The term autogynephilia (auto for self, gyne for female, philia for desire, often shortened AGP) refers to a psychological condition in which a man (usually heterosexual) derives sexual or even "romantic" pleasure from the fantasy of being female. The term was coined by psychologist Ray Blanchard after working with and studying many transsexual patients.
While not being the only reason for wanting to become a male-to-female (MtF) transsexual or claiming to "identify as a woman," autogynephilia seems to be exhibited by a great deal of transwomen. According to a 2015 survey of roughly 3000 American transwomen, at least 60% stated attraction to women, meaning they are heterosexual males. According to Ray Blanchard's studies, this would put them in the autogynephilic category, as homosexual transsexuals (HSTS) generally don't exhibit AGP.
Feminists are often critical of men openly exhibiting AGP and find them offensive, especially if they claim to be women, since their fantasy of being female usually seems to be based on highly sexist, objectifying, and reductive notions of womanhood.
Transgender activists claim that the concept is a transphobic myth, as it asserts that non-homosexual transsexuals are essentially under the effect of a paraphilia, or more bluntly a sexual fetish. They insist on the monolithic "female gender identity" theory to explain all MtF transsexualism and transgender identification, seeing woman-attracted transwomen as "trans lesbians" who should be accepted as being just like any other lesbian woman.
The phenomenon of AGP can be observed easily on the internet by searching for web forums dedicated to the paraphilia. Searching for terms like "sissy fetish forum" quickly turns up whole internet communities for AGP and similar fetishes, where some of these communities have an explicit focus on transgender topics, or sub-sections dedicated to members who desire to transition.
Miranda Yardley wrote in detail about the history of autogynephilia as a concept: A History of Autogynephilia - Miranda Yardley
The following section is taken from Yardley's piece.
The Two Type Model of Transsexualism
The identification of an erotic component to transsexualism goes back to the early twentieth century where the existence of what was described as an ‘automonosexual streak’ amongst transvestites was discussed:
…the experience shows that this automonosexual streak, just like the homosexual streak, isn’t the same for every transvestite. There are many for whom the simple changing of clothes isn’t enough to cause erotic feelings and just see it as a way of bringing their feminine inner side to the outer world. I knew those, who were already content if they were able to go for a walk as a woman from time to time. During the walk they never had erections nor ejaculations nor the desire to have any sexual intercourse, be it with male or female persons. One could say they are asexual.
The existence of two discrete types of transsexual, differentiated by sexual orientation and age was hypothesised by Buhrich in 1978, which also conjectured why transsexualism was observed to be more common in males than females:
The results of this study indicate that they can be differentiated into two clinically discrete groups. In an investigation of 29 transsexuals who sought a change of sex operation it was found that those who had experienced fetishistic arousal were significantly more likely to be older, to have experienced heterosexual intercourse, to be married and to show penile responses to pictures of men and women indicative of a more heterosexual orientation. They had less experience of homosexual contact to orgasm as compared transsexuals who had not experienced fetishistic arousal , but this difference was not statistically significant. Frequency of cross-dressing, strength of feminine gender identity and intensity of desire for a sex change operation did not discriminate the two groups. The fact that desire for a sex change operation may be associated with experience of fetishistic arousal could be one reason for the higher incidence transsexualism in men than in women.
In a later paper, Buhrich and McConaghy went as far as to suggest there were three distinct classes of fetishistic transvestite:
“nuclear” transvestites who are limited to cross-dressing;
“marginal” transvestites who wish for hormonal feminisation or surgery; and
In 1985, sexologist Ray Blanchard used a larger sample size and confirmed the observation that there exists a fundamental difference between homosexual transsexuals (homosexual males romantically and sexually attracted to males) and non-homosexual transsexuals (which includes heterosexual, bisexual and asexual transsexuals):
This study tested a prediction derived from the hypothesis that asexual and bisexual transsexualism are actually subtypes of heterosexual transsexualism… (a) cluster analysis of their scores divided the subjects into four groups: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual… there were no differences among the asexual, bisexual, and heterosexual transsexuals, and all three groups included a much higher proportion of fetishistic cases than the homosexual group… these findings support the view that male transsexuals may be divided into two basic types: heterosexual and homosexual.
Together, these papers teach us that transsexuals may be grouped into homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals, and that the latter group appears to contain a number of subtypes which could be taken to correspond to an ordinal degree of fetishistic transvestisism. These observations are supported by empirical evidence; the difference is manifest in “a much higher proportion of fetishistic cases than the homosexual group” and so Blanchard confirms the identification of two types of male transsexual, who are differentiated by sexual orientation, with one group displaying a fetishistic, or paraphilic history.
