Lesbian Autoandrophilia?

For natal females, attraction to women is associated with transness due to the HSTS etiology. This makes it tempting to assume that all gender feelings among women who report preferring women is HSTS-spectrum. However, this is dangerous, as it seems possible that some women identify as lesbian due to autoandrophilia.

lesbian-aap

(This diagram is based on data from my Survey on Gender and Valued Experiences, Personality and Miscellaneous Questions Survey, Micro Gender Survey+, Survey On Traits You’re Attracted to or Would Like To Have, Broader Gender Survey, Gender and Psychology Survey, Thorough Genderbending Survey, and Amazon Mechanical Turk Survey.)

In the above diagram, I’ve plotted the amount of autoandrophilia (normalized to standard deviations from female average) that I’ve found in lesbians, with each point representing one group recruited for surveying, using two separate definitions of lesbian. “Strictbians” are women who report SOME attraction to women and NO attraction to men. In the surveys where I’ve asked about attraction to androgynous men, I have also required NO attraction to androgynous men. Meanwhile, “broadbians” are women who report more attraction to women than to men.

Strictbians are much rarer than broadbians; on average in the surveys above, I’ve only had 3.4 per survey, whereas I’ve had 18.3 broadbians. This makes them very difficult to study, but aggregating the data this way suggests that they are genuinely different, and that I can’t just assume they will be similar. Strictbians seem less AAP than the average woman (my weighted average suggests d~-0.21), whereas broadbians are more AAP (d~0.37). This leads to a total difference between the groups of d~0.59 (which is really an underestimate, because strictbians are a subset of broadbians, and thus drag down their average).

How does this tie into practical things? Unfortunately, I don’t usually ask people about their sexual identity (i.e. whether they consider themselves to be lesbian or not). This is a problem, because it means it is difficult to apply either of these two categories to the cases you most often encounter, where you merely know their identity label rather than knowing the specifics of their attraction patterns.

I have sometimes asked people about their sexual identity labels, so I do actually have something to work with for that. One source of data suggests that the broadbian concept is the closest match:

female-sexual-identity

(From my Personality and Sexuality Survey.)

There are only four exceptions in this case; three asexuals who’d be considered strictbians, and a gay woman who’d be considered a flexbian. This data suggests a pretty good fit, but… it assumes people will only have one sexual identity label! Since people were asked to pick only one label from a list of identities, it cannot take into account women who identify as both bisexual and lesbian depending on the context. Here are the results from a survey where I had a more-flexible system:

lesbian-id

(From Thorough Genderbending Survey.)

The responses here suggest that strictbian is too strict but broadbian is too broad. Of course, this threshold leads to an entirely different result than the other two, namely that the lesbians are as AAP as the women in general.

Let’s try to better approximate people’s identity better by making the following changes:

  • We exclude the asexuals by requiring more attraction to women than just a little. In practice, this cashes out to requiring them to report “sometimes” or “frequently” being attracted to women.
  • We do not allow more than “rare” attraction to men.
  • Those who do have “rare” attraction to men must be “frequently”, rather than merely “sometimes” attracted to women.

How does the lesbian AAP situation look then?

lesbian-aap2

Still elevated rates! The average is d~0.3, though I suspect this may be an overestimate. For example, perhaps AAP women are less likely to identify as lesbian given the same reported degree of attraction to men and women. Still, this has practical implications, in that AAP is likely also important for understanding women who report being attracted to women.

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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.

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.)

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.

Cisgender People Have a Wide Range of Attachment to Their Sex

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.