Astral Codex Ten Autogynephilia Results [Incomplete post]

Meta commentary: This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a very long time. I wish I had the willpower to complete it, but that doesn’t seem to be happening for now. I am posting it in its incomplete and flawed state both because it has some information that we might consider worthwhile, and because publishing it makes it public that the data is available and contains certain questions, such that if someone else wants to suggest an analysis, I can do that.

Please take the post with a grain of salt. I have not double-checked the results as thoroughly as I would have if this was a more complete post.


I study the causes of transgender feelings, and one major theme that I investigate a lot is autogynephilia/autoandrophilia (especially autogynephilia), a sexual interest in being the opposite sex. But autogynephilia is a controversial topic that lacks representative detailed narratives from trans women about their experiences, so that ends up being quite an obstacle for research and writing.

A while ago, Scott Alexander offered the opportunity for his readers to publish surveys on his blog. I jumped on this opportunity to study trans women, and submitted an autogynephilia survey primarily targeted trans women.

Since a lot of the debate about autogynephilia centers around the notion that it tends to go away with transition, I made sure to ask questions about every stage of the participant’s lives. Further, since a lot of the debate about autogynephilia ends up being about what sorts of experiences are present, I made lots of distinctions and asked about many different aspects of autogynephilic sexuality and gender feelings, at each step of the survey. Further, I made sure to have lots of qualitative questions to capture more detail.

But I’ve been procrastinating with analyzing the data and writing up the results. I have several barely-started drafts of the analysis, but I decided to just get at least the basics written up now.

Format

My survey had 6 distinct sections, of which the 3rd was by far the longest, being split into 5 subsections. The overall structure of the survey was as follows:

  • Introduction – giving a description of the premise of the survey and mainly asking some qualitative and identity questions
  • Overview – asking about some life experiences, current transition status, opinion on autogynephilia theory, and broad-strokes experience of autogynephilia
  • Lifestage-specific questions – a section that was mostly repeated for each lifestage, asking about autogynephilia and other sexuality within the lifestages; because trans women’s trajectories may vary, the life stage categories were merely given as a broad guide, and each section had some questions about what exactly their position was within the life stage – the life-stages were defined as:
    • Pre-dysphoric – “before you started having much dissatisfaction with being male”
    • Pre-questioning – “before you started considering whether you might be transgender”
    • Questioning – “while you were considering whether you might be transgender”
    • Early-transition – “having concluded that you are transgender and initiated transition”
    • Post-transition – “when you have medically transitioned a lot, and perhaps having had SRS”
  • Current sexuality – a few final questions aimed to get at current autogynephilic experiences
  • Masculinity/femininity – a set of temperament and interest questions that I had previously found to be particularly correlated with masculinity/femininity in trans women
  • End – privacy and final comments

In total, there were almost 400 questions. I am not going to present all of the questions in this blog post, but a fraction of the dataset can be downloaded from the participants who consented to it.

Sample

The survey was titled “Autogynephilia In Trans Women (targeted at trans women)”, and it got 184 responses. In the intro to the survey, I emphasized that I was interested in a broad variety of experiences from trans women, nonbinaries, etc., regardless of if they were autogynephilic or not. This lead to some quite varied participants in the survey. Therefore, to put some order into it, I distinguished several subgroups from the data.

The central motivation with the study was to investigate fully transitioned women’s experiences. There are several reasons for this. First, I wanted to investigate the participant’s entire trajectories as their experiences changed throughout their lives, and fully transitioned trans women are presumably more complete with this. Secondly, a lot of the current uncertainty is about what happens after transition. Third, a lot of the controversy is about the validity of generalizing across different groups. Therefore, I defined the subgroup Core Trans Women (n=53) as being the participants which satisfied the following requirements:

  • They must self-identify as trans women
  • They must have experienced gender dysphoria at some point during their life, which was operationalized as answering affirmatively to “I hated seeing my male traits” in at least one of the life stages
  • They must have transitioned, which means taking HRT, presenting feminine, and going with a female name

Secondly, a substantial proportion of the participants were cis (that is, non-transgender) men, with most of the cis men being autogynephilic. Presumably, this is because they wanted to share their experiences as autogynephiles, and that this was an autogynephilia-themed survey, so therefore they chose to participate. Therefore I defined two subgroups AGP Cis Men (n=29) and Non-AGP Cis Men (n=8) to cover them.

This then left a whole bunch of participants that it wasn’t obvious what to do with. For lack of a better option, I took the gender self-identity labels (trans woman, nonbinary, gender-questioning), transition status (HRT, presentation, name), some questions about autogynephilic self-identity (questions about currently being or previously having been AGP), and ran latent class analysis^1 on this, to come up with some vaguely relevant categories. The latent class analysis gave three classes, which were basically exclusively defined by the identity labels of trans woman vs nonbinary vs questioning, so therefore I decided to define the remaining categories in terms of that: Gender-Questioning (n=29), Nonbinary (n=31) and Marginal Trans Women (n=31).

Here, the contrast between core trans women and marginal trans women is that core trans women must satisfy all of the requirements listed before, while marginal trans women might not satisfy all of them. To me at least, the core trans women are the ones I intuitively think of with the label “trans women”, while marginal trans women are more in a transitional state which I presume eventually converges to something more like that of the core trans women.

Scott Alexander also asks about gender identity in his survey. Since many participants provided user IDs that allow me to link their responses in my survey and the other surveys, I thought it would be a good idea to use this link to check how the participants in my survey correspond to his gender categories:

Distribution of ACX Gender Identity responses for each of my groups. Note that P(A|B) != P(B|A); the overwhelming majority of cis male ACX readers did not participate, and so my survey only talks for a highly selected subset of the cis male readers. This survey is mainly about trans women, instead.”N/A” means that the participant did not provide their ACX ID and therefore was not identifiable in terms of the ACX data.

Overall, I think there was great correspondence between my categories and Scott’s. For instance, my Core/Marginal Trans Women categories had basically perfect overlap with Scott’s F (transgender m->f) category.

Since the topic of sexual orientation comes up a lot in the domain of autogynephilia, I thought it would be good to also mention the sexual orientation distribution. The trans women in my survey tended to report either being bisexual or being exclusively gynephilic, which is in line with what I expected from an ACX sample.

Sexual orientation distribution for the ACX data. My own survey had an enormous number of questions about sexual orientation at different times and towards different groups, so it is hard to reduce down to a single set of categories. Note that for trans women, “Homosexual” means attracted exclusively to women.

Some comparisons with other research

There has already been some previous research on autogynephilia in trans women. I thought it would be a good idea to compare my results to this research, as it could help better contextualize my results. For instance, if trans women in my survey answer very differently from trans women in previous studies, then this suggests that there has been some sort of shift, in e.g. the distribution of trans women, the ways of interpreting the questions, or similar, which should be taken into account.

Let’s start with the cleanest comparison. In Scott Alexander’s 2020 Slate Star Codex survey, he asked a question about autogynephilia. I included precisely the same question near the beginning of my survey, in precisely in order to make comparisons between his results and my results easier. Here is the distribution for trans women in his 2020 survey:

Trans women’s responses in 2020 to a question titled “Philia 2”, with the description “Picture a very beautiful woman. How sexually arousing would you find it to imagine being her?”.

Astral Codex Ten is the successor blog to Slate Star Codex, and I assume it has pretty much the same readership. Therefore, a priori we would expect that my survey would get the same response distribution as the SSC 2020 survey did. However, that is not what happened:

Trans women’s response to the equivalent mimicry-AGP question in my reader research survey.

There were much lower rates of affirmative response to this question in my survey than in the ACX survey. I can come up with multiple conceivable reasons for why that might be:

  • A common critique of autogynephilia theory is to claim that autogynephilia disappears with transition, and therefore is probably an artifact of gender dysphoria or something like that. If that is true, then as trans women transition more, we might expect to see lower rates of endorsement. This might match how the core trans women have lower rates of endorsement than the marginal trans women. I will return to this theory later.
  • A common claim made by proponents of autogynephilia theory is that trans women misrepresent their sexuality to seem less autogynephilic. It’s not immediately obvious that they would have done so more towards me than towards Scott Alexander’s 2020 survey, but at the same time it’s not immediately obvious that they wouldn’t have done so. After all, there are many differences between my survey and Scott’s.
  • The intro to my survey contained description of what sorts of experiences autogynephilia covers, while Scott’s question didn’t contain as many descriptions. Conceivably, my description might have bought something specific to mind, which contradicts what Scott Alexander’s survey might have bought to mind.
  • Maybe the subset of trans women who explicitly seek out and enter a survey about autogynephilia differs from the subset who answer a question about autogynephilia when it is placed in the middle of a generic survey.

Overall, it might be any combination of the above, or some entirely different factors than the above; I do not know.

Another question is transvestic fetishism; according to Anne Lawrence’s review, 80% of trans women had a history of arousal by wearing women’s clothes:

Rates of autogynephilia among trans women in earlier studies, assessed via questions like “Have you ever been aroused while wearing women’s clothes?”

I did not ask about exactly the same question as these earlier surveys did. However, I did have various related questions that I can aggregate together to get a good view of the result. The majority of them followed a similar formula: for each life stage, I asked about the frequency of wearing three types of women’s clothes, “underwear”, “a sexy or fetishy set of outerwear (e.g. a schoolgirl outfit)” and “everyday” clothes. I asked about this under two conditions, “without getting turned on” and “and got turned on”. Thus, we can use this information to split the participants into categories: those who have not worn women’s clothes, those who have worn them but never gotten turned on by it, and those who have worn them and at some point gotten turned on by it. Doing so yields the following results:

Frequencies of transvestic fetishism and nonerotic wearing of women’s clothes across the different groups. I only counted instances that actually involved wearing women’s clothes, and not fantasies about them.

Overall, the rates of endorsement seem somewhat lower than Anne Lawrence’s meta-analysis, but still the majority of trans women had a a history of erotic crossdressing. It is noteworthy, though, that this uses the very lowest threshold of endorsement possible; ever having engaged in it. Later on we will investigate other thresholds.

Overall, my conclusion from this section is that the results are perhaps somewhat downwards skewed compared to previous research, but that the effect isn’t huge.

The “autogynephilia goes away” hypothesis

A major hypothesis that enjoys much discussion is the notion that autogynephilia goes away with transition. This theory has been discussed by e.g. Julia Serano and Larry Nuttbrock. It has previously been supported by e.g. studies of post-op trans women, which found that they endorsed much less autogynephilic sexuality than pre-op trans women. To an extent, this seems replicated by the previous finding that core trans women report less autogynephilia than marginal trans women.

It has been suggested that if autogynephilia goes away with transition, then it cannot be conceived of as a paraphilia, sexual orientation or core sexual interest, because those are usually conceived of as static; instead it might be more likely to be caused by gender dysphoria, repression, taboos, or something like that.

I will not go into the details of the alternate explanation that people propose are supported by the “autogynephilia goes away” hypothesis. Instead, I want to take a look at the hypothesis more directly. There are many different presentations of autogynephilia, do they all go away? And for that matter, does it even go away, if we look at within-person trajectories, or is the effect restricted to the between-group comparisons?

The initial, broad level does not look very promising for the theory:

In the overview section, I had a set of questions asking participants how well they felt various autogynephilia-related patterns described them. One of the questions was the one above, about whether they related to the narrative of autogynephilia disappearing over time. Usually, the answer was no.

However, I think this is too vague to be useful. Instead, I want to analyze this in terms of the many highly specific autogynephilia questions I asked about in the survey. But this required doing some complicated math to deal with data missingness.^2 One additional element to the analysis is that I didn’t just have one autogynephilia question, I had many. Therefore I made not just one plot, but 12 plots:

Retrospective account of autogynephilia-related sexuality for different groups. Core trans women, marginal trans women and nonbinaries have already been defined, but the “went away” group constitutes the subset of any of the participants who felt that their autogynephilia went away. Question text can be seen here.

This is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s break down the patterns I see:

  • Two questions that seem to be definite outliers are “attraction to trans women” and “frequency of sexual fantasies embodied as a woman”; these showed a tendency to increase over time, unlike most of the other items. The feeling that sex as a woman might be more erotic than sex as a man could also perhaps be said to fit within this category.
  • The most common pattern seemed to be a roughly flat pattern, perhaps with the exception of the “went away” group that often reported it dropping. A flat pattern seems to be approximately present when it comes to autosexual fantasies, forced transgender transformation fantasies, involuntary arousal by wearing feminine clothes, ability to become sexually aroused by mere AGP fantasies that don’t include other elements attractive to other sexual interests, and desire to be the sort of woman that one finds to be attractive.
  • However, another common pattern seemed to be an elevation while questioning that then dropped off as they transitioned; this pattern seems present for voluntary transgender transformation fantasies, gender dysphoria being mainly at times when they were aroused, believing that they were AGP, and finding that getting off relieved gender dysphoria.

Some of the items that were not decreasing in the data were presumably “effectively decreasing”; for instance consider the item of involuntary arousal due to fearing feminine clothes. If the rate of wearing feminine clothes has increased very strongly, but the rate of getting aroused by it has stayed constant, then that must mean that the relative fraction of time where one is aroused by it has dropped.

To me, it seems reasonable to focus on the forms of sexuality that is most characteristic of AGPs when answering the question of whether AGP goes away when trans women transition. According to a previous survey, these forms appear to be imagining oneself as female in ordinary sexual fantasies, and imagining oneself as female in sexual fantasies involving masturbation or similar. The former strongly increased among trans women, while the latter was fairly constant. One could argue that the former mainly increased due to female gender identity and/or transition, and I’m willing to buy that, so it’s mainly the latter that should be considered. At the same time, while it was mostly flat, it did seem to have some nonzero downwards trend.

Finally, in case anyone else is interested, I will dump some qualitative descriptions that trans women gave, to sort of get more indexical and avoid the rigidity and aggregation present in the previous plots. At the beginning of the survey, I asked the participants to describe their sexuality in their own words, both pre- and post-transition. I got a very wide variety of responses. Starting with those who felt that their autogynephilia went away over time, here’s some stories:

Pretransition: I was sexually excited by men transforming into women, or becoming one myself, through various means.

Posttransition: With other people, it’s normal — I desire them, and I feel desired in turn, and I get excited to be used by them. In terms of masturbation — I’m excited by adjacent things as before, but more abstracted; it’s not about gender, so much as it’s about deception or corruption, like men impostering as women for some purpose, rather than the transformation itself.

“Autogynephilia as a coexisting drive to the sex drive, toward becoming something else” is definitely real, but I don’t know why or why it’s becoming so common. I don’t think the typology makes that much sense by itself, but there’s a broader movement in identity formation toward “becoming” or rewiring oneself, outside of just changing sex itself, that has yet to really be explored by anybody.

(Trans woman who felt autogynephilia went away.)

Pretransition: My typical fantasies pretransition mostly centered around younger, effeminate figures being dominated and restrained by women.

Posttransition: I’ve found that I’m more attracted to men than I was before, though all things being equal I still prefer women over men.

I think that most women imagine themselves as attractive women, and desire to be attractive women when they have their sexual fantasies, and that this is only irregular with trans women because of the circumstances of their birth.

(Trans woman who felt autogynephilia went away.)

Pretransition: Total feminine fantasy. Fantasized about having female anatomy and being on the receiving end, so to speak. Fantasized about being transformed into woman or mythical female being (mermaid, centauress), fantasized about being woman in everyday life. Wore women’s clothes and often masturbated afterward.

Posttransition: The blunt answer is, “[my sexuality] doesn’t [work now].” It is extremely difficult to get aroused. I still find women attractive, and envision myself looking more like them.

I’ll admit the AGP theory holds a lot of water with me, insofar as I do not discount this as an argument against transitioning. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself.

(Trans woman who felt autogynephilia went away.)

Pretransition: i had fantasies about sexual intercourse with women or being forced to be femminized, i was very shy and hard for me to be sexual with other people.

Posttransition: i have a much lower libido but i am much more sexually open and forthcoming.

i think [autogynephilia theory] may apply for certain contexts but i dont think is a definitve explination for being transgender

(Trans woman who felt autogynephilia went away.)

How about some trans women who felt they were never really AGP?

Pretransition: I was consistently attracted to men, women, and nonbinary people, but primarily dated female-presenting queer people, and had casual sexual encounters with a couple of cis men and my one cis female ex (assuming I have full knowledge of said partners’ histories and present identities, which I do not). The casual sexual encounters with men were not particularly enjoyable, although I primarily attribute that to their lack of ability. I fantasized about all genders, but with a slant toward women and androgynous figures.

Posttransition: I experience significently less spontaneous arousal now, although some remains. I fantasize more often specifically about trans, nonbinary, and queer people, though with an approximately even split between trans men, trans women, and other queer people. Due to covid, I have not had any sexual encounters of any kind since before I began transition.

Personally, given an identical clone of myself, I would sleep with me. That said, that opinion is one I have held since before I was aware of my transness, and still applies to my pre-transition self. I merely am attractive, and do not have the same disinterest in myself as I have in family members. I don’t think autogynephilia is generally a good explanation of transgender experiences, although the attraction it describes does overlap with reality on occasion, due to women, trans or not, commonly finding themselves attractive.

(Trans woman who never felt much AGP, pre- or post-transition.)

Pretransition: I only had a sexuality for a couple years before transition, but I was (and continue to be) only into men. consumed a lot of gay porn, still do mostly.

Posttransition: my sexuality became more words/ideas focused and less image based, i think. i became significantly less horny.

I think autogynephilia is real but harmless, and not a common reason for transition.

(Trans woman who never felt much AGP, pre- or post-transition.)

Pretransition: Teenage was self insert as guy fucking girl. Adult was self insert as girl being fucked by guy. Self inserting as girl is better since it feels “more right”

I have not transitioned. The technology is not there yet. I am a woman, not a guy in drag.

[Autogynephilia theory d]on’t apply to me and autogynephilia is a kink( a perfectly ok kink), not a reason that “real” trans individuals are trans. (gender dysphoria being the main thing.)

(Trans women who never felt much AGP, pre- or post-transition.)

Pretransition: Before I was sexually active with others, my sexuality consisted of finding a private place (usually the shower) and masturbating while either 1) thinking about women I was attracted to — actresses from movies I liked, girls I had crushes on in school, etc. — or 2) imagining fantastical, usually violent, scenarios in my head involving fictional women. In category 1, the women involved were typically either simply naked, or were masturbating, or I was having sex with them (manual, penetrative, oral, whatever). Often I was entirely absent from these fantasies. In scenario 2, in which I, myself, was always absent, these fictional women were usually engaged in glorious, honorable, gladiatorial combat. I had been sexually interested in violent imagery from a young age, so blood and impalement were often focuses here. Sometimes these fictional women were having sex with each other, and other times they were just fighting. Sometimes urination was also sexualized in these latter fantasies. Usually I just visualized whatever I was fantasizing about, but occasionally I would look at pornographic photos, illustrations, or videos, usually of women masturbating, or just women being nude. I probably masturbated 2-7 times per week from puberty until I was sexually active.

Once I had a girlfriend, we would happily have pretty typical vanilla sex as often as we could, as much as a few times per week. There’s not much interesting to say about this — we had PIV, oral, and manual sex. I experienced premature ejaculation, which was frustrating for a while, but it allowed me to get really skilled with my hands, which made me feel pretty confident sexually. After we broke up, I had several other girlfriends and nonbinary partners, and sex with them was also pretty normal — PIV, oral, manual. I often felt quite dysphoric during sex — physically because I hated my body, and also because I wasn’t good at (or comfortable) taking on a commanding, decision-making role during sex and many of my female partners expected me to do so on account of my gender.

Posttransition: Hormonally transitioning and breaking out of the male/female gender norm script did a lot to help me discern what I actually enjoy about and want out of sex. I now date and have sex with lesbian or bisexual women (cis and trans), and nonbinary people. I still love giving manual and oral sex, although receiving genital stimulation has become more difficult. I took an SNRI medication a few years ago that seems to have given me persistent (maybe permanent) anorgasmia. I also have increased genital dysphoria these days. And erections (which still happen whenever I’m aroused) are very painful, since, because of HRT, I don’t have spontaneous erections during the day and my skin has become less elastic as a result. The combination of those three factors makes topping (PIV or PIA) or receiving oral or manual stimulation of my genitals a less attractive prospect. Sometimes I do those things anyway though, since I find the idea of doing them attractive despite the downsides. I’ve recently been looking into medical interventions for the pain issues and anorgasmia, and have had some preliminary success with topical testosterone cream and cabergoline respectively. I’ve also found that I really enjoy topping with a strap-on cock rather than the one that’s attached to me. I’ve also been bottoming lately (my partner uses a strap-on), which is enjoyable but which is also a learning process.

