Contra Blanchard and Dreger on Autogynephilia in Cis Women

Some argue that it is not just males who can be autogynephilic, but instead that cis women are also autogynephilic too. In an interview, Blanchard countered:

My own arguments against the claim that autogynephilia frequently occurs in natal females were more general and not directed at Moser’s survey. I wrote, for example, that the notion that typical natal females are erotically aroused by—and sometimes even masturbate to—the thought or image of themselves as women might seem feasible if one considers only conventional, generic fantasies of being a beautiful, alluring woman in the act of attracting a handsome, desirable man (or woman). It seems a lot less feasible when one considers the various other ways in which some autogynephilic men symbolize themselves as women in their masturbation fantasies. Examples I have collected include: sexual fantasies of menstruation and masturbatory rituals that simulate menstruation; giving oneself an enema, while imagining the anus is a vagina and the enema is a vaginal douche; helping the maid clean the house; sitting in a girls’ class at school; knitting in the company of other women; and riding a girls’ bicycle. These examples argue that autogynephilic sexual fantasies have a fetishistic flavor that makes them qualitatively different from any superficially similar ideation in natal females.

(Emphasis mine.)

A similar argument was proposed by Dreger:

I’ve talked with Blanchard, Bailey, and also Anne Lawrence about this, and my impression is they all doubt cis (non-transgender) women experience sexual arousal at the thought of themselves as women. Clinically, Blanchard observed autogynephilic natal male individuals who were aroused, for example, at the ideas of using a tampon for menses or knitting as a woman with other women. I have never heard a natal woman express sexual arousal at such ideas. I’ve never heard of a natal woman masturbating to such thoughts.

One might think that before making this argument, Blanchard would’ve tested the relative frequencies of sexual interest in menstruating in autogynephilic males vs female in general, but he didn’t.

At some point I realized, hey, this idea is totally unfounded and probably wrong, so I should test it so we can stop running in circles. Here’s my results:

8

Bar charts from my porn survey on autogynephilia. Each row represents a different operationalization of autogynephilia. Each column represents a different group that was studied. I will focus on the third row and the second, third and fourth columns for this post. Participants were asked to answer “How arousing would you find the following…?” for a large number of sexual interests, relatively uniformly shuffled together.

I defined autogynephilic cis men as participants who said that they were men, not transgender, and endorsed “A little” or more arousal to “Imagining being the opposite sex”. I defined non-gynephilic cis women as participants who said that they were women, not transgender, and “A little” or less attracted to women, while gynephilic cis women were defined as having “Moderate” or more attraction to women.

As can be seen in the diagram, both gynephilic and non-gynephilic cis women endorsed more arousal to “Yourself menstruation (if you are male, imagining that you were able to menstruate and menstruating)” than autogynephilic men did.

Endorsement from all the groups on this item was extremely rare. This raises the question of how relevant Blanchard’s argument is in the first place, as it attempts to reason about the nature of autogynephilic using an extremely rare manifestation of autogynephilia. But regardless, Blanchard’s argument was not supported.

Limitations

 

My survey was very nonrepresentative. I posted it on /r/SampleSize, which is known to have much higher rates of autogynephilia in males than the general population. How this generalizes to female participants is unclear, but it’s probably a good guess that the rates of endorsement are elevated for them too. (Furthermore, one can raise some questions about the validity of the items used.)

This implies that my survey doesn’t really show the real rates in cis women, and so still leaves the problem that we don’t know how high the rates are. The solution to this problem is that Blanchardians should stop making up unfounded arguments that cis women are not autogynephilic. Instead, they should either stop arguing about it, or do what the people who argue that cis women are autogynephilic do and study it directly. (See 1234, and 5.)

Conclusion

I’ve gone through different takes on whether cis women are autogynephilic, ranging all the way from “yes” to “no”. My current take is agnosticism. Is that agnosticism really justified? Shouldn’t the answer be, “no, obviously”?

I notice several deep… “anomalies”, with the claim that autogynephilia is rare in cis women:

  • Ray Blanchard and Alice Dreger use very strange and contorted arguments to argue for it, even though they should know better.
  • Homeovestism, or something very much like it, appears to be common in women.
  • When using scales similar to what Lawrence suggested for assessing autogynephilia in women, one can get exceedingly high endorsement rates.
  • A number of people have claimed publically that autogynephilia is common in cis women to audiences that contain large numbers of women, without any pushback. For instance, Scott Alexander’s post even gave an extremely overt example of what autogynephilia means (so there can’t be much confusion), yet women in the comments didn’t go “hey, that sounds wrong”.
  • I know trans women whose cis female partners have claimed, to the protest of the trans women, that autogynephilia is normal female sexuality.
  • Many who disagree with it, such a gender critical women, seem very openly hostile to research being done on it, as if they were trying to hide the truth, and also attempt to counterargue using contorted arguments like that it is impossible by definition.

