Are Blanchardians crackpots and cranks?
Are Blanchardians crackpots and cranks?
Meta-attraction (also known as pseudo-androphilia) is an aspect of autogynephilia where one desires to have sex with men as a woman. It has been criticized for being a hack that actually shows that the AGP/HSTS typology is flawed, as there is more overlap between the groups than it actually claims. I don’t think that criticism is fair.
We’ve got two proposed types. Autogynephilic trans women are attracted to women and in particular to being women, and transition for this reason. HSTS trans women are attracted to men, which is associated with femininity, and they are at the most extreme end of femininity here, giving them plenty of reason to transition.
This basic description matches a lot of people, but there’s also a lot of people who seem to be exceptions. A main kind of exception relevant to meta-attraction is later-transitioning, non-feminine trans women whose primary sexual fantasies have been about having sex with men as women.
When we encounter this sort of exception, there are multiple options. We can throw our framework away. We can try to expand the framework with a new type. Or, we can try to fit the exception under consideration into the current framework. There’s also a fourth option, of calling the exception and outlier and refusing to take them into consideration. This is very useful in practice, but if your primary goal is to understand things better then it’s important to examine exceptions to your current model closer.
The problem with throwing the framework away is that I have yet to see any alternate model which explains transness as well as the AGP/HSTS typology does.
Expanding the typology might instead sound like the right choice. However, a big part of the strength of your model is what you predict won’t happen. A model that allows everything is worthless. Trying to fit it into your model can also lead to similar problems, so it should also be done with care. However, in this case, I think it’s the right choice.
The proposed explanation of meta-attraction is that the attraction to men doesn’t come from androphilia, but instead from an autogynephilic desire to be seen as an attractive woman who has sex with men in the way women usually have sex. Is it unreasonable to have this as an element of autogynephilia?
I don’t think so. In my experience, a lot of AGP porn includes these sorts of elements. I’ve talked to straight AGP trans women whose porn turned out to focus more on being-a-girl-who-has-heterosexual-sex than on the actual having-sex-with-men part (e.g. by using porn targeted at straight men, which focuses more on the woman and mostly leaves out the man from the image). I’ve also personally experienced weak degrees of meta-attraction.
Meta-attraction seems to both explain how the proposed group of exceptions match the AGP description, and also seems to be applicable to other contexts. For example, some might be bisexual instead of exclusively androphilic, which makes sense if meta-attraction and allogynephilia exist together.
[Epistemic status: I’m super confused about this, and no matter what future opinion I end up with, I’m going to look back at this and ask how I could be so stupid as to not realize that this is the true answer.]
Some people point out that the autogynephilia that is common in trans women seems to have analogues in cis women’s sexuality. For example, before transitioning, AGP trans women will imagine having female bodies in sexual fantasies, similar to how cis women tend to imagine having female bodies in sexual fantasies; AGP meta-attraction is the sexual desire to be seen as an attractive woman, and being desired seems like a big aspect of cis female sexuality; and last but not least, AGP trans women report that being a woman is sexually arousing, just as cis women do.
(This diagram is based on the data from my Survey on Traits You’re Attracted to or Would Like to Have.)
Suppose we tentatively extend the concept of “AGP” to cover the previously mentioned AGP-like sexuality observed in cis women. How do these concepts compare? First, let’s consider some similarities:
There’s also some significant differences:
And last, there’s points where the relation seems unclear:
Applying this concept of autogynephilia to cis women seems to present a number of challenges, though, in addition to the differences I mentioned above. For example, AGP trans women are not very feminine, so it’s unclear why they’d have ended up with a feminine aspect of their sexuality. In addition, HSTS trans women do not experience AGP, despite clearly being much more feminine and also plausibly having a more feminine sexuality.
Overall, I’m skeptical that autogynephilia can be applied to most cis women, but I have to admit that there’s a surprisingly good case to be made for it. I definitely think it’s worth investigating more thoroughly. However, I don’t think it necessarily destroys the typology of trans women if it turns out to exist; for example, “AGP” cis women seem to report that their sexuality affects their desired looks, which seems to match the proposed etiology for AGP trans women. It’d just… complicate things a bit. (Well, a lot, probably.)
