My book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, has provoked a firestorm of controversy among some transsexuals. The following three websites are representative of the outrage expressed by some transsexual women.
The first thing to emphasize is that the authors of these websites have badly distorted my positions. I will delay, for now, pointing out these distortions. It is a popular science book aimed at a general audience, and so it can be consumed without great effort. The controversy is about only the third section of the book. Although the first two sections of the book (on feminine boys and gay men) provide useful background to the third, it is possible to grasp most of the third section without having read them.
Not all transsexual women are opposed to my book. Writers at the following two websites, each representing one of the two types of male-to-female transsexuals (see below), accept at least some of the main ideas in my book, and both avoid the hysterical misrepresentations of the first set of websites:
Although the critics have produced a litany of alleged sins, their main complaint is something that I actually do write, and believe. This is the idea that among male-to-female transsexuals (i.e., those who begin life as boys and become women), there are two, completely different subtypes. The first type, which Blanchard calls "homosexual transsexuals" are attracted to men. They are very feminine from an early age. The second type, which Blanchard calls "autogynephilic transsexuals," are attracted to the idea of being women; they are not notably feminine until they decide to transition to women. The critics especially dislike my contention, based on Blanchard's research, that transsexuals who are not homosexual are autogynephilic. Autogynephilia is explained at length below, but for now, autogynephilia can be understood as sexual arousal at the idea of being a woman. The idea that nonhomosexual transsexuals are motivated by autogynephilia is the main sore spot for the transsexual critics of my book.
Eventually, the most angry critics managed to persuade two of the women I wrote about in my book (with whom I had had cordial relationships) to turn against me, and a number of diverse accusations were made against me. All the accusations were false. You can read my account of the various allegations against me here:
One misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) by several critics is that the theory of autogynephilia is based upon my own data. In fact, the theory was developed long before I began to study transsexuals. It is not based on my data at all, but on work by Ray Blanchard.
Blanchard did his research at the gender identity clinic at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. His sample of subjects was very representative of gender patients in Canada during the time of his studies. (For more detail about Blanchard's sample, look here.)
In my book I do present details about the lives of transsexuals whom I have met personally or with whom I have corresponded. My interactions with these individuals were not, however, the basis for the theory. Instead, they were the basis for my portrayals of real people, struggling or triumphing in real situations. That is, I used what I learned from these individuals to try to convey the complexities of Blanchard's theoy–and of these people's lives–to readers.
I have met, both in person and via correspondence, plenty of transsexuals who have told me that Blanchard's "two types" theory does not include them. However, as I discuss at length later, this denial is not adequate reason to reject Blanchard's theory. Blanchard's research has shown that transsexuals who deny being either homosexual or autogynephilic are probably autogynephilic.
The theory encompasses several ideas. Here are some of the main ones:
a. There are two different aspects to gender dysphoria: discomfort with one's sex of birth, and yearning to be the other sex. The first aspect is more striking in very feminine homosexual males who want to be women (perhaps because many of them seem incapable of sounding or acting like typical males even when they try to do so). The second aspect is more striking in males with a condition called "autogynephilia." Autogynephilia is sexual attraction to, and love of, the idea of oneself as a woman.
b. Neither discomfort with one's sex nor yearning to be the other sex is an all-or-nothing thing. Each is continuous; many genetic males feel no gender dysphoria, some have a little dysphoria (of one type or another), some have enough gender dysphoria so that they go through steps to change their sex. The intermediates on the first (homosexual) dimension include (in order) masculine gay men, feminine gay men, and drag queens. The intermediates on the second (autogynephilic) dimension include episodic heterosexual cross-dressers and some individuals who live full-time as women for decades without seeking or even desiring genital sex reassignment surgery. (Virginia Prince is a famous example.)
c. Most, but not all, autogynephilic transsexuals go through a stage in which they are heterosexual cross-dressers, and during this period, they engage (with varying frequency) in cross-dressing for erotic purposes. Particularly during adolescence, a common activity is wearing women's clothing (particularly lingerie) and masturbating. The few autogynephilic individuals who have not cross-dressed erotically show other signs of autogynephilia. For example, one individual whom Blanchard saw denied frequent cross-dressing, but had a frequent sexual fantasy of having a vagina.
d. Transsexuals who are not homosexual are autogynephilic. These include biologic males who are heterosexual (i.e., attracted to women), bisexual, and asexual; Blanchard lumps these orientations together as "nonhomosexual." (This lumping is empirically supported, because on most relevant variables, the different types of nonhomosexual transsexuals are similar.)
