What is an “identity”?

[See also this, the comments I made that I’m basing this on.]

In trans contexts, some people talk about the concept of an innate gender identity. I don’t think this exists, at least not in the sense it’s usually used.

Let’s come with one example. A common policy proposal is that you should respect people’s gender identity, e.g. by using the correct pronouns. This policy has important benefits and so I’m not here to argue against this policy, but it uses “gender identity” in a sense that’s generally not innate. For example, while many trans people end up developing secret suspicions that others may be “trans and repressing it”, few would say that in such cases they are obligated to start using different pronouns. And most people who advocate for this policy don’t think you should stop using the preferred pronouns if you conclude that the person in question transitioned for “the wrong reasons”.

Instead, this policy proposal uses a rather shallow notion of gender identity, usually something like “whatever the person states they are” or “whatever the person presents as”1. This shallowness is a feature rather than a bug, but it also means that the notion of “gender identity” used isn’t especially innate. In fact, most trans people change this identity in order to transition.

In addition to not being innate, it’s also not really what we usually mean by identity. Typically a social identity is defined by a strong expression of group allegiance. For instance, people who are politically active and have strong political opinions have a strong political identity; people who publically spend a lot of money and time on a specific subject can be said to have their interest in the subject as part of their identity; and people who strongly emphasize certain attitudes or personality traits that they have may be said to have these traits as part of their identity.

These sorts of identities probably serve many purposes. For instance, they let others know what they can expect of you, they let you precommit to certain roles, they let you signal your values or skills, and they let you define yourself more. It is probably nearly impossible to talk about identities without talking about their signalling value.

Gendered things can appear in these sorts of identities. Some people reject doing things that they consider too gender-nonconforming. Some men might feel embarrassed and emasculated if they had to do things that were too feminine. Some people make it clear that they reject unfair gender roles, and may change their presentation to signal this (e.g. butch women). Some people clearly express a preference for associating with women over men, or with men over women.

The thing about these sorts of social identities is that they’re not innate. You can’t be born with genes that specify a specific political party that you should endorse. A social identity is the story you tell about yourself, and this story is written by your interactions with the world. However, you can be born with innate propensities that affect how your story is likely to be expressed. If you are very open to experiences, you are less likely to end up with a conservative political identity. As such, simple tests for innateness will definitely hint to some innate elements. This applies to gender-related social identities too; how masculine or feminine you are is going to affect how you narrate your gender experiences.

Identities aren’t necessarily easy to change, though. If you’re a liberal activist, you’d probably find it difficult to become a conservative Christian. Part of this is the many commitments you’ve made. You’d have to replace a lot of your social circles, go back on many principles you’ve endorsed, and generally lose a lot of your current life. Part of it is that you probably became a liberal activist for a reason. You likely resonate a lot more with the liberal activist message than the conservative Christian one. Part of it would be embarrassment and psychological pain from such an abrupt shift. It would just look really weird.

But this sort of identity is often changed by transition. AGP trans women sometimes describe embarrassment and rejection of femininity pretransition; this is a masculine social gender identity. But afterwards, they typically embrace femininity very  strongly, creating a feminine social gender identity. Thus, for AGPs, the social gender identity is generally an effect rather than a cause of their transition.

For HSTSs, it’s possibly more complicated. They tend to have a strongly developed GNC identity long before transition. Likely, this identity has a large effect on their transition. Perhaps among gender dysphoric kids, the “desisters” are those who wind down their GNC identity and “persisters” are those who keep building on it. This wouldn’t necessarily be about becoming less GNC, but could instead involve expressing the GNC in more socially-accepted ways. Perhaps something as simple as heterosexuality is enough to motivate winding down the GNC identity. But this is mostly speculation.

Regardless, even if one has a very masculine social identity, one can still feel a lot of pain about being male. (I’d know…) The desire to be of a certain sex is often called an affective gender identity, but I think it might be more intuitive to call it a gender aspiration. Regardless, I think when people talk about the notion of an innate gender identity, this is the concept they’re generally referring to. But this isn’t really an identity, even if it may be associated with one.

Is it innate? I think this depends on the person. An HSTS’s affective gender identity probably cannot be separated from their social gender identity and the trouble they experience when interacting with society. On the other hand, an AGP has a clear drive to become female (and an AAP a clear drive to become male) that is probably as innate as you’re going to get.

