If the title baffles you, it means you’re not a fan of P. G. Wodehouse — probably Britain’s best comic writer of the 20th century, and most definitely its most prolific writer (he wrote almost a hundred novels!). Ironically, I just stumbled across him some years ago on Project Gutenberg — many of his writings are now on the public domain — but once I found Wodehouse, I couldn’t stop until I read everything I could get my hands on. Well, for those who are adverse to reading, I can recommend the BBC series Jeeves & Wooster, which is closely based on many of the crazy episodes between the two characters (played by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie!) that probably became most famous among Wodehouse’s fans: the stiff-upper-lip perfect ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ Jeeves, who is the valet of Bertrand Wilberforce Wooster, a wealthy youngster who is known by his golden heart but not exactly his brain; Jeeves is always acting in Wooster’s best interests, to keep him off trouble — and marriage! Wodehouse’s fiction is based on Edwardian Britain (and New York), even though only the very early stories were actually written in the Edwardian era; Wodehouse was a prolific writer until he died in 1975, but his characters would be frozen in time — even if the telegraph gets replaced by the telephone, and Britain’s aristocrats, after WWII, only complain about income tax, and in the 1960s they actually have to go to work (Wooster, being really well-to-do, escapes that fate himself).
But I’m sure that you’re not interested in long stories about Wodehouse and his characters! This is just an introduction to explain the title: in the book series featuring Jeeves and Wooster, we are told that Jeeves never shows his strongest emotions. He never laughs, of course, not even a smile crosses his lips — at best, the corners of the mouth twitch ever so slightly if he’s recalling something particularly amusing. However, he is completely immune to bad news of all sorts. The more shocking they are, the more he raises an eyebrow, but that’s pretty much all. And to the biggest catastrophes related to him by Bertie Wooster, those that will make people yell in despair, Jeeves keeps his coolness, and just comments: ‘Most disturbing, sir.’
In the series, therefore, this ‘most disturbing, sir’ signifies the ultimate shocking, thought-provoking issue; usually the climax of the story, when it seems pretty much impossible that Bertie Wooster will escape unblemished. Jeeves, having the IQ of an Einstein, however, is never moved. There is always a way out! Of course, it rarely comes exactly out as Wooster would have wanted, but, at least, he usually escapes at the eleventh hour, and all is well until the next chapter (or short story, or episode…).
This phrase came to my mind after reading Felix Conrad’s The Science and Art of Transgender Erotica: from sissies to shemales, crossdreamers to crossdressers. I came across this book some months ago; to be precise, I read about it on Jack Molay’s Crossdreamers blog, long ago; immediately bought the e-book once I understood what it was about; and posted on that same article a reply. Because that reply takes into account that Jack’s readers will all know what I’m talking about, although long-winded, it might be hard to follow. After reading the book a few more times beyond the first one, I think I’m better prepared to marshal my thoughts about it — and how disturbing the book can be, if Felix is right.
This article will necessarily have a lot of spoilers. It’s far, far better to grab the book and read it first: you’ll get the ‘unfiltered’ Felix Conrad and his no-nonsense, politically incorrect way of writing first hand. If you have read Jack Molay’s article, though, you will have a pretty good idea about what Felix is talking about (and, as a bonus, you get Jack’s extensive views on the same subject as well). If not, well, I’m afraid that I will spoil all the fun of reading Felix’s book (which is really a pity!)…
It’s also important to understand that Felix has quite a different approach to the issues of transgenderity compared to what we’re used to. Most of what has been written about transgenderity comes usually from the following sources: psychiatrists/psychologists/clinical sexologists (the medical profession); activists (those who are promoting the LGBTQI+ cause and fighting for more rights and equality); academics (mostly from the social sciences, like sociology and anthropology); and the community (the transgender people themselves, who are not always part of the activist group, but nevertheless write a lot about their experiences, both personal and social).
Felix Conrad, however, is a philosopher. His approach is therefore totally different from most. He is also a crossdreamer — definitely part of the transgender spectrum! — and that means he is thinking and writing ‘from the inside’. That will naturally give a different viewpoint than most doctors and academics (and a few activists who, while LGBTQI-friendly and their allies, aren’t transgender).
In the 21st century, for a strange and stupid reason, philosophers are viewed upon with scorn. We should not forget, though, that all current scientific researchers have a ‘PhD’ — which means philosophical doctor (mostly as opposed to medical doctor, MD). All scientific researchers are first and foremost trained as philosophers — literally, people who love to think (that’s what the word philosophy means). Many academics might have forgotten how they started — by learning how to think properly — and some might have been half-asleep during the boring classes on philosophy and the scientific method (which was ‘invented’ by philosophers, and is still being updated these days).
What is that ‘strange and stupid reason’? Mostly the notion that philosophers are some kind of atheists looking for alternate explanations of how the world was created and what our meaning in life is (after rejecting what religions are saying). Well, sure, some philosophers still pursue that goal, but it’s not really a very attractive subject to study these days (because we have a scientific answer to most of those questions). Others believe that philosophers are boring conservatives talking endlessly about ethics and morals. And sure, yes, ethics is also a subject of study for philosophy, and certainly there are still philosophers trying to build new ethical models that are more in line with our current society. But, again, we don’t get Ayn Rands every other week; it’s also a non-sexy field of study for philosophy.
Strangely enough, philosophers tend to be a bit like the transgender community: they’re a bit invisible, tackling the Big Questions Of Our Time, but people don’t even see them doing that. And perhaps that’s exactly what happened to philosophers all over the centuries: we just recognise them decades, centuries, sometimes even millennia, after they have written down their thoughts.
A philosopher who taught some classes about contemporary thought to us first-year students was involved in a big AI project which would be used to process natural language. We wondered why a philosopher would be involved in such a project. He explained that the work being done (this was in 1987…. ugggh I’m sooooo oooooold….) was so complex that the computers which would allow that language-recognition algorithms to work hadn’t been designed yet. But they knew the project would take at least ten years to complete; by that time, sufficiently powerful computers would already exist to run their software. His task as a philosopher was to establish a conceptual framework for a computer that didn’t exist yet, for which software programmers would write their algorithms.
I can tell you that I was incredibly impressed (by that time, I was even more easier impressed than today…). So that’s what philosophers did?
Twenty years later or so, I stumbled across a conference speech given by a contemporary Spanish philosopher. While this was not exactly his field of work, he talked about a recent issue that was thoroughly discussed in the academic community for years: is a simulation acceptable as ‘proof’ for a scientific hypothesis? Or, to be more wordy: these days, computer simulations can be incredibly complex (think about how the whole weather system for an entire world gets simulated!), and, in certain cases, they are so complex that they cannot be replicated by humans using ‘standard’ tools (i.e. solving equations…). The question here is truly important for science — if we cannot solve equations for a certain problem, or if there is no known algorithm to solve that problem (there are many classes of problems that we can prove to have no solution using an algorithm), would a simulation that shows how the problem can easily be solved ‘acceptable’ in terms of scientifical proof? The debate is still going on, of course, but there are good signs that simulations will be accepted by an overwhelming majority of the scientific community, because the 2013 Chemistry Nobel Prize was awarded to a group of researchers who used simulations to show how some complex molecules interact with each other. Don’t ask me for details, you can look it up; the point here is just to show how philosophers, applying logic and a lot of other methods in their toolbox, are addressing very complex issues, often ‘aiding’ academic researchers (who are technically a subclass of philosophers who use the scientific method — one of many methods to acquire knowledge; it just happens to be the best one we have to acquire knowledge about the universe that surrounds us) with their work, tackling areas where their specific expertise can be put to good use. Often they just get a few footnotes as reward for their work; and because there is no Nobel Prize for Philosophy, it means that philosophers won’t become famous today as they were in Classical Greece.
