Autogynephilia: Aroused by the Image of Yourself as the Opposite Sex

Although I’ve been focused on finishing my book, the subject of transgender psychology has lately absorbed a lot of my interest. My fear that I might offend readers and provoke further attacks has stopped me from writing more about it, but I’ve decided to try opening a conversation on the subject by asking questions rather than putting forth definitive theories. In retrospect, I was quite naive in thinking that I could weigh in on this subject based on my limited experience. I knew that transgender politics was a controversial area but I had no idea just how charged and vitriolic it has become. Every time I begin to write, I do a little more research and find myself drawn into the online debates; I’m often shocked by the name-calling, profanity, and abuse that come up when people disagree.The comments I received were mild in comparison!

One of my clients sent me a copy of J. Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would be Queen, a fascinating but in some ways insensitive book about transsexualism. From there, I went on to learn about Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence, with whom I’ve corresponded several times. All three are researchers within the area of transsexualism and have worked directly with men and women who identify as trans. Lawrence herself is a male-to-female transsexual who has lived as a woman for many years and counsels those who are contemplating transition. If you’re familiar with these names, you know that these three are hated within the transgender community. I don’t propose to defend or criticize any of them. I only want to discuss a phenomenon I learned about while researching this area. In order to describe a condition he found in many of his subjects, Blanchard coined the term autogynephilia: a male’s sexual arousal at the idea of himself as the opposite sex. Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence have all written extensively about this condition.

This term itself is highly controversial and provokes outrage within the transgender community; I don’t propose to go into the arguments pro or con. Instead, I want to puzzle for a moment over this phenomenon. However rare, the condition does exist. Whether or not it fully explains the desire to transition, there are no doubt a number of men who become aroused when they envision themselves as having the anatomy of a woman, particularly breasts and genitals. Google the term and in addition to all the raging controversy, you will find blogs and first-person accounts of men who recognize themselves in this description.

For many of you, this condition may come as a surprise. I was surprised, too, although it stirred memories of Freud’s Schreber case. Many years ago at the beginning of my analytic training, we read this case in seminar. I led discussion that week and put forward a theory that Schreber’s delusion of being slowly transformed into a woman by divine rays embodied a fantasy of becoming himself the object of his desires. Back then, I saw it in terms of object relations theory, with its emphasis upon need and dependency. Schreber, I argued, couldn’t tolerate feelings of desire and longing for the “breast,” to put it in shorthand, and in order to escape from or deny those feelings, he imagined becoming the object of desire himself.

I wonder whether autogynephilia represents a similar dynamic. It strikes me as a kind of narcissism — not in the current DSM sense but in the classically Freudian view of taking oneself as the object of one’s own libido. I’m not asserting this as true but merely wondering aloud. How does it strike you? I asked Lawrence whether autogynephilic MtF transsexuals go on to develop intimate, committed relationships with women following transition, and she told me that most do, but some remain deeply attached to themselves as sexual object. She refers to these MtF transsexuals as “analloerotic” — having little or no sexual interest in other people, which is not the same as being asexual or completely without desire. The sexual desires of these analloerotic transsexuals are restricted to themselves as objects.

In her most recent book, Lawrence describes one MtF transsexual, Ms. Z, who needed to fantasize about herself as female in order to achieve orgasm with her partner. These fantasies required her to psychologically abandon that partner in a way that she, Ms. Z, found distressing. To me, this points to a conflict between human interdependency (“I need and desire you in this moment of intimacy”) versus narcissistic self-absorption (“I search for what I want in my own body”). Does it strike you the same way? The fact that Ms. Z felt that she was abandoning her partner seems crucial: the autogynephilic fantasy interfered with feeling close to her partner. How would you feel if you learned that your partner was fantasizing about his own feminized body while you were having sex? Speaking only for myself, I would find that to be an alienating experience.

Lawrence does not see this as a form of narcissism because, she says, MtF autogynephilic transsexuals are not grandiose or entitled. I think her view here is constrained by a focus on the DSM symptomatolgy of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, rather than understanding narcissism as a continuum (the central position of my new book). Does sexually desiring only oneself reflect a kind of self-inflation and a devaluing of external sexual objects? Isn’t this a kind of narcissism? Narcissus was enthralled by his own reflection, and to this day, we still use the image of a person staring into a mirror in order to symbolize narcissism. How is that different from getting turned on by the idea of yourself instead of by another person?

