A while ago, I published my Response to Contrapoints on Autogynephilia. Broadly speaking, I argued that Contrapoints did not address the Blanchardian presentation of autogynephilia, but instead knocked down a strawman argument. I broadly stand by this aspect of the critique; however, as a core part of my response, I made a deeply flawed argument that makes me unable to stand by the blog post. Let’s talk about it here.
The core disagreement
During transition, the primary feeling trans women seem to feel about it doesn’t usually seem to be horny. There might be exceptions, but it generally seems to me to be more something like “I hate being male, and being a woman is the most important thing to me”, or something like that. A core part of the disagreement is that trans women think this can’t be explained by something like autogynephilia, which is an aspect of sexuality.1
The standard Blanchardian response to this is the romance hypothesis: Paraphilias are an aspect of your sexuality, yes, but humans are built to form emotional attachments around their sexual interests. The romance hypothesis asserts that it would make sense for whatever systems of attachment that exist to be the source of the trans women’s strong non-horny feelings about their sex.
I agree with this alternative proposal, and I continue to think it was wrong of Contrapoints to just causally dismiss it. She treated it as absurd, and as “moving the goalposts” when really it’s a perfectly logical part of the theory that has been there from early on. However, before I defended the romance hypothesis, I brought up an alternative proposal, and this alternative proposal is a big problem.
Could autogynephilia contribute to gender issues in other ways?
My proposal was that maybe neither the romance hypothesis nor horny were the main contributors, but that instead there could be other possibilities:
But that ignores the point: isn’t the romance hypothesis too weird? Maybe. But even if that is true, there are lots of other ways we could imagine that autogynephilia could contribute to gender dysphoria:
1. Many trans women seem to feel that men and manhood are just objectively terrible in some way. At 35:30, Contrapoints talks about “the evil magic of testosterone”, and at 19:49 she talks about how she thought of PiV sex as “getting the poison out”. Perhaps autogynephilia predisposes one to developing negative psychological complexes about men or manhood.
2. Autogynephilia leads to repeatedly getting psychological reinforcement from the thought of oneself as a woman. Thus, fans of conditioning-based theories might suggest that autogynephilic stimulation carves the desire to be female into the brain slowly over time.
3. Especially today, many with autogynephilia will have it suggested that they are “eggs” (slang for self-closeted MtFs) and should transition. Perhaps obsessing over this question (especially when committing more and more to a transgender identity) leads to gender dysphoria.
Now, this should not be taken as an endorsement of any of the above possibilities. I consider it to be something of an open question how exactly AGP leads to gender dysphoria, and it’s something I’m trying to study. However, the point is that the options aren’t just romance hypothesis, purely sexual, or no typology. This is the exact sort of false dichotomy (trichotomy?) that Contrapoints herself criticizes at 14:20.
I do qualify that none of the specific possibilities that I list are particularly likely, but I bring it up to imply that the sum over all of the conceivable and inconceivable possibilities is likely. Is that justified?
Sort of. There’s no absolute law anywhere which states that autogynephilia cannot have all sorts of random effects that contribute to gender issues. Maybe it’s true that there are all sorts of other contributors; but why believe it? Couldn’t they go either way, reducing the effect of autogynephilia rather than increasing it? Couldn’t they just as well be confounds, correlating with autogynephilia due to some shared factor, making the correlation between autogynephilia and gender issues an invalid estimate of the effect of autogynephilia on gender issues?2
Assuming that autogynephilia could cause gender issues through arbitrary mechanisms makes sense only if we strongly believe that autogynephilia causes gender issues without knowing what the mechanism through which it causes them is. In that case, the knowledge that autogynephilia causes gender issues is reason to suspect that any given conceivable mechanism contributes.
But how would we know that autogynephilia causes gender issues without knowing the mechanism in the first place? This is basically just rationalization, making up a story to fit it, exactly the sort of shifting the goalposts and ridiculous theories that Contrapoints accused the romance hypothesis of being. Sure, it’s conceivable that it’s right, but it’s also conceivable that the devil planted the evidence for autogynephilia in order to deceive us; that doesn’t make it likely.
How do we know that autogynephilia contributes to gender issues? Because generally sexuality gives you preferences, not the other way around. You don’t find food sexy when you are hungry, because that’s not how sexuality works; you do wish to be a woman if you are into being a woman. This is fully compatible with the romance hypothesis, but it isn’t compatible with just arbitrary mechanisms, such as autogynephiles coming to the beliefs that manhood is bad, or leading to obsession over whether one is trans. Those are just ad-hoc theories made up to strengthen the AGP → GD case, not genuinely supported by the evidence.3
Further defense of the romance hypothesis
So Blanchardianism relies a lot on the romance hypothesis. But isn’t a too wacky? After all, it’s not like we hear people being all emotional about their kinks in general?