Anyway… enough praising the philosophers. The point to remember here is that philosophers love to think about things, and they use methods to systematically address the issues they’re interested in. Because science and philosophy have exactly the same root (the separation of ‘science’ from ‘natural philosophy’ just occurred at the turn of the 19th century, to specify ‘areas of knowledge acquired through the scientific method’), it is not surprising in the least that, in making arguments, philosophers will establish assumptions (hypothesis) and test them with logical propositions. That means they can tell their audience that some of their assumptions were effectively proven; you just need to follow their logic. Of course, debates about past ‘proofs’ can still go on, because the way some logic has been applied to a particular problem can be discussed or put into question, over and over again, in a process that hopefully allows us to gain more knowledge of the subject.
Felix, of course, is anything but boring to read. He has a knack of immediately capturing his audience, and he puts the reader in a roller coaster — you have just barely absorbed one of his ideas, and, bang, you’re plunging deep downhill at full speed, hitting with a splash the next idea. And then Felix puts you through so many loop-a-loops that you get dizzy at trying to figure out where there are flaws in his argumentation. And so very often there are not many. The end result may not be politically correct (it often isn’t), but it has been produced by applying successive logical steps. So at the end you somehow feel that you have either to accept Felix’s compelling logic, or refute it by giving your own counter-example.
Most readers, of course, will not even have time to breathe during the roller coaster ride, it all happens so fast, and Felix is constantly setting traps over and over again, to keep you alert. This book of his, for instance, is probably just named that way (as well as having an alluring cover picture, of course!) in order to catch people’s attention to what is essentially a philosophical essay. Yes, it does include some examples of erotica — written by Elle Mesen, Anna Kamari, and, of course, Felix Conrad as well. These do have a point, though; they’re not merely filler space — nor are they the focus of the book itself — but they provide some examples of Felix’s theories, by making sure that a certain class of transgender people will most certainly identify with at least one of those stories. And by doing so, Felix will have made his point.
Last but not least: Felix has a very specific audience in mind when writing this book (and makes sure that this remains clear). Actually, this applies to pretty much everything he has written and published so far. Among the incredible vast spectrum of transgender people, there is a particular group, assigned male at birth, who, in their dreams, imagine themselves to be women, which is incredibly erotic for them. Such people belong to a class of transgender people known as crossdreamers (a word coined by Jack Molay). Some of them will only imagine themselves to be women and be content with their imagination. Others, like Felix himself, will enjoy crossdressing as women and presenting ourselves in public as female, as often as possible. Others are not even happy with being ‘part-time females’: they wish to be women full time, and that means transition — these people are most commonly known as ‘late on-set transexuals’. Of course, these three types are not exactly crystal clearly separated. They do share a same basic ‘core’, they just express themselves differently. Each type is progressively harder to sustain or maintain, and more likely to cause gender dysphoria (more on that later). Felix claims at some point (not in this book, but elsewhere) that he’d liked to go through transition, but, seeing that it might be impossible, he took a look at alternatives, and is sharing, in a way, the insights he has as a non-transitioning (potentially) transexual person.
Note also that Felix is very careful in disclaiming that he is trying to persuade people not to transition; he often says that, for many, there simply isn’t another choice. When it’s literally a life-or-death situation (‘Either I become the woman I always have been, or I will just kill myself, because life is not worth living like this any more’) then of course transition is the only solution, and such people should stop reading Felix’s books and get an appointment for transition as quickly as possible. It might not be so dramatic as that, but several crossdreamers clearly suffer tremendously from their gender dysphoria, and no matter how they try to cope with it, they fail, so ultimately they should stop wasting time and transition as soon as possible to get some peace of mind and go on with their lives.
For those who hesitate, or think they can cope with their gender dysphoria, or even if they suffer, there are way too many reasons that ‘bind’ them to their current male body (social reasons, family, friends, job, and so forth), well, then, Felix’s books are an inspiration to give us a clue of what is supposed to be different about us, and how we can figure out a way to deal with that difference, accept it, and peacefully enjoy this stay on Planet Earth.
But… his insights are most disturbing. You’ve been warned! 🙂
Crossdreamer sexuality and the faceless man
If you read any somewhat serious discussion or article about the sexuality of MtF crossdreamers, there will be a recurring fantasy that pops up every time: the idea of imagining the feeling of having sex, with a female body, with the so-called ‘faceless man’. Such accounts are very, very common, especially when they are told anonymously, in confidence with a doctor or a research study.
Because it’s so often mentioned, the truth is that many crossdreamers (yours truly included) are often ashamed of admitting that they also share this fantasy. In fact, they try to shroud themselves in politically correct language to claim that crossdreaming, or its physical manifestation in crossdressing, has ‘nothing sexual’ in nature (guilty as charged!). This is to distinguish themselves from those who fully admit to have the fetish of wearing female clothes, i.e. the object itself (the female clothes) is intensely alluring and facilitates sexual activity, either alone or with a partner. And it also serves to distinguish themselves from those who go beyond the object fetishism, but go further to ‘act as woman’ in order to attract sexual partners (who enjoy the reverse fetish, i.e. they are attracted to men pretending to be women).
MtF transexuals, in general, also claim that their identification with the female gender has nothing truly sexual in nature, except, of course, that they might feel attracted to male partners in exactly the same way as a cisgender heterosexual woman feels that attraction; but, unfortunately, due to some genetical or biological problem, their body is not the correct one for that kind of sexuality. One commonly described situation by MtF transexuals is that they are strongly attracted to males, and so, at the beginning, identify as gay; and, therefore, get to be in touch with gay men. But somehow they quickly lose interest — they are not satisfied with homosexual sex with gay men — because what they truly wish to have is sex with a heterosexual man, and that is only possible if they transition in order to have a female body. I know that this sounds complicated, but I know a handful of friends, all of them in different stages of transition, who put things that way.
But this is not the kind of person that Felix is truly describing. Such MtF transexuals are not really attracted to their self-image as women. This requires a bit of explanation, because it also took me some time to figure out where exactly the difference is. After all, such MtF transexuals clearly fantasize themselves as having sex with heterosexual men, and, to do that, they need to be inside the body of a woman. Where is the difference?
Ironically, this just became crystal clear to me when I visited a MtF post-op transexual friend of mine — a couple of days after her surgeries. She was crazy enough to do four surgeries at the same time — taking about 10 hours — doing top surgery, bottom surgery, a tummy tuck, and some exploratory investigation to see if her gastric bypass was well done — so, as you can imagine, this took a quite a toll on her (she’s still recovering!). But she was in a very good mood and very happy; and the hospital staff was wonderful and would joke with her all the time, so there was really a wonderful atmosphere (even more ironically, this was done in a hospital run by the Catholic Church, so, yes, some of the nurses were Catholic nuns — fully dressing the part, too — so you can see how weird my country is!).
At some point in our long conversation, my friend sort of insisted that I took a peek at her surgeries, even though, of course, you could not see anything because of the bandages. She had a urinary catheter, which gave her some small discomfort, and at some point she told me that she was anxious to return home and be able to pee on her toilet. And, at that point, she confided in me that it was her surgeon that told her that women didn’t pee out of their vaginas — something she had no idea. She must have noticed my reaction of shock and surprise at her ignorance, and she just laughed, and said, very wisely, that all her life her ideal of aesthetic beauty was male; so she obviously only observed closely the male anatomy, and couldn’t care less about the female anatomy and its intricate details. Her only point in going through all the surgeries was to become physically acceptable for heterosexual men, and live her life as any normal cisgender woman would live; she was not especially interested in her female body by itself, but only as a means to ‘become’ a woman.
