Sexual arousal and gender dysphoria

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A recent article on Crossdreamers by Joanna Santos discussed the issue about arousal when dealing with gender dysphoria, explaining how sexual orientation was so erroneously interpreted by Blanchard’s very misguided theory, and how the newer generations of transgendered people view their identity, their gender presentation, their sexual preferences and their gender role in today’s society, which is so different — but much more naturally assumed — than what the ‘old school’ used to think about.

I had a lot to comment on this subject, but unfortunately, as it so often happens to me, the commenting space was too brief for expounding all my thoughts! So, instead, I wrote a whole article here, and just posted a link there 🙂

Gender identity is not about arousal

I’m particularly fond of discussing the issue that ‘gender identity is not about arousal’, which Joanna states in her article. Recently, in my country, a discussion has started about allowing anyone to legally define their gender identity independently of any medical opinion on the subject. We were a bit revolutionary in 2011 by establishing a very liberal law that turned the legal gender change as a simple bureaucratic procedure, but one of the requirements was still ‘having a diagnosis of gender identity disorder’ — because associated with the legal change of gender, there was (free) medical care associated with the transition procedures and the change. As such, a medical opinion was a requirement. In 2012, the DSM-5 changed the nomenclature (‘gender identity disorder’ became ‘gender dysphoria’), a new debate started, and what was a revolutionary law in 2011 is now outdated in 2015. A few liberal groups are now trying to update the law to reflect the current understandings on gender identity and presentation, but it will be a few years until that draws to a conclusion.

Part of the debate comes exactly from the ‘arousal’ issue. I’ve learned that a low libido in regular crossdressers may be a symptom of gender dysphoria, but certainly that is not universal. By contrast, hypersexuality might exclude people from transition (at least in my country), since it is usually a sign of transvestite fetishism, and not gender dysphoria. Putting it in other words: since a legal gender change still requires a medical report in my country, this means that how much you’re aroused plays a role in the diagnosis!

I can only give myself as an example. I’m not in transition and probably will never be; however, I’m suffering a major atypical depression (not the more usual melancholic depression) closely related to what I perceive to be gender dysphoria. My libido has always been low and I can trace it back to my teens, when I was unable to get any girlfriend and, as a consequence, assumed that I was too ugly and repulsive, and that sex would never be something I’d had (I actually lost my virginity only at 27!). As a result, I pretty much lost all interest in sex. I don’t consider myself asexual, though.

When crossdressing, evidently I got sexually aroused, and it was usual that I’d masturbate to my female self-image — it was easier to do that when dressed, but even when just imagining myself as a woman, it was usually pretty easy to get aroused and successfully masturbate. Nevertheless, I never dressed because it aroused me sexually; the excitement, the adrenaline, the serotonin comes mostly from a feeling that being a woman is something I enjoy far more than having to drag this male body and personality along.

Now that I’m on antidepressant medication, as well as on anxiolytics, the sexual drive dropped almost instantly to zero. After just 2 or 3 days on medication, I was simply unable to masturbate any more. What used to be something that I did 2-3 times per week was reduced to one single time in about 6 weeks, and that required a lot of effort — too much, indeed, for me to bother. The truth is that my interest in anything sexual dropped so low as to become inexistent; but, more important than that, I really don’t bother much with it any more, and, in a sense, it’s almost a relief.

Now I’m not taking hormones, and probably never will (I’ll let the doctors discuss that with me in the future, during my therapy; it’s too early to seriously consider it). My testosterone levels are very likely normal for my age, but the truth is that they fail to provoke any arousal to the level that would be normal for a male at my age. Similarly, the aggression/irritation levels produced by testosterone are dramatically reduced by the anxiolytics to very low levels. So, although I’m not taking female hormones, nor reducing the amount of male hormones, I’m experiencing a little taste of what it feels to have your brain less flooded with male hormones triggering compulsive sexual desires and aggressivity.

If my gender questioning (I’ll avoid the word dysphoria for a bit, since that actually requires a diagnosis which I don’t officially have yet) was limited to sexual arousal — what I would call transvestite fetishism, to be consistent with the DSM-5 — then the further reduction in my libido should make crossdressing uninteresting. Indeed, it would be a strong case to show a cause/effect relationship between depression and crossdressing: depression is most often caused by an abnormally low flow of serotonin towards the brain, so, to counter that, I would crossdress to increase serotonin levels. As the depression gets ‘cured’ by drugs artificially increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, then other serotonin-raising activities would be unnecessary. In fact, many people who believe they have some sort of gender dysphoria, but start getting treated for depression, suddenly realise that their crossdressing urges simply disappear.

My case is evidently the total opposite. Not only the crossdressing urges have not gone away, but they have increased at all levels. This is also tied to the total reversal of my wife’s restrictions on my crossdressing: she now allows me to go out with my friends, and I’ve even picked her up at the university and elsewhere fully crossdressed, even in broad daylight. So, while I’m certainly not yet a woman in full time, nor even part time, I have certainly gone far beyond my usual ‘closet’ crossdressing at home. And there have been a lot of completely new experiences for me, like interacting with absolutely normal people (outside the ‘crossdressing ghetto’ of similarly-minded fellow crossdressers), some of which have most definitely treated me as a woman, even if I don’t really ‘pass’ that well.

So although my libido has been drastically reduced, to the point that I could almost claim to be asexual (but not quite), the desire to manifest my inner self-image as a female, and present myself physically in public as a woman, has increased by several orders of magnitude. It is more exciting than ever, but also much more relaxing to be able to shed the male role I so much hate for a few hours, and just let myself be like I want to be. This, of course, also increases the serotonin levels, and I believe it contributes positively to help to fight depression — even though, in such a short period, I don’t really see many effects.