Blanchard became a key figure in the history of investigation into transsexualism a few years later where he attempted to impart some meaning and rigor into the terminology surrounding the taxonomy of transsexuals, as part of systematic study into this phenomena, he coined the term “autogynephilia” as a clearer description of something that had hitherto been described as part of automonosexualism. This is what has become known as “Blanchard’s transsexual typology” or the “two-type transsexual typography”:
Gender identity disturbance in males is always accompanied by one of two erotic anomalies. All gender dysphoric males who are not sexually oriented toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as women. The latter erotic (or amatory) propensity is, of course, the phenomenon labeled by Hirschfeld as automonosexualism. Because of the inconsistent history of this term, however, and its nondescriptive derivation, the writer would prefer to replace it with the term autogynephilia (“love of oneself as a woman”).
It should be noted that the use of the expression “erotic anomalies” is used in a morally neutral context, to describe sexual acts that are inherently non-procreative, rather than being a pejorative expression.
Key to the concept of autogynephilia is that it’s not something that is always on the mind, nor is it something that is confined solely to cross-dressing:
It should be noted that the concept of autogynephilia does not imply that autogynephilic males are always sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as women, or by dressing in women’s clothes, or by contemplating themselves cross-dressed in the mirror – any more than a man in love always obtains an erection at the sight of his sweetheart, or pair-bonded geese copulate continuously. Autogynephilia, according to this hypothesis, may be manifested in a variety of ways, and fetishistic cross-dressing is only one of them. Those individuals labeled transvestites by contemporary clinicians would, on this view, be understood as autogynephiles whose only -or most prominent -symptom is sexual arousal in association with cross-dressing, and who have not (or not yet) become gender dysphoric.
Classifying this behaviour in terms that lie outside of transvestic fetishism allowed Blanchard to apply his systematic study to a wider spectrum of behaviour observed within transsexuals, and he explained the etymology of this word based upon “a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a female”.
He then identifies four different types of autogynephilic behaviour, which may exist in any combination: physiological, behavioural, anatomical and transvestic fetishist:
Autogynephilic fantasies and behaviors may focus on the idea of exhibiting female physiologic functions, of engaging in stereotypically feminine behavior, of possessing female anatomic structures, or of dressing in women’s apparel. The last-mentioned class of fantasies and behaviors represents the familiar form of autogynephilia, transvestism. All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone.
Blanchard provides a typological framework for researchers to model or systematically analyse the behaviours of male transsexuals that separates these into homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals, the latter who tend to be autogynephilic exhibiting one or more types of paraphilic behaviours. Blanchard has compared these paraphilic behaviours to a sexual orientation.
The homosexual transsexuals are what one may consider the more ‘classic’ popular image of the transsexual, with the non-homosexual transsexuals making lives that encompass successful careers as men as well and marriages and children, before transitioning later in life.
It is important to understand that the homosexual transsexual and the non-homosexual transsexual have different lives and experiences, although there is commonality in they are both transsexual, and as Lawrence refers to above similar levels of experienced gender dysphoria. In his 2003 book ‘The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism’, psychologist J Michael Bailey explains:
Two different types of men change their sex. To anyone who examines them closely, they are quite dissimilar, in their histories, their motivations, their degree of femininity, their demographics, and even the way they look. We know little about the causes of either type of transsexualism (though we have some good hunches about one type). But I am certain that when we finally do understand, the causes of the two types will be completely different.
To anyone who has seen members of both types and who has learned to ask the right kinds of questions, it is easy to tell them apart. Yet the difference has eluded virtually everyone who cares about transsexuals: talk show hosts, journalists, most people who evaluate and treat them, and even most academics who have studied them. One reason is that the superficial similarity of the two types is so striking – both are men, usually dressed and attempting to act like women, who want to replace their penises with vaginas – that it prevents us from noticing more subtle, though also more fundamental, differences. Another reason is that the two types of transsexuals rarely show up side by side, where they would be easily distinguishable… The most interesting reason why most people do not realize that there are two types of transsexuals is that members of one type sometimes misrepresent themselves as members of the other. I will get more specific later, but for now, it is enough to say that they are often silent about their true motivation and instead tell stories about themselves that are misleading and, in important respects, false.
From soon after birth, the homosexual male-to-female transsexual behaves and feels like a girl. Unlike most feminine boys… these transsexuals do not outgrow, or learn to hide, their femininity. Instead, they decide that the drastic step of changing their sex is preferable. They unambiguously desire and love men, especially heterosexual men, whom they can attract only as women… one type of transsexual man is a kind of homosexual man…
Honest and open autogynephilic transsexuals reveal a much different pattern. They were not especially feminine boys. The first overt manifestation of what led to their transsexualism was typically during early adolescence, when they secretly dressed in their mothers’ or sisters’ lingerie, looked at themselves in the mirror, and masturbated. This activity continued into adulthood, and sexual fantasies became increasingly transsexual – especially the fantasy of having a vulva, perhaps being penetrated by a penis. Autogynephilic transsexuals might declare attraction to women or men, to both, or to neither. But their primary attraction is to the women that they would become.