This is, of course, not so simple as it sounds, but you can imagine that it baffled me a bit. How can a post-op MtF transexual say that they were never really interested in ‘looking’ like a woman (in the sense of having to surgically modify their body to look like one), they just did it because of the social need of looking like a woman in order to be able to have heterosexual males as partners? I mean, I always thought — wrongly, it seems — that the whole point of transitioning was because one felt to be a woman at the core and just had the wrong body; but that the whole point of changing the body was, well, to have a body that one could finally be comfortable with.
Apparently I was missing the point. In fact, after that episode, I certainly found a few more people who think exactly like my friend; all of them are in one of several stages of transition as well. So it seems clear that, somehow, transexual persons (not all, of course, but at least some) do not think the same way I (and many crossdreamers) think about our own bodies.
Now we must get back to Felix’s book. Felix, as said, was reasoning about the ‘faceless man’. Why — he asked himself — do crossdreamers have the persisting fantasy of having sex as women with a ‘faceless man’? This argument, Felix points out, has been used by both camps to claim they’re right: one camp claims that crossdreamers are merely sexual fetishists, because their imagination is just about ‘being penetrated’ as a woman, by ‘someone’ with a penis, but that ‘someone’ is not even a real human being. In fact, the more one thinks about the face that the faceless man has, the more ‘yucky’ the feeling is. The ‘thing’ that penetrates crossdreamers has just functional purpose, i.e. it’s not different from a dildo, just made of organic stuff, and that’s pretty much all it is. The other camp, of course, claims that the desire of being penetrated as a woman clearly shows that this person is female inside, and they shrug off the ‘faceless man’ by pointing out that it is, nevertheless, a man. So this persisting dream cannot be something that a cisgender heterosexual male dreams — it cannot be ‘merely a fetish’ — because cisgender heterosexual males do not have the dream of having a female body and being penetrated by a man, faceless or not.
Which side is correct? To determine this, Felix does an experiment: he needs to figure out if he is really attracted to men or not. If he is, then, well, the fetishists must be wrong, and he’s really a female inside, etc. If not, then an alternative explanation is needed.
His experiment, of course, won’t earn him a PhD, but it has the merit to be a simple one: he wanders around on the street, looking at men, to see if he finds some of them sexually attractive. As he expected, he is absolutely turned off by them. But then he remembers that he’s cheating: he’s supposed to be attracted to men only when presenting as female. So he returns to his hotel, dresses up in something sexy, and goes to the bar to flirt with men.
Now, I have never seen any picture of Felix dressed as a girl (or as a guy!) but we, the reader, are supposed to assume that he’s actually not only very good at passing, but even rather good-looking. So Felix normally gets a lot of interest among the male population. According to his description, it didn’t take long until some males in business clothing, just returning from their meetings to a quick drink, started to pay attention to him. But… did they turn him on? Not really. By contrast, a woman in a sexy outfit entered the bar, and Felix’s attention is immediately directed to her. And he concludes that women excite him for sure, while men, well… the major problem of men is that they are men!
On the other hand, Felix also realizes — or at least admits publicly to the reader — that while he went through all his life as a heterosexual man, finding women very attractive, enjoying sex with them a lot, pleasing them and finding them pleasing, even establishing relationships with them, the truth is that he never fantasized penetrating a woman. And this is clearly very strange for someone who claims (and acts!) to be a heterosexual male. It is supposed that heterosexual males have constant fantasies of penetrating women, but that’s not what happens. In fact, when Felix sees a woman, his fantasy is more often to imagine being that woman, and being penetrated as that woman.
You can imagine where this is going to lead. Clearly, heterosexual males don’t have such fantasies. Fantasies of being a woman and being penetrated as a woman are, well, more likely to be something that women think. But there is a huge, huge difference!
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
If you are a MtF crossdreamer (like Felix… and myself), and if you have the habit of crossdressing, there is something guaranteed to happen every time you finish dressing up. For some, this happens when putting on the wig; for others, when finishing the makeup; for others, when putting on the high heels… well, it doesn’t really matter: at some point during your ‘transformation’, you look at yourself in the mirror, and see how gorgeous you are as a woman, and this will get you wet. Or at least excited. Felix really wants us to forget about the political correctness and admit to ourselves: yes, we love to see ourselves presenting as women (either in our imagination or on the mirror); yes, that turns us on.
Usually, the common explanation is that there is a ‘female core’ inside crossdreamers, and when we can somehow manifest this ‘female core’ by ‘looking the part’, that will be incredibly erotic for us. It excites us to be able to do that. But that’s normal, of course; if we feel to be ‘women inside’, when we finally take a look at ourselves looking great in the mirror, it’s natural (for a woman) to get excited by what they see.
This is totally wrong.
Women don’t get excited when they see themselves on the mirror. They might, of course, realize that they will be attractive to men in this or that outfit; they might appreciate how great they look; or simply how well a dress fits them; and so forth. But their self-image never turns them on. (Similarly, heterosexual males will not get turned on by their self-image on the mirror).
Not even narcissists get ‘turned on’ by their self-image. They might appreciate how great they look, and this can become so intense and obsessive, that compulsive narcissistic behaviour often leads to mental issues. But not even them get attracted by their self-images.
This, of course, is a question that only a crossdreamer would ask. For all other kinds of people, the question doesn’t even make sense: you get attracted to someone of whatever gender you prefer. But never to yourself.
MtF crossdreamers might still raise a point, which is that they don’t get ‘attracted’ to themselves when they are in ‘boy mode’. Actually, some might even claim that their ‘male’ image is loathing to them. It’s only towards their female self-image that they feel an erotic attraction. So there is a difference!
Yes, indeed there is. And, as you might have guessed by now, Felix has no choice but to dig out Blanchard’s theories about autogynephilia and erotic target location error out of their grave. This is what he has done on a previous book which I have also reviewed.
Oh no, not autogynephilia again…
Let’s make it clear: Blanchard’s theories are still wrong for so many reasons that turning back to them over and over again will not make them ‘right’. The main problem with those theories is that they imply a pathologization of something that is merely different, not ‘a disease’ or ‘an illness’. A secondary problem is that Blanchard proposes two kinds of transexuals, which he called ‘homosexual transexuals’ and ‘autogynephilic transexuals’, but he claims that both have the urge to transition, and that for both the only cure for the gender dysphoria they feel is to transition. In that case, one would certainly argue that if the symptoms are the same (gender dysphoria) and the cure is the same (transition), then it’s pointless to call them two different things. Then, from a methodologic point of view, the data that Blanchard presents to ‘justify’ his argumentation have been recurrently shown to prove exactly the opposite of what he claims, or, in other words, that he did his maths wrong, and therefore came to wrong conclusions; many other researchers have started with Blanchard’s own data, made the correct calculations, and showed that Blanchard actually ‘proves’ with his data the opposite of his claims. And, last but not least, Blanchard’s claim to treat autogynephilic patients with transition has always be seen with some suspicion, as he, at the time he formulated his theories, was actively promoting transition in his own clinic, and, therefore, he had good reasons to push more people into transition.