Just asking. Please feel free to weigh in but let’s confine discussion to this subset of transsexual men, rather than to over-arching generalizations about the diverse transgender community. I will not approve any comments that attack Lawrence, Bailey, or Blanchard since we’re not discussing them but this undoubtedly real phenomenon called autogynephilia.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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55 comments

    can’t comment on the narcissism (don’t have enough understanding) or the various sexuality and sexual orientation aspects (personally am rather uninterested in this subject – sex is way overrated, so are issues around it) but the first thought I had upon reading your question was that maybe the person had intense fear of dependence on others? to be intimate with someone, one has to allow a certain degree of dependency on the other, which may be unimaginable for some people; in order to be comforted (sexually) they would have to “do it” on their own terms – with themselves, even if it’s just fantasy -…. and I think this goes beyond just sexuality, but perhaps for some people this fear of dependency is manifested in this way? …… not sure whether this is a lay person’s interpretation of narcissism (not the “NPD” kind, but the normal human condition kind)

    Yes, this is basically what I was trying to get across. Dependency definitely seems to be the issue. From my point of view, it is one of the central strands in narcissism, particularly the grandiose element: “I already contain everything that I need within myself.” In this way, the person never has to experience need or dependency.

    (welcome back to the online world, btw – another overrated place, although I can’t talk as I am obviously online myself)

    Joe” subset of transsexual men”, do you mean MtF?
    Like you, I have also been checking online re trans sexuality . I really can’t remember this being such as big an issue in my youth. People believing they are born in the wrong body. And yes, it would seem to be an area I just don’t dare enter.. Coward, me.
    Obviously , you have continued to be interested in the phenomena.. Is this explosion just happening in the US, I wonder? Or, are transgender people just being more vocal.
    Has it become more prevalent since the 70s, since Feminism exploded. Confusing the gender stereotypes?
    Too confusing all up for me..

    Yes, Dolma — I mean MtF transsexuals, those who are autogynephilic.

    It is indeed confusing! I think that there have always been people who have felt this way, but as our society becomes more open and tolerant, less moralistic, it becomes possible for them to voice and act on their fantasies, rather than having to suppress them.

    I think it’s also a realization that gender as an either/or proposition doesn’t work for everyone. Assigned gender comes from external genitalia. But what about chromosomal “males” with androgen sensitivity syndrome? Or the other 10% of births where the child is intersex?

    I find this subject very interesting, mainly because my ex became transgender towards the end of our relationship. When we met he was a virgin, though in his early thirties, which shocked me actually. When I got to know his family there seemed to be a definite taboo on sexuality and especially male sexuality by his mother ( the only woman in the family) as if being “male” was some kind of threat. I noticed that in photographs of him when a toddler he appeared to look like a girl… and I voiced out loud to him that maybe his mother had wanted a girl… (a bit brazen of me but we could talk a bit openly as we were both in therapy). When he was in his teens he had a break down and developed OCD and wrongly believed he had committed sexual act against someone, this I had never heard of before either. I think it’s significant that sex was equated with a crime. We stopped being sexually active as I was ill and he was going through internal changes I wasn’t aware of, but he tried to then re-introduce it with the idea of sado-masochistic sex and showed me a book about it, this never got anywhere as the relationship ended anyway, but i couldn’t understand why he wanted such impersonal sex, not about love or intimacy, but something else. … never worked out what, except that the role-play involved “master-slave” roles which may have reflected on his unresolved family relationships? After that the cross-dressing thing came up which confused me even more, the only thing I could ask was “what’s wrong with being a man….?” to which I got a pained expression but no answer. Our relationship deteriorated as he became secretive and more narcissistic. His ideal was a picture of a beautiful thin young woman with make up on, the opposite of what he was, which he pasted on the wall…. He also managed to put himself in a position whereby any querying of the cross dressing was deemed politically incorrect, which seemed to me gave him a valid social identity which didn’t have to displease his mother from which he could also attack others if queried, as politically incorrect. It just seemed to me to be a kind of set-up or complicated defense, interacting as it does with a cultural concept and transgender community to validate it, to avoid growing up “male”. From his new position as “transgender” he can continue to avoid the issues that drove him there in the first place. I can see he might be happier like that, and I’m glad of that, society has provided him with a defense or solution to something, but I think Jo’s take on the issue is valid and substantial, because in the end, what’s wrong with being a man and being seen as a man?

    Daisy, this is a fascinating account. Of course we can’t generalize from the experience of your ex but it does present some plausible alternatives to the “born in the wrong body” explanation, at least for him/her. I’m interested that he became more interested in S&M (which I agree seems less intimate, more impersonal) and that you found him more narcissistic over time as the trans fantasy took hold.

    There’s an enormous art literature involving the adoption of the other gender. I wonder if the compulsion to change one’s body permanently into the other gender is an offshoot of a buried strand human culture. Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia has a character who spends most of this massive romance disguised as a woman with Sidney referring to ‘her’ not ‘him.’ Physical identity and psychological identity feed off each other. Perhaps we should evolve as snails have into a hermaphrodite.

    I can’t help but think that autogynephilia and narcissism are two distinct disorders. Autogynephilia is a sexual fetish whereas narcissism is a personality disorder. I doubt that someone with autogynephilia would necessarily have to display any of the characteristics of narcissism such as lack of empathy or a need for affirmation.

    It might help to think less in terms of the artificial disease model of mental illness that the DSM has unfortunately codified. Just because we’ve learned to call these phenomena by different diagnostic labels doesn’t mean they are actually distinct categories of experience.