1. There are many variations of the policy of respecting people’s gender identity that can be done with different costs and benefits. I’m not here to advocate any specific one, as it’s outside the scope of this blog post.

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Is AGP real? (Spoiler: yes)

A tendency that has started popping up is to instantly dismiss any talk about autogynephilia with “autogynephilia isn’t real”. Often, it’s followed up with something vague about questioning the underlying methodology of the studies on it or rejecting the researchers involved because of transphobic biases. Sometimes, it even includes resources to somewhat-serious attempts at debunking it (e.g. Moser, Serano, Contrapoints, …), and generally the implication is that the mere mention of the AGP model is thus fundamentally flawed.

But some notion of AGP is clearly real. If nothing else, take a look at the sexual AGP communities (NSFW) hereherehere, or lots of other places. So anyone bluntly saying “AGP isn’t real” without qualfiers is at best ignorant, and at worst deliberately obscuring the truth.

(Sidenote: anyone saying that autogynephilia is real but that no trans women have even traces of AGP is also at best ignorant and at worst deliberately obscuring the truth; see for example here. There’s plenty of evidence that AGP traits are common in trans women, which even Blanchard’s opponents find.)

A trickier argument is that what trans women have and what cis men have is somehow distinct. Usually this distinction is made by pointing out that trans women have gender dysphoria, while AGP men typically do not. This is where it gets trickier, but note that AGP men are more gender dysphoric than cis men, so you can’t easily just make a binary distinction here. I tend to find that essentially all sufficiently-AGP men are likely to feel that they’d like being female, and that they tend to be less satisfied with being male than non-AGP men. Ultimately these men are still not generally floridly dysphoric, but it would make sense that only the most-dysphoric upper tail actually end up identifying as transgender.

When I’ve asked people what definitions they would use to distinguish AGP cis men from pre-identification trans women for the purpose of studying distinctions between AGP men and trans women, they have generally refused or been unable to give a real response. Maybe this basic overview post will help motivate them to say something.

And then there’s one last point. Some raise the issue that the common operationalizations of AGP may be too broad. For example, anyone who has ever pictured themselves as female in detail while aroused will score at least 6 out of 8 on Blanchard’s core autogynephilia scale (if they answer honestly). Combine this with people (MoserVeale and even me) who find that cis women will answer affirmatively to even stronger questions (including literally endorsing arousal to “being a woman”).

(It would probably be dishonest of me not to mention Alice Dreger’s (cis woman!) response here: “[…] I am not convinced that natal women can’t be aroused in autogynephilic ways […]”.)

I take this concern pretty seriously, but I also believe it is seriously misguided. Ultimately it’s an empirical issue, and the main pieces of empirical evidence on it are Blanchard’s study which found that his core AGP scale does distinguish between his two types of trans women, and the various cases where cis women have been asked. For the cis women, quite a few have reported that they are confused by these sorts of scales. This and other factors (e.g. that “AGP” cis women are more likely to be attracted to men, while AGP trans women are more likely to be attracted to women, than their non-AGP counterparts) makes me think that we are assessing something different in cis women and trans women when using these scales. I am, however, working on methods that might assess things more effectively:

agp_development

Pictured: results from a survey that among other things asked about “mimicry-AGP”.

Ultimately, I can’t yet fully thoroughly debunk the idea that autogynephilia measures are too broad yet. I’m told by people I trust that various measures work in specific ways (e.g. that HSTSs don’t picture themselves as female in sexual fantasies before they consciously consider themselves female), and so far the evidence also seems to point to that. So I conclude that with the evidence available to me, AGP really genuinely does look true. But I can’t unambiguously prove it to the point where denial is completely impossible.

However, the fact that objections exist does not mean that the entire concept was totally flawed from the benning. The objections themselves aren’t a debunking of AGP as a concept, they’re objections that may or may not turn out to hold water. As such, AGP isn’t fake, AGP isn’t debunked, and AGP isn’t a hoax. AGP has been disputed, but so has everything in the universe.

Sexual Orientation and Childhood Femininity

Some lesbian trans women claim to have been very feminine during their childhood, but AGP theory generally contradicts that claim. How can we know if the theory is right?