So, with that disclaimer, we can turn back to Felix’s theories 🙂
Felix, of course, utterly rejects Blanchard’s theories, and has even offered some of his own debunking arguments. The nagging issue here is that few besides Blanchard show any interest in the sexual aspect of crossdreaming, and why it apparently is so different, or even ‘strangely different’, from other models of sexuality.
Because of Blanchard’s misinterpretation of data, we cannot be sure if the following is the case for all MtF crossdreamers, but it seems to be clear that a large proportion of them do, indeed, claim two different things at the same time. First, that they are heterosexual, or at least mostly heterosexual, wishing only to have female partners for relationships (both sexual and/or romantic). But secondly, that their self-image as women is intensely erotic for them. And this goes beyond being ‘merely a fetish’.
Blanchard’s interpretation can be seen as assuming that something is ‘inherently wrong’ with the erotic target of so-called autogynephilic persons — here is the pathologising issue that the community sneers at — and that, for such persons, instead of feeling a sexual attraction towards a person outside of their bodies, the sexual attraction is towards something inside them (namely, in this case, the self-image of themselves as women). Somehow, Blanchard claims this to be a paraphilia, because such an attraction does not lead to reproduction, etc. and we don’t need to go deep into his theory. The point here is that Blanchard saw similar cases on people having the persistent erotic fantasy of themselves as amputees, even wishing to get doctors to saw off parts of their bodies to ‘become’ the amputee they always wanted to be, so Blanchard somehow considered ‘autogynephilia’ to be a special case of this kind of paraphilia.
We know that both things are not the same. If you remember, similar claims have been made between ‘gender dysphoria’ and ‘body dysmorphia’, since in both cases, people do not feel comfortable with their bodies. Because the standard treatment for body dysmorphia is to prevent people from getting any surgery, but accepting themselves as they are, some doctors used to think that the same would work for gender dysphoria as well.
There is a world of difference between these two cases — apotemnophilia and body dysmorphia — and gender dysphoria, and this ought to have been obvious to anyone studying those cases: with gender dysphoria, we’re talking about a gender identity issue; with apotemnophilia, it’s a sexual issue; and with body dysmorphia, it’s neither a question of identity or sexuality, but merely a problem with one’s own body.
Why is this so important? Well, Felix is clear when he affirms that MtF crossdreamers do have a female gender identity at the core; but they have been socially conditioned to act and behave as males for all their lives, that such identity — which Felix (like many of us) believes to be determined at birth — has been repressed and suppressed, often for decades. Such constant suppression of one’s own identity has to lead to problems, sooner or later. That’s why gender dysphoria is so often associated with mental issues such as depression, anxiety, compulsive-obsessive disorder, and so forth. It’s only when such symptoms start preventing one’s usual normal functioning in our lives that we seek a doctor. And while they might start treating those mental issues immediately, there is a common root for all them: a misalignment between one’s ‘core gender identity’ and the gender identity we’re forced to assume, even if, for all purposes, we might be rather good at ‘acting our part’.
Blanchard prefered a more Freudian approach to the issue, and, although a psychologist by training, he does not seem very interested in understanding gender issues, but merely human sexuality. In other words, as a Freudian, he prefers to explain all behaviour according to sexual issues. This might explain why he still has a ‘moralist’ attitude and believes in the mythical ‘normal sexuality’ and is trying hard to find ‘deviant behaviour’ in pretty much everything else, labeling such behaviour as paraphilias (he did that for several other cases he studied, not only with autogynephilia), and seeking a ‘cure’ for them. He was only defeated with autogynephilia as a paraphilia, because no known ‘cure’ exists for that ‘mental illness’ except transition. I guess he got fascinated by ‘a mental illness that modern medicine cannot heal’, and this lead him to think about why this is the case.
This is a classical academic fallacy of trying to fit data into a theory, instead of fitting the theory to the data. Instead of seeing ‘autogynephilia’ as ‘an incurable mental disease’, and therefore defeating modern medicine, isn’t it more obvious to understand that it is not a disease at all, and that’s why it cannot be ‘cured’? Instead, at best, what we should be thinking is about how such a ‘condition’ can exist at all, and perhaps ask ourselves why it happens. But even that might simply be unnecessary. If we see ‘autogynephilia’ as merely a gender issue, then we would have to ask ourselves if ‘having a gender identity’ is not also a mental disease! (Or, rather, a mental disease that is socially conditioned) Only by postulating that could we eventually figure out what different subgroups of the ‘gender disease’ existed, and postulate that there are a few main types, like ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘autogynephiliac’, and so forth. But such a discussion is obviously stupid. Gender, by itself, is not a disease.
But that immediately raises a question: what is gender, after all?
What’s gender good for?
Felix Conrad has an incredibly inspired analogy (well, most of his analogies are simply great; he has a tremendous imagination, and a true art in expressing his ideas through those analogies) to explain how gender works and what it’s for. Let’s reflect a bit on it. We all ‘assume’ that somehow we get or acquire a ‘gender identity’ at some point in our lives — either at the moment of conception, or during embryological growth, or perhaps later as toddlers, and so forth — but it’s worth thinking about the why.
I will not repeat, once again, the John/Joan experiment. It proved, once and for all, that a purely behaviourist approach to gender is simply plain wrong. Gender is not conditioned and cannot be conditioned. While certain aspects of gender — i.e. gender presentation — are obviously socially conditioned, or acquired through education, gender identity is not. It’s something inherent in us. We’re born with it, as we’re born with the ability to learn to speak, for instance. This means that there has to be a biological origin for gender; even if we cannot find it, that may only mean we’re either looking at the wrong places (i.e. we’re mostly looking at structures in the brain) or simply don’t have sufficiently advanced technology to understand where it is. Of course we have many preliminary explanations, some of which might get refined over the years, and eventually give us an answer.
Any discussion around biological structures will, inevitably, lead us to question them from the perspective of evolution. This is impossible to avoid; we can ‘pretend’, for the sake of simplifying a particular theory, that evolution might not be important, but, at some stage, when confronting our theories with reality, there is no real other choice but to have a good, solid fit with evolution.
For those of you who might still question evolution in the 21st century (something that grates on my nerves; evolutionary theories, even those before Darwin, have been with us for almost two centuries now; it’s like still believing that the Sun revolves around the Earth…), it’s fundamental to understand why evolution through natural and sexual selection is so crucial for biology: it’s because it’s one of the most validated theories in science (the other two are Relativity and Quantum Mechanics). When Darwin proposed his evolutionary model, he wasn’t aware of Mendel’s work on inheritance of biological features, which are the basis of modern genetics. But by 1930 it was clearly shown that Mendel’s laws were totally compatible with Darwin’s theories. When we finally understood how DNA worked, it was shown to work with Darwin’s evolutionary theory as well. Each successive discovery in biology has contributed further proof that evolution works pretty much as Darwin has suggested — even though he got some things wrong, of course; the mechanism he described for carrying ‘genes’ from parents to child was very clever and ingenious for the time, but it proved ultimately to be wrong, once DNA was discovered.
Let’s take a few examples to understand why this is so important. When it became clear that homosexuality is not only incredibly prevalent in our species, but it is even more prevalent in many others — while being consistently present on almost every species, from insects to mammals — it was obvious that there had to be a reason for homosexuality to ‘exist’ — and not be a ‘deviant behaviour’ — or it would have been weeded out through evolutionary mechanisms. Evolution does not keep around things that are worthless — except for a few generations, but in the vast timescales that evolution works, we will almost always miss those exceptional cases. So there has to be a purpose for every biological mechanism, and it’s up to those who propose some theories to fit them to evolutionary models.
