If a cis kid was made to transition…

[Epistemic status: somewhat speculative, due to lack of data.]

One argument that’s sometimes made in favor of the existence of an innate gender identity is the case of David Reimer, a boy who was brought up as female due to damage to his penis after a circumcision. Later in life, he ended up gender dysphoric and transitioned back to living as male, but eventually committed suicide.

The Reimer case is likely not strong evidence, though. It’s only n=1 (obviously), and John Money made Reimer do things that could very easily be seen as abusive. Thus, it’s not a great case to rely on.

Instead, a better case to consider might be boys with cloacal exstrophy (a serious condition that among other things leads to an underdeveloped penis) who were raised as female. In the main study of such boys that I’m aware of, they found high levels of gender dissatisfaction, with the majority returning to live as boys, and 2 to 4 of the 5 living as girls wishing to be boys.

On first glance, this supports the notion of innate gender identity. However, one thing that’s already worth noting is that all of these kids were very masculine from young; thus, it also supports some sort of link between this gender identity and masculine behavior, a link that isn’t very compatible with narratives of repressing or hiding gender nonconformity.

In addition, I think if we read the study more carefully, we see some issues with the idea that it supports notions of innate gender identity. The kid who had the least gender issues, and was the most satisfied with being a girl, subject #1, appeared to be in many ways similar to the other kids. So why the different outcomes? Here’s my suspicion:

If you read the study carefully, only two of the subjects living as male, 9 and 10, spontaneously declared their “gender identity”. These, along with two other subjects who were not living as male, were the only ones who formed the idea of “I am male” independently, indicating that whatever is motivating the gender issues of most of the subjects, it’s more complicated than an internally-generated feeling of being male (as gender identity is usually but not always defined). This leaves open the possibility that for all the subjects, including these two, the gender issues came from a more-complex interaction between their behavioral masculinity and society.

Subjects 11-13 adopted a male identity after their parents told them of their medical status at ages 5-7. Since there are quite a few people who have gender issues in their childhood but get over them when older, this makes them imperfect examples. For instance, we could hypothesize that telling masculine girls that they are in some sense male will often lead to a desire to transition. For these subjects, I’d wonder how many of them would’ve desisted if they had not been told.

Subject 14 assumed a male identity after being told at age 18. This is probably old enough that the effect above cannot explain it; thus, I’d categorize this subject in a way similar to subjects 9 and 10.

Subjects 7 and 8 are really similar to subjects 9 and 10, except that their families aren’t supportive, limiting their ability to start living as male. Both for these, and for subjects 9 and 10, there’s another issue that’s worth considering; due to being natal males, they need to take estrogen medically, rather than having the body produce it naturally at puberty. Refering the desistance study again, it is worth noting that some masculine girls feel uncomfortable at puberty but eventually find that they like being girls:

The second factor the desisting girls associated with their decrease in gender discomfort was the feminization of their bodies, primarily the growth of their breasts. At first they reported that this was unpleasant. They felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, and felt it interfered with their freedom to move. However, before long their feelings shifted in a positive direction and they desired even more physical feminization.

♀ Desister #11
Before puberty, I disliked the thought of getting breasts. I did not want them to grow. But when they actually started to grow, I was glad they did. I really loved looking like a girl, so I was glad my body became more feminine.

One thing I would wonder is if the need to take the estrogen exogenously leads to more gender issues, as the effects of it are seen as more foreign and avoidable than if this is what the body naturally produces. As such, while subjects 7-10 are probably the most-unambiguously gender-dissatisfied of the bunch, the situation isn’t completely unambiguous.

Subjects 1 to 5 have their own set of ambiguities, though. The only info we had on how they did in adulthood was based on parent report, which raises the question of how accurate it is. However, the parent’s reports that the subjects are generally content is compatible with more-reliable observations that masculine girls with gender issues generally get over them when they grow up. (On the other hand, the kids in the cloacal exstrophy study were attracted to girls, while the masculine girls who tend to get over their gender issues tend to be attracted to boys.) For most of them, their gender issues were also somewhat limited in scope at the initial assessment, further supporting the possibility that they did fine in adulthood.

Subject 6 is really unclear, though. They appeared to be doing ok – not perfect, but ok – at the initial assessment, but after being told of their medical status, would not discuss the topic with any. However, they did comply with estrogen treatment. Due to lack of better info, I’d classify them with subjects 11-13, as having ambiguous gender issues.

Group Count Subjects
Ambiguously no gender issues 5 1-5
Ambiguous gender issues 4 6, 11-13
Unambiguous gender issues 5 7-10, 14

I’d be inclined to drop subjects 6 and 11-13 for being told at a young age, making them very difficult to compare to e.g. masculine natal females. This yields about half with no gender issues, and about half with clear gender issues, and I can’t help but point out that this is a similar to the rate of people who tend to identity as cis-by-default in surveys (this survey found 54% identifying as cis-by-default, 46% identifying as affirmatively cis).

[Epistemic status for the followup: questionable math, mainly for sanity-checking. The following math can probably be adjusted to “prove” anything by fiddling with the assumptions.]

How well does this fit with a model where masculinity interacting with society is the driving factor for these sorts of gender issues? I usually estimate there to be a D~2 gender difference in psychology, which implies that 15% of people are more like the opposite sex than like their natal sex. This is wayyy to much if just used directly, as this would suggest that 15%/2 = 7.5% of natal females become trans men.

However, doing this estimate directly would also be somewhat ridiculous, as the vast majority of the 15% would still be more feminine than the average boy, and because the gender issues appear to be much stronger among those attracted to girls than those attracted to boys.

Thus, the real question we need to know is how many lesbians are more masculine than the average man. The estimate of the difference between lesbians and straight women in masculinity/femininity varies depending on study, but let’s go with the gender diagnosticity difference from this study and assume d~0.5. This means that lesbians are d~1.5 more feminine than men. The estimated rate of lesbianism also varies, but let’s go with a middle ground answer of 2%.

By these estimates, about 7% of lesbians should end up with serious gender issues and transition to end up as trans men, which in total should make up a bit more than 0.1% of the natal female population, or, if we estimate trans rates to be about 0.3%, a bit less than half of the FtM population.

This is twice as high as the rate they truly make up (23%, according to the USTS), but there’s infinitely many places that the numbers and calculations can be tweaked, so I don’t think this problem with fitting it should be taken too seriously.

My main conclusion for this is that probably a lot of men would do fine living as women if they were raised as girls, but also that quite a few probably wouldn’t. This appears to very roughly match the cis-by-default self-identification situation, at least to around an order of magnitude or two (which, admittedly, is a pretty bad match). I don’t think that these results are as compatible with a universal innate immutable gender identity, as much as they might be compatible with more-complex mechanics, involving significant individual variation in how well any given man would do living as female.

EDIT 2019-08-02: This study also appears to find that 50% of boys with cloacal exstrophy who are raised as female end up non-gender-dysphoric, but I haven’t read it very carefully so I don’t know. Might be worth looking into.

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Playing around with “gendermetricity”

[Epistemic status: silly statistical experiments. Might eventually turn into something useful but for now everything should be taken with a grain of salt.]