Autogynephilia can be understood as atypically-focused heterosexuality (i.e., focused on the woman inside rather than the women outside), and so to the extent that autogynephilic individuals are attracted to others, they should be attracted to women; this explains heterosexual transsexuals. A common fantasy of autogynephilic individuals is to be penetrated by a penis; this explains the bisexual transsexuals. (The homosexual fantasies of autogynephilic individuals are very different from those of homosexual males, including homosexual transsexuals. Homosexual males are capable of intense sexual attraction to other males based on their physical characteristics. Autogynephilic individuals tend to be aroused less by the physical characteristics of men than by the fantasy/act of being penetrated by a man.)
Finally, autogynephilia is an inner-directed sexual orientation (to the idea of oneself as a woman), and so there is a tradeoff between autogynephilia and sexual attraction to women. When autogynephilia is sufficiently strong, it can replace virtually all attraction to other individuals. This explains asexual transsexuals.
e. Not all autogynephilic individuals become transsexual. Probably most do not. The autogyephilic fantasies of those who eventually transition to women are especially likely to focus on having a vagina.
Anne Lawrence, a transsexual woman who is a physician and sex researcher, has a superb website explaining autogynephilia. Please browse her site, especially her autogynephilia faq, and her original and revised papers on autogynephilia.
Blanchard did a number of empirical studies during the decade he focused on transsexualism. I have assembled abstracts of 20 relevant articles. The most important of these are probably #1-#9 and #15.
Here is a powerpoint file of Blanchard's lecture at the International Academy of Sex Research in Paris, 2000. The presentation focuses on three early studies validating Blanchard's theory of two basic transsexual types: #1, #6, and #8. But remember that Blanchard's relevant oeuvre is substantially larger than these three studies.
Answering this question requires understanding precisely what one means by "women trapped in men's bodies." I can think of two very different meanings. First, "women trapped in men's bodies" might be understood as anatomic males with a strong desire to become women. By this meaning, all male-to-female transsexuals qualify. This is the definition of transsexualism that I use.
A second definition, which I believe that many people infer by the phrase "women trapped in men's bodies"is anatomic males who have the minds and emotions of women. This is a much trickier definition. How would a male-to-female transsexual know that she has the mind and emotions of a natal woman? I do not think the answer is straightforward, and the strong conviction that she feels this way, by itself, can persuade only those who are easily convinced.
Homosexual male-to-female transsexuals invariably begin life as extremely feminine boys. Their feminine interests and activities often begin as soon as they are capable of showing any interests at all. Their femininity is pervasive and persistent. They are incapable of hiding their femininity from the outside world. Homosexual male-to-female transsexuals may well approximately be "women trapped in men's bodies." (In my book, however, I show that this phrase is somewhat misleading even for them.)
Autogynephilic transsexuals do not often have a verifiable history of being very feminine boys. (They rarely seem to be "girls trapped in boys' bodies.") Their first overt sign of transsexualism most often begins in adolescence, when most of them cross-dress for erotic purposes. Both heterosexual cross-dressers and autogynephilic transsexuals usually begin this way. Neither this behavior nor autogynephilic motivation has an analogue in female psychological development.
There are certainly male-to-female transsexuals who deny that Blanchard's taxonomy fits them. This denial could occur because the taxonomy truly fails to account for them. But it is also possible that the transexuals' denials are incorrect.
If we could always accept people's explanations of their own behavior, then psychology would be easy. There are many reasons why we cannot merely accept such accounts, three of which I consider here. First, people often do not have conscious access to the important causes of their behavior. In a classic study, Nisbett and Ross had participants choose the best quality pair of stockings from a range of samples ostensibly for consumer research purposes. Because of a strong order effect, participants selected the pair of stockings that was the furthest right in the display four times as often as the pair that was furthest left. However, participants never referred to position as a factor in their choice, but instead explained their selection behavior in terms of the stockings' inherent qualities.
Second, people are often motivated to believe accounts of their own behavior that put them in the best light. Third, people are often motivated to give explanations that make other people think well of them. This includes giving explanations that they may not, themselves, believe.