    Yes, I can definitely relate to this. Sometimes I do become autogynephilic. But very rarely. I didn’t know this had a name. I am always surprised by how almost every human experience has been documented.
    From my experience, I believe this had to do with my dependency issues. I like women, but find it hard to get close to people. I am also curious whether this also might be because of the lack of females in my life. I was mostly a loner growing up and never had the chance to date or anything. I wonder if becoming the woman is the only way I could satisfy my longing sense there was literally no other choice.
    I am curious to hear what you have to say about men who are attracted to transsexual MtF. I think that would be an interesting post. I’ve heard different theories but they never quite satisfy me, seeing as how I am attracted to them myself, I would like to hear what you have to say about it. Thanks.

    Greg, I’m grateful to you for your honesty. Your assessment seems about right to me. If you can’t get close to or make contact with the object of your desire, it makes sense in a way to fantasize that you already have them within yourself.

    I have no experience with men who are attracted to MtF transsexuals so I won’t venture an opinion. If you have views on the subject, based on your own experience, I’d love to hear them.

    I really have no idea what the attraction is all about, that’s why I was hoping you would have some answers . Any attempt I make to give a reason just ends up sounding theoretical.

    Hi J, I don’t know anything about these complex issues and salute your courage exploring them. Agreeing to disagree seems out of favor when such deeply held beliefs are involved. bd

    Hi Joseph, thanks for your interesting articles. Sorry to hear that you have been received attacking responses. We had a psychoanalytic conference here in Melbourne in May which focussed on atypical gender development and we had Domenico Di Ceglie and Giovanna Rita Di Ceglie, both from the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock & Portman
    NHS Foundation Trust, they’re presentation was very respectful and supportive of trans and atypical gender issues. You might like to make contact with them. I had not heard of autogynephilic transexuals, of course it is important to be curious about the function the fantasy – especially for patients who feel their life is impacted by this. I am a little cautious about labelling it as narcissistic, because it reminds me of the common psychoanalytic thinking that same-sex attraction is narcissistic. I think there are aspects of narcissism in all our love/sex relations including heterosexual relationships, there is an identification with aspects of self (internal objects) in the other. I think this area is fraught because psychoanalytic thinkers have in the past been so quick to pathologise, it is nice to see people like yourself treading carefully and thoughtfully. Regards Adam

    Thanks, Adam. And I will look into the work of Drs. Di Ceglie. I agree about our tendency to pathologize, and I understand your caution. But don’t you think there’s a difference between calling it narcissistic to be attracted to one’s own gender (which I consider wrong-headed) and calling it narcissistic to be attracted to oneself? If you’re more interested in yourself than other people, that seems almost by definition to be narcissistic.

    And yes, there are aspects of narcissism in all our love/sex relations. It’s all along a continuum.

    Hi Dr. Burgo,
    a few random thoughts are all I can offer:
    I agree with you that fantasizing about one’s own feminized body during sex is an alienating experience for the partner and it does sound narcissistic. More narcissistic than fantasizing about a third person. But is fantasizing about a third person – which, I guess, happens fairly often and is considered normal (or even inevitable in longterm relationships) by many people – any less alienating for the abandoned partner?
    The fact that Ms. Z found it distressing to abandon her partner in that way indicates to me that she is not that far gone on the spectrum of narcissism. A dyed-in-the-wool narcissist would not have felt any distress.

    I agree about Ms. Z. And I wondered the same thing about the way many people fantasize about someone else during sex. I wouldn’t call that narcissistic but I’m not quite ready to say that it doesn’t mean anything.

    Dr. B, I am not surprised you have been attacked, freedom of speech is reserved for a specific segment of society who have proclaimed their position on a myriad of topics and who expect NO examination of same from any dissenter.

    ANYTHING needs to be dissected to determine if there are any flaws in the mix, and it is always healthy to question things and seek a refined knowledge on any subject.

    Unfortunately it appears that academia no longer teaches examination of things, but dictates to students WHAT to think instead of HOW to think from a position of putting things in question under the microscope.

    I am on with Henry wheeler Shaw when he said, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

    I very much agree with this perspective. I realize that I’ve been a bit insensitive in my use of terms like “thought police,” but it does seem as if we live in an environment where you will be hated and attacked if you don’t agree with certain attitudes that are widely acceptable by those who hold liberal views. I’m all in favor of respectful disagreement. Thanks!

    Dr. B, the reality is that there are three ways to both look at things, and to do things…the wrong way, the right way, and the American way. The current “in vogue” way is to FIRST develop a discipline/belief system and then TRY to twist the facts around those VIEWS to make them fit/validate the dogma. Results of such pitiful attempts, is synonymous with someone taking a multitude of round wooden peg boards and pounding into them square pegs. Both the facts and the dogmatic insisters that swear square pegs will fit perfectly into round holes are dreadfully mangled, with gaping wounds that never heal.