[Apology: this is a badly-organized post. The explanation of what gendermetricity and gendermetric correlations are comes in the middle of the post, rather than in the beginning. I find the results in the end really interesting and promising, but it takes a while to get there.]

I love behavioral genetics, because I find the way that it allows you to summarize complex and opaque information into simple variance components interesting and enlightening. For this reason, I got excited when I saw Gwern post a tweet with a link to a study that generalized this approach from behavioral genetics to neuroanatomy. Does this mean we can use this for other domains too?

For some background: typically, behavioral genetics have used the known similarities between monozygotic and dizygotic twins to infer to what degrees various traits are heritable, shared environment or nonshared environment. If more-genetically-similar twins are more phenotypically similar than less-genetically-similar twins, the trait in question is heritable. However, more recently, it has become possible to genotype extremely large numbers of unrelated individuals, which makes it possible to compare similarity without the individuals being related family-wise. This allows the technique of comparing degree of genetic similarity with degree of phenotypic similarity to work with non-twin samples, as long as they are big enough. This statistical tool is called GCTA (genome-wide complex trait analysis).

However, there’s nothing restricting you to genetic similarity. In principle, you can use any similarity metric you want, as long as it satisfies the conditions assumed by the GCTA statistics. This was what they did in the paper Gwern linked, replacing genetic similarity with neuroanatomic similarity, allowing them to study highly interesting questions of how strongly phenotypes can in principle be predicted from neuroanatomy, even though they haven’t yet discovered how to predict these neurotypes. They called this statistic morphometricity.

But if this works with genetics, and it works with neuroanatomy, then surely it works for just about anything! Gwern suggested gut microbiomes and leaf spectral imaging, but given my interests, my attention immediately shifts to personality, life experiences, or generally any sort of data that is sufficiently multidimensional that regressing directly with it becomes difficult.

As masculinity/femininity appears relatively high-dimensional, and as I get more and more interested in exploring massively high-dimensional data, I’m interested in this sort of tool for my surveys. However, the immediate question that comes to mind is, do I have the sample size needed? GCTAs are usually run with thousands of participants, whereas I typically have a few hundred (though I have a project in the works that might yield me thousands…), so it’s not looking promising. On the other hand, it seems that I have way fewer dimensions to work with, so perhaps this helps; after all, this is supposed to be less data-intensive than just plain linear regression…

After trying an failing for a while to translate their matlab code to Python, I decided to just follow Gwern’s advice and abuse the GCTA program to directly give me the results. I loaded it up with data from my survey on Gender, Sexuality and Other Things and gave it some test runs. Here’s some example results:

Demo Trait g^2 SE
all gender 56% 6 pp
women aap 53% 12 pp
women narcissism 47% 11 pp
men feminism 46% 9 pp
women gender issues 40% 11 pp
women self-mf 29% 11 pp
women age 27% 10 pp
all age 24% 6 pp
men age 24% 8 pp
all sexual orientation 21% 5 pp
men sexual orientation 21% 7 pp
men narcissism 20% 9 pp
men self-mf 19% 7 pp
women sexual orientation 13% 10 pp
all quality of life 12% 5 pp
women feminism 12% 10 pp
men gender issues 8% 6 pp
men agp 2% 4 pp

In the above, I used the GCTA program to look at demographics and traits and compute their “””gendermetricity””” (“””g^2″””) – i.e. its estimate for how much variance in the trait can in theory be predicted linearly using the masculinity/femininity items I included in the survey. SE denotes the standard error that GCTA estimated. Self-mf refers to self-assessed masculinity/femininity.

The above table is… not very promising for the usability of this tool. The confidence intervals are very wide (though that’s to be expected with my sort of sample size), there’s relatively little connection to how strongly something appears to be related to masculinity/femininity and how high its gendermetricity is (though this is not what the tools promise either – in principle, they’re supposed to detect any variance that can be predicted from combinations of the items, even if these combinations are completely orthogonal to masculinity/femininity), and it’s kinda opaque if just considered directly. It did have some ups, though, e.g. placing gender as being the most-gendermetric trait, and placing AGP as being one of the least-gendermetric traits, but given the other problems, I wouldn’t trust gendermetricity in these domains either.

GCTA is supposed to have a “genetic correlation” function, which should be usable for figuring out the degree to which the gendermetric variance in two variables is correlated. However, I couldn’t get it to work, and the problems I mentioned before made me a bit uninterested in spending too much effort on making it work.

However… gendermetricity is basically an estimate for how well linear regression can in principle be able to predict the traits in question. If we just ignore the “in principle” part, we can explore gendermetricity-like concepts by performing the relevant linear regressions directly!

Let z be a random vector containing the masculinity/femininity-related variables that we seek define gendermetricity using, and x (and y) be a random variable containing the trait that we seek to predict the gendermetricity of. Let x // z denote residualizing x for z. The gendermetricity of x is simply just the fraction of variance explained by z of x, which can be computed as var_z(x) = (var(x)-var(x//z))/var(x). Similarly, the gendermetric covariance of x and y must then be cov_z(x, y) = cov(x, y)-cov(x//z, y//z), and so their gendermetric correlation be cov_z(x, y)/√(var_z(x)var_z(y)).

To help with dealing with the amount of data I have, I use PCA to reduce the dimensionality of the masculinity/femininity test from 22 to 7. In addition, I residualize the variables in a “leave-one-out” manner, which is to say, I predict each individual with a model that has been fitted to all other individuals. To reduce noise variance, I test giving the regression different numbers of principal components as input, ranging from 1 to 7, and give the number that yields the highest gendermetricity. This yielded the following gendermetricities:

Demo Trait g^2
all gender 42,3%
all sexual orientation 20%
men feminism 13,5%
men sexual orientation 11,6%
women gender issues 9,6%
women self-mf 9,5%
men self-mf 8,2%
men age 8,2%
all age 4,8%
women aap 3,7%
women sexual orientation 3,6%
women narcissism 3,3%
men gender issues 2,5%
men narcissism 2,1%
all quality of life 1,0%
men agp 0%
women age 0%
women feminism 0%

This doesn’t look too bad, but more importantly, we can now compute gendermetric correlations! But first, what actually is a gendermetric correlation? The best way I can explain a gendermetric correlation between two variables X and Y is the following: Suppose there’s some stuff that makes X correlate with the masculinity/femininity test (i.e. X is somewhat gendermetric). And suppose there’s some stuff that makes Y correlate with the masculinity/femininity test. The gendermetric correlation is then a measure of how much these two “stuffs” is the same stuff. Now let’s take a look at some examples!

gmcorr-all-pca7.png

Correlation matrix among the full sample. The above-diagonal correlations are the gendermetric correlations, while the below-diagonal correlations are the residual correlations.

So, how do we interpret the above? There’s a number of things that could be said. First, note that the gendermetric correlation between sexual orientation and quality of life exceeds the [-1, 1] bounds that are typically expected of correlations. This is not because gendermetric correlations are somehow able to correlate more strongly than ordinary correlations; rather, it is because my math sucks. (I could have removed these effects, e.g. by just clamping them to the relevant range, or by not doing the leave-one-out thing in my regression, but I think they serve as a useful reminder not to take the statistics in this post too seriously.)

