Autogynephilia a.k.a. How White Cis-men Academicians Have Appropriated The Trans Experience

TW: academic transphobia

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, one particular white cis man decided to learn and write about trans women, what the reason is for someone to be trans (according to his own cis-lens), and why they transition. This man was Ray Blanchard. He proposed what is popularly known as ‘Blanchard’s transsexualism typology’ today. In this, he focused only on trans women, that is individuals who are assigned male at birth, and later transition and identify as a woman. As one would expect from a guy like Blanchard, his theory is not a wholesome understanding of gender that goes beyond the binary. He talked about two categories of trans women- transsexual homosexuals and autogynephilic transexuals.

According to him, transexual homosexuals are basically gay men who transition because it’s societally acceptable for a woman to lust after a man, and it’s easier to find men and be in a heterosexual relationship. Autogynephilic transexuals are men who identify as straight, bi or ace men, who are sexually aroused by the thought of having a female body, and so, they decide to undergo medical and social transition. As we can see, Blanchard focused more on the psychosexual aspect of one’s identity that motivates them to transition. ContraPoints, a channel on YouTube run by a trans woman, has a great video explaining autogynephilia and debunking it. A Case against Autogynephilia, by Julia M Serano, is also another academic paper that does exactly as the title suggests.

Personally, I think Blanchard’s theory is full of crap. He fails to capture the myriad nuanced experiences that come with gender itself, and with being a trans individual. Blanchard also only focused on trans women and not trans men or non-binary or genderqueer individuals. This theory is not transphobic, it is also homophobic and femphobic. Blanchard’s theory is centred around a cishet white male perspective, which regards gender only in terms of the male/female binary, and also in terms of perverted sex paraphilia. It fetishizes and paints trans women as particularly and inherently narcissistic.

The theory disregards the social imposition of gender on one’s identity and is ignorant of the trauma that comes with being forced to present oneself as a particular gender because the environment is extremely rigid and normative. It reduces the trans experience to a mere sexual fantasy, and in some ways, reinforces Freud’s problematic idea that all AFABs want a penis (‘penis envy’).

When trans people refused to accept this theory, ContraPoints explains that a lot of (cishet) academicians and sexologists supported Blanchard and his theory by basically saying that trans women are lying about their experiences. Blanchard’s theory was popularised by Michael Bailey who wrote the book The Man Who Would be Queen (2003). (Sighhh!) ContraPoints read excerpts from this book in their video, and to me, Bailey’s language seemingly exhibits desire towards trans women, but at the same time discredits the validity of their individual lived experience.

Transitioning isn’t just about sex or sexuality. Trans people are individuals who are actively dissenting against the rigid and unsubstantiated gender binary and gender norms. People lose families and friends because of their self-determined identity. They experience mental health issues, they are discriminated against in political, economic, and social spheres; and yet, all these experiences are so easily disregarded by cishet men, who have the privilege to embody the field of “science”, and thus influence various medical, political, and academic beliefs.

Theories by people like Blanchard and Bailey who claim to understand comprehensively about transexual and transgender experiences aren’t really consulting trans people about it. Trans people aren’t given a space in such conversations about their own identity, which reflects in serious repercussions like the Trans Bill in India, or trans women not being allowed to be a part of women’s sports. To a certain extent, it’s also telling, that trans men and genderqueer or gender fluid people are left out of these conversations entirely.

Blanchard’s story and his work is a lesson for all young academicians and researchers who use lived experiences alien to them to gain academic credits and social clout. Trying to score woke points by speaking eloquently and high-handedly about somebody else’s experiences is deeply disrespectful and uses privilege in a deceitful way. To put the spotlight like this on an experience that is not relatable for you is neither innovation nor intellectual curiosity. If you must, turn the lens inward and reflect on your own experiences of gender and how you have internalised (or haven’t) binary notions.

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Her pronouns are she/they, but please don't ignore the 'they'. She loves books, music, art, handwritten letters and painting their nails. They believe it's important to critique what one loves, not to stop loving it, but to get a more wholesome picture of it.

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