However, something most definitely didn’t change. I still get very much excited (but not necessarily in the sexual sense) by presenting myself as a woman. I’m not ashamed to admit that I feel sexy, while as a male, I feel like a monster that scares people off. I love to flirt, and I do that far more when presenting as a woman than in my male role — even though I have no intention and no desire to go further (after all, I’m very happily married, and since sexual activity lost all the appeal for me, I see it as a pointless pursuit). All those feelings have not changed. In fact, if anything, they have but increased. I’ve already talked to my therapist telling her that thinking about presenting myself as a woman has become literally obsessive. This started even before depression, of course, and it increased dramatically once my wife reverted her decision on the restraints and limitations she imposed. I cannot say if it’s ‘better’, or if it is actually good for me, in terms of fighting depression. But it’s something I cannot avoid. Being a woman is something that I crave even more every day, and it’s with difficulty that I self-restrain myself from crossdressing more and more. It has become my only goal in life, the only thing that I pursue obsessively, and everything else pretty much lost all appeal. This, of course, is completely consistent with the diagnosis of atypical depression. But it’s not necessarily a sign of gender dysphoria.

While the chemical mechanisms are completely different from hormone therapy, I nevertheless see some similarities with some reports of people under transition. Anxiety/irritation/aggressivity are triggered by male hormones (and yes, of course women have those as well, and get anxious/irritated/aggressive just as males), and, by blocking male hormone production, transexuals under HRT report almost uniformly a sense of well-being, of calmness, of reduction of their anxiety levels. Similarly, their libido levels decrease (since less testosterone is active in their bodies), which actually might be experienced as ‘strange’ at the beginning, but there rarely is any ‘regret’. In fact, from what I’ve read, most report that it is like a huge burden has been dropped — there is one less thing to worry about, and that, in turn, lowers the anxiety levels. In many cases I’ve met, transexuals in transition might even not take female hormones for a while, but limit themselves to reduce the testosterone levels in their organism, and this already provides them with much needed relief. Of course, to get the benefits of female hormones — namely in re-shaping the body — taking feminine hormones is the next step. But it’s pointless to do so without blocking testosterone first, since the (male) organism converts female hormones into male hormones. Those male hormones need to be blocked first.

On later stages, of course, as the body smoothly changes appearance by reacting to female hormones, and as transition draws to a close, the libido might rise again, just as before — since obviously female hormones trigger the libido as well!

So the whole point here is that basing a diagnosis on how much sexual arousal plays a role in transgenderity, especially from a clinical point of view, is not necessarily correct — and such theories that were based on sexual preferences, like the ones so misguidedly proposed by Blanchard, must definitely be wrong, or at least very incomplete. It’s true that one way to distinguish gender dysphoria from, say, transvestite fetishism, is to analyse the degree of sexual arousal. For all purposes, almost all fetichist crossdressers are hypersexual (in the clinical term), irrespectively of their age and their ability to perform sexually (they will still feel the urge and the craving for sexual activity, even if their body is not up to it). Gender dysphoria, by contrast, is not necessarily linked to sexual arousal. It might trigger sexual arousal, and sometimes crossdressing is the only way to trigger any kind of sexual arousal, but it is not necessarily the only reason for gender dysphoria.

This has three implications, of course. The first is that doctors evaluating gender dysphoria have to be careful not to get ‘lost’ in obscure Freudian explanations regarding the role of sex in a transgendered individual. The newer generations of crossdreamers are showing exactly that; they have a much more fluid ability to present the gender they identify with (or the binary gender they reject), and not everything is tied to sex, rather the contrary.

The second implication is for the community. In many crossdressing communities, for instance, it’s hard to judge from external presentation what exactly drives a particular individual to crossdress. As Joanna Santos so well pointed out, most drag queens identify themselves with the male gender and have no intention to ‘switch’ their identification with the female one. However, drag queens may very well be homosexual or bisexual, without losing, however, their strong identification with the male gender, no matter how they present themselves. The vast majority of the non-fetishist crossdressers have their identity strongly rooted in the male gender, no matter how they present themselves publicly; most are heterosexual, often bi-curious, and sometimes openly bisexual; many, however, don’t feel any sexual urges or desires while crossdressed. They have found a balance between both genders. As such, they expect members of their community to have similar sexual orientations. And all fetishist crossdressers, almost without exception, are even more strongly rooted in their male gender, but, for them, crossdressing is all about sex. They are also almost always bisexual, even if they don’t label themselves as such: while crossdressed, they almost exclusively desire male partners, but once they drop their female attire, they wish female partners. This is so natural for them that they have a huge difficulty understanding how non-fetishist crossdresser can think differently.

And the third implication is legal. We have abandoned several restrictions for transition that implied a certain ‘stereotyped transexual’. A MtF transexual was supposed to be only allowed to transition if they wished to fully become a woman, through surgery and hormone therapy, and was strongly attracted to male sexual partners; the reverse, of course, would apply to FtM transexuals. In that case, FtM transexuals were also often required to be sterilized. In both cases, transexuals were forced to divorce before finishing their transition.

These days, in most modern countries, especially those which also have same-sex marriage, almost all those restrictions were lifted, because they were so limiting that many transexuals desiring transition had to routinely lie about themselves in order to get the proper authorizations for transition. It’s a sad chapter in the history of transexuality to know that there were even several websites offering tutorials for transexuals on ‘how to lie to your doctor to get your transition’. Several academic papers (and even books) were written on the subject, and it was clear that the legal requirements were absurd — people would just avoid the restrictions by thoroughly lying about themselves.

I’m obviously not an expert in international law, so I can only give my own country’s laws as an example. Transition is based on the psychological and psychiatric evaluation of the subject, and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a requirement. The name change has to reflect an officially recognized name of the opposite gender than the one assigned at birth. Beyond that, nothing else is a requirement: surgery or hormones are optional; genitals and secondary sexual characteristics are definitely not part of gender identity and the law recognizes that very clearly; and neither sexual orientation, nor sexual preferences, nor marriage are obstacles for transition (but if someone is married, the partner has to give their consent to the transition). Especially not marriage, since same-sex marriages are perfectly legal in my country.

There is, of course, still something missing. The next debate will be around the need for a clinical evaluation of gender dysphoria. Ultimately, the goal is to allow people to fully identify with whatever gender they desire (or even none at all), without the requirement to get a medical evaluation of their condition. The medical evaluation might be still necessary if the transition requires surgery and hormone replacement therapy, since both are financed by the state and free for the transexual, and, as such, it’s desirable to have a medical opinion — since taxpayer’s money is used to provide those surgeries and hormones.

