Regarding Asexual AGPs

One of the controversial aspects of Blanchard’s typology is that it asserts that asexual trans women transition because of autogynephilia. Many people find it ridiculous to suggest that asexuals transition for reasons originating in sexuality, because, y’know, they’re asexual. How could Blanchard come up with such an idea?

Most obviously, because the asexual trans women themselves report having experienced autogynephilia. In this study, Blanchard asked trans women whether they had engaged in transvestic fetishism, and found that 75% of his asexual group answered yes. Similarly, Nuttbrock found that 67% of his asexual group had experienced transvestic arousal at some point in their lives.

Need more convincing? On page 83 of Jaimie Veale’s Master’s thesis, she has a table showing how well trans women feel that the concept of autogynephilia applies to their own experiences. Obviously since many trans women feel that AGP is invalidating, there’s going to be a degree of bias where no group feels it totally applies to them. But do the 31 asexual trans women feel that it makes less sense in their case than the other groups do? Nope; 45.2% of the asexuals feel that it applies at least a little bit to them, versus 40.8% of the other groups. The only group with a higher percentage is the gynephilic trans women, at 53%. (Sidenote: due to her way of recruiting participants, Veale did not have any non-autogynephiles in her sample.)

Thinking that asexual trans women are not explained by autogynephilia demonstrates a striking unfamiliarity with asexual trans women’s experiences. That’s understandable for those who are just asking questions. However, if someone explicitly states that the typology can’t explain asexual trans women, well… then they are probably not a very reliable source on the validity of Blanchard’s typology.

How might asexual trans women end up autogynephilic? Well, it’s hard to know, but a common speculation is that it’s due to the phenomenon known as “competition”: basically, autogynephilia is related to (allo)gynephilia in the sense that it is a self-directed variant of gynephilia. Most gynephiles are not autogynephilic, but many autogynephiles are allogynephilic. Autogynephilia and allogynephilia can coexist to various degrees, with some having a skew towards allogynephilia, some varing approximately equally much of both, and some having a skew towards autogynephilia. Asexual autogynephiles are then those who have a very strong skew towards the autogynephilic part of their sexuality, to the degree where they experience no or negligible allogynephilic attraction. In a sense, the autogynephilia and allogynephilia “competes”, so that autogynephilic interest overshadows allogynephilic interest.

groups

The relation between exclusivity of AGP and possible identities. Note that this relation is very very far from deterministic, as there are many factors that may affect how one identifies.

Some early pieces of data indicated that this model was true because they suggested that the most-autogynephilic people were least attracted to other people. However, this finding doesn’t look very well-supported by newer data, so there might be some subtleties at play that are not yet fully understood. More research is needed.

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Autogynephilia is Not Narcissism

The legend of Narcissus describes a beautiful man who fell in love with his own reflection and withered away as he stared at it. This myth is the origin of the term narcissism, a tendency to have inflated self-importance, need for admiration and lack of empathy, and is associated with an excessive focus on achieving power or improving one’s appearance.

Autogynephilia has been compared to narcissism, through the idea that autogynephiles are attracted to themselves, which is similar to Narcissus’s situation, and therefore very narcissistic. There are three major problems with this comparison:

1. Self-attraction is not narcissism. Narcissism as a personality construct is named after Narcissus, but this is a metaphor. Narcissists aren’t literally sexually attracted to themselves. They want to be admired by others, but this is very different from self-attraction.

2. Autogynephilia is not really self-attraction. Or at least, if it is, it is in a more-complicated way. Autogynephiles are attracted to being female, but often they don’t really have a “themselves as women” to be attracted to. There’s some lines of evidence that suggest that AGP should more be seen as “attraction to being people who are female”, which is a far more outwardly-directed form of autogynephilia. Perhaps interpersonal autogynephilia has some narcissistic elements, but it is only one of multiple forms of AGP.

