by Asha Britt
Hi everyone, today we’re taking a break from autobiographical stories and taking a look at something different: what causes people to be trans?
It’s a tough question, and lately, research on the topic has all but stopped. This is largely due to transactivist rhetoric, the pervasive and memetic idea that trans people are women trapped in men’s bodies or vice versa. For some of us, this seems more or less like a valid method of description, but the reality is that it’s less common than you might think.
Funding put into researching trans people has been scarce as of late, but a lot of really smart people, many of them trans themselves, have continued. It’s understandable why people may not want this research to move forward- the data we have shows a picture that isn’t at all nice to look at or accept for many of us. It feels profoundly invalidating. But then, truth is rarely easy to accept and almost all of us have been raised in an culture that glorifies arrogance. Ignorance is bliss, we often say.
Therefore, for the purposes of this essay, I won’t be bothering with political correctness. Using “nicer” words to refer to the same thing doesn’t fool anyone but the person who wishes to fool themselves. If you don’t like it, you can go find your comfort elsewhere.
Over the past several years the word “transsexual” has been largely replaced by the term “transgender”. It seems harmless enough, even positive. After all, a word that contains “sexual” implies that transsexualism must have something to do with sex, and that invalidates the notion that we’re all women trapped in men’s bodies. It seems a nice, friendly word.
Or at least, that’s what I thought. But the more I studied, the more I researched and tried to discern the truth of this thing, the more I began to understand that transsexualism is very much related to sex and sexual orientation.
As I mentioned earlier, there hasn’t been much research done on transsexualism lately, but research has been done.
In the late 1980’s a clinical psychologist named Ray Blanchard published a typology on transsexualism based on his clinical observations. In it, he describes two distinct types of male-to-female transsexuals. The first type he called homosexual transsexuals, or HSTS, as they were exclusively attracted to members of their natal sex from childhood. The second type were heterosexual transsexuals, and for them he coined a new term: autogynephilia, or AGP. Autogynephilia, he explains, is something more powerful than a fetish- it’s a sexual orientation, and it can have a lot of variation in the way it expresses itself.
I want to say that I’m a huge fan of Blanchard’s work. It’s truly brilliant stuff, and of all the research I’ve seen on people like me, his data is the most complex and complete. It takes more details into account than anything I’ve seen so far. It is also exceptionally controversial and universally despised by Trans Activists. Many people claim that his work is outdated and therefore irrelevant- a claim that may be partially correct due to the changing social prejudices surrounding what transsexualism is and new motivations that have cropped up. However, having spoken at great length with a large number of transsexuals I can say with certainty that the types Blanchard lays out absolutely exist and have not been invalidated by time.
His conclusions, however, have always seemed incomplete to me. After all, knowing that transsexualism exists in two types does not necessarily mean we know what is at its root. What causes trassexualism to exist?
Blanchard postulates that Autogynephilia springs out of something he calls an erotic target location error, which is to say that a heterosexual male’s attraction to women has been somehow flipped and becomes a paraphilic attraction to the idea of oneself as a woman. But how does this happen? To my knowledge, Blanchard doesn’t really say.
While he seems to believe that this is a male-only phenomenon, I have personally spoken with more than one natal woman unable to orgasm without imagining that she is male, has a penis, and is using it to penetrate. Thus, I can say from direct personal experience that autoandrophilia (which I’ll be refereing to as AAP) also exists, although Blanchard’s work does not seem to cover this- He seems to believe that most FtMs are HSTS. He’s probably right- because most of the paraphilic autoandrophiles I’ve met just have a fetish and never choose to transition. An interesting observation, though it remains anecdotal and in any case Blanchard seems to have encountered far more of the MtF variety.
Most transwomen are easily split into these two types because it’s uncanny how similar their trajectories are:
Nearly every single HSTS I’ve spoken to insisted they were girls from a young age, realized they were attracted to their natal sex around ten, and transitioned either in their late teens or early twenties. My own observation of those that I’ve become acquainted with is that they tend to be very visually artistic, hypersexual, or maternal. Oddly, the overly artistic types seem less sexual or maternal and so on. But these, again, are my own anecdotal observations. Moreover, even if they aren’t easily passing (which is rare for an HSTS that’s been on hormone therapy for any length of time), they tend to be beautiful. And strangely, HSTS rarely seem to have any problem whatsoever with admitting that they are male, though they will also usually be very adamant that they are not, and have never been, men.