I don’t masturbate very often now since touching my genitals isn’t very fun. When I do, I usually fantasize about having sex with my partner in the ways we do in real life or in ways I hope we’ll do in the future. Since I’ve been considering getting vaginoplasty lately, I’ve tried several times to fantasize about having sex while having a vagina, but it was hard for me to imagine what that would be like with my penis sitting right there in front of me, so it didn’t end up being as arousing as I’d expected.

In general, my whole body has become more sexually sensitive since starting HRT, so I get a lot of enjoyment from long, slow, non-penis-focused sex in which my partner stimulates my neck, ears, breasts, wrists, thighs, scrotum (which I consider to be my labia), etc. I’ve also started getting into BDSM fantasies, both from submissive and dominant perspectives, because although I don’t have much experience with BSDM, I lately find the idea very appealing (and my current partner has a lot of experience with it, which is convenient). I suspect deliberately trying to get into various kinds of kinky sex might be a way to broaden my horizons in the face of the medical difficulties I described above.

I’ve read a lot about Blanchard’s autogynephilia theories (written by opposers and apologists alike), and I find them to be deeply insulting, dehumanizing, and demeaning. I’m certain that many women (trans and cis) have experiences that fit the broad (non-etiological, non-taxonomical, non-pathological) definition of autogynephilia, but the claim that lesbian trans women are all just trans because we share a secret fetish is so obviously untrue to me, a trans dyke with a lot of trans dyke friends, that I don’t think anyone who’s spent a lot of time getting to know trans women, treating us as full and complex human beings, could ever be capable of believing it.

There’s something particularly and acutely disturbing about knowing for a fact that you’re a living, walking counterexample to a totalizing theory, but that if you ever made your experience known to the believers of the theory your account would be thrown out, ad hoc, as lies. I fit the definition of autogynephile *less well* than any cis woman who’s ever felt especially sexy in a new lingerie set or who has imagined herself with bigger breasts while masturbating (which is undoubtedly tens of millions of cis women!), but because I’m a transsexual Blanchardians would consider me to be an incorrigible liar who would do anything to conceal my secret fetish for saying so. I imagine this deep, unquenchable frustration is similar to how an autistic person might feel when a psychologist tells them that autistic people don’t have subjective experiences, or how a Black person might feel when a white supremacist tells them Black people don’t have souls. How the hell do you falsify a claim like that?

I learned today that Ray Blanchard recently promoted his autogynephilia theory on an openly white supremacist, neo-nazi podcast whose other recent guests include Richard Spencer, so perhaps that last anology is even more accurate than I’d have liked to believe.

(Trans women who never felt much AGP, pre- or post-transition.)

And maybe we should also have some stories from some trans women who currently identify as autogynephilic:

Pretransition: essentially asexual aromantic in practice, straight alignment. some crossdressing and bdsm fantasies

Posttransition: I became more bisexual, my libido was lower, I’m more focused on close emotional attachment and find sex mostly distasteful

autogenderphilia is real, the general theory is transphobic bullshit. I believe autogynephilia in transwomen is largely a reaction to having to experience sexuality in a body you find repulsive; it’s a way of aligning your sexuality with your gender

(Trans woman who currently considers herself autogynephilic.)

Pretransition: kinky switchy, pretty 50/50 interest in men/women

Posttransition: more interested in women, more subby

[Autogynephilia a]pplies to me, probably many trans women, probably many cis women too.

(Trans woman who currently considers herself autogynephilic.)

Pretransition: From my very first masturbatory experience I was into being feminine. I had come across the concept of crossdressing passingly in a tabloid around when I was 12, and looked it up on the internet, and came across sissy porn. My interests developed over my teenage years from sissy porn to regular crossdressing and femdom transformations to passing crossdressing to drawn art of crossdressing and transformation stuff to nowadays, where I mostly get off on happy, willing discovery of previously unknown femininity. Most of the time I would masturbate prone with my imagination and moving my body, with the porn helping me figure out things to imagine and getting me excited. The very few feminine garments I was able to bring home with me without notice would be used to help this, and I would wear my mom’s stuff if I was feeling brave, but I’d be very careful to keep it clean. Some of the earlier fantasies involved just simulating myself as various fantasy girls, e.g. some of the more feminine Yu Gi Oh monsters.

Posttransition: My sexuality before transition is best described as “repressed.” I did not go on a single date before transitioning. I found myself aroused at women, but I had no idea how to handle it and just kept it from leaking out into my social interactions as much as possible. Then I would vent by masturbating at home. I have had two girlfriends after starting transition, and I am sort of permitting myself to experimenting with being attracted to men; I clearly remember one time when I was in middle school where I got horny at a handsome guy at school, but I felt intense shame about them and suppressed it, and didn’t really think about it again.

I’m… confused, about [autogynephilia theory]. Frankly I don’t know if I’m part of a “fad” or not, and if so, whether that means I should be making different choices. I vacillate a lot. At the end of the day, I still find myself being really happy when I imagine myself as a girl; successfully imagining myself as a girl makes me so happy, it’s what ultimately persuaded me to pursue transition in the first place. Sexuality has been a core component of how I relate to femininity for so long, to be sure, though. I kind of wish I had more of an outlet to experiment with being feminine besides sexuality though, like having actual girl friends; that would help me think about this a lot, I think.

(Trans woman who currently considers herself autogynephilic.)

Overall, this is a lot of information that I find hard to draw any definite lessons from.

Factoring autogynephilia

So, I’ve got this huge set of autogynephilia variables; both the 12 variables from the previous section, as well as the mimicry-autogynephilia variable and the “ever had transvestic arousal” variable in the beginning section, and finally also some extra autogynephilia variables at the end of the survey. This feels like a kind of overwhelming set, and so I’d like to somehow make them easier to work with. I could pick only one variable for analysis, but most of the variables have complex patterns of missing data, so that would reduce my sample size, and further, it feels like this would throw away a lot of the information we would have available.

Here’s a solution. First, we can notice that all of the autogynephilia-related variables are somewhat correlated with each other, but not deterministically so:

Correlation matrix for autogynephilia-related variables, for the subset of the sample where there were responses to all of the questions.

Presumably, part of the reason that they are correlated is because they all reflect something shared; for instance, “autogynephilia” appears to be a real trait in at least a subset of individuals, and it seems like “autogynephilia” would contribute to affirmative responses to almost all of these variables. But the different variables are not perfectly correlated with each other, presumably at least partly because the different variables have different conditions and secondary contributors other than autogynephilia. For instance, “involuntarily aroused by wearing fem clothes” requires not just autogynephilia, but also that one has worn feminine clothes, become aroused by that, and found that arousal unpleasant; autogynephilia may increase the likelihood of that, but it does not guarantee it.

If we take a weighted average of the variables, the importance of the unique conditions for each variable should be reduced, while the common trait of “autogynephilia” should add up. I use factor analysis, a statistical technique, which provides “factor loadings” that quantify how well represented the latent shared trait is in our observed variables:

ItemLoadingItem-total
correlation
AGP Self-concept0.840.84
Aroused merely by AGP stuff/”Unconditional AGP”0.810.80
Hotness of more feminized body in itself0.780.79
Mimicry-autogynephilia0.720.70
Voluntary TGTF fantasies0.690.72
Sex as woman more erotic than sex as man0.690.72
Gender dysphoria times correlate to horny times0.680.71
Forced TGTF fantasies0.650.68
Hotness of wearing lingerie alone0.600.66
Hotness of more feminized body for partner0.590.66
Autosexual FEF fantasies0.570.57
Frequency of sexual fantasies embodied as a woman0.560.60
Desire to be personally attractive type of woman0.540.55
Getting off relieves gender dysphoria0.520.55
Hotness of wearing lingerie for partner0.430.53
Involuntarily aroused by wearing fem clothes0.430.48
History of transvestic fetishism0.320.45
Attraction to trans women0.270.30
Loading: factor loadings for each of the autogynephilia variables, i.e. the estimated degree to which each variable tapped into the shared underlying trait. Item-total correlation: the correlation between each item and the autogynephilia score generated by taking a weighted average of the variables.

The strongest-loading item was the belief that one is autogynephilic, which seems like a very sensible item to be high-loading for a measure of autogynephilia. That said, that the loading for this item is so high also points out the possibility that we are merely measuring whether the participants believe themselves to be autogynephilic, regardless of whether they are. It could also be thought that to an extent, the scores might end up mixing a bunch of different variables together.

To try to make the scores more interpretable, I used logistic regression to map out how different parts of the response distribution correspond to different answers to various questions:

Top: histogram of AGP scores for the entire sample. Bottom: a select set of AGP-related items, with their response options place under the AGP scores that tend to correspond to those response options. The lines between the options indicate the AGP scores where 50% of participants choose each option; so e.g. for the final question, “sex as a woman hotter than as a man”, since the line between “neither” and “agree” is at around -0.15, it means that most participants who score greater than -0.15 pick agree, while most who score less pick “neither” or “disagree”. The data for the three final items are based on pretransition experience, while the first item is based on their current response, and the second item is based over their entire retrospective.

Talking about raw scores is kinda annoying and opaque, so I will semi-arbitrarily split it up into four categories:

  • Non-AGP: score less than -0.55; represented by
  • Marginal AGP: score between -0.55 and 0.10
  • Standard AGP: score from 0.10 to 0.85
  • Highly AGP: score greater than 0.85

Correspondingly, I will name the boundaries between the groups None (-1.5), Low (-0.55), Some (0.10), High (0.85) and Max (1.75). Now to make it even more clear what the groups reported, here are the trajectories for each group:

Retrospective AGP trajectories constructed the same way as before, but grouped based on AGP factor scores, rather than based on demographic.

Are trans women AGP, and what does that mean post-transition?

Now that we have a convenient aggregate measure of autogynephilia with convenient categories for interpretation, let’s look at how AGP different groups. First, overall for all of the transfem participants (core trans women, marginal trans women, and nonbinaries), regardless of subgroup:

AGP factor score distribution for trans women and nonbinaries. Histogram excludes gender-questioning and cisgender men.

Next, let’s look at the distribution by subgroup:

Core MTFMarginal MTFNonbinariesQuestioning
Mean-0.38-0.14-0.010.32
Std. dev.0.510.580.640.56
% non-AGP49%26%19%10%
% marginally AGP34%39%35%17%
% standard AGP15%29%32%59%
% highly AGP2%6%13%14%
AGP factor score distribution by group.

Based on this data, the answer to whether trans women are AGP could be argued to be “usually kinda” or “not in the sense that I (tailcalled) or other AGP writers are”. I would probably fall into the “highly AGP” category, which seems rare for trans women.

It might be interesting to compare how AGP trans women are to how AGP cis men are, since this is what really matters from a theoretical standpoint. However, the cis men who participated in this survey are much more AGP than average, due to the survey being titled as being about AGP. Therefore I ran an extra survey on Prolific to get some data on it.^3 This yielded the following distribution:

Top: autogynephilia distribution among 100 cis men recruited on Prolific, who were asked the same questions as the trans women on ACX. Bottom: corresponding distribution for the core trans women on ACX.

One way of quantifying this difference is with the probability of superiority, which is 73%. That is, if you randomly select a trans woman and a cis man, the trans woman has 73% probabillity of being more AGP than the cis man.

Anyway, a major reason I did this survey is due to there being a lot of uncertainty about, what does it mean to be AGP mean post-transition? While there are numerous resources on what AGP looks like prior to transition, this is somewhat distanced from reality as pretransition AGPs are not feminized at all and therefore they have to rely on fantasies, roleplay, etc.. And this leaves a lot of questions open about post-transition AGPs. For instance, one might think that they are aroused by their own bodies, one might wonder about how transvestic fetishism presents for them, etc.. So, let’s take a look.

Responses by AGP transfems about their autosexual arousal after transitioning.

As can be observed, there’s quite a wide distribution, where it’s hard to say anything specific. So instead, I want to go back to looking at more qualitative descriptions by the participants. Let’s start with the highly AGP trans woman, who wrote a detailed response about her experiences (joined together from several questions):

Gender identity trajectory: Around the time of puberty and my sexual awakening, I started being attracted to girls and also attracted to certain physical characteristics in myself that I now in hindsight characterise as the same things that I am attracted to in girls: smooth skin, long hair, body curves, thin waist. Conversely, I did not like my penis; I always found it aesthetically displeasing, and when pondering my sexuality, one of the things that made me certain I was not attracted to men was my disdain for penises, both others’ and my own. Around the same time, my private fantasies (acted out in my head, first on their own and later combined with masturbation) always included transformation into a woman, or simply being a woman, e.g. a female superhero, without explanation.

I did not make the connection to a gender identity for many years. I lived as a male but after a few years I started thinking of it as “male by default” – since I did not feel any gender identity, I assumed that being male was fine.

Then one day at age 29, I started experience gender dysphoria – anxiety attacks connected to experiences of my body and expression, e.g. my penis, my beard, my clothes – almost overnight. The catalysing episode was one where I lived out my, by this time very common, sexual fantasy, but this time also embraced it more in the physical world, by wearing a tight bodysuit. Up until this point, my experience was that I had had flashes of gender euphoria, where I e.g. wore women’s clothing and thought I looked beautiful, but my baseline was not feeling anything about my gender at all. Then suddenly my baseline level “dropped out”, so that any reminder of my male body or presentation triggered anxiety, and I felt that I had to do what I could (tuck, shave, wear breast forms and female-coded clothing) in order to feel well enough to function. I came out as a trans woman to my closest friends within a week, and had completed my social transition a week after that, including changing my name. After starting HRT a few months later, my daily gender dysphoria, which I mostly had in the morning before I had shaved and got dressed, was dialed back significantly.

Pretransition sexuality: As a teenager, I would not really make the connection between what I found sexy and what I found female. I have memories of being in the shower, rubbing schampoo or conditioner all over my body, enjoying the feeling of smooth skin, rubbing my legs together, sliding my hand along my body in an unbroken curve all the way from my shoulder down my hip and my leg. I always avoided involving my penis; I was exploring and enjoying those parts of my body that I felt comfortable with.

When lying in bed, I often imagined very long, involved scenarios where I used some magical or technological means of transforming into a woman. A typical one was one where I wore a suit similar to Marvel Comics’ Venom, or some nanotech mumbo-jumbo, where my body molded with the suit so that I could shapeshift freely. Invariably, my new default form was a beautiful woman. The fantasy itself then varied between the overtly sexual, i.e. having sex with other women, and other shapeshifting superhero-like fantasies. One very common recurring theme was transforming into a skintight suit, or other clothing, and being worn by other women. This allowed me to “be” a woman (being in the shape of one) and being with a woman (feeling her skin, shape, pleasing her sexually) at the same time.

Another common theme was duplication, where I would somehow control more than one body or shapeshift into multiple bodies. Whether the bodies were identical, or different varieties of beautiful women, I would fantasise about having sex with “myself”.

I had a few sexual relationships with women, and in my sexual encounters I was very much more interested in exploring their bodies and pleasing them, rather than e.g. being touched myself. I remember thinking that this was due to some sort of ingrained toxic masculinity, where I had to see myself as an active agent and my female partner as a sexual object for me to desire and act upon, while being uninterested in being a sexual object myself. I viewed this as problematic and made some progress to allow myself to be in focus during sex, and partly I could enjoy this. But both during masturbation and sex, I had a way of disassociating from my penis – I or someone else would be touching it, and I could go into a generalised pleasant sensation from it, while not thinking about it felt, how it looked, where it was situated, etc.

After coming out, I recognise all this as parts of a whole: I am attracted to women, but in truth I feel like I could possibly be attracted to men as well if I manage to disconnect it from my feelings about my own penis. I fantasise about having sex as a woman because my real gender identity is a woman, and I enjoy having sex but the way I can currently have it requires me to cut out certain parts. To some extent, I enjoy other women’s bodies as a substitute for having the body I want myself – but I want to believe that this is only part of it, and that I have also managed to be a loving and caring sexual partner who can see my partner as a human being, and not just a body.

Looking back, I have also started viewing my being emotionally muted/distant as part of my gender dysphoria. It is obviously a very different symptom from the concrete anxiety I started experiencing after my “awakening”, but I do believe that I have had a harder time navigating my feelings due to not having my emotional “center” in place. I distinctly remember not feeling like a real person, feeling like everyone else is having genuine feelings while I am just a robot with a hole inside me, faking the few feelings that I do express. This hole has been filled by a sense of self since I came out.

Transition status: I have changed my name, pronouns, and present as female. I tuck my genitals and wear silicone breast forms at all times except when sleeping or showering. I wrote a long coming-out letter that I sent to my relatives and closest friends, and then wrote a similar post on facebook. Almost everyone I interact knows me from before, and so definitely know that I am transgender, so I don’t try to hide that fact. I have started hormone replacement therapy, and I have plans for genital correction surgery next summer.

Posttransition sexuality: My coming-out was an awakening, as in I was in denial about it for many years and only “came out” to myself at age 29. I see my sexuality, specifically my sexual fantasies, as the only window I had into my gender identity before I was ready to understand/admit it to myself in the full generality. E.g. I have always known “I wish I was a woman because that would be sexy”, and later understood that this was only a facet of “I wish I [had a female body] because my gender identity is female”.

As such, my sexuality has not changed post-transition. However, since the onset of my dysphoria I fear that I will not be able to have sex with another person before my surgery. I expect that even undressing in front of someone else (while not tucked) will trigger anxiety to a degree that I won’t be able to have sex. I’m not sure this will happen – due the pandemic, I have not been able to have sex since I came out, despite being in a long-term relationship until very recently. So I don’t have any data, but I expect that sex will be difficult until my surgery. On the other hand, I very much look forward to having sex after my surgery. In a way, it is a dream I have had since my sexual awakening, long before I realised that having that surgery was a real option.

Opinion on autogynephilia: If I have understood autogynephilia theory, it states that trans women who are homosexual (e.g. attracted to other women) are a) a separate category from other trans women, b) typically experience their dysphoria onset later in life, and c) it can in some way be viewed as their transsexuality being “caused” by the sexual fantasies, or in any case the fantasies appear much earlier than the dysphoria and/or transgender identity.

I first read about autogynephilia a few years before I came out, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it felt good to read about the fetish, as I felt validated and less alone. On the other hand, it may have hindered me from finding my gender identity at that time, delaying my transition for a couple of years. Since I do feel that I have “lost years” and desperately want to medically transition as quickly as possible, in order to be able to date, have sexual relationships, and explore my body and beauty before I grow visibly older, I am remorseful about not figuring out my identity sooner. I believe the experience of thinking “yes I am sexually aroused by the thought of being female but it’s just a fetish, I’m not trans” is common among trans women in denial (as reported after coming out).

I still believe that autogynephilia as a separate fetish, i.e. in cis men who do not turn out to be trans, exists, just that I was not one of them. I mostly believe this based on the general notion that every fucking weird fetish you can imagine exists, so of course there have to be people who feel that way for whom it is “just a fetish”. But already in that shape, it might actually have kept me and other trans women from finding our gender identities, clinging to the thought that we were really cis. For my part, it seemed like I was cis “in all other respects” while being “sexually trans”. Now I see it more like this: my sexuality was the only part that was purely my own, that I didn’t tell anyone about and didn’t have to explain or defend to anyone – so there I could allow myself to be myself. My sexuality as a “window” into an identity that I didn’t understand, or didn’t allow myself to feel, in the general.

I think my trajectory is pretty typical for the “autogynephiliac transgender woman” as a category, but I think the categorization as it has been done is problematic. It can easily make my feel like I am not a real transgender woman, or that my being transgender is more of “something being wrong with me” compared to other types of trans women. It reduces me to my sexuality, making it seem like I transition purely in order to be sexually aroused. While in denial, my female fantasies did resolve mostly around sexual arousal, and as long as it was only that I did not consider myself trans. I wouldn’t, and I don’t think almost anyone would, transition just because they are aroused by it. But sexuality is an important part of my life, and I look forward to living in my body post-medical-transition, and that includes having sex in the way I have dreamt of all my life.

Implied in autogynephilia theory is also the claim that the dysphoria or even transsexualism is “caused” by these fantasies. Here again, I feel like it’s a simplification. My gender dysphoria was a late onset, and I do not know why it came now. But if it was due to my fantasies, then it was pent-up from having (and indulging in) these fantasies for the entirety of my sexual life. It makes much more sense to me to see the fantasies as a facet of my identity (in denial) rather than the identity as a cause of the fantasies.

Partnered sexuality prior to developing GD: Oral sex (both fellatio on my and cunnilingus by me), handjobs, penetration, petting. I was mostly interested in exploring my partner’s (female) body. When I was being stimulated, I typically closed myself and engaged in a fantasy wholly or partly disconnected from the sex I was having. Most of the time I achieved orgasm during sex, this fantasy was necessary to do so. I never told my sexual partners about this.