Consider the gendermetric correlation between sexual orientation and gender. It is very close to one, which makes sense when you break it down: The variance in gender decomposes into the gendermetric variance, which boils down to the fact that men are more masculine than women, and the non-gendermetric variance, which boils down to the fact that some women are masculine and some men are feminine. Meanwhile, the variance in sexual orientation decomposes into the same gendermetric variance where men are more masculine and women are more feminine, plus a bit of extra gendermetric variance where gay people are more GNC than the baseline, plus a lot of non-gendermetric variance due to not all queer people being GNC, and not all straight people being gender-conforming.

The gendermetric correlation tells you how much the gendermetric variance in the two variables is shared. Since the main difference in the gendermetric variances is that sexual orientation also contains some GNC gay people, the bulk of the variance (namely that men tend to be more masculine than women) is shared, and so the gendermetric correlation is high. (It’s probably worth adding that I wouldn’t be surprised if the 0.98 number above is an overestimate.)

The residual correlation is much lower. This correlation tells you how much the variables are still correlated after taking the gendermetric variance into account. That is, it tells you the degree to which the non-gendermetric variance is shared. As you can see from the diagram, it is much lower than the gendermetric correlation, and I can also inform you that it is lower than the usual correlation, as in this sample, gender and sexual orientation is correlated at r~0.42.

gmetric-all-pca7.png

Depicted: the gendermetricities for the traits mentioned before. It is only the gendermetric variance, and not all of the variance, that gendermetric correlations use to measure the connection between variables.

In the text above, I assumed the gendermetric variance was related to masculinity/femininity. This is likely in the case of gender or sexual orientation, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the case in general. Since I allowed up to 7 dimensions from the masculinity/femininity test to be included in the regression, it is possible for the linear regression to form predictions that are not based on masculinity/femininity, but instead also on mixes, e.g. taking some “masculine” characteristics and some “feminine” characteristics and using them to form a new “trait”.

As an example, two traits that might be included in a masculinity/femininity test (but which weren’t included in mine) are Expressivity (caring about others) and Instrumentality (high agency and a strong sense of self). One might assume that gendermetricity computed using these traits only use either the traits directly, or use their difference. However, gendermetricity might also instead use their sum to predict things, which corresponds to Extraversion, a relatively ungendered trait.

Now that we understand gendermetricity (hopefully), let’s look at some more examples.

gmcorr-Female-pca7.png

Gendermetric and residual correlations for women. A number of other traits were also tested but found to be nonsignificantly gendermetric, namely attraction to women, mimicry-autogynephilia, every paraphilia in the survey except for the ones listed in the diagram (including a different variant of exhibitionism), feminism, dislike of own appearance, age, life satisfaction, exclusive attraction to women, number of female partners, and number of male partners. 

 

The first thing to note is that including self-mf (i.e. self-assessed masculinity/femininity) in a gendermetric correlation is in some ways strange. Gendermetricity is meant to capture masculinity/femininity, so what exactly happens when this gets combined with self-mf? Well, basically, we’d expect the gendermetric variance in self-mf to be just that, masculinity/femininity. However, there is going to be some additional variance in self-mf, both because any self-report measure has some noise, and because our masculinity/femininity measure might not be complete. Thus, a gendermetric correlation with self-mf tells us something about whether the gendermetric variance in a trait is due to masculinity/femininity, or due to something else (such as the extraversion example earlier).

Thus, what the above diagram suggests to us is that the gendermetric variance in attraction to men, self-sexualization, and gender issues in women is due to masculinity/femininity, but that the gendermetric variance in autoandrophilia and narcissism is partly due to something else. I believe that like for ordinary correlations, the gendermetric correlations have to be squared in order to yield the shared variance; this means that 28% of the gendermetric variance of autoandrophilia is, according to this measure, due to masculinity, while the remaining 72% isn’t.

Despite this, autoandrophilia appears to gendermetrically correlate really strongly with gender issues, even though these should be mainly about masculinity/femininity. This is another example of how you should take the results here with a grain of salt; it is impossible for the “real” gendermetricities to work like this, but the estimates do.

One thing that’s worth noting is that autoandrophilia gendermetrically correlates with androphilia. Furthermore, while gynephilia and lesbianism isn’t statistically significant gendermetrically, if I force it to compute the gendermetric correlation between those and AAP, I also find those to be negatively correlated with autoandrophilia. Thus, autoandrophilia is gendermetrically correlated with heterosexuality; this is despite the fact that I usually find it to be negatively correlated with heterosexuality. I’m not yet sure how to interpret this finding, but I find it very intriguing that we finally have an AAP/heterosexuality “””correlation”””, as the lack of this is one of the arguments against AAP as a concept.

gmetric-Female-pca7.png

Gendermetricities of the traits under consideration.

One odd thing is that narcissism, autoandrophilia, and gender issues are all gendermetrically correlated. I’m not sure what’s up with that, and it’s worth keeping an eye on whether this replicates. (Is this pattern predicted by the ROGD model? I don’t know.)

It is also interesting to observe that autoandrophilia is negatively gendermetrically correlated with self-sexualization, even though it is otherwise positively correlated with self-sexualization. This might also be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

If you think about it, the matrix for women appears to suggest a two-factor solution, with a “general gendermetric factor” that all the dimensions load positively on, and a “courtship-vs-GID factor” where self-sexualization/androphilia/narcissism load in the courtship direction, and AAP/gender-issues/self-mf load in the GID direction. This approach might be worth considering looking into (though that would require me to first figure out how to do “gendermetric factor analysis”, which appears to be easy enough but might be trickier than it looks).

I don’t know if it was a fluke, or what happened, but for some reason of the two exhibitionism items I had, only one, which I’ve labelled “exhibitionism 1”, was gendermetric. This exhibitionism item is related to flashing; its item text is “Exposing my genitals to an attractive stranger”. Meanwhile, the other exhibitionism item, “exhibitionism 2”, is about public sex, “Performing sex acts while stranger watch”.

On to men!

gmcorr-Male-pca7.png

The gendermetric-and-residual correlation matrix for men. Traits that were also tested for gendermetricity were life satisfaction and autogynephilia, which were found not to be significantly gendermetric, and number of male partners, which was found to be gendermetric in the obvious way (positive correlations with almost everything else) and thus excluded because the diagram was getting crowded.

This time, there is a strong, obvious structure in the graph that just screams that it wants to get noticed: There’s a gender nonconformity factor that involves self-mf, sexual orientation, gender issues, feminism, and disliking one’s own appearance (with all but the disliking-appearance dimension being completely gendermetrically correlated), and a courtship factor that involves liking one’s appearance, self-sexualization, being older, narcissism, and having had more female partners.

I think the first of these two factors is very cute; there appears to be a single general factor of gender nonconformity, rather than there being different forms of GNC that are relevant for different traits. (Alternatively, my data analysis is bad enough that I’m not able to detect different forms of GNC.)

The courtship factor is surprising to me. The masculinity/femininity test I’m using doesn’t have any items that are “obviously” related to courtship for men; there’s no “going to the gym” items, or anything similar to this. Presumably there’s an explanation for this that will become clear if I perform some sort of gendermetric factor analysis, but until then my best explanation is that gendermetricity is magic.