Meanwhile, the trajectory of the AGPs also seems uncannily similar: They occasionally claim to have had some related experiences in childhood, especially after they choose to transition, but display few “feminine” interests. They have a strong tendency to be on the autism spectrum and have a strangely common talent with applied logical functions, like programming. It’s so common as to be a stereotype. Typically between the ages of ten to fourteen, they develop strong transsexual feelings. Sometimes these feelings begin with an attraction to female attire, and they develop a fetishistic transvestism that may or may not ultimately evolve, but more often than not it seems as if they develop a more private sort of aching sense that their body is wrong and imagining themselves as the opposite sex arouses and sometimes comforts them.
AGP is extremely complex. More than one book has been written about it and they are worth the time to read.
What’s key here is that the nature of AGP is seductive and intense, creating the powerful sense-feeling in sufferers that they are, in truth, actually a member of the opposite sex. This sense usually recedes after masturbation, and this can lead to feelings of shame and binge-purge cycles. Unfortunately, this feeling is incredibly intense and addictive.
The biggest problem with transition for an autogynephile is the fact that they are male. Thus, feeding the fantasy requires more and more intense forms of external validation and this can evolve into some fairly extreme actions. AGP is a pervasive delusion, and transition can, in fact, be helpful- if only because it massively reduces sex drive.
However, if the AGP has been seduced by the alter ego, then the sexual component becomes more or less irrelevant to the original idea and the need for validation becomes paramount. Especially prior to sexual reassignment and sometimes after as they reach the limitations of transition and experience a form of desperation.
Physically, AGPs usually look like men. Sometimes they’re fairly androgynous, and they do, rarely, luck out physically and make beautiful transsexuals. But I’ve never met one.
I once went to a support group for transwomen and there were perhaps thirty of us there, and it did not feel like a group of women at all to me. It felt false, even repulsive, like a group of men all validating each other on their womanhood. I gave it a couple of tries, but mostly found it unsettling. A couple of the members passed very well, physically, at least at first. But it quickly became apparent that they, too, were trans. I found it very difficult to get along with them.
In any case, Blanchard’s typology is not the primary subject of this essay, and I bring it up mainly because despite how easily identifiable these two types are to anyone who has spent much time among transsexuals, every once in a while I’ve ran into someone who fits neither category clearly.
I had the occasion of mentioning this to Mr. Blanchard on Twitter once, and asked him if there was a chance there may in fact be a third type. He simply said that there are always outliers, implying that it happens rarely enough and the impulse to transition is varied enough in these folks that it’s not really possible or worth it to attempt classifying them as a third type.
Assuming I understood him correctly, I’m not so certain I agree.
I believe that either his typology of trans women may be missing at least one major category, or that the root of transsexualism may in fact be a single thing that is later differentiated by a person’s sexual orientation. I’ve spoken about this theory with several transsexuals, both MtF and FtM, and so far the ones that feel like they’ve fallen through the cracks seem to relate quite strongly.
Before I begin, I would like to point out that sometimes these fringe cases are either autogynephiles that are in denial out of a lack of self-awareness or shame; or they are repressed homosexuals, often raised in strict religious environments, that tried very hard be regular members of straight society but were unsuccessful and eventually transitioned.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to someone on Twitter who felt himself an expert on the typology. After sharing my essay “(A5) Onset” with him, which describes my initial nightmarish experience with gender dysphoria at an early age, he responded by saying that he had read somewhere that autoandrophobia could be a possible third phenotype and gave me enough information to find a link to where it was mentioned.
I was excited- it sounded extremely promising. But after reading through dozens of pages of research material I found it mentioned only once, in passing. Further searching has led to nothing else, and so I have been left to work it out on my own.
Thus, what follows is a combination of self-examination, reason, and an honest attempt at self-awareness. It’s taken me months to put these ideas together, and I am hoping that putting them here may inspire someone with a lot more clout and money than I possess to either legitimize these ideas or discredit them. That said, I have successfully used them to predict the experiences of other transwomen who I felt, like me, are perhaps neither HSTS or AGP, as well as some transmen.
