I AM AN AUTOGYNEPHILE.
Maybe not in the fullest “clinical” sense as many others who fall into that category, but I’ve come to realize over the past few years–through a lot of painful introspection yet ironically exhilarating self-discovery–that the label is both a legitimate descriptor for a certain kind of human experience, and that it does apply to me in a real way.
Before I continue, I should probably define for the casual reader what an autogynephile is. The condition–autogynephilia, it’s referred to–is essentially when a heterosexual male comes to “map” an idealized erotic female target onto himself, becoming thus a kind of “self-lover”. That’s what the word literally means, in fact, rendered from the Greek: auto- (self), gyne- (woman), phil- (love). A lover of one’s self as a woman.
(Does it make sense now why all the illustrations on my blog are women? LOL)
Autogynephilia seems most often to manifest itself with sexual arousal at the thoughts of being a woman, dressing as a woman or engaging in female gender expressions, or especially, engaging in sex as a woman. The textbook case of this is the habitual “fetishistic cross-dresser”: someone for whom masturbatory experience is enhanced or even incomplete without male-to-female crossdressing. The American Psychological Association, following Ray Blanchard et al’s autogynephilia typology, distinguishes (in fact, pathologizes as a paraphilia, a “transvestic disorder”!) the autogynephilic transsexual from the more “classic” transgendered individual. It’s beyond the scope of this paragraph and in fact this entire blog post to deal with the heated and ever-raging debate over the validity of Blanchard’s typology, except to say that despite his and others’ solid research data, there are indeed a few problematic aspects to the theory. Trans activist Julia Serano has offered a strong critique of the typology in her paper, “The Case Against Autogynephilia” (Int J of Transgenderism, (3): 176-187). Nevertheless, I’m finally prepared to accept Blanchard et al as being largely correct.
I want to pause here to describe and emphasize a few things about myself. In his typology, Blanchard described different subtypes of autogynephiles: transvestic, behavioral, physiologic, and anatomic: those who become sexually aroused by thoughts of dressing, behaving, having the body functions of, and the body of a woman, respectively. I fit in very few of those categories. I’m only very very slightly physically aroused by cross-dressing (and when I do it, I do so for comfort, not out of any erotic impulse), nor by cross-gender expression like painting my nails, and rarely by fantasies of a womanly body or bodily function, even in sex. (Although to be honest, when I’m experiencing the sublime sexual pleasure of prostate stimulation through anal penetration, my mind can’t help but go there. Plus there’s my strong attraction to and desire to suck cocks, but that’s a different issue I think.) Rather, I find myself in this odd and seemingly scientifically undocumented autogynephilic subtype of a man who is sexually and romantically aroused by simply fantasizing of transsexual “metamorphosis”, and who desperately wants to be seen by others as legitimately feminine in some aspects. It’s as if I really do have a “feminine self”, and there’s some sense of sexual fulfillment to be had in that being recognized. Long story short, I don’t have a secret drawer of bras and thigh-highs. This is mental and emotional. But still very erotic, and very autogynephilic. I just want to be a beautiful woman, and be seen as a beautiful woman.
One last thing I want to talk about:
The stereotype. Well, maybe that’s not the best word, because I think the most anybody really might think about autogynephilia per se–assuming they even knew the word–is some fat middle-aged guy wearing red thigh-highs and heels (which to be honest, is a pretty gross image, no matter who you are). So instead, let me talk about the unfair and needless pathologizing of the condition.
I’ll start by acknowledging that a lot of married men who realize their autogynephilia late in life behave very selfishly and ultimately deeply wound many people in pursuit of their erotic self-realization. They become fully transgender, and follow that with tens of thousands of dollars of hormone therapy, cosmetic surgeries, gender therapy, sex reassignment surgery, etc. This is to say nothing of the emotional and psychological toll that this phenomenon can take on a partner and the family, if the man puts his erotic needs above those needs of his wife and home. I have chatted with “trans widows” who have been abandoned by (autogynephilic) men/trans-women that pursued their dreams of transition at the expense of their families. It’s heartbreaking, and these women are grief-stricken and furious. So my point in saying this is that whatever ill will there is out there towards autogynephilic men, some of it is justified by the behavior of a few. (Who knows, how many.)
But this poor behavior of a few does not warrant–nor does the research of Blanchard warrant–the pathologizing, alienating, delegitimizing, and antagonizing of a group of men who have developed a type of sexual affect that is beyond their control. Blanchard and others refer to autogynephilia as having arisen from a “target location error”, ie, in which the erotic target is misplaced onto one’s self or something else. An “error” it may be, but I fail to see how it can be an erotic error any more than homosexuality is an erotic “error” (which the DSM-V no longer categorizes as such). Further: in classifying autogynephilia as being subtyped under “transvestic disorder”, the DSM-V necessarily categorizes it as “[causing] distress or impairment to the individual or … entail[ing] personal harm, or risk of harm, to others.” I’m here to tell you–and I’m sure millions of men would back me up on this–this just ain’t necessarily the case. One last weird thing: When Blanchard was criticized along the lines that autogynephilic transsexuals tended to experience less autogynephilia after transition, he suggested that the condition is both a paraphilia and a sexual orientation [!]. This seems pretty odd to me, as I’m very happily married to my wife, and I think she would say so too. I don’t need a phantom “mirror” woman-self to be in love with and married to.
I think it very unfair that autogynephilia is pathologized the way it is. Maybe it’s psychologically unhealthy. Maybe therapy would be appropriate. Certainly it sometimes causes problems in relationships. But I do not personally feel that there’s a “cure” for it any more than there’s a “cure” for homosexuality. Nor does there need to be.
I’ve accepted it, and I’m not ashamed to be erotically drawn to my feminine ideal.