And it’s not even that the courtship-related variance it’s capturing is tiny. Here’s the gendermetricities of men’s traits:

gmetric-Male-pca7.png

Amount of variance explained by the masculinity/femininity test across a range of traits that were tested for men.

 

The number of female partners is the most gendermetric trait according to this analysis. It’s not that I’m complaining, because other than masculinity/femininity itself, courtship would probably be one of the most-relevant things for a masculinity/femininity test to capture. I just don’t understand how it does it.

One constrast between women’s and men’s correlation matrices is that for men, the residual correlations appear to often to be smaller than for women. I’m not sure if that effect is real, but if it is, it indicates to me that this approach works better for men than for women.

I think there’s four obvious followups to this post:

  1. Perform “gendermetric factor analysis”. It seems that this should allow us to extract highly-intuitive factors from the masculinity/femininity test, which might be useful for other things in the future. Plus, gendermetric factor analysis might help reduce some of the potential problems that can arise from overfitting in these cases. (When playing around with changing the number of principal components, it appears that the structure in the men’s gendermetricity matrix is just a result of the existence of the first two principal components. However, in the women’s gendermetricity matrix, the structure appears to require more principal components, despite appearing mostly 2D.)
  2. Expand the study of gendermetricity with more traits and better masculinity/femininity tests. Maybe we can discover even more structure within the traits, and at least we can verify the structure that is already found. Attractiveness is an obvious thing that might be worth including, as would sociosexuality.
  3. Apply these methods to other domains too; for instance, it would be interesting to see if the AGP/GAMP correlation is due to [attitudes to androgyny]metricity, or something similar for other correlations in sexuality. One complication is that in order to make this system work, the domain that is used must be multidimensional; otherwise the correlations will all be 1 or -1. At the same time, really it’s not the gendermetric correlation that needs to be used to see if some factor is a potential mediator, but instead the residual correlation.
  4. Improve the calculations of gendermetricity, e.g. by fixing the cases where gendermetricities greater than 1 or smaller than -1 are computed, or by figuring out a way to use the linear mixed model approach that e.g. the GCTA program uses.

Brief note on differences between the ROGD narrative and the transtrender narrative

In a picture:

rogd_vs_trender

Pictured: the stereotypes associated with stories labelled ROGD vs transtrender.

There are two narratives that have become popular among people critical of the trans community, and they have some surface-level similarity that I think might prevent people from noticing how different they really are. Briefly, both claim that there is a social trend of people taking on transgender identities, but they differ a lot in how they describe the nature of this trend. I think there’s some serious issues with both narratives, but I think it’s worth writing an article that clearly distinguishes them before writing a response to either of them.

According to the transtrender narrative, there are a lot of normal girls who pick up transgender identities in order to get attention, but who aren’t gender dysphoric and aren’t seriously transitioning. People talking about “transtrenders” are usually mainly worried about them making “true trans people” look silly. They do sometimes worry about “transtrenders” engaging in medical transition, but in these cases, they generally consider regret to be inevitable.

transtrender

Breakdown of issues pointed to by the transtrender narrative.

The ROGD narrative is different. Here, the idea still starts with relatively-normal girls who are in social groups that encourage taking on a trans identity. In the ROGD narrative, they’re also said to have a lot of mental health issues that they expect transition to fix. In addition, the followup is different: ROGDs start following the script that would be expected of trans men, discarding feminine behavior and putting a lot of energy into transition.

rogd

Breakdown of issues pointed to by the ROGD narrative.

The ROGD narrative isn’t worried about whether the trans community looks silly, but is instead worried about people ending up with expectations that transition will solve problems that it really doesn’t solve, that people who didn’t need transition will undergo medical interventions, and that the trans community might encourage suicide or self-harm.

In the above, I presented the narratives as being completely separate, but it can be far more continuous than that. There’s nothing contradictory in seeing these things as a continuum, as a progression, or as whatever else one might mix together.

Since the ROGD narrative is clearly the most alarming one, it’s also the one I intend to write a response to first. But that’ll have to wait until a later post.

Triangulating Autohomosexuality

Autogynephilia in natal males and autoandrophilia in natal females can be thought of as a notion of “autoheterosexuality”; a sexual interest in being the opposite sex. They are hypothesized to be variations on heterosexuality, in some sense applied to the self. (Or at least, autogynephilia is; autoandrophilia is a bit weirder.)

It seems like in theory some symmetric notion of autohomosexuality should exist. Not necessarily be common, mind you, but if it’s possible for gynephilic men and androphilic women to invert their sexuality in some sense, then the same should be possible for androphilic men and gynephilic women. That autogynephilia doesn’t go away with MtF transition is further evidence for this hypothesis.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard some cases of this too. I know a trans man who post-transition has sexual interests that are unambiguously like those of AGP cis men, and he says that pre-transition, he had similar interests, e.g. fantasizing about being the women he found attractive.

One characteristic of autoheterosexuality is that it often gets reified into arousal to the idea of being the opposite sex. It’s unclear to me whether autohomosexuals would reify their sexuality the same way, thinking of it as arousal to the idea of being their current sex, because this might merely be a side-effect of not being the desired sex. It’s also not fully clear to me what autohomosexuals would be into. For instance, it’s often proposed that they might masturbate to themselves in a mirror, but to me it also seems plausible that they might instead more be into taking on the appearance of other people of their sex that they find attractive (at least, I’ve had more success with that reification in some initial surveys on the topic).

Based on what we know or suspect about autogynephilia, I would propose the following characteristics for determining the validity of a putative autohomosexuality measure:

  • Since autoheterosexuality is more common in heterosexuals than homosexuals (at least in natal males… autoandrophilia is weird), we should expect autohomosexuality to be associated with typical homosexuality (though it would not necessarily be common among gay people).
  • If autogynephilia and autoandrophilia are hypothesized to be the same sorts of variance applied to different underlying orientations, then we should expect them to be strongly correlated in bisexual women. This expectation might also be applied to bisexual men, but on the other hand, it is often not clear how bisexual the bisexual men actually are, so it shouldn’t necessarily be expected there.
  • Similarly, autogynephilia is hypothesized to “run in families”; if this is the case, then we might expect the bisexual sisters of AGP men to also be AGP.
  • Autohomosexuality should have some elements in common with autoheterosexuality that makes it recognizably similar; but I wouldn’t require exact identity, and it might look like a bit of a stretch when it has actually been fully discovered. However, at the very least I would expect autohomosexuals and autoheterosexuals to “recognize” their own sexuality in each other when having them described, at least moderately better than chance.
  • There’s no clear reason why we would expect autohomosexuality to be more common than autoheterosexuality, so we probably shouldn’t expect this.
  • If the measure works for trans women too (and some AGP autohomosexuality measures might not), we should expect trans women to score highly. Similarly, if it applies to cis men, we should expect it to be in agreement with other autogynephilia measures.

One thing that can be noted is that these validation rules are based on the assumption that autogynephilia is a variation of attraction to women. Some instead argue that it is a form of feminized sexuality. I find this argument somewhat questionable, as I would think that it is androphilia that is feminized sexuality. I’ve seen some quite conflicting anecdotes and arguments that focus on the form female sexuality takes, and I don’t think there’s any clear conclusion here, so it’s difficult to just rely on experience. Instead, one way I would test this would be by looking at whether they are correlated with other forms of feminized behavior. IME this holds for attraction to men but not for autogynephilia, so therefore I wouldn’t think of autogynephilia as being a feminized sexuality.

