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.

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