been lying to me about the most important thing in my life for ten years, but I don't want to attribute that to the patch, because I've kind of been doing that more-or-less continuously for the past six months.
Again, none of this is very surprising on a starter dose with no Spiro. That's fine. This is known to be a slippery slope, best explored slowly and carefully if at all.
"No, it turns out that there are actually three types of male-to-female transsexualism: effeminate homosexuality, autogynephilia, and—by far the most common—the third type that we made up in order to keep our jobs."
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men, Ch. 1, "Introduction: the Biological Connection":
In the end, the resolution of such controversy often depends upon one's standard of proof, a standard dictated in turn by political beliefs. I impose the highest standards of proof, for example, on claims about biological inequality, my high standards stemming directly from my philosophical and political beliefs in equality. On the other hand, given the same claims, a scientist happier with present-day social arrangements would no doubt be satisfied with weaker proof. How much and how strong the proof one demands before accepting a conclusion is a matter of judgment, a judgment that is embedded in the fabric of one's individual belief system.
Steven Goldberg, Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance (the previous edition of which was titled The Inevitability of Patriarchy (!!)), Introduction:
[T]he relevant point here is that the consequences of an acceptance of an empirical explanation have nothing to do with the correctness of that explanation. This is so obvious that for thousands of years the attempt to refute an explanation by citing the (putative) bad effects of an acceptance of that explanation has been recognized as fallacious. Even if acceptance of the belief that the world is round somehow threatened our species' survival, that would not make the earth flat. Truth is independent of consequences.
To readers who come to this book prepared to think for themselves and to listen to reasoned argument: I hope you find this trip illuminating and enjoyable and remember that nothing here commits you to any moral or political view that you do not like.
I just hate hate hate it when people saying the good things turn out to be bad at epistemology, and people who are good at epistemology turn out to say the bad things. If it happens too often, it's almost enough to make you wonder whether some of the bad things are actually true (!?!).
"... a sex-fueled mental illness made up by Ray Blanchard—" said Alexa.
"A sex-fueled mental illness named by Ray Blanchard," interjected Mark.
Oh, we have to get this right
Yes, we have to make them see
—"Ballad of the Crystal Empire", My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
(Epistemic status: far more plausible than it has any right to be.)
So, not a lot of people understand this, but the end of the world is, in fact, nigh. Conditional on civilization not collapsing (which is itself a kind of end of the world), sometime in the next century or so, someone is going to invent better-than-human artificial general intelligence. And from that point on, humans are not really in control of what happens in this planet's future light cone.
This is a counterintuitive point. It's tempting to think that you could program the AI to just obey orders ("Write an adventure novel for my daughter's birthday", "Output the design of a nanofactory") and not otherwise intervene in (or take over) the universe. And maybe something like that could be made to work, but it's much harder than it looks.
Our simple framework for benchmarking how intelligence has to work is expected utility maximization: model the world, use your model to compute a probability distribution over outcomes conditional on choosing to perform an action for some set of actions, and then perform the action with the highest expected utility with respect to your utility function (a mapping from outcomes to ℝ). Any agent that behaves in a way that can't be shoved into this framework is in violation of the von Neumann–Morgenstern axioms, which look so "reasonable" that we expect any "reasonable" agent to self-modify to be in harmony with them.
So as AIs get more and more general, more like agents capable of autonomously solving new problems rather than unusually clever-looking ordinary computer programs, we should expect them to look more and more like expected utility maximizers, optimizing the universe with respect to some internal value criterion.
But humans are a mess of conflicting desires inherited from our evolutionary and sociocultural history; we don't have a utility function written down anywhere that we can just put in the AI. So if the systems that ultimately run the world end up with a utility function that's not in the incredibly specific class of those we would have wanted if we knew how to translate everything humans want or would-want into a utility function, then the machines disassemble us for spare atoms and tile the universe with something else. There's no reason for them to protect human life or forms of life that we would find valuable unless we specifically code that in.
This looks like a hard problem. This looks like a really hard problem with unimaginably high stakes: once the handoff of control of our civilization from humans to machines happens, we don't get a second chance to do it over. The ultimate fate of the human species rests on the competence of the AI research community: the inferential power and discipline to cut through to the correct answer and bet the world on it, rather than clinging to one's favorite pet hypothesis and leaving science to advance funeral by funeral.