One potential approach would be to find some natal male kids who are very feminine and see how many of those who grow up to be trans women also grow up to be gynephilic.

Study Androphilic (%) Bisexual (%) Gynephilic (%)
Wallien (2008) 83% to 100% 0% 0% to 17%
Steensma (2013) 91% to 100% 0% to 9% 0%
Spack (2012) 55% to 65% 20% to 24% 10% to 11%
Devita (2011) 87% to 93% 7% 0% to 7%

Spack’s study found somewhat higher rates of nonandrophilic orientation than the others, likely because his study did not only include those who had shown signs in childhood, but instead everyone young that he treated (some of whom are AGP).

This suggests that around 90% of trans women with diagnosable childhood GD are attracted to men. Of course, there might be some undiagnosable elements that this misses, such as private ideation, non-expressed dysphoria, secret crossdressing, or similar, but this is not exactly the sort of overt childhood femininity we’re looking for.

Next, how many trans women are there who are attracted to men in the general population? The NTDS found a rate of 23%, and I generally hear numbers in the range of 10% to 30%, so that seems realistic enough; let’s go with that. Conservatively, suppose that all of these trans women were very feminine as kids. This implies that 23%/90%*10%/77%=3.3% of the rest were feminine as kids.

This seems like a lot fewer than what I usually hear if I ask people, and in fact it’s also fewer than various self-report statistics suggest. For this reason, I’m very skeptical when non-androphilic trans women report having been feminine.

Freud was bonkers, Blanchard is not

Blanchard’s transsexual typology is sometimes compared to Freud’s ideas. After all, both propose that sexuality is extremely important in the development of important parts of one’s psychology and identity. This comparison is unreasonable, because Blanchard’s proposals of sexual motivations are based on direct observations of these sexual interests, while Freud’s are, well… bonkers. Let’s take a look.

It’s hard to directly establish a causal proof of autogynephilia. However, there’s no doubt that most trans women have experienced AGP, with many initially thinking that their gender issues are a fetish. We can also see that autogynephilia is a strong predictor of gender issues in cis men (see also this study). Some say it goes away with transition, but I doubt that. Regardless, there’s clearly something going on here, rather than being some craziness pulled out of thin air, and the proposal that AGP may cause a desire to be female isn’t exactly illogical. How does Freud compare?

Let’s take a look at “penis envy”, because “penis envy” sounds kinda similar to autoandrophilia, the mirror image of autogynephilia. According to Freud, girls develop a sexual interest in their mothers, but then realize that because they don’t have a penis, they aren’t equipped to have a sexual relationship with them. This makes them want to obtain their father’s penis, which leads to a sexual interest in their fathers. Then they blame their mothers for their “castration”, and decide to eliminate the mothers by trying to learn to mimic them so they can steal the affection of their fathers. Due to fear of punishment for this, they then decide to focus their sexual attention on men in general, rather than just their fathers. Yes, really, that’s the theory.

I don’t know that this deserves an explanation of how it differs from Blanchard’s typology, but let’s try anyway. We directly observe the existence of autogynephilic attraction. For the “penis envy” to make sense, we’d have to directly observe girls first have an incestual attraction to their mothers, and then to their fathers. In addition, it doesn’t at all make sense that desire to have a penis should lead to sexual attraction to one’s father, while in Blanchard’s theory it makes perfect sense that sexual attraction to being female would lead to desire to be female. Freud’s theory also proposes an incredibly elaborate path of psychosexual development, which doesn’t really seem plausible or justifiable.

How about another theory, “the Oedipus complex”? According to this theory, boys develop a sexual interest in their mothers, but then realize that this is in competition with their father’s relationship with their mothers, and therefore decide that they should kill their fathers. The boys then realize that their fathers are stronger than them, develop a fear of their fathers castrating them, repress their sexual interest in their mothers, and try to instead mimic their fathers. The increased similarity between the boys and the fathers reduces their castration anxiety and leads to healthy psychosexual outcomes.

Again, this would look a lot more plausible if many men were sexually attracted to their mothers, or if men regularly killed their fathers so they could marry their mothers. Supposedly, Freud wrote that he had once experienced arousal when watching his mother dressing, so maybe he was engaging in typical mind fallacy. Regardless, this theory is obviously completely bonkers.

