BuiltWithNOF
Autogynephilia

Ray Blanchard is credited with coining the word “autogynephilia” in 1989 - from the Greek roots meaning “love of oneself as a woman” - and defined it as a male’s propensity to be erotically aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman. However, it is clear that other clinician’s had observed the phenomenon, which Blanchard readily acknowledges, though they did not develop the term for it which he subsequently did.

I mentioned previously that Magnus Hirschfeld was the first to coin the word “transvestite”, but he is also generally credited with having made the distinction between homosexuality per se and transvestism or other cross-gender  phenomena. He is also the first clinician I have encountered who claimed that he had discovered a sub-group of cross-dressing males who were erotically aroused by the idea of themselves as women. In his Sexual Anomalies, he said:-

    “We are almost tempted to believe that we are here faced with a splitting of the personality in the sense that the masculine component in the psyche of these men is sexually stimulated by the feminine component and that they feel attracted not by the women outside them, but by the woman inside them.”

Apparently, this appraisal was subsequently modified by Hirschfeld’s acknowledgement that certain cross-dressers love the woman inside them in addition to the women outside them, as he used the word transvestite to include what he classified as homosexual-male-to-female transsexuals and female-to-male transsexuals. Hirshfeld’s suggestion that there can be a psychodynamic involved in cross-dressing other than the usual fetishistic aspect stressed in the DSM-IV-TR strikes me, at least, as not only highly credible, but extremely likely.

Though Hisrchfeld was the first to use the word transvestite, the phenomenon of cross-dressing was not unknown by other names, one such being “eonism”, coined by Havelock Ellis and named after the the famous French cross-dresser, Charles le Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont (after whom, incidentally, The Beaumont Society was also named).  Ellis maintained in his book, Psychology of Sex: A Manual for Students, that:-

    “The Eonist is embodying, in an extreme degree, the aesthetic attribute of imitation of, and identification with, the admired object. It is normal for a man to identify himself with the woman he loves. The Eonist carries that identification too far.”

And it seems from some of his other writings, some of which are available online at Project Gutenberg, that Ellis was of the opinion that this identification could involve an auto-erotic component. In other words, a male cross-dresser could be aroused by the thought and image of himself as a woman.

This auto-erotic theme is also taken up by Taylor Buckner, who claims in his paper, The Transvestic Career Path, that there are five steps involved in becoming a  transvestite, which he identified by his “intensive interviews with seven transvestites (yes, folks, SEVEN, but then he is just another social-scientist, not a real one). Buckner maintains:-

    “Being blocked in both homosexual and heterosexual directions, the transvestite goes back to the earlier pattern of gratification (which he may never have given up): using articles of feminine wearing apparel for masturbation. Were he to stay with this pattern he would be considered a fetishist. However, since he is strongly committed to the goals of a normal heterosexual relationship, including but not limited to a sexual relationship with the opposite sex, and also including a social relationship with the opposite sex, he begins to build in fantasy a more complete masturbation image than that provided by a single item of feminine wearing apparel. Through a process of identification and fantastic socialization he takes the gratificatory object into himself...this elaboration of masturbation fantasies [results in] the development of a feminine self...as a result of regression to autoeroticism, he complicate[s] his gratificatory object, making it more complete...When a male adopts this pattern and elaborates it into an entire feminine identity, he finds it gratifying in both sexual and social ways. When it becomes fixed in his identity, he begins to relate toward himself in some particulars as if he were his own wife, and he receives many of the social and sexual rewards of the marital relationship by doing this.”

Thus, Buckner is also of the opinion that  cross-dressing has an autogynephilic component, though he doesn’t use that term as Blanchard hadn’t coined the word autogynephilia until some 19 years later.

 Blanchard acknowledges in his paper Autogynephilia and the Taxonomy of Gender Identity Disorders in Biological Males (2000) - see Footnote #2, that when he joined the Clarke Gender Identity Clinic in 1980:-

    “... the clinical literature at that time included a confusing array of classification schemes for gender identity disorders in biological males. One thing that most authorities did agree on is that gender identity disorders are phenomenologically and probably etiologically heterogeneous. The taxonomic question, therefore, was not whether there is more than one type of transsexualism in males, but rather, how many more than one type, and how these should be characterized.(sic)

Blanchard concluded from his studies:-

    “...that heterosexual, asexual, and bisexual transsexuals are more similar to each other - and to transvestism - than any of them is to the homosexual type...the common feature is a history of erotic arousal in association with the thought or image of oneself as a woman.”

And so Blanchard coined the word autogynephilia for non-homosexual transsexuals and male transvestites.

Incidentally, Blanchard considers autogynephila to be a paraphilia. In his presentation (see Footnote #2) in Paris in 2000 entitled Autogynephilia and the Taxonomy of Gender Identity Disorders in Biological Males he states that:-

    “Autogynephilia may be defined as a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.”

Whilst Blanchard may be correct to label some autogynephiliacs as paraphiliacs, he is incorrect to label all of them as such - see below.

