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.

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What is Unfalsifiability?

The typology is often accused of being unfalsifiable. This is of course quite a significant claim, and it’s worth considering. But first, we need to consider what unfalsifiability is and why it matters.

The main way to move forward epistemologically is to test various hypotheses. For this to work, we need experiments to distinguish the true hypotheses from the false ones. This requires us to be able to test the hypotheses and possibly end up with the result that they are false – that is, the theories must be falsifiable.

What does an unfalsifiable hypothesis look like, then? The obvious guess is that it’s a theory that permits everything. However, that’s not quite true. For example, suppose we were trying to understand some sequence of bits. In that case, a theory that permits everything might assign equal probability to each possible sequence. An opposing theory might say that the sequence is alternating between 0 and 1. How do we test which one is true?

Well, we observe the sequence. If it goes “0101010101…”, the opposing theory consistently makes correct predictions, whereas the theory that permits everything… well, it doesn’t get it wrong, but it assigns much lower probability to the correct options than the opposing theory, so it rapidly loses credibility.

Of course, it might have been right. Perhaps the sequence is highly unpredictable. In that case, the opposing theory would quickly get disproven, whereas the one that permits everything would survive.

In practice, we can never predict anything perfectly, so the opposing theory would probably assign some moderate probability to non-perfect flips, so that “010110101…” or “0101011101…” are also quite likely. However, this would still not make it unfalsifiable, as it would still have to compete with the other theories.

But if this is not what an unfalsifiable hypothesis looks like, then what is? I’m inclined to say that unfalsifiability is not a property of specific hypotheses, but instead of families of hypotheses. Generally, you don’t work with a specific hypothesis, because there are parameters that you are still uncertain about; instead you work with a parameterized hypothesis which depends on some variable. For example, you might have a family which says that 1’s occur stochastically at a rate of X. This depends on X and so is not a specific hypothesis yet.

Usually, this is no problem. The family I mentioned above can often be falsified by finding a better predictor than this, but of course it is more general than the original one. The problem arises when you allow the parameter to fit the hypothesis to arbitrary data.

As a toy example, you might say that the sequence begins with some specific sequence of bits, followed by stochastic values. This family can fit to any data that you see, making it impossible to test. Of course, real-world examples are hardly as transparent as this, but the basic pattern is the same: they fundamentally change their predictions to exactly match the data, regardless of how justified this is. For this to work, they often stay vague about their mechanism, so it becomes difficult to truly call them out on it.

So, there’s assertions which work based on noise, which are fully falsifiable, and assertions which work based on overfitting, which are not. How can we recognize the difference? I have some thoughts:

First of all, I think the ones which invoke noise still tend to have consistent macroscopic patterns. Noise is local, it only affects the individual that it’s relevant for, so a focus on general patterns instead of specific instances is important. Of course, the noise may be a result of specific repeating phenomena that it’s useful to study, but a failure to mention specific big patterns that clearly arise from the model is a red flag.

Secondly, as a followup to the above, the anecdotes must be thought about in the context of the greater patterns, so a big focus on specific contradictory anecdotes is dangerous. This is especially true if the anecdotes focus a lot on self-reports, as these can be unreliable. Data is more important than cherry-picked exceptions.

Third, it’s much easier to be unfalsifiable if you’re vague about your mechanism, because it makes things much harder to call out.

Fourth, those who have unfalsifiable theories will be hostile to empirical research, since it ends up requiring a lot of work and propaganda to refit things.

I would argue that the trans typology does quite well at avoiding these pitfalls; the explanation for exceptions to the typology are usually more like noise than unfalsifiability.

On the other hand, the competitor, which I’ve started calling Magical Innate Gender Identity (coined by my friend Trent), doesn’t do very well. There is hardly any focus on the macroscopic patterns, and the patches that get applied to MIGI are to a large degree about fixing its prediction failures there, rather than being relevant to specific individuals. The use of questionable anecdotes with unknown statistical support is heavy, and there’s very little consideration for the accuracy of them. The mechanism is incredibly vague, and it has little empirical basis. That is just not a workable starting point!