    It is logical today to refuse to be confused by the facts and instead to blindly insist that up is down, black is white, right is wrong and wrong is right. To question the “mantra” is to be an instant infidel, labelled(libelled) hopelessly lost, and rejected arbitrarily.

    The kicker I see was well stated by Voltaire, “common sense is not so common.” This is truer now than at any other time in history.

    A “la la land” existence seems to suit most in this day of “everything is right, no matter what the issue, and where emotions and unproven belief systems take front row center over scientific reason, common sense and scrutiny.

    Something similar occurred a long while before my time, I think it was called the “Inquisition.”

    Regarding the use of dogma to override facts, did you see the article in the Sunday NYT about this very issue? You can find it here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/upshot/when-beliefs-and-facts-collide.html?_r=0

    Paul Krugman had a follow-up piece in today’s paper:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/07/opinion/paul-krugman-conservative-delusions-about-inflation.html?_r=0

    Both authors are referring to conservatives but this phenomenon shows up all over the political spectrum.

    Great articles Dr. B. The issue about global warming is not whether or not it is happening, it is all about whether we are adding to an occurrence that has happened before many times and is now cyclical. As in all else, it is all about the dollar and the extra taxes that can be extracted from the herd by the corrupt system and the loonies like Gore and Suzuki who are respectively a politician and a mere geneticist, making their perspectives but opinions. It is the same in a court, a decision is often not founded on facts, but is an opinion.

    In such matters, “irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors. (Thomas Campbell)

    Keep on trucking Dr. B.

    I agree with keg’s perspective too. I was actually somewhat surprised that you approached this topic again given the ugly attacks that your other articles generated. I’m glad that didn’t let it stop you from exploring the topic further.

    “I realize that I’ve been a bit insensitive in my use of terms like “thought police,” but it does seem as if we live in an environment where you will be hated and attacked if you don’t agree with certain attitudes that are widely acceptable by those who hold liberal views.”

    For what it is worth I didn’t feel that you were being insensitive given the situation and attacks. What you said didn’t warrant such behaviors.

    Thanks for posting those links too and I agree about how the phenomenon shows up all over the political spectrum.

    Maybe I’m sharing too much information, but hey it’s anonymous so it’s all good.
    I’m male and weird when it comes to sexuality. Maybe it was because I was always horny growing up and had a limited porn stash (unlike the soviets), but I used to try on female clothing items. I’m not sure if it was attractive because it felt so wrong. Maybe it was the thrill of the danger of being caught.
    I had a male friend at that time that seemed like a bit of a psychopath (overused, I know). We started having anal sex just to try it out. We weren’t homosexuals, but as 13 year olds without girlfriends we were quite starved for sex (think prison booty). We made a deal that we would take penetrating the other in turns and the one who gets penetrated dresses up as a girl, to make it more convincing. We even went as far as shaving our ass-hair.
    Looking back, I think both of us felt too inadequate to appeal to any women. He was a scrawny and short kid and I was being bullied quite badly at school. I think that a great deal of that shame of not being worthy of sex from women is still with me today, as a virgin man in his early 20s (sorry to speak in 3rd person).
    Every now and then I still put on some female clothes when I’m aroused, and I’ve bought tighter fitting jeans (still not skinny jeans, just tight fit so my ass is defined).
    When I put on female clothes I feel a sense of security but mixed with feeling attractive. It’s sort of like a sense of security within the tribe, that I’m not too ugly to belong and that I won’t be shunned or ignored. Consciously I know it looks hideous (like almost any man who haphazardly dresses in women’s clothing and ends up with a cleavage of chest-hair), but that faint feeling is still there. But after I ejaculate this feeling disappears almost immediately and is replaced with a feeling of shame for wearing female clothing and thus being less desirable to any possible partner. But the aroused state feels more real, as if ejaculation triggered the repressing of those feelings that dressing up in those clothes evoked.
    If I were Freud, I would say that subconsciously I’m trying to attract my (rather absent) father.
    I wonder if all of this has a connection to my rather strong foot fetish. Maybe I feel that the only part of a woman that I can realistically “achieve” are her feet, or maybe it’s genetic and I can somehow tell which partner is more suitable based on the features of their feet. But after I masturbate to feet I get that same feeling of being less desirable to women, almost feeling that I’m a weirdo (it’s one thing to know it, another one to feel it).
    Sometimes I fantasize about having a clone of myself. Not really to have sex with myself, but because I can guarantee complete acceptance and almost emotional self-reliance. It’s almost as if I wanted to be able to reassure myself from the outside. Maybe it’s because I feel I’m not worthy of the reassurance or acceptance of anyone.
    I don’t know how close my experience is to those who are transgender. Maybe it’s because I’m terrified of surgery and/or regret, but I would never change my body’s gender. I have fantasized about being a lesbian though, but I think that’s because I don’t feel manly enough being this shy, insecure and financially dependent on my parents; specially given the macho-culture prevalent around here.
    I think sex is our attempt to get back into the womb. But I don’t know… that’s fucked up.
    Anyway, I hope this story gives some kind of insight.