Using these guidelines, we can try to evaluate a number of proposed autohomosexuality measures. They generally focus on autogynephilia in women, rather than autohomosexuality in general, as very few people seem to pay attention to autoheterosexuality.

1. Moser’s approach

In his paper Autogynephilia in women, Charles Moser took the Cross-Gender Fetishism scale and translated it to better apply to cis women. He then did a survey where he tested how many women answered it affirmatively.

Very little additional data was collected for Moser’s scale. A lot of his sample was heterosexual, and he got a significant amount of affirmative answers, so this could be interpreted as evidence that his scale doesn’t correlate with sexual orientation, or perhaps even correlates with heterosexual orientation. However, it’s not very clear, and more research would be needed to say for sure. Similarly, the other validity checks are also impossible to evaluate currently. As a result, Moser’s scale can only really be interpreted as a suggestion, rather than a validated approach.

Perhaps the most notable thing that is missing is a comparison to trans women’s responses. The first of his items might not generalize well to trans women, but the rest should probably work relatively OK.

2. Lawrence’s approach

Anne Lawrence criticized Moser’s approach for not using scales that reified the “attraction to being a woman” enough, and instead suggested a different set of items that strongly reify this concept.

Nobody has collected data with Lawrence’s items, but I once collected data with a similar approach. It did not pass many of the validity checks that I was able to run.

agp

Picture: comparison of the results from trans women and cis women on a scale much like Lawrence’s.

In particular, it did not correlate by sexual orientation; it and AAP were uncorrelated, perhaps with a negative trend, in bisexual cis women; and trans women had the same distribution as cis women. The main validity check that it passed was that in men, it matched the results from another autogynephilia measure.

I also tested a similar measure in men. Here, it seemed to partially pass the sexual orientation criterion. However, among bisexual men, it was negatively correlated with autogynephilia, and for some reason autoandrophilia was more common than autogynephilia regardless of sexual orientation. In women, this autoandrophilia also matched the more-standard ones I use well. On the other hand, trans men didn’t score super high, so it’s hard to say what to make of that. (It may be that autoandrophilia is not a primary cause of gender dysphoria on reddit, but instead that something else, e.g. masculinity, is. If that is the case, we should be able to identify this by finding that autoandrophilia in trans men is negatively correlated with this “something else”.)

reified-a_p-diagram

Picture: different degrees of autogynephilia and autoandrophilia in different groups of men.

3. Veale’s approach

In her Master’s thesis, Jaimie Veale changed Blanchard’s Core Autogynephilia Scale to be more relevant for cis women by asking whether they had ever been sexually aroused by imagining having “more attractive” physically female features. Her thesis is much more extensive than Moser’s paper, so this time we can evaluate some new things.

On page 66, she has a correlation table which found that her measure of autogynephilia was associated with attraction to men rather than with attraction to women. In general the associations were weak, and so it’s hard to say anything for sure, but it makes me question the validity of her scale.

A lot of the other validity checks were not examined, and so I don’t know whether they held, but that’s not surprising considering they’re relatively obscure. It might be useful to research this in future studies, though.

Veale found that trans women scored slightly but not much higher than cis women on her scale.

4. The Self-Attraction approach

Some people feel that attraction to oneself would be the way autohomosexuality works. On the one hand, I can sorta understand that, and I could totally see the counterfactual female!me be attracted to herself. In fact, there’s quite a few anecdotes of things that seem like autogynephilia and include a heavy element of self-attraction. But I’m not sure this is how it would work, and part of it is the evidence I got when I tried to test it.

self-attraction

Pictured: the average self-reported degree of self-attraction in my Survey on Sexuality, Masculinity and Femininity.

While there does seem to be an effect, where queer people report greater levels of self-attraction than straight people, the effect size is modest. As such, it’s not a very convincing case of passing the sexual orientation test.

I do not have the data to evaluate this approach on many things other than the sexual orientation test yet.

In another survey I tried a variant, asking about arousal by own body and sexual experiences (such as masturbation sessions) focused on admiring one’s own body. This yielded some more-promising results:

own-body-arousal

Pictured: results from Survey on Personal Sexual Arousal.

This suggests that perhaps the most-effective way to ask about this would be the third approach, asking about whether people have sexual experiences where they focus on their own body.

This general approach strikes me as similar to autosexuality, so perhaps this is something that needs to be researched.

5. The Mimicry-A*P approach

When talking with a trans man I know who is AGP, he suggested focusing on fantasizing about being other women, rather than on sexual interest in oneself. Before he transitioned, he had found it arousing to imagine having a body like the women he was attracted to.

This leads to the concept I call “mimicry-autohomosexuality”. Here, I ask something like “Picture a handsome man/beautiful woman. How arousing would you find it to imagine being her?”. This approach has seemed to pass quite a few tests.

mimicry-A_P-groups

Pictured: mimicry-A*P results from my Survey on Gender, Sexuality and Other things.

The expected ordering with sexual orientation is there; queer > straight. We also see trans women score higher than other groups, though this doesn’t apply to trans men for some reason. Among trans men, there was no statistically significant correlation between masculinity and autoandrophilia (r~-0.266, p~0.1). Among bi women, there was a strong correlation between mimicry-AGP and standard ways of asking about AAP (r~0.32; p~0.0003), and also between mimicry-AGP and mimicry-AAP (r~0.45). The mirrored correlations didn’t exist in bi men (r~-0.1 and r~0.23).

Mimicry-autoheterosexuality had adequate agreement with my standard way of measuring autoheterosexuality in men (r~0.6) and in women (r~0.63). However, I got much higher rates of affirmative answers for mimicry-autoheterosexuality in men (66% vs 45%) and slightly higher in women (54% vs 43%).

The range on this measure seems limited; for instance, trans women seem to tend to hit the ceiling, and so their degree of mimicry-AGP is likely underestimated:

agp_development

Pictured: response distribution for various groups.

One potential issue with mimicry-A*P is that people seem systematically more likely to endorse the variant that matches their gender than the variant that doesn’t. For instance, gay men were 1.4x more likely to endorse mimicry-AAP than straight men were to endorse mimicry-AGP, and straight men were 1.4x more likely to endorse mimicry-AAP than gay men were to endorse mimicry-AGP.

a_p-by-orientation

Pictured: amount of mimicry-A*P endorsed by various groups in my fourth porn survey.

There may also be other potential flaws; e.g. in women, I found mimicry-AGP to be correlated with narcissism (r~0.24, p~5E-4), even though I found no such connection in men. Mimicry-AGP also seemed correlated with femininity in women (r~0.13, p~0.03), despite no such connection in men or trans women. My conclusion from this is that most likely, mimicry-AGP picks up on additional things beyond just autohomosexuality.

Overview

Perhaps it might be relevant to create an overview of the different approaches:

Criterion 1 2 3 4 5
Queer higher than het ? No No Yes Yes
Correlated with AAP in bi women ? No ? ? Yes
Runs in same families as autohet ? ? ? ? ?
Surface-level similarity to autohet Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Same prevalence as autohet ? No No Maybe Kinda
High scores for trans women Likely Kinda Yes N/A Yes
Concordance with other autohet measures N/A N/A N/A N/A Kinda

Overall, I believe that the most promising approach is mimicry-AGP, but there may be value in considering other approaches and expanding the scales. In particular, it seems that it would be very valuable to discover that multiple different approaches agree with each other, as that could be useful for studying this in a more stable manner.