Of course, there is a very important counterargument here. It goes like this: If we don’t know the true mechanism of transness, then of course it looks like we’re working from an unfalsifiable starting point, but really we’re just looking for enough data to justify the conclusions. I take that argument seriously, and I’ve made it myself before I became convinced of the typology, but I think the effectiveness of the theory makes it dubious. If this was true, then the typology would not be as powerful as it is.

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.

Autoandrophilia vs Autohomoeroticism

It is controversial whether women can experience autoandrophilia. Women have lower rates of paraphilias than men, and for a long time it doesn’t seem like many autoandrophiles have transitioned (though I’d argue that this has changed now). However, the problem with the idea that women can’t experience autoandrophilia is that there seem to be some anecdotes of autoandrophilia-like things. For example, many fujoshi seem autoandrophilic.

To solve this, autoandrophilia-skeptics have proposed autohomoeroticism as an alternate explanation. Autohomoeroticism is attraction to being a gay man. I’m skeptical about this idea. The most direct counterargument is that the “women can’t be paraphilic” statement should apply just as well to autohomoeroticism as to autoandrophilia. It also seems to me that AHE looks sufficiently like autogynephilia that we should be skeptical about attempts to claim that it is not the androphilic version of autogynephilia (i.e. autoandrophilia). Sure, it has some weird focus on feminine gay guys, but autogynephilia has a weird focus on masochistic emasculation and we don’t treat that as the core of the paraphilia. The focus on feminine gay guys isn’t all that weird, even – it can be compared to partial autogynephilia, and to GAMP, and it seems to fit the general theme of gendery things.

But the arguments above are very passive or defensive. Do I have some evidence on it? Well, in my Broader Gender Survey, I asked about A*P with some details that I don’t usually use. In particular, I asked about fantasies about being the opposite sex in a straight and in a gay relationship. In theory, we wouldn’t expect autohomoerotics to fantasize about being straight men. What happens in practice?

AAP-detailed

As you can see, there were fantasies about both gay and straight relationships. Does this mean that the case is closed and AAP is real? Well, there’s a bit extra complexity here, actually: fantasies with a gay relationship are much more strongly associated with willingness to be male (measured by magic buttons) than fantasies with a straight relationship, at a whopping r~0.44 versus the r~0.24 of the straight relationships. The same holds for measuring gender dysphoria through the six defining characteristics from the DSM-V.

DSM-V gender dysphoria and desire for magic sex change are two ways of measuring genderbendy feelings, but this survey was kinda ridiculous and actually had five ways of measuring such feelings (not counting A*P). One of these ways was the scale I called “attachment to gender”, and a weird fact about this is that it correlated pretty much equally strongly with the two items. It looks like this:

attachment-to-gender-scale

Maybe I just have enough scales to prove anything I want by spurious correlations, but this one had mostly the same correlation for fantasies with straight relationships and fantasies with gay ones. The one exception was the first item, which had a much stronger correlation with gay ones.

If I were to speculate about the difference, I’d say that things like magic sex change buttons or gender dysphoria have a clear anchor; if you answer anything but no, you’re weirdly genderbendy. On the other hand, “I dislike many aspects of being my gender/sex” is not something where the answer is obviously no; in fact, a small majority answered yes.

If I were to try and come up with an explanation for this, I’d hypothesize that those who have the gay fantasies probably have more contact with the LGBT community, and that this makes them more likely to apply concepts like gender dysphoria to themselves. This should be pretty easily testable in the future if I return to this topic. However, I might be getting a bit too far into speculations and a bit too far away from the actual data.

This data makes me conclude that autoandrophilia probably is real, but I think there’s more research to be done before we can be sure.

The “Patches” Are Justified

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.

Gender Identity… Gender Aspiration?

Copied from a reddit post I did.


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.