Now, seriously, compare this to AGP theory: For unknown reasons, some men find it arousing to picture themselves as women. This leads to a desire to be women, and in some rare cases this desire can evolve into an extreme degree of distress that eventually makes them seek sex change. The trans women who got off to crossdressing before transition were motivated (either directly, or more likely, indirectly through the development of dysphoria) by this sexual interest. Many trans women misreport their experiences to better fit a “classical trans narrative”, and you can detect these misreports by asking independent sources (such as parents), using Social Desirability Bias measures, or by looking at the evolution of their narratives over time.

Now there’s no doubt that this is controversial, and it should not be argued for without evidence. As I pointed out earlier, though, there’s plenty of evidence for many of the elements in this story. Since it’s possible that there’s some other set of dynamics that just happen to look a lot like AGP-causing-dysphoria, causality is hard to formally establish, but lots of the individual pieces are easily directly observable, which makes it entirely unlikely Freud.

Regarding Asexual AGPs

One of the controversial aspects of Blanchard’s typology is that it asserts that asexual trans women transition because of autogynephilia. Many people find it ridiculous to suggest that asexuals transition for reasons originating in sexuality, because, y’know, they’re asexual. How could Blanchard come up with such an idea?

Most obviously, because the asexual trans women themselves report having experienced autogynephilia. In this study, Blanchard asked trans women whether they had engaged in transvestic fetishism, and found that 75% of his asexual group answered yes. Similarly, Nuttbrock found that 67% of his asexual group had experienced transvestic arousal at some point in their lives.

Need more convincing? On page 83 of Jaimie Veale’s Master’s thesis, she has a table showing how well trans women feel that the concept of autogynephilia applies to their own experiences. Obviously since many trans women feel that AGP is invalidating, there’s going to be a degree of bias where no group feels it totally applies to them. But do the 31 asexual trans women feel that it makes less sense in their case than the other groups do? Nope; 45.2% of the asexuals feel that it applies at least a little bit to them, versus 40.8% of the other groups. The only group with a higher percentage is the gynephilic trans women, at 53%. (Sidenote: due to her way of recruiting participants, Veale did not have any non-autogynephiles in her sample.)

Thinking that asexual trans women are not explained by autogynephilia demonstrates a striking unfamiliarity with asexual trans women’s experiences. That’s understandable for those who are just asking questions. However, if someone explicitly states that the typology can’t explain asexual trans women, well… then they are probably not a very reliable source on the validity of Blanchard’s typology.

How might asexual trans women end up autogynephilic? Well, it’s hard to know, but a common speculation is that it’s due to the phenomenon known as “competition”: basically, autogynephilia is related to (allo)gynephilia in the sense that it is a self-directed variant of gynephilia. Most gynephiles are not autogynephilic, but many autogynephiles are allogynephilic. Autogynephilia and allogynephilia can coexist to various degrees, with some having a skew towards allogynephilia, some varing approximately equally much of both, and some having a skew towards autogynephilia. Asexual autogynephiles are then those who have a very strong skew towards the autogynephilic part of their sexuality, to the degree where they experience no or negligible allogynephilic attraction. In a sense, the autogynephilia and allogynephilia “competes”, so that autogynephilic interest overshadows allogynephilic interest.

groups

The relation between exclusivity of AGP and possible identities. Note that this relation is very very far from deterministic, as there are many factors that may affect how one identifies.

Some early pieces of data indicated that this model was true because they suggested that the most-autogynephilic people were least attracted to other people. However, this finding doesn’t look very well-supported by newer data, so there might be some subtleties at play that are not yet fully understood. More research is needed.

Autogynephilia is Not Narcissism

The legend of Narcissus describes a beautiful man who fell in love with his own reflection and withered away as he stared at it. This myth is the origin of the term narcissism, a tendency to have inflated self-importance, need for admiration and lack of empathy, and is associated with an excessive focus on achieving power or improving one’s appearance.

Autogynephilia has been compared to narcissism, through the idea that autogynephiles are attracted to themselves, which is similar to Narcissus’s situation, and therefore very narcissistic. There are three major problems with this comparison:

1. Self-attraction is not narcissism. Narcissism as a personality construct is named after Narcissus, but this is a metaphor. Narcissists aren’t literally sexually attracted to themselves. They want to be admired by others, but this is very different from self-attraction.