So we have gone truly a long way, separating the several aspects of ‘gender’. At least at a high-level debate, it seems possible to do that separation. Legislation is often enacted at this level. However, society as such is still light-years away from reality: we transgendered people are still seen as sexual perverts by most transphobes. The irony, in my case, is to be labeled as a sexual pervert when I have zero libido, and, therefore, zero interest in sex…

  • wxhluyp .

    The relationship between lust & emotional attachment

    http://thirdwaytrans.com/2015/03/10/on-agp/

    The relationship between the fetish and potential existing transgender/homosexual psychological affiliations

    http://wxhluyp.tumblr.com/image/101114721119

    “Since sublimated or actual sexual feelings for feminization start very early, people with these feelings have had a “self-relationship” for some years by the time they start acting on those feelings in a serious way. People can go through great, even crippling, grief and pain when they break up after many years together. The analogy holds if an autogynephilic person, who has been in a “self-relationship” since an early age, feels that the “relationship” is no longer viable (perhaps due to ageing or life situations). So cross-gender identity or fantasy can be extremely important to transvestites and autogynephiles.” -Chapter 7

    http://www.oocities.org/transsexual_analysis/transsexual11.html

    • Lots of very interesting thoughts on those articles, @wxhluyp:disqus — I have to take a deep look at them. Thank you!

    • BTW, who is the author or authors of that online book, ‘Transsexual Analysis’?

  • Joanna Santos

    Thanks Sandra for this great analysis and feedback on my article. We are so similar you and I in that I have always had a low libido and my desire for sex (especially now in my fifties) is at an all time low. Yet my identification to my femaleness (for lack of a better term) has increased over time and now I live part time as a woman with no intention of transitioning. I will not take hormones either as I pass without them.
    There is clearly something rooted in our biology that makes us this way. You can call it a predisposition or a faulty mix of hormones but in the end it does not matter. What does matter is that we are here to stay and need to be recognized as a reality. We are no longer hidden in the shadows or marginalised as deviants or perverts. Some of us are transitioning later in life like Bruce Jenner and society can no longer afford to ignore us.
    You have very well pointed out the differences between the fetish and non fetish dressers and the drag queens and how each views their gender non conformity. I am a student of Harry Benjamin and Anne Vitale so I see this all as being part of a spectrum of sexuality and gender identity that takes us away from a perfect binary model. Its just that most people are able to stay within an acceptable range of variance or simply keep it in the shadows by dressing at home or in clubs.
    For those of us who are very out and visual it becomes something different and we must be dealt with. This is where the next challenge lies for society after homosexuality and it cant come soon enough!
    Joanna
    Joanna

    • Thank you for your comments, @joanna_santos:disqus 🙂 Although I still have to catch up with the vast literature in the field (I definitely have to read Benjamin & Vitale!), it seems to me that the mainstream perception is focusing more on the continuum, on the spectrum, and less on trying to figure out the ‘aberrant behaviour’ that does not confirm with the gender binary. And I agree, that is a huge challenge for almost all our societies, which have solidified and crystallized around the gender binary model.

      While I’m fine with the many possible degrees of gender identity, and can envision a society where the gender roles are blurred, to be honest I’m actually quite conservative and attached to the notion of a binary gender. I just happen to dislike the one I have been assigned to at birth! 🙂

    • wxhluyp .

      “Yet my identification to my femaleness (for lack of a better term)”

      That which you associate as feminine, being utilized in how your relate yourself.

      http://thirdwaytrans.com/2015/04/06/the-problem-of-extrapolating-the-idea-of-innate-gender-identity-from-mtf-folk-to-ftm-folk/comment-page-1/#comment-1339

      “has increased over time”

      Emotional attachment has increased over time.

      “There is clearly something rooted in our biology that makes us this way.”

      There is clearly something rooted in biology that makes us develop emotional attachments. Yes, the “emotional” mediating component to an attachment, in the case of the fetish in question, the historical driving force will generally be sexual.

      http://thirdwaytrans.com/2015/03/10/on-agp/comment-page-1/#comment-1338

      • Interestingly in my case, it is not sexual at all, but certainly emotional. I’ve read those articles you’ve posted, and the major thing I generally disagree with ThirdWayTrans is the excessively Freudian interpretation of gender identity. There is nothing wrong in still applying Freud to explaining psychological issues, but one ought to consider that there are good reasons why, after a century, we have developed more extensive theories with better explanation power than Freud’s. Put in other words: Freud can point us in the right direction, but there are alternative explanations that cover more cases.

        • wxhluyp .

          Hi Sandra.

          “Interestingly in my case, it is not sexual at all”

          The discourse which myself, Joanna Santos, ThirdWayTrans, autogynephilia & crossdreamers are all a apart of, is regarding the fetish and gender issues in the context of the fetish. For which, if you are not subject to the sexual fantasies, then none of the before mentioned people & theory will have any relevance to you.

          “I generally disagree with ThirdWayTrans is the excessively Freudian interpretation of gender identity.”

          As stated above, ThirdWayTrans doesn’t set out to represent trans issues in all it’s forms, but rather transgender & dysphoric psychology in the context of emasculation trauma & it’s imprinted sexualization in the masochistic emasculation fetish. In addition, his interpretation is not Freudian.

          What we can deduce about the commonly affiliated gender issues in addition to the fetish, is based in the prerequisite question of what the fetishism actually is, meaning how the sexual fantasies must function in order for sexual arousal to be achieved, thus disclosing the semiotic structure of the erotic imprint, and in turn the possible etiological conditions disclosed in the imprint. A masochistic emasculation fetishist with gender issues in addition, can speculate whether gender issues figured among the emasculation anxieties (trauma) prior to it’s sexualization, otherwise whether traumatic schemas figured, or the usual emotional internalization of the fetishism.

          • All right, that definitely makes sense to me: you (that’s a collective ‘you’) are mostly interested in one of the aspects of gender issues only, and the one specifically tied to fetish. That’s fine; I thought (perhaps from not having read enough on the TWT blog) that you (another collective ‘you’) were providing an explanation for all forms of gender issues, much in the line of the earlier work of Blanchard/Lawrence, who incorrectly assumed a single causation for gender identity issues.