Predictions made by Blanchard’s typology

Some accuse Blanchard’s typology of being inherently unfalsifiable, due to it not taking self-report narratives by trans women at face value. This attitude is flawed, but I thought it would be good to construct a list of predictions that Blanchard’s typology makes to show how this isn’t the case.

I’m going to make three different classes of predictions; those which if shown to be false, would immediately throw the typology into question and plausibly result in needing to throw out it all; those which if shown to be false, would require serious rethinking and refactoring of the typology; and smaller predictions whose wrongness wouldn’t mean much by itself but where consistent prediction failures would imply that the typology is incorrect. For understanding why smaller prediction failures don’t necessarily imply that the whole theory is wrong, I recommend reading about scientific paradigms here.

I will include several predictions that I consider to already be proven, but which are not all that well-known. I will especially make sure to include claims made by the typology which are regularly used as a “gotcha” because they sounds preposterous.

Strongest Predictions

If these predictions turn out to fail, it will immediately throw the typology into question.

  • If genes are discovered (from GWAS or similar; classical candidate-gene studies obviously don’t count, due to their poor replicability) which account for femininity, homosexuality, or similar, these will turn out to be mostly independent from genes discovered to account for autogynephilia (or “cross-gender sexual fantasies”).
  • Both sets of genes will likely account for desire to be the opposite sex, though, albeit likely not as strongly. (Studies have generally found adulthood gender issues to be less genetic than most other things, plausibly due to them not being directly genetic.)
  • Femininity and autogynephilia will be mostly non-associated in the general population. (I have already partially confirmed this.)
  • Autogynephilia will not be associated with any degree of large-scale brain feminization in the general population.
  • Autogynephilia is strongly associated with desire to be female. (This is already pretty clearly true, but surprisingly many people are not aware of it.)
  • Autogynephilia will not be linked to repressing femininity; i.e. it will not be shown that if a boy is feminine, encounters judgement for it, and then “mans up”, he will tend to end up autogynephilic.
  • Autogynephilia in trans women is strongly negatively associated with exclusive attraction to men and femininity. (This is pretty well-known, but disputed by some.)
  • Homosexuality is strongly associated with femininity (or masculinity if we’re talking in women). (This is already pretty clearly true, but a handful of people are not aware of it.)

Some of the genetic predictions might be testable just by studying siblings.

Significant Predictions

If these predictions turn out to fail, the typology needs to be seriously rethought.

  • Most of the trans women who the theory predicts to be misreporting (e.g. claiming higher degrees of femininity, lack of autogynephilia, or physiological attraction to men) cannot be shown to be reporting correctly when their claims are tested through independent measures that they have less ability to affect the outcome of. This might include past records of their behavior, reports of sexual behavior by wives, measured sexuality in penile plethysmography, or similar.
  • Autogynephilia will not be associated with any form of brain feminization that is not present in other paraphilias.
  • Among equally-feminine very-GNC natal males (or equally-masculine very-GNC natal females), those who are homosexual are much more likely to end up gender dysphoric.
  • Autogynephilia in cis men will be more common among those who are exclusively attracted to women than those who are exclusively attracted to men. (I think this is already known, but it might be worth studying further.)
  • A verified measure of autogynephilia in cis women will show lower rates of autogynephilia than what we see in trans women.
  • People who have one autophilia will more generally tend to desire to have the characteristics that they find attractive. (This is potentially wrong.)
  • Autogynephilia generally appears before unambiguous dysphoria. (This needs to be tested carefully because many trans women reinterpret past experiences as dysphoria when it is not clear that they are actually dysphoria.)
  • Sexual orientation as measured by penile or vaginal plethysmography will not turn out to change through transition.

Moser’s test is not in my opinion verified enough, and so it is not clear that this constitutes a prediction failure. I would like to see a test of whether cis women who score high on his measure would also tend to say that their sexuality is like that of autogynephiles. In addition, Moser did not present his test to trans women as a comparison.

Smaller Predictions

These don’t matter much individually as one could easily imagine ways to account for them, but if they consistently turn out wrong, it’d suggest flaws with the theory.

  • Asexual trans women tend to have autogynephilic sexual fantasies. (This is already known to hold, but many people fail to realize this.)
  • Almost all trans women who the theory predicts are misreporting can, if examined carefully enough, be shown to be misreporting. (If this fails, then it suggests that there is some rare third type.)
  • It is rare for highly autogynephilic men to have the same aversion to being female that non-autogynephilic men have. (I believe I find this pretty consistently, but it’s not sufficiently well-known and it hasn’t been published anywhere.)
  • When controlling for sexual orientation, a verified measure of autogynephilia in cis women will still show lower rates of autogynephilia than what we see in trans women.
  • Interventions that reduce the libido of autogynephiles will also reduce their desire to be female (in approximate proportion to how equivalent interventions would reduce allogynephiles’s desire to get a girlfriend, which typically don’t get reduced to zero even in the case of complete removal of libido), at least when applied long-term and to ones who don’t at the same time create new sources of desire to be female. (Trans women may as a result of coming out and living in a female gender role create new desires to be female due to the friction associated with detransitioning.) This effect applies even when the person in question is dysphoric.
  • Non-exclusively-androphilic trans women are more fetishistic than cis women.

The prediction that gender issues go away as libido is reduced is often cited as a prediction that has been falsified by trans women continuing to transition after starting HRT, but I don’t know that this quite holds. First, HRT does not usually fully kill the libido, but instead merely reduces it. Secondly, many trans women seem to report an almost-magical dysphoria-reducing effect when starting HRT, which seems like the sort of thing we should expect if the prediction held. Third, dysphoria seems to exist somewhat independently of AGP, so we should expect this change to be somewhat slow and, depending on how independent it is, not even happen. (This is why I only classify it as a weak predicction.) Fourth, it seems likely that if one socially transitions, one commits more to being transgender in a way that would prevent this effect. These issues can be handled with more careful testing, though, and I intend to look into how it works if I fix them.

Is autogynephilia gay? (Spoiler: no)

Autogynephilia is a tendency to be aroused by the thought of being a woman, dressing as a woman, or a tendency to have sexual fantasies in which one imagines oneself as a woman. This strikes some people as gay, likely through some sort of association between women, femininity, and gay men. But is it true?

You might think that this has already been disproven by the many studies (e.g. here) that find that autogynephilia and exclusive attraction to men are very strongly negatively correlated among trans women, but what needs to be taken into account is that we are conditioning on a collider here, namely seeking gender transition, possibly leading to Berkson’s paradox where the correlation between two variables is reduced (or made negative) by restricting your sample. In fact, a simple calculation will tell you that these results suggest a positive correlation between autogynephilia and exclusive androphilia in the general population, unless some other effect is in play.

Are other effects in play? I think so; we know there’s meta-attraction, social desirability bias, and some people who want to get past gatekeepers. So we need a more-direct estimate.