2. Autogynephilia is not really self-attraction. Or at least, if it is, it is in a more-complicated way. Autogynephiles are attracted to being female, but often they don’t really have a “themselves as women” to be attracted to. There’s some lines of evidence that suggest that AGP should more be seen as “attraction to being people who are female”, which is a far more outwardly-directed form of autogynephilia. Perhaps interpersonal autogynephilia has some narcissistic elements, but it is only one of multiple forms of AGP.

3. Autogynephilia has not been strongly linked to narcissism. Obviously, trans people have somewhat elevated rates of many mental illnesses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if narcissistic personality disorder was one of them. However, there’s no proof that there’s a strong effect, where narcissism is universal among autogynephiles, and I’ve found essentially no effect in a survey on it. Most other paraphilias than autogynephilia were linked to narcissism, and if you think about it, that makes sense. It’s a lot closer to the real definition of narcissism to get off to exposing yourself to other people, or to degrading other people, than it is to get off to the thought of being female.

Realistically, autogynephilia and narcissism should be thought of as being two completely orthogonal constructs.

An Issue With ETLE?

What is autogynephilia? According to the Erotic Target Location Error model, it is in some sense the application of gynephilic attraction to yourself; that is, a sexual interest in being what you find attractive (erotic target identity inversion), plus an attraction to women (gynephilia). This hypothesis predicts that other sexual interests (e.g. attraction to amputees or children) have corresponding autophilias (e.g. apotemnophilia or autopedophilia), which might act analogously to autogynephilia (e.g. causing body integrity identity disorder or age dysphoria).

There’s some evidence of this; for example, apotemnophilia and autopedophilia exist and tend to cooccur with acrotomophilia and pedophilia. However, there’s a lack of research in the validity of the concept within the normal range of attraction. For example, do autogynephiles who like redheads also want to have red hair? Some time ago, I did a survey awkwardly named Survey on traits you’re attracted to or would like to have where I examined exactly that. I decided on a number of traits that one might find attractive and/or want, asked people about those traits plus a number of other things (e.g. AGP), and got these results:

attractiveness_correlation

The correlation coefficient between attractiveness of and desire to have various traits, split by various groups. The “(Average)” spot at the end shows the average correlation coefficient over all of the traits.

First of all, let’s think about what we would a priori expect. It’s perfectly possible that something other than ETLE might cause a correspondence, so we can’t assume that non-ETLEs would have zero correlation. However, surely ETLE should lead to a greater correspondence than there would otherwise be, perhaps in proportion to the intensity of the ETLE. So a pattern of [Non-AGP cis men < AGP cis men < Transfems] would be appropriate. It would also be great to have [Cis women < Transfems], since otherwise there would be a lot of worry about confounding, but it’s not as clear that we can assume this to hold.

Now, in practice I don’t really have a big enough sample to talk about the transfems, so it’s probably better to focus on the non-AGP and AGP men. As you can see, there was quite a big correspondence between what traits they found attractive and what traits they wanted to have, but this applied equally well to both AGP and non-AGP men. I don’t think this is conclusive evidence, as I can see a number of problems with the approach, but it’s certainly something that’s worth taking into account.

Let’s talk problems with my approach:

  • A lot of the traits I used are a bit weird. I had a hard time picking good traits, and I didn’t make it easier for myself by trying to pick traits that followed certain rules (not too sexually dimorphic, not too universally seen as good/bad, equally attractive in men and women, not signalling membership of specific subcultures). I didn’t even manage to follow the rules to a degree that I felt was satisfactory either. Perhaps a better selection of traits (and rules?) would improve things.
  • It’s not clear that the traits picked could truly be said to be part of the participant’s sexual orientation. It’s possible that the main thing both of the questions measured was how positive an emotional valence people had around the traits, with essentially no signal coming through in terms of sexual orientation. In that case, it’s not surprising that I found no effect.
  • It’s unclear whether the desire to have those traits would apply if having them didn’t come with being female. Even if we assume an AGP man who likes redheads would also desire to be a woman with red hair, it’s not clear that this would lead to especially much interest in being a man with red hair. On the other hand, many apotemnophiles are interested in losing limbs without changing sex, and many autopedophiles are interested in being children without changing sex, so it seems that maybe the same should apply to other traits.
  • It’s possible that the men I involved weren’t AGP enough. It would be relevant to repeat this test with some men who are extremely AGP.

