Sexual Orientation and Childhood Femininity

Some lesbian trans women claim to have been very feminine during their childhood, but AGP theory generally contradicts that claim. How can we know if the theory is right?

One potential approach would be to find some natal male kids who are very feminine and see how many of those who grow up to be trans women also grow up to be gynephilic.

Study Androphilic (%) Bisexual (%) Gynephilic (%)
Wallien (2008) 83% to 100% 0% 0% to 17%
Steensma (2013) 91% to 100% 0% to 9% 0%
Spack (2012) 55% to 65% 20% to 24% 10% to 11%
Devita (2011) 87% to 93% 7% 0% to 7%

Spack’s study found somewhat higher rates of nonandrophilic orientation than the others, likely because his study did not only include those who had shown signs in childhood, but instead everyone young that he treated (some of whom are AGP).

This suggests that around 90% of trans women with diagnosable childhood GD are attracted to men. Of course, there might be some undiagnosable elements that this misses, such as private ideation, non-expressed dysphoria, secret crossdressing, or similar, but this is not exactly the sort of overt childhood femininity we’re looking for.

Next, how many trans women are there who are attracted to men in the general population? The NTDS found a rate of 23%, and I generally hear numbers in the range of 10% to 30%, so that seems realistic enough; let’s go with that. Conservatively, suppose that all of these trans women were very feminine as kids. This implies that 23%/90%*10%/77%=3.3% of the rest were feminine as kids.

This seems like a lot fewer than what I usually hear if I ask people, and in fact it’s also fewer than various self-report statistics suggest. For this reason, I’m very skeptical when non-androphilic trans women report having been feminine.

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Freud was bonkers, Blanchard is not

Blanchard’s transsexual typology is sometimes compared to Freud’s ideas. After all, both propose that sexuality is extremely important in the development of important parts of one’s psychology and identity. This comparison is unreasonable, because Blanchard’s proposals of sexual motivations are based on direct observations of these sexual interests, while Freud’s are, well… bonkers. Let’s take a look.

It’s hard to directly establish a causal proof of autogynephilia. However, there’s no doubt that most trans women have experienced AGP, with many initially thinking that their gender issues are a fetish. We can also see that autogynephilia is a strong predictor of gender issues in cis men (see also this study). Some say it goes away with transition, but I doubt that. Regardless, there’s clearly something going on here, rather than being some craziness pulled out of thin air, and the proposal that AGP may cause a desire to be female isn’t exactly illogical. How does Freud compare?

Let’s take a look at “penis envy”, because “penis envy” sounds kinda similar to autoandrophilia, the mirror image of autogynephilia. According to Freud, girls develop a sexual interest in their mothers, but then realize that because they don’t have a penis, they aren’t equipped to have a sexual relationship with them. This makes them want to obtain their father’s penis, which leads to a sexual interest in their fathers. Then they blame their mothers for their “castration”, and decide to eliminate the mothers by trying to learn to mimic them so they can steal the affection of their fathers. Due to fear of punishment for this, they then decide to focus their sexual attention on men in general, rather than just their fathers. Yes, really, that’s the theory.

I don’t know that this deserves an explanation of how it differs from Blanchard’s typology, but let’s try anyway. We directly observe the existence of autogynephilic attraction. For the “penis envy” to make sense, we’d have to directly observe girls first have an incestual attraction to their mothers, and then to their fathers. In addition, it doesn’t at all make sense that desire to have a penis should lead to sexual attraction to one’s father, while in Blanchard’s theory it makes perfect sense that sexual attraction to being female would lead to desire to be female. Freud’s theory also proposes an incredibly elaborate path of psychosexual development, which doesn’t really seem plausible or justifiable.

How about another theory, “the Oedipus complex”? According to this theory, boys develop a sexual interest in their mothers, but then realize that this is in competition with their father’s relationship with their mothers, and therefore decide that they should kill their fathers. The boys then realize that their fathers are stronger than them, develop a fear of their fathers castrating them, repress their sexual interest in their mothers, and try to instead mimic their fathers. The increased similarity between the boys and the fathers reduces their castration anxiety and leads to healthy psychosexual outcomes.

Again, this would look a lot more plausible if many men were sexually attracted to their mothers, or if men regularly killed their fathers so they could marry their mothers. Supposedly, Freud wrote that he had once experienced arousal when watching his mother dressing, so maybe he was engaging in typical mind fallacy. Regardless, this theory is obviously completely bonkers.

Now, seriously, compare this to AGP theory: For unknown reasons, some men find it arousing to picture themselves as women. This leads to a desire to be women, and in some rare cases this desire can evolve into an extreme degree of distress that eventually makes them seek sex change. The trans women who got off to crossdressing before transition were motivated (either directly, or more likely, indirectly through the development of dysphoria) by this sexual interest. Many trans women misreport their experiences to better fit a “classical trans narrative”, and you can detect these misreports by asking independent sources (such as parents), using Social Desirability Bias measures, or by looking at the evolution of their narratives over time.

Now there’s no doubt that this is controversial, and it should not be argued for without evidence. As I pointed out earlier, though, there’s plenty of evidence for many of the elements in this story. Since it’s possible that there’s some other set of dynamics that just happen to look a lot like AGP-causing-dysphoria, causality is hard to formally establish, but lots of the individual pieces are easily directly observable, which makes it entirely unlikely Freud.