    What I very much appreciate in your candid (and brave) account is your openness to psychological explanations. You seem to have an awful lot of insight into yourself and your feelings. I hope you keep on thinking and that you go on to develop a sexual relationship with a woman you find attractive and who feels the same way about you. I expect that will be a healing experience.

    I am so glad you continue to write. What a thought provoking and interesting discussion you have started here! I find it a real shame that we aren’t ‘allowed’ to write without ‘fear of attack’… surely as a writer of a psychotherapy blog you will be writing about the deepest most intimate details of people’s lives? I think some people need to remember that offence is taken and not given. If people take offence to your writing then they have some soul searching to do. After all, they could simply disregard your opinion if they don’t agree!

    I’d never heard of autogynephilia before and have been fascinated to read about it. Learning about it has made me think about my own use of a fantasy world – sexual and otherwise.

    Thanks again for getting me thinking and so great to receive notification emails of activity on your fantastic blog :)

    Greetings, all…

    “Our faults irritate us most when we see them in others…”
    — Dutch Proverb

    “Whether publicly or privately… we gender-variant folk all seem to hold that our own particular manifestation of dissociative gender identification is unique… often deep down believing that we individually hold the proprietary format on all matters gender-variant… and… divided by semantics idealistically bicker between ourselves to that end…the end result is that none of us tend to countenance our peers lightly… no doubt subconsciously looking for imperfections that we have yet to come to terms with within our own selves…”

    UNQUOTE…

    Ergo… I have no problem with “Autogynephilia: Aroused by the Image of Yourself as the Opposite Sex…”

    to wit… this octogenarian thirty-one years male-to-female postoperative pseudo-transsexual woman—rarely dreams in a female persona and then usually orgasmic—unapologetically further qualifies her appreciative enjoyment of the late Dr Biber’s handiwork for it having been limited to gifting her long sought after womanhood with the pleasures of a play pen and not the nursery…

    Ciao…

    Brenda…

    It’s interesting that you rarely dream in a female persona. I wonder what other MtF and FtM transsexuals experience in their dreams. Probably a whole variety of possibilities!

    That I rarely dream in a female persona probably stems from the fact that although I had been a closeted cross-dresser for most of my life prior to therapeutically undergoing male-to-female gender confirmation surgery at age fifty-one, I never felt that I should have been a girl or was one… I just preferred to have been one… exponentially so during my real life experience as one… I was what in the 1980s my Californian Alma mater, the Gender Dysphoria Program of Orange County Inc, would have termed a “pseudo-transsexual…” something akin to “Autogynephiliac—less any sexual orientation label…” or… as I prefer Jack Molay’s more user–friendly term “Crossdreamer…”

    Jack Molay has written a lengthy comment to me that I think bears reading:

    The Blanchard theory has been thoroughly falsified and dismissed, also by scientists. Here are some of the main arguments raised against it:

    The “autogynephiliacs” are defined by what I have called crossdreaming. Crossdreamers may get aroused by the fantasy of being their target sex. According to Blanchard androphilic trans women (“homosexual transsexuals” in Blanchard’s terminology, i.e. those who are attracted to men) never experience such fantasies. His theory requires that this must be true.

    However, Dr. Jaimie Veale’s recent studies confirm that there are man-loving crossdreamers. There are also woman-loving (gynephilic) trans women who report no crossdreaming. Blanchard’s own data shows the same thing. In other words: The theory does not reflect what we actually see.

    The theory is based on the premise that homosexuality on the one hand, and heterosexuality and bisexuality on the other, are completely separate categories with no overlap. However, we have known since Alfred Kinsey that sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation are fluid and often overlapping categories. Blanchard’s classification system is too crude to capture what is truly going on.

    Blanchard reduces desire to a simplistic stimulus/response system, where the image of a man’s or a woman’s body or body parts triggers arousal, and such signals only. This misses the point that non-transgender men and women may also get aroused by the idea of being sexy or being desired. Arousal, desire, affection and love are complex phenomena with a lot of biological and psychological feedback loops. Dr. Charles Moser has documented “autogynephilia” in non-transgender straight women, and I have found it among some lesbians and trans men.

    Blanchard is not a disinterested and objective scientist In 2013 he agreed to an interview with the web site Motherboard. In this he speaks plainly about his own beliefs. The interview he demonstrates a view of sex and sexuality, where anyone who does not conform to his strict rules of sexual normalcy are considered paraphiliacs (perverts). He defends the use of terms like “sissy” and “tranny”, and argues that homosexuality should have been kept in the American psychiatric manual.

    There is no doubt that crossdreamers (whom he calls “autogynephiliacs”) exist. I am one of them. But for most crossdreamers there is a simpler explanation that makes much more sense: Crossdreaming is not an “erotic target location error”. It is, rather, an expression of a repressed sexuality and/or gender identity.