As the term implies, autoandrophobia/autogynephobia (we’ll combine them and call it A*P for short) is transsexualism caused by a phobia or repulsion to one’s genitalia or secondary sex characteristics. Originally I saw this as a third type, but the more I consider, the more I have begun to wonder if it may not have some legitimacy as the root of both, and that it only appears to be a third type in cases where a person’s life experiences have been fairly unusual, which would explain its apparent rarity. For the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll begin by expressing the idea as if it were indeed a third type.
Where HSTS dysphoria is largely social, and AGP dysphoria is mostly physical, A*P dysphoria would be equally both and neither.
For HSTS, the root of their dysphoria is the incongruence with their sexual orientation, body type, and personality within the social sphere. They usually transition to escape social problems- things like relentless bullying for their natural femininity and often discover themselves to have moved up quite a bit in the social ladder among strangers for having done so. For HSTS FtMs, it’s a little different, but I’m not nearly so versed in what they go through.
AGP dysphoria is rooted in the mental conception of who they’d be if they’d been born female instead of male. They’re the ones that are more likely to insist that really they were always women, while in actuality they’ve often lived as some of the most masculine men you’ll ever meet. Most people are extremely surprised when they decide to transition. AGP female identity is a mental construct, thus, AGP dysphoria is a fairly static thing. An AGP’s experience of phantom vagina is a natal male’s idea of what a vagina would feel like, and this experience can be memetically induced. It’s important to note that this isn’t a conscious choice on the part of the AGP. It’s nothing they’ve chosen or want for themselves any more than anyone wants anything that makes them frustratingly different. Backwards as it may seem, HSTS tend to be more likely to come to terms with their male genitalia.
A*P dysphoria, if it indeed exists, would be a different animal entirely.
Let’s take a moment to examine the fallout effect of having a phobia of one’s genitals. It might sound funny, or strange, but I’m completely serious. Would you like to cuddle up with a venomous snake or a bed of Black Widow spiders? How about sleeping next to a wall of small, rhythmically-placed worm-burrowed holes, fearing that whatever made them will soon make its way over and begin burrowing into you? How about cuddling with an evil clown? These are comparatively tame by comparison.
The most comforting thing about all these phobias is that you can run away from them. But if you’re repulsed or afraid of something permanently attached to you, you can’t get away. Wherever you go, it goes, and the only recourse you have is to either try to cut it off or to just try not to think about it- repression. In a situation like this, anything that reminds of you that you’ve got that thing can trigger a form of panic attack that one might call “gender dysphoria”.
My feeling is that whatever would initiate this phobia would occcur so early in a child’s life that it would be very unusual for it to be a conscious memory.
Unlike HSTS, A*P males would not necessarily be innately feminine, and unlike AGPs they wouldn’t start out with a desire to be women, though it’s easy to see how that desire would develop as a coping mechanism, and how it could eventually split during the early stages of puberty to resemble either of Blanchard’s types. More on this later.
The principle motivation of an A*P would not be that they wish to become the opposite sex, but a total aversion to being the sex they are. Thus, their physical and social dysphoria would be connected more strongly to the invalidation of their sex characteristics rather than their validation.
As children, A*Ps would be moderately GNC because as a child one’s masculine or feminine features are minimal and clothing is often gender neutral. But sometimes certain kinds of gendered play can cause problems, and so they may often end up spending most of their time with children of the opposite sex, who would tend to play more interesting games and are more accepting of their tendencies to avoid certain things. Because of this, A*Ps would likely tend to develop a naturally opposite body language, fashion sense, and movement style. An artificially acquired gender non-conformity (GNC)
A*P sexuality would be incredibly complex, but most often they would tend to act as bisexual, pansexual, or asexual. Because A*Ps would have an aversion to their natal sex, they initially would not prefer to see themselves as either male or female, or they would try not to think about it at all. Because of this, they may never develop an innate sense that they need to choose to be attracted to one sex or the other and may end up being attracted to both or neither, or have unusual reasons for pairbonding. Additionally, coping mechanisms related to the phobia may help to explain the onset of certain paraphilias, which may sometimes appear to replace the initial sexual orientation entirely.
