Meta-attraction (also sometimes called “pseudo-bisexuality”/”pseudo-androphilia”) is an interest in men, not due to classical attraction to men, but instead due to autogynephilia, with the men generally playing the role of strengthening the autogynephilic feelings, making one “feel like a woman”.
Probably the most-accepted way of operationalizing/detecting the difference between meta-attraction and alloandrophilia is to consider arousal to gay male porn. Someone who is interested in men only in the context of feeling feminine is not going to be very interested in depictions of two masculine men engaging in sexual acts with each other, but someone who sees men as erotic in themselves, without any further context, definitely will.
For instance, in her book on page 135, Anne Lawrence criticized assumptions that trans women’s sexuality changes through gender transition, and cited a study which found that one trans woman who claimed her orientation had changed was still subjectively and physiologically aroused by lesbian but not gay male porn.
This is only n=1, but when asking around for other studies that supported this point, I was also recommended this study, which finds that among gynandromophophilic men (i.e. men attracted to trans women), autogynephilia but not androphilic subjective or physiological arousal patterns predicted bisexual identities.
To further hammer home the point, some time ago I made a simple poll on an autogynephilia-related subreddit, /r/MEFetishism, where I found that the bi/gay-identifying AGPs didn’t find gay porn arousing:
So, case closed? We can now conclude that bisexual and gay AGPs are meta-attracted, rather than classically androphilic? It might seem that way, but I think this is actually overestimating the prevalence of the phenomenon, and this is what I will try to show in this post.
Detour: the controversy
Meta-attraction is one of the parts of Blanchard’s trans typology that is considered very controversial. It’s criticized for being unfalsifiable, for assuming porn interests or arousal patterns are indicative of sexual orientation, and so on. I’ve never found this critique convincing.
On the other hand, while the standard critique of meta-attraction is bad, that doesn’t mean it can’t properly be criticized; a lot of the meta-attraction narrative really seems to lack data. For instance, the studies I linked above did not test bisexual trans women; the studies do not consider the cases where the subjective arousal pattern shows up as androphilic (in such cases, is the physiological arousal pattern also androphilic?), and so on. A lot of people seem to assume that meta-attraction just always applies, even in cases where trans women insist that personal experience (e.g. using gay male porn) makes them different from the others.
As far as I can tell, both sides are wrong. Meta-attraction is real and noteworthy, but there is no way it can account for all androphilia in AGPs, and the studies that exist on it don’t even indicate that it might. I’m not saying this in order to try to prove something about my own sexuality – I acknowledge that most of my interest in men is meta – but I think it’s important for understanding how this works.
The assumption that autogynephilia cannot exist in gay men has gotten very extreme in some circles; I’ve seen one person react with confusion about what the phrase “autogynephilic gay man” even means, despite the fact that it should be a pretty simple concept. Others have understood the concept, but still found it baffling, or have objected to it as being definitionally impossible. (You know there’s a problem when people try to wave away contradictory data by declaring it logically impossible. >.>)
Cracks in the narrative
Let’s start slow, with an existence proof, of someone who is exclusively androphilic and also autogynephilic. Blanchard himself has observed it in-person:
During the 15 years when I regularly interviewed gender dysphoric patients, I saw exactly one male who seemed to be truly homosexual and truly autogynephilic. Much more common are autogynephilic males for whom male sexual partners are interesting purely because they symbolize the autogynephile’s own femininity.
One counterexample is enough to disprove any universal rule, but it would perhaps be a bit much to expect such a rule to hold perfectly universally. That said, this already raises some questions of the causes of autogynephilia; since autogynephilia is rarer in gay men than straight men, it has been proposed that autogynephilia is caused by self-directed attraction to women, in some sense. However, androphilic AGPs are fundamentally incompatible with this theory.
Whatever. This is just one person. But it shows up in more places. In the literature, I can see quite a few old studies which appear to find androphilic PPG arousal patterns in autogynephiles. For instance, this study tests 33 transvestites, one of whom identifies as gay, and finds a range of PPG results, with one of them skewing androphilic. This study tests five “fetishistic transsexuals”, four of whom identify as androphilic-leaning bi, and one of whom identifies as homosexual, and finds that they on average have a bisexual arousal pattern, but with some spread, indicating that one might have a homosexual one. (They don’t report the range here, unfortunately.) I also remember finding another study with 5 autogynephiles, where one had an androphilic pattern, one had a gynephilic pattern, and the remaining on average had a bisexual pattern (but possibly with some internal variation), but I can’t find the link anymore.