    The trans activist and philosopher Julia Serano refers to a subconscious sex which has been repressed throughout a misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic upbringing. Dr. Jaimie Veale argues that many crossdreamers start out as introvert people pleasers, who are willing to do anything to gain the respect and love of family, friends and peers — to the point of completely obliterating their gender variance. The sex drive is strong, though, and it pushes its way through into dreams and fantasies.

    As a shy kid I managed to completely separate my crossdreamer fantasies from my understanding of myself as a non-transgender straight man. The fear of being considered a freak was so strong that I found it hard to approach women.

    The isolation some crossdreamers experience is not a lack of a capacity for the love of others, but a belief that there is no one there who would love them for who they are. They are wrong about this. I am happily married to a woman who loves me as I am. But the fear is not without reason. Having people like Blanchard classifying us as mentally ill perverts (“paraphiliacs”) is not helping transgender people and crossdreamers find love and respect.

    I have put up an extended version of this argument (with references) over at my site for cross dreamers.

    Although I am concentrating on finishing my transgender science book, I feel the need to comment on autogynephilia. First, let me assure you that, as described by Lawrence and Blanchard it is not a scientific theory. There are several different definitions offered by the proponents which are inconsistent with one another. One defines it as romantic love, several define it as fetishism. The other thing that disqualifies it from being a scientific theory is that it is not reducible to test–it cannot be operationalized. Second, the empirical data that is used to support autogynephilia is severely flawed. It reduces autogynephilia to simple sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is subject to Classical Conditioning extinction, particularly under conditions of flooding desensitization which obtain during cross dressing. Sexual arousal is not enough to maintain the behavior. Third, studies show that transgender people do not crossdress for sexual arousal but instead for relaxation and feelings of authenticity.

    Thomas, I agree that Autogynephelia is not a well substantiated theory and that the evidence at hand clearly does not support it. Further, a balanced knowledge of the long term life paths of trans women who are gynephilic (attracted to women or feminine persons) shows a much more nuanced story where sexual arousal may occur but is not causative.

    I appreciate your rigorous approach but dealing with the subject as simply one of training and desensitization is in itself simplistic and a bit dehumanizing. Also saying that “studies show” *one singlar assertion*, suggests a shallow data set and/or an incorrect assumption that all trans women are the same which, I assure you is not the case.

    My observations are from both personal experience and informal conversations with hundreds of trans women and long-term observation in a wide range of situations. Many of the trans women I know grew up and in the 50s-70s in effective isolation from each other and from any publications or media to provide memes, language or patterns. Even so, many very common patterns of behavior and though emerge.

    Cross dressing often begins as an early mechanism to appropriate and “try out” external manifestations of femininity. It commonly begins (or is first recalled) at 4, 5, 6 years of age or earlier. At this time, there is little or no erotic association or charge associated with cross-gender play or modeling. There is fear/excitement and satisfaction dependent on how sensitive and prone the individual is to social accommodation and differences in internal vs external motivation and validation.

    As the child approaches adolescence, the cross gender play can trigger sexual excitement particularly for those who are sexually and erotically oriented toward females. This percentage of trans women with some or primary gynephilic sexual orientation is well above 50%. Association of sexual excitement with cross gender play and ideation for gynephilic trans women is completely unremarkable particularly under conditions of anxiety and personal repression.

    As long as the individual remains in a situation where this is marginalized and secretive behavior, there will likely be a sexual arousal associated with cross gender modeling and ideation. When exposed to the autogenephilic meme, some may say: “Ah hah! That explains it!” and associate themselves with that idea as I know some have. Knowing why we are how we are is a strong drive and belonging to something marginal often feels better than complete isolation.

    For those who do transition socially and/or medically, the associations may continue but will likely diminish and likely disappear altogether as they begin to manifest and live in a gender role closer to their natural inclination. Estrogen HRT certainly has an impact in overall sex drive and likely has a role in this also. As life in gender role becomes normalized, the charge excitement and sexualization dissipates naturally.

    We would expect to see dramatic levels of dissatisfaction post transition if motivations for most trans women was non-stop sexual excitement brought about by feminization. Being a women is not that sexy all the time really. Most trans women are extremely satisified overall post transition though there are dissatisfactions with specifics such as surgical outcomes, social situatations, relationships etc which can be fraught with difficulties as a women and a trans person. Transitions back to assigned gender are, by my observation, due to fatigue over the difficulties, economic challenges, social rejection, loss of relationships, family alienation, possible personal violence and harassment. It correlates with lower resliance, poor support network and lower overall coping skills. There is a small fringe of individuals who say that their actual gender identity just flips back and forth but I know, have conversed with or know of a handfull.

    Depending on the individual, their personality and emotional makeup. social environment and experiences, and when the they transition, emotional and psychological damage can be and is often sustained. unsurprisingly. However, resilient individuals with good coping skills manage well and can have excellent, mutually nurturing and sexually fulfilled lives. Social stigma and sexual stigma and lingering bias is the long tail problem.