In the case of a male A*P, they may find females attractive and easy to get along with, but since sexual relations with them require using the part of them that is the phobia trigger, they tend to avoid pursuing them. Conversely, they may find males to be very attractive and while they may desire to be penetrated, anal sex is socially considered a function of male homosexuality and gay men tend to be very interested in their partner’s penises. Thus, they will be less likely to pursure males either. Depending on how powerful the aversion they feel is, a strong enough mental or emotional connection would potentially be able to break through this.
Ultimately, one would think that with such an intense dysphoria, A*Ps would be first in line for bottom surgery. However, actively ignoring the existence of a part of you from early childhood as a coping mechanism would mean that many A*Ps eventually get over the active phobia and are left with a constant sense of mild discomfort. And to a male A*P, genital surgery would take the thing they’re most repulsed by and put it inside of them. So a lot of them will be on the fence about SRS and their conflicted desire for it won’t vary much no matter how intense their current level of dysphoria. For a natally female, the limitations of FtM SRS would probably be a constant reminder that would seem worse than the original dysphoria. More males would undergo surgery than females. Most commonly, both would be far more concerned with the rest of their appearance due to the probability that their dysphoria is predominantly triggered by social cues that remind them of their natal sex, and by extension, the shape of their body.
A*P social dysphoria would be intense, but unlike AGPs they would never be satisfied with people placating them with pronouns. If A*P dysphoria is triggered by someone reminding them of the fact they have certain characteristics, then social placation is simply not good enough because verbal placation is not the same as genuine belief and this comes through in social interactions. In order to genuinely escape the trigger, it would need to be real and constant, and therefore the A*P priority in transition would be passing perfectly as the opposite sex, or at least doing so well enough that it alleviates the dysphoria.
Pure A*Ps would tend to be very androgynous in personality and avoid stereotypically natal sex-oriented careers like the plague. So you’d never find a male career military A*P or construction worker because even the thought of building up muscle mass would trigger them. Females would likely be more attracted to more masculine jobs. Because of this, they would be more likely to end up having neither a feminine or masculine look to them and end up moderately androgynous regardless of genetics.
If they happen to be attractive, their brand of androgynous style is often very alluring to both sexes, and while A*Ps would rarely pursue a potential partner, the more attractive ones would often be pursued by others. The predominant sex that pursues them would be the way they percieve their own sexual orientation. Less attractive ones would not be pursued, and may come to see themselves as asexual.
It feels good to be pursued, especially when one has a constant sense that they look repulsive, and so an A*P would almost always respond positively to a persistent potential partner, no matter their sex or gender and whether it’s a good idea for them or not. Because this is not a good basis for a relationship, even if the relationship aspect works usually well, it would rapidly break down in the bedroom. By the time they transition, A*Ps would have a string of short or mid-term failed relationships behind them.
Regarding the males, when they transition, they wouldn’t naturally pass flawlessly like HSTS. However, unlike AGPs, they would not typically come across as men in dresses even though people can usually tell that’s what they are. This is partly because if and when they do come across that way, it would have the effect of making them feel as if the feminine style exacerbates public perception of their masculinity. If they don’t, their sense of style and lifelong aversion to masculinity would give them a sort of acquired feminine grace that lends credence to the fashion. Moreover, because they do not fetishize the clothing, they don’t tend to over-exaggerate style. AGPs often come across as cartoonish, HSTS as more stereotypically feminine than most natal women, and A*P males would come across as clockable but oddly ethereal and androgynous. They’re the kind of transwomen that are obviously trans but somehow appear to fit themselves perfectly. Not that they’d feel like anything of the sort.
I’m starting to go bleary-eyed, and I think I could write rather a lot more, but I want to stop here and shift gears because I think it equally possible that A*P is actually the root cause of many cases of transsexualism that appear to be HSTS or AGP but don’t perfectly fit the typology and I wish to discuss how that could occur.
We know that the brains of homosexual males and females more closely resemble the brains of the opposite sex, and that sexual orientation is largely an inborn trait. True bisexuals are extremely rare- more often any given person will have a strong preference for one sex or the other but be open to other experiences. (For example, having a “college phase”). We also know that most GNC children grow up to become homosexuals, rather than transsexuals.