One idea I’ve been playing with is the notion that the amount of dysphoria a person has depends on their understanding of gender and sex. I’m mostly considering this in the case of A*P trans people, and I don’t know how well it applies to HSTSs. According to this idea, once an A*P person learns something about sexual dimorphism, they will start feeling dysphoric about it.
It applies remarkably well to my own experiences. I’ve frequently experienced huge jumps in my knowledge about these kinds of things, which has also lead to similar jumps in my dysphoria on exactly what I’ve learned more about.
It also helps to explain lots of other observations. For example, dysphoria seems to irreversibly increase over time. This makes sense if people understand sex and gender better as their life goes on, and the irreversibility of the process makes sense since it is hard to unlearn information. Many also seem to report an increase in dysphoria as when they encounter trans issues; either through a trans partner, or through trans friends, or in some other way. Again, this makes a lot of sense under the information hypothesis.
An interesting prediction of this is that A*P cis people who have had heterosexual relationships will have a better understanding of sex and gender, and should therefore experience more dysphoria. This contradicts the predictions of the competition theory, which states that people with more intense A*P (and who’re therefore more dysphoric) will be less interested in relationships. My initial measurements seem to confirm my prediction over the competition hypothesis, but there’s more work to be done here.
It would be interesting to map out some more predictions and find ways of measuring it. An obvious next step would be to measure A*P people’s understanding of sexual dimorphism and see if it correlates with dysphoria. (Obviously, correlation is not causation, but if the correlation isn’t there, it’s unlikely that we also have the causal relationship.) I have some trouble figuring out how to make a good test of this, especially one that can fit in a survey.
In my surveys, one thing I’m interested in is whether people experience gender dysphoria. This is something that comes up in lots of things that I’m wondering about, such as what differentiates people with dysphoria from people who merely want to be the opposite sex, or how common it is to have or eventually develop dysphoria.
Dysphoria is also something that a lot of people find more important than a mere intense desire to be the opposite sex. People tend to use it as justification for transitioning, and tend to be more sympathetic to this justification. Dysphoria seems to have a big influence on many of the negative things about being trans. The fact that most trans people seem to be or have been dysphoric also suggests that dysphoria is near-necessary for actually ending up transitioning (many more people seem to want to be the opposite sex than seem dysphoric about it, yet most trans people have experienced dysphoria). The changes in dysphoria over time is also important to think about, as it is a big danger for younger people. People who want to have non-transition treatment will probably care more about dealing with their dysphoria than non-dysphoric gender aspirations. All of this makes dysphoria relevant to think about.
What do I mean by dysphoria? Probably the biggest revealing factor is how I measure it: I look at traits which indicate psychological trouble, such as depression, anxiety, body image issues and just plain unhappiness. In addition, I also try to measure it more directly, by asking about satisfaction/dissatisfaction with being one’s assigned sex. If these seem to appear in conjunction with trans-related things (e.g. A*P), then that suggests that dysphoria is in play.
One pattern that I tend to notice is that there’s a lot more variance in desire to be the opposite sex than in dysphoria. That is, there’s a big gap between wanting to be the opposite sex, and feeling distressed about it. This leads to one of my big questions: what is the cause of this gap? And that’s a subject I’m likely going to write more about soon…
The normal estimates say that a small fraction of men (perhaps around 3%? 4.5%?) are autogynephilic. The numbers are generally even lower for women with autoandrophilia. I’m somewhat skeptical about this.
First, the autoandrophilia: in my gender surveys, I generally don’t find much lower rates of autoandrophilia among women than autogynephilia among men. There’s a difference in intensity, yes, but this seems to reflect the difference in intensity in sex drives, rather than a difference in frequency. In the past, most transmasculine people seem to have matched the HSTS type, but today there are many queer trans men who very possibly could be autoandrophiles. This makes me think that autoandrophilia is about as common as autogynephilia.
Secondly, I get the impression that the total estimates are too low. They’re often based on transvestic A*P, but this does not seem to be the most common kind of autogynephilia. For example, in my surveys, I generally find twice as many people who get turned on by fantasies about being the opposite sex than by crossdressing. In some social circles, it also seems like there are more people who are out about (likely A*P-caused) trans feelings, and this seems to be more a question of awareness and tolerance of trans issues than of trans people deliberately seeking each other out. (E.g. I have a small circle of friends where several people are out as trans or trans-adj, and this happened long after we met. This seems to be a common experience, and it’s hard to believe that this is the case if A*P is very rare.)
So, what do I think are the real numbers? My surveys generally find rates of around 50%, but that’s too high for me to believe it. As a lower bound, we should probably double the 4.5% number to take more general forms of A*P into account. A plausible upper bound may be a bit higher than 15%; this is the rate that the autopedophilia paper reports when combining two previous samples of straight men.
The idea that the true rate is about 9% to 15% is still a conjecture, and it may turn out that there are flaws with it.
I consistently find a strong connection between A*P (AutoGynePhilia / AutoAndroPhilia, that is, sexual fantasies about being the opposite sex) and interest in being the opposite sex. Looking over my surveys, the association seems to be r~0.5 for women and r~0.6 for men.
(This diagram is based on data from my Thorough Genderbending Survey, Broader Gender Survey, Gender and Psychology Survey, Personality and Miscellaneous Questions Survey, Survey on Gender and Valued Experiences, Men’s Sexuality and Attitudes to Gender Survey, Amazon Mechanical Turk Survey.)
In the plot above, you see each of my surveys marked with two crosses (a blue one for men’s answers, and a red one for women’s). The x-axis represents the correlation I’ve found between A*P and interest in changing sex, whereas the y axis is the standard error of this correlation. Using this kind of plot is perhaps a bit overkill, but it summarizes the results nicely.
Here, I’ve usually measured interest in changing sex using hypotheticals like “would you press a magic sex-change button?”. This leaves open the objections that perhaps these people don’t truly experience gender dysphoria, and are therefore fundamentally different from trans people, who generally do. For this reason it may be useful to separate this into different measures which examine the sex-change interest in different ways.
One very basic way to do this is to measure feelings about being the opposite sex separately from feelings about being one’s current sex. The latter seems more “dysphoria”-like than the former, so it may be more relevant. I measure this by asking about how appealing it is to have male sex characteristics and to have female sex characteristics separately.
(This diagram is based on data from my Broader Gender Survey, Personality and Miscellaneous Questions Survey, Survey on Gender and Valued Experiences.)
On the above diagram, you see the results I’ve gotten. Each of my surveys have been marked with two dots, one for men and one for women. The x-axis shows the association between A*P and desire to be the opposite sex, whereas the y-axis shows the association between A*P and desire to be one’s current sex. A*P seems associated with both, though much more with a desire to be the opposite sex.
We might also try to examine the association in other ways. For example, gender dysphoria may show up as negative body image, depression, depersonalization, unhappiness or anxiety. For women, I don’t find any of this, but I have found some amount for men.
I’ve consistently found an association between autogynephilia and negative body image. In my Broader Gender Survey, I found a correlation of 0.21. I examined it in the Personality and Miscellaneous Questions Surveys, but did not find any statistically significant results. Lastly, in my Gender and Psychology Survey, I found a correlation of 0.16. These are weak correlations, but they’re similar in order of magnitude to the correlation between A*P and desire to stay your current sex.
The association between A*P and happiness is unclear, but my Broader Gender Survey suggests it’s negative (significantly for men, r~0.16, nonsignificantly for women, r~0.11).
There may be an association between autogynephilia and the other things, but the data is slightly ambiguous. In my Gender and Psychology Survey, I found an association between autogynephilia and anxiety (r~0.12) and a nonsignificant possible association with depression (r~0.07) and depersonalizaton (r~0.07). In this survey, autogynephilia also correlated with other mental health issues, such as autism (r~0.19), schizophrenia (r~0.15) and possibly (nonsignificantly) also borderline (r~0.09). This matches the trends that my Personality and Miscellaneous Questions Survey suggested (but could not confirm, due to low power).
For some reason, autogynephilia seems to be visible in many variables that indicate problems, whereas autoandrophilia is not. I’m not yet sure why this is. This may perhaps be the reason why some people perceive autoandrophilic trans men to be “””illegitimate””” – the characteristics of dysphoria that we’d generally expect there to be simply fail to exist. On the other hand, some of these things correlate with a desire for women to be the opposite sex, even though it doesn’t correlate with autoandrophilia.
We could imagine a lot of potential explanations for the asymmetry. For example, some science suggests that female sexuality is less visual than male sexuality, which might lead to fewer body image problems for autoandrophiles than for autogynephiles, even if other kinds of dysphoria still exist. Women also seem more bisexual than men, which might prevent A*P from causing body image problems. On the other hand, this bisexuality should probably also prevent AAP from causing a desire to be male, so perhaps this isn’t the explanation.
It may also be that autoandrophiles who experience some amounts of dysphoria-like things are more likely to identify as some variant of genderqueer or nonbinary, and therefore won’t be counted when I merely look at cisgender people.
There is a danger in focusing too much on the respondents’ current levels of gender dysphoria, because it doesn’t seem like a fixed trait. Dysphoria is thought to increase over time, and most of my respondents tend to be relatively young. In addition, dysphoria can become much more apparent once it is actually examined (see this for an example with lots of anecdotes in the comments). I’m also very sympathetic to the transhumanist ideal where gender dysphoria itself isn’t necessarily more valid than “gender euphoria” for transition.
Some readings of A*P theory try to eliminate dysphoria completely, and this is probably a mistake, given how many trans people clearly experience it. However, I think it may be much subtler than it is generally assumed to be, and something more like “gender euphoria”, or “gender aspiration” is probably closer to the “core” of A*P motivations.
I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to say that one of the main purposes of my surveys is understanding the relation between gender dysphoria and other cross-gender feelings, and how these may vary.
Pro-trans people often assume that gender dysphoria is just the natural result of having a brain of one sex in a body of another sex. Anti-trans people often assume that cisgender people are not attached to their sex at all. If we are to believe self-reports, though, there seems to be a wide range of attachment to one’s sex.
A reasonably consistent finding is that about 50% say that they care at least somewhat about staying their sex, whereas maybe 35% don’t care much either way, and 15% would rather be the opposite sex. This seems to be a continuum rather than discrete. The cis people who care enough that they’d try to medically transition back if they somehow magically had turned into the opposite sex are a minority, at least if you go by people’s introspection, but they are easily detectable in surveys.
Attachment to one’s sex is strongly negatively associated with sexually fantasizing about being the opposite sex. This may be an example of autogynephilia/autoandrophilia, but there are certain arguments against this (in particular, this’d imply that A*P is incredibly common).
From what I can tell, there are plenty of anecdotes of people who for whatever reason unrelated to gender dysphoria had to transition. Many of these people seem fine with it. Some were distressed initially, but eventually started liking it.
All of this does not seem like what we’d expect under Magical Innate Gender Identity.
I’ve noticed that a common way for trans people to use the word “gender identity” could better be described as “gender aspiration”. For example, consider the recent thread asking what gender identity means. Here’s some responses:
In my opinion, “identifying as a woman” means that one has a need to transition.
I would guess that “gender identity” is generally less about identifying as/with something, and more a statement of what you want your body to be.
Having a positive relationship — whether as weakly as near-ambivalence, or strongly — with one’s body’s femaleness. I’ll note that this is not just including the physical state, but also the future or potential or ideal state. I.e. a male’s body has no femaleness in a physical sense, but it’s female in the realm of possibilities/ideas.
This seems more like a declaration of intent or desire than a belief, and I’ve started calling it “gender aspiration” instead as a result.
Do you think it makes sense to make a distinction between gender identity as a belief, and gender aspiration as an intent or desire?
In the reddit post, I phrased this as a question, but really it’s the way I’ve conceptualized it for a long time.