patients lie," says Maxine Petersen, the ace gender clinician at
the Clarke. One common lie among autogynephiles, according to Petersen,
is that they are homosexual rather than heterosexual. The motivation for
that lie is probably the fear that a gender clinic will deny them a sex
change if they are determined to be heterosexual. And indeed, some psychiatrists
have taken the position that nonhomosexual transsexuals are uniquely inappropriate
for sex reassignment because they are not "true" transsexuals.
(The Clarke Institute does not discriminate against autogynephiles and
indeed, Blanchard wrote an uncharacteristically impassioned passage in
one article urging readers not to use his findings to justify such discrimination.
However, as recently as 1989, Blanchard and his colleagues from the Clarke
opined that "heterosexual applicants for sex reassignment should
be evaluated with particular caution" because of an increased likelihood
of postoperative regret.) Autogynephiles who claimed to be homosexual
transsexuals could account for the apparent cases of homosexual transsexuals
who practiced erotic cross-dressing. Other common lies, according to Petersen
and others, include an exaggeration of early femininity. This might in
some cases have the same motivation.
"You have plenty of time to dress this evening. You slip your panties over your ankles and pull them up too your waist. Sitting on the edge of your bed, you put on a pair of sheer nylon stockings. You fasten the stockings with the snaps of your lacy garter belt. You slip your arms through the straps of your brassiere and reach behind you to fasten it. You put on your eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick. Lying on your bed, you look up at your reflection in the large mirror on the ceiling."
Why do some autogynephiles deny the sexual component of their condition? One reason, again, is the real or imagined treatment implications. Some psychiatrists refuse to recommend for sex reassignment any man who has had even one incident of erotic cross-dressing. But this fear surely cannot explain the resistance of Stephanie Braverman and the cross-dressers at the meeting-they are not trying to become women.
Perhaps the major reason is shame and assumed social reaction. The physician Harry Benjamin, who popularized the word "transsexual," noticed early on that cross-dressers, and especially cross-dressers in organizations trying to influence the public, tend to de-emphasize the erotic element. He suggested that they do this in order to be more accepted by others. Today, public statements by those who call themselves "transgendered" (who are almost all autogynephiles rather than homosexual transsexuals) rarely acknowledge any erotic component of "transgenderism."
There is also a more personal motivation to deny the erotic component of autogynephilia. Anne Lawrence put it this way:
In my experience, most lay people are happy to accept the "I'm a woman in a man's body" narrative, and don't really want to know about autogynephilia-even though the preferred narrative is misleading and it is impossible to understand nonhomosexual transsexualism without autogynephilia. When I have tried to educate journalists who have called me as an expert on transsexualism, they have reacted uncomfortably. One said: "We just can't put that into a family newspaper." Perhaps not, but then, they can't print the truth.
There is one more reason why many autogynephiles provide misleading information about themselves that is different than outright lying. It has to do with obsession. Something about autogynephilia creates a need not only to enact a feminine self, but also to actually believe in her. It seems important to them to emphasize the permanence of the feminine self as well as her primacy: "I was always feminine, I just managed to hide it. I became a Green Beret as a defensive response to my femininity." In such accounts, the feminine self is the real self; the masculine self is the creation. (I have been arguing that the opposite is closer to the truth.) Intersexuality refers to congenital conditions in which biological sex is ambiguous, usually due to hormonal or genetic problems. Cheryl Chase, the intersex activist, told me that transsexuals frequently join intersex groups because they are convinced that they are also intersexual. In most cases, they are not. I assume that these are autogynephilic transsexuals who want to believe that there is a real biological woman inside them as well as a real psychological woman.
The self-presentational deceptiveness of some autogynephiles is a main reason why autogynephilia was not understood until recently. Many clinicians-even some who write books-have taken the information that transsexuals tell them at face value. I recently attended a talk by a well-known psychologist at an academic sex conference in which she presented a case that was clearly autogynephilic (he'd been married and was in his late 40s, among other signs). However, she spoke not one word about her patient's sexual fantasies, dwelling instead on the usual "woman trapped in man's body" story. Blanchard's ideas have not yet received the widespread attention they deserve, in large part because sex researchers are not as scholarly as they should be and so don't know read the current scientific journals.
And although Blanchard's ideas are fundamental to an understanding of transsexualism, they might not matter that much for helping transsexuals, which most clinicians have as their first priority. With luck, the next revision of the DSM will distinguish "homosexual" from "autogynephilic" transsexualism. But will popular features on "the transgendered" begin to mention the teenage masturbatory cross-dressing? Will "The Cher Mondavi Story" become a made-for-television movie co-starring "Robot Man?" Probably not, and it is a pity. True acceptance of the transgendered requires that we truly understand who they are.
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