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.

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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.

Is Autogynephilia and Autoandrophilia More Common than Previously Thought?

The normal estimates say that a small fraction of men (perhaps around 3%? 4.5%?) are autogynephilic. The numbers are generally even lower for women with autoandrophilia. I’m somewhat skeptical about this.

First, the autoandrophilia: in my gender surveys, I generally don’t find much lower rates of autoandrophilia among women than autogynephilia among men. There’s a difference in intensity, yes, but this seems to reflect the difference in intensity in sex drives, rather than a difference in frequency. In the past, most transmasculine people seem to have matched the HSTS type, but today there are many queer trans men who very possibly could be autoandrophiles. This makes me think that autoandrophilia is about as common as autogynephilia.

Secondly, I get the impression that the total estimates are too low. They’re often based on transvestic A*P, but this does not seem to be the most common kind of autogynephilia. For example, in my surveys, I generally find twice as many people who get turned on by fantasies about being the opposite sex than by crossdressing. In some social circles, it also seems like there are more people who are out about (likely A*P-caused) trans feelings, and this seems to be more a question of awareness and tolerance of trans issues than of trans people deliberately seeking each other out. (E.g. I have a small circle of friends where several people are out as trans or trans-adj, and this happened long after we met. This seems to be a common experience, and it’s hard to believe that this is the case if A*P is very rare.)

So, what do I think are the real numbers? My surveys generally find rates of around 50%, but that’s too high for me to believe it. As a lower bound, we should probably double the 4.5% number to take more general forms of A*P into account. A plausible upper bound may be a bit higher than 15%; this is the rate that the autopedophilia paper reports when combining two previous samples of straight men.

The idea that the true rate is about 9% to 15% is still a conjecture, and it may turn out that there are flaws with it.