What is Unfalsifiability?

The typology is often accused of being unfalsifiable. This is of course quite a significant claim, and it’s worth considering. But first, we need to consider what unfalsifiability is and why it matters.

The main way to move forward epistemologically is to test various hypotheses. For this to work, we need experiments to distinguish the true hypotheses from the false ones. This requires us to be able to test the hypotheses and possibly end up with the result that they are false – that is, the theories must be falsifiable.

What does an unfalsifiable hypothesis look like, then? The obvious guess is that it’s a theory that permits everything. However, that’s not quite true. For example, suppose we were trying to understand some sequence of bits. In that case, a theory that permits everything might assign equal probability to each possible sequence. An opposing theory might say that the sequence is alternating between 0 and 1. How do we test which one is true?

Well, we observe the sequence. If it goes “0101010101…”, the opposing theory consistently makes correct predictions, whereas the theory that permits everything… well, it doesn’t get it wrong, but it assigns much lower probability to the correct options than the opposing theory, so it rapidly loses credibility.

Of course, it might have been right. Perhaps the sequence is highly unpredictable. In that case, the opposing theory would quickly get disproven, whereas the one that permits everything would survive.

In practice, we can never predict anything perfectly, so the opposing theory would probably assign some moderate probability to non-perfect flips, so that “010110101…” or “0101011101…” are also quite likely. However, this would still not make it unfalsifiable, as it would still have to compete with the other theories.

But if this is not what an unfalsifiable hypothesis looks like, then what is? I’m inclined to say that unfalsifiability is not a property of specific hypotheses, but instead of families of hypotheses. Generally, you don’t work with a specific hypothesis, because there are parameters that you are still uncertain about; instead you work with a parameterized hypothesis which depends on some variable. For example, you might have a family which says that 1’s occur stochastically at a rate of X. This depends on X and so is not a specific hypothesis yet.

Usually, this is no problem. The family I mentioned above can often be falsified by finding a better predictor than this, but of course it is more general than the original one. The problem arises when you allow the parameter to fit the hypothesis to arbitrary data.

As a toy example, you might say that the sequence begins with some specific sequence of bits, followed by stochastic values. This family can fit to any data that you see, making it impossible to test. Of course, real-world examples are hardly as transparent as this, but the basic pattern is the same: they fundamentally change their predictions to exactly match the data, regardless of how justified this is. For this to work, they often stay vague about their mechanism, so it becomes difficult to truly call them out on it.

So, there’s assertions which work based on noise, which are fully falsifiable, and assertions which work based on overfitting, which are not. How can we recognize the difference? I have some thoughts:

First of all, I think the ones which invoke noise still tend to have consistent macroscopic patterns. Noise is local, it only affects the individual that it’s relevant for, so a focus on general patterns instead of specific instances is important. Of course, the noise may be a result of specific repeating phenomena that it’s useful to study, but a failure to mention specific big patterns that clearly arise from the model is a red flag.

Secondly, as a followup to the above, the anecdotes must be thought about in the context of the greater patterns, so a big focus on specific contradictory anecdotes is dangerous. This is especially true if the anecdotes focus a lot on self-reports, as these can be unreliable. Data is more important than cherry-picked exceptions.

Third, it’s much easier to be unfalsifiable if you’re vague about your mechanism, because it makes things much harder to call out.

Fourth, those who have unfalsifiable theories will be hostile to empirical research, since it ends up requiring a lot of work and propaganda to refit things.

I would argue that the trans typology does quite well at avoiding these pitfalls; the explanation for exceptions to the typology are usually more like noise than unfalsifiability.

On the other hand, the competitor, which I’ve started calling Magical Innate Gender Identity (coined by my friend Trent), doesn’t do very well. There is hardly any focus on the macroscopic patterns, and the patches that get applied to MIGI are to a large degree about fixing its prediction failures there, rather than being relevant to specific individuals. The use of questionable anecdotes with unknown statistical support is heavy, and there’s very little consideration for the accuracy of them. The mechanism is incredibly vague, and it has little empirical basis. That is just not a workable starting point!

Of course, there is a very important counterargument here. It goes like this: If we don’t know the true mechanism of transness, then of course it looks like we’re working from an unfalsifiable starting point, but really we’re just looking for enough data to justify the conclusions. I take that argument seriously, and I’ve made it myself before I became convinced of the typology, but I think the effectiveness of the theory makes it dubious. If this was true, then the typology would not be as powerful as it is.