AGP does not go away with transition

It is commonly anecdotally reported that AGP goes away with gender transition for trans women. For example, many in this survey about AGP on /r/AskTransgender reported having experienced it going away, studies like Doorn (1994) found similar changes, and even surveys by me show that pretransition trans women have more AGP than posttransition ones:

agp_disappears

Comparison of AGP rates in trans women who are pre-HRT vs post-HRT from a survey on 4chan. (Yes, 4chan is unreliable, but not uniquely so in a way that I would expect to mess with these results – after all, it’s similar to what we see from the other sources I’ve mentioned.)

So, with all of this evidence, how could I possibly deny that AGP disappears with transition? Well, let’s state what we’ve found above more clearly: if you take trans women, who know they’re being examined specifically in the context of trans issues, and ask them specifically about autogynephilia in the sense of something experienced by trans women, and in particular in an environment that expects it to disappear with transition, you’ll find that it disappears with transition. Yup, I’m going to call social desirability bias.

Probably the simplest solution to this is just to ask more stealthily. Don’t specifically ask trans women, ask people in general and consider the subset that happens to be trans. Don’t ask whether it disappeared with transition, just check if it did. Don’t make the purpose anything trans, just test it independently. And probably use a measure that gives different instead of the same results for cis women and trans women, just to make it harder to question the results. Here’s the results:

agp_development

From my first survey asking people to look at and rate the attractiveness of various sorts of pornography, titled “Can you look at some porn For Science?”. Trans women remain very AGP regardless of transition status.

Obviously, this isn’t perfect; I’m sure there’s a ton of rough edges that could be cleaned up. Bigger sample size, asking about more forms of transition, checking social desirability bias, tweaking the question used, examining the effect that HRT has on libido, etc.. However, I’ve found similar results in other surveys that varied things a bit, so I expect it to generalize well.

So, let’s break down what I did a bit. First, I assessed AGP in trans women as part of a number of other paraphilic interests, asking “How sexually arousing would you find the following?”. I picked the phrasing “Picturing an attractive woman and imagining being her” because an AGP trans man suggested (based on his pre-transition sexuality) that this might work for assessing AGP in cis women (which is important because of the point that it would be stupid to use a scale that gave the same results in cis women and trans women). I also had an item asking about “Picturing myself as the opposite sex, or with certain physical features of the opposite sex”, which is what I used to define Highly AGP Men (who had to answer “Very” on that question to be considered “highly AGP”).

Now as you can see, having transitioned did not prevent trans women from being AGP. I asked about hormonal and social transition separately. Then I defined people to be pretransition if they had not started either but intended to either almost immediately or in the longer term, hormonally-transitioning if they were currently using HRT (regardless of progress), socially transitioning if they had to some degree socially transitioned (defined by the participants). Post transition was defined by having both hormonally transitioned (to the point of not expecting more changes from HRT) and socially transitioned (to the point where they did not intend to socially transition “more”). Even those entirely post-transition were usually very AGP!

This doesn’t even account for the fact that some people probably still saw through it or were in denial, or that some people’s libido might’ve been tanked to the point where their AGP is unobservable. It doesn’t account for the fact that some of the participants might’ve been HSTS (and at least some of the responses are compatible with being HSTS, but who knows when it comes to reddit…).

So that is my take: AGP does not go away with transition, but if you ask it in a context where the trans women want to present it as going away, they probably will.

Some complexity in thinking about the rates of AAP

In an earlier post, I talked about the rates of AAP among transmascs. One troubling point here is that the AAP (and general paraphilia) rates in my surveys are usually far above the baseline, so there’s an argument to be made that the rates in FtMs should be smaller, to about 20% and 25% respectively, assuming we just drop the AAP rate 10x.