            In order for me to learn more and understand your explanation better, can you explain to me, in lay terms, why TWT’s interpretation is not Freudian? From the perspective of a lay person (I definitely cannot claim to have read Freud/Jung and their followers in their entirety!), many of the assumptions TWT makes are very recognizable as being, at least, inspired on Freudian thought. How exactly do they depart from Freudian thought? I’m asking this not as a form of criticism — as said, Freud/Jung provide very good starting points for analysing anything related to sexual issues — but as a personal encouragement to keep up with the theory behind TWT and read more about the subject in order to understand it better.

          • wxhluyp .

            “I thought (perhaps from not having read enough on the TWT blog) that you (another collective ‘you’) were providing an explanation for all forms of gender issues”

            Autogynephilia theory was good for two things, raising consciousness about a particular fetish and the emotional internalization of fetishism, but all most all the details of how it went about this were quite off the mark. For instance, it attempted to provide an explanation for all gender issues generally by reducing them to sexual motivations. Crossdreaming can be seen as a direct reaction to autogynephilia, where trans/gender dysphoric fetishists politically desire to propagate an understanding of the fetish, only in so far as transgenderism can be affirmed.

            “can you explain to me, in lay terms, why TWT’s interpretation is not Freudian?”

            Our understanding is anti-reductionist. Where psychological schemas, trauma & sexual conditioning can historically influence one’s being, one’s being is not necessarily constrained by and reducible back to the influences.

          • Ah, I think that the picture you’re presenting is getting more clearer in my mind. There is a line of thought that starts with Blanchard/Bailey/Lawrence and posits the following theory & explanation: some people exhibit certain characteristics that we can label as being a fetish, and we will define those characteristics under the umbrella name of ‘autogynephilia’. Now, over time (a bit over two decades or so), researchers (and the community) have pointed out several flaws with this approach. So we take a look at the theory again, and start tinkering with it so that it fits the observed evidence better. Over time, with successive revisions, we (and this ‘we’ means the followers of BBL) will get closer and closer to the ‘ultimate truth’ of the description of that fetish, by incorporating more information and better explanations.

            And because ‘we’ use an anti-reductionist approach, we’re fine if we cannot explain ‘everything’. In most cases, ‘we’ can discard contradictory evidence simply because ‘we’ are aware that most people are simply lying about their fetish. In some other cases, ‘our’ theory does not provide sufficient explanatory power, but that’s ok, since ‘we’ are not aiming for the ‘ultimate explanation’ but just a working explanation which ‘we’ can always improve later.

            Now, putting this into context and perspective, the on-going approach of refining and improving the theory is good scientific practice, and obviously I cannot disagree with the anti-reductionist approach. My issue is just with the assumption that everything related to gender dysphoria is necessarily ‘a fetish’ and, by consequence, ‘related to trauma & sexual conditioning’ — even if there is overwhelming contradictory evidence to the effect it can still be deemed acceptable under an expanded anti-reductionist view of the issue.

            From my point of view, however, there is a limit to how much a theory ought to be ‘stretched’ to be made to fit contrary evidence; in essence, what I’m saying is that if there is way too much data that doesn’t fit the predictive abilities of the theory, then the theory ought to be dropped, and an alternative theory that better fits the facts should be proposed. Otherwise, it’s just pure stubbornness embedded in the fallacies of authority and history (‘because someone very clever said this 25 years ago, it’s still valid — no matter what the evidence says, we can always fit it into the theory’).

            I’m not really saying that Molay’s ‘crossdreaming’ is the ‘ultimate theory’ which fits all the facts and all the evidence. What I’m defending is that reducing the whole spectrum of gender identity issues to merely a fetish (one that has been brought into existence due to trauma & sexual conditioning) is quite narrow-minded — especially if the excuse for admitting the existence of gender identity issues that are not related to fetishes is to claim that ‘exceptions to the rule are welcome under our understanding of the model’. The theory of crossdreaming, while certainly having weaknesses, at least doesn’t propose a single cause for eventual gender identity issues, it just describes the issue and provides a context for it. It certainly allows fetishism, trauma, abuse, and other similar explanations to describe the issue, but it doesn’t limit itself to such explanations.

            There is also a problem I have with the original BBL proposition, i.e. that transexuality has two types, one that is ‘acceptable’ (so-called homosexual transexuals, using Blanchard’s theory) and the other one which is a ‘fetish’ (autogynephiliac transexuals). My issue here is that AGP is seen as ‘just a fetish’, while so-called ‘homosexual transexuals’ are not. The problem is that this voids the meaning of the word ‘fetish’ and pretty much empties it of significance: one might simply arbitrarily point to whatever sexual behaviour is unwelcome to the observer and label it as a fetish, and try to figure out ‘trauma & abuse’ to explain it. Thus, a male heterosexual observer might label male homosexuality as a ‘fetish’ (because he abhors it) but find female homosexuality attractive and label it as ‘acceptable’ (Bailey, for instance, has been quoted to believe that ‘male bisexuality doesn’t exist’, just because he happens to dislike male bisexuality but is fine with female bisexuality).

            Such examples show that the word ‘fetish’ begins to be employed to describe whatever happens in bed that the observer ethically or morally disagrees with.

            In any case, in medical science, the word ‘fetish’ is only applied to non-living objects or non-genital body parts. In the case of AGP (or crossdreaming), we’re talking about an image, not an external/physical object. As such, it would have been more appropriate to revolve the discussion around the word ‘fantasy’. Crossdreaming, of course, does not ‘impose’ that the attraction to the self-image is a ‘sexual fantasy’; it leaves that as an option (a frequent one, for sure) but not as a requirement.

            There would be quite a lot to say about this, and maybe I’ll feel inspired to write more about it on a separate article 🙂

          • wxhluyp .

            “some people exhibit certain characteristics that we can label as being a fetish”

            A sexual fetish meaning something that sexually arouses an individual

            “In any case, in medical science, the word ‘fetish’ is only applied to non-living objects or non-genital body parts. In the case of AGP (or crossdreaming), we’re talking about an image, not an external/physical object.”