Comments on early-transition sexuality: Regarding involuntary arousal: the reason it was unwanted was mainly due to the erection I would get, which would sabotage my tucking, become a visible bulge, remind me of my penis existence, and cause dysphoria. Soon after starting HRT, my erections became much more infrequent, and less severe when they happened, so after that point my arousal is almost never unwanted. It can be a little distracting, but unless I’m really in the middle of something that requires super-focus, which is almost never, I don’t mind. My answers for the questions about automatic arousal is from the time before HRT helped with my erections.

Regarding “aroused purely by my feminizing body (e.g. by looking down on it, or thinking about it)”, I answered “Sometimes” but this does not really refer to the medical feminization that was ongoing. Mostly, it was about looking down on my body as it looked with female clothes, breast forms, and tucked genitals. E.g. my answer is true of you count the breast prostheses and tucking as “feminization”; otherwise please treat my answer as “Never”.

Trans woman who scored high on the AGP factor score

The end of the above narrative suggests that perhaps she doesn’t quite count as aroused by her own body. Unfortunately, she was the only high-scoring respondent who had transitioned, so it’s not clear what the experiences of highly AGP individuals in general would be. But at least she provided a lot of detail, so that’s nice.

Let’s move on to the participants who had more moderate levels of AGP:

Gender identity trajectory: At a young age, I felt a desire to identify as and present as female but also felt shame and guilt regarding these feelings. I repressed these feelings and was generally unaffected by them until my teens. At this point, I experienced deep discomfort with the effects of testosterone based puberty, and additionally felt deeper discomfort with being treated in ways associated with a male gender role (pronouns, traditionally gendered activities etc.)

I continued to suppress my gender dysphoria until my mid twenties, and experienced issues with self esteem and depression as a result. These feelings continued to cause me increased distress until my mid twenties, at which point I transitioned to living in a female role. Since that point I have experienced a vast reduction in gender dysphoria and significant improvement in overall mental health.

I began identifying as a trans women several years before actually transitioning, and in retrospect identify as having been a trans woman/girl in denial for my whole Iife previous to that point.

Pretransition sexuality: My sexuality prior to transition was primarily oriented around fantasising about myself presenting in a feminine manner or being physically altered to have a more ‘female’ body. I did not have any sexual partners prior to transition, so my sexual exploration was limited to masturbation.

In addition to gender related kinks, I had various unrelated fetishes (e.g. petplay), although they were much less important and most often appeared in conjunction with gender stuff. I had minimal interest in sex itself prior to transition, but would on occasion fantasise about sex with people as part of other fantasies. I identify as bisexual and don’t have a preference as to the gender of my sexual partners.

Transition status: I have transitioned medically, in the sense that hormone replacement therapy has adjusted my sex hormones to levels typical within the cis female population. I have not had any gender related surgeries. I have transitioned socially, and live as a woman in day to day life. I have transitioned legally, and have updated all relevant documents to reflect that my sex is female.

Posttransition sexuality: I am much more comfortable with my sexuality post transition, and feel much more connected to my own body and sexuality. I still enjoy gender related fantasies, but they are much less essential to my sexuality and I also fantasise about traditional sexual intercourse significantly more often.

In general, I would say that prior to transition, including some form of gender transition in my fantasies was an essential prerequisite to arousal. Whereas now it’s still something that I find arousing, but I can find other things arousing as well or instead.

I’d speculate that disgust at my bodies male features inhibited my ability to be comfortable enough in my body to be sexual, without including some transformative aspect.

Opinions on autogynephilia theory: I strongly dislike the term autogynephilia, both on its own basis as I find it misleading, and in conjunction with Blanchard’s theories, which I find abhorrent and utterly incorrect. That being said, I am aware that some amount of trans woman are aroused by imagining themselves as more feminine etc. I think this is most likely a side effect of gender dysphoria, as one’s gender is a large part of sexuality. And when a person’s physical reality doesn’t reflect their gender, this affects their sexuality in some way that is not yet fully understood.

Current typical sexuality: I most often masturbate to feminisation fantasies. E.g. erotic fiction where a male presenting character transitions to presenting female and/or to appearing physically female.

I also fantasise about having sex with my boyfriend (a cis man). And more rarely to unrelated fantasies of other people, kink, etc.

Current autogynephilia: Yes, although I don’t like or use the term myself. I am still aroused by the idea of being feminised, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense given my current context. E.g. finding it arousing to imagine being forced to wear women’s clothes, despite the fact I’ve worn women’s clothes every day for the past 2 years without being turned on by it.

Sexuality is weird and nonsensical and I find it best not to worry too much about it.

Comments on current sexuality: I feel like I’m trending towards less autogynephilia type sexuality as I get further into transition. But despite being at a point now where I’d consider myself ‘fully transitioned’ (to the extent such a thing exists) I do still experience it as a part of my sexuality.

Trans woman who scored in the standard group on the AGP factor score

Gender identity trajectory: I didn’t have a strong sense of gender either way during childhood; I felt more female than male during puberty, but didn’t actually transition until my late 20s; after several months of hormone therapy, I felt much more like myself and much more comfortable in my own body, especially after physical changes occurred

Pretransition sexuality: I fantasized about fucking women (cis or trans), being fucked by men and women, licking cunt, sucking dick and getting sucked, playing with women’s breasts, rough sex (scratching, biting, slapping, choking), facials and creampies, group sex (spitroasting, double penetration, fucking someone while being fucked), and BDSM (degradation, bondage, blindfolding, impact play, and knife play)

Transition status: Hormone replacement therapy, vocal feminization surgery, facial feminization surgery

Posttransition sexuality: Similar to before, but I’m somewhat more interested in men now (though I still strongly prefer women), and I’m more willing to bottom and submit (though I’m still mostly a domme and a top). I also have breasts now and it feels great to have them played with!

Opinion on autogynephilia: The overall theory is bad; autogynephilia in itself probably exists as a distinct psychological phenomenon, but separate from and unrelated to gender dysphoria (though they can sometimes overlap or resemble each other); neither causes the other, nor do I think they have a shared cause

Pre-questioning and questioning partnered sex acts: Getting head from cis and trans girls, eating pussy, sucking dick (trans girls, never cis dudes), vaginal intercourse with cis women, anal intercourse with cis and trans women (almost always topping, but bottoming on very rare occasions), playing with women’s breasts, giving facials and vaginal/anal creampies, toys (dildos, strap-ons, vibrators, nipple clamps, etc.), occasional BDSM activities

Early-transition and late-transition partnered sex acts: Same as pre-questioning and questioning, plus having my own breasts played with [for early-transition,] plus occasionally sleeping with cis and trans men, sleeping with a lot more trans women, sucking dick and bottoming more often, receiving facials and creampies, participating in group sex, and having one-night stands and casual FWBs (which I never had before) [for late-transition]

Trans woman who scored in the standard group on the AGP factor score

And finally, some stories from the participants who got marginal AGP factor scores. I’m going to keep them shorter and e.g. drop their gender identity trajectories, since this seems less interesting than for those who are highly autogynephilic. Let’s take a look at their sexuality, though:

Pretransition sexuality: Typical fantasy involved sexual imagery with a female partner. For a time in my late teens (~18-20) this did involve imagining being in a female body as well. Always attracted romantically and sexually to women. Sex and sexuality always felt uncomfortable and somewhat off-putting for me, despite any physical pleasure involved. Did not have any experience with another person pre-transition.

Posttransition sexuality: Much less fantasizing about having a different body. Am comfortable in my sexuality and having sex with my partner, though that comfort took time to develop. No change in who I find attractive. Less focus on physical pleasure and arousal compared to pre-transition, more intimacy and emotional closeness.

Opinions on autogynephilia theory: Most autogynephilia theory talks about imagining being a woman arousing but fails to distinguish this from being aroused by imagining being a woman doing sexual things or being a woman in a sexual context. I have never met anyone who was motivated for or against transitioning by any part of their sexuality. Though I had sexual fantasies that involved being in a typical female body this did not really play a part in my exploration of my gender identity when that began (indeed, when trying to figure out my gender identity I took effort to exclude my sexuality from my considerations. I was concerned with who I was and who I wanted to be, and didn’t want to be distracted by something as orthogonal as what I find sexually attractive or arousing)

Early-transition partnered sexuality: Had experiences with a partner during this stage (first and only partner to date). Little or no masturbation now that we’re together. Partner is cis lesbian. I’ll admit I’m uncomfortable going into detail here. Partner has a much higher sex drive than I do and it’s much more about emotional connection and intimacy for me than it is about my physical pleasure. I almost always top. Hands, genitalia, cuddles, kissing, I don’t think I need to explain how this works.

Current typical sexual fantasies: Imagining sex with my partner

Current autogynephilia: I think the above questions [in which she reported being feminized for her partner’s appreciation would be hot, but for her own appreciation would not be the least bit arousing] capture it pretty well. Imagining a more-feminized body is not inherently arousing but accompanied by other sexual thoughts it can be.

Trans woman who scored in the marginal AGP group

Pretransition sexuality: fantasies: shift from a mix of typical male fantasies & agp to attraction to men/persistent agp/sometimes noncon didn’t much enjoy e.g visial porn

Posttransition sexuality: shift away from being on the recieving end of noncon fantasies and towards wanting affection much more comfort/confidence/fluency talking about my sexuality and dating

Opinion on autogynephilia theory: I lean towards the ordinary feminist view of AGP (that it is more or less baseline female sexuality)

Trans woman who scored in the marginal AGP group

Overall, I guess it’s quite a mixture of different experiences.

Are these results at all valid?

A common accusation about my autogynephilia research is that it is based on self-reports, and that trans women will misrepresent themselves as less autogynephilic than they really are in order to seem more “truly trans”, in order to stop speculations about AGP, etc.. In a sense this accusation is a bit self-defeating, since pretty much all autogynephilia research is based on self-reports. However, it is still possible that it might be true, and one way we can investigate it is if methods of measuring autogynephilia differ on their social desirability.

And that’s where this survey comes in handy, because I have many questions about autogynephilia that differ wildly on their social desirability levels. In order to obtain a quasi-objective ranking of items by social desirability, I asked members of a number of different groups, including self-identified autogynephilic trans women, researchers into autogynephilia, and various people in discussion groups vaguely related to the topic. I got the following rankings of social desirability:

ItemSocial desirability
Gender dysphoria times correlate to horny times-2.08
History of transvestic arousal-1.92
Getting off relieves gender dysphoria-1.85
Forced TGTF fantasies-1.69
Involuntarily aroused by wearing fem clothes-1.69
Aroused merely by AGP stuff/”Unconditional AGP”-1.69
AGP Self-concept-1.69
Mimicry-AGP-1.31
Hotness of wearing lingerie alone-1.08
Voluntary TGTF fantasies-0.92
Desire to be personally attractive type of woman-0.54
Autosexual FEF fantasies-0.31
Hotness of more feminized body in itself-0.15
Attraction to trans women0.08
Sex as woman more erotic than sex as man0.15
Frequency of sexual fantasies embodied as a woman0.62
Hotness of more feminized body for partner0.92
Hotness of wearing lingerie for a partner1.23
Average social desirability ratings for each item. Participants had a 7-point scale from “Very undesirable” to “Very desirable”, and were instructed to focus on how trans women would bias their responses upwards or downwards.

Overall, it seems like people perceive attributions of one’s transgender feelings to autogynephilia as particularly undesirable, and perceive the notion that trans women are into AGP things to be hot to their partners as particularly socially desirable, which seems sensible enough to me. Also of note, there are multiple items which people perceive as neutral in social desirability, which seem promising for getting more objective/less skewed estimates of autogynephilia.

To see if the results might be driven by social desirability, I tried looking at whether there was a correlation between an item’s social desirability level, and the difference between trans women and cis men in the responses to the item. This yielded the following results:

Each blue dot represents an autogynephilia item used for the scoring. The x is the item’s rated social desirability. The y is the difference between the mean response for core trans women in ACX and for cis men in Prolific.

Overall, there seemed to be a very strong correlation between social desirability and response gap. However, looking closer, the correlation is basically entirely driven by two outlier items, “Hotness of more feminized body for partner” and “Hotness of wearing lingerie for partner”.

I have two problems with those items. First, they have positive social desirability, and much greater social desirability than the other items, so they might function differently with respect to social desirability. Second, it seems like there is a fairly good argument to be made that this is not particularly related to autogynephilia, but that it instead results from different sexuality dynamics that makes it hot to be attractive to one’s partner. Therefore I think these should be excluded from consideration.

So I was almost about to conclude that social desirability had fairly little effect. But I try to run various robustness checks on each of the results I present, and this time it turned out that this lack of social desirability bias was not very robust.

Specifically, rather than computing the cis man/trans woman gap as a difference, I decided to try computing it as a probability of superiority^4. This yields the following results:

Same diagram as before, except this time the y axis is the probability of superiority, rather than the group difference.

Here there appears to be a clear correlation pretty much no matter which items are used, with only a couple of exceptions (autosexual AGP has lower probability of superiority than expected, gender dysphoria stuff has higher probability of superiority than expected).

I’m not sure what to make of this. Non-robust results can be hard to interpret. But for now I will assume that there is a social desirability effect, since it also a priori seems sensible that such an effect should exist.

But if it exists, what do we make of the data? Well, one thing we can do is take our opinions from the items that are close to 0 in social desirability; I have six items in the range of -0.75 to 0.75 that are presumably relatively independent of bias:

  • Autosexual FEF fantasies
  • Hotness of more feminized body in itself
  • Attraction to trans women
  • Desire to be personally attractive type of woman
  • Sex as woman more erotic than sex as man
  • Frequency of sexual fantasies embodied as a woman

Now, there’s no doubt one could critique all of these for inclusion. I am personally not convinced about the social desirability ratings of the first two of these five items. And people might feel that the latter two are items they would expect trans women to answer affirmatively, regardless of whether they are autogynephilic or not. And there’s tons of debate about whether attraction to trans women mainly just depends on whether you see trans women as being truly women or not.

But I think they can still be nice to look at; the last two items seem like they should give reasonable upper bounds, while the first two items seem like they should give reasonable lower bounds.

[TODO]


1. Latent class analysis is a statistical technique which assumes that the correlations between a set of categorical variables are generated by membership in a small number of discrete groups, and that the categorical variables become statistically independent conditional on the cluster membership. I mainly just used it as an easy/lazy way of coming up with some groupings.

2. Different trans women answered for different subsets of life stages (e.g. those who were early in transition did not have a late-transition stage; those who remembered being gender dysphoric from early childhood did not have a pre-dysphoric stage, and so on), and these different subsets also correlate with the trans women’s level of autogynephilia. This makes it inaccurate to just take the average trans woman’s autogynephilia within each stage, as it will be shaped by which trans women had the stage as well as by the effects of the stage itself.

My solution to this was sort of complicated. Suppose we have one trans woman who has had some stages; for simplicity we will just consider two stages, e.g. questioning and early transition. In that case, we can consider the change in autogynephilia that she had between those two stages. This change score presumably mostly eliminates the effect of the trans woman’s overall autogynephilia. So therefore it becomes valid (or at least, less invalid) to average the change score across multiple trans women. Finally, we can integrate the change scores into an average trajectory.

Of course, that trajectory will then only cover the changes and will be missing the y level over time. To fix this, I offset the entire trajectory y-wise to correspond as best as possible to the average participant’s overall level.

3. Even this isn’t great; in my experience for unknown reasons, generic online samples tend to be much more AGP than careful representative samples.

4. Strictly speaking, probability of superiority is a more appropriate effect size measure than difference, because the data I have is ordinal, i.e. based on discrete categories that don’t clearly have a numeric value but have an order/ranking of more vs less. Subtraction only really make sense with interval data, where you have some sort of meaningful numeric scale. Most of the time, using ordinal-appropriate statistics doesn’t really make much of a difference, but this time it apparently did.

Julia Serano and Jack Molay were… right all along?

For years, I have had a post sitting in my drafts folder, where I intended to write a critique of Julia Serano’s Case Against Autogynephilia. In it, she writes various things that seem to make no sense if you read the literature. However, over the years I’ve come to realize that it actually makes much more sense than you would think, once you realize that she is responding not to the literature, but to the various advocates of autogynephilia theory that she sees in discussions on the internet. The same seems to apply a lot to Jack Molay.

Critics of autogynephilia theory should not primarily be thought of as critics of obscure scientific papers that nobody reads. Rather, they should be thought of as critics of opponent activists, such as Rod Fleming, Kay Brown, Steve Sailer, Kay Brown, Michael Bailey and James Cantor. These opponent activists are often deeply unpleasant and dishonest, and they tend to use autogynephilia as a weapon against trans activists. They engage in personal attacks, harassment, doxxing and similar. Furthermore, they tend to reject any information that trans activists might collect, making it feel more like an attempt at frame control, that admittedly has mostly failed.

I can’t recall ever seeing a good-faith engagement from these people, where we’ve gone in depth in exchanging information. Probably such engagements have happened, and probably at least Bailey has had some good-faith engagements with me, considering the long time I’ve been in this area; but overall it’s striking how consistently bad Blanchardians (including Bailey) are.

Autogynephilia vs pseudoautogynephilia?

There is a tendency I have noticed among some critics of mine and other’s work on autogynephilia, where they seem to distinguish between “true” autogynephilia, as a capital-p Paraphilia that causes transsexuality and various other things that Blanchardians like to talk about, vs various notions of weaker things that resemble autogynephilia, which for the purposes of this post I will call “pseudoautogynephilia”.

For instance, in a recent Twitter thread by Aella, one of the critical comments said the following:

What a dumb measurement. Men might say ‘oh it would be fun to see what its like to masturbate as a woman’, but that’s not the same as a long term and stable orientation towards the fantasy of possessing a female body.

As another example, in a recent study by Michael Bailey, a throwaway comment was the following:

We believe this argument is mistaken, because it equates small positive scores on the Core Autogynephilia Scale with meaningful elevation on trait autogynephilia.

Neither of these quotes are the cleanest examples, as they have some focus on discussion of autogynephilia in cis women, but I have seen similar sentiment directed towards my research on autogynephilia in cis men, including by Michael Bailey in private emails.

In response to such sentiment, I have at times tried to push for further clarification about what is meant, but I have never received any in-depth theoretical response. Still I thought I should respond to the critique; probably my response is wrong or confused in some sense, but maybe by responding I can stimulate some discussion that can create proper clarity.

In my view, autogynephilia is a spectrum, and has a skewed distribution

If I ask men how they experience autogynephilia in surveys, I get a response distribution along the lines of the following:

Response distribution for autogynephilia in one of my surveys. See this post for details on the data.

The exact nuances of the response distribution have not been properly figured out. Since high levels of autogynephilia is rare, it’s hard to collect enough autogynephiles to precisely map out the distribution for autogynephilia. However, I think something like the above is what you’d tend to find.

Originally, Ray Blanchard defined autogynephilia as a tendency to be aroused by the thought of being a woman. Under this definition, it seems like you would “count” as autogynephilic at scores greater than 0.5 or so, though of course those who had higher arousal (corresponding to higher scores) would count as “more” autogynephilic, in some sense. This is how I usually think of things, and it is the philosophy I usually use for analyzing my data.

However, the people who raise this critique don’t seem to be satisfied with this dimensional way of thinking about autogynephilia. They seem to think of it in a categorical way. Often, they seem to even consider the prevalence lower exceedingly low; for instance here Michael Bailey argues that autogynephilia has a prevalence much lower than homosexuality.

If this is so, then it seems like the threshold for autogynephilia should be way higher than 0.5, and perhaps be at 4 or something. But what are we to make of the remainder? For instance, if some guy says something like…

I like girls feet so I have thought about what it would be like to be a girl with cute feet and tease guys with foot fetishes, although ultimately my focus is on the imaginary girl, with the addition of seeing her perspective, as opposed to being interested in men from a female perspective or myself wanting to be a girl.

Comment by someone in one of my surveys.

… and scores middling in my autogynephilia scale, but is not a “true” autogynephile, then what is he?

I suppose according to the critics, he must be a “pseudoautogynephile” of some kind. However they have not done very well at explaining how they think of pseudoautogynephiles, or why we should consider them totally distinct from “true” autogynephiles. Still, suppose we decide to do so; what are we going to make of it?

Does “pseudoautogynephilia” undermine Blanchardianism?

First, consider the following scatterplot:

If we consider all the levels of autogynephilia score to be different gradations of autogynephilia, then this scatterplot forms a strong argument for the importance of autogynephilia in transsexuality, at least if interpreted causally (see my study for more discussion).

However, if we instead say that the distinction between AGP vs not happens high in the dimension, say at around a score of 4, then we are in trouble; because there does not seem to be much of a distinction in gender identity between the “true” autogynephiles who score 4.5ish, and the “pseudoautogynephiles” who score at 3.5ish. It seems like autogynephilia does not affect people’s feelings much in ways that couldn’t instead be explained by pseudoautogynephilia.