Formalizing the above a bit more: about 11% of the natal females in my surveys are trans, and about 50% of the natal females in my surveys are AAP. It is probably not the case that 40% of women are AAP; in reality it’s probably more like 5%. It’s also clearly not the case that 11% of natal females are trans. However, suppose we split the 11% up into 8% who are AAP, and 3% who are not AAP. We then see that about 8%/40% = 20% of AAP natal females are trans, and 3%/60%=5% of non-AAP natal females are trans. If we then readjust the AAP ratio to be 95% non-AAP, we should get 5%*20%=1% of natal females who are AAP and trans, and 95%*5%=4.75% of natal females who are non-AAP and trans. This yields an AAP rate among transmascs of 17%, which is close to the 20% I gave before.

Now, the reason I made the kinda-ridiculous calculation above explicit is because there’s clearly something very wrong with it. According to this, 5.75% of natal females would be trans, which is still clearly not true. So what’s going on here?

Probably a mix of things. Most likely, some of those who report not being AAP actually are AAP. This creates a flaw in adjusting for the high paraphilia rates, where the rate of false negative AAPs isn’t reduced. It’s not too unbelievable that 28% of AAP FtMs might fail to realize they’re AAP in my opinion (this is pretty close to the same rate for MtFs), but it might be a bit of a stretch. reddit is probably also unusually trans due to some as-of-yet unknown factor. I think the implication here is that the non-AAP trans rate should be reduced as well, which would probably yield a higher rate of AAP among transmascs.

Really, I should be declaring some degree of ignorance here, but I think we can continue considering this for a bit more. About 20% of AGP trans women misreport their experiences as including no AGP. If we assume the same holds for FtMs (dubious? they might not see as much stigma from it, and so feel less need to misreport…), this means that about 72%*1.2=86% of the transmascs in my surveys are AAP. We can then repeat the previous calculation with the new numbers:

9.5% of natal females in my surveys are then AAP trans, while 1.5% are non-AAP trans. This means that 9.5%/40%=24% of AAP AFABs are trans, while 1.5%/60%=2.5% of non-AAP AFABs are trans. With a modified AAP rate of 5%, this means that 1.2% of natal females in general are AAP trans, while 2.4% of natal females in general are non-AAP trans. This implies an AAP rate of 33%.

Now, there’s a lot of extra ways we can manipulate the parameters. For example, if we assume a general population AAP rate of 10% rather than 5%, we get a transmasc AAP rate of more than 50%. If we instead assume that the non-AAP group is also overrepresented, say 2x, we get a transmasc AAP rate of almost 50%. There’s endless variations that can be done, but that gives endless possibilities for manipulating the data in whichever way you want.

Can we do something empirically to determine the answer here? Well, really it would require asking a representative sample (e.g. a clinical one) to make progress, but there are some hints we can get. Smith (2005) found that among non-exclusively-gynephilic FtMs, 73% reported having never experienced arousal while crossdressing during adolescence, 14% did not answer the question, 9% did not consider the question applicable to themselves, and 5% had sometimes experienced such arousal. I think there is an argument to be made that the missing data is an attempt to avoid admitting arousal from crossdressing, which would imply that we can say that 18% had experienced transvestic arousal. If we instead exclude the missing data, we can instead find that 1/19 = 5% experienced transvestic arousal. The study did have a very limited sample size, though, so there’s a lot of uncertainty in this estimate. Regardless, how do these 5% to 18% numbers compare to what I see in my samples?

transvestism

This suggests that transvestic fetishism will dramatically underestimate the rates of AAP. In fact, this result says that TV fetishism will only be present in 13% of AAP cases, which would imply that somewhere in the range of 40% and 100% of Smith’s sample is AAP. And of course there’s infinitely extra uncertainty that I’m not even taking into account here.

I don’t know that this is particularly useful. Maybe it is, since it does help justify the possibility that AAP might be genuinely common. Another point to be made is the fact that there’s a lot of case studies with clearly-AAP FtMs, but these might not generalize to modern times.

A study that is also worth looking into is Bockting (2009). They find:

Half of participants elaborated on a shift in the image of themselves in their sexual fantasies as they became more comfortable with their bodies as a result of going through reassignment. They explained that, in time, they relied less on sexual fantasies of themselves as male to affirm their gender identity and were more likely to fantasize about themselves as transgender.