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The Typology is Invaluable

I would claim that you can’t think about transness without the typology. Not really, at least; you can do vague analogies and generalizations, but you will quickly get stuck in any real question.

Consider some basic questions that people may ask. The first one is “Am I trans or is it just a fetish?”, which the typology has an easy answer to, whereas there is absolutely no consensus on how to answer it without. Do non-trans AGPs exist? Do some of them want to be women? If so, how can you tell the difference? Does it matter? There are no answers to this without the typology. Some people will claim to have the answer, but they generally don’t have any underlying theory to back up their answer.

In fact, for most trans people, the typology provides huge shortcuts for questioning. Are you considering whether you are trans for some odd, non-trans-related reason, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or internalized sexism? No, it’s obviously the A*P. Without the typology, it’s hard to see how you can provide a proper, theory-based answer to this. How about this one: are you fake trans because you showed no signs as a kid? No, it’s the HSTSs who usually show such signs.

I do surveys, and in those surveys a lot of people report that they want to be the opposite sex. How do I interpret these answers? How can I know whether they are “trans-spectrum”, in the sense of having related traits to actually transitioning people, or just being weird outliers? Heck, how can we know this with other groups, such as nonbinary, genderqueer or genderfluid people, who seem to be similar in some but not all aspects to trans people? The typology provides the answer: look into whether they are gay or A*P, and if they are, they’re on the trans spectrum.

How’s the progress on making trans people transition earlier? Well, we’ve got a bunch of youngsters on puberty blockers. Will this eventually be the situation for the majority of trans people? How do we make it the situation? Turns out, there’s two kinds, and we’re only really catching one; this is a clear spot that needs innovation, and the typology helps identifying the relevant patients.

What about people who know they’re trans-spectrum, but need to know whether to transition. How does the typology help them? Well, it gives them clear definitions of the intensities of their situations, and tells them which trans people to compare themselves to. It also helps research into the outcomes of non-transitioners, as it tells you who exactly these are. This is useful for evaluating the alternative options to transition.

There are a lot of questions that the typology still leaves open, but it also provides a basic framework for researching them. Under what circumstances should you transition? What’s up with the transkid “desisters”? How about the new big wave of AFAB transitioners?

I used to believe in magical innate gender identity and brainsex and bodymaps and all of these ad-hoc ideas, but they are just not comparable in terms of raw usefulness to the basics of the typology.

Autoandrophilia vs Autohomoeroticism

It is controversial whether women can experience autoandrophilia. Women have lower rates of paraphilias than men, and for a long time it doesn’t seem like many autoandrophiles have transitioned (though I’d argue that this has changed now). However, the problem with the idea that women can’t experience autoandrophilia is that there seem to be some anecdotes of autoandrophilia-like things. For example, many fujoshi seem autoandrophilic.

To solve this, autoandrophilia-skeptics have proposed autohomoeroticism as an alternate explanation. Autohomoeroticism is attraction to being a gay man. I’m skeptical about this idea. The most direct counterargument is that the “women can’t be paraphilic” statement should apply just as well to autohomoeroticism as to autoandrophilia. It also seems to me that AHE looks sufficiently like autogynephilia that we should be skeptical about attempts to claim that it is not the androphilic version of autogynephilia (i.e. autoandrophilia). Sure, it has some weird focus on feminine gay guys, but autogynephilia has a weird focus on masochistic emasculation and we don’t treat that as the core of the paraphilia. The focus on feminine gay guys isn’t all that weird, even – it can be compared to partial autogynephilia, and to GAMP, and it seems to fit the general theme of gendery things.

But the arguments above are very passive or defensive. Do I have some evidence on it? Well, in my Broader Gender Survey, I asked about A*P with some details that I don’t usually use. In particular, I asked about fantasies about being the opposite sex in a straight and in a gay relationship. In theory, we wouldn’t expect autohomoerotics to fantasize about being straight men. What happens in practice?

AAP-detailed

As you can see, there were fantasies about both gay and straight relationships. Does this mean that the case is closed and AAP is real? Well, there’s a bit extra complexity here, actually: fantasies with a gay relationship are much more strongly associated with willingness to be male (measured by magic buttons) than fantasies with a straight relationship, at a whopping r~0.44 versus the r~0.24 of the straight relationships. The same holds for measuring gender dysphoria through the six defining characteristics from the DSM-V.