Stereotypically at least, computer programming is the quintessential profession of autogynephilic trans women, although it's unclear how much of this is inherent to the work (a correlation between erotic target location erroneousness and general nerdiness) and how much is just a selection effect (well-to-do programmers with non-customer-facing jobs in Silicon Valley can afford to take the "publicly decide that this is my True Gender Identity" trajectory, whereas businessmen, lawyers, and poor people are trapped in the "secret, shameful crossdressing/dreaming" trajectory).
Thus, the bad epistemic hygiene habits of the trans community that are required to maintain the socially-acceptable alibi that transitioning is about expressing some innate "gender identity", are necessarily spread to the computer science community, as an intransigent minority of trans activist-types successfully enforce social norms mandating that everyone must pretend not to notice that trans women are eccentric men. With social reality placing such tight constraints on perception of actual reality, our chances of developing the advanced epistemology needed to rise to the occasion of solving the alignment problem seem slim at best. (If we can't put our weight down on the right answer to a really easy scientific question like the two-type taxonomy of MtF—which lots of people just notice without having to do careful research—then what hope do we have for hard problems?)
Essentially, we may be living in a scenario where the world is literally destroyed specifically because no one wants to talk about their masturbation fantasies.
(To the tune of "Love and Marriage.")
Sex and gender
Sex and gender
A disaster like a fender-bender
The latter tends to smother
But you can't have one without the other!
Try, try, try to separate them
It's an illusion
Try, try, try and you will only come
To this conclusion—
"Don't overgeneralize!" said Brian. "You of all people should know that everyone is a unique and special snowflake with the liberty to define and express their identity."
"You shouldn't undergeneralize!" retorted Taylor. "Can't you see the pattern? The entire transfeminine spectrum—we're just manifestations—shadows, projections—of the same snowflake in various states of contingent self-delusion."
I said, "How do you lie about the world? And how do you make yourself believe it? How can you see the whole truth, know the whole truth ... and go on pretending that none of it matters? What's the secret? What's the trick? What's the magic?"
My face was already burning white hot, but I leaned forward, hoping that her sheer radiance might infect me with her great transforming insight.
"I'm trying! You have to believe I'm trying!" I looked away, suddenly at a loss for words, struck dumb by the ineffable mystery of her presence. Then a cramp seized me; the thing I could no longer pretend was a demon snake constricted inside me.
I said, "But when the truth, the underworld, the TOE ... reaches up, takes you in its fist, and squeezes ..." I raised my own hand, meaning to demonstrate, but it was already clenched tight involuntarily. "How do you ignore it? How do you deny it? How do you go on fooling yourself that you've ever stood above it, ever pulled the strings, ever run the show?"
Sweat was running into my eyes, blinding me. I brushed it away with my clenched fist, laughing. "When every cell, every fucking atom in your body, burns the message into your skin: everything you value, everything you cherish, everything you live for ... is just the scum on the surface of a vacuum thirty-five powers of ten deep—how do you go on lying? How do you close your eyes to that?"
I waited for her answer. Solace, redemption, were within my grasp. I held my arms out toward her in supplication.
Walsh smiled faintly, then walked on without saying a word.
—Distress by Greg Egan
I just can't, can't, can't get over the extent to which my observations while trying to talk to people about all this seem to be best explained by the hypothesis that everyone is lying.
I know, that's not psychologically plausible. Which only makes it worse. The sheer depths of denial, mendacity, and cowardice from incredibly smart people whom I love and otherwise respect—or used to respect—is just staggering; I would not believe it if I didn't see it with my own eyes.
Disagreement is fine! Of course different people will read the evidence differently in the light of their own experiences and knowledge and come to different provisional conclusions.
And in an honest disagreement among truthseeking intellectuals, people say, "You're wrong, and it matters, and we should try to resolve this in public using evidence and reasoning, so that others who are interested in the topic can learn and make up their own minds."
And for the most part, that's just not what I see. Instead, people tell me, "You're wrong, and it doesn't matter, and you shouldn't be talking about this." Or, "You might be right, but it doesn't matter." Or, "This makes sense to me, but don't tell anyone I said so." Or, "I disagree, and want to privately discuss the science with you, but if you successfully change my mind, I don't want anyone to know." Or, "I think the consequentialist thing to do is not to tell anyone they're wrong about this topic until the associated political struggle is won."
And I'm just like, what the fuck is wrong with you people? How can it not matter?! You guys are really, really smart; how the fuck can you possibly get this wrong?