Blanchard did two scientific studies that provided persuasive evidence that some autogynephilic individuals are prone to denying autogynephilia. In the first study (#2), he gave male gender patients the Crowne-Marlowe Social Desirability Scale, which measures the respondent's desire to exaggerate his own moral excellence and to present a socially desirable facade. He also gave the subjects his 1985 Cross-Gender Fetishism Scale (which measures erotic arousal in association with putting on women's clothes or make-up, or shaving the legs). For the heterosexual subjects, the correlation between the two scales was -.48 (p=.001). Thus, among the heterosexual gender patients, social desirability correlated with denial of fetishistic arousal. In other words, heterosexual gender patients who were more concerned with positive self-presentation were less likely to admit an erotic component to their cross-dressing.
In the second study (#3) Blanchard studied cross-dressers who denied erotic arousal to cross-dressing. He had them listen to audiotaped descriptions of cross-dressing, while he measured their genital response (i.e., penile erections). These men did, in fact, have erections while listening to these descriptions. (Technically, they experienced an increase in penile blood volume, and did not typically get full erections.) A control group of heterosexual men who were not cross-dressers did not get erections while listening to the audiotapes. Blanchard concluded that "only those causal hypotheses of heterosexual cross-dressing that also account for the presence of fetishism need to be considered."
Why would some autogynephilic individuals deny the erotic component of their motivation? There are at least three reasons, corresponding with the three general reasons why we cannot always accept people's explanations of their own behavior as accurate. First, it is possible that autogynephilic individuals are often unaware of the erotic nature of their motivation. Just as heterosexual men become less strongly aroused by their wives with age and habituation, autogynephilic arousal to relevant activity (e.g., cross-dressing) may diminish. Second, some autogynephilic individuals find this erotic motivation shameful and embarrassing. Third, some autogynephilic individuals may value the belief that they are women trapped in men's bodies because this belief is more compatible with their autogynephilic motivation. Autogynephilia, remember, is the sexual and romantic desire for oneself as a woman. Someone with autogynephilia is likely to find it more rewarding to believe that she is psychologically similar to woman than to accept that she has become a woman to fulfill an erotic wish.
In this section of my book I address self-presentational biases of autogynephilic individuals.
Here is a section of Anne Lawrence's website in which she addresses why transsexuals tend to avoid discussing autogynephilia.
No. Every indication is that autogynephilia is a common motivation for male-to-female transsexualism.
In a recent review by Anne Lawrence of 11 studies with requisite data, the median percentage of transsexuals who acknowledged a history of sexual arousal to cross-dressing (a hallmark sign of autogynephilia) was 37%. In her large survey of SRS patients of Dr. Toby Meltzer, Lawrence found that 86% of respondents had had at least occasional autogynephilic arousal, and 49% had at least hundreds of episodes of autogynephilic arousal. The percentages given so far have not excluded homosxual transsexuals, in whom the rate of autogynephilia is expected to be low. The percentage of nonhomosexual transsexuals with admitted autogynephilia is very high. In a study by Blanchard (publication #4) the figure was 82%.
Because transsexuals sometimes falsely deny autogynephilic arousal, these numbers are likely to be underestimates.
There is nothing fundamental about the number two. There could well be three or more types of male-to-female transsexuals. That remains for future research to discover. What I have argued is that currently, there is very good reason to accept the Blanchard theory that there are two very different types, and there is no persuasive evidence for any other types. Furthermore, Blanchard's studies suggest that his taxonomy captures most, if not all, transsexuals. The fact that some-to-many transsexuals deny the validity of his ideas is not good evidence that the ideas are incorrect.
A team of neuroscientists from the Netherlands published a study which, they suggested, showed that independent of sexual orientation, transsexuals had a female-typical volume of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc). (The same group has studied other studies, some of which have analyzed the same brains.) Although these studies are interesting, they have serious limitations, and they are hardly sufficient evidence to reject Blanchard's psychological studies. Read a critique of the Dutch brain studies.
To be sure, no matter what causes or motivates it, transsexualism is a difficult condition, one that we might wish people could avoid. But obviously, some are faced with the transsexual dilemma, and autogynephilia is as acceptable a motive for transsexualism as any other motive that exists or that I can imagine.
At one time, gender patients with clear signs of autogynephilia were deemed inappropriate for SRS. They were denigrated as "not true transsexuals." These practices were harmful, hurtful, and wrong. Autogynephilic transsexuals are true transsexuals, suffering every bit as much from gender dysphoria as homosexual transsexuals do. Autogynephilic transsexuals tend to be about as happy as homosexual male-to-female transsexuals with sex reassignment surgery. And both groups are much happier, on average, after transitioning.