What if A*P is the impetus that makes the difference in these cases? A young homosexual child who is deathly afraid of developing their natal characteristics would be expected to act exactly like we see HSTS children act, and a phobia would posit a very reasonable explanation for how such children are able to maintain their GNC through all kinds of abuse. They’re simply more afraid of being like their natal sex than they are of being mistreated, which ought to say something about just how intense the experience of gender dysphoria really is, and why it can and does sometimes lead to suicide attempts.
A*P in homosexual males would align very nicely with their natural inclinations, and so predicting their trajectory would be quite simple. It also explains an aspect of HSTS dysphoria that I’ve always felt was lacking in Blanchard’s explanations- HSTS absolutely display intense physical dysphoria despite the assertion that they transition entirely due to social factors. While I do think some HSTS really do transition for purely practical reasons, I simply don’t buy that that’s the case for all, or even most of them. From what I’ve seen, they’re far, far too motivated for that.
In heterosexual children, it becomes much more complex.
I ought to point out that I do not believe, in any case, that A*P explains away every case of AGP/AAP. The way to differentiate between the two would most likely be the age of symptom onset and the sort of careers and activities they are attracted to, as well as their penchant for delusional thinking. A*Ps will report more credible experiences from a much earlier age and often be able to provide proof, yet may still develop on an AGP/AAP trajectory.
Most likely, it would look like a moderately GNC child that suddenly encounters puberty. Because it would be positively traumatic for them, and because their bodies would be developing normally for their sex, it’s possible that the phobia is transmuted into a form of anatomical AGP- desire is the yin-yang counterpart to fear. Take an intense and pervasive (and often repressed for survival) phobia, add a sudden and intense sexual energy, and the result is going to look like a sudden paraphilia or rapid onset gender dysphoria.
Autogynephiles and autoandrophiles often experience sensations they refer to as a “phantom vagina” or “phantom penis”. I’ve discussed this odd sensation with others and it does seem to come in two types: in one version, it’s usually a similar thing every time. In the other, it’s extremely variable.
AGP/AAP phantom genitals are a fantasy overlay, a male or female’s idea of what it would feel like to be the opposite sex. It often focuses on that area specifically, and because the fantasy changes frequently so does the idea of how having the other part would feel. AGP/AAPs are generally rather proud of their phantom genitals and will speak of them often as proof of their having brain intersex or some other condition that they seem to feel validates them. Maybe they’re right, but that’s my read on it.
A*P types wouldn’t have any particular desire to be the opposite sex and don’t fetishize the idea of having the opposite genitals or characteristics, but the ones they have are a source of serious dysphoria. If they engage in penetrative sex, a subconscious part of them would likely recoil and pull back or push forward, respectively, creating a kind of reactionary, repulsion-induced inverted proprioceptive genital sensation. Usually it’s not clear to them what is happening, and they might also call it a phantom vagina. However, unlike the AGP variety, the depth and intensity is usually very similar to the shape of their genitals, just reversed.
Finally, unlike AGP/AAPs, neither HSTS or A*Ps have a natural tendency towards becoming delusional about whether or not they’re the opposite sex. HSTS, which are the most naturally similar to their target sex will be the first to admit that they’re male or female. They’re ladyboys or trans dudes and they’re cool with it. While they still experience dysphoria, and I believe the physical dysphoria is significantly worse for HSTS transmen, if you talk to them one on one they’ve usually got nothing to prove and no need to prove it. A*Ps don’t have a mental construct insisting that they’re secretly the opposite sex despite what society thinks. Most of the time, A*P identification with the opposite sex begins with the fact that if you’re rejecting you’re own category, there aren’t too many other categories to choose from.
One could postulate that this may help to explain the existence of non-binary dysphoria, and I believe that it might, but it may also be a moot point since generally speaking I don’t believe that A*P dysphoria would let them stop in the middle with any kind of comfort, leaving them in a very odd place, emotionally.
In any case, that’s my argument as it stands. I feel like I could blather on for quite a while longer, but the whole concept is so complex I’m not quite certain how to organize it and anyway, it’s really just observation and a whole lot of too much thinking. I have no data to prove this: it’s just an idea. That said, I hope that it is an interesting idea, and one which may be worth putting some study into.
By the way, I have a few ideas on how exactly to go about doing that, if anyone happens to have a lot of money lying around and a burning curiosity.