Okay, yes, politics, it would probably be very bad if the general public knew what was going on. But don't you at least want to understand for yourselves? And what's even the endgame here? The next generation of people with the trait are growing up and making important life decisions based on your shitty political propaganda. Do you think you can get away with lying about this forever?
People who know me can tell that I have the trait; there are enough of us around that people's radars are well-tuned enough to catch the eggs that haven't hit the wall yet. And they tell me, "You obviously have the trait; you should totally join the coalition!"
And I'm like, you delusional bastards have been blatantly lying to me about the most important thing in my life for ten years. I want nothing to do with your coalition.
We're looking for a few good men, and you've come a long way, baby. But baby—don't cross that line. Don't ever cross that line.
—Hidden: A Gender by Kate Bornstein
So, I'm facing a problem.
On the one hand, I really want to indulge my perverted narcissistic fantasy about being a woman, and I'm really really jealous of all of the trans women friends (I still have friends!—for now) I've made since I moved to "Portland" (quotes because it might not actually be Portland, although you should know that I would still use quotes even if it is Portland, because I'm not some kind of idiot who doesn't know information theory).
On the other hand, I don't want to become a trans woman myself, because I already have a perfectly functional social identity as a man named "'Mark'" (two sets of quotes: one for words-as-words, and another because it might not actually be "Mark", although you should know that &c.) that I'm not going to throw away for the sake of my perverted narcissistic fantasy, particularly since the standard transition narrative looks so actively delusional to me that I can't possibly participate in it.
(Where one day, that sensitive, nerdy guy with a ponytail says, "Hey everyone, turns out I've secretly been a girl this entire time in some unspecified metaphysical sense, and no one noticed!", and everyone else is supposed to politely be like, "Oh, right, that makes sense.")
But transitioning isn't a binary switch; it's a whole series of interventions designed to make a man resemble a woman as much as possible: hormones and hair removal and new clothes and voice training and coming out to friends and family and coworkers and meeting new people as a woman &c. Maybe ... maybe you could take some interventions without giving up your primary social identity, as a reasonable compromise between the scintillating but ultimately untrue thought, and the practical realities of a world in which biological sex is a real thing that we don't know how to change (even if people in Portland will politely pretend not to notice). An autogynandromorphophilic consolation prize, when the real thing will always be out of reach, and the thing that people like to pretend is as good as the real thing looks like it would actually cause way more problems than it solves.
I am not the first person to have this idea.
Disturbingly, I have been advised that it never works.
The problem, termed "the slippery slope", is that each intervention changes the way you evaluate further interventions. So people start out with just hormones or just weekend public crossdressing, saying, "Oh, I'm not actually going to transition; I'm just exploring my feminine side, that's all; this is just an experiment to relieve some of my dysphoria" and then two years later, the same person is like, "Oh yes, I've always literally been a woman; it just took a while for me to notice; how dare you suggest otherwise?!"
Maybe you can't half-transition, for the same reason you can't just have a little bit of cocaine on weekends.
My hope is that my case is different—or rather, that I can make my case different. I expect that most people go into this with a mindset of, "Well, I think I might be trans, but I'm not sure," and conclude from their enjoyment of each successive intervention in isolation that yes, they do in fact have the atomic Trans Identity and are in fact a trans woman. Whereas I'm going into this with the mindset of, "Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence is obviously correct, the standard gender-identity narrative is mendacious bullshit, and everyone who says otherwise is ignorant, delusional, or lying." My hope is that if you know about autogynephilia and you know about this progression, you can set limits in advance about what interventions to use (and more importantly, not to use), and stop at a more profitable point on the slope.
Some people are really into the clothes and social aspects of presenting as a woman. That's not really much of a priority for me. (And of course, a lot of actual women don't like that stuff, either. Smash the patriarchy!) I'm more interested in finding out what I can about the physiological and psychological aspects of what biologically-female people feel, so for me, hormones are the most interesting part with the greatest potential rewards, despite their much higher risks (both social and medical) contrasted to just playing dress-up.
Trans women have this concept of boy-mode fail, where you've been on hormones for however many months, and strangers start spontaneously gendering you as female even though you think you're presenting as male.
I'm aiming for a "weirdly-androgynous man and occasional transvestite" outcome. Physically, try to sneak up to the edge of boy-mode fail and fucking stay there. (And if at any point, things feel bad or socially-awkward, don't hestiate to pull the plug early.)