In her initial foray from her website Lynn Conway wrote: "This book will in time be viewed as very analogous to the Nazi propaganda films about Jews in WWII. It paints transsexual women as deviant, bizarre, pitiful figures and never shows the diverse reality of our true lives."She characterized my book as "transphobic" and wrote that the "book is transsexual women's worst nightmare, and its image of transsexualism casts a dark shadow over the entire transgender community."
These charges are hysterical and false.
First of all, the ideas I have written about in my book are scientifically supported, and correct, as far as I can tell. At the time of this writing (5/05/03) nothing that Lynn Conway and colleagues have written has substantively challenged the scientific quality of Blanchard's work. Second, not only do I believe that there is nothing inherently harmful in the ideas I have discussed, I actually believe that the airing of these ideas will help transsexuals. I had the third section of the book available on my homepage for several years, and more transsexuals wrote me thanking me for writing it than who wrote me to complain. To see the diversity of transsexual women's attitudes toward the idea of autogynephilia, see testimonials at Anne Lawrence's webpage, here and here.
As I wrote in my book: True acceptance of the transgendered requires that we truly understand who they are.
Even transsexual women who support my arguments have in some cases regretted the choice of the title and the book cover art. I do not regret either. Only one-third of the book is about transsexualism, per se, and only one chapter out of eleven is about nonhomosexual transsexuals, who are the most aggrieved. Both the title and the cover art refer to male femininity, in a humorous fashion. Male femininity is what the book is about.
As an aside, the title and cover art also provide a link to the first section of my book. This section focuses on feminine boys, and on the struggles faced by adults who care about them. The first chapter opens with the story of a little boy who likes to wear his mother's shoes–and to make believe he is a princess.
(If you are visiting this site because of interest in Joan Roughgarden's review of my talk at Stanford University, then you will probably begin here. In order to understand the context of the controversy, however, you'll need to look at this entire page, from the beginning.)
In her first web attack on my book, Lynn Conway urged people to "Boycott this book." She also provided a link to amazon.com and asked people to write unfavorable reviews. (She did not urge people to read the book first.) Conway's characterization of my book included several outrageous and false accusations that seem designed to dissuade people from looking at my book. Conway asked other transsexuals to "join in" the fight, and they have.
Joan Roughgarden, who is a transsexual biology professor at Stanford University, attempted to get me uninvited from giving a talk to the Stanford Psychology Department. (So much for open scientific debate.) When that attempt failed, she attended my talk and wrote an insulting and scathing review for the Stanford paper. The talk was not about transsexualism, per se, but about sexual orientation and gender nonconformity. To say that I disagree with Roughgarden's take on the lecture is an understatement, but I only want to address two points.
First, regarding the tone of the lecture, and my attitude toward gender nonconforming homosexual people: I invite anyone who is concerned to read my book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, particularly the first two sections, which are most relevant. Any reasonable person will conclude that I am very sympathetic to the plight of gender nonconforming boys, and that my research is intended to illuminate gender nonconformity as a truly fascinating phenomenon. When some in the Stanford audience giggled at some of the demonstrations in my talk (e.g., my playing the voices of gay and straight people), this was all in good humor. A gay psychologist and sex researcher, James Cantor, wrote in response to Roughgarden's screed:
"I have seen Bailey give this lecture before (at least, an earlier version of it). Again, this was the one with several openly lesbian women and gay men in the audience, including me. None of us felt at all offended. What Roughgarden describes as laughter was actually an affectionate recognition of the truth. Effeminate speech is much more common among gay men than straight men, and telling the two extremes apart is like night and day."
Second, it would not surprise me if some gay or lesbian people in the audience were uncomfortable with the talk. I have written about the discomfort that some gay men, particularly, feel about linking male homosexuality and femininity (and this link is a major idea in my book). I discuss gay men's discomfort with the idea of gay femininity in my book. The fact is, however, that this link is empirically well established and scientifically interesting. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with feminine gay men. It is the discomfort that some gay men feel with this association that is the problem, not my ideas. And I would like everyone to become more comfortable with male femininity
A presentation and book signing at A Different Light bookstore in Los Angeles was cancelled "at the request of many in the local transgendered community." I am certain that more incidents such as this will occur, and that more criticism like Roughgarden's and Conway's will be offered. So be it.
The controversy has already consumed substantial time that I could be spending on new research, teaching, and administration, and I cannot afford more time to respond to each new charge made by Conway, Roughgarden, et al. Please feel free to send an email to me, however. I am most likely to respond to comments that suggest a serious effort to understand my arguments (especially by reading my book).