    Many trans women who have experienced sexual arousal in association with self-feminization will deny or minimize it due to negative and marginizing assumptions made by professionals and general taboos. It most definitely does not bear the hallmarks of narcissism and is generally a situational and transitory phenomenon in the overall life experience.

    Any thoughts on straight men who are not transexxual but are autogynephlic during sex or masturbation?Beyond that autogynephilia there is no desire to CD or transition or become female. Would this considered a fetish or is there some other underlying mechanism here?

    Good question. I have no experience with such men but it does sound like a kind of fetish — imagining that one already has the object of desire so one doesn’t have to feel dependent upon that object.

    Dear Joseph

    Fascinated to see the musings on focus of desire in the trans population. As an ftm, I can agree with the literature that reports significant shift in the object of sexual desire from female to male following transition.

    Pre-transition I had a “heterosexual dyad” in my fantasies (where I would usually be the male partner). Post transition I think one could say anything goes – so either male-male or male-female dyads. If asked to categorise myself now I’d probably say bisexual.

    The internal experience is that sexual desire seems to have shifted away from being defined by the other (opposite and therefore differentiate by the other) to more fluid attraction based on a far more congruent experience of self as male.

    Whether that is autoviriphilia I have no idea.

    Fascinating. I think I may have some other form of this narcissistic need to be the object. Although not as the opposite sex. I notice I get turned on by pictures of perfect women. It’s made me wonder if I’m bi but it seems purely narcissistic. I want to be the picture of perfection. And sometimes if on odd occasions I see pictures of attractive men, it somehow ends with feeling uncomfortable like you know you’ll never be in the same league and the attraction will never be reciprocated. I’ve noticed I hardly ever seek out pictures of attractive men. Wow I’m messed up. 😀

    I think my husband may have Autogynephilia! I have struggled for years to understand, is he a CD? A transsexual? I know he is very Narcissistic as he is in love with himself. Says he is a better woman than others are. Cannot handle any correction or normal family relationships. We lived separately for 24 years. I made the mistake of living with him for the past four years and i have lived to regret it. I got injured while trying to get away from him and have had to remain for a further horrible three years while I grew stronger. I will never walk well but I will find a way.
    The problem is he is starting to scare me. His Cd behavior is crazy. He hoards and continually seeks out women’s underwear! And dresses fully as a woman in his own room. The narcissism has been the most difficult thing to deal with as he really feels he is Gods gift to women and I have all but disappeared in his quest to find Narcissist supply from every young woman he can.
    During one of our now rare arguments yesterday (I always lose so I stopped trying to have boundaries, needs, desires, opinions) I felt I could not take anymore and yelled transvestite at him. Now he is giving me the silent treatment and acting as If I have mortally wounded him. His anger is because other people might have heard me call him that. (He is extremely attracted to the young girl next door) Perhaps that is why he is so angry.
    But I do not exist. And what he did to me to elicit this rare incident of name calling does not seem to matter to him. Only my wrong exists. As if I just decided to be cruel when I have been caring, patient and understanding for so long. Does not matter! He sees me as the enemy, the one who keeps him from expressing himself or something.
    I find it hard to be with someone who is ignoring me, and seems hostile. It is creating fear in me. I just want to leave so badly.
    I blame myself for letting him into my life after so many years of him coming and going and not caring about me and our son. (I was injured while walking my dog after asking him to leave) I have brought this on myself but I never realized how messed up he is or how bad it could get. I guess my question is this:
    Are transvestites, fetishists, Autogynephilists, Narcissists ever violent or dangerous? Am I in danger? Or just in fear from his gas lighting and intimidating silent treatment?
    I am determined to find a way out. But would feel better if I did not have this fear of danger to myself. I know there is no hope now.
    Although I do know that Narcissists engender fear in their partners as a means of control. It is nevertheless hard to cope with.
    How can someone be this messed up without realizing it? I believed him when he said he wanted to change, be a family, have a future together. Why do they lie? Why do they inflict such pain on someone they claim to want to be with?
    Autogynephilia explains why he is so caught up with his pursuit of female items of lingerie, and why he prefers solo sex and always has. We have not been intimate in 27 years. He does not seem to suffer from shame but rather fear of disclosure. Would shame not make him want to get help? Experts on Narcissist personality disorder say that Narcissists can benefit from behavior modification techniques and maintain a marriage and live a better life. I think perhaps the Autogynephilia makes this an impossibility. And perhaps this explains why he is content to lose us forever. Perhaps we really do not matter to him at all. He is in love with himself. But are people like this dangerous? Thank you for reading this.