So here is my schedule of interventions—
- Estradiol: Yes (already underway)
- Spironolactone: Maybe (conditional on results from just-estrogen)
- Facial hair removal (laser): Maybe (conditional on results from E/Spiro; if beard shadow makes the difference between consistently reading as "weirdly androgynous man" rather than "trans woman", I probably need to keep it)
- Cosplaying female characters at special events (Comic-Con, Halloween, &c.): Yes
- Everything else: No no no no no no no no
Now, maybe my case isn't different. Maybe once you reach the boy-mode fail zone, being read as female feels so right, and being read as male feels so wrong that you say, "Forget my previous commitments; forget my moral scruples about invading women's spaces; I'm going for it!"
If that happens to me, I'll be sure to add an addendum to this post as a warning to the next guy.
I mean, unless I renege on that, too. You never can trust us autogynephilic males!
My friend "Elmer" told me about this one time our local sage "Travis" was talking about the phenomenon of men who feel guilty about being male, and Elmer suggested me as an example, whereupon Travis was like, "Ooh, good one!"
I think ... I think I feel less guilty now. I remember driving to Santa Cruz once, enjoying the thrill of going fast around curves, and then feeling guilty. Like, is this a guy thing? Should I stop enjoying this? (Is it sexist of me to even be considering the hypothesis that this is a guy thing?)
But here's the thing: my desire to be female was also, itself, a guy thing. If I'm allowed to enjoy and celebrate that, maybe I'm also allowed to enjoy other guy things.
"Male. Female. Only the Avatar can master all two genders, and bring balance to the world."
Applied my third patch in the morning today (first patch was evening of 27 December, second patch was morning of 2 January). Still don't really notice anything—even my libido seems intact. The doctor had totally been willing to prescribe Spiro, too, but I had declined because it seemed prudent to be conservative about something I'm thinking about as a gender-themed drug experiment and definitely not a gender transition. Should I have taken her up on it? I should be patient; developments would take time regardless.
"Mark, did you really need to bring me here for this?" whispered Caleb.
"Yes! No one can do the Don LaFontaine voice like you! I said I owe you a favor!"
It was time for the Gender Queery discussion group at the Q Center to begin. The facilitator read the rules (keep confidentiality, respect people's identities, use "I" statements, &c.), and people began to introduce themselves. A man calling himself Augustina said that he identified as a nonbinary transfeminine demigirl and that his pronouns were she or they. A woman named Laura said that she identified as fluidflux and that she took they/them pronouns.
When the circle got around to Mark, he kept silent as Caleb began to narrate: "Ever since puberty, he had fantasized about being more like the women he loved and admired. In a world teeming with the wonders of modern science, fantasy becomes reality ..."
Mark stood up and said proudly, "My name is M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake, my pronouns are he/him, and as of last week, I am—" he lifted up the side of his shirt a few inches to reveal the estradiol patch, as Caleb finished:
"The man with the nonstandard hormone balance!"
It's a quarter before midnight in one of the bedrooms of a two-bedroom apartment in Beaverton. There is a small whiteboard mounted on the wall in the far right corner of the room. It says:
The lights flick on. Mark enters, walks to the corner, takes the whiteboard pen from its holder, erases the 1 with his right hand, and writes a 2 in its place.
He flops down on the bed, and wonders if he should want to be able to cry.
Maybe he would be able to cry if the breakup had been more dramatic. He imagines that among normal people, losing a friend over a political or scientific argument (do normal people have scientific arguments?) usually involves some kind of vicious fight ("Trans women are men!" "Die, TERF scum!").
Mark's social circle is far too civilized for that. Everyone wants to embody the spirit of niceness, community, and civilization—and everyone knows game theory, so even if you're not disposed to be nice, if you can predict the outcome of a conflict, you can just implement that outcome directly without the costs of actually having to fight.
So people cut ties peacefully. No vicious fights, no ill will. Just, I like you and you haven't done anything wrong, but your vindictive attitude around this issue, while understandable, makes talking to you feel vaguely aversive to me; I don't want to hang out with you anymore. And, Okay, that's disappointing, but I understand; I like you, too.
Maybe he would be able to cry if he had been less conservative about the drug experiment. He sits up, lifts up his shirt, and examines the transdermal patch on his left abdomen. The patch is transparent, but clearly delineated by a ring of grime where the adhesive at the edges of the patch hasn't bonded firmly with the skin, letting dust accumulate on the thin ring of exposed adhesive on the skin and the underside of the edges. Silver lettering in the center says:
It's a low dose, particularly without an accompanying anti-androgen, and it's only been on a few days, so it's not at all surprising that Mark doesn't think he's noticed any effects yet. He has been moody today, but it's more of an angry-hit-things moodiness rather than a weepy moodiness—hence the slightly-too-aggressive instant message that led to the counter being incremented—so he figures that it's either unrelated to the patch, or that the effects of tinkering with real-world biochemistry are actually more complicated than one might crudely predict from simplistic, dehumanizing gender stereotypes.