Bailey’s interpretation of the motivation to change sex of homosexual transsexuals is to attract heterosexual men; we could consider given the choice in a homophobic society of living as a feminine gay man or as a woman, the homosexual transsexual may opt for the latter. While identifying the autogynephile’s motivation for many behavioural traits, he stops short of hypothesising why the autogynephile would transition; surely, the prospect of castration and removal of the penis would be an irrational course of action for someone whose sexual identity was so invested in this? This, however, would be based on the misconception that autogynephilia is exclusively erotic. Anne Lawrence suggested the autogynephile’s motivation may be compared to romantic love with elements of attachment:
…purely erotic aspects of autogynephilia have received the greatest emphasis, while the aspects related to “amatory propensity,” “sexual orientation,” and “love” have received comparatively little. Love has been conspicuously absent in most discussions of autogynephilia, whether by its advocates or by its critics… individuals are often especially inclined to seek out passionate love experiences, or to allow themselves the possibility of entering into them, in middle age and in times of crisis. This is consistent with the life histories of many, if not most, nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals, who tend to seek sex reassignment in their 40s or later, sometimes in association with a midlife crisis … (t)heir decision to undergo sex reassignment is not uncommonly preceded by some significant loss or reversal, such as unemployment, physical disability, or the end of an important relationship… (f)or individuals who experience autogynephilia, deciding to become what one loves can represent an attempt to cope with adverse life circumstances, just as deciding to pursue a love affair with another person can for individuals with more conventional sexual orientations… the process of changing one’s body and living as a woman offers an identity, a program of action, and a purpose in life
Role in transgender activism
The misogyny of transgender activism is sometimes hypothesized to be rooted in the movement being controlled to a large degree by autogynephilic transwomen. Since they are originally (or arguably still) straight men and tend to transition in adulthood, often after having established powerful positions in life, it would follow that they have enough privilege and feelings of entitlement to dominate the discourse of the transgender movement. Their reductive view on womanhood, and again their feelings of male entitlement, would in turn explain why they would steer the movement in such a sexist direction and lash out at feminists who don't follow suit.
Transgender activists themselves vehemently oppose the idea that AGP is a real phenomenon at all, calling it a transphobic myth. In her book Galileo's Middle Finger, Alice Dreger talks about the witch hunt J. Michael Bailey was subjected to by Lynn Conway and fellow transgender activists for having popularized the concept.
Conway developed what became an enormous Web site hosted by the University of Michigan for the purpose of taking down Bailey and his ideas [and] that largely enabled me to figure out what [Conway] had really done and how Bailey had essentially been set up in an effort to shut him up about autogynephilia.
Dreger wrote that some activists had turned their horror at Bailey's findings into a very public vendetta against him and his family, including thinly veiled allegations that he sexually abused his children. After researching the allegations against Bailey, she concluded that they were false. Moreover, Dreger observed:
…the most interesting mail, from my perspective, came from trans women who wrote to tell me that, though they weren't thrilled with Bailey's oversimplifications of their lives, they also had been harassed and intimidated by Andrea James for daring to speak anything other than the politically popular 'I was always just a woman trapped in a man's body' story. They thanked me for standing up to a bully.
- "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" (PDF). National Center for Transgender Equality & National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 2015-01-21. p. 29.
- (Adult content) Club Sissy - SRS/Hormones/TS
- (Adult content) House of Sissify - "Strict sissy training & forced feminization for transgender sl*ts. Like you."
- (Adult content) Why am I a sissy? "... I’m sure you are majority hetero with a minor kink NOW…and probably will be all your life, but a minority of sissies experience a fundamental shift in which the kink becomes something different and a transgender identity develops."
- Hirshfeld, M. 1918. Sexualpathologie Teil II 1918. Bonn: Marcus & Weber.
- See also Hirshfeld, M 1923: ‘Die intersexuelle Konstitution’. Jahrbuch fuer sexuelle Zwischenstufen. 23: 3 – 27
- Buhrich, N & McConaghy, N. 1978. “Two clinically discrete syndromes of transsexualism.” British Journal of Psychiatry Jul;133 p73–6.
- Buhrich, N & McConaghy, N. 1979. “Three clinically discrete categories of fetishistic transvestism.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour Volume 8, Number 2.
- Compare to the following tweet from sexologist Ray Blanchard @BlanchardPHD “Some autogynephiles have no gender dysphoria, some mild-moderate, and some severe. I support sex reassignment surgery for the last group.” 14 February 2017
- Blanchard, R. 1985. “Typology of male-to-female transsexualism.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour Jun;14(3): 247–61.
- Blanchard, R. 1989. “The classification and labeling of nonhomosexual gender dysphorias.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour 18, 315 – 334.
- Blanchard, R. 1991. “Clinical observations and systematic studies of autogynephilia.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 17: 235–251
- Blanchard, R. 1993. “Partial versus complete autogynephilia and gender dysphoria.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 19: 301–307.
- Lawrence, A A. 2004. “Autogynephilia: A Paraphilic Model of Gender Identity Disorder.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 8(1/2), 69–87.
- Bailey, J Michael. 2003. The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Joseph Henry Press.
- Lawrence, A A. 2003. “Becoming What We Love.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine Vol50 No4; 506 – 20.
- Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science (ISBN 9781594206085)
- Reluctant Crusader: Why Alice Dreger’s writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry