AGP in Cis Women is a Distraction

Some people claim that some cis women experience the same sort of autogynephilic things that trans women do. This claim has some serious problems, but so does its negation. However, let’s suppose cis women do experience such things. Does that mean the typology is bunk?

No. To some degree, autogynephilia in cis women threatens certain aspects of the model, such as erotic target identity inversion as the explanation of AGP, since this means we would not expect it to be possible to straight women to experience autogynephilia. (That said, women seem more bisexual in some sense, so it’s not a disproof of ETII…) However, ETII is only one aspect of the typology, and many useful things can still be derived without it.

However, what about everything else? Does it suddenly prove that AGPs and HSTSs are somehow the same? Or that AGPs are feminine? Not really. We could imagine any number of reasons for why cis women might experience autogynephilia. For example, consider Michael Bailey’s model of female sexuality. He argues that women don’t truly have a sexual orientation, so that they can be attracted to women if coincidences permit it, and he argues that this lack of orientation extends to the auto/allo dimension of sexuality. I doubt he would buy the argument that cis women are autogynephilic, but if cis women are potentially-gynephilic and potentially-auto(andro)philic, then it seems like there’s nothing that would prevent potential autogynephilia.

We could imagine lots of other models. Perhaps the causes of AGP in natal males and natal females isn’t even the same. However, there is one model that seems dubious, and it is the model which asserts that femininity is the cause of AGP in both natal males and natal females. Why is this problematic? Well, HSTSs and gay men don’t seem especially autogynephilic, despite being unusually feminine.

So, why do some people care so much about arguing that cis women experience autogynephilia too? I think they feel that the autogynephilia argument goes “Some MtFs experience AGP, therefore they aren’t women!”, and I’m sure some people use an argument like that, so it’s not an entirely unjustified reaction. However, the goal for me isn’t to decide whether trans women are women or not (my takes on that can be summed up as “transition is legitimacy”); instead, I’m trying to understand and predict people’s gender feelings, and by far the best model for this is autogynephilia.

The alternative model that some propose is that “trans women are women, and this explains both the autogynephilia and the desire to transition”. That’s not a real answer, though! What aspects of womanhood causes this? How do we know? Autogynephilia is a much more effective and justified explanation here.

Advertisements

The Typology is Invaluable

I would claim that you can’t think about transness without the typology. Not really, at least; you can do vague analogies and generalizations, but you will quickly get stuck in any real question.

Consider some basic questions that people may ask. The first one is “Am I trans or is it just a fetish?”, which the typology has an easy answer to, whereas there is absolutely no consensus on how to answer it without. Do non-trans AGPs exist? Do some of them want to be women? If so, how can you tell the difference? Does it matter? There are no answers to this without the typology. Some people will claim to have the answer, but they generally don’t have any underlying theory to back up their answer.

In fact, for most trans people, the typology provides huge shortcuts for questioning. Are you considering whether you are trans for some odd, non-trans-related reason, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or internalized sexism? No, it’s obviously the A*P. Without the typology, it’s hard to see how you can provide a proper, theory-based answer to this. How about this one: are you fake trans because you showed no signs as a kid? No, it’s the HSTSs who usually show such signs.

I do surveys, and in those surveys a lot of people report that they want to be the opposite sex. How do I interpret these answers? How can I know whether they are “trans-spectrum”, in the sense of having related traits to actually transitioning people, or just being weird outliers? Heck, how can we know this with other groups, such as nonbinary, genderqueer or genderfluid people, who seem to be similar in some but not all aspects to trans people? The typology provides the answer: look into whether they are gay or A*P, and if they are, they’re on the trans spectrum.

How’s the progress on making trans people transition earlier? Well, we’ve got a bunch of youngsters on puberty blockers. Will this eventually be the situation for the majority of trans people? How do we make it the situation? Turns out, there’s two kinds, and we’re only really catching one; this is a clear spot that needs innovation, and the typology helps identifying the relevant patients.

What about people who know they’re trans-spectrum, but need to know whether to transition. How does the typology help them? Well, it gives them clear definitions of the intensities of their situations, and tells them which trans people to compare themselves to. It also helps research into the outcomes of non-transitioners, as it tells you who exactly these are. This is useful for evaluating the alternative options to transition.

There are a lot of questions that the typology still leaves open, but it also provides a basic framework for researching them. Under what circumstances should you transition? What’s up with the transkid “desisters”? How about the new big wave of AFAB transitioners?

I used to believe in magical innate gender identity and brainsex and bodymaps and all of these ad-hoc ideas, but they are just not comparable in terms of raw usefulness to the basics of the typology.

On Autogynephilia in Cis Women

[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.]

[Update: I suspect this may be a better approach.]

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.

agp

(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:

  • Autogynephilia in trans women is associated with less attraction to men and more attraction to women, whereas in cis women it’s associated with more self-reported attraction to both men and women. However, there are two different subtypes of trans women, and in the AGP subtype, autogynephilia is positively associated with effective attraction to men. Thus, the correlation with sexual orientation seems to match.
  • Autogynephilia seems associated with a desire to be or remain a woman regardless of who has it (cis men, trans women, cis women).
  • Autogynephilic cis women are more likely to feel that their sexuality affects what sorts of style and body they would like to have, similar to how autogynephilia in trans women is thought to be the motivating factor for their transition.

There’s also some significant differences:

  • Trans women seem to occasionally be autogynephilic about things that are really “weird”, such as menstruation or riding women’s bikes.
  • Autogynephilia in cis men seems associated with other erotic target location errors, and trans women seem to have a higher rate of these. However, AGP in cis women does not seem to be associated with ETLEs in the same way.
  • AGP in natal males seems to be associated with more attraction to androgyny, whereas AGP in cis women seems to be associated with slightly less attraction to androgyny.

And last, there’s points where the relation seems unclear:

  • Autogynephilia in trans women and cis men seems to be connected to certain sorts of masochistic sexuality, such as sissy fetish or other forms of emasculation. It is unclear what forms of sexuality would be analogous to this in cis women, but AGP in cis women is correlated with self-reported kinkiness.

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.)

The Information Hypothesis of Dysphoria

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.

What Do I Mean By Dysphoria?

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…

Is Autogynephilia and Autoandrophilia More Common than Previously Thought?

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.

 

Detecting the A*P type in Cis People

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.

plot

(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.

Is A*P Associated with Dysphoria?

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.

plot2

(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).

Puzzle: The Asymmetry Between AGP and AAP

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.

Complexities of Gender Dysphoria

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.