Can all of these be explained away? Yes, with some assumptions and legwork. Is “autogynephilia is fairly common in cis women, but some people are opposed to acknowledging it because it is inconvenient” a simple theory that can account for these anomalies without trouble? Also yes.

With these, one could almost ask whether my take on autogynephilias being highly prevalent in cis women should be “yes, obviously”. I still have some concerns that I want to look into before I endorse this though, namely:

  • I think that some of the overtly autosexual things in my list of A*P interests are unlikely to be as common in cis women as they are in cis men.
  • There is still some nonzero concern that cis women are misinterpreting the items given, though this concern is gradually shrinking due to factors that make the intent more clear.
  • Another theory that could well account for many of the anomalies would simply be that I am in a very autogynephilic corner of the world; men on sites like reddit or SlateStarCodex are much more autogynephilic than the general population, so why wouldn’t women be too? So the question is, do all of these findings apply to representative samples too?

I don’t think autogynephilia in women necessarily changes that much from a theoretical standpoint. Certainly it better allows for some magical innate gender identity theories, but it doesn’t prove such theories. Furthermore, due to women’s low sexual specificity, it doesn’t even particularly challenge ideas like erotic target location error.

I think it would help to not make up arguments without grounding, though.

Contra Serano and Lehmiller on Autogynephilia Prevalence

Serano just published a new review, claiming to “debunk” autogynephilia again. I’m not going to comment on most of it as it is just a repeat of some old and tired arguments, but one part stood out to me:

In addition to cisgender women experiencing FEFs, subsequent studies have shown that many cisgender people experience cross-sex/gender sexual fantasies as well. In a recent study of 4,175 Americans’ sexual fantasies, Lehmiller (2018) found that nearly a third of his subjects reported having sexual fantasies that involved being the ‘other sex’, and a quarter had fantasised about crossdressing.

Serano claims that Lehmiller has shown autogynephilic and autoandrophilic fantasies to be common here. However, this is not the case. Lehmiller did not use a representative sample, as he writes in his book:

This book is built around a massive survey of more than 350 questions taken by more than four thousand Americans, including persons from all fifty states. Although the sample is not necessarily representative of the US population, it does consist of an incredibly diverse group of individuals. Participants ranged in age from eighteen to eighty-seven and had occupations spanning everything from
cashiers at McDonald’s to homemakers to physicians to lawyers. The group included all sexual and gender identities, political and religious affiliations, and relationship types, from singles to swingers.

Rather, he ran his survey on social media:

In total, 4,175 adults age eighteen or older who were current citizens or residents of the United States completed my survey, most of whom had heard about it through a major social media channel like Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. Given that this was the primary way people learned about my survey, the demographics of my sample tended to skew more toward the average social media user than they did toward the average American. For instance, the median age of my survey participants (thirty-two) was about six years younger than the overall median age in America.3 Likewise, my participants were more highly educated and more affluent than the average American. My survey did not disproportionately attract people of one sex, though—it was virtually a fifty-fifty split between those who said they were born
male and those who were born female.

Is that a problem? Yes; my experience with doing surveys on social media is that they tend to attract very high rates of autogynephiles/autoandrophiles, compared to what we would expect on the basis of representative surveys.

Because, yes, there are representative surveys on the rates of autogynephilia/autoandrophilia, and they give much lower rates than what Serano writes. To give two examples, this study finds a rate of autogynephilia of around 10%, and this study finds a rate of transvestic fetishism in males of around 3%.

I shouldn’t have needed to say this, but it’s wrong of Serano to ignore representative studies when discussing the prevalence of autogynephilia and autoandrophilia.

Serano also continues afterwards:

Second, the notion that FEFs have the potential to cause transsexuality is specious and not supported by the evidence (Serano, 2010, 2020). After all, almost a third of Lehmiller’s subjects experienced cross-sex/gender sexual fantasies (Lehmiller, 2018, p. 66), yet the vast majority of these people will never develop gender dysphoria or desire  to transition.

This again is a highly misleading argument. While these autogynephiles don’t transition, they have a large change in their affective gender identity (see e.g. this, finding effect sizes from 1.9 to 2.9), making them much closer to being trans than non-autogynephiles. Furthermore, autogynephilia can exist in different intensities and different types, which might also affect things.

In conclusion, one cannot trust Serano to accurately report the state of the evidence on autogynephilia.