            All sexuality is fetishistic, for which a “sexuality” is the totality of fetishes (niches, preferences etc) which sexually arouses an individual. The quaint traditional usage of “fetish” is regarding that which was thought deviant, yet there is no, given, “correct”, “normal”.

            “As such, it would have been more appropriate to revolve the discussion around the word ‘fantasy’. Crossdreaming, of course, does not ‘impose’ that the attraction to the self-image is a ‘sexual fantasy’; it leaves that as an option (a frequent one, for sure) but not as a requirement.”

            Crossdreaming is a politically motivated euphemism created & propogated by those that wish to obscure that which autogynephilia denoted, a distinct fetish, ideally to become interchangeable (thus superfluous) in relation to transgenderism. In the end, there will simply be transgenderism.

            “My issue is just with the assumption that everything related to gender dysphoria is necessarily ‘a fetish’ and, by consequence, ‘related to trauma & sexual conditioning'”

            As stated before, what is theorised, is not gender issues per se, but a fetish and gender issues on part of the fetishist. So for those whom have interest in any understanding in a phenomenon consisting of a fetish, and the adjunctly affiliated psychological issues affecting a small minority of such fetishists, the starting point is nothing other than the analysis of fantasies to ascertain the nature of what the fetish actually is. This fetish being a masochistic emasculation fetish, the sexualization of emasculation anxiety, for which among the causal possibilities is, one may speculate that pre-existing gender issues or homosexual feelings figured among their emasculation anxieties. Routinely the gender issues, longings & attachments on part of a masochistic emasculation fetishist, will emotionally & ideologically derive from sexual conditioning.

            “The theory of crossdreaming, while certainly having weaknesses, at least doesn’t propose a single cause for eventual gender identity issues,”

            Again, myself & TWTs are psychological anti-reductionists. On the other hand, for Molay, both the fetish and gender issues are an expression of an underlying identity, until put on the defensive, he will concede that the fetishists who are not subject to additional gender issues, that make up the vast majority in relation to those who do, are not repressed transgendered individuals (that whether one is genuinely gay or effeminate is an adjunct condition of emasculation anxiety, the fear itself of being affiliated with socially stigmatizing affiliations). It can’t be said that Molay doesn’t propose a single cause for gender issues, because his logic up until now, entails that there is such a thing as an “authentic” gender identity and an authentic gender identity has a biological grounding. This is because he is yet to concede that biological influence is adjunct to the psychological construction of identity, and a purely psychological psychology means conceding that gender issues can be influenced by anything and anything other than an underlying biological female essence, such as sexual conditioning. A double standard where one form of psychological conditioning is assumed until anyone argues otherwise, where the other is disallowed.

            “It certainly allows fetishism, trauma, abuse, and other similar explanations to describe the issue, but it doesn’t limit itself to such explanations.”

            As just clarified, it is the opposite. Molay’s “crossdreaming” ideologically limits itself from such explanations.

          • ‘A sexual fetish meaning something that sexually arouses an individual’

            No no no, you’re going too far with that definition! A fetish has a much more limited scope: http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/sexual-fetish — as said, it’s just sexual excitement in response to an object or body part that’s not typically sexual, as per the WebMD definition. Just because you like to see a picture of a woman in heels, to take a typical example, you’re not a ‘fetishist’. If, however, what sexually arouses you are just the heels by themselves (and not the person inside), then that’s a fetish. There’s a world of difference between the two!

            Granted, if you expand the scope of the word ‘fetish’ to include everything, then I start to understand your reasoning better — you’re merely replacing ‘sexual arousal’ with the word ‘fetish’. However, that use of the word ‘fetish’ is unknown (and surprising) to me.

            Indeed, you claim: ‘The quaint traditional usage of “fetish” is regarding that which was thought deviant’. The word ‘deviant’ is ideologically loaded; the preferred neutral expression is simply ‘not typically sexual’, where ‘typical’ describes the behaviour of a majority of people. ‘Deviant’ implies some negative connotations and some sort of disease, maladaptation, or anything that somehow requires ‘treatment’. Fetishes are absolutely ‘normal’ if they don’t cause distress to the fetishist. Nevertheless, a fetish, just because it doesn’t cause distress, cannot be reduced merely to ‘anything which sexually arouses an individual’ — that’s simply too wide a scope for the word.

            ‘Crossdreaming is a politically motivated euphemism created & propogated by those that wish to obscure that which autogynephilia denoted, a distinct fetish, ideally to become interchangeable (thus superfluous) in relation to transgenderism. In the end, there will simply be transgenderism.’

            Let’s not use the word ‘obscure’ here. When taking the word ‘love’ in AGP to mean ‘is sexually obsessed with’, then AGP does, indeed, denote a distinct fetish — using my definition of fetish, not yours — and, since it’s postulated that it causes distress to the individual with AGP, its definition is consistent with a plausible disease or mental condition (thus its brief inclusion in the DSM). But we’re really narrowing down the focus and pin-pointing it on a very specific issue: a minority of people who have extreme sexual desires towards their self-image as females and that, as a consequence, their quality of life is diminished in some form (compulsive/obsessive disorders, anxiety, depression for not being able to ‘be’ that female image, delusional mania, and so forth). In those instances, I would agree that the word ‘autogynephilia’ is used.

            However, reality is way more broader in scope. Just because someone has an inner self-image as a female doesn’t mean they have either a mental disorder, or a fetish (using my definition). The ‘attachment’ to that self-image can be absolutely not sexual. There might not be any sort of obsession with that female self-image; it might not cause anxiety, depression, or any similar mental condition. In that case, ‘diagnosing’ what this person has or is must be separate from the much more stricter ‘autogynephilia’. ‘Crossdreaming’ is a possible description for that, but I’m sure that there are many others.

            Transgendered persons might not have any inner self-image as the opposite gender, but still identify with transgenderism: typical examples are gender-fluid individuals, for example. Again, using the word ‘transgender’ is even widening the scope of individuals that can be labeled under that category.

            Thus: not all transgendered people are crossdreamers. Not all crossdreamers are autogynephiliacs.

            Does that make sense to you?

            Because I’m sure it wouldn’t make any sense to, say, Bailey, who seems (at least in his book) to be very confused about what ‘gender identity’ is, since, for him, it has always to be something tied to sexual motivations.