This is tiny data, though. Recently, I’ve tried testing this myself, by showing people on /r/SampleSize various forms of pornography. Here, I found that the sexual arousal patterns of bisexual and gay autogynephiles did not differ much from those of bisexual and gay non-autogynephiles:
If all of them had been meta-attracted, then like in the studies cited in the beginning of this post, the AGPs should have rated the FF porn high and the MM porn low. Instead, they had ratings that mostly match their sexual orientation, which shows that they are classically androphilic. It appears that meta-attraction will only be widespread in certain limited cases, such as heavily-AGP groups (presumably because people with other forms of sexuality will focus on that instead of going to AGP groups?), or in cases where it’s the only plausible explanation (“change” of sexual orientation with transition).
This really should be the end of it, in my opinion, at least until there is higher-quality contradictory data. However, when I present this, I regularly get a set of objections that I will try addressing too.
Probably the most consistent objection is, what about social desirability bias? Maybe these AGPs are aware of Blanchard’s typology and the whole controversy surrounding meta-attraction, and report differently because of it.
I… don’t really think this is plausible, at all. These are just ordinary men that I recorded from an ordinary place on the internet; why would they know much more about it, and care much more about the associated controversies, than the AGPs recruited in other studies? E.g. why would they be more likely to be misreporting than the trans women in the study Lawrence cited, or the men from the GAMP study? It doesn’t really add up.
Furthermore, AGP men don’t appear to be misreporting on other domains. Probably the way that AGPs seem like they’d be most motivated to misrepresent themselves would be to present themselves as more feminine, yet I find no connection between AGP and self-reported femininity. If we can’t see AGP-motivated social desirability bias on something as central as femininity, why would we expect it anywhere else?
Another way we could look at it would be sexual history. People talking about meta-attraction often argue that meta-attracted AGPs have a gynephilic sexual history; e.g. Kay Brown focuses on that here. Yet the sexual histories of AGP bi/gay men appear similar to those of non-AGP bi/gay men:
In the above diagram, I rescaled the number of male and female partners by taking the logarithm, as there are very high levels of sexual inequality, and so the numbers would be highly sensitive to outliers if we didn’t. For understanding group’s sexual history, it’s more relevant to know who they’ve end up with, than whether there’s someone who has had hundreds of partners of some sex.
Notice that this corresponds roughly to a “typical” AGP gay man having had 1.1 male partners and 0.5 female partners, and the “typical” gay man having had 1.4 male partners and 0.3 female partners. And for bi men, this corresponds to AGPs having had 0.6 male partners and 0.8 female partners, and non-AGPs having had 0.5 male partners and 1.1 female partners. The relatively low numbers are due to my sample being young, asocial, and due to the logarithm that weights people with a lot of partners much lower.
It seems hard to believe that the AGP men are misreporting their number of partners in an androphilic way, as that is a relatively clearly-defined question, asking about actual experiences rather than internal feelings of attraction. Thus, this seems to further hammer home the point that AGP gay men exist.
We can also consider things from another point of view: The usual way that meta-attraction is supposed to account for exclusively-androphilic identities in AGP men is in conjunction with an-allosexuality, where the autogynephilia is so strong that it “overshadows” other sexual interests. This implies a very strong degree of autogynephilia, yet the difference in degree of AGP tends to be even bigger than the difference in prevalence of AGP between straight and gay men, suggesting that AGP gay men are less AGP than AGP straight men. Similarly, AGP gay men are about as gender dysphoric, perhaps slightly less, than AGP straight men. These results are not very compatible with the idea that meta-attraction explains homosexual identity, as that would predict a greater degree of autogynephilia than otherwise. Furthermore, since meta-attraction predicts gender issues above and beyond other forms of autogynephilia, the lack of “extra” gender issues for AGP gay/bi men suggests that they aren’t really particularly meta-attracted.
(On the other hand, since AGP gay men do have more gender issues than non-AGP gay men, and to about the same degree as one would expect from their degree of autogynephilia, this indicates that the autogynephilia in gay men is “real” in some sense, in that it works analogously on gender issues to that in straight men; this means that it’s not just people who accidentally clicked on the wrong answer option.)
Finally, to hammer the point home, men (and, tangentially, lesbians but not straight women) have a large overlap in their aesthetic preferences and sexual preferences; straight men tend to consider women very aesthetically pleasing, while gay men tend to consider men very aesthetically pleasing. AGP gay men tend to agree with non-AGP gay men, considering men more aesthetically pleasing than women:
It’s not clear how significant this is, but to me it feels like it hammers home the point more convincingly.