Although Blanchard speaks repeatedly about the methodology which he used to arrive at his conclusions, it seems remarkably unscientific and open to  the objection that it has been interpreted in a way which suits his foregone or pre-conceived notions. In short, I suspect that Blanchard did not reach his conclusions reluctantly. In other words, whilst I do not have access to all the information Blanchard had available to him, I do not believe that his evidence is compelling or overwhelming, despite the fact that it sounds superficially plausible. My suspicious are reinforced by the way that Blanchard often  seems to misuse the diagnostic criteria and language of the DSM-IV, as later (see Footnote #2) in his same presentation he states:-

    “The concept of autogynephilia is obviously related to the concept of transvestism - or transvestic fetishism, as it is called in the DSM. The concept of autogynephilia is much broader, however, in that it encompasses transvestism as well as erotic fantasies and behaviours in which the wearing of women’s apparel is secondary or absent altogether. For example, the favourite masturbatory fantasy of some autogynephiles is simply the mental image of themselves with a nude female body - not doing anything in particular or having sex with another person, but simply existing.(spelling corrected)

It seems to me that the foregoing represents yet another example of Blanchard’s distortion of language and that it is deliberate on his part (see Footnote #1), but then given the paucity of empiric evidence to substantiate his claims, I am little surprised by it. For a start, transvestism qua transvestism IS NOT a synonym for transvestic fetishism, as Blanchard implies, for the DSM makes it abundantly clear that the diagnosis of the latter phenomenon should  be made only when certain other criteria are met, such as the subject’s distress or the negative impact that cross-dressing is having on the transvestite’s life.

I will leave him with (almost) the last word on the subject:-

    “Thus, even a skeptical view of the data provides little reason for doubting that autogynephilia exists as a discriminable erotic interest - either a superordinate category including transvestism or a correlate of it.”

However, the nearest that Blanchard comes to providing  any empiric evidence to substantiate that claim seems to be little more that this subsequent quote from him (with spelling corrected):-

    “The existence of autogynephilia as a distinguishable form of sexual behaviour is scarcely in doubt. During the past 15 years, numerous individuals have come forward, outside of clinical contexts, to say that, yes, indeed, the published descriptions of autogynephilic behaviour and feelings closely match their own histories. Their testimonials are sometimes accompanied by expressions of comfort and relief at learning of the existence of fellow travellers, sometimes by expressions of grief and anger at the confirmation that their feelings represent a distinct paraphilia and by moving requests for help. Unless all these individuals have been motivated by obscure and perverse desires to claim emotions they have never really felt, their statements constitute further evidence that autogynephilia exists and that it is not extraordinarily rare.”

Well, perhaps that meets with Blanchard’s standards of evidence, but it hardly satisfies mine, or the standards of any real scientist.

Certainly, there are times when this cross-dresser has noticed himself in a mirror whilst en femme and been mildly excited though not erotically aroused by what I saw there, but can that properly be described as autogynephila per se? I am not necessarily persuaded that it can. After all, I am a heterosexual male and I do notice attractive women that I encounter in the course of my everyday life - and when I am en femme I can resemble an attractive woman - but that is not the same thing as being erotically aroused by the image qua image of myself as a woman.

 Nevertheless, even if Blanchard is correct to label me as an autogynephilic cross-dresser - and his evidence for doing so is if anything non-existent - he is completely wrong to label me a paraphiliac, since I am neither distressed nor negatively impacted by either autogynephilia or transvestism. What’s more, I am definitely not the only cross-dresser who may be autogynephilic according to Blanchard’s diagnosis, but who is definitely not paraphilic.

Remember, distress and negative impact are intrinsic components for the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-IV-TR to be met, and that the diagnosis of a paraphiliac cannot be made if they are absent.

Nevertheless, if the phenomenon of autogynephilia can be proven, I see nothing wrong with the diagnosis of autogynephilia per se, provided that it is used with the important caveat in mind from the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association’s Standards of Care, the full text of which can be found here on my References page:-

“The designation of gender identity disorders as mental disorders is not a license for stigmatisation, or for the deprivation of gender patients' civil rights.”

 

And even Freud emphasised in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality:-

    A disposition to perversions is an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct and no healthy person ... can fail to make some addition that might be called perverse.(emboldening added), “

All to often clinicians have developed a terminology and language which is unjustifiable in fact, unwarranted and unsympathetic in style, downright derogatory and frequently totally offensive to describe those whose sexual orientation, practices, or erotic interests - real or imagined - do not coincide with their own or meet with their approval. Ray Blanchard is not immune to such criticism, but whether it is merited or not, I will let others decide for themselves.

In the meantime, despite reading extensively into the literature, I still wait to be persuaded by something that can be more appropriately described as objective evidence that the phenomenon know as autogynephilia really exists.

 Finally, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that cross-dressers endeavour to comprehend why they do it, but all too frequently our attempts at ratiocination are interpreted by clinicians like Blanchard  as evidence that cross-dressing is having some negative impact on our lives and, therefore, that we can be labelled, pejoratively, as paraphiliacs. 

Could the pejorative tone of much of the psychoanalytic literature be an attempt to divert attention away from clinicians’ own prurience?

Perhaps a colleague will publish a paper on THAT subject, or do all psychoanalysts imagine that they are immune from the so-called mental diseases they so readily attribute to others?

Interestingly enough, there is at least one paper in existence dealing with the perverted responses of psychoanalysts - see here on my page about Perversion.

Footnotes:-

 1. Blanchard points out elsewhere that at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (as it then was), they recognised the imperative to be specific with clinical language. So much so that they referred to proper, age-specific heterosexuality  as “gynephilia”, as it means loving women, to distinguish between appropriate heterosexual behaviour and paedophilia . Therfore, I am immediately suspicious when I notice that Blanchard abandons his imperative since there is no intrinsically good reason for doing so. I also notice that Blanchard is most prone to this fault when his imprecision is used to enable him to make a point that he could not maintain if his language had been more precise.

2. Unfortunately, whilst the link to the page with Blanchard’s  presentation Autogynephilia and the Taxonomy of Gender Identity Disorders in Biological Males works, often his host seerms to be having intermittent problems, so that whilst the page opens correctly, there is no content. Normally, however, perseverance, or re-visiting at a later time, produces the requred result.