Thursday, 28 August 2008

Sexuality ...

... is very confusing for me.

Several people have asked the standard, and I guess obvious, question about whether the whole dressing-as-a-woman thing means that I also take that to the, potentially, logical conclusion that I'm attracted to men in the same way as a normal woman.

The short answer, for the record is "no", which can be slightly elaborated by explaining that, in some respects gender and sexuality can be treated as separate things, e.g. this is obvious when you consider gay men or lesbian women.

The longer answer is even more complicated though and is affected by a whole load of things; general confusion, socialisation, and also a whole host of issues around diagnosis and acceptance of a TG condition. I'm not going to go into the depths of my confusion here but I did want to at least allude to the fact that it isn't an entirely clear-cut decision/choice for me and is something that causes me alot of pain and confusion. The easy choice at the moment is just to try and not think about it most of the time as clearly any decision either way is going to be tremendously complicated!

One thing that I do want to rant about is autogynephilia which, as one forum poster commented forms part of one side of the "Tranny Warz" along with it's supporters such as J Michael Bailey, Dr Anne Lawrence, and the originator of the term; Ray Blanchard. It's worth noting before launching into this theory that I have seen comments about TS (MtF) individuals feeling the need to state an attraction to men in order to justify their desire to transition. This obviously creates concern from both those wanting to get help and those supplying it.

One of the problems I personally see with autogynephilia is that it seems to be a very narrow theory; it classifies MtF TS as either homosexual or non-homosexual. There doesn't appear to be any middle ground or other options for grouping. Also it doesn't appear to even consider FtM TS individuals or for that matter take into account wider sexuality. Quite simply you are either a feminine homosexual male who wishes to undergo transition in order to fully realise the female persona they present or you have no attraction to men but instead you have an erotic and/or romantic attachment to the fantasy of you yourself being female.

The most obvious example of autogynephilic behaviour would be sexual arousal from the act of wearing female clothing or from the fantasy of having a female anatomy. The target of this fantasy always being oneself. First off the problem here is that this theory makes it sound like anyone classified in such a way is doing so because of some sexual reason - in today's society that is a hard thing to accept. It's much better to be able to state your 'problem' is one of identity and gender rather than some sort of kink or even worse, perversion.

Given the pressure I mentioned above that some TS individuals feel to state an attraction to men and essentially fit the homosexual category here it's easy to see that this theory does nothing to help ease this situation and in fact probably makes it worse.

In her article Becoming What We Love Dr Anne Lawrence tries to defend the theory and also put a more positive spin on it by emphasising the "romantic" or "love" part rather than the sexual aspects. I'm not really convinced by the arguments she puts forward, for example one of the responses from TS subjects (who presumably disagree with this theory) is that they have had these feelings from a very young age. In the article this is dismissed by presenting evidence that children as young as 4-5yrs old can express romantic attachment to members of the opposite sex that appears similar to the feelings reported by adolescents. This sounds alot like trying to twist facts to fit the theory!

Another point that really doesn't help is at the end of J Michael Baileys blog entry where he says:

"To me, the most obvious harm occurs when an autogynephilic individual becomes a husband and father and the family then dissolves when he decides to become a woman. Helping to acknowledge autogynephilia earlier in life may help to prevent more trans women from unintentionally ending up in this situation."

This is plainly offensive to those in this situation, and I would suspect that there would be a high percentage of those from the individuals that fit into the theories "autogynephilic" category. So again, not helpful in the slightest and only goes to alienate more people!

What is truly sad though is that there may be some elements of the theory that do apply and do provide benefit to some but this will be over-shadowed by the rather unsavoury aspects of the complete theory as presented. I've personally found that the more voiciferously I present an argument the more likely it is that I've got something wrong and need to back out later. It's often better to simply say what are possible explanations and then see if those that may know better agree and affectively reinforce your theory or modify it until more complete.

I think the main problem here is that those who came up with the theory are not themselves subject to it so they lack some degree of empathy towards their subjects. Anne Lawrence does have personal experience in this area and claims to identify with the theory as a way to explain her situation. However I think her article above shows that she is twisting things to make them sit better with her personal feelings - which is what everyone always does.

So, does this theory help me - no, I don't think it does, and I think, like alot of things it's down to what you feel and think yourself. As long as those caring for you listen and help based on that then there is no problem. We can all talk about what/why/wherefore in an adult way afterwards.

1 comment:

Fiona's Boots said...

I had an e-mail from Bekka regarding this blog entry and I suggested that I would like to add it as a comment. Here is Bekka's reply to that request:


If you are going to add my questions I need to clarify some things (although part of me wants to say that you shouldn't post them :) ) First I want to make it clear that I am not attacking your position, this is a very interesting subject which does not often get discussed much in my experience within the TV/TG community and I think that it should be.

Secondly my girlfriend is a psychotherapist; I am not completely sure how she does it herself but I do know there there are many people trained and working in situations like hers who have not experienced directly the conditions they are treating.

Lastly here is a link to Maslow's hierarchy of needs's_hierarchy_of_needs It is quite simple and there is plenty of evidence out there to debunk it should you want to look :)

I will write a little more when I have some time as you bring up some good points in your response.


I thought it was worth adding that to keep things fair and transparent. I would also like to say that I'm happy for any well-thought out comments, doesn't matter if they are for or against my views.

As I said, the saddest thing about the "Tranny Warz" is that 'truth' (if there is such a thing) seems to have been put on hold while everyone fights!

It's much better if everyone tries to be open-minded and objective or at the very least, civil, about any discussion/debate - if you can't agree you should at least enjoy the process of trying to counter each others theories :D

Anyway, here is my reply to Bekka's original e-mail with my responses embedded in it:

"Hi Rebekah,

Comments on your questions below:

----- Original Message ----
From: Rebekah
To: Fiona White
Sent: Friday, 29 August, 2008 2:13:40
Subject: Re: "Sexuality ... "

Hello again Fiona

I found your blog post on sexuality a very interesting read and has given me much to research and read online. I thought your post was very well written and made your point very well but I do have some questions for you about some of the things that you said (and of course this being such a personal subject feel free to tell me to 'take a hike').

First I wonder about this section: "First off the problem here is that this theory makes it sound like anyone classified in such a way is doing so because of some sexual reason - in today's society that is a hard thing to accept. It's much better to be able to state your 'problem' is one of identity and gender rather than some sort of kink or even worse, perversion." Why is a sexual reason for doing something hard to accept - in Maslow's hierarchy of needs (which of course can be debated) lists sex as being as important as breathing, does this not make it a valid motivator or what is specifically about society today that makes this difficult. What is so bad about the word perversion? If indeed there is something that is 'unusual' about the target of a person's sexual feelings, would not a sexual perversion be an ideal way to describe this? I know that phrase has other connotations but is it not better to start with the real truth that to disguise it as something else?

[Fiona] I have to admit that I'm coming at all of this from a position of personal experience and with little acedemic background in the subject so, while I'm aware of things like "hierarchy of needs" I've no idea what these my be or how they have been classified.

So the main reason why I, and others might find a sexual reason for all of this hard to accept is simply that society stigmatizes the whole subject of sex and in particular anything that wanders from acceptable 'normality'. So the difficulty isn't academic or philosophical, it's social I guess.

I guess proponents of autogynephilia (the theory not the practice ;-) ) could argue that denial of this diagnosis could in fact be a symptom as you might feel very strongly that the female persona is 'special' in some way and tarnishing your idealized image may not be acceptable to you.

However I personally don't feel I'm that complicated or ingenious as a person so I would reject such convoluted arguments on the grounds that I'm not bright enough to come up with them in my psyche nor have I suffered any great trauma that would mean I had hugely repressed my feelings or self - yes there has been alot of that to do with my TGism but it has been long acknowledged by myself, my friends, and even family that I'm quirky and even camp has been used to describe me. This has, on the whole, not stopped me being me.

Why are you so offended by J Michael Bailey's quote?

[Fiona] Mainly because he described the exact situation that I am in, I have a son, I am now seperated from his mother and it certainly is a mess. However, I think the sort of comment he made has been trotted out time and again where any new 'cure' or diagnosis has been found for many conditions, e.g. the thing that springs to mind is genetic birth defects causing physical disability - every time a method of detecting these in foetuses comes up there will be someone with that condition saying it's a bad idea.

I guess that is a natural reaction; you don't want your condition to be seen as 'bad' in some way. Also I suspect you have spent a long time trying to get acceptance and maybe even help with the symptoms you suffer and to have someone effectively dismiss this as unnecassary in future is quite a blow.

In my case I find it offensive implies that life for all concerned would have been better had I not married and had my son - I find that totally unacceptable as my son is such a wonderful little boy and the thought of a world that doesn't contain him is absolutely abhorrent to me. I honestly feel that more good can come from him learning about differences and being brought up to be tolerant that not. Equally I hope that, ultimately, all of the upheaval will eventually subside and all concerned will be stronger and be able to enjoy life as much as possible. I admit that none of this is going to be easy but it's certainly not helped when your path through life is written about in such a disparaging and negative way.

My last question is: can you explain this statement a little more "I think the main problem here is that those who came up with the theory are not themselves subject to it so they lack some degree of empathy towards their subjects." This is something that I have thought about myself a lot in the past. My own suspicion is that this is one of those things that sounds like common sense but is not actually supported in real life. I say that because my girlfriend has helped many people recover from addictions but has never actually taken drugs at any point in here life, let alone being a crack addict.

[Fiona] I could argue, and maybe provide actual evidence, that women in general have more capacity for empathy so your girlfriend may simply be miles ahead of the likes of Blanchard et al based on gender alone. This gap may also be wider because those who engage in academic study and analysis are often the sort of people who are apt to carry it out, i.e. they are methodical, analytical and often intellectual and able to view things in a detached way. This is not always a bad thing and being impartial and detached is good science in general.

However, these sort of people would either lack empathy in general or would be deliberately suppressing it to achieve objectivity. I don't think this is entirely good in this case because TGism is, as many people say, self-diagnosed and you really only know in your own head what you feel and maybe even why if you've thought about it long enough. An external observer can only interpret what you say based on their experience and feelings - and if they lack any personal versions of either of these it's going to be hard for them to understand completely as they have no real frame of reference.

I suspect it would be possible to come up with many theories to fit what evidence has been gathered, each coloured with opinion and bias. We're dealing with something that can't be broken down into a simple experiment with impartial responses measured by impartial sensors based on impartial stimulus - if we were dealing with chemical reactions it's pretty straightforward, molecules don't change their behaviour because of what they feel, nor does the thermometer register different temperature based on it's mood or social conditioning.

Going back to your girlfriend; I don't know how she is able to help addicts recover from addiction, I (thankfully) know little about people in that situation or those that help them. I can't think of a reason why someone who has not taken drugs wouldn't be able to help an addict but I suspect it would be a different approach if the person concerned had been in the same situation - it's all down the individuals concerned.

And I think that's the ultimate point: everyone is different, there may be similarities and possibly common elements in symptoms, cause, and diagnosis but I think any theory has to recognise the wide variety and not try to limit itself to exclusive grouping. Surely the wider world of gender and sexuality proves that very point, even if you are relatively conservative in what you consider (just take the currently 'acceptable' forms of sexuality and you can probably identify a minimum of 4 types; M, F, homosexual F & M. You can probably divide that a bit more by looking at butch lesbians, feminine men, etc).

Another thing I should have commented on was the attempt to use Blanchards theory to explain the rise in SRS. I think (need to check this) that they suggested that this rise was mainly due to "non-homosexual" MtF TS patients. I don't think there is enough data to support that, particularly when you bear in mind the background changes such as more awareness of this from TV shows as well as the internet, both of which could easily play a part. Fitting these extra people into the "non-homosexual" category I think is wrong and ignores other evidence.

I look forward to any insight that you can give me and keep up the interesting posts.

[ Fiona] I think I'll add your questions and reply to the blog if you are okay with that (removing names/e-mail etc).