Now one might say that actually I’m getting things totally wrong, because actually “true” autogynephilia is so rare that I would not see it at all in my sample. And again, that might be conceivable, because I don’t understand the pseudoautogynephilia/true autogynephilia distinction, so I don’t have any way of objecting to it. But in that case, I would point out that some pseudoautogynephiles seem to feel very similar to trans women. For instance, in being asked to describe his gender identity, one of the respondents in my sample wrote the following:

I have always felt deep down that I would prefer to be female. I prefer the way they dress and act and it always made me a bit jealous of girls. I feel I would be more comfortable in my own skin as a female. I have come to terms with the way that I feel and accept that I wouldn’t want to go through a transition. I am okay with the way that feel now and have learned to accept those feelings.

I don’t feel that I am traditionally very manly and feel more comfortable around girls

Commenter in my recent study.

By assumption, this guy is a pseudoautogynephile, since he showed up in my smallish sample that was not explicitly looking for autogynephiles. However, his gender feelings seem quite similar to those trans women have before they transition, so it seems like this shows that transsexuality can probably arise from pseudoautogynephilia and not just true autogynephilia.

Do Blanchardian studies of trans women distinguish between true autogynephilia and pseudoautogynephilia?

There are various studies that frequently get cited as evidence for Blanchard’s transsexual taxonomy. For instance, in this blog post, Kay Brown cites five studies on autogynephilia in trans women, and claims that they find that gynephilic trans women are usually autogynephilic. However, do the measures used in those studies convincingly distinguish between true autogynephilia and pseudoautogynephilia?

The first study she cites is Blanchard’s 1985 study Typology of male-to-female transsexualism. In it, he asked a number of trans women whether they had ever felt sexually aroused while putting on women’s clothes, and this was the key criteria used for diagnosing autogynephilia. However, this does not seem likely to be capable of distinguishing between “true” autogynephilia and “pseudoautogynephilia”. People often seem to consider the frequency and intensity of arousal to be important distinguishing factors between the two, yet if it only happened once, trans women would be considered autogynephilic by this criterion. Thus, if we consider it impotant to distinguish “true” autogynephilia from “pseudoautogynephilia”, then it seems that the Blanchard (1985) paper is of no evidentiary value.

This is the same sort of question that was used in multiple of the other studies that Kay Brown cited, including in the Smith and Nuttbrock studies. And the Blanchard (1987) paper used similar criteria:

Similarly, when Kay Brown claims that Lawrence’s 2005 study Sexuality Before and After Male-to-Female Sex Reassignment Surgery finds rates of autogynephilia of 89%, she is counting not just those who reported arousal “Hundreds of times or more”, but also those who reported arousal “Dozens of times”, “A dozen times or less”, and I believe even “Once or twice” (I might be wrong, I can’t find the exact number in the paper). Only around half of her participants reported arousal autogynephilic arousal “Hundreds of times or more”, and in my experience usually pseudoautogynephilia advocates are skeptical about single-question diagnosis of autogynephilia, so presumably a more rigorous approach would find even lower levels.

Conclusion

I am probably misunderstanding pseudoautogynephilia theory. However I have been in this field for very long, and I have not seen any comprehensible explanation of what pseudoautogynephilia theory says, or why we should believe it, so I bet everyone else is confused about pseudoautogynephilia theory too. Hopefully this description of the issues with pseudoautogynephilia theory can stimulate some discussion, which can lead advocates of pseudoautogynephilia theory to write an in-depth description, providing both evidence and theory that allows us to comprehend it.

Until then, there is the question of what we should make of autogynephilia. Since the main people pushing autogynephilia theory also seem to endorse pseudoautogynephilia theory, and since existing studies on autogynephilia in trans women are of no evidentiary value if pseudoautogynephilia theory is true, it appears that pseudoautogynephilia theory has led to a nearly complete evidentiary collapse of the foundations of autogynephilia theory/Blanchardianism. Until this has been remedied, presumably Blanchardians should just be disregarded as clueless.

In particular, before we can learn about autogynephilia, we need some method that can be used to diagnose whether a more-or-less arbitrary person is autogynephilic. Such a method should of course be justified, both in terms of pseudoautogynephilia theory, and in terms of various other theories and critiques that have been raised, which I will not review here.

As for my own writings, I do not understand pseudoautogynephilia theory, and therefore do not believe it. My writings and arguments still make plenty of sense, as long as you remember that I believe autogynephilia exists to different degrees, and the strongest effects tend to be seen in the strongest autogynephiles.

Towards a comprehensive study of potential psychological causes of the ordinary range of variation of affective gender identity in males

This post is also available on LessWrong.

The title of this post might be quite a mouthful, so let’s break it down a bit.

  • “Affective gender identity” concerns how you feel about being a man vs being a woman. That is, in males, it’s about how satisfied one is with being male, and how much one wants to be female. If for instance you are a trans woman, then your affective gender identity is almost certainly such that you are distressed about having male body parts and being seen as male, and that you want to live like a woman.
  • However, “the ordinary range of variation” means that we aren’t looking at trans women, who only make up a very small part of the population, but instead that we are looking at relatively ordinary men. Men have substantial variation in how they feel about being male, as has been discussed by rationalists before under labels such as “cis-by-default”. For instance, in surveys of the rationalist community, around 50% of men feel like they wouldn’t mind being women, and 50% of men feel like it would be distressing to be women.
  • When I say I am doing a “comprehensive study of potential psychological causes” of this, what I mean is that I try to ask a large bunch of men an enormous number of questions about their values, personality, sexuality, experiences, and things like that, to try and untangle if any of these factors might be contributing to their affective gender identity. This is inherently a difficult problem, since surveys are kind of crude, and inferring causality at this level of analysis is not straightforward. I think the results here are worthwhile; but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

This study is unfortunately probably not the definitive answer, if nothing else then because the key findings aren’t replicated yet. I’ll try to point out any limitations that I see, though. The following post describes my general analysis; if you would like to see the data to perform your own analysis, or to see the exact surveys used for the analysis, you can download them here.

Why?

One of the main things that we might want to do with a study of affective gender identity is to learn about trans people. However, at a first glance, this might make you conclude that my study is absurd! After all, by studying the ordinary range of variation, I’m excluding trans women, who are the individuals we would extrapolate onto.

I definitely think it would be worth doing further research into actual trans women to investigate the extent to which my results hold up. However, I don’t think my methodology is as inherently absurd as you might think. For instance, one of my respondents in the survey wrote the following comment:

I have always felt deep down that I would prefer to be female. I prefer the way they dress and act and it always made me a bit jealous of girls. I feel I would be more comfortable in my own skin as a female. I have come to terms with the way that I feel and accept that I wouldn’t want to go through a transition. I am okay with the way that feel now and have learned to accept those feelings.

I don’t feel that I am traditionally very manly and feel more comfortable around girls

He is not trans, but anecdotally it seems to me that he is similar to how many trans women were before transition. Furthermore, it just seems like the very nature of affective gender identity would make it a major contributor to transitioning. Indeed, my impression is that the trans community would basically agree with this assessment of him (except maybe for the “he is not trans” part – rather than “close to trans”, they might think he just is trans, and “repressing” it).

Contrast this to what some other men have said in the survey. For instance, combining comments from two men, another way that men within the normal range of variation can feel is:

It would be bad for me to be female. I think the phrase “fate worse than death” is fairly accurate. I think women are fine but I don’t want to be one at all, even if I was both transformed into one and had my personality shifted. It just isn’t me.

It is extremely important for me to be male. I enjoy being masculine I enjoy the banter men have, I enjoy having a male brain. I also extremely fancy women and think about sex a lot, I know I could be female and have those emotions but I think they are more intense as a man. I prefer the way men live their life’s with less drama, I don’t think having female friends as a female would suit me. I think men get more chances work wise in life than females. I also love being a dad and playing football with my son.

And then there’s of course a lot of men distributed in the range between those two extremes, e.g. “I feel that I am male and a sudden change would be very difficult to process. … It’s not something that you would be able to accept straight away.” or “Having only known being male, I am curious about the experience of being female, and getting a sense of that perspective. Even if it were to remain permanent, I’ve lived long enough as a male to be satisfied with the experience.” There seems to be a whole continuum there.

Presumably, there are some reasons that distinguish these different kinds of feelings from each other; some factors that make men lean more in one direction or another. And it seems likely to me that whatever those reasons are, they will also account for much of what leads trans women to transition rather than stay as cis men.

Now, it might be that you don’t buy into this notion of a gender identity spectrum; that you don’t think the first guy quoted has anything at all to do with trans women. If so, I would be interested in hearing why, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen any strong arguments against that connection. But it would mean that this post would be of very limited value to you. For the rest of you, who think the notion makes sense, let’s get on with the post!

Measuring affective gender identity

Speaking of affective gender identity, how do we measure it in the first place? If someone transitions genders to live like the opposite sex, we can probably make a reasonable inference that her affective gender identity strongly differs from the mean among cis men, but that only applies to the extremes, while I was studying the ordinary range. So how have I studied it? By asking people about it.

For instance, it may be instructive to look at one of the questions I used for measuring gender identity in the first couple of surveys in this study. There, I asked as follows:

Of course this question is not perfect. It’s sort of arbitrary in which options it offers, and arguably some of these options implicitly make various assumptions about the question-answerer. I also followed it up with another question which supposed that one’s psychology would change too, but it also has problems. For this reason, in one of the surveys, I included 60 other varied questions, such as:

  • If one had the opportunity to magically become a woman, for how long of a period would one choose?
  • Does one envy the appearance of women? Or their gender expression?
  • Does one feel that one could be happy as a woman?
  • Does one daydream about becoming a woman?
  • Does one feel one fits the gender roles for men well?
  • Would one feel disgusted when waking up as a woman? Or furious? Or humiliated? Or comfortable?

The questions are rather elaborate and repetitive, so I encourage you to look at the attached dataset for more detail. However, the overall finding I got is that men’s responses to these questions were all correlated, and were highly “unidimensional” in the sense that there were not clusters of different questions that gave wildly different results from other clusters. One way to quantify the dimensionality is through the use of a “scree plot”, where one looks at the amount of variation in question answers that exists in the first principal component, versus in the other principal components. If we do this for my dataset, then we get a scree plot like this:

Now there does seem to be some very slight multidimensionality, but by far the most variation is consistently either more wanting to be a woman or not, so for the purposes of this study, I will not be doing much investigation into the different nuances of the feelings, but instead just consider overall affective gender identity.

The elephant in the room

We can’t talk about the causes of gender identity without talking about autogynephilia.

Autogynephilia refers to a sexual interest in being a woman. The most well-known form of this is transvestic fetishism, where a man finds it erotic to wear women’s clothes, but it can take on many other forms. It may be helpful to consider some examples of autogynephilic fantasies from men who did the survey:

(Note that these shouldn’t be considered the full extent of how autogynephilic men feel about gender. These were given in questions where I explicitly asked about the sexual parts. Autogynephiles can feel additional emotional attachment to being a woman; for instance, the “almost trans” guy who I gave as motivation in the beginning of the post was autogynephilic.)

  • “General lesbian sex fantasies involving power-play (Business woman and flight attendant, nurse and patient etc)”
  • “I am wearing women’s sexy underwear and I make love completely to a shemale, performing oral on them and receiving full anal penetration from them”
  • “Being a domme”
  • “I’m a curvy woman with big breasts having sex with a man and I am looking down at my body in missionary with the man on top of me”
  • Etc.

There’s also a lot of different possibilities, and if one has other sexual interests, it often seems to mix with those, leading to new presentations that combine multiple sexual interests at once. On the internet I’ve also commonly seen the erotic genre called “transgender transformations”, which depicts men turning into women. Autogynephiles seem to be particularly into that.

The factor that makes autogynephilia particularly striking is that it is highly correlated with wanting to be a woman. For instance in this survey, I found a correlation of around 0.56-0.66. This is about comparable to the combined effect I get from all the other factors people nominated. For instance, if I take the first few principal components for all the questions attempting to assess other causes of gender issues, and use regression to try and predict gender identity from them, I get this plot:

I think the correlation is there because autogynephilia causes males to want to be female, because this is how sexual interests generally work. For instance, heterosexual men want to have girlfriends and homosexual men want to have boyfriends, presumably because their sexuality makes them attracted to women and men respectively. I’d extrapolate this principle to autogynephilia. However, this is a controversial proposal; the trans community tends to argue that this claim is obviously wrong, and that autogynephilia is either an effect of affective gender identity (if you don’t like being male and want to be female, of course this would also apply in the case of your sexuality, which is the context where being male/female has the clearest impact) or as an effect of brain feminization (so autogynephilia would be a form of female sexuality, which would then be correlated with males wanting to be a woman because there are males with feminized brains who as a result also want to be women).

For the record, here is a scatterplot of the correlation between autogynephilia and gender identity:

Meanwhile, the strongest well-defined competitor to autogynephilia that I found was gender conservativism, which looked as follows:

I can also plot both at once, using color to indicate gender identity:

For identifying other causes of affective gender identity, it matters a lot whether autogynephilia is causally upstream or downstream of gender identity, because if it is causally upstream of it, we can condition on or control for autogynephilia, and thereby increase our statistical power, whereas if it is causally downstream, conditioning on autogynephilia would introduce biases and reduce our statistical power. For this study, I tried both kinds of analysis.

Basic approach

I first did a prescreener survey, recruiting 322 cis men on Prolific and asking them:

  1. To confirm that they are cis men, removing the respondents who reported being trans or gender questioning1
  2. To rate their affective gender identity on two questions about it
  3. To answer some questions about sexuality, including two questions assessing autogynephilia asking them how arousing they would find “Imagining being transformed into a woman” and “Wearing women’s clothes; crossdressing”

Since I already knew from other research that autogynephilia was a major factor in gender identity, I was most interested in what factors might affect gender identity in the non-autogynephiles. So among the men who reported no signs of autogynephilia, I took the ones who had scores that were particularly trans-adjacent and particularly cisgender on the affective gender identity measure, and asked them if they could think of any differences they had from other men that might make them feel like that.

Based on the qualitative responses to this survey, as well as the qualitative responses to some past surveys where I had asked some similar questions, I came up with 110 questions that might assess the sorts of things men mentioned as relevant factors. Those questions were for instance things like “Which parent spent more time raising you while you were growing up?”, “How psychologically different do you feel men and women are?” and “Do you tend to be open about your emotions?”. I then did a survey asking 193 of the men those questions, to hopefully find some patterns in what correlates with gender identity.

A scree plot suggested that there were roughly three major factors involved in this:

When looking at the items for each factor, I concluded that they might best be named:

  1. Gender Conservativism (covering e.g. questions like “Do you think it is important for men to be manly and women to be womanly?” vs “Do you believe women can do anything men can? (Other than physical strength)”)
  2. Eccentricity (e.g. “Did you have unusual, “outsider”, interests as a kid?” vs “Are you married?”)
  3. Extraversion (e.g. “Are you good at understanding how other people feel?”, “Do you tend to be open about your emotions?”, “Are you good at flirting?” or “Do people around you see you as a leader?”)

I was a bit unsure how to name the third factor. It seemed to include elements of emotional warmth as well as outgoing charismatic tendencies. Some people see the former as being “feminine” and the latter as being “masculine”, but in personality research it is well-established that these tendencies correlate with each other, which is sometimes attributed to there being a common factor of “Extraversion” which makes people act more or less social overall. Therefore I named it “Extraversion”. The full table of “factor loadings” that quantifies how much each of the questions depend on each of the factors can be found here or in the supplement.

Because it might be of interest to evaluate whether there is a distinction between the “feminine” elements and the “masculine” element of Extraversion, I separated the items into the two groups, and thereby constructed two factors, “Emotional Expressiveness” (e.g. “Are you good at understanding other’s emotions?” and “Do you tend to be open about your emotions?”) and “Social/sexual Assertiveness” (e.g. “Do people around you see you as a leader?” and “Are you good at flirting?”). Furthermore, I also subtracted them from each other, yielding an axis that I called “Interpersonal M-F” which captures one’s lean to one side or the other.

Gender conservativism was slightly negatively correlated with Eccentricity (at around -0.15), but otherwise the main three factors were basically independent. If we instead split the Extraversion factor into its “feminine” and “masculine” components, then the M-F axis correlated positively with Gender conservativism and negatively with Eccentricity. Gender conservativism was also strongly correlated with aversion from being a woman, at a strength of 0.44, which at the time was comparable to the 0.48 of autogynephilia.2 The strong correlation between Gender conservativism and Gender identity accounted for basically all the relationship between the factors and Gender identity; while Interpersonal M-F also correlated with Gender identity, the correlations look relatively compatible with it mostly just being confounded by Gender conservativism. Or you can see the correlation matrix below:

It should be noted that the “Gender Conservativism” factor doesn’t just include ideological views. It also includes tendencies like getting offended if people think you are gay, enjoying locker room banter, feeling good at fights, liking guns, feeling like men are better for the world and are smarter than women, and other things that could perhaps be called “Macho”/”Machismo”. So in a sense, the key finding here is that macho men are less likely to want to be women, which people might have regarded as obvious.

Similar to the case with Autogynephilia, this does raise the question of direction of causality. Is Gender conservativism/Machismo correlated with Gender identity because Gender conservativism makes men more satisfied with being male (or similar causal structures, e.g. because it makes them repress/deny whatever gender issues they might have)? Or is it instead correlated with Gender identity because men who feel good about being male are better able to see the appeal of Gender conservativism? I’m less certain about the direction of causality here than I was with Autogynephilia, but I suspect that the causal direction goes Gender conservativism -> Gender identity, for mainly four different reasons:

  1. In the qualitative study, the men tended to mention it as a potential factor, so whatever introspective evidence they have for it seems to suggest that it is relevant. I consider this only weak evidence, as they also proposed the many other things under the Eccentricity and Extraversion factors which didn’t seem very relevant. But if one wanted to make check for stronger evidence, one could do further qualitative research, asking them why they came to the conclusion that Gender conservativism matters for their Gender identity.
  2. Gender conservativism seems in many ways like the sort of thing that might matter for Gender identity. Gender conservatives tend to celebrate manhood and be judgmental towards gender-bending; if you are a man who sees manhood as something aspirational and genderbending as something degenerate, then it seems like you would be averse to becoming a woman, whereas if you are a man who sees men as being toxic and genderbending as something to be promoted, then it seems like you would be less averse to it.
  3. I think causality tends to flow from “bigger”, “more varied” factors to “smaller” factors. And in this case, I think Gender conservativism is “very big”; it has profound implications for your perspective on many important social issues, and it has strong links to lots of big things such as your social network, to the point where the culture of your ideological opponents can be like dark matter, invisible due to lack of interactions. Meanwhile, within the ordinary range of Gender identity, where one is not transitioning, Gender identity does not seem to have much opportunity to have big effects.
  4. You might wonder if there couldn’t be a third factor causing both, but note that the correlation is very big, so a third factor causing the correlation would have to be a dominant factor in determining both of the variables, which seems implausible/hard to think of.

Also of interest, men who felt they were nerdy were much less gender conservative. This is actually very interesting to me, because the question that first set me researching all these transgender topics is, why are there so many trans women in nerdy groups such as rationalists? Until now, I had mainly seen two answers. One theory which was popular in the rationalist trans community was that nerdiness reflected some sort of “unmasculinity”, perhaps a lower amount of brain masculinization, and that this lead to gender issues. Meanwhile, the theory I’ve seen from autogynephilia theorists such as Michael Bailey is that nerdiness was particularly related to autogynephilia. These results make it seem like both sides are wrong, and it is instead a question of nerds being more open-minded about nontraditional gender notions.

Finally, to clarify the concept of Gender conservativism, it might be nice to have in-depth description of people’s views for different levels of Gender conservativism. Luckily, I did a qualitative survey asking people across the Gender conservativism spectrum to describe their beliefs. Here are the beliefs from someone who was radically Gender conservative:

I am a Muslim and homosexuality is not tolerated in Islamic societies and cultures. Gays and lesbians both go against Allah’s natural disposition (fitrah) in humans – and also in animals – in which the male is drawn to the female and vice versa. The spread of homosexuality and lesbianism has resulted in diseases that neither the east nor the west can deny exist. Homosexuality and lesbianism cause family breakdown and cause people to abandon their jobs and studies because they are preoccupied with these perversions.

With being Muslim and following the teachings of Islam, you cannot be gay and Muslim. Islam is a complete way of life, you cannot amend it, you cannot change it. I agree that homosexuality should be accepted in society, but I don’t want it to interfere with my religion by people claiming to be Muslim and gay. It’s a sin in my religion, full stop.

To summarise, LGBTQ, homosexuality, and other forms of homosexuality are all prohibited in Islam, so instead of engaging in practises that Allah has deemed Haram for you and will lead to your destruction, follow what Allah has deemed Halal for you as it will lead to your betterment and salvation.