Mark looks at the whiteboard and wonders how much higher the counter will go. Was it worth it? Does it matter if everyone else is lying, if he thinks he understands the situation for himself?
Still lacking any real tears, he imitates a sob. He has a lot of writing to do.
"I have something important to tell you. About myself."
"Go on. I'm your friend. Whatever it is, you can tell me, and I'll support you."
"I'm ... I'm a homosexual."
"That's not real."
"Yeah, back in the eighties some bigoted Canadian psychologist made up this theory of so-called homosexuality, but it's been thoroughly debunked. You can't be a homosexual, because homosexuality doesn't exist. You're clearly just gay."
"... uh. O-kay. Um. So, what does being gay consist of, in your view?"
"You know, speaking in a lisp, liking fashion, being in intimate relationships with other men—"
"Right! Okay! Stop there! So, that part about being in intimate relationships with other men. Why do you think gay guys do that?"
"Why, they're expressing their identities as gay men, of course."
"They're ... expressing their identities."
"And what does an 'identity' consist of, exactly?"
"I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, that, um. I think the reason gay men form intimate relationships with other men is, um, related to their sexuality."
"Oh, of course! But that's a mere effect of their gay identities! Surely you're not claiming that gay men are gay because they're sexually attracted to men."
"Um. Actually, I am saying that."
"What? How dare you invalidate people's identities like that?! Why, you're not gay at all! You're just some kind of pervert with a fetish for men! Well, I'm sorry, I can tolerate anything except intolerance—we are no longer friends!"
"Get away from me, you bigot!"
"Hate speech! Someone call the police! Hate speeeeeech!"
Anne Lawrence is the only honest human
Though the world may disagree!
Anne Lawrence shines a beacon through the darkness
Of you motherfuckers lying to me!
"Don't be offended by the research! We're not calling you a lying pervert! You're just a male with unusual sexual interests who has false beliefs about himself, that's all!"
This post is a response to Ozymandias's "Thoughts on The Blanchard/Bailey Distinction" (and is cross-posted to the comments there).
Autogynephilia does not work like other sexual fetishes. It is relatively rare for a person to upend their entire life to satisfy a sexual fetish
Everyone agrees that virtually no one says, "I'm transitioning solely in order to satisfy my unusual sexual interests, no other reason at all!" But you agree that erotic female embodiment fantasies are very common in pre-trans women; you seem to think this can be a mere manifestation of gender dysphoria. Blanchard et al.'s claim is simply that the causality runs in the other direction: the deeply-felt self-identity beliefs that motivate transition arise out of the self-directed heterosexuality, not the other way around; the thing that people describe as the euphoria of being correctly gendered might be better modeled of as the autogynephilic analogue of romantic love.
no evidence that ageplayers are any more likely than anyone else to want to have sex with children
Although New York magazine's Science of Us blog recently had a post about the converse!
Why aren’t redhead fetishists aroused by having red hair [...] given men’s preference for twenty-two-year-old women why aren’t there a bunch of men deeply erotically interested in being twenty-two?
Men with erotic target location errors who are attracted to twenty-two-year-old redheaded women are erotically interested in the idea of being twenty-two-year-old redheaded women. I'm not sure why you would make the predictions you suggest. Male preferences for young women are about the physical features of young women, not chronological age measured in years (there were no calendars in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness!). (I'm reading you as using "redhead fetish" colloquially as indicating a preference for women with red hair; I could imagine attraction to the hair itself in conjunction with an ETLE might result in a fantasical desire to be red hair, but this would be much, much rarer.)
we don’t see trans women becoming less motivated to transition after they start HRT.
There actually are some accounts of this! See the "Effects of Hormone Therapy" section in Chapter 9 of Anne Lawrence's Men Trapped in Men's Bodies. Or consider Anne Vitale's account of attempted detransitioners feeling their desire to be female return with testosterone administration (and presumably, increased sex drive).
Second of all, it is strange that autogynephilia is the only erotic target location error that causes a significant number of people to wish to transition. There are maybe some people with bodily identity integrity disorder (although far fewer than gender dysphorics) and maybe some otherkin.
Yes, we expect there to be a lot more autogynephilic trans women than aspiring amputees or otherkin, because attraction to women (that is, standard male sexuality) is vastly more common than attraction to amputees or animals.
Furthermore, the autogynephilia theory does not even explain the data it purports to explain. Why are trans women disproportionately engineers and soldiers, instead of being randomly sampled from the male population?
This is not a prediction of the theory. When explaining the theory, people often mention engineering or military careers as an illustration of autogynephilic trans women making more male-typical rather than female-typical occupational choices, which is a prediction of the theory.
As it happens, I don't think autogynephilia and associated gender dysphoria are uniformly distributed in the male population—the association with nerdiness has been independently noted too many times to not be real. This is certainly an interesting direction for future research, but I don't see how it's an objection.
Why would a fetish make one transition later?
It's not so much that autogynephiles can't transition early—like you say, you know a lot who did so at 19 or 20 (of whom I am so jealous)—but more that the nature of their condition is such that deciding to pull the trigger and just do it after many long years of slowly building up a female gender identity through crossdressing and fantasy is something that makes sense, whereas for the androphilic-feminine type, if you make it to age 30 as a feminine gay man, there's little incentive to not just stay that way.
Why would it cause one to not pass as well? Surely fetishizing being an attractive woman would cause one to have a lot of motivation to be an attractive woman.
Part of it is going to be age of transition, as you note. Another part is that there's lot of subtly gendered behavioral stuff that we don't know how to fix independently of motivation, things you might not notice as part of the female-typical phenotype until you meet an autogynephilic trans woman who doesn't have them. Motor behaviors. Vocal mannerisms. Unfortunately (heartbreakingly), this is a hard problem—harder than people realize!
the idea that very feminine gay men transition because gay men are attracted to masculine men and straight men are attracted to feminine women, so by becoming a woman they can get a more desirable sexual partner
More generally, we're talking about people who are very behaviorally feminine and have been their entire lives, who fit into society better as women rather than anomalously feminine men. Sexual success is part of that, and some presentations of the theory have put more emphasis on that aspect, but it's probably better to emphasize the extent to which social transition is just an all-around social-success win for these people, without appealing to some atomic "identity".
I had occasion to sing a little song at a party recently, whereupon a trans woman who was present—let's call her "Deborah"—immediately asked if I was gay. (I'm not.) When talking with her later, mentioning that our mutual friend had been trying to convince me that I was trans (which kind of backfired, incidentally, but that's another story), she stressed that anyone who sang like me had to be either gay or a trans woman.
At the time, I thought that this was bizarre—like, that's not what those words mean! Gay men are men who are attracted to men; trans women were males who decided to transition. I'm a man who's attracted to women, which is not either of those things! Deciding that I must be one of those things based on how I sing is wholly unwarranted!
But I was wrong and Deborah was right. People on the androphilic MtF spectrum tend to have naturally feminine vocal mannerisms; people on the autogynephilic spectrum have a natural incentive to fake it. (And I do fake it.) With neither the inclination nor the incentive, normal straight men don't sing like me, and Deborah was exactly right to pick up on this, even if I think her ontology is ultimately flawed.
If we can't have a more truthful world, I think I would prefer more lies and fewer delusions on the margin.
When the heroine of a dystopian YA novel uncovers the big lie at the center of her society, she wakes up tied to a chair in a dungeon, and a hooded agent of the shadow government says, "Congratulations, you figured out the secret. You will keep quiet about it, or you will regret it."
In real life, when you uncover the big lie at the center of your society, everyone just sort of sneers at you and says, "What, that old theory? That was debunked years ago! Only a stupid, evil, low-status person would believe something like that!"
"How was your trip?" I ask.
"Ugh. The hotel I was in was hosting a furry convention. Who do those perverts think they are, parading around their fetish in public?"
"Alexa, you're a lesbian trans woman."
"So, shouldn't you ..."
"Shouldn't I what?"
Mark sighs. "So many nice things that we can't have."
"What?" says Katherine. A beat. "... oh," she says.
"I didn't say anything."
To: Brian Goodheart <email@example.com>
From: Emma T. Saotome-Westlake <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: re: viewer feedback?
What do you think of my new "introduction to evolutionary biology" primer?
To: Emma T. Saotome-Westlake <email@example.com>
From: Brian Goodheart <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: re: viewer feedback?
Emma, some of the language here is really problematic. A woman with your history shouldn't need to be reminded of this.
etsw@UntrueThought$ sed -i 's/ female / a.f.a.b. /g' evo_primer.tex
etsw@UntrueThought$ sed -i 's/ male / a.m.a.b. /g' evo_primer.tex
etsw@UntrueThought$ git commit -m 'capitulate to SJW morons'
etsw@UntrueThought$ pdflatex evo_primer.tex
To: Brian Goodheart <email@example.com>
From: Emma T. Saotome-Westlake <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: re: viewer feedback?
To: Emma T. Saotome-Westlake <email@example.com>
From: Brian Goodheart <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Re: re: viewer feedback?
(In honor of Chicago's victory in the recently-concluded 2016 World Series, with apologies to Franklin Pierce Adams.)
These are the saddest of possible names:
"Blanchard and Bailey and Lawrence."
Trio of scholars on guys being dames,
Blanchard and Bailey and Lawrence.
Ruthlessly pricking our gender identity
Making a trans woman face her reality—
Names that survive despite all the world's enmity:
"Blanchard and Bailey and Lawrence."
For many years I've been a fan of a certain genre of, um, adult blogs featuring captioned photographs of women, where the captions tell fantasy stories about how the women used to be men before some magical or technological intervention. The titles of the blogs often contain the word transgender (or the abbreviation TG). I remember dimly thinking—never in so many words—Gee, I imagine actual transgender people would be pretty offended if they knew that the word used to refer to them was being used to describe this kind of material!
What kind of pornography did I think pre-trans women used?
Why didn't anyone just tell me?!
"Mark, this is Alexa. Alexa, this is Mark."
"Pleased to meet you," she says.
"Pleased to meet you," I say. "You're very tall," I add.
"Thanks, I get that a lot," she says. "What's your shirt about?"
I look down at myself, to be reminded that today is the day I chose to wear my new custom "LATE-ONSET GENDER DYSPHORIA IN MALES IS NOT AN INTERSEX CONDITION, YOU LYING BASTARDS" T-shirt.
"Oh, that's the name of my favorite rock group," I say. "They're from Canada. You probably haven't heard of them."
This post is a response to Ozymandias's "On Autogynephilia", published on their (highly recommended!) blog, Thing of Things.
nothing in this post should be taken as an endorsement of the Blanchard-Bailey theory of autogynephilia, which is clearly untrue.
The Blanchard-Bailey theory denies the existence of autoandrophilia
Ray Blanchard has said that he doesn't think autoandophilia is a thing ("No, I proposed it simply in order not to be accused of sexism [...] I don’t think the phenomenon even exists"), and I agree that he's wrong. This does not have very much evidential bearing on the status of the two-type taxonomy of MtF transsexualism that happened to have been proposed by Ray Blanchard—which taxonomy, I should hardly have to add, is not a theory of trans men!
Autoandrophilia does have a little bit of evidential bearing insofar as it's argued that autogynephilia should be classified as a paraphilila, and so we should expect to see much less autoandrophilia in women than autogynephilia in men, because paraphilias in general are much less common (albeit not nonexistent) in women. But this is pretty tangential to the main point of the theory ...
the factors may or may not be correlated, but there are many exceptions
"May or may not be correlated"?! That's all you have to say?! Summarizing correlations is the entire point of making a taxonomy. Yes, psychology is complicated and people are individuals; no one is going to fit any clinical-profile stereotype exactly. But if we have studies that find correlations (not with correlation coefficients equal to one, but correlations nonetheless) between sexual orientation, age of transition, childhood femininity, and history of erotic cross-dressing—if, sheerly intuitively and anecdotally with no pretense of rigor, it seems plausible that the Laverne Cox/Janet Mock/Sylvia Rivera cluster of people is a distinct thing from the Julia Serano/Deirdre McCloskey/Caitlyn Jenner cluster of people—is it really that bad for someone to speculate, "Hey, maybe these are actually two and only two different psychological conditions with different etiologies"?
Like, maybe it's not true. Maybe there's some other, more detailed and expansive model that makes better predictions. But what is it, specifically? What's your alternative story?
denial about whether one is an autogynephile is a common trait in autogynephilia, making their theory (based primarily on self-report) utterly unfalsifiable– the definition of bad science.
If you categorically reject all hypotheses that predict that sometimes people deny true propositions about themselves, then you will never learn the truth if you happen to live in a world where people sometimes deny true propositions about themselves! Do you really believe that it's so rare for people to deny true propositions about themselves that a hypothesis that predicts that many people are doing so is bad science by definition?