Homosexuality (just to stick to that example) has really a lot of reasons to be around. First, in gregarious species, homosexual acts are used to establish rank and dominance, therefore determining which individual will become the ‘alpha male’, mostly through a show of humiliation. This is nowhere more clear than in certain primates, including those to which we are closely related, so it’s only to be expected that we will inherit those genetic traits as well. Secondly, and especially on gregarious species, where children are raised together by several members of the family or clan or tribe, homosexual individuals have the advantage that, while they will not raise their own direct children, often rear their nephews — with whom they share genetic material. Because children raised by more people might have a better advantage in surviving (think about situations where one of the parent is absent, or even both, but the homosexual uncle or aunt may remain to take care of the child), it would be advantageous for the species as a whole to keep that trait. Another good reason is population control. A lot of very interesting experiments have been conducted to understand what happens when a population, having reproduced beyond a certain limit, deals with ever-decreasing territory. Although some species might engage in ‘mass suicide’, most simply raise their levels of stress, which in turn means less procreation, therefore reducing the population. Alternative ways of reducing the population, besides stress, includes obviously homosexuality; and, in fact, it has been shown in lab mice that the number of homosexual activity increases as available living space is reduced. Now, we should refrain from assuming very simplistic models based on over-simplified experiments — this is actually a typical fallacy — but such models at least can point us towards a correct explanation of a specific phenomenon. So we can safely say that homosexuality is not a ‘deviant behaviour’, nor a ‘fad’, nor something socially conditioned (i.e. through peer pressure or something like that), but it might be part of a very, very complex mechanism which regulates the society of a gregarious species. In other words: yes, homosexuality must have some biological grounds, even if so far we have no idea how it is ‘transmitted’; yes, homosexuality occurs naturally, meaning that is something that is part of Nature, and that we humans have simply inherited from other successful gregarious species in order to survive. If you see it through that point of view, we can even claim that homosexuality is necessary for the human species to survive (or, if it weren’t, it would have been weeded out by evolution), since it must provide a mechanism that is better than competing mechanisms to enhance the survival of our species.
In fact, pretty much the same argument can be made of transexuality as well, and we have at least some anthropological data as proof for that. In those societies where transexuality was fully accepted, no matter what role they played, transexuals, being usually unable to reproduce, would assist the tribe/clan with many of its duties, providing it better chances of survival. We only need to take a look at primitive hunter-gatherer societies: males would hunt, and eventually battle other tribes, and pick among the strongest, fiercest, or most cunning one to be the chief (‘alpha male’). Women would basically gather roots and berries and, of course, raise the children. But there was one individual who would share the power of the chief without being an ‘alpha male’: the shaman or medicine man, or whatever it might be called, who would pass along knowledge and culture — and who would always be something not quite a man (or he would hunt), and not quite a woman (or she would raise children, or at least help with picking roots and berries and so forth). In fact, in many (studied) hunter-gatherer societies, the medicine man was often transgender, or at least a ‘third gender’, and because he/she would never fulfill a ‘traditional role’, was free to acquire knowledge and serve as the keeper of the rites and procedures which would give identity (through sharing a common culture) to the tribe. It’s interesting to see that transgender people were the ones who carried this knowledge and culture, before we became ‘civilized’ (i.e. living in cities) and knowledge started to be acquired and transmitted differently, as society began to diversify its many roles; one might even argue that it was thanks to transgender people, or ‘third gender’ people, that we humans spent millions of years as advanced toolmakers — well above the ability of all other primates — and therefore thrived and survived, becoming quickly the most wide-spread (and numerous!) mammal species on Earth. All that thanks to transgenderity! No wonder that we still have echoes of those times in some Indian societies, where the ‘third gender’, while in a way feared and sometimes treated with scorn, are still associated with a religious ‘sisterhood’ practicing rituals that no male or female can perform, but only transgender people. One might wonder where this association between ‘transgender’ and ‘religion’ comes from; for me, it’s clear that it is an inherited biological trait for us as a species, coming from the darkest ages of the early Humankind, which, in order to survive, needed to know how to do things, how to know which plants were edible, which were not, and so forth, and all this knowledge was transmitted from medicine man to medicine man. Probably not all were transgender. But I believe that most were transgender — at least to a degree — and this would also explain why so many old religions, still existing today, somehow feel that it is ‘wrong’ for priests or monks or nuns to marry and have children. This very likely comes from a past where transgender people of all kinds would be the knowledge-bearers for a specific society and, therefore, enshrined that knowledge in form of a ‘religion’ establishing moral and ethical rules, as well as cultural aspects.
So… this might seem like I’m digressing again… but not quite. Actually, Felix also addresses the issue of how crossdreamers might appear in terms of biology. But that means rethinking sexual reproduction all over again. And here Felix excels once more in his analogies!
The Drunken Irish Minion thought experiment
Felix imagines a world, just having been created, where there is (for simplicity’s sake), just a species — his minions. Now he wants his species to thrive, but he cannot be always looking at each and every individual to see if they’re doing everything right. He therefore considers the following dilemma: how do I get my species to reproduce?
Sometimes, the simplest question is deemed too trivial to be answered, and, by discarding the question as ‘obvious’ or ‘common sense’, we’re actually blinded in our discovery for answers. Now we might say, ‘everybody knows how species reproduce’, but the truth is not so simple. Darwin is most well-known for natural selection, but we often forget that he has studied quite well sexual selection, because he was well aware that you cannot account for a lot of inherited traits in natural selection alone. For instance, why should peacocks be so colourful, if the colour, by itself, does not give it a selection advantage? In fact, it’s even a handicap, since brightly coloured birds will also more easily attract predators than camouflaged birds. Why would natural selection keep ‘suicide birds’ around? Surely they would get easily wiped out…
Similarly, certain species of mammals have incredibly elaborated horns — think of the moose, for example — which, however, are not practical at all if you live in a forest, since they will constantly get entangled. Also, they are not a huge protection against predators, who will just aim for the neck from a specific angle, and the prey will never have any chance to turn around and use their antlers or horns or whatever they got. Darwin, in fact, in his book about sexual selection, shows uncountable examples of all sorts of horns and other appendages which make no sense to keep around as traits from the perspective of natural selection.
So even Darwin immediately understood that another mechanism would have to be at work here. Clearly, species have to reproduce — trivial and obvious, yes, but how? Essentially, what Darwin found out is that each species has a few things to deal with: each individual has to recognise its own gender, and the gender of other individuals of the species; then it has to know how to connect sexual organs correctly in order to ensure fertilisation and reproduction; they have to know what behaviour is appropriate for its gender in order to guarantee survival of the species (food gathering, child rearing); and there has to be an incentive to connect with the right organs, as well as to mate with the ‘correct’ gender.
Felix, using his minions thought experiment, suggests that the problem — from the perspective of the minion designer, of course — is that the creator cannot be constantly reminding the minions to remember all these things. Also, he cannot trust the minions to tell each other what is correct. No: the best way to ensure that all this works automatically without failure is to make it hardwired, built-in. That way, the minion creator can go away safely, knowing that the minions will happily reproduce, no matter what silly ideas they come up with.
Felix therefore concludes that things like gender (identity), gender directed behaviour (what we would call gender role), and sexual orientation must somehow be built-in. He’s pretty much repeating what Darwin already said, 150 years ago or so, of course; there is nothing radically new in Felix’s approach so far, except that he wants us to see how gender and sexual orientation are tied together (they can be independently addressed or described or talked about, but there is a link, a correlation between them), and for those who insist that some aspects of either might be socially conditioned, or adopted through peer pressure, education, or anything external, Felix can only say: then give us an alternative model for the minion species to survive without being overseen by anybody.