Meanwhile, here are the beliefs from someone who was radically Gender progressive:

If asked to describe my views I would say I am a progressive, liberal individual who takes a left leaning stance on issues relating to gender. I am a feminist who believes in gender equality. I do not have any issues with transgender people, I respect them greatly in the face of the abuse they seem to receive and I despise those with large platforms who use it to be anti-trans (e.g JK Rowling). Myself, I am not a particularly masculine person and found it difficult growing up at times at school and college. As adult it has made me more drawn to disliking hypermasculine men, criticising toxic masculinity and other poor behaviour and hanging out with other friends who are not macho men.

The people in between these extremes were highly heterogeneous; they might for instance believe that men and women had very different mindsets for biological reasons (which is Gender conservative) but that this made women more suited for certain roles that are traditionally male, such as politicians (which is Gender progressive). Alternatively, they might believe that the whole topic is blown out of proportion and that people should instead pay more attention to practical matters.

Another way to get an impression for what the gender conservativism variable amounts to is to look at how the different levels of gender conservativism map to the question responses. In the diagram below, I’ve plotted a histogram for gender conservativism, and below the histogram I show a select set of items that assess gender conservativism (shortened for space purposes). Next to each item, I show the response options for the questions, with each response option being placed under the range of gender conservativism where people are most likely to pick it:

About masculinity/femininity and mental health

This survey still left about half the variance unexplained. It would be much better to have a deterministic model of gender identity, as that makes a lot of research questions simpler. I tried a few improvements by e.g. asking additional qualitative surveys of men who had more or less gender issues than would be expected from their Autogynephilia and Gender conservativism scores if they could come up with any suggestions, but they didn’t really have much to say.

Since I didn’t really know what else to do, I thought I would investigate the short-term stability of the factors over time, as well as various characteristics that have often been speculated about as being relevant for transsexuality, such as3 masculinity/femininity and mental health. Trans women tend to feel much more feminine than cis men do, so likely this would also be linked to gender identity in these surveys. Furthermore, trans women are often anxious or depressed, and various mental health problems like body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder have been proposed to contribute to gender dysphoria. Finally, the theoretically-inclined trans women I’ve talked to about these topics often talk about autism or dissociation as being related to gender dissatisfaction.

I’ve put a lot of effort into measuring masculinity/femininity in the past, and my impression so far has been that it’s a very subtle problem, because the things people verbally mention to define masculinity/femininity doesn’t align all that well with who they’d actually label as masculine/feminine. I really should do an in-depth writeup about this at some point, but until then I recommend this animatic showing how women can be very feminine even if they nominally fit the definition of being very masculine, or this critique at Unremediated Genderspace.

So in order to measure masculinity/femininity, I had to use incomplete, ad-hoc means. This mainly meant two things. First, there is a masculinity/femininity test I have been working on, which aims to measure what people informally think of as being masculine/feminine using concrete descriptors, so I took some items from that. Secondly, one way to assess the masculinity/femininity is to just ask people how masculine/feminine they are; this is arguably guaranteed to measure their own notion of masculinity/femininity, at the expense of potentially making the measurement heterogenous (meaning different things for different people) and opaque (difficult to know what exactly it is that you are measuring). So by doing both, I came up with a varied set of questions.

Some of the questions used to assess masculinity/femininity, as they were presented to the respondents.

When looking at the correlations, my items from the masculinity/femininity test (marked with “MFPERS:”) were often related to how masculine/feminine people felt they were, rated abstractly (labelled as “Self-Assessed M-F”). This is good as that is what the masculinity/femininity test was designed to do.4 However, they were generally not related to Gender identity, with perhaps a few exceptions. However, while the MFPERS items were not very related to Gender identity, Self-Assessed M-F was fairly strongly related to Gender identity:

However, if we buy the argument of Gender conservativism/Machismo and Autogynephilia being relevant root causes, we might imagine that e.g. Autogynephilia both makes a man feel more feminine and feel more like he wants to be a woman. If this is the case, then they would induce a correlation between Self-Assessed M-F and Gender identity. It’s a bit of a philosophical question whether this induced correlation represents a real correlation between True Masculinity/Femininity and Gender identity, as that requires deciding whether Autogynephilia is feminine/Gender conservativism is masculine. However, it does make me interested in whether there are any connections between Self-Assessed M-F and Gender identity beyond those induced by Gender conservativism and Autogynephilia. We can achieve this by subtracting off Gender conservativism and Autogynephilia from all the items, leading to this correlation matrix:

When controlling for these factors, most of the correlation between Self-Assessed M-F and Gender identity goes away, so if Gender conservativism and Autogynephilia are root causes, that suggests that maybe there is not much value in Masculinity/Femininity-related factors in explaining Gender identity in the ordinary range of variation in gender identity. That said, there are a few remaining correlations that it might be worth investigating further.

Next, there’s the question of mental health. Unfortunately I did not have the resources to do a rigorous mental health assessment of the participants, so instead I used two ad-hoc measures. First, in this survey, I wrote brief descriptions of each condition, and asked people whether the descriptions applied to themselves. For instance, here is a screenshot of two questions I used:

The full list of conditions I wrote was:

  • Depression: Do you feel hopeless and sad, like nothing matters, like nothing feels good, like that you are a failure or have let others down, and that you might be better off dead?
  • Anxiety: Do you mostly feel nervous, unable to control your worrying, having trouble relaxing, and feeling something awful might happen?
  • Body image: Do you feel bad about your body, avoiding activities to hide it or obsessing over its flaws, are you considering extreme interventions to change your body, feeling inferior to others because of your appearance?
  • Unstable identity: Do your relations to others rapidly change between feeling like the other people are great and terrible, do you have binges where you go all-out with excessive acts, do you have regularly have frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, do you feel unsure about what you truly believe in?
  • Eccentricity: Do you find that you see or hear things or people that others don’t, that people have trouble understanding what you are saying, that others might be controlling your thoughts, and that you have supernatural powers or understanding that others do not appreciate?
  • Autism-like traits: Do you find yourself to be asocial, to tend to notice specific details and patterns, to have trouble understanding other’s mental state or how to interact with others, and to tend get obsessed about your activity or special interests?
  • Obsessions/compulsions: Do you have some theme that you keep having unwanted thoughts about, where you feel you have to engage in certain behaviors to feel comfortable, and where you otherwise cannot control your thoughts about it?
  • Depersonalization/dissociation: Do you find that you aren’t sure if events are real or happen in dreams, that you miss parts of conversations, that you end up in places without being sure how you got there, do you feel that you yourself or other people seem unreal, and that your body is not your own?

Furthermore, in a later follow up survey, I also asked people whether they had been diagnosed with any of a range of mental health conditions. I included response options for both suspecting that one has it while not being diagnosed, for having self-diagnosed, and for having been professionally diagnosed, and counted people increasingly as having the condition the later of the options they picked. The correlations between the variables considered so far looks as follows:

(The distinction between “gender identity (extended version)” and “gender identity (original version)” is because along the way, I introduced a fundamentally new gender identity measure with 60 extra questions.)

Sometimes, there was reasonable correlation between the two methods of assessing mental health problems; for instance, autism was highly correlated across the methods. Other times, such as with depression/anxiety, there was strong correlation across the methods, but also a lack of specificity; self-ratings as fitting the description of depression were correlated not just with depression diagnoses but also with anxiety diagnoses.5 Meanwhile, some measures performed quite poorly; for instance, the “Body image” variable was supposed to assess the same sorts of things as the “Anorexia or body dysmorphic disorder” diagnosis, but it didn’t.

Overall, mental illness wasn’t that strongly correlated with Gender identity. There was some correlation with depression, but that might be reverse causality; I could imagine that a man who is happier and prouder about being male would be less depressed as a result. There was no correlation with body image problems. You might think that is surprising because Affective gender identity involves Gender dysphoria, but I think it makes sense. First, male body image problems often manifest in feeling that one should be more muscular, and secondly, Gender dysphoria is rare and only really appears at the far trans end of the gender identity range, so while trans people are often dissatisfied with their appearance, it wouldn’t necessarily be expected to appear in the normal range that I am studying here. Autism and anxiety were some remaining variables that correlated a bit with Gender identity. I did not investigate them much further, because the correlation wasn’t that strong and I’ve tried looking into it in the past with only limited success, but it might be worth looking into them more thoroughly in the future.

Note that just because mental illness isn’t that strongly correlated with Gender identity, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be connected to transsexuality. For instance, you could imagine that metal illness lowers the threshold of Affective gender identity that leads to transition, or that an unfulfilled wish to transition causes strong mental difficulties. We’d probably need a really big longitudinal study to know for sure.

One thing that was interesting to me was that the Eccentricity factor that we accidentally discover earlier turned out to be highly correlated with mental illness. This is interesting to me because the Eccentricity factor mainly contains questions related to experiences, lifestyle and beliefs about things, while mental illness mainly concerns internal feelings. Often, these sorts of things are studied in isolation, but the fact that there is such a strong correlation suggests that the world that mentally ill people live in is very different from the world that mentally healthy people live in, across a wide variety of areas. This is perhaps not so surprising, but I think it is something that often does not get properly investigated in the psychopathology research I’ve seen.

Above, you see the correlation matrix between mental illness items and eccentricity items. I don’t really notice any patterns of major interest, but I thought it would be worth including it, so that it is more clear what exactly it is that is correlating.

Are there consequentialist gender issues?

Among rationalists, “consequentialism” is a term used to refer to reasoning that looks at the consequences of different options, and then recommends picking the option with the best consequences. It is a fundamental principle of agency, as it tends to lead to achieving the consequences one is searching for. As such, it seems a priori plausible that consequentialism would play a role in gender identity, as being male or female has different consequences, and people might be taking those consequences into account.

To investigate this, I’ve previously done some research to find the consequences that people consider to be the biggest advantages for men and women respectively. The things that my male survey respondents on average considered to be advantages for being male over being female appeared to be (in no particular order):

  • Power in society: Men have higher income, more representation among political decision-makers, and are more likely to be assumed to be higher-ranking in interactions
  • Sociosexual attention: Women often get a lot of attention from men who want to have sex with them, which may be inconvenient
  • Sexual assault worries: Women have more risk of facing sexual violence
  • Sexual attractiveness competition: Women compete a lot on physical attractiveness, and this particularly depends on being skinny and youthful-looking
  • Periods: Women have to deal with menstruation
  • Physical vulnerability: Women are more physically vulnerable than men; are surrounded by men who could beat them up
  • Childbirth: In order to have children, women get pregnant and go through childbirth
  • Feminine presentation: Women are expected to wear feminine clothes, makeup, and similar
  • Female childcare: Women are expected to take care of children, often at the detriment of their career
  • Coarse male anatomy: Men have more body hair, are more smelly, have their fat on their bellies, and have penises as external rather than internal sexual organs
  • Utilitarian male anatomy: Men are stronger than women, can pee standing, and find it easier to reach orgasm

Meanwhile, the advantages for women over men as evaluated by men appeared to be (again in no particular order):

  • Male femininity: Women are allowed to wear feminine clothes, makeup and similar, and are not required to have macho gender conservative views
  • Toughness: Men are expected to be be tough, hide their feelings, be ready to fight, and not cry
  • Men assumed not to care for children: That men are assumed to not be capable of nurturing, and are potential child predators
  • Female friendships: Women are considered more approachable by others, and tend to have closer friendships with each other than men do
  • Male gender norms: Men’s success may be judged on their careers, and they are expected to know technical things and be good at sports

In order for these concerns to have the potential of generating variation in Affective gender identity, they must themselves vary. There are multiple ways that can happen; for instance, maybe one has unusual preferences about what outcomes to achieve (e.g. maybe a househusband is less interested in having power in society), or maybe one is in an unusual environment where the factors do not apply as much (e.g. maybe one lives in a place where women are not expected to wear feminine clothes). In order to attempt to measure the overall effect, I asked the participants to rate the extent to which these factors would leave them better off as men or as women, and instructed them to include both personal preferences, beliefs, environmental factors, and whatever else might affect their evaluation. I’m not sure if this is a good approach, and perhaps some further psychometric investigation would be better, but for now this is what I have data on.

The attitudes to some of the factors had a very strong consensus; for instance, most men felt that the risk of sexual assault would be a downside for them if they were women. Others were highly varied, for instance there was a lot of disagreement between men on how attractive the sociosexual attention would be, with a substantial minority feeling like it would be an advantage. Still others were fairly undecided, e.g. most men did not in net care one way or another about the coarseness of male anatomy.

For convenience, I “aligned” all the variables such that higher score = it would be an advantage as a woman, and lower = it is an advantage as a man. The correlations can be seen here:

The first thing to notice is the correlation between the “Consequentialist Gender Issues Sum Score” and “Gender identity”. I constructed the sum score by simply adding up all the questions about advantages/disadvantages. This sum correlated at 0.18 with Gender identity, which is not nothing, but at the same time, not much.

That said, if you look at the correlation patterns, they look kind of weird. For instance, “Power in society” – surely if you think being a woman would mean that you wouldn’t get proper pay or representation, that would make you less interested in being a woman. Yet I found no correlation in the survey. A likely explanation appears if you look at how “Power in society” correlates with other variables – namely, it correlates with Gender conservativism. Indeed, one of the core principles of Gender conservativism is that feminism is overrated, which tends to include beliefs that gender inequality is not a problem for women. Of course Gender conservatives would therefore be more likely to say that “Power in society” would not disadvantage them if they were women. And we know that Gender conservative men are less likely to want to be women, so this represents a potential confounder, eliminating the correlation that we’d otherwise expect between feeling that women are better off and wanting to be a woman.

Assuming we buy my causal story, I fix this with the “Gender Identity (Residualized for AGP & GC)” variable. Here I subtract off Autogynephilia and Gender conservativism from Gender identity, leaving a variable that is uncorrelated with both. Now it turns out that this variable has a very different pattern of correlations with perceived advantages/disadvantages to being a woman; namely, “Power in society”, “Sociosexual attention”, “Sexual assault worries”, “Attractiveness competition”, “Physical vulnerability”, and “Feminine presentation” started correlating more, while “Toughness”, “Coarse male anatomy”, and “Male gender norms” started correlating less.

Now, the diagram also contains a “Mystery Factor”, and it is time I explain what it is. It is a variable I created by adding up the remaining correlating variables, that is, “Power in society”, “Sociosexual attention”, “Sexual assault worries”, “Attractiveness competition”, “Physical vulnerability”, “Feminine presentation”, “Coarse male anatomy”, “Male gender norms”. Hypothetically, potentially, this variable tags the consequentialist gender issues that actually exist. However, I would be concerned about taking it too seriously, as it is likely overfitting a whole bunch, so it probably needs independent replication. Also, it only seems to account for a fraction of gender identity, but plausibly this could be fixed through better measurement.

Beyond this, I do not see any other important patterns in the correlation matrix. Overall, this survey makes the potential for consequentialist gender issues look very limited to me.

On the measurement of autogynephilia

So far, I have not really gone into detail about how I am measuring autogynephilia, so I thought I should do that. In most of the surveys, I added some basic measure of autogynephilia in order to make sure that I could capture the persistent elements of it. This involved asking people about how sexually arousing they would find various autogynephilic things, on a scale of “Not at all”, “A little”, “Moderately”, “Quite” or “Very”:

  • Imagining being transformed into a woman
  • Wearing women’s clothes; crossdressing
  • Imagining that you are a woman and have sex with another person
  • Imagining that your body magically transforms to become female
  • Imagining being a woman and having lesbian sex with another woman

Items like the above (especially “Imagining being transformed into a woman” + “Wearing women’s clothes; crossdressing”) are how I’ve usually quickly and briefly assessed autogynephilia among cis men. In one of the surveys, I also asked about frequency of sexual fantasies involving the following themes:

  • Imagining yourself as a woman in the sexual fantasy
  • Crossdressing; wearing women’s clothes

The responses to autogynephilia items like the above are typically highly skewed; a lot of men report no autogynephilic sexuality at all, and the sexual interest of the remainder are somewhat evenly split across all the levels of response options. For example, here’s the response distributions for some of the items:

Response distribution for questions about frequency of sexual fantasies involving certain autogynephilic themes.

In another of the surveys, I had items meant to assess the five kinds of autogynephilia that are traditionally listed by autogynephilia theorists, to work as a screener for a more comprehensive survey on autogynephilia in case there are some who are not into the previously mentioned types of autogynephilia. They asked about arousal to the following:

  • Having a female body or female body parts
  • Wearing women’s clothes or makeup or other feminine accessories
  • Having female physiological functions, such as menstruating, lactating or being pregnant
  • Being seen as a woman by others, or having sex with a man as a woman
  • Behaving in a feminine way, or entering feminine spaces

In order to make it unambiguous that the participants were supposed to answer based on their sexuality, I tried to make sure I could place it among other questions inquiring about sexual interests, such as “Having sex with a woman”. You can see the correlation for these questions here:

However, the above questions could be criticized in various ways. They were presented as just a brief part of a bigger survey, so maybe the respondents didn’t think properly about them since it’s not the main part of the survey. They almost exclusively asked participants how “sexually arousing” they would find some scenario – does this square well with other notions of autogynephilia? And the questions did not ask in detail about what the autogynephilic sexual fantasies involved; those would be nice to know.

To investigate these questions, I designed a survey that looks into it in more detail. It contained various measures, but to me the most important measure went into detail with the presence and impact of AGP. Specifically, I told the participants that I was doing a survey on “cross-gender fetishism”, which I defined as “a sexual interest in being a woman or being feminized in sexual scenarios” as well as by giving examples of AGP fantasies. In the survey I then asked the following questions:

  • What is their most erotic cross-gender sexual fantasy?
  • Cross-gender sexual arousal: How sexually arousing do they find the fantasy?
  • Frequency of cross-gender sexual fantasies: How often do they have cross-gender sexual fantasies?
  • Exclusivity of the cross-gender sexuality / attractiveness of “normal” sexual interests: How erotic do they find scenarios that do not involve AGP?
  • Onset of cross-gender sexuality: When in their life did they first start having cross-gender sexuality?
  • Trajectory of cross-gender arousal: How has their cross-gender sexuality proceeded over time?
  • Cross-gender sexual behavior: Have they acted on their cross-gender sexuality?
  • Cross-gender erotic material: How often do they use erotic material depicting cross-gender themes?
  • Self-insertion as female while using ordinary erotic material: How often do they imagine themselves as the women in ordinary erotic materials?

Note that this is just a brief summary of the questions; in practice they were somewhat more detailed, which you can see in the attached file with the question texts. For example, here are three of the questions as presented to the participants:

The correlation matrix for these questions can be seen below:

However, what I find more interesting is mapping out the relationship between these questions and AGP levels. I.e., for different levels of AGP, how do people respond to these questions?

Clearly, this distribution is extremely skewed. The way I like to think of the skew is that most men – perhaps 85%-97% in representative samples, though often only 30%-70% in internet samples – are not the least bit AGP. And then the remaining men are evenly distributed in AGP levels across all orders of magnitude of AGP strength. If you are more statistically inclined, you might wonder about the true distribution; e.g. is it log-normal? This is not something I think our current measurement tools can answer, and I admit that is rather unfortunate that I cannot test it, because it is especially the tails of the distribution that matter for what we would expect to see among e.g. trans women.

Whichever way we think of it, though, I believe it is quite clear that autogynephilia is a continuum, where one can be more or less AGP. My view here differs from that of Michael Bailey, who recently on a podcast argued that autogynephilia does not exist in smaller degrees, based on e.g. research recruiting participants from autogynephilic erotic groups, where the members of such groups were much more AGP than the baseline population. The obvious flaw in such research is that obviously, the men who are more AGP have greater chance of spending time in AGP-related erotic groups, so sampling from such groups would overrepresent the rate of highly AGP men, relative to only slightly AGP men. This error is not a one-off pattern; my experience with Michael Bailey is that he constantly works on a “community level”/”group level”, evaluating what sorts of people exist based on what sorts of communities exist. I’ve tried pointing this out, and explaining that one must reason about the selection processes by which the general population enters into such communities, but he refuses to even think about that.