DSM-V gender dysphoria and desire for magic sex change are two ways of measuring genderbendy feelings, but this survey was kinda ridiculous and actually had five ways of measuring such feelings (not counting A*P). One of these ways was the scale I called “attachment to gender”, and a weird fact about this is that it correlated pretty much equally strongly with the two items. It looks like this:

attachment-to-gender-scale

Maybe I just have enough scales to prove anything I want by spurious correlations, but this one had mostly the same correlation for fantasies with straight relationships and fantasies with gay ones. The one exception was the first item, which had a much stronger correlation with gay ones.

If I were to speculate about the difference, I’d say that things like magic sex change buttons or gender dysphoria have a clear anchor; if you answer anything but no, you’re weirdly genderbendy. On the other hand, “I dislike many aspects of being my gender/sex” is not something where the answer is obviously no; in fact, a small majority answered yes.

If I were to try and come up with an explanation for this, I’d hypothesize that those who have the gay fantasies probably have more contact with the LGBT community, and that this makes them more likely to apply concepts like gender dysphoria to themselves. This should be pretty easily testable in the future if I return to this topic. However, I might be getting a bit too far into speculations and a bit too far away from the actual data.

This data makes me conclude that autoandrophilia probably is real, but I think there’s more research to be done before we can be sure.

The “Patches” Are Justified

Meta-attraction (also known as pseudo-androphilia) is an aspect of autogynephilia where one desires to have sex with men as a woman. It has been criticized for being a hack that actually shows that the AGP/HSTS typology is flawed, as there is more overlap between the groups than it actually claims. I don’t think that criticism is fair.

We’ve got two proposed types. Autogynephilic trans women are attracted to women and in particular to being women, and transition for this reason. HSTS trans women are attracted to men, which is associated with femininity, and they are at the most extreme end of femininity here, giving them plenty of reason to transition.

This basic description matches a lot of people, but there’s also a lot of people who seem to be exceptions. A main kind of exception relevant to meta-attraction is later-transitioning, non-feminine trans women whose primary sexual fantasies have been about having sex with men as women.

When we encounter this sort of exception, there are multiple options. We can throw our framework away. We can try to expand the framework with a new type. Or, we can try to fit the exception under consideration into the current framework. There’s also a fourth option, of calling the exception and outlier and refusing to take them into consideration. This is very useful in practice, but if your primary goal is to understand things better then it’s important to examine exceptions to your current model closer.

The problem with throwing the framework away is that I have yet to see any alternate model which explains transness as well as the AGP/HSTS typology does.

Expanding the typology might instead sound like the right choice. However, a big part of the strength of your model is what you predict won’t happen. A model that allows everything is worthless. Trying to fit it into your model can also lead to similar problems, so it should also be done with care. However, in this case, I think it’s the right choice.

The proposed explanation of meta-attraction is that the attraction to men doesn’t come from androphilia, but instead from an autogynephilic desire to be seen as an attractive woman who has sex with men in the way women usually have sex. Is it unreasonable to have this as an element of autogynephilia?

I don’t think so. In my experience, a lot of AGP porn includes these sorts of elements. I’ve talked to straight AGP trans women whose porn turned out to focus more on being-a-girl-who-has-heterosexual-sex than on the actual having-sex-with-men part (e.g. by using porn targeted at straight men, which focuses more on the woman and mostly leaves out the man from the image). I’ve also personally experienced weak degrees of meta-attraction.

Meta-attraction seems to both explain how the proposed group of exceptions match the AGP description, and also seems to be applicable to other contexts. For example, some might be bisexual instead of exclusively androphilic, which makes sense if meta-attraction and allogynephilia exist together.

On Autogynephilia in Cis Women

[Epistemic status: I’m super confused about this, and no matter what future opinion I end up with, I’m going to look back at this and ask how I could be so stupid as to not realize that this is the true answer.]

Some people point out that the autogynephilia that is common in trans women seems to have analogues in cis women’s sexuality. For example, before transitioning, AGP trans women will imagine having female bodies in sexual fantasies, similar to how cis women tend to imagine having female bodies in sexual fantasies; AGP meta-attraction is the sexual desire to be seen as an attractive woman, and being desired seems like a big aspect of cis female sexuality; and last but not least, AGP trans women report that being a woman is sexually arousing, just as cis women do.

agp

(This diagram is based on the data from my Survey on Traits You’re Attracted to or Would Like to Have.)