So far, so good, but here comes the twist where Felix is especially brilliant.
He imagines how minions ‘reproduce’, and what happens when a minion is ‘born’. So the first thing is to hard-wire all the things discussed above; he imagines that minions get a chip for their gender role (the ‘gender core’) and to know what to do with their sexual organs in order to reproduce. This will induce them to behave clearly as a he-minion or a she-minion (i.e. food gathering or child rearing), and, therefore, each minion will be able to recognise each type, according to the behaviour they observe, and know with which to mate correctly.
Now there is still an issue to deal with, which is the incentive to mate. Here Felix introduces us to dopamine: a naturally produced substance which, when flooding the minion’s brains, delivers them ecstatic (orgasmic!) pleasure. This is the reward they get for correctly engaging in sexual behaviour. So all the chip has to do is to ensure that, every time a minion engages in sex correctly (or thinks about it) — i.e. when a he-minion looks at a she-minion and wants to have sex with her, or vice-verse — dopamine is delivered to the brain. In the reverse case, of course, dopamine will not flow, and the minions are grossed out. This is pretty much what ‘sexual orientation’ means.
Darwin was also interested in mating rituals, and how important those were for selecting the ‘right’ partner. His examples are a bit more complex than Felix’s (who is only worried about reproduction happening at all). It’s not enough to mate with any partner; for natural selection to work on top of sexual selection, individuals in the species also need to pick the best partner possible. And how do they choose? Darwin postulated that a mixture of complex mating rituals (at least for some species they are complex) which visual characteristics that are correlated to physical attributes ensuring better chances of survival would benefit the continuation of the species best. We can see those ‘complex mating rituals’ as being part of the gender role before actual mating happens. The link between visual characteristics and physical fitness — what we would in humans describe as ‘sex appeal’ — is something quite clever imagined by Darwin, because it allows him to explain quite a lot about why some species are so beautiful, even though that ‘beauty’ does not seem to have any purpose but to attract potential mates. But that’s all evolution worries about — reproduction! (Interestingly enough, the question why we humans find so many animals and plants beautiful is because we also share genes with all those species that make us see certain patterns and colours as being ‘beautiful’… so even if we are far away removed from all those species, we still recognise, at least to a degree, a ‘pleasant feeling’ when we see those animals… yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder for the poets, but for the biologist, it is in the genes we carry)
We know quite well what attributes have ‘sex appeal’ for us humans — wide hips and big breasts in women, broad shoulders and muscles in men. That’s simply going all the way down to child rearing/food gathering. So called secondary sexual characteristics are pretty much all that evolution has given us to look like being a good potential partner. Wide hips by themselves don’t mean much, but women with wide hips will bear children more easily, so that means they will get a better chance of survival; likewise, big breasts also mean larger mammary glands, potentially more milk, and that means that the babies will be well-fed. Similarly, in men, broad shoulders are the result of a good nutrition associated with athletic exercise, as well as lots of muscles, which in turn means better chances at hunting or food gathering (even at doing agriculture), so it’s only natural that such visual characteristics would reflect the chances of having a better partner.
Of course I’m really not wanting to generalise! Especially for us humans, there are so many exceptions to the rule that we can hardly claim there is a ‘rule’ at all — and the ‘attributes’ that are fashionable in one society at some point in time can completely change to a different point in time. That’s fine. Felix, for instance, explains (also on this book) how for primates rank in the hierarchy is important for mating — some primates only have the alpha male mating with the females, and that means fighting hard to get at the top of the pyramid. Humans, of course, have other methods of being competitive, and a much better way for a male to have ‘sex appeal’ is being rich — because in our societies today, the richest people (and not necessarily the ones who are more physically fit) are at the top of the pyramid, and, of course, have therefore much better chances at reproducing with the best possible mates, no matter how they actually look like. And in a sense some male geeks, in spite of their looks, might actually have some ‘sex appeal’ as well, because geeks might be sponsored by venture capitalists and suddenly become rich; if not, at least, they might get a better education and therefore be able to better provide for a family, thus being more ‘appealing’ partners. Of course, the old stereotype of being heavily muscled and possessing broad shoulders and being tall is still attractive, because such people might become famous athletes — especially soccer players, or football/baseball players in the USA — and that certainly means getting very, very rich as well. That’s why our ancestral stereotypes haven’t disappeared yet — it’s all thanks to sports!
Back to Felix’s minions, he goes further on with his thought experiment, and postulates that the ‘creator’ can do things only once. So it’s not as if he gets a second chance to fiddle with the minions. He lets them reproduce with the ‘programming’ they’ve got, and comes back much later. The minions are thriving, having reproduced like crazy, but… there are some things that are happening that have not been programmed. Of course, it’s through some variation in the DNA (some ‘errors’ in copying genes) that we get a few changes which might benefit further generations, so this was something expectable. And this means some gender variance and variance in sexual orientation as well.
Felix tries to explain this better with a very crude (but powerful) image. He lets us imagine that it is the minions themselves who write the programming, or, rather, that place the chip into a newly formed minion. And on top of that, of course, they have to connect a ‘dopamine cable’ so that each gender/sex gets aroused by mating with the opposite gender/sex.
So, typically, when a minion gets a new he-minion body, he inserts the ‘male gender’ chip in it, and connects the dopamine cable to ‘attracted to she-minions’. And vice-versa, of course. That way, all the programming will guarantee correct reproduction.
Now we come to the drunken Irish minion hypothesis. Felix suggests that once in a while one of the minions working on the minion assembly line is a bit tipsy, and either gets the chip inserted in the wrong body (thus creating a transgender minion) or connects the dopamine cable incorrectly (thus creating a homosexual minion). There are, of course, four combinations on how this might go wrong 🙂
Felix tells his audience that such a thing is definitely possible — i.e. that ‘errors’ can pop up in such dramatic ways — because we have so much experience with the vast spectrum of intersex conditions. We can see quite clearly where an alleged ‘simple’ mechanism — males get male sex organs, females get female sex organs — can get so wrong, in so many different ways. So we know that Nature can make these ‘mistakes’, and when we have a population as vast as the human species, such ‘mistakes’, even if very rare, can suddenly be very visible.
But where do crossdreamers fit in this model?
Felix has a cool explanation for that. He imagines that the drunken Irish minion comes one day to work so drunk, so drunk, that he doesn’t simply insert the wrong chip or connects the dopamine cable to the wrong gender. In fact, he is so drunk that (in the case of a MtF crossdreamer) he puts a female chip in a male body, but connects the dopamine cable to the female chip.
Remember, the chip includes the instructions for acting a certain gender role, so that the minion can be recognised as a he-minion or a she-minion; it also includes instructions for behaving in a certain way to correctly connect the sexual organs of the minions. So what this means is that this particularly wrongly-wired minion not only feels to be female at her core (and ‘knows’ about what behaviour it is supposed to do) — even though she has a male body — but she gets incredibly excited at behaving as a female, because the dopamine cable is connected directly to the ‘gender behaviour’ chip. Wow, what a f**k-up!
The consequences of Felix’s crossdreamer model
Now we have to explore this situation further, and see how it fits in our models, both of crossdreaming and, of course, of evolution.