It’s really not very significant or important that there might exist some bisexual autogynephiles. They’re still attracted to women, bisexuals aren’t that feminine, there’s really no change except making the sexual orientation range for AGPs wider. It does raise some cute questions, e.g. whether there exist “autobisexual” men (as far as I can tell, yes; autogynephilia and mimicry-autoandrophilia are uncorrelated or slightly positively correlated in bisexual men), and whether “autobisexuality” prevents transition (as far as I can tell, probably not; but it needs more research). However, in the grand scheme of things, such questions aren’t very important.
Perhaps one important question regarding bisexuals that this raises is how it can be that bisexual men are more autogynephilic than non-bisexual men. This appears to be a relatively big effect, in my experience (in one survey, I got d~0.66), and it’s easily explained if the bisexuality is meta-attraction, but hard to explain otherwise. Perhaps autogynephilia makes one more comfortable with acknowledging one’s bisexuality, or bisexuality makes one more comfortable with acknowledging one’s autogynephilia? I don’t know.
This also doesn’t invalidate the previous findings that meta-attraction exists; what I’ve found is that it’s not as widespread as previously assumed, but my results don’t really contradict previous studies, and they’re still perfectly-consistent with perceived changes in sexual orientation being due to meta-attraction. In fact, I would still assume that trans women who’ve experienced their sexual orientation “changing” are meta-attracted, rather than classically alloandrophilic.
However, the existence of autogynephilic gay men raises some questions. For instance, it seems to imply that “erotic target location errors” – i.e. a self-directed form of attraction to women – cannot explain autogynephilia in general. Now, this might just be that there are multiple distinct causes of autogynephilia, or that ETLE works more subtly than that. Since ETLE appears challenged from other angles, though, it might be a good idea to look into alternatives.
It also raises the question of whether the autogynephilic gay men are etiologically similar to non-autogynephilic gay men. For instance, gay men appear to be more feminine than straight men, likely because homosexuality is often caused by some sort of feminization. And indeed, in my Survey on Gender, Sexuality and Other Things, I found greater degrees of femininity in both non-AGP gay men (Glass’ Δ = 0.87, n=62) and in AGP gay men (Δ = 0.95, n=22) compared to straight men. As usual, I doubt social desirability bias is in play here, as everything else seems to check out.
Note that this does not imply a particularly large population of trans women who can be said to be “both types”, both HSTS and AGP. There’s still perhaps 90x more gynephilic autogynephiles than androphilic autogynephiles, so this probably at most accounts for ~1% of trans women. (This doesn’t even take into account that autogynephilia in gay men is weaker than autogynephilia in straight men.) And among those, most will probably not have the highly-GNC background that HSTSs do, so the androphilic AGP MtFs are probably not comparable to HSTSs.
All of this does mean that in the future, one should not describe all AGP interest in men as being due to meta-attraction. In fact, at least in my surveys, it appears that most AGP interest in men is classical alloandrophilia, rather than meta-attraction; however, this finding probably doesn’t generalize to AGP-dominated groups, and it might not generalize to AGP trans women (as meta-attraction becomes more viable when one lives as a woman, and transition might select against classical attraction to men if e.g. such attraction causes autoandrophilia).
But… this really is just a bunch of internet surveys done by a hobbyist (me). It’s not the highest-quality form of evidence, but at the same time, we really don’t seem to have any contradictory evidence. Yes, some PPG studies found some bisexual- or androphilic-identifying AGPs exhibiting low physiological arousal to gay male porn, but these AGPs also reported low subjective arousal. There is currently no evidence that AGPs who are subjectively aroused by gay male porn are meta-attracted.
That said, if some contradictory PPG study came out tomorrow which did document this, showing well that AGPs who report subjective arousal to gay porn are not physiologically aroused by it, then I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. I just don’t see any good reason to expect this to happen, as I hope that I’ve shown well above. But really, any sort of replication would be great.
For the vast majority of the data I presented here, I didn’t collect it in the hope of disproving meta-attraction, but instead because I wanted to prove meta-attraction to finally be able to end the debate on this topic. However, due to getting unexpected results, I ended up seeing more and more problems with the meta-attraction model. But since it was collected to prove meta-attraction, it is if anything biased in favor of proving meta-attraction, not biased against meta-attraction.