This implies that at least half the participants imagined themselves as male before they changed genders, but there’s good reason to expect that a large fraction of the other half also pictured themselves as male. On the other hand, the study also states:

An alternative interpretation of the transgender sexuality found to be emerging among our participants is that this is a form of autoandrophilia (sexual arousal to the thought or image of oneself as a man), the female analogue of autogynephilia believed by some (e.g., Blanchard, 1989) to be a core component of nonhomosexual (defined as not being attracted to the same natal sex) gender dysphoria (Chivers & Bailey, 2000). An exploration of autoandrophilia was not the focus of our study. However, more than two-thirds of the female-tomale participants did not report any history of transvestic fetishism (almost always found among transsexuals with autogynephilia) or any evidence of an erotic target location error (in this case, the target of eroticism being the thought or image of oneself as a man rather than another human being). Rather, as in the Dutch study (Coleman et al., 1993), femaleto-male participants described genuine sexual attractions to, and intimate relationships with, other men that went beyond satisfying their curiosity about male sexuality (as suggested by Devor, 1993, 1997).

Now, we already know that transvestic fetishism doesn’t clearly co-occur with AAP, so this doesn’t matter much. It’s not clear what the authors meant when they said they found no evidence of an erotic target location error. Autoandrophilia was not part of their interview guide, and there’s no rule that you can’t both be AAP and alloandrophilic.

I want to say that so far, the evidence supports the position that most of the FtMs in question are autoandrophilic, but it doesn’t seem inconceivable that a study could come around and totally change the situation.

Some notes on desistance research

Epistemic status: To make sure I got this post right, I asked Michael Bailey for comments. I edited my initial draft based on his feedback, and he agrees completely with this version.

Also, I guess this post means that the followup that I promised for my last post will have to wait a bit.

“Desistance”, in the context of research by Zucker et al, refers to a very specific phenomenon. The topic is still an open research area, so it is difficult to say anything for sure. However, desistance research specifically applies to early-onset gender dysphoria, which is strongly associated with gender nonconformity. The association with gender-nonconformity makes it easy to assume that highly GNC kids will eventually turn out transgender, but in practice they are usually observed to outgrow this and end up happy with their sex. This specifically is the phenomenon that is covered in desistance research. Not much is known about why they are so strongly correlated, but some researchers believe that the gender-nonconformity can be a reflection of the dysphoria, and that encouraging it may cause the dysphoria to persist. This specific pattern of desistance is observed only for early-onset gender dysphoria, and it likely relies on specific characteristics of the dysphoria that are not seen in other forms. As a result, there is little a priori reason to expect it to generalize to other forms of gender dysphoria, unless these forms of gender dysphoria also have specific characteristics that would imply a high likelihood of desistance.

In particular, desistance research does not apply to autogynephilic gender dysphoria. Not much is known about the specifics that distinguishes dysphoric autogynephiles from non-dysphoric ones, but equivalent phenomena to desistance have not been consistently observed for them (and is unlikely to ever be observed, even if it does exist, as properly identifying and evaluating autogynephiles in the relevant period is very difficult). Autogynephilic gender dysphoria has, however, been observed to disappear in some cases, but this is not a consistent and reliable phenomenon in the same way that desistance from gender nonconformity seems to be.

The research also does not apply directly to “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”. There is currently no research on the desistance rates of ROGD. However, if the model that rapid-onset gender dysphoria is to a large degree caused by social contagion is true, then this creates a large possibility for desistance under the right circumstances, as the gender dysphoria is not purely due to permanent characteristics of the person in question, but instead also due to mutable social environment. If the social contagion model is incorrect, there is very little reason to expect desistance to happen. There is almost no research on the validity of the social contagion model for rapid-onset gender dysphoria, but there are many anecdotes that make it seem somewhat plausible.

The specific ways that desistance might work in early-onset gender dysphorics also means that if children who *could* desist instead go on to transition, they will likely not experience regret from transition, but will instead simply not desist. This has a number of implications. It means that the harm of transition will be limited to the problems associated with being a transgender person rather than a gay person, rather than implying regret and future detransition. However, it also means that if someone who could’ve desisted ends up transitioning, it becomes easy for people to mistakenly think that the transition was a huge success because the patient is very happy with the outcomes, when actually the patient could have been just as happy if they didn’t transition. And lastly, it also implies that interventions which do not permit unlearning gender-nonconformity and atypical gender identity – for example ones where gender-nonconformity is highly encouraged – might very well prevent desistance.