Anyway, the above scale was not the only scale I included in the survey on cross-gender fetishism. I also included a scale asking people for the frequency in which they had various common autogynephilic sexual fantasies:

  • You are a woman and have sex with a man
  • You are a woman and have sex with a woman
  • You are a woman and masturbate
  • You are crossdressing, wearing women’s clothes
  • You are transformed into a woman (e.g. through magic, sci-fi technology, or other means)
  • You are a woman, and you think about/look at your feminized body

Furthermore, in order to make my research more comparable to previous research done by autogynephilia theorists, and to get more comprehensive measurement of autogynephilia, I included Ray Blanchard’s Core Autogynephilia Scale and Autogynephilic Interpersonal Fantasy Scale as well as Kevin Hsu’s General Autogynephilia Scale6. One way we might analyze this data is by correlating the different scales with each other. That leads to the following results:

As you can see, the different scales tend to be fairly highly correlated. As such it might be tempting to conclude that autogynephilia is completely unidimensional and there isn’t much need to distinguish between different measures of autogynephilia. However, there is a potential complication that appears in this. The scales are composed of multiple items, and often each scale has items with wildly different content. For instance, “My Usual AGP Measure” has both “Wearing women’s clothes; crossdressing” and “Imagining that your body magically transforms to become female”, which arguably assess different forms of AGP. It is possible for these to not be all that correlated with each other, while still inducing high correlations between scales that include both of those themes. To help address this issue, we might factor-analyze the AGP data on the level of individual items, to see which combinations of items are reasonable to join together. First, a scree plot to assess the dimensionality:

This plot shows that autogynephilia items are extremely one-dimensional. However, there might be some slight multidimensionality to them. When running factor analysis, I can find 4 interpretable factors, so that is what I ended up extracting. I ended up labelling the factors:

  • Feminization/Transvestic AGP: e.g. “Crossdressing; wearing women’s clothes”, “Cross-gender erotic material”
  • Anatomic AGP: e.g. “You became sexually aroused while picturing your nude female genitals (private parts)”
  • Interpersonal AGP: e.g. “Picturing myself as a woman being admired by another person”, “Picturing myself with a woman’s face”
  • Physiological AGP: e.g. “Picturing myself lactating and/or breastfeeding” or “Picturing myself urinating seated like a woman” (according to the General Autogynephilia Scale, the latter would be considered behavioral, but perhaps because some of the items were missing, that’s not how it was categorized by the factor analysis)

So it’s actually quite possible to make AGP factors that are much more differentiated than the AGP scales that I previously showed. However, once we look at these correlations, we see something interesting: The correlation between different types of AGP are fairly comparable in magnitude to the correlations between AGP and gender identity. This raises the question of whether my insistence of distinguishing AGP from gender identity even makes sense. After all, AGP couldn’t correlate more with gender identity than it correlates with itself.

But actually, the previous sentence is just wrong, or rather, complicated by different possible causal structures. Let’s investigate three of them, to clarify things. First, since this is just an example, let’s drop physiological AGP since it’s an outlier that complicates things. Next, it seems reasonable to suppose that different notions of autogynephilia correlate with each other because there’s some common underlying cause, which I will call “general autogynephilia”. The details aren’t yet so important, but if we assume the autogynephilia types to otherwise be independent, we can compute how strongly they each depend on general autogynephilia. Next, suppose for parsimony’s sake7 that Gender identity is only affected by one form of autogynephilia, say by Feminization/Transvestic AGP, we get this causal network:

If this causal network holds, the path marked x determines the relationship between autogynephilia and Gender identity. In particularly, if the x path was deterministic, Feminization/Transvestic AGP would be deterministically related to Gender identity, even though Feminization/Transvestic AGP isn’t deterministically related to other forms of AGP.

However, we know this causal network cannot hold, because it would require Feminization/Transvestic AGP to be much more strongly related to Gender identity than Anatomic AGP is. So for contrast, let’s consider another causal network:

This sort of causal network has enough degrees of freedom that it could account for any relationship, including the set of correlations we see, to the point where we’ve captured the entire effect of autogynephilia. It could also in principle account for a deterministic relationship, where for instance the correlations between autogynephilia and gender identity would be as strong as the correlations we see between the individual facets of autogynephilia and the total autogynephilia score.

The above causal network assumes that the effect of the general autogynephilia trait is mediated by specific forms of autogynephilia, and not mediated by any other factors. It’s also possible to make the opposite assumption; that the specific forms of autogynephilia are epiphenomena, and instead the general autogynephilia trait has some other direct connection to Gender identity:

In this case, we actually also have the opportunity to estimate the w path. Specifically, we can divide the correlation between each of the specific forms of autogynephilia and gender identity by the correlation between general autogynephilia and that form of autogynephilia to get an estimate. Doing this for each of the forms yields estimates of w=0.6/0.89=0.67, w=0.53/0.71=0.75, and w=0.37/0.55=0.67. So that model permits a value of w=0.7ish.

What is the true causal answer? It seems impossible to know with our current methods, as causality cannot be simply inferred from correlation. There are some things that could help pin down the answer more precisely, though. If we had a more varied set of autogynephilia measures, for instance, we might find additional facets of autogynephilia, which would increase the lower bounds we get just from the manifest correlations. That said, it seems unlikely that we will find enough of those for it to make a big difference. Alternatively, if we better understood why the different forms of autogynephilia were distinct from each other, we could likely take those distinctions into account. Another possibility would be if we could identify some other causes of Gender identity, as that would put an upper bound on the effect Autogynephilia could have on gender identity, since some of the variation would be shown to be due to factors unrelated to Autogynephilia.

A final big factor analysis

If you think about it, with the original factor analysis where I identified Gender conservativism as a major factor, I arguably committed a substantial sin: I only asked non-autogynephilic men for qualitative data.

If I’m right that Autogynephilia is causally upstream from Gender identity, then that is fine, because we’ve already identified autogynephilia as a major factor, and there’s no need to get additional stories about that. However, if Autogynephilia is actually an epiphenomenon of Gender identity, then this filtering process prevents us from hearing the stories of the men who are of the most interest for this research.

Therefore, I did an additional survey, where I took the men who were the most autogynephilic and had the most desire to be women, and asked them to come up with ways in which they differ from other men. These stories were not very useful. Some of them only really mentioned vague personality traits that already seem well accounted for by the other research, or not really all that relevant, to gender identity, e.g.:

Probably starts with not being a peak male, just a distinctly average one. May also be an empathy trait. Or for more creative types who are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Or it may be the fact that I have no sense of belonging for a number of reasons including race, gender, class etc.

or

Utter lack of competitiveness. I have never felt the need to prove myself better than anyone else. No interest in team sports. A strong sense of empathy for all types of people. I have never been afraid to show my emotions or to take an interest in other people’s. I have known many confident and competent people, both men and women.

Others brought up a mixture of factors, where autogynephilia partly showed up while also containing other speculations:

I think even from my teenage years although I had male friends, I never felt that I truly belonged to the male group. I also had a lot of female friends and enjoyed spending time with them, including going shopping with them. I found their gender, beauty, feminity, more appealing, while at the same time been physically attracted to them. I grew up in the 60’s/70’s in a mining village, the option to be more feminine was never a real option. I have worn women’s clothes occasionally in private, but that has been underwear, which I find doing is both comforting and sexually arousing. I have never fancied a man, but have had sex with a women wearing a strap-on while I wear women’s underwear, and found this to be the most satisfying sex I have ever had. The world I was brought up in I never had the confidence to be who I wanted to be openly, which would be man who loves to wear women’s underwear and receive anal pleasure. At the same time if I could be reborn, I would definitely come back as a women, but I suspect I would be a lesbian, of possibly have a relationship with a transgender who is very feminine. It is strange to think that I do not find any man attractive, but I really find transgender porn very exciting where it is the man performing oral pleasure on the shemale and been penetrated by the shemale.

There was also one who exclusively focused on sexuality:

The main trait is related to sexual fantasies revolving around being a woman and having sex with a man. This mostly involves being attracted to straight identifying men. It involves that attraction along with the feeling of it, and what it would feel like to inhabit a female body. It is likely also related to my sexual orientation as a gay male who has some attraction to women.

The above might be a rare example of a homosexual male who is autogynephilic, but I haven’t checked in detail so he also might not be.

But overall, it was a somewhat disappointing survey, where I didn’t really get much new material to work with. It was also rare for men to identify autogynephilia as being the answer to their feelings (rather than just mentioning some autogynephilia-related experiences they’d had along the way), even though they were quite strongly selected for autogynephilia, so this seems to suggest that most autogynephiles don’t consider them to be the definite explanation. Still, they did often seem to consider them somewhat related, so that’s something.

Anyway, given the answers to this survey, I came up with 66 additional questions, which I administered to the participants.

One way to analyze this data is to just extract as many factors as I can convince myself I can get away with. This might risk overfitting, but it has the advantage of being clearer what’s going on. If I do this, I feel like I can get away with 11 factors, yielding the following:

Now it might be quite tempting to say that there are quite a few variables here that correlate with Gender identity, but they might be confounded by Autogynephilia and Gender conservativism. If we residualize for those, the correlations with Gender identity weaken:

What’s left is mainly stuff like “Gender Norm Inadequacy”, “Social/Sexual Assertiveness”, “Self-Assessed M-F”. These were somewhat correlated with Gender Conservativism to begin with, and it suggests to me that maybe “Gender Conservativism” gets the idea slightly wrong, and a variable that better captures the “Macho” element while retaining much of the concept of Gender Conservativism would be better.

Now, extracting a bunch of factors is great for interpretability, but usually most of the predictive power is in the first few principal components, and that is also the case here. So it might be nice to check the predictive power for the various sources of information, separated by principal component.

In the above plot, each node represents a model, and each curve represents a family of models that share the same dataset but which extract different numbers of principal components. More specifically, for the each of the datasets in each of the models, I extract some number of principal components, and then use linear regression to predict Gender identity. In cases where I include Autogynephilia, I add Autogynephilia together with the principal components to the linear regression. To prevent overfitting, I use leave-one-out crossvalidation.

Overall, this new survey doesn’t seem to have added much predictive power beyond the original + AGP. Of course, this doesn’t automatically answer the causal question – you could imagine that this survey assesses factors that are causally upstream of Gender identity, while the Autogynephilia and Gender Conservativism measures assess things that are causally downstream of Gender Identity.

Wrapping Up

There’s a bunch more tiny details I looked into in this research. However, they are tiny and disconnected from everything else and they didn’t amount to much, and I’ve already written so much, so explaining them would probably delay the results post to an unacceptable degree.

In total, I can account for maybe 60% of the variance. That’s not too shabby, but it raises questions about where the remaining variance is. A lot of it might be down to measurement error – social science measures are notoriously inaccurate, and I haven’t done much to increase measurement quality beyond asking an enormous number of questions. (Though at the same time, that could also lead to upwards biases.) One could also imagine that there’s a substantial amount of variation that is down to non-psychological causes, or that a substantial amount of variation is just inherently interpretable.

I think the most important open question is the direction of causality. Most of the investigations into autogynephilia are fairly irrelevant if it turns out that autogynephilia is just an epiphenomenon of gender identity. I think pinning down the unexplained variance would be a big help in settling the causality. I find identifying Gender conservativism/Machismo as a big factor helpful, as it helps make sense of a lot of otherwise disconnected ideas. However, Gender conservativism doesn’t actually solve this, because it already factors into most competing explanations. For instance, it is commonly proposed that Autogynephilia arises from repressing one’s Gender identity. Here, Gender conservativism seems to plausibly function as the “repression” variable, and it could generate similar correlations to what I’ve seen here. In theory, experimental interventions might answer this question, but we don’t know how to intervene on Autogynephilia or Gender identity, and interventions on Gender conservativism seem very difficult.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is that this is mostly a study of straight men, and so it is likely to miss factors that are particularly relevant for gay men. This is not because of any sample bias, it’s just, most men are straight. However, gay men tend to be much more feminine than straight men, and the social factors that are relevant in gay men’s lives have the potential to be very different, due to pairing up with men rather than with women. Furthermore, Autogynephilia, which was the central factor in straight male gender identity, seems to be rarer in gay men than straight men. As such, it might be interesting to apply these same methods to gay men. I completely blew my research budget for quite a few months on this study, but I am likely to get a grant to study gay men, which might help unveil some things.

It would also be helpful to do this sort of study on other demographics too. For instance, I would argue that Autoandrophilia is a major factor in female affective gender identity, but I also think masculinity is a bigger factor, to an extent that it isn’t among males. However, I am unlikely to get around to studying that question, since I’m probably going to wrap up all my gender research as soon as possible.

Though that raises the question – why rely on me, a random blogger who does it in my spare time, rather than e.g. professional researchers in the area? I think the answer appears if we consider who researches it.

On one side of the debate, you’ve got people who’ve already drawn the bottom line that gender identity is solely due to brain masculinization/femininization, based on very dubious evidence. These people are doing ever bigger brain and gene studies to “prove” it, rather than checking broader areas of the world.

On the other side of the debate, you’ve got people like Michael Bailey. I can’t understand exactly what is going on with Michael Bailey – he often does very bad theory/arguments, misleading statistics, avoids publishing data that challenges his views, and similar. Even when pointing it out, or proving that he is wrong, he doesn’t change his ways or get interested in clarifying further, so it doesn’t appear to be merely mistakes; instead it appears to be intentional fraud. In theory, borderline scientific fraud should get him totally #cancelled, but in practice he’s already somewhat #cancelled due to advocating for autogynephilia theory (even though as far as I can tell on its most basic points that theory looks reasonable, as you’ve seen me argue in this post), and academics don’t seem to do a good job of catching and removing bad research in general.

Maybe new researchers like Kevin Hsu will clean things up; we’ll have to see. But until then, I’m pessimistic that society will ever get the final answers.

Thank you to Justis Mills for proofreading and feedback.

Footnotes:

  1. In retrospect, removing transfeminine respondents like this was probably a mistake, as it exposes me to things like collider bias. When I began this survey, I had a slightly different set of goals with it, so it made more sense back then. Specifically, removing trans people has the advantage that it may remove factors that appear as a side-effect of transitioning or reconceptualizing oneself as a woman. It probably doesn’t make much of a difference, though, as trans individuals are rare.
  2. Why did autogynephilia correlate so little by now, when I said it correlated much more strongly before? I think it’s because of the primitive way I was measuring affective gender identity in these surveys; by then I hadn’t yet asked the 60 extra detailed questions. However, this does suggest that the slight multidimensionality in affective gender identity does matter for what results you get. Ideally, we would do a large longitudinal study to figure out what aspects of affective gender identity best tagged the factors relevant for transition – though then I suspect the biggest missing element is that current gender transition technology is far from perfect, and therefore what matters is not just whether one wants to be a woman, but also whether one feels that current methods help enough with that.
  3. I also investigated other things, e.g. I tried administering a personality test I had designed, and I asked some questions about how appealing it would be to have various different kinds of bodies, but these were not so interesting without further context.
  4. The correlations are however not so high, which is not so good. This reflects the fact that I need to improve my masculinity/femininity test.
  5. This lack of specificity is not necessarily inherent to my measure, as it arguably more generally reflects a tendency of depression and anxiety to not be very strongly distinguished; in psychopathology research they are often lumped under a common label of being “internalizing disorders”.
  6. For the General Autogynephilia Scale, I accidentally forgot three items; legs for anatomic autogynephilia, and voice and sitting position for behavioral autogynephilia. So these scales were somewhat incomplete.
  7. I don’t think parsimony tends to work in these sorts of situations, because humans are complex, but again this is just a hypothetical.

Why do trans women transition?

This blog post is part 1 of a blog debate that I intend to have with Jack Molay about the transgender etiology. In it, I will lay out my current beliefs about the question in the title, which includes the Blanchardian typology, as well as other things that you will see below. This post is not intended as a strong argument for Blanchardianism, nor as a detailed explanation for all of the nuances that I know, but is instead just intended as a starting point for the exchange, which will show my direction of analysis and provide options for further inquiry.

The importance of a baseline

To me, an answer to why trans women transition is a causal model that relates the various factors involved in trans women’s transition as accurately as feasible. However, if you think about it, getting a full model of this would be quite excessive. For instance, if trans women can’t get food, they die and can’t transition. So a full causal model would include farming, transport, places to buy food, cooking, digestion, and so on. And that’s just one example; there are all sorts of other domains, from limb movement to education that a full model would need to include.

One thing that these all have in common is that they are concerns that are shared between humans in general, and which are studied outside of trans contexts (e.g. in economics). Including them in the model would thus be a bit redundant; they can be taken as a baseline and we can instead focus on the differences between trans women and this baseline. There may still be cases where it would be relevant to invoke the standard factors, because they moderate some aspect of the core model, but most of the time we should be taking the standard factors for granted.

Thus, to me this changes the question to, in what ways do trans women differ from cis men, in such a way that the former end up transitioning but the latter don’t? To answer this question, we must discover some relevant axes of variation, as well as their causal relationships, which come together to explain, as best as possible, trans women’s gender issues.

Trans women transition due to gender dysphoria

Or so the saying goes. Gender dysphoria is understood as various forms of distress that trans women feel about their male characteristics. To me, it seems that it gets described in various ways, including pain, disgust and despair. It makes obvious sense that someone who feels such would want to transition to no longer be like a male, and since I experience such feelings myself, I can definitely believe that trans women do so too. Plus it would be a completely unrealistic conspiracy that so many trans women say they feel it, without them actually feeling it.

Realistically, this is a bit simplistic to me, though. Not only do trans women feel gender dysphoria, they also feel that they would be better of with female characteristics, which is sometimes called “gender euphoria”, though I think “cross-gender ideation” would be a more scientifically standard term. Most cis men don’t feel this way, but instead feel that it’d be pretty bad to be female, and it also makes sense to me that feeling this way contributes to transition. After all, if you think both male and female traits suck, that’s not much reason to seek to have the opposite kind.

Some people make a big deal out of this distinction between positive and negative feelings. I don’t really, as it seems to me that they kind of tend to flow into each other. From a practical point of view, there’s concepts like hedonic adaptation, where something that used to become positive ends up neutral, and losing it becomes upsetting. From a theoretical point of view, coarse general models of psychology I know, like rational decision theory or prospect theory, do not distinguish between positive and negative preferences like this, but instead places them all on a single continuous scale. It seems like we would need to have some detailed model of the human motivational system to untangle this, and I don’t have that yet. (Though it may be relevant to develop for these topics.) Thus I tend to lump all of this into a broader term, which I label “gender issues”. So trans women transition due to gender issues.

But wait, can we be a bit more specific with this? So gender issues are positive or negative emotions about being female or male. But what exactly are positive or negative emotions? Where do they come from? My understanding is that a core element of it lies in appraisal; positive emotions correspond to appraising something as being good for you, while negative emotions correspond to appraising something as being bad for you. So this all roughly speaking boils down to “trans women transition because they don’t like being like males and want to be like females”.

Trans women transition for reasons unrelated to gender dysphoria

Really, it’s not quite right to say that trans women transition due to gender issues. There’s also going to be all sorts of other factors contributing. For instance, in different environments, transitioning is differently viable. Over time, transitioning has become more socially accepted, and there have come to be more medical interventions to support transition.1 There are also individual differences in expected transition outcomes, which probably influences things. There may also plausibly be differences in self-acceptance or knowledge that contributes to or prevents transition. This is all pretty complex.

A lot of these are probably things that you can learn a lot about just by being around people with various degrees of gender issues, and you can find them to make a lot of theories about it. I’m not going to go all that much in-depth with it, but I think a lot of the theories about this that you could get from people with gender issues are going to be right, with the caveat that they are likely to present the people themselves as making “the right” choice, and so possibly leading to a bias for or against transition.

One thing that often comes up is concepts like “gender identity”, “feeling that one is a woman”, and such. I get pretty 🤨 about that, because they seem to lump different things together. If we were to take things overly literally, “feeling that one is a woman” might include things like believing that one has female anatomy. However, this is rarely what trans women mean when pressed on it; instead they often seem to fall back on these terms ultimately referring to gender issues. (I.e. “wanting to be a woman is feeling like a woman”.) That said, there are some trans women who do lean all the way into it, and claim to have felt confused each time they realized what their sex characteristics were. I’m not sure how much I should really take them at face value, though.

Trans women transition due to autogynephilia

Ok, so trans women transition because of gender issues; because they don’t like being men and want to be women. But where do those gender issues come from? Let’s for a moment consider trans women who are not exclusively attracted to men. (We’ll get back to trans women who are exclusively attracted to men later.) Again and again, some peculiar things about their sexuality has been noticed.

Beginning from very long ago, they have been found to often be sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothes, a tendency which Blanchard documented statistically in his studies. This is something that has often been replicated, e.g. by critics of Blanchard like Nuttbrock. Contrast this with cis men, who generally aren’t into this. Blanchard also found that they tend to have sexual fantasies in which they imagine being biologically female. Trans women also often report having had a “gender swap fetish”, and finding being female to be erotic. I myself tend to imagine myself as female in sexual fantasies, and have at various times had sexual fantasies that had more or less focus on that.

My interpretation of this is that these and other phenomena all represent a sexual interest in being a woman. This sexual interest is called autogynephilia. Since the notion of a sexual interest is a rather central concept to my model, it is worth going into more detail:

Most people end up in relationships with people of the opposite sex. The reason they do this is because of their sexuality; people have evolved to be attracted to the opposite sex, as this tends to make them reproduce. However, people differ, and one way that they differ is in their sexual interests; some are into the same sex, some are into masochism, etc.. We can observe sexual interests in what people do in purely-sexual situations, such as what their sexual fantasies are about, or what erotic material they use, or similar. However, these sexual interests are really primarily meant to influence people’s general preferences for life, which they indeed do as can be observed by how most people reliably end up in relationships with the opposite sex.