I think the concept ‘autogynephilia’ combines [...] conceptually different things. [...] Second, autogynephilia may be a manifestation of gender dysphoria. Typical instances of this form of autogynephilia include [...] Third, there are what one might call ‘true autogynephiles.’ The majority of autogynephiles appear to have no particular desire to transition
In what way are those conceptually different things? You're describing a.m.a.b. people engaging in what at least superficially seems like the same behavior, jacking off to the same porn and having the same fantasies. For the ones who might consider transitioning, you say that the erotic behavior "may be a manifestation of gender dysphoria" although it's "unclear [...] how exactly the link [...] happens." For the others, it's not a manifestation of anything in particular. It's certainly possible that autogynephilic arousal in pre-trans women and non-dysphoric men are two completely different things that happen to involve common elements (much like how MtF transsexuality itself is two completely different things that happen to involve common elements!). But what's the specific evidence?
A brief note on why all this matters. Independently of whether the two-type taxonomy is in fact taxonic, there are obvious political incentives to dismiss the explanatory value of autogynephilia, because it could be construed as invalidating trans women. I get that.
But here's the thing: you can't mislead the general public without thereby also misleading the next generation of trans-spectrum people. So when a mildly gender-dysphoric boy spends ten years assuming that his gender problems can't possibly be in the same taxon as actual trans women, because the autogynephilia tag seems to fit him perfectly and everyone seems to think that the "Blanchard-Bailey theory of autogynephilia" is "clearly untrue", he might feel a little bit betrayed when it turns out that it's not clearly untrue and that the transgender community at large has been systematically lying to him, or, worse, is so systematically delusional that they might as well have been lying. In fact, he might be so upset as to be motivated to start an entire pseudonymous blog dedicated to dismantling your shitty epistemology!
Both! (And that's okay!)
When we're doing science to try to figure out how the human mind works, self-reports are certainly a very important source of evidence, albeit not the only source of evidence; it's often possible to measure what people do in addition to what they say about themselves.
As a social rule, it's very rude to tell someone that you think they're mistaken about something that they claim about themselves. Because we are nice people, we certainly do not want to be rude! At the same time, however, when we're doing science and trying to find out how things actually work independently of whether the truth conforms to the social rules we observe to keep harmony among ourselves, we cannot commit ourselves to the assumption that all self-reports must be taken as literally true, because—even if no one is deliberately lying, even if everyone is trying their very hardest to choose the words that will best express the ineffable truth of their subjective experience—that would exclude the vast swathes of hypothesis-space under which some people have false beliefs about themselves.
Indeed, if introspection were sufficient to reveal the true structure of human psychology, it's not clear why we would even need to do science; we would just know. It's precisely because careful observation and experiments can tell us things about ourselves that we didn't already know, that science is useful. Ultimately, finding out that something you believe is false—even something you believe about yourself—just isn't that bad. If you keep an open mind about it, having your identity invalidated by new information is an opportunity for growth: given the new knowledge about what you actually were all along, it might be possible to make better decisions in the service of your values.
Given the vastness of the diversity of human experience, there's always going to be someone who says that the angels spoke to them from a cloud promising the fountain of youth. And we can respect this person and trust that they're telling the truth about their subjective experiences, while at the same time stating confidently: those weren't actually angels.
Media depictions of trans women, whether they take the form of fictional characters or actual people, usually fall under one of two main archetypes: the "deceptive transsexual" or the "pathetic transsexual." While characters based on both models are presented as having a vested interest in achieving an ultrafeminine appearance, they differ in their abilities to pull it off. Because the "deceivers" successfully pass as women, they generally act as unexpected plot twists, or play the role of sexual predators who fool innocent straight guys into falling for other "men." [...] In contrast to the "deceivers," who wield their feminine wiles with success, the "pathetic transsexual" characters aren't deluding anyone. Despite her masculine mannerisms and five o'clock shadow, the "pathetic transsexual" will inevitably insist that she is a woman trapped inside a man's body.
—Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Ch. 2, "Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels"
Serano is right to call out media producers for inventing and promulgating these harmful stereotypes! One really has to wonder, though, why the media, in the vicious and shallow baseness of its ignorance and transphobia, happened to confabulate those two and only two particular archetypes with which to stigmatize trans women. I mean, it's not as if the emergence of such toxic ideas could be in any way related to some underlying statistical reality, right??