3. Autogynephilia has not been strongly linked to narcissism. Obviously, trans people have somewhat elevated rates of many mental illnesses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if narcissistic personality disorder was one of them. However, there’s no proof that there’s a strong effect, where narcissism is universal among autogynephiles, and I’ve found essentially no effect in a survey on it. Most other paraphilias than autogynephilia were linked to narcissism, and if you think about it, that makes sense. It’s a lot closer to the real definition of narcissism to get off to exposing yourself to other people, or to degrading other people, than it is to get off to the thought of being female.

Realistically, autogynephilia and narcissism should be thought of as being two completely orthogonal constructs.

An Issue With ETLE?

What is autogynephilia? According to the Erotic Target Location Error model, it is in some sense the application of gynephilic attraction to yourself; that is, a sexual interest in being what you find attractive (erotic target identity inversion), plus an attraction to women (gynephilia). This hypothesis predicts that other sexual interests (e.g. attraction to amputees or children) have corresponding autophilias (e.g. apotemnophilia or autopedophilia), which might act analogously to autogynephilia (e.g. causing body integrity identity disorder or age dysphoria).

There’s some evidence of this; for example, apotemnophilia and autopedophilia exist and tend to cooccur with acrotomophilia and pedophilia. However, there’s a lack of research in the validity of the concept within the normal range of attraction. For example, do autogynephiles who like redheads also want to have red hair? Some time ago, I did a survey awkwardly named Survey on traits you’re attracted to or would like to have where I examined exactly that. I decided on a number of traits that one might find attractive and/or want, asked people about those traits plus a number of other things (e.g. AGP), and got these results:

attractiveness_correlation

The correlation coefficient between attractiveness of and desire to have various traits, split by various groups. The “(Average)” spot at the end shows the average correlation coefficient over all of the traits.

First of all, let’s think about what we would a priori expect. It’s perfectly possible that something other than ETLE might cause a correspondence, so we can’t assume that non-ETLEs would have zero correlation. However, surely ETLE should lead to a greater correspondence than there would otherwise be, perhaps in proportion to the intensity of the ETLE. So a pattern of [Non-AGP cis men < AGP cis men < Transfems] would be appropriate. It would also be great to have [Cis women < Transfems], since otherwise there would be a lot of worry about confounding, but it’s not as clear that we can assume this to hold.

Now, in practice I don’t really have a big enough sample to talk about the transfems, so it’s probably better to focus on the non-AGP and AGP men. As you can see, there was quite a big correspondence between what traits they found attractive and what traits they wanted to have, but this applied equally well to both AGP and non-AGP men. I don’t think this is conclusive evidence, as I can see a number of problems with the approach, but it’s certainly something that’s worth taking into account.

Let’s talk problems with my approach:

  • A lot of the traits I used are a bit weird. I had a hard time picking good traits, and I didn’t make it easier for myself by trying to pick traits that followed certain rules (not too sexually dimorphic, not too universally seen as good/bad, equally attractive in men and women, not signalling membership of specific subcultures). I didn’t even manage to follow the rules to a degree that I felt was satisfactory either. Perhaps a better selection of traits (and rules?) would improve things.
  • It’s not clear that the traits picked could truly be said to be part of the participant’s sexual orientation. It’s possible that the main thing both of the questions measured was how positive an emotional valence people had around the traits, with essentially no signal coming through in terms of sexual orientation. In that case, it’s not surprising that I found no effect.
  • It’s unclear whether the desire to have those traits would apply if having them didn’t come with being female. Even if we assume an AGP man who likes redheads would also desire to be a woman with red hair, it’s not clear that this would lead to especially much interest in being a man with red hair. On the other hand, many apotemnophiles are interested in losing limbs without changing sex, and many autopedophiles are interested in being children without changing sex, so it seems that maybe the same should apply to other traits.
  • It’s possible that the men I involved weren’t AGP enough. It would be relevant to repeat this test with some men who are extremely AGP.