AGP does not go away with transition

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

agp_disappears

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

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

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

agp_development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some complexity in thinking about the rates of AAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

transvestism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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