Suppose we tentatively extend the concept of “AGP” to cover the previously mentioned AGP-like sexuality observed in cis women. How do these concepts compare? First, let’s consider some similarities:

  • Autogynephilia in trans women is associated with less attraction to men and more attraction to women, whereas in cis women it’s associated with more self-reported attraction to both men and women. However, there are two different subtypes of trans women, and in the AGP subtype, autogynephilia is positively associated with effective attraction to men. Thus, the correlation with sexual orientation seems to match.
  • Autogynephilia seems associated with a desire to be or remain a woman regardless of who has it (cis men, trans women, cis women).
  • Autogynephilic cis women are more likely to feel that their sexuality affects what sorts of style and body they would like to have, similar to how autogynephilia in trans women is thought to be the motivating factor for their transition.

There’s also some significant differences:

  • Trans women seem to occasionally be autogynephilic about things that are really “weird”, such as menstruation or riding women’s bikes.
  • Autogynephilia in cis men seems associated with other erotic target location errors, and trans women seem to have a higher rate of these. However, AGP in cis women does not seem to be associated with ETLEs in the same way.
  • AGP in natal males seems to be associated with more attraction to androgyny, whereas AGP in cis women seems to be associated with slightly less attraction to androgyny.

And last, there’s points where the relation seems unclear:

  • Autogynephilia in trans women and cis men seems to be connected to certain sorts of masochistic sexuality, such as sissy fetish or other forms of emasculation. It is unclear what forms of sexuality would be analogous to this in cis women, but AGP in cis women is correlated with self-reported kinkiness.

Applying this concept of autogynephilia to cis women seems to present a number of challenges, though, in addition to the differences I mentioned above. For example, AGP trans women are not very feminine, so it’s unclear why they’d have ended up with a feminine aspect of their sexuality. In addition, HSTS trans women do not experience AGP, despite clearly being much more feminine and also plausibly having a more feminine sexuality.

Overall, I’m skeptical that autogynephilia can be applied to most cis women, but I have to admit that there’s a surprisingly good case to be made for it. I definitely think it’s worth investigating more thoroughly. However, I don’t think it necessarily destroys the typology of trans women if it turns out to exist; for example, “AGP” cis women seem to report that their sexuality affects their desired looks, which seems to match the proposed etiology for AGP trans women. It’d just… complicate things a bit. (Well, a lot, probably.)

The Information Hypothesis of Dysphoria

One idea I’ve been playing with is the notion that the amount of dysphoria a person has depends on their understanding of gender and sex. I’m mostly considering this in the case of A*P trans people, and I don’t know how well it applies to HSTSs. According to this idea, once an A*P person learns something about sexual dimorphism, they will start feeling dysphoric about it.

It applies remarkably well to my own experiences. I’ve frequently experienced huge jumps in my knowledge about these kinds of things, which has also lead to similar jumps in my dysphoria on exactly what I’ve learned more about.

It also helps to explain lots of other observations. For example, dysphoria seems to irreversibly increase over time. This makes sense if people understand sex and gender better as their life goes on, and the irreversibility of the process makes sense since it is hard to unlearn information. Many also seem to report an increase in dysphoria as when they encounter trans issues; either through a trans partner, or through trans friends, or in some other way. Again, this makes a lot of sense under the information hypothesis.

An interesting prediction of this is that A*P cis people who have had heterosexual relationships will have a better understanding of sex and gender, and should therefore experience more dysphoria. This contradicts the predictions of the competition theory, which states that people with more intense A*P (and who’re therefore more dysphoric) will be less interested in relationships. My initial measurements seem to confirm my prediction over the competition hypothesis, but there’s more work to be done here.

It would be interesting to map out some more predictions and find ways of measuring it. An obvious next step would be to measure A*P people’s understanding of sexual dimorphism and see if it correlates with dysphoria. (Obviously, correlation is not causation, but if the correlation isn’t there, it’s unlikely that we also have the causal relationship.) I have some trouble figuring out how to make a good test of this, especially one that can fit in a survey.

What Do I Mean By Dysphoria?

In my surveys, one thing I’m interested in is whether people experience gender dysphoria. This is something that comes up in lots of things that I’m wondering about, such as what differentiates people with dysphoria from people who merely want to be the opposite sex, or how common it is to have or eventually develop dysphoria.