This particular minion actually has very good chances of reproduction — since it has the body of a he-minion and is thoroughly attracted to feminine behaviour, it would only be natural for it to be attracted by she-minions, who exhibit that behaviour. Note the difference here: in the case of ‘normal’ minions (I ought to be political correct and call them ‘cisgender minions’; but Felix is never politically correct, so I’m allowed not to be, either — at least for a few paragraphs 🙂 No offense is intended, of course), they are attracted to mating with the opposite sex, because they know this will trigger the dopamine release which is so pleasurable. They can look at themselves, and see that their behaviour is ‘male’ (for instance), therefore, a minion who does not have the same behaviour must be ‘female’, and that means that sex with her will be pleasurable. The whole point here is that the behaviour of the she-minion is important only for recognition purposes: the he-minion needs to know that he’s in the presence of a she-minion, and he figures that out by the way the she-minion looks and behaves. That, in turn, will trigger the interest in mating with her.
The MtF crossdreamer minion, however, is different. It (I’ll keep the neutral form here) is not attracted exactly in ‘mating with the she-minion’ by itself. Instead, what triggers the dopamine release is the way the she-minion looks and behaves. One might think that this is nearly the same thing as in the case of the ‘normal’ he-minion, but it isn’t. It’s not merely recognition that is at stake here; the dopamine trigger is activated by identification. In other words: the crossdreamer minion wants to have sex with the she-minion because it identifies with her, it wants to be her, and that’s what excites it.
Now the interesting corollary that Felix points out is that, from the perspective of Nature, the crossdreamer minion, in spite of feeling female and being attracted to everything female, has a male body and mates with she-minions; the result is a successful reproduction. Nature couldn’t care less why there is a mating that guarantees reproduction; Nature doesn’t ask each individual how they feel about things. What matters is that this mating strategy, although triggered by the wrong reasons, is successful — i.e. it leads to reproduction. And that’s all that Nature wants.
We can now switch from minions back to humans. What Felix is saying is that he has identified two different strategies that allow successful reproduction. One is what we would call a cisgender heterosexual strategy — we all know how it works. But an alternative is the crossdreamer strategy. Although the reasoning behind it — what the crossdreamer feels, what motivates him, and so forth — are completely different, ultimately, the result is successful mating, therefore ensuring that crossdreamers will be perpetuated in the species (neat one, huh?). One might even argue that crossdreamers are more successful than non-crossdreamers at reproduction (of course this is open to debate). Let’s look at a few examples why this might be the case: because male humans, in general, require higher muscular mass (for fighting, hunting, gathering food, working in general…), they need a hormone to make muscles grow. Because they need to fight to get food, as well as to establish rank among their society’s hierarchy, testosterone increases their muscular mass. But a side-effect is that it also turns them more aggressive, more irritable, having less patience, and sometimes, be more self-centred as well. Now female humans are not only looking for physical prowess as well as high rank (high rank mattering even more), but they also want to have a partner to help them to raise their common children. Due to the side-effects of ‘being male’, male humans tend to think less about their partner and children, and more about fighting/aggressivity/competitiveness and so forth. Now consider the case of MtF crossdreamers: because they identify as female, we expect them to share a lot more with female behaviour than with male behaviour; as a consequence, they will be less competitive, more cooperative, less worried about physical prowess but much more interested in raising children together with their partner, and be more patient, more tolerant, less irritable, and so forth. In short, they will be the ideal partners for having a family together. So from the perspective of Nature, which couldn’t care less what survival strategy is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, we can see two possible competing strategies at work: on one hand, we have a struggle for passing along all those characteristics which will make the species be stronger and more apt to survival (cisgender heterosexuality); but on the other hand, those who will take better care of their children will also have better chances at survival (MtF crossdreamers partnering with cisgender heterosexual females). Thus, we would expect both strategies to compete, and only the ‘best’ survival strategy to be passed along genetically. But this is an oversimplification; this is not really what happens in Nature. In fact, there are many cases of competing survival strategies which are both preserved — and, not surprisingly, even Darwin was aware of that special case. He showed how certain classes of beetles had developed two different forms of males, which would have very distinct ‘horns’. Both would be employed to ‘woo’ female beetles; and there was no clear advantage between either of both designs, so Nature preserved both — and remember, beetles have been around on this planet for far longer than humans, and they have many, many more generations, so if one strategy would be overwhelmingly better than the other, it would have been weeded out quickly enough. It is, therefore, evolutionarily plausible that two (or more) survival strategies might co-exist, and this, of course, would definitely explain the existence not only of crossdreamers, but of a whole spectrum of gender variance. Let me try to explain why.
Let’s get back to stereotypes, shall we? At one hand, we have the stereotypical cisgender heterosexual male: strong, bold but with a short temper, competent in hunting and fighting, very good at survival, competitive (he wants to hunt better than the others to rise on the social hierarchy), but cares little about his offspring; he’s more worried about becoming the next alpha male and mate with the best-looking partners. On the other hand, we have the stereotypical MtF crossdreamer, who wants to be a female, and emulates all their attributes and characteristics typical of the female gender role, including nurturing and taking care of the children, being more cooperative, more mild-tempered, more caring, but probably sucking at hunting, and most definitely avoiding being dragged into the competition battles to become the alpha male.
In practice, of course, successive generations would combine most of those traits — because both have good chances at survival, even if for completely different reasons — and that means that not all cisgender heterosexual males are ‘strong, bold, irritable’ and so forth, but also share the softer and milder characteristics of the female gender as well. And don’t forget that the reverse is also true — i.e. being a FtM crossdreamer might be very appealing to a male partner, because this person might care little about raising children, but instead wants to behave as a male (even in bed, with an insatiable libido — which would be every male’s wet dream, of course). Inevitably, however, such FtM crossdreamers would in the distant past also get pregnant, against their will; even though they might push their offspring to relatives to be taken care of, the truth is that their genes would be passed along. And, again, after many generations, the two possible female stereotypes would also be mixed together, and that’s why, today, women can exhibit pretty much all possible combinations of personalities, no matter if they are cisgender heterosexual females or FtM crossdreamers.
It’s important to understand that what Felix is saying means that so-called ‘gender variance’ is natural and not some kind of ‘anomaly’, as people like Blanchard defend. Instead, we have passed all these possible combinations to further generations because they have been useful as coping strategies for our species to survive. I have already explained why homosexuality and transexuality have each contributed for our species to survive better. Crossdreamers also present a different, but similarly effective way to guarantee that the offspring will have a better chance at survival. So the point here is that gender variance, as well as variance in sexual orientation, are Nature’s way of reinforcing the cisgender heteronormative model, by adding a few tricks up its sleeve to guarantee better chances of survival. We can also see that the same happens in pretty much all species, to a higher or lesser degree, so we know that it was nothing that only homo sapiens ‘invented’. Of course, we cannot know if ‘crossdreaming’ is something that happens with animals as well (we cannot ask them what gender identity they have and if they dream of having sex with their self-image as the other gender!), so we have to speculate that this is also the case.
Now, to prove that Felix Conrad is true — and not merely an interesting hypothesis — it’s not enough merely to explain how the mechanism works in a theoretical way, and show that its consequences are the result of applying logic to each step in those explanations. Well, for a philosopher, that might indeed be enough; for a biologist or someone from the social sciences, we need a bit more than that.
The case for homosexuality is actually much more easier to make, because the percentage of homosexual humans is really very high. So high, indeed, that it cannot be an ‘anomaly’ — it makes no sense of speaking of an ‘anomaly’ when at least one in every ten persons is homosexual to a degree (even if they didn’t come out). The sheer number of homosexuals is more than proof enough that same-sex attraction has to fit a specific purpose in society, and that it gives us a far better chance at survival.