    Kate, totally agree with Joe. Get away from this psychic mess!
    Although my ex husband didn’t conduct himself in a similar way to yours, I feel emotionally, some similarities exist. We lived separately for the last 20 yrs of our 30 yr marriage, due to his erratic behaviour. The ending finally came when he started wanting to live tog again. I didn’t want to, he soon found another partner and has moved to opposite end of the country.
    That was four yrs ago. I have been thru an intense time of self reflection, mainly Asking myself why the hell I stayed with this guy, having children with him? When I knew early on he had very disturbing patterns of behaviour. Threw tantrums, yelled, etc etc. The clearest answer I’ve come to, is he just hooked me into my Mothers patterns.
    My life now is so calm, filled with human stories that don’t have to go straight to the dark side. He and are children( mostly adult, though we still had a 13 yr old son, when this all blew open) are estranged. He just showed so little empathy or care for them during the breakup. Got so engrossed, so quickly, with his new woman’s life. He just wounded our children so deeply. They have just closed him out. The 13 yr old is now 17 and doing very well.
    All that stuff you are caught in with this man, I think, becomes addictive. One wants them to see the truth. But it ain’t gonna happen. Do not waste another moment in such a toxic environment.
    My suggestion, get out and have no more contact.

    This thread is probably too far past its born-on date, but I would like to add two other dimensions to the mix.

    First, why are auto-philic transsexual people almost always genetic-males-who-are-female-in-some-way, as opposed to genetic-females-who-are-male-in-some-way? If there was “nothing going on”, wouldn’t we expect a 1:1 ratio? Does the answer lie in genetics? Or does it have to do with some archetypal aspect of “woman”? Or none of the above?

    Second, many cultures feature a “third gender”. Brazil has it, India has it, Thailand has it. For something like this to exist in all these far-flung cultures seems to suggest that it’s universal to our species, Homo sapiens. And to go back to the first point, third gender people are almost always genetically male. More importantly, though, from a practical standpoint, social recognition of the third gender seems to head off a lot of problems. Modern Anglo and Germanic cultures in general tend to see things as black versus white and gender is no exception. You are either a boy or a girl. For an innately “third gender” person to be born into such a society would be hell indeed, and indeed the conflict and anguish in Anglo and Germanic societies surrounding “transsexual issues” does not seem to be universal.

    Hi there,

    I can definitely agree with you that autogynephilia and narcissism are synonymous. My now ex-husband (who has recently been diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath), in the end, revealed many of his ‘hidden fantasies and thoughts’ with me – I believe he felt that as our relationship was over he had nothing to lose – his psychologist believes he purpose was to attempt to upset me – I found it very interesting and engaged in great conversations with him about it!). He in fact engaged in many promiscuous homosexual encounters – he informed me that he was only looking for penises – he saw them as ‘detached from the rest of the body’ and was in fact repulsed by thought of having to touch another man, however it was a ‘sacrifice’ he had to make in order to fulfill his need. This need being, to have sex with himself. He fantasized about this constantly – finding a male who looked exactly like him – he found himself so arousing that he had to find a man that looked just like him to engage in sexual practices to satisfy his desires. As he couldn’t physically have sex with himself, this was the next best thing. By his own admission he declared this to be incredibly narcissistic (and yes he understood clearly that this term was on a continuum but that he resided at the ‘high end’ of it). He later confided in me that when he was engaging in these sexual practices, he would fantasize that he was woman during them – his exact words were ‘a female version of himself’. He could never find a female to mirror his image so this was his way of achieving his desires – to be able to have sex with a female version of himself. When one considers this – from the Narcissist’s point of view – it all makes perfect sense – does it not?

    hey joseph,
    Do you have any cure for AGP. I’ve been struggling since my early teenage .I’m 22 now.I’m introvert person.I’m not antisocial.I’m having trouble to embrace reality.I hope to hear from you soon.Thank you.

    I have deliberately imagined myself as male occasionally; I do this to offer internal support to myself which is lacking in my surrounding reality. There hasn’t been much in the way of “men” in my life. When I imagine myself as a man who is interested in loving me and caring for me it becomes screamingly obvious that I already DO THAT. I ALREADY fulfill the job of a man in my life.

    I don’t need to give myself a personality transplant when I imagine myself as a man. I’m already fully capable of filling THOSE shoes.

    But don’t get any wrong ideas. I’m NOT gay. As in; I’ve never had any desire towards women. My sexual orientation is towards men. I’ve been obsessed with men since I can recall. It’s just that I haven’t met many.

    I am wondering whether it is narcissistic personality structure that drives autogynephilia, or whether it is a schizoid personality structure. If you have an excruciating fear of intimacy and yet a “typical” “male” libido, would autogynephilia be a way of allowing one an outlet for one’s sexual energy whilst not challenging one’s fear of intimacy? I am using Nancy McWilliam’s definitions of narcissistic personality structure and schizoid personality structure, see http://internationalpsychoanalysis.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/McWilliamsschizoid_dynamics.pdf and also
    Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process. For me a great cinematic depiction of narcissistic personality structure is Birdman. I couldn’t imagine him with autogynephilia. To me, I wonder whether autogynephilia is a more like a private, secret pleasure for resolving two completing needs (distance from others vs sexual object desire).

    Interesting. You could be right but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on different diagnosis. I think that many of the personality disorders have much more in common than the distinct categories make it seem.

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