          • wxhluyp .

            It is surprising that you find that usage of the term “fetish” surprising. Fetish, or rather “sexual niche”, or “sexual preference”.

            “Nevertheless, a fetish, just because it doesn’t cause distress, cannot be reduced merely to ‘anything which sexually arouses an individual’ — that’s simply too wide a scope for the word.”

            Parallel is how a movie “preference” represents anything which interests a movie goer. Billy gets off to X, X is Billy’s fetish.

            “as said, it’s just sexual excitement in response to an object or body part that’s not typically sexual, as per the WebMD definition.”

            Arbitrary instances of what is thought unusual, taking for granted what is usual. There is no given way which the object of one’s desire is meaningful, nor how it will be present within fantasy.

            “Let’s not use the word ‘obscure’ here. When taking the word ‘love’ in AGP to mean ‘is sexually obsessed with’, then AGP does, indeed, denote a distinct fetish — using my definition of fetish, not yours”

            Autogynephilia “is a term coined in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, to refer to “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” ”

            “Just because someone has an inner self-image as a female doesn’t mean they have either a mental disorder”

            Which autogynephilia proponents have come to acknowledge.

            “The ‘attachment’ to that self-image can be absolutely not sexual.”

            Correct. The attachment myself & TWTs talk of is the attachment on part of fetishists.

            “‘Crossdreaming’ is a possible description for that, but I’m sure that there are many others.”

            A fetishist not subject to additional attachment to transgender affiliations, is simply a fetishist.
            A fetishist subject to additional attachment to transgender affiliations, is a fetishist+trans/dysphoric-fetishist.
            A transgender individual not subject to the fetish, is simply a transgendered individual.

            “Transgendered persons might not have any inner self-image as the opposite gender, but still identify with transgenderism: typical examples are gender-fluid individuals, for example.”

            There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; … identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results. An individual relates to their self (identifies) as “male” on the basis of the relationship to masculine associations, for which nothing necessarily necessitates that the masculine association associates as masculine.

          • Hehe… you may not be aware of it, but I’m actually enjoying your replies, because you cover a lot of distinct areas: etymology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, biology, and politics/ideology. I think that is a good thing. I maintain that to fully understand the whole range of transgender issues a multidisciplinary approach is more suited to the task — lest we skip some issues and flag them as ‘not relevant’ because they ‘belong to a different area’.

            So, firstly: why do you persist in voiding the word ‘fetish’ from its accepted, clinical meaning? I can only assume that you disagree with the negative connotations surrounding the word ‘fetish’, i.e. it somehow implies an ‘uncommon’ (as opposed to ‘average’) form of sexual arousal, and you insist (very correctly) that all forms of sexual arousal are equally valid.

            If that’s the case, I completely agree with you on the philosophical/ideological grounds. However, ‘transplanting’ one very-well defined concept from one area to another, by forcing a change of meaning, is very confusing to the casual reader who has not been keeping up with your and TWT’s theories. As such, instead of re-labeling ‘fetish’ to mean ‘any kind of sexual arousal’, why not simply use the word ‘sexual arousal’ instead, which includes all sorts of triggers — both ‘common’ and ‘uncommon’ ones?

            In that case, defining things such as ‘for some people, their inner self-image of themselves as female triggers sexual arousal’ is neutral and perfectly self-explanatory. While saying ‘some people are fetishists regarding their inner self-image as females’ has negative connotations. As you said, what are ‘acceptable’ forms of sexual arousal is arbitrary. Therefore, I would prefer that we agreed to get rid of the word ‘fetish’ at all, instead of assigning it a new meaning, which is confusing. After all, I believe we both agree in the same point: getting sexually aroused by one’s self-image is just one of many possible forms of sexual arousal, and it’s neither good nor bad, regardless of how rare that situation is or not. We don’t need to classify everything as a ‘fetish’; we ought to get rid of the word ‘fetish’ and its negative connotations.

            I think we can both agree with that. I just have to mentally make the switch and remember: ‘every time wxhluyp . is talking about fetish, he really means object/behaviour that triggers sexual arousal‘.

            As to the definition by Blanchard of AGP, again, we both agree on the precise same point. Blanchard was convinced it was a paraphilia (although I never understood the argumentation behind that point). You and TWT, as well as perhaps the newer generations of Blanchardians, consider that it is not. Obviously I have to agree with the latter. To give a very simplistic and naïve example: if autogynephilia were a mental disease, it would be curable using psychiatric/psychological means. It clearly cannot be ‘cured’ that way, and even Blanchard (and certainly Bailey) proposed that the only possible ‘cure’ was transition. As such, positing that AGP is a ‘mental disease’ was flawed from the beginning.

            So this seems to be a peaceful point in our discussion; we can both agree on the same things here.

            As for your suggestion of disregarding the concept ‘crossdreaming’ and replacing it by either fetishist/transgendered fetishist/transgendered individual, the only issue I raise is the same as before: the expansion of the meaning of the word ‘fetish’ to include pretty much every sort of trigger for sexual arousal. That actually confuses your three classifications, because, except for clearly asexual individuals, everybody else in the world, using your terminology, is a fetishist. And according to your proposed classification, transgendered individuals would only be those who are asexual (i.e. never getting aroused sexually by anything). I’m sure that’s not what you’ve intended.

            ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender’

            Ahhh this is naturally a much more interesting philosophical point for discussion! 🙂

            I’m not sure if you are aware that I’m a practicing Buddhist, and, as such, of course I have to agree with you: at the ultimate level, the words ‘gender identity’ are meaningless, since there is no fundamental ‘identity’, and this can be very well established and experimented, and not simply intellectually formulated. We’re on firm philosophical ground here, and of course I have to agree with you on that point: 2,600 years of philosophical thought have pretty much established that very consistently 🙂

            However, Buddhism is a pragmatic world-view. At the conventional level — not at the fundamental, ultimate level — we humans have to interact in others inside a society. We cannot expect all humans to be at a level of development where they can recognize that ‘gender’ is just a mental construct, and that the word ‘identity’ (much less ‘gender identity’) are void of existence. Most people, obviously, behave as if gender identity is ‘real’ (not only for them, but for the majority of people who interact with them). Even if they realize that ‘gender identity’ is merely a mental construct and nothing else, it is nevertheless useful and functional to ‘pretend’ it exists, since it facilitates communication and makes our interaction more functional.