Since we observe trans women to have a sexual interest in being women, it is logical to conclude that this is a big contributor to their gender issues. Furthermore, if we look at autogynephilic cis men, then these cis men have an incredibly dramatically large upwards shift in gender issues, as would match the understanding that the autogynephilia is a primary factor in trans women’s gender issues.

Now, autogynephilia isn’t the full story. Most autogynephiles do not transition, and there’s still the question of how they end up autogynephilic, plus the question of how autogynephilia actually mechanistically ends up influencing gender issues. And for that matter, we only have a vague understanding of autogynephilia, by lumping together various anecdotes and theory pieces. I’ve tried to create a more definite understanding by doing a qualitative survey, which you can see the results of here, but it is still limited by various factors. There’s a lot of controversy over where exactly to draw the line between autogynephilic and non-autogynephilic sexuality, and I am not going to take an opinion on that yet. Researching autogynephilia and sexuality more would definitely be good for the theory. But still, it’s at least one major piece of the puzzle.

Where does autogynephilia come from?

The origin of autogynephilia is a bit of a mystery still, just as how the origin of homosexuality is. However, we do have some hunches. A common idea, proposed by most people who think about this question, including by Ray Blanchard and Julia Serano, is the idea that Blanchard labelled Erotic Target Location Errors.

Roughly speaking, the idea goes like this: It seems kind of striking that autogynephiles desire to be women, when usually males are sexually attracted to women as partners. Plus autogynephiles seem to be less likely to be gay than non-autogynephiles. Maybe some of the mechanisms that can make you sexually attracted to women can also make you sexually attracted to being a woman, under certain as-of-yet unknown conditions.

Something that could be understood as further supporting this would be research on other sexual interests in being something. For instance, furries are known to be interested in being anthropomorphic animals, but they are also attracted to anthropomorphic animals. As another example, some pedophiles also report a sexual interest in being children. And there is a condition known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which functions much like gender dysphoria except with disability instead of gender, and people with BIID are often attracted to amputees.

It is very unlikely that ETLE can account for all autogynephiles. Some autogynephiles are gay, and obviously ETLE cannot account for them. It might also be that ETLE isn’t real at all; one would then need some other set of explanations to account for the previous observations, but that doesn’t seem all too difficult, at least with our current knowledge. But we’ll see.

The transsexual typology

Trans women who are not autogynephilic are usually found to be exclusively attracted to men, as you can see in the studies I linked earlier. There’s also a number of other characteristics in which non-autogynephilic trans women are striking, such as being more feminine and transitioning younger. These are known as HSTSs (homosexual transsexuals).

I find it pretty difficult to untangle why exactly they transition, and this certainly isn’t helped by the fact that their reasons for transition hasn’t been studied much. A lot of people seem to just find it “obvious”, probably because they equate masculinity/femininity with gender satisfaction, which I think is wrong. But I can give some conjectures for what is going on with them.

First, it is well-known that there is a connection between masculinity/femininity and sexual orientation; conditional on sex, those attracted to men are more feminine than those attracted to women. This likely explains a good part of why HSTSs are more feminine. But as I will explain shortly, I think there is more to it than that.

I think the femininity is probably related to their gender issues in some way. For instance, in many cases society has various forms of gender norms, where men are preferred to be masculine and women are preferred to be feminine; if one is a feminine male in these sorts of places, then it would make sense that one would end up with dissatisfaction about being male.2

I think there may be other connections too, though. For instance, if you’re attracted to men, you’re going to have an easier time fitting in as a woman than if you are attracted to women. And if probably some aspects of femininity, such as presentation, are more a result of rather than a contributor to gender dissatisfaction.

But there’s another important point to be made about what distinguishes HSTSs and AGPTSs, namely desistance. Some clinicians deal with boys who experience gender dysphoria, and these boys are typically very feminine and typically grow up to be attracted to men, just as would be associated with HSTSs. However, they also typically desist from their gender issues, and become happy with being male. See e.g. this qualitative and this quantitative study for some more overview of what that may look like. So one characteristic of HSGD is that it tends to go away with time.

My theory for why this is is that there are specific conditions where HSGD tends to apply; for instance, maybe boys face stronger gender norms as children than as adults. These conditions likely also lead to further separation between AGPTSs and HSTSs; so I think part of what makes HSTSs more feminine is that they tend to come from contexts where femininity is more likely to lead to gender problems, and not just because homosexuality is linked to femininity.

Ultimately, untangling HSTSs is still something I’m working on, and a big problem in this is that it often comes back to a vaguely defined notion of “femininity”. One of my current major projects is to make “femininity” more crisply defined; once this is achieved, perhaps it can support us in getting a better understanding of HSTS.

Conclusion

All of this really needs more research, and unfortunately there’s not really anyone doing much research on this. I think this model is a good starting point in understanding things, though.


1. This is part of why I am pretty 🤨 about aspects of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” theories, which claim that gender issues are transferred by “social contagion” between individuals with no predisposition towards gender issues. There are all sorts of social factors that could contribute to transition being more viable, and which could “look like” social contagion. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

2. One major place where this may especially play out is in the dating market. Gay men have a preference for masculine men, and so that may be an obstacle to feminine men. For many, this may not be as much of a problem because the preference against feminine men is weaker among feminine men; so “fem4fem” is pretty viable. Some anecdotes say that HSTSs have a particular preference for masculine men, which makes sense in this framework. Especially since the most masculine men tend to be attracted to women. But it has AFAIK never been demonstrated that HSTSs have a preference for masculine men, and there is some evidence to contradict it. I would really like to see this studied more carefully.

Why most studies on autogynephilia and sexual orientation are of no evidentiary value for ETLE

Autogynephilia is a sexual interest in being a woman. According to the theory of erotic target location errors, autogynephilia is connected to gynephilia (attraction to women) in some sense, being a sort of inversion of it. The idea being that in most cases, gynephiles have something that prevent them from ending up autogynephilic, but in some cases they don’t.

In the weaker forms endorsed by Julia Serano, attraction to women is merely one contributing factor that isn’t strictly necessary to end up autogynephilic. I consider this speculation to be quite likely; e.g. it aligns with my findings that self-reported autogynephilia is 2-3x rarer and weaker in gay men than straight men. In the stronger forms endorsed by Kay Brown, Rod Fleming, and Michael Bailey, the theory asserts that attraction to women is in some sense1 a necessary factor for becoming autogynephilic. I believe that this theory is unsupported by evidence, and in fact even contradicted by some evidence that I have collected.

But this blog post isn’t about the distinction between these two theories. Rather, it’s about the fact that most of the studies cited for either of them are, from a Blanchardian perspective, totally trash and of no evidentiary value at all. At least for the ETLE question; there may be other questions that they can tell us something about.

To give an example, let’s have Kay Brown present the evidence:

So, back to autogynephilia.  This is an observed phenomena.  NOT a theory.  I’ve already explained how one hypothesis has met several tests… that there are two types of transsexuals who have been shown statistically to have certain common traits with-in each type and two correlated and mutually exclusive traits.  As a reminder, those traits that correlate are gynephilia and autogynephilia.  The traits that are anti-correlated are exclusive androphilia and autogynephilia.

This correlation leads to proposing another hypothesis, namely, that for autogynephilia to exist, there must be an underlying gynephilia.  For someone who is androphilic, there is no existing gynephilia to lead to autogynephilia.  The data would support this hypothesis extremely well.  In fact, as I have shown in my earlier post, analyzing Leavitt and Berger’s study, that correlation is very, very high… perhaps showing an effect size that is higher than many experimental results in psychology that are accepted and not considered in any way controversial.  Just to remind ourselves just how strong the effect size is, let’s revisit the data, looking at only the issue of reported autogynephilia and a history of sex with females:

AGP:         6.7%         33.3%          50%

Sex w/f:  0%            33.3%         58%

Phenomena and Theory… …or how to confuse fact and fiction, Kay Brown, On The Science Of Changing Sex

So Kay Brown’s argument is that autogynephilia requires gynephilia because in trans women, autogynephilia is highly correlated with attraction to women.

Blanchard advanced a similar argument:

The first hypothesis suggested by Hirschfeld’s observation – that autogynephilia is a misdirected type of heterosexual impulse – predicts that one should find higher levels of autogynephilia in heterosexual – or at
least nonhomosexual – men than in comparable homosexual men. This prediction has been supported by the results of a study by Blanchard. The subjects in this study were 212 adult male-to-female transsexuals. These were divided into four groups: one homosexual (attracted to other males) and three nonhomosexual (attracted to females, to both sexes, or to neither sex).

The measure of autogynephilia used in this study was called the Core Autogynephilia Scale, or CAS for short. Most of the items in this multiple-choice questionnaire measure ask whether the respondent has ever become sexually aroused while picturing himself with various features of the female anatomy (e.g., breasts). Therefore the CAS is primarily a measure of anatomic autogynephilia.

The four transsexual groups were compared on the CAS (and on several other psychosexual variables that are not immediately relevant). As predicted, all three categories of nonhomosexual males were more likely to report sexual arousal in association with fantasies of womanhood than the homosexual males. This finding supports the view that autogynephilia is, as Ellis put it, “really a modification of normal hetero-sexuality.”

Clinical observations and systematic studies of autogynephilia, Ray Blanchard

So that’s a big part of the standard argument from the Erotic Target Location Error side: You see a strong correlation between autogynephilia and gynephilia in trans women, which would seem to support ETLE theory. And indeed this seems to be quite a consistent finding of studies in trans women. So how could I possibly call this of no evidentiary value? The issue is an elementary statistical error:

Berkson’s Paradox

To understand the problem, it’s time for a lesson on my favorite statistical paradox! Berkson’s paradox! Stealing the explanation from this twitter thread, let’s consider some important questions: Why are handsome men jerks? Why don’t standardized test scores predict university performance great? Why are movies based on good books usually bad? Why are smart students less athletic? Why do taller NBA players not perform better at basketball?

Stolen slide illustrating Berkson’s paradox. By selecting a subset of the population, you introduce a negative correlation between the variables you select on.

If we filter our sample on the basis of some set of variables, then that filtering introduces a ton of spurious correlations between all of the variables that are upstream of our filtering. The usual pattern will be negative correlations between the causes of the thing you are filtering on, but we might have other things going on, depending on the specific details of the distribution.

In the case of autogynephilia and sexual orientation, the studies considered so far all filter on transsexuality. Thus, regardless of the true correlations in the general population between the variables, these studies will tend to find spurious negative correlations between the causes of transsexuality. And what are some causes of transsexuality? Autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia!2 So regardless of what the actual true correlation is between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia, by studying it in trans women, we would expect to observe a spurious negative correlation. This makes it of no evidentiary value to find the correlation in trans women.

Taking stock

It’s true that there’s a robust negative correlation between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia in trans women, but that is a spurious result. This eliminates most of our evidence about negative relationships between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia. It is for this reason that, when I reviewed the evidence on whether autogynephiles can be exclusively androphilic, I mostly ignored the studies in trans women. Instead, to figure out the association, one has to do one of four things:

  1. Get a large unfiltered sample of males, and look at the correlation between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia directly.
  2. Compare an unfiltered sample of males to a sample of autogynephilic males, and see if they differ on their rates of exclusive androphilia.
  3. Compare an unfiltered sample of males to a sample of exclusively androphilic males, and see if they differ on their rates of autogynephilia.
  4. Mathematically adjust for the effect of filtering, e.g. adjusting for the fact that autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia are both causes of transsexuality in the original studies.

Option 4 seems tricky; it requires specific knowledge of small nuances in how autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia contribute to transsexuality. Options 2 seems finicky; if filtering for autogynephilia goes wrong, then it might also accidentally filter for or against exclusive androphilia, which would mess things up. And similarly for option 3.

Option 1 at first seems more promising, but it faces the problem that both autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia are rare, and so maybe it requires a sample size on the order of 5000 or more. Plus with effects that subtle, even tiny measurement errors can cause big problems.

My solution resembles option 1 the most, but with a caveat. I usually do my studies on reddit, and reddit is highly autogynephilic and also somewhat more gay than average. This possibly exposes me to the same sorts of Berkson’s paradox that I talked about before – but not necessarily. I think there’s a good case to be made that I’m not facing it, but I’ll banish that point to a footnote.3 Regardless, the high rates of autogynephilia on reddit makes me need much less sample size to investigate it, and with it I have found some evidence of a negative connection, but also some evidence of the existence of exclusively androphilic autogynephiles.

Illustrations in a simulation

In case the whole argument was a bit unclear, let me give some hypothetical numbers to illustrate how filtering for transsexuality could lead to a spurious connection.

Imagine that autogynephilia is uncorrelated with androphilia, that 20% of males are autogynephilic and 20% of males are androphilic, and further that autogynephilia and androphilia each lead to a 50% chance of transitioning. Obviously these numbers are way too high, but I pick them so that we can have a reasonably small simulated sample size.

Suppose we have 100 males that are representative for these numbers. I will use lowercase letters to represent cisgender men, and uppercase letters to represent trans women. I will use the letter “x” to represent non-autogynephilic heterosexuality, “a” to represent autogynephilia, “h” to represent exclusive androphilia, and “b” to represent both autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia (i.e. “GayGP”). The sample might look as follows:

           | non-androphilic       exclusively androphilic
-----------+-----------------------------------------------
           |
non-AGP    | xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
           | xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      hhhhhhhh
           | xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      HHHHHHHH
           | xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
           |
           |
AGP        | aaaaaaaa              b
           | AAAAAAAA              BBB

In the general population, we see no correlation between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia. For instance, among non-androphiles, we have 16/(16+64)=20% who are autogynephilic. Meanwhile, among androphiles, we have 4/(4+16)=20% who are autogynephilic. And vice versa.

On the other hand, if you restrict yourself to trans women, you get the sample:

           | non-androphilic       exclusively androphilic
-----------+-----------------------------------------------
           |
non-AGP    | (none)                HHHHHHHH
           |
AGP        | AAAAAAAA              BBB

Here, among non-androphilic trans women, we have 8/8=100% who are autogynephilic. Meanwhile, among androphiles, we have 3/(3+8)=27% who are autogynephilic.

This is a huge correlation, comparable to that in the classic studies on trans women! And the correlation gets even stronger as you reduce the prevalence of androphilia and autogynephilia, to more realistic levels. There’s a lot of additional nuances here, where the results can shift around a lot depending on how you assume the factors lead to transsexuality. But I think the most important lesson to draw is that you should be very careful in what you conclude about autogynephilia from studies of trans women – you might get surprised. In particular, such studies are of no evidentiary value for the purpose of ETLE theory.


1. This runs into a slight nuance due to a phenomenon related to asexuality in AGPs. Specifically, it is believed that high degrees of autogynephilia overshadow and outcompete gynephilia, which can make the ordinary gynephilia disappear, even if it really did cause autogynephilia. I am skeptical of this theory, but it is a bit separate for this blog post – maybe it will come up in some later blog.

2. There’s a fun element here. Usually ETLE is considered to be a Blanchardian theory, in opposition to gender identity theories. However, while it is invalid for Blanchardians to cite these sorts of studies in support of ETLE, it is perfectly valid for gender identity theorists – because they don’t believe autogynephilia causes transsexuality! And indeed ETLE provides an alternative explanation to Blanchardianism for a number of phenomena related to Blanchard’s typology.

3. To understand why it might work fine for me, let’s consider the other name of Berkson’s paradox, collider bias. It is named so due to what it looks like when you draw the conditions for it up in a graph. Consider for instance the studies of autogynephilia and sexual orientation in trans women. We might draw the following graph to illustrate the causes of transsexuality:

autogynephilic → trans ← homosexual

I.e. autogynephilia and homosexuality both cause transsexuality. This pattern, where one thing has multiple causes, is called a collider. Berkson’s paradox only applies to colliders. So the question then is whether my surveys face a similar collider, e.g.

autogynephilic → redditor ← homosexual

This is conceivable, but I don’t expect this to be the pattern. While reddit could plausibly select for homosexuality since it is well-known for being progressive, it is not a site for autogynephiles and there’s not much reason to expect explicit selection for it, especially because the effect is so incredibly big that it is hard to believe.

Instead, it seems that reddit is much more paraphilic than the general population. This raises the question of whether there maybe is a collider of the shape:

autogynephilic ← general factor of paraphilia → redditor ← homosexual

If there is, it doesn’t seem to have much effect; when investigating it, homosexuality seemed uncorrelated with the general factor of paraphilia. On the other hand, maybe it is positively correlated in the general population, and the collider bias just eliminated it on reddit. But this would still mean that we at least wouldn’t expect a spuriously negative correlation between autogynephilia and paraphilia.

Of course it’s always hard to say these sorts of things for sure. It’s not the strongest case. Getting unfiltered data is impossible, and figuring out what ways it has been filtered is nearly impossible. Maybe we should just pack up and give up on social science.

Autogynephilia is not a natural abstraction (but transgender identity is?!)

John Wentworth proposes the natural abstraction hypothesis:

Our physical world abstracts well: for most systems, the information relevant “far away” from the system (in various senses) is much lower-dimensional than the system itself. These low-dimensional summaries are exactly the high-level abstract objects/concepts typically used by humans.

These abstractions are “natural”: a wide variety of cognitive architectures will learn to use approximately the same high-level abstract objects/concepts to reason about the world.

I recommend reading his posts on it, as I find him very insightful. But I have been thinking of what his post means for autogynephilia, and I think it looks pretty dire.

First, let’s try to understand what the natural abstraction hypothesis means for humans. A human is a system, and humans vary from each other in various ways. If the natural abstraction hypothesis applies to humans1, we would expect that we can talk about human differences in simple ways where broadly everyone agrees about the concepts.

An example where this happens is homosexuality. Going by the literal definition, a gay man is simply a man that is sexually attracted to other men, and not to women. However, beyond the literal definition, this has far-reaching consequences, as a gay man is very likely to end up with boyfriends instead of girlfriends, which further may trickle down into differences in family planning. In addition, gay men differ from straight men in a number of ways, most notably in being feminine.

The consequence of this is that the gay/straight dichotomy for men is a natural abstraction; it is reasonably clear who is gay, and what gay men are like, and as a result everyone is roughly on the same page when it comes to what it means to be gay.

On the other hand, to me autogynephilia seems to decidedly not be a natural abstraction. The literal definition of autogynephilia is similar to that of homosexuality; an autogynephile is sexually attracted to being a woman.

However, whereas for gay men this then almost inevitably trickles down into the rest of their life, for most autogynephiles it appears to stop here. Sure, autogynephilia is going to be associated with a strong shift in how one feels about being a man vs a woman, but men are generally very happy about being male, and so even with a strong shift in it, one isn’t necessarily even going to want to be a woman. And even if one does, it’s probably not going to lead to transition, since the bad cost-effectiveness of transition makes it rare unless one is truly desperate.

(Sidenote – this isn’t to say that autogynephilia isn’t a hugely relevant factor in males developing gender dysphoria. It definitely is, in the sense that it is a major contributing factor in most of the cases that end up gender dysphoric. The issue is that it is only an occasionally relevant factor; for most autogynephiles, gender dysphoria doesn’t come up.)

And sure, outside of gender issues there might be various sexual consequences for relationships, but this again probably doesn’t differ much from masochism/pegging/fetishism “far away”; it’d just be absorbed into a notion of “unmanly kinkiness”.

As a result, you don’t really get to know who is autogynephilic, and autogynephiles don’t end up differing much from non-autogynephiles.2 This makes it both hard and irrelevant to keep track of autogynephilia, and it prevents people from agreeing on there being a concept of autogynephilia and on what this concept means. Hence, autogynephilia is not a natural abstraction.

Consequence: people’s notion of “autogynephilia” cuts through the category of autogynephiles

The key consequence of this is that almost anyone talking about autogynephilia is confused. But to understand how, let’s consider a common way that some people end up talking about autogynephilia.

Suppose you are a gender-questioning male. You are considering whether you should transition to live like a woman, or whether you should stay as a man. Due to the connection between autogynephilia and transsexuality, you are likely to be autogynephilic, having had fantasies involving yourself as a woman. Depending on your temperament, you might decide to investigate this further.

There are various communities for erotic material involving transforming into a woman or similar. Those communities can contain a wide variety of men, including many who would not even want to (permanently) be women. Obviously there’s a distinction between the transsexual, who desperately seeks to transition to live like a woman, and these men, who just have it as an occasional fantasy. These men who don’t want to be women will tend to frame themselves as having “just a fetish” for being women (as opposed to being transgender), and nobody has really come up with an alternative phrasing for that.

So, this automatically leaves you with a distinction of “just a fetish” on one side, and transsexuality on the other side. And the notion of “autogynephilia” as being a sexual thing can sound vaguely like the notion of “just a fetish”; so these concepts get merged, and our poor gender-questioning male ends up with a notion of autogynephilia that precludes transsexuality.