This is a bit tricky to estimate, though. The obvious method would be to estimate the rate of homosexuality among autogynephiles and among non-autogynephiles and compare these two numbers, but since homosexuality estimates seem to vary wildly by sample and method, it becomes very important to use a consistent approach for this. The ideal would be to simultaneously estimate AGP; homosexuality, and its overlap, rather than combining different samples in possibly unreliable ways.

Through my surveys on reddit, I regularly get data on this, and because the AGP rates on reddit are very high (~50% for any degree of AGP, no matter how small, and perhaps around 2% for high degrees of AGP), it is very easy to get clear results here: gay men are less AGP than straight men. Here’s a select set of surveys showing that it holds for a lot of different ways of asking about AGP:

Survey Approach Prevalence difference Degree difference
One Word On Trump, And 19 Other Questions Picturing self as female in sexual fantasies (regardless of reason; includes those who do it for non-paraphilic reasons) 2x higher for straight men than gay men (39% vs 18%) 2.5x more strongly for straight men than gay men
A Survey on Gender, Sexuality and Other Things Aroused by thought of self as woman 3x higher for straight men than gay men (44% vs 14%) 4.6x more strongly for straight men than gay men
Gender and Psychology Survey Aroused by wearing women’s clothes 2.3x higher for straight men than gay men (22% vs 10%) 2.6x more for straight men than gay men
Porn Survey 4 Aroused by picturing a beautiful woman and imagining being her 2.3x higher for straight men than gay men (70% vs 30%) 3.4x higher for straight men than gay men

I don’t really expect that different ways of asking or different places to sample would make much difference. As long as the basic methodology is followed, I think you’d always get this sort of result. As such, I conclude that AGP is in fact negatively associated with male homosexuality. This works well with the theory that AGP is a variation of gynephilia that is self-directed in some sense.

Since homosexuality is also associated with being feminized in some sense, this also suggests that autogynephilia isn’t a feminine sexuality. But this is something I can go into more detail with in a later post…

Response to Contrapoints on Autogynephilia

Some time ago, Contrapoints made a video on autogynephilia. I’d watched it before without finding it convincing, but I finally decided to write down some notes while watching it, so now I can do a fuller response to it. I’m not going to include everything I observed with my notes, so you might want to read those too if you want a full idea of what I thought of the video.

Contrapoints misrepresents autogynephilia theory

In the beginning of the video at 2:50, Contrapoints contrasts Blanchard’s typology with the idea that trans women transition because of gender dysphoria. However, Blanchard’s typology does not assert that most trans women’s transitions are driven by pure lust, but instead that autogynephilia in some sense contributes to the development of gender dysphoria, which then usually is a main motivator for transition.

This issue comes up quite a lot of times. At 16:43, she says that dysphoria (rather than “being a fetishist” or “being essentially a woman”) was the reason she transitioned. At 38:47, she says the theory doesn’t describe her conscious motivation to transition. At 34:12, she contrasts herself and most transwomen with Anne Lawrence, a trans woman who believes in Blanchard’s typology, despite the fact that Lawrence also talks about the concept of gender dysphoria (my browser counts 212 mentions in her book). At 22:05, she makes the argument that she has been wearing women’s clothes for months without getting aroused by it.

Does this mean that Contrapoints is simply confused about the theory that she is criticizing? No; at 37:05, she brings up the romance hypothesis, which asserts that trans women experience such strong emotional feelings from their autogynephilia due to autogynephilia extending to their romantic orientation too. She talks about this theory for 35 seconds, and then spends 30 seconds rejecting it as being nonsense. But this means that she knowingly has spent the rest of the video criticizing an entirely different theory than Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory!

I think this is really worth emphasizing. Contrapoint’s video is 49 minutes long, but she only spends a single of those minutes truly criticizing the autogynephilia theory. Of course, I’m going to respond to some of the rest too, but a lot of it kinda misses the point.

From autogynephilia to dysphoria

Contrapoints says that the romance hypothesis is ridiculous, and I will admit it’s somewhat weird. However, she presents it as a last-ditch effort to save the typology, by saying that we “shift the goalposts”, despite the fact that it has been part of Blanchard’s typology from very early on. This creates an impression that Blanchard’s theory was proposed, disproven, and then edited to become unfalsifiable, which is pretty misleading.

But that ignores the point: isn’t the romance hypothesis too weird? Maybe. But even if that is true, there are lots of other ways we could imagine that autogynephilia could contribute to gender dysphoria:

  1. Many trans women seem to feel that men and manhood are just objectively terrible in some way. At 35:30, Contrapoints talks about “the evil magic of testosterone”, and at 19:49 she talks about how she thought of PiV sex as “getting the poison out”. Perhaps autogynephilia predisposes one to developing negative psychological complexes about men or manhood.
  2. Autogynephilia leads to repeatedly getting psychological reinforcement from the thought of oneself as a woman. Thus, fans of conditioning-based theories might suggest that autogynephilic stimulation carves the desire to be female into the brain slowly over time.
  3. Especially today, many with autogynephilia will have it suggested that they are “eggs” (slang for self-closeted MtFs) and should transition. Perhaps obsessing over this question (especially when committing more and more to a transgender identity) leads to gender dysphoria.

Now, this should not be taken as an endorsement of any of the above possibilities. I consider it to be something of an open question how exactly AGP leads to gender dysphoria, and it’s something I’m trying to study. However, the point is that the options aren’t just romance hypothesis, purely sexual, or no typology. This is the exact sort of false dichotomy (trichotomy?) that Contrapoints herself criticizes at 14:20.

But how about that romance hypothesis? I think it’s more valid than Contrapoints considers, and it’s worth talking about why. Essentially, if we imagine that some aspect of romantic emotions are innate and linked to our sexual orientation in some way, then we should expect people with different forms of sexual orientations to end up with romantic feelings around different subjects.

We obviously observe this with gay people, who tend to end up in relationships with the same sex instead of the opposite sex. That might be making it a bit too easy for me, though, because a big objection becomes that paraphilias would not constitute a sexual orientation. But why not? Having a paraphilia means that your sexual interests are different from the norm; would it not make sense that this also implies your whole sexual system inherits this difference?

My suspicion – which I have not confirmed with data (though others apparently have?) – is that paraphilias in general involve an emotional/romantic component. Labelling this “pair bonding” when the sexual interest isn’t another human is a bit weird, but the point that this label is getting at is that it would be the same psychological mechanisms that are activated, just in a different way. One of the things that makes me find this plausible is reports of “objectophiles” who get romantically involved with inanimate things. But ultimately, this is something that requires more research to be fully understood.

What does autogynephilia entail?

Throughout the video, Contrapoints defines the distinction between true autogynephiles and trans women with cross-sex gender fantasies to be about whether they experience dysphoria or are driven by lust. Given that I experience gender dysphoria, I guess this means that I can bring up some of my own experiences as commentary on Contrapoints’.

As Contrapoints admits at 34:59, trans women often get off to fantasies about being women and often experience arousal during crossdressing. This is very similar to what autogynephilic cisgender men experience, and she does admit that these men are truly paraphilic. However, Contrapoints instead chooses to argue that what trans women experience is normal female sexuality corrupted by the influence of testosterone, and this is what she spends a very large chunk of her video building up to.

