A critique of J. Michael Bailey's "The Man who would be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism" includes a precise parsing of the way the term "autogynephilia" is used sometimes as a description and sometimes as a theoretical construct. Several months later, Ray Blanchard acknowledged that he and others use "autogynephilia" with different meaning like this. Unfortunately, he has not acknowledged my central concern. Advocates cite 'all this evidence' when they speak of autogynpheilia descriptively but they then equivocate this into evidence for Blanchard's theory.

This is page 4 of 9.          [1]   [2]   [3]   [4]   [5]   [6]   [7]   [8]   [9]  

Just what is "Autogynephilia" Anyway?

Transsexuals who feel autogynephilia is an important aspect of who they are have come together since the publication of J. Michael Bailey's book, "The Man who would be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism." They did this, in part, to feel a sense of belonging when the larger transgender community became critical of Bailey. Soon afterward, some self-described 'autogynephiles' started mimicking Bailey's characterization of more conventional transsexuals as liars. I can appreciate how hurt some transsexuals feel by Bailey's characterization of us. I can appreciate how hurt self-described 'autogynephiles' are by what they perceive as having their feelings dismissed. Nevertheless, I hope both groups will step back and try to see themselves and each other without letting Bailey's perspective interfere. I have had the opportunity to talk with transsexuals on both sides of this debate. The most fascinating thing I have discovered is how few the points of disagreement really are. It all comes down to one question. Just what is "autogynephilia" anyway?

Defining "autogynephilia" is more than giving a definition. Its giving the word a place in your perspective on transsexuality. It's how you use a word that counts. There are two broads ways I find researchers and transsexuals use the word "autogynephilia": as a "phenomenon" and as a "theoretical construct." Both Bailey and Blanchard equivocate between these two definitions. I feel this is why transsexuals are so divided over this issue. We each see only the definition that we feel more strongly about and we have plenty of evidence from experts to support our views.

Autogynephilia as a Phenomenon

"Autogynephilia" can be thought of as a "phenomenon", which is just a fancy way of saying "a thing that happens." When a male-to-female transsexual has a sexual fantasy about being a woman, this definition says she expressed autogynephilia. Having a word for her fantasy means more than you might realize. A lot of the way male-to-female transsexuality has been thought about comes from a 1950's notion of a womanhood - something even most women of the 1950's could not attain. This notion of transsexuality invoked a sexual purity, that was all the more emphasized when transsexuals were contrasted with cross-dressers (i.e., "transvestic fetishist") by psychopathologists. It became part of the dogma behind the transsexual diagnosis. Many transsexuals worried that if they revealed any sexuality, they would be denied surgery or hormones. In the 1980's Blanchard conducted several studies that showed that transsexuals have a sexuality. In particular, he found that transsexuals have sexual fantasies about the women they hope to be.

If you know nothing about autogynephilia and the history of transsexuality, you probably don't see any big deal here. Wouldn't you hope transsexual women have a deep longing, including sexually, to be the women of their dreams? Yet given the history, it's hard to under-estimate just how much of a relief Blanchard's findings can be. This was especially true for transsexuals who felt sexuality was so central to their lives. Many transsexuals who hid their sexuality for fear they were the "only one" and not "real transsexuals" finally felt relief. Anne Lawrence is one transsexual women who was so moved by learning of Blanchard's work that she wrote about it extensively and even returned to graduate school to study human sexuality. A great deal of Anne Lawrence's work on autogynephilia is about building further support for autogynephilia-as-phenomenon. For example, she collected dozens of narratives (available on her web-site). For more systematic data about the phenomenon, look at Blanchard's key study for establishing his theory (Blanchard, 1989). I estimate that 93% of the 'non-homosexual' transsexuals and 65% of 'homosexual' transsexuals acknowledged autogynephilia. [1] The overwhelming body of evidence collected to date suggests that autogynephilia-as-phenomenon is common.

Autogynephilia as a Theoretical Construct

"Autogynephilia" can be thought of as a "theoretical construct", which is just a fancy way of saying it's an "idea that has meaning from its role in an overarching model of how something works." In this case, the theory is Blanchard's mis-directed sex-drive model of transsexuality. According to Blanchard there are two 'legitimate' sex drives: heterosexuality and homosexuality. A deviance in each causes gender dysphoria, and in extreme cases ultimately causes transsexuality. The deviant form of heterosexuality is called "autogynephilia."

Many transsexuals are very upset with being portrayed as sexual deviants. I can understand why though I was never particularly bothered by Blanchard's model because I do not feel that the underlying cause of gender dysphoria matters so much in understanding who we are. J. Michael Bailey not only endorses Ray Blanchard's theory, but he takes it to an extreme of simplicity. Whereas Blanchard's model suggests the following three step sequence:

Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Gender Dysphoria -> Transsexuality

Bailey suggests only the following two steps:

Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Transsexuality

Bailey ignores how uncomfortable we feel being perceived as members of our biological sex (i.e., gender dysphoria). Instead, he turns all of our gendered feelings into something directly caused by (if not simply equivalent to) our sexuality. [2] When I reflect on what it means to be a transsexual, I feel something very different from Bailey's portrayal of us. [3] It upsets me that: (a) he over-simplifies Blanchard's model in a way that trivializes my feelings of uncomfortableness, (b) he claims we lie when we fail to endorse his beliefs about us, and (c) he calls psychologists like me "ignorant" and "shallow" for not sharing his feeling that sexuality is so central to transsexual experience. [4]

Since about 1999 I have written about the lack of scientific support for Blanchard's model. Here is a brief list of some crucial methodological flaws and over-interpretation of evidence I discuss in my most recent Scientific Critique of Blanchard's Mis-Directed Sex-Drive Model of Transsexuality: (1) Participants were selected for their feelings of being women instead of for their discomfort with being men. Blanchard tends to beg the question about a link between fantasy and gender dysphoria when he operationally defines "gender dysphoria" as desire to be the other sex rather than dislike of being one's biological sex. (2) The sexual orientations of MtF transsexuals do not form clusters consistent with two categorically distinct types of transsexuals. (3) There are no control groups. (4) Correlations do not imply causality. (5) The findings may simply be an artifact of age. Furthermore, Blanchard's key finding supporting his model has never been replicated. It was produced over a decade ago. Bailey neither addresses these issues nor does he explicitly acknowledge them.

Why has Defining Autogynephilia been so Complicated?

Part of the problem with distinguishing autogynephilia-as-phenomenon and autogynephilia-as-theoretical-construct has been the word "autogynephilia" itself. This is because the word has the theory embedded into it. Consider how the Greek suffix "philia", meaning "affectionate regard for", has been used in the past within the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry: as a direction of sexual arousal. A "paraphilia" is a direction of sexual arousal to an "other" target. Consider how paraphilia are named. "Necrophilia" uses the Greek prefix "nekro" which means "dead"; consequently necrophilia means a sexual arousal directed at death. Now take the term "autogynephilia": "auto" means "self" and the root "gune" means "female." From its very structure, "autogynephilia" means a sexual arousal directed toward the self as a woman. If transsexuality is not a paraphilia and, for example, those fantasies are a compensation-mechanism for dealing with gender dysphoria, then the term "autogynephilia" is misleading. The word's structure makes it more than a phenomenon. The term is theoretical because it conveys Ray Blanchard's theoretical claim that "autogynephilia" is a mis-directed sex-drive.

Most often, J. Michael Bailey emphasizes autogynephilia as a theoretical construct. He endorses the theoretical meaning when he, for example: (a) discusses types of transsexuals, (b) treats transsexuality as a sexual deviance, and (c) characterizes autogynephilia as underlying transsexuality rather than as a consequence of gender dysphoria. There is one notable occasion when Bailey emphasizes autogynephilia as a phenomenon: when asked for evidence. Consider the following example from his web page about the controversy:

Even if autogynephilic transsexuals exist, aren't they rare?

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 ...

The question in Bailey's FAQ is about a type of transsexual rather than a type of fantasy, so he is answering a question about autogynephilia-as-theoretical-construct. He begins his answer by discussing autogynephilia as a motivator of transexuality. That is, he summarizes his answer while using the theoretical construct, but also note how he simplifies Blanchard's model. More importantly, look at what evidence he gives as "every indication" for the truth of his belief. It's all about the occurrence of a type of fantasy, it's autogynephilia-as-phenomenon. In short, though Bailey cites extensive evidence that transsexual women have fantasies about the women they hope to become, he does not provide any evidence for the existence of autogynephilic transsexuals.


Scientific writing can be very dull. One reason for this is that we always try to be as precise as we can in our use of words. There are two reason for this. First, the way we define our terms can often have consequences for the results of our studies. Second, making good scientific theories requires solid logical thinking. Ambiguous definitions are an easy way to make logical fallacies. One of the more common informal logical fallacies of ambiguity is called, "equivocation." It's when you flip back-and-forth between different meanings of a word using whichever happens to be best for your overarching argument at the time (e.g., Copi, 1972). Michael Bailey equivocates on his definition of autogynephilia. It's unlikely that he is purposely trying to mislead you. Logical fallacies are, by their nature, things we can very easily find ourselves making. It takes effort not to make fallacious arguments. This is precisely why good science requires we precisely use language. Most scientists write precisely because we feel advancing our understanding is more important than writing in a provocative way.

Footnote 1: Blanchard (1989) reports the means and standard deviations for "core autogynephilia" in four sexual-orientation groups of transsexuals. I assumed scores on the "core autogynephilia" scale were normally distributed (bell curve shaped). This assumption was also made by Blanchard when he chose to conduct ANOVA without transforming his data first. My estimates are the area under the normal curve for a score of 1 or greater. The summary score for "non-homosexual" transsexuals is an average of the three groups weighted for the number of participants in each group. Also, please note that throughout this critique I always put the labels 'homosexual', 'heterosexual', and 'non-homosexual' in single quotations. This is to denote Blanchard's original use of these labels. I do not endorse, for example, calling transsexual women who are exclusively attracted to men "homosexual." I did not rewrite his labels more sensitively because that would add confusion when I directly quote Blanchard and Bailey.

Footnote 2: For example, consider Bailey's point "a" on his web-site about Blanchard's model: "There are two different aspects to gender dysphoria: discomfort with one's sex of birth, and yearning to be the other sex. ... The second aspect is more striking in males with a condition called "autogynephilia."" Notice how he redefines "gender dysphoria" into two types, the second of which has little dysphoria (i.e., discomfort).

Footnote 3: In the linked essay I discuss my feelings about being a transsexual. In short, I personally feel transsexuality is a combination of feeling uncomfortable with being perceived as our biological sex and finding comfort in being perceived as our target sex.

Footnote 4: I elaborate on points (b) and (c) in the next several essays of this critique.

This is page 4 of 9.          [1]   [2]   [3]   [4]   [5]   [6]   [7]   [8]   [9]