Of course, this notion differs from Blanchard’s notion of autogynephilia; Blanchard’s autogynephilia would place both the “just a fetish” guy and the transsexual under the same label, as both being autogynephilic. The issue is that nobody cares about this common grouping, and so people trying to come up with categories on this domain are usually going to come up with categories that cleave through Blanchard’s autogynephilia, and instead splits it up. Further, these categories may at times due to surface similarity or political factors end up equated with Blanchard’s notion, despite being different.

Transgender identity is a more natural category than autogynephilia

A favorite activity of Blanchardians is to complain about the notion of gender identity. Personally, I’ve used the derisive term “Magical Innate Gender Identity” to emphasize how it doesn’t provide any explanatory power (“magical”) of why one is as one is. It is also fairly common to complain about the circularity in gender identity. Or similarly, Anne Lawrence has a page on it in her book:

A chapter addressing transsexuals’ opinions about the meaning and significance of autogynephilia would be incomplete without a brief statement of the case for autogynephilia operating as a meaningful explanatory factor in the lives of autogynephilic transsexuals, whether or not it is acknowledged as such. This is easily accomplished: With the exception of cross-dressing, we autogynephilic transsexuals rarely display female-typical behaviors, attitudes, or interests during childhood or adulthood (e.g., Blanchard, 1990 ; Whitam, 1987, 1997 ) . Consequently, our gender dysphoria cannot plausibly be attributed to gender-atypical behaviors, attitudes, or interests. What can the gender dysphoria of autogynephilic transsexuals be attributed to? From what source does it derive? Autogynephilia provides the only obvious answer: Our gender dysphoria and our resulting cross-gender identities are direct outgrowths of our paraphilic desire to turn our bodies into facsimiles of women’s bodies.

If autogynephilia is not considered a meaningful explanatory factor, then attempts to account for the gender dysphoria and cross-gender identities that we autogynephilic transsexuals experience quickly become circular, self-referential, and slightly ridiculous:

Q: Why do you want to become a woman?
A: Because I experience gender dysphoria.
Q: What does that mean?
A: That I experience persistent discomfort with my male sex and gender role.
Q: Why are you so uncomfortable with your male sex and gender role?
A: Because I want to become a woman.
Q: Why do you want to become a woman?
A: Because I have a strong and persistent cross-gender identity.
Q: What does that mean?
A: That I desire to be the other sex and live and be treated as a member of the other sex.
Q: In other words?
A: I want to become a woman.

I would argue that an account that treats autogynephilia as a meaningful explanatory factor offers at least a modest improvement:

Q: Why do you want to become a woman?
A: Because I experience a paraphilic erotic desire to have a woman’s body.
Q: Is there anything else?
A: After having that desire for 20 years, I’ve started to think of myself as a woman, too.
Q: Anything else?
A: I love women and I have a desire to become more like the women I love.
Q: I’m beginning to understand—but it makes me think your sexuality is very odd.
A: You’re right; but I can only play the hand I was dealt.

Perhaps someday we autogynephilic transsexuals will be able to forthrightly acknowledge the paraphilic hand we were dealt and play that hand without equivocation or apology. I will discuss this possibility in greater detail in Chap. 12.

Anne Lawrence, MTIMB, page 178

And this is all well and cute; autogynephilia helps explain the origin of gender issues in a noncircular way. But the issue is that most of the time, the origin of the gender issues don’t matter. It’s not a natural abstraction!

On the other hand, gender identity is a natural abstraction. Again similar to homosexuality, the literal definitions of being transgender are often quite limited, such as “identifying as a different sex than what one was assigned at birth”, but it seems to typically have a number of fairly clear consequences. Most of the time, being transgender and being transsexual seems interchangable; most (openly?) trans people seek medical treatment. And this medical treatment ends up having broad-ranging implications, including for appearance, fertility and medical topics. Trans people also socially transition, which further influences their appearance, and involves living like the opposite sex.

Most people have some notion of “trans woman”. They might not always agree on the details, but they are going to have some idea of the basics. This is because, unlike for autogynephilia, it is a category that is relevant “at a distance”.

More examples of equating other categories with autogynephilia

As an example of autogynephilia being an unnatural abstraction, I previously mentioned gender-questioning males who instead find the notion of “just a fetish” vs “transsexual” to be a more natural abstraction. However, there are many other cases where people seem to find distinctions that they consider to map onto the autogynephilic/non-autogynephilic distinction, but which don’t really.

Probably the most standard case is when people want to make some sort of distinction between “good” and “bad” transsexuals. Obviously it would be overly stereotyping to equate autogynephilic transsexuality with being non-passing or masculine, but people still find it relevant, for various reasons, to think about these distinctions of passing vs nonpassing or feminine vs masculine. Blanchard’s typology aims to partly explain why masculine trans women might exist, and as a result the label “autogynephile” from the typology ends up sometimes being equated with it.

One funny variant I’ve seen of this is radical feminists, who sometimes object to trans women transitioning in an overly sexual way. This has sometimes lead to radical feminists labelling some HSTSs as autogynephilic, because these HSTSs get large breast implants, present themselves in a sexy way, and take on jobs in sex work. This remains an example of the general pattern; the radical feminists have a particular thing they care about (sexualized vs nonsexualized transitions), and they pick up the label “autogynephilia” as the “closest neighbor” that they have a word for.

This is very political. However, the point is not limited to political contexts. I have seen people distinguishing themselves as non-autogynephilic because they are more transvestically than anatomically AGP (or more interpersonally AGP than either of the other two). I have seen people distinguish themselves as non-autogynephilic because they aren’t very AGP or primarily AGP. And so on. The point is that people have various distinctions they want to draw, which they map onto the “AGP/non-AGP” dichotomy, even though usually the distinctions they want to draw cleave right through the Blanchardian “autogynephilia” category.

This leads to a constant semantic shift in what “autogynephilia” gets used to refer to, away from the theoretically and scientifically justified notion, to all sorts of irrelevant and more dubiously-real categories. Further, it leads to a lot of fragmentation in meaning, that makes it hard for anyone to understand what is talked about.

Autogynephilia will never be a natural abstraction

When faced with this issue, Blanchardians sometimes express irritation at activists for suppressing autogynephilia, and hope that greater acceptance of autogynephilia will lead to the formation of a crisper autogynephilic identity, which implicitly would make autogynephilia more of a natural abstraction.

This seems like wishful thinking to me. For autogynephilia to become a natural abstraction in the way that homosexuality is, you’d need some strong unified lifestyle, or at least some common cause to rally under. But autogynephiles don’t seem to ever be likely to end up with a shared life path, nor do they ever seem like they’d have much of a common set of political goals.

Not even porn or erotic communities have a notion of autogynephilia! They have all sorts of other notions, including narrower content-based presentations of autogynephilia, such as “transgender transformations”. But they don’t have an overarching term to describe all autogynephiles and nobody but autogynephiles. If autogynephilia isn’t a natural abstraction at this relatively close level, how could we ever hope it to be a natural abstraction at a broader level?

Natural abstractions vs truth

I like the correspondence theory of truth. Under this theory, a statement is true if it corresponds to reality. Thus, autogynephilia theory is true, because autogynephilia is a sexual interest and contributes to gender issues.

This blog post about autogynephilia not being a natural abstraction doesn’t change this. However, it does raise a central question: Who cares!? Well, I care. And since you’re a reader of this blog, you probably care too. But we are exceptions; everyone else is too busy with their everyday life/transition/political pushes/etc. to care much about getting these details right. And this means that they get them wrong. This is going to lead to a constant fog of error in discussions involving autogynephilia, which means that trans people are rightly going to end up concluding that autogynephilia talk is just nonsense.

What should we do here? What can we do here? I don’t know. I guess big name Blanchardians like Michael Bailey or Ray Blanchard himself could maybe fight against the entropy by picking fights with people who misuse the terms. But it doesn’t seem like their personality to do this, and it’s not even clear if this is a winnable fight.

This feels a bit like a problem with no likely solution.


1. I think there’s a case to be made that the natural abstraction hypothesis does not apply to individual humans. A human has a unique sequence of DNA that will persist in influencing them throughout their life, yet plausibly resist low-dimensional summary. Attempts to model humans runs into the wall that humans are the ones who are doing the modelling, and it seems kind of dubious to model something that is just as complex as yourself. I guess we will have to see what happens, though.

2. A lot of people seem to have various ideas of what autogynephiles are like. Computer nerds! Masochists! Autistic! Misogynistic! Unassertive! Dissociating! Intelligent! Anime fans! Porn addicts! As far as I can tell, these ideas vary from “actually there’s a slight trend in the opposite direction” (e.g. for misogyny) to “ok there’s some trend in this direction but it’s pretty small” (e.g. for autism). I think it is more accurate to just think of autogynephiles as being indistinguishable from nonautogynephiles.

Against the “extreme male brain” model of autism

Simon Baron-Cohen has been pushing the extreme male brain theory of autism for a while. It asserts:

[…] ‘Empathising’is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with
an appropriate emotion. […] ‘Systemising’is the drive to analyse the variables in a system, to derive the underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system. […]

[…]

I will be arguing that systemising and empathising are two key dimensions in defining the male and female brain. […]

[…] According to the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism, people with autism or AS should always fall in the [extreme systematizing range]. […]

[…]

So in other words, it is the proposal that systematizing, maleness, and autism are near-identical, and that empathising, femaleness, and non-autism are near-identical.

The main problem with this theory is that it is obviously empirically disproven. For instance, in one study that is often cited to support it, Testing the Empathizing-Systemizing theory of sex differences and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people, they get the result:

And sure – there was a difference between the groups in the direction predicted by the theory. But look at the magnitude of the difference. It’s nowhere near as big as the theory claims; there’s tons and tons of overlap between the groups.

We can also take a look at table 3 in the study. The extreme male brain theory predicts that autistic people should always fall in the “extreme systematizing” area, yet only ~10% of autistic people end up there, with almost half of all autistic people ending up outside of the systematizing-skewed region.

In conclusion, E-S EMB theory of autism does not add up.

EMB Motte-Bailey

If it were any other theory, the effect sizes might be considered respectable. There’s no rule of science that an effect has to fully separate the groups under investigation to be relevant. Some discussions of science get hijacked by identity politics, where people refuse to acknowledge an effect, just because it’s not “big enough” according to their subjective judgement.

However, EMB isn’t just the theory that autistic people are more prone to systematizing than non-autistic people. Rather, it is a theory that this empathisizing-systematizing shift is the core defining feature of autism. That’s a perfectly valid theory to have, but it makes it necessary for them to be highly correlated to be true. After all, if autism is the same thing as a systematizing skew, then how can people be autistic without having this skew, or be non-autistic while having the skew?

Sometimes EMB proponents say that this isn’t really what the EMB theory says. Instead, they make up some weaker predictions, that the theory merely asserts differences “on average”. This seems like a motte-bailey strategy; they want to talk big about how empathizing-systematizing is the explanation for autism, but they don’t want to actually commit to the theory (because it is wrong). If the EMB theory had instead been named the “sometimes autistic people are kinda nerdy” theory, then it would be a lot more justified by the evidence – but also not look nearly as deep or insightful, which is presumably why it wasn’t named as such.

The Blanchardian fallacy

The Blanchardian fallacy is the assumption that humans vary across exactly one binary axis, being either autogynephilic or homosexual transsexuals. Obviously I am being somewhat cheeky here – nobody really believes this. But while nobody believes this, Blanchardians do seem to have a tendency to assume that things are linked to autogynephilia when this isn’t really justified.

To give some examples – one person once asked me, is there a connection between being philosophically oriented and being autogynephilic? Anecdotally, a lot of autogynephilic transsexuals seem to be very philosophical, so could it be…? Nah (at least if the personality data I’ve collected is right); and actually it is inappropriate to generalize from autogynephilic transsexuals to autogynephiles in general, because autogynephilic transsexuals can differ from ordinary men due to other factors than autogynephilia.

Is there a link between autogynephilia and dissociation/optical illusions? Not according to my data, despite there seemingly being a link between transsexuality and dissociation/optical illusions. The assumption that there must be is the Blanchardian fallacy again. How about autogynephilia/nerdiness? Anecdotally a lot of trans women seem nerdy. It’s hard to say for sure due to potential collider bias, but so far I haven’t seen support for links. (Recently I’ve been wondering if it might be an artifact of women’s dating preferences – the same sorts of women who are attracted to nerdy men are also attracted more likely to be attracted to MtF transsexuals, so it would make sense that nerdy males would be more likely to transition, as it shrinks their dating pool less. But this is speculative. And this is itself assuming that transsexuality is linked with nerdiness; maybe it is not and my anecdotes are misleading.)

Some people argue that the trans activists that attacked Michael Bailey are narcissistic, and take this as an indication that autogynephiles are narcissistic. But narcissism can vary independently of autogynephilia (and indeed it doesn’t appear to be correlated with autogynephilia).

I’ve been guilty of the Blanchardian fallacy myself too. My impression is that the notion of AGPTS/HSTS split makes it very easy to naively seek out correlations and inappropriately generalize them. In recognizing the Blanchardian fallacy, I’ve started becoming very cautious about what sorts of inferences I make. One of the most important aspects of this is rigorous distinctions between autogynephilic transsexuals (AGPTSs) and autogynephiles in general (AGPs). There may be many factors that lead to transition beyond autogynephilia, and which end up distinguishing AGPTSs from AGPs.

Another thing that is important is to be hyper-aware of what sorts of selection biases you face. In learning about autogynephiles, you will encounter information about various autogynephiles that exist. But this information will be filtered through various processes, and depending on the process you can end up with arbitrarily skewed ideas about what autogynephiles are like.

Most likely, a similar post could be made that focuses on HSTS – but I do not have as many examples in mind there.

Investigating the effect of stress on gender dysphoria

Some people report that they feel stress contributes to their gender dysphoria, being more gender dysphoric when they are more stressed. I’ve been skeptical of this, but Pasha did a survey where he found that a lot felt it applied to them:

Pasha’s takeaway from this seemed to be to take it at face value; some felt more gender dysphoric due to stress, while others did not. However, even with this survey, I was still pretty skeptical. Causal inference is hard, and it doesn’t seem super logical that stress would make you dysphoric. Couldn’t it just be that there was some sort of confounding, perhaps with the being a specific kind of stressful context where one is more dysphoric?

But then I got an idea. Stress levels vary a lot over time due to knowable exogenous factors. For instance, social tension is pretty stressful. Thus, if we investigated the gender dysphoria associated with those exogenous factors, we could perhaps untangle it from this.

If this was to be done properly, then it would probably involve some sort of experience sampling method. But that’s very invasive and a lot of work, so I hacked it by describing 7 stressful and 7 non-stressful situations1, and asking people to say how gender dysphoric they would feel during those situations. I posted this survey to /r/Blanchardianism, /r/TGandSissyRecovery, and /r/detrans and got 54 responses.

Results

Before we go into the results regarding reactions to situations, it is worth first looking into whether I replicated Pasha’s result of respondents feeling that stress contributes to gender dysphoria. I had three questions asking about this, which I analyzed with a latent class model in order to summarize the responses. 40% of my respondents felt that they were more gender dysphoric when stressed. Of these 40%, half felt less gender dysphoric when relaxing, while the other half felt that it was complicated. 20% of the respondents reported that they generally felt no gender dysphoria, while 30% of respondents reported that they felt equally gender dysphoric regardless of stress, and 10% reported that they felt more gender dysphoric when relaxing. I will get back to the results by different subgroups later in the post, but first let’s consider the overall average results in the survey.

Here is a scatterplot with the different situations, as well as how stressful and gender dysphoria inducing they were perceived to be:

All of the stressful situations were on average perceived to be more stressful than all of the relaxing situations. Further, overall the ranking in terms of stressfulness seems to make a lot of sense; situations that are intuitively more stressful are also quantitatively placed in more stressful spots in this plot. However, there was no correlation between stressfulness and gender dysphoria. Case closed, there’s no contribution of stress to gender dysphoria, end of investigation?

Method flaw: focus

Definitely not. I had multiple spots for comments in the survey, and some respondents pointed out some things that may be problematic for the previous investigation:

If being distracted alleviates someone’s dysphoria, it follows that being stressed could do the opposite.

When I have a urgent problem that needs focus to be resolved, I tend to not think about my body and dysphoria related things in that moment, but I still feel that I want to be male. I just have less focus on dysphoric feelings.

Time to think when lying in bed can open up opportunities for thoughts to wonder to stressful topics

If I’m walking on my own I’ll be left with my thoughts so it comes up.

That is, a topic that came up several times was a feeling that situations that require more focus can help distract from the dysphoria, and therefore temporarily reduce distress. This… actually seems like a really compelling point? Just eyeing the scatterplot, it vaguely seems like focus could account for it.

In order to investigate this, I asked Pasha to collect ratings from /r/SampleSize on how much focus each of the situations require, so that this information could be added to the model. The ranking of focus requirements, from most to least, was as follows:

  • High-stakes situations
  • Struggling with duties
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Social tension, loud/noisy places, and doing something creative
  • Spiders and other creep
  • An obstacle blocking your task
  • Reading news about problems in the world
  • Eating food
  • Listening to music
  • Taking a walk
  • Going to bed on a Saturday evening
  • Knowing that all of your chores are completed

This seems like a pretty reasonable ranking to me. So what happened when I used both focus requirement and stress to predict dysphoria? Nothing; an R^2 of 0.0026. To get an overview of what is going on, let’s take a look at a scatterplot, with the amount of gender dysphoria interpolated2 between the different situations:

Scatterplot showing situations placed according to their stressfulness and focus reguirements. In order to emphasize the overall structure, I colored regions according to the amount of gender dysphoria associated with situations in that region, using machine learning to interpolate. Red = more gender dysphoric than average, blue = less gender dysphoric than average.

This looks like… pure noise probably. Given that the different scenarios vary quite a lot in how dysphoria-inducing they are, it seems like there must be something that can explain it. But stress + focus requirement does not seem to be it.

Effect of situation on dysphoria is consistent across groups?

Here’s something to consider: some participants felt that stress contributed to gender dysphoria, while others didn’t. This raises the question that perhaps the ambiguous results are just due to individual differences in how different situations relate to gender dysphoria.

To investigate this, I investigated things by subgroup. It turns out, the different subgroups have very high agreement about what situations are gender dysphoria inducing:

The main disagreement seems to be high-stakes situation and struggling with duties, where those who feel that stress contribute to dysphoria feel more dysphoric, and news about problems, where those who feel that stress doesn’t contribute to dysphoria feel more dysphoric. Speculatively, I’d guess that it is perhaps more a question of whether not living up to responsibilities causes dysphoria? Or maybe related to self-esteem rather than stress? Not sure.

But to me, a much more noteworthy observation is that there appear to be large situational differences in how gender dysphoric people feel, and that these situational differences are basically agreed on by people who otherwise seem to interpret the factors in their dysphoria very differently. To me, this suggests that it may be fruitful to scale up these investigations, by collecting data on the relationship between dysphoria and a broader range of situations, as well as taking a much larger number of ways that the dimensions differ into account.

If any readers want to suggest situations or situational factors that should be taken into account in further research on this, I would encourage you to do so in comments or through any other method.


If you want the dataset, send me a message or join the discord. There’s more that can be done with this dataset, and I hope to eventually get around to some further investigations to blog about later, but the post must end at some point, and this is that point.

1. The descriptions given in the blog post above are brief titles rather than full descriptions. The full descriptions in the survey can be seen below:

  • Obstacle blocking your task: When there is an obstacle blocking your task (e.g. you need to use the sink but someone has left dishes in the sink; or similar), to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Going to bed on a Saturday evening: When you go to bed on a Saturday evening, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Social tension: When two or more other people around you have a conflict or otherwise social tension, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Eating food: When you are eating food, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Loud/noisy places: When you are in loud/noisy places, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Hanging out with friends: When you are hanging out with friends, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Struggling with duties: When you have some task that someone is expecting you to handle (such as a task at work that your boss expects you to deal with), but you are struggling with it and are about to meet with the person who has given you the task, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Taking a walk: When you go for a walk (not to get to some specific place, just for leisure/exercise), to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Spiders and other creep: When there’s a spider, a moth, or some other creep in your room, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Knowing that all of your chores are completed: When you have completed all of your chores and are free for the immediate future, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • High-stakes situations: When you have to deal with high-stakes situations, such as a test or needing to make a good impression to someone you only meet briefly but who has a big effect on your future, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Listening to music: When you listen to music, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Reading news about problems in the world: When you get news about problems or potential problems in the world (e.g. war, pandemics, economic trouble, political scandals, etc.) to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?
  • Doing something creative: When you do something creative, to what degree do you feel distressed about being male, wishing instead to be female?

2. More specifically, I used a support vector machine for regression with a radial basis function. I wouldn’t make too much of the interpolation, it’s just to get a big picture overview of what’s going on.