There is some surface plausibility to aspects of her argument. Women’s sexuality seems to focus less on their partners as a goal to conquer, and more about what their partner thinks about them. The most common counterargument to this is that AGPs can have a much more fetishistic approach to this, focusing on aspects of womanhood that are odd and not of interest to cis women. Contrapoints presents herself as being mainly interested in similar things to what cis women are interested in. At 26:07, she argues that hormones further switched her sexuality to become more like cis womens, for example by getting rid of some of her paraphilias.

What are we to make of Contrapoints’ characterization of herself? My experiences with HRT in many ways mirror Contrapoints’, but one thing I found is that while I don’t feel a need to engage in my paraphilias on HRT, I’m still able to. Thus, I think the main effect here is due to a reduction in sex drive. Indeed, there are some lines of evidence (e.g. here) that suggest that the main difference in paraphilic interests between men and women is due to differences in sex drive. If this is true, then this can help account for reduced paraphilic sexuality in trans women on HRT.

In addition, it is my personal experience that I can to some degree shift which aspects of my sexuality I’m emphasizing. Obviously I can’t completely get rid of my paraphilias, but there was a time where I didn’t believe autogynephilia theory either, and during that time I kept my sexual interests shifted more to a domain like what I perceived cis women’s sexuality to be. This didn’t involve avoiding autogynephilia, just emphasizing different aspects of it.

Contrapoints spends a lot of time talking about her sexuality. However, one problem with this is that she’s only one person, and she’s presenting her own sexuality through her own biases in a context where she’s specifically trying to debunk Blanchard’s typology. This makes it questionable that she gives a full and accurate representation of her own sexuality, let alone the median trans woman’s. I don’t think her own narrative can constitute a proof or disproof of anything without considering it both in the context of other trans women’s narratives, and in how the narratives evolve throughout a person’s life.

Contradictions on Feminine Essence Theory

Feminine Essence Theory” is the term Blanchard uses for a broad family of theories which asserts that trans women have some sort of “essence” (often a sex-dimorphic structure in the brain) in common with cis women, and that this essence explains their desire to transition. At 15:05, Contrapoints asserts that she does not believe in the feminine essence theory, and claims that it is just a metaphor used to explain transness to others who aren’t interested in a deep philosophical detour. However, what does she believe in then?

She doesn’t say. At 16:20, she decides to delay it to a future video. I assume she’s referencing either The Aesthetic or Pronouns, both of which are arguments on whether trans women are women which avoid the question of why trans women transition. Contrapoints instead chooses to explain her transition with “dysphoria” without answering the question of what is causing her dysphoria (exactly the question Blanchard’s typology is meant to answer).

But it gets worse. As mentioned before, Contrapoints builds up a large argument that autogynephilia in trans women is just related to normal female sexuality. This argument makes sense in the context of a Feminine Essence Theory where trans women are assumed to have some essence in common with cis women from birth, but once you admit that this isn’t the case, it’s hard to see how one can appeal to cis female sexuality as an explanation of anything that’s going on in trans women. You can’t explain autogynephilia by saying “or maybe I’m just a woman who wants someone to fuck me once in a while”, as Contrapoints does at 38:05, without first subscribing to some form of feminine essence theory.

HSTS vs AGP

A theme that Contrapoints repeatedly brings up is that Blanchard has the option of comparing trans women to men or to women, and Blanchard chooses to make the comparison to men.

For example, she at 33:41 she accuses Blanchard of overextending the concept of autogynephilia to apply to pretty much any sexual feeling that “Cluster B” (her word for AGP) trans women could have. However, she never brings up a real argument for why “Cluster A” (HSTS) trans women do not have the same feelings. If trans women’s autogynephilia is just a twisting of normal female sexuality, surely both types should be equally autogynephilic?

Similarly, at 28:00 she complains that Blanchard expects trans women to desire men in the same way gay men desire men, rather than the way women do, and that this is why he thinks AGP trans women are not truly attracted to men. But shouldn’t we expect this argument to apply to straight trans women too? Yet HSTSs do in fact desire men in similar ways to gay men, with strong, specific physiological sexual arousal to male visual stimuli post-HRT. Why would straight trans women have this interest if bisexual trans women don’t?

Contrapoints doesn’t really address these arguments, but I think some basic knowledge of HSTSs goes a long way toward ruling out many wrong theories about gender dysphoria. An underappreciated fact, for example, is that before pre-HSTSs consciously consider themselves women, they tend to never even imagine themselves as female in sexual fantasies.

Smaller Issues

There’s an endless amount of smaller issues with Contra’s video, but they’re not really worth giving their own section:

  • At 5:10, she admits that trans women do fall into two broad clusters, but then dismisses them as “mere correlation clusters” due to the existence of exceptions. But how do two different clusters come into existence without positing different causes? It can be explained, but she doesn’t even seem to try.
  • At 6:10, she states that it’s unfalsifiable to propose that trans women might be misrepresenting some of their experiences. But this is dishonest of her, as self-report is not the only possible source of data about a person, and these statements about the accuracy representations can be verified against different sources of info.
  • At 6:45, she acts like the cover of The Man Who Would Be Queen is made to make fun of trans women, and says that the first two parts of the book is about HSTSs. But TMWWBQ is mainly about feminine gay men, not trans women, and so it’s dishonest to imply that this is about trans women.
  • At 24:27, Contrapoints makes fun of the concept of treating trans women’s AGP as paraphilic by comparing it to cis men who send dick pics, asking whether they are “autophallophiles”. But we already consider men who like showing other people their penises paraphilic, as this is an example of exhibitionism.
  • Contrapoints’ argument about the suffix ‘-philia’ at 25:45 does not make much sense when considering that Blanchard literally coined the word teliophilia to refer to the most normal sexual attraction pattern (attraction to adults). We need to coin words to describe concepts we encounter whether they are normal or not.
  • At 6:00 and various other places, she says that trans women almost always reject the theory of AGP. As mentioned before, this should be taken with a grain of salt due to her defining AGP theory in a different way, but it’s also worth mentioning that on page 83 of Veale’s masters thesis, she found that 42% of trans women felt that autogynephilia applied at least a little bit to their own experiences, and 23% felt that it applied “quite a lot”. Even more felt that it applied to other’s experiences.
  • At 38:47, Contrapoints claims that she would just tell us if she had autogynephilic feelings, as she has no motive to lie after going in so much detail about her personal life. But this ignores the fact that the entire trans community is expecting her to debunk Blanchard’s typology, not confirm it.

Conclusion

Contrapoints does not properly address autogynephilia in the way Blanchard presented it, choosing instead to knock down a strawman. She focuses a lot of her argument on the idea that what Blanchard labels autogynephilia is just a twisted form of normal female sexuality that appears in trans women, despite having started out by distancing herself from the idea that trans women have some essence in common with cis women (which is precisely what would allow trans women to have this normal female sexuality in the first place). She criticizes Blanchard for not having cis female control groups, despite the fact that his HSTS control groups would seemingly work just as well for his purposes. All of these flaws in her argument are huge, and so I don’t find her video convincing.

What is an “identity”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is AGP real? (Spoiler: yes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

agp_development

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

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

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

Sexual Orientation and Childhood Femininity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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