            A big part of Mahayana Buddhism deals with teaching students not to mix those two levels. Even if they are very well aware that certain definitions are merely arbitrary mental concepts and constructs void of meaning, others have not yet grasped that level of understanding, so mixing up things is utterly confusing. We have to ‘descend’ to the conventional level and interact with others at the conventional level in order to be able to communicate and interact in the most functional way.

            Otherwise — and such examples are actually really given by teachers to students — we could commit serious damage when discussing the two levels with someone who is only prepared to accept the conventional level. Let me give you a typical example. Let’s say I approach my psychologist and tell her, ‘I believe I belong to the opposite gender of the one assigned to me at birth; I suffer from depression and anxiety a lot because of that; maybe I’m gender dysphoric?’ and get, as a reply, ‘At the ultimate level, there is no gender. Gender is a mental construct. There is no gender identity; in fact, there is no identity, either. So, once you realize the futility of creating arbitrary, abstract definitions such as “gender” and attribute them to you, you will feel free from such constraints, and, as a result, your depression and anxiety will disappear as well — because you will understand that “depression” and “anxiety” are nothing more than arbitrary concepts as well, tied to emotions, feelings, thoughts that you harbour and misguidedly believe them to be truly “existent”, when they are not’.

            All that answer is absolutely correct. But it’s not useful whatsoever, unless I happen to be a very advanced Buddhist practitioner. Another important aspect is that just because we can grasp intellectually how things are in reality, at a fundamental level, that doesn’t mean that we actually realize them.

            When discussing my gender dysphoria with my wife, who is also a Buddhist practitioner, we often engage in the same intellectual and philosophical discussion as you do. We both intellectually realize that ‘gender’ is an artificial, arbitrary concept, defined socially for the benefit of a more functional society, but that, in itself, ‘gender’ has no true existence whatsoever. We both also understand intellectually that the consequences of dysphoria — depression, anxiety, and so forth — are not rational: they are exaggerated reactions, also constructed artificially by our minds, in response to certain expectations/hopes that we harbour. To reduce it to a very simplistic model: I, Sandra, believe that there is an ‘inner self’ that is more female than male; because I cannot fully express that ‘inner self’, I suffer. The suffering leads to depression, anxiety, and some obsessive behaviours. But if I look at it very rationally (and I do that from time to time, as part of a technique of analytical meditation), I have to be honest and say: there is no ‘inner self’ whatsoever, the deeper I go in my mind, the less ‘self’ there is. There is nothing which is fundamentally ‘male’ or ‘female’; even if I look at the level of my DNA, there is nothing there that says that I ought to be wearing pants or skirts. These are just concepts that are triggered by a lot of things — biological, environmental, social, self-created concepts. And, finally, the depression is triggered by a belief that all this is ‘real’ — when it’s not — and somehow I’m unhappy with this ‘reality’ and wish for a different one. Because I cannot do that, I suffer.

            The ‘correct’ way to look at this (something my wife can do — she’s detached from the issue, after all) is to realize that gender is merely a fleeting mental construct, and there is nothing ‘inherently male’ in my identity (there is not even an inherent identity, either). So I should just drop those expectations and hopes I have to change this ‘reality’, and, by dropping those expectations, the associated depression/anxiety/obsessive behaviour would completely disappear.

            That’s something I can see very clearly from a purely intellectual point of view. But of course I don’t really realize it. I still feel that there are inherently female aspects in my so-called ‘inner self’, even if I cannot ‘see’ any ‘inner self’, no matter how deep I look into my mind. But I still act and behave as if that ‘inner self’ truly exists at some level. As you can see, I’m just a beginner; I realize that with a few decades of diligent practice, I would be able to realize things as they truly are, instead of seeing and experiencing them at the conventional level. But the conventional level is the one I’m currently in: so I need to use conventional methods (psychiatry, psychology, medication, etc.) to deal with conventional mental anguish.

            So, to get back to the point. It is not fruitful to affirm things like ‘there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender’, even if you’re absolutely correct in those affirmations, at the fundamental level. Most people work, however, at the conventional, not at the fundamental level. And at the conventional level, what they experience is ‘gender identity’, and it manifests through gender expression. Conversely, at the conventional level, we infer (or induce) gender identity by observing gender expression.

            When discussing gender identity, expression, sexual preferences, and so forth, I stick to the conventional level, because that’s where the discussion can be both fruitful but also functional. It’s pointless to discuss the fundamental level, except as an intellectual exercise; but we’re not going to help anyone if we insist to apply the knowledge of the fundamental level to someone who has not yet realized it. Instead it makes more sense to stick at the level that people are in, instead of hoping to deal with them at the level they ought to be.

            And, btw, I cannot take credit for the past few paragraphs: this is practical Mahayana Buddhist teaching; I get it all the time from my teachers, who are wise enough to understand the difference between both levels. They get all the time questions like: ‘at the ultimate level, suffering is realized as merely a thought; so there is not really any suffering; so why did the Buddha talk so much about suffering and insatisfaction, if no such thing actually exists?’ to which, of course, the answer is always: ‘Do not mix up the two levels. At the fundamental level there is no suffering, but most people are not at that level; so we help them at the level they are.’ To (mis)quote one amusing comment from one of my teachers: ‘We do illusory practices with our illusory body to understand our illusory minds better, which is full of illusory thoughts, illusory feelings, and illusory emotions, namely, an illusory self. So what’s the point?’ The point is that most people are at a level where they accept conventional reality as being ‘truly real’, and so it’s at that level that we ought to work with them to overcome their issues.

          • wxhluyp .

            “Hehe… you may not be aware of it, but I’m actually enjoying your replies,”

            I very much enjoy discussion

            “I maintain that to fully understand the whole range of transgender issues a multidisciplinary approach is more suited to the task”

            I agree. But the issue is rather of a common masochistic emasculation fetish, and for which the commonly affiliated potential psychological issues, are adjunct and affecting a small minority of such fetishists.

