Quick heads up: Julia Serano believes in ETLE too

Autogynephilia is a sexual interest in being a woman. Erotic target location error is a theory which asserts that this sexual interest is connected to gynephilia (a sexual interest in women as partners); that there is ???something??? which usually prevents men’s gynephilia from finding the thought of being a woman to be erotic, but that this ???something??? is missing in autogynephiles.

Some people say that they find ETLE theory absurd, mock it, and call it debunked. And then they endorse people like Julia Serano, who claim to critique it. But here’s Julia Serano’s critique of it:

A third factor that may influence embodiment fantasies is sexual orientation, albeit not in the way that Blanchard envisioned. Specifically, if an individual is attracted to femaleness and femininity in a more general sense (e.g. they find such qualities erotic in their partners), then these same attributes might also be sexually salient with regard to their own embodiment, leading to more frequent or intense FEFs. (A similar correlation between attraction to maleness and masculinity, and MEFs, might also be expected.) Or to phrase this conversely: If an individual is not attracted to female or feminine attributes more generally, then they may be less likely to find FEFs arousing or compelling. This fairly simple explanation (which Blanchard never explored) is consistent with the correlations researchers have found between sexual orientation and embodiment fantasies, but without invoking direct causality.

Julia Serano, Autogynephilia: A scientific review, feminist analysis, and alternative ‘embodiment fantasies’ model

But this is literally just erotic target errors restated! Serano’s argument is that maybe there’s a link between autogynephilia and gynephilia where whichever mechanism that creates gynephilia also for some reason sometimes creates autogynephilia, which is precisely same as Blanchard’s postulation about the same.

It may be worth quoting Blanchard and Freund to illustrate the similarities in the theories:

What kind of defect in a male’s capacity for sexual learning could produce anatomic autogynephilia, transvestism, and fetishism, singly and in various combinations? Common to all these phenomena is a kind of error in locating heterosexual targets in the environment. In fetishism, the individual orients toward a particular garment (e.g., panties, brassieres) rather than those parts of the female body the garment usually covers. In transvestism, the individual is aroused by the appearance of an attractively clad woman, but he locates this image on himself rather than another person. In anatomic autogynephilia, the individual is oriented toward the characteristic features of the feminine physique (e.g., breasts), but he attempts, in some way, to locate these features on his own body.

The above analysis suggests the failure of some developmental process that, in normal males, keeps heterosexual learning “on track,” perhaps by biasing erotic response toward external rather than internal stimuli, and inherent rather than variable features of the female appearance. This putative defect allows the development of various misdirected – but still recognizably heterosexual – behaviors, and makes it possible, if not probable, that more than one misplaced interest will appear in the same individual.

Ray Blanchard, Clinical observations and systematic studies of autogynephilia

So in other words, Blanchard’s ETLE theory is that for some reason the gynephilia is applied to one’s own embodiment, as Serano describes. Or in other words, both agree that some sort of gynephilic eroticism contributes to autogynephilia, and so both agree on ETLE.

Julia Serano is not the only one I’ve seen who has done this; e.g. I’ve seen someone else propose that ETLEs don’t exist and any correlation between autogynephilia and gynephilia is just because gynephilia makes it easier to sexualize having a female body… which of course is the core claim of ETLE theory, making it puzzling that someone might call that a contradiction of ETLE.

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