Dysphoria is also something that a lot of people find more important than a mere intense desire to be the opposite sex. People tend to use it as justification for transitioning, and tend to be more sympathetic to this justification. Dysphoria seems to have a big influence on many of the negative things about being trans. The fact that most trans people seem to be or have been dysphoric also suggests that dysphoria is near-necessary for actually ending up transitioning (many more people seem to want to be the opposite sex than seem dysphoric about it, yet most trans people have experienced dysphoria). The changes in dysphoria over time is also important to think about, as it is a big danger for younger people. People who want to have non-transition treatment will probably care more about dealing with their dysphoria than non-dysphoric gender aspirations. All of this makes dysphoria relevant to think about.

What do I mean by dysphoria? Probably the biggest revealing factor is how I measure it: I look at traits which indicate psychological trouble, such as depression, anxiety, body image issues and just plain unhappiness. In addition, I also try to measure it more directly, by asking about satisfaction/dissatisfaction with being one’s assigned sex. If these seem to appear in conjunction with trans-related things (e.g. A*P), then that suggests that dysphoria is in play.

One pattern that I tend to notice is that there’s a lot more variance in desire to be the opposite sex than in dysphoria. That is, there’s a big gap between wanting to be the opposite sex, and feeling distressed about it. This leads to one of my big questions: what is the cause of this gap? And that’s a subject I’m likely going to write more about soon…

Self-Acceptance… or Repression?

I recently encountered the article “A teen desister tells her story” on 4thwavenow. The narrative presented in it is one of “Sudden Onset Gender Dysphoria”, where Noor explains that she initially identified because of pubertal body image issues combined with a social environment encouraging transness. However, if you look a little closer, a very different (and in my opinion much more likely) possibility arises.

The article feels scripted, and it feels like Noor has been heavily coached to say the right things; things that will fit into the TERF ideology of 4thwavenow. I recommend reading it yourself to get a feeling for what I’m talking about, because it’s gives a powerful impression of the situation we’re dealing with. It’s like Noor was been carefully pressured by her mother for years (which she probably has).

The article focuses a lot on trauma and gender roles as a motivation for transitioning, but I think an underrated factor for explaining this is autoandrophilia, which is an example of the hypothesized “erotic target location error” concept, where one directs ones sexuality towards one’s own ideal self image, leading to an interest in being what one would otherwise be attracted to (in this case, men).

Let’s start with something seemingly innocent: the art. Noor seems to like making images of animals, and she was even in a DeviantArt community dedicated to the purpose. This may seem entirely irrelevant, but it is actually very important: Noor seems to be a furry, and being a furry is likely another form of ETLE. ETLEs cluster, meaning that someone who has one likely also has others. In particular, this justifies thinking that Noor is likely autoandrophilic, which is one of the main ways we see true gender dysphoria happening.

This helps us understand why she wanted male characteristics. Most obviously why she wanted anatomic male characteristics, but far more importantly, why she wanted to view herself as masculine in other ways. For example, in her advice on how to deal with dysphoria, she recommends thinking about the ways that she is already (presumably psychologically/in terms of personality) masculine. What we notice here is that she really wants to be masculine, rather than just being masculine; that is, this is not just about existing gender nonconformity, but a desire to be gender nonconforming. We see more of that in another article:

Ultimately, what brought her to the realization that she is not “in the wrong body” (about two years later), were endless, ongoing conversations about sex-based norms, gender roles and expectations, misogyny, and homophobia, between her and lots of other people, mostly women. NO ONE fits neatly into any stereotype associated with their “identity.” She came to understand that her suffering wasn’t because her body was wrong; she was suffering because growing up is hard! To her, “being trans” explained a lot of her discomfort and anxiety, but she came to realize that it wasn’t actually “being trans” that caused any of it.

It seems that Noor was cherry-picking cases of gender nonconformity from her life to justify her identity, a common experience for A*Ps who really want to present a GNC history. I think this further helps reinforce the idea that autoandrophilia helps explain the experience.

Another very telling thing is that Noor never stopped being gender dysphoric, and instead was just convinced that gender dysphoria is normal. She reports still experiencing dysphoria in the original article:

Extreme dysphoria might mean you can’t get out of bed in the morning or function at all. But thinking about it in a more critical way, what teen doesn’t experience being uncomfortable about their bodies? Dysphoria is just an extreme version of that discomfort.

It was that bad for me for a while, and sometimes it can still be bad, but I’ve learned to move my body when I feel that way and do other things that don’t feed the feeling.

The statement that someone who’s still dysphoric is a “desister” seems dubious, yet that is apparently the narrative that 4thwavenow is trying to present.