            “So, firstly: why do you persist in voiding the word ‘fetish’ from its accepted, clinical meaning?”

            Because the “common” meaning is theoretically false, in the same way the existing common meaning of homosexuality as a perversion, an illness, was false. Regarding the notion of an accepted clinical meaning, in the relevant fields, it is not accepted. The situation is, that the wholesale rejection of the common meaning, requires the right platform.

            “We don’t need to classify everything as a ‘fetish’; we ought to get rid of the word ‘fetish’ and its negative connotations.”

            As of such, we don’t appear to have an adequate alternate term to fetish. In the same sense it is theoretically wrong for the term “gay” to have negative connotations (“that sucks dude, that is so gay”). I think much of the language I have developed as been necessary to grasp the phenomenon in question.

            “their inner self-image of themselves as female triggers sexual arousal”

            Rather the masochistic association of oneself to symbols of emasculation, for which common representation of fantasy themes will be such as embodying the female.

            NSFW!

            http://wxhluyp.tumblr.com/post/92350055299/ive-been-noticing-how-your-fetish-theory-is
            http://wxhluyp.tumblr.com/post/90778389689/how-to-recognise-a-masochistic-fetish-as

            “To give a very simplistic and naïve example: if autogynephilia were a mental disease, it would be curable using psychiatric/psychological means. It clearly cannot be ‘cured’ that way, and even Blanchard (and certainly Bailey) proposed that the only possible ‘cure’ was transition.”

            For TWTs & myself, sexuality is comprised of permanently imprinted semiotic structures, where cognitive therapy may help. Transition is relevant to those for which transition is relevant to their fantasy theme niches, and thus often their wider internalized emotional affiliations. One of the autogynephilia proponents was correct in stating along the lines of “anatomic autogynephilia prefigures gender dysphoria”

            “That actually confuses your three classifications, because, except for clearly asexual individuals, everybody else in the world, using your terminology, is a fetishist.”

            In the sense that everybody has a preference for food. What is your preference (for food)? What is your fetish (for sexual stimulation)?

            “And according to your proposed classification, transgendered individuals would only be those who are asexual (i.e. never getting aroused sexually by anything).”

            Transgender affiliations don’t have any inherent relevance with what an individual is sexually aroused by. It is generally the case that transgender affiliations on part of the fetishist (as opposed to all transgenderism), will routinely emotionally be derived in the sexual conditioning.

            “So, to get back to the point. It is not fruitful to affirm things like ‘there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender’, even if you’re absolutely correct in those affirmations, at the fundamental level. ”

            I see that the issue is comprised of understanding and emotional attachment. Generally one who is subject to dysphoric affiliations, are emotionally attached to such affiliations, which is greatly stronger if they are attached to, identify with and believe in the representation of such affiliations, the “inner woman”. That in the terms of the individual’s understanding, he actually believes in the “inner woman”, is crucial for his emotional development.

            Perhaps a matter of eduction, thus understanding. People shouldn’t experience gender identity, but rather should come to experience the very affiliations which are represented through gender identity, in their very terms.

            A general fetishist may have developed similar emotional longings to the affiliations of their desire, in the same way any other kind of fetishist does. The “normal” male who enjoys surrounding himself in paraphernalia of the fetish he understands to be a fetish. In the case of this fetish, it can be more problematic, where parallel sexual longings will often be represented as instances of gender dysphoric longings.

            “When discussing gender identity, expression, sexual preferences, and so forth, I stick to the conventional level, because that’s where the discussion can be both fruitful but also functional.”

            I see that conventional terms can not grasp the phenomenon in question.

            “BTW, who is the author or authors of that online book, ‘Transsexual Analysis’?”

            It appears to be someone who wants to remain anonymous. Likely due to a fear of trans activists. As it is, it appears to be the only source on the internet that has completely got everything right. I have linked up to it (childhood emasculation trauma), filling in the gaps from the perspective of understanding the fetishism in it’s own terms, resulting in the formulation of the fetishism as “masochistic emasculation fetishism”. TWT’s contribution has mainly been in emphasizing the role of trauma on part of dysphoric masochistic emasculation fetishists.

            “We do illusory practices with our illusory body to understand our illusory minds better, which is full of illusory thoughts, illusory feelings, and illusory emotions, namely, an illusory self.”

            The groundless ground.

          • Well, I wrote another article, after deeply reflecting on your comments and re-reading Bailey and Lawrence…

            Some of your arguments do make some sense to me. I might still disagree with the idea of using ‘fetish’ to simply describe ‘sexual arousal’ (by anything), when we already have a good working definition of what a fetish is and what it isn’t. Indeed, we have a clear separation between ‘sexual arousal’/’fetish’/’paraphilia’. BBL & co. tend to prefer the usage ‘paraphilia’ to describe autogynephilia, although they do not see it as a curable condition (but they support transition as the only means to relieve some stress/anxiety/depression on an autogynephilic individual).

            What I like about your proposal is the concept that some kinds of autogynephilia can be traced to emasculation trauma, and, in some cases, these can be treated without transition — since many kinds of trauma can be successfully treated, and this particular case might be one of them. On this point, we’re both in agreement.

            What I dislike is the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach: i.e. ‘all transexuality is produced by trauma; all autogynephilic transexuality is the result of a mental disease’ and the inevitable conclusion that gender identity does not exist.

            I don’t really think it’s that easy, and tried to explain it better on my most recent article. To summarise: just like the proponents of ‘Transsexual Analysis’ claim that ‘trauma’ can be induced by the perception of, say, humiliation (even if no such humiliation was actually intended), and ‘sexuality’ can take many forms, some of which the person itself might refuse to label as ‘sexual’, I suggest that the same is true about ‘gender identity’: it might not truly exist by itself and be just a narrative that the person creates to explain their behaviour, but we all definitely behave, act and feel as if ‘gender identity’ truly exists. As such, it matters little if it exists or not; what matters is that we believe it exists.

  • Al Brady

    “I’m not in transition and probably will never be; however, I’m suffering a major atypical depression (not the more usual melancholic depression) closely related to what I perceive to be gender dysphoria”

    transition its a bit scary but also the best thing ever. might as well do it sooner than later to max the time afterward

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