This is wrong, as far as I can tell:
In this poll, I didn’t ask for details, so I don’t have any specific stories for them. This is something that should be looked into in more detail in the future. Anecdotally there seem to be lots of stories floating around about it; e.g. submissives who feel “comfortable”, “destressed” when controlled; e.g. women with pregnancy kinks who “feel like a goddess”.
Would people really live their life in a kink? Yes. Polyamorous people radically change the standard family structure, and there appears to be something sexual behind them too. Part of the problem is that people make it out to be this big deal, bizarre perversion. Some straight people get married, some autogynephiles transition, what’s the big deal?
The overall phenomenon should be studied more, but “this has not been studied enough” is not the same as “this doesn’t exist”; if we had no reason to think it would exist, then it would be silly to bring up, but it makes perfect sense in the context of how sexuality usually works that paraphilic sexual interests would also lead to all sorts of further attachments.
In my discord servers, I discussed whether to write this retraction ahead of time, and people had some responses. I thought it would be relevant to address concerns along those lines here:
Q. I’m autogynephilic, and I genuinely do have a sort of antipathy towards male things that has grown over time. It seems like this would contribute to gender issues. Aren’t you rejecting this possibility too quickly?
A. It’s not that these can’t exist; it’s that if they do exist, they raise questions about the validity of the AGP model. How do you know that this antipathy towards male things arises from autogynephilia, rather than just having some unknown common cause? Confounding should be the default assumption. If they do have a common cause, then the correlation between autogynephilia and gender dysphoria overestimates the effect of autogynephilia on gender dysphoria, making the typology invalid.
Q. Isn’t this overly dramatic? You could just do an edit of your original article to remove the bad argument, there’s no need to retract it.
A. Really it’s only a partial retraction. I’m leaving up the original blog post, with an explanation of what exactly I do or do not stand by. However, I think this point is rather central to the disagreement, and a core part of my original argument, so I think this has left open a big flaw in the blog post that justifies serious action.
Q. You had a lot of qualifiers though, saying that it was just speculation. Is it really that big of a flaw when you pointed out the inherent uncertainty?
A. The qualifiers were on the individual hypotheses I listed. The implication was that there were a large number of speculative hypotheses, where each might be unlikely, but which in aggregate were likely. I fully relied on the “in aggregate likely” aspect in it, saying “However, the point is that the options aren’t just romance hypothesis, purely sexual, or no typology.”. As far as I can tell, that’s just wrong; if it’s not purely horny, and the romance hypothesis is completely invalid, then the whole AGP argument is dead, with the skeptics having won. My claim was just wrong, despite my qualifiers.
Q. Isn’t this going to make it easier for people to dismiss your blog post, when they can just point out that it’s retracted?
A. If people act in bad faith, they will find some reason to dismiss it regardless. If people act in good faith, they will notice the partial retraction, as well as the explanation, and take that into account when evaluating the post. Pointing out the flaw in big letters probably reduces the rhetorical impact compared to just silently fixing the post, but it is absolutely inappropriate to optimize for rhetorical effectiveness over accurately informing the reader, especially if you’ve already made a huge error in reasoning. Let’s clean up problems on our own domain (there are many) before we start worrying about convincing skeptics.
1. A minor footnote: one should actually beware about “overexplaining” here. Most autogynephiles do not transition and do not feel gender dysphoria; so there must be ???something??? beyond autogynephilia that distinguishes trans women from autogynephilic cis men. This might be something entirely independent of autogynephilia; it might be some nuance of autogynephilia (degree of autogynephilia surely contributes; maybe kind of autogynephilia also does?); it’s most likely a combination of factors. If someone claims to explain it entirely through autogynephilia, they are a quack.
2. One of the possibilities I brought up was conditioning. I remain skeptical of conditioning-based theories, but at least conditioning is justified in the sense that it genuinely does provide a good story for why it is mediating the effect of autogynephilia on gender dysphoria. This might seem to justify it more, except what’s really going on is that conditioning is not wholly separate from the romance hypothesis; conditioning would be a mechanism through which the romance hypothesis might operate. So really we should only consider the other hypotheses than conditioning, and consider me mentioning conditioning on the list as another mistake.
3. So how did I come up with this? Was I just dishonest? I think my error was that there is some reason to think that autogynephilia contributes to gender issues without understanding the mechanism, namely the typology. You apparently observe a negative correlation between autogynephilia and femininity in trans women, but you do not observe this in the general population. This is the pattern of correlations we would expect under a collider; if we had autogynephilia → transgender ← femininity. This is a perfectly valid argument that autogynephilia causes gender issues, that works independently of any mechanism; the issue is just that the argument is not very strong; it can easily turn out to be wrong if there is something more complicated going on. In fact, its lack of strength is directly connected to its mechanism-independence; without referring to the mechanism, any argument will just be an indirect proxy argument, and so therefore weak.