However, it’s much more trickier to see the same happening with transexuals. They are a very tiny minority; a rarity, which tends to strengthen the case for an ‘anomaly’. Here, however, we need to take care about what exactly are we talking about: if we’re talking about the so-called classic transexual, then, yes, maybe we should look at them as something having gone wrong during embryological development. It would be consistent with similar cases of biological variances (think about intersex conditions!) which are also rare.
It’s always worth repeating, however, that even in biology there are not ‘two genders’ and ‘two sexes’. The current understanding that we have of so-called ‘biological sex’ is that it is by no means a switch that is flipped to either position. Rather, there is a very complex chemical balance, with messaging substances trying to enact ‘maleness’ while at the same time diminishing ‘femaleness’ (and vice-versa, of course). This is very likely an unstable equilibrium, which does not need much to ‘tipple over’, and this would obviously explain why people are not really ‘male/female’ but rather ‘more/less male’ and ‘more/less female’ — both biological genders have the potential for each of them, but, as the chemical equilibrium is sorted out, it defines how much male and how much female we are. However, not all combinations produce so-called gender dysphoria; in fact, one would be able to claim that only extreme cases will actually feel gender dysphoria, and that’s why classic transexuality is so rare.
When we try to find some similar explanation for crossdreaming… well, we have a few problems here. Classical models, unlike Felix’s approach, have no concept of ‘feeling attraction to one’s self-image as the other gender’, because all similar concepts come to us from psychology and psychiatry and are all about ‘deviance’ as opposed to ‘variance’. To argue that crossdreaming is a successful reproductive strategy — as successful as cisgender heterosexuality — would mean that we must have a huge number of crossdreamers.
But then we would have to ask where they are!
The ‘missing’ crossdreamers
Well, again, we have a few clues. Some reports made from interviews on limited samples out of the population — for instance, a university campus, or the military — have shown that perhaps half of all males have put on some women’s clothing (even if it has been just wearing the wife’s panties while their own underwear was being washed…). Such a figure seems to be highly exaggerated, and probably is just reflecting an atypical distribution of population due to the small sample. On the flip side of the coin, though, it would be very hard to establish how many women have put on some male clothing, because it’s socially acceptable for them to do so. In fact, it’s extraordinarily more difficult to find the amount of crossdreamers in the female population because adopting male behaviour in any circumstance is nowadays absolutely tolerated. We can see how the number of ‘strictly male’ jobs has been constantly decreasing — practically to zero — while there are still quite a lot of ‘strictly female’ jobs, even though many of those are nowadays being performed (mostly) by gay men. This doesn’t mean that the number of people in those stereotypically male or female jobs is very high; just that it’s non-zero; and in some jobs — medical doctors, teachers, lawyers and even judges — which were once ‘male-only’ are these days slowly becoming ‘female-only’ (because, in general, the male population is studying less and less, and when they bother to do so, they prefer to study easier subjects). Again, we find a lot of obstacles that makes it very hard to find ‘solid evidence’ for crossdreaming.
In fact, the biggest characteristic of the crossdreaming population is its invisibility, and for two main reasons. Because MtF crossdressing is not socially acceptable, MtF crossdreamers have to stick to other ways of expressing their femininity, and that means that they are not easily spotted. They also take good care that nobody finds out about them. And, of course, there are the few cases of MtF crossdreamers that can ‘pass’ perfectly as females in public — who might even transition to legally become women full-time — and these become ‘invisible’ as well because nobody notices that they haven’t been born as females. Even if those cases are as rare as classical transexuals, the truth is that both (classical and crossdreaming transexuals) are mostly invisible — except, of course, for the activists.
So we would need to conjecture that a large part of the population — at least a tenth — were so-called ‘closet crossdreamers’. It’s a bit like the search for dark matter and dark energy — we speculate that it has to exist, because it’s the easiest way to account for the anomalies we observe in the universe (and scientists apply the Occam’s Razor to keep explanations simple, or at least not more complex than they need to be). There are a few alternative explanations, yes, but none have the same elegance and predictive power than ‘dark matter’. Even if we can’t see it, we can feel its effects (and describe those effects with accuracy).
So the postulate here is that crossdreaming is far more widespread than people think. What we have most are ‘closet crossdreamers’ — those who are, indeed, crossdreamers but repress it so strongly, even to themselves, that we cannot account for them.
This, naturally enough, is one of those things that logicians, philosophers, and academics cringe at: a proposition that is not falsifiable. Because I’m claiming that a huge percentage of the population (say, 10%) are closet crossdreamers, and therefore invisible, I’m not giving people any chance to prove or disprove my hypothesis. In fact, the absence of provability (it can be true or not; we don’t know; and there is no way to know) makes it very shaky.
We would have to look at indirect proof instead. Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, the burden of proof, direct or indirect, is on yours truly. And this will not be an easy thing to do!
However, I have a few ideas. The first one comes from my own self-discovery as a crossdreamer. Or, rather, self-labeling as a crossdreamer; I’m pretty sure I’m a crossdreamer since I had my first orgasm (I think I was 11 or 12 at the time, but most definitely not older than that), since I recall it quite well, and I was most definitely dreaming of myself having a female body, and this, for some reason, triggered my first orgasm. Of course, I had no way to say if this was ‘normal’ or not; I knew boys are supposed to have orgasms and masturbate at about that age or so, but I had no idea what they dreamed about while masturbating!
It was just eons later, in 1995 if my memory doesn’t fail me, that I became seriously worried about my mental condition, and thought that I might need psychiatric advice. Remember, in those days, the public in general had no idea about crossdressers or transgender people; the only popular reference was the Brazilian transgender model Roberta Close, who became famous in the 1980s for posing in Playboy. I had no idea whatsoever how exactly people ‘became transexual’, but one thing was clear, I didn’t look even remotely like Roberta, so I must be out of my mind.
Like so many others, I turned to the Internet. By mere coincidence, a few years earlier, one of my friends had sent me a link to the Nifty Archive — a collection of erotic stories, established online in 1992, when the Internet still had no graphics and was text-only. What captured my attention back then was why Nifty seemed to carry so many transgender stories (in fact, if you check it up right now, you’ll see that it does not carry any vanilla cisgender heterosexual stories). Because there was no other similar archive in existence back in 1992, this sounded odd to me. Also, I have to admit I got my eyes instantly glued on the transgender stories, and, boy, they were quite an education!
Nifty, back then, had links to sponsors — not surprisingly, online shops (yes, they existed in the text-only Internet as well) who sold kinky stuff. But most actually sold ‘crossdresser stuff’, from wigs and clothes to special garments to tuck your package or to create fake hips… and I was fascinated by all of that. I had no idea that such things even existed. And I thought that people who did that kind of thing were incredibly pervert, but, in spite of all that, the whole idea attracted me intensely.
By 1995 I had made the crucial step from merely crossdreaming to actually indulge in crossdressing, and I’ve told that story so often that I’ll skip it this time. By then, the Internet was already full of images and videos — and of tons of crossdressing communities. Intriguingly enough, if you searched for vanilla cisgender heterosexual websites, those would be comparatively few. The Internet seemed to be full of all sorts of ‘alternative sexuality’. Not a few years after that, of course, things started to even out, and naturally enough, the appeal to vanilla cisgender heterosexuality, being far more prevalent than the alternatives, completely dominates the Internet.
Later, when the first social websites were set up, I was surprised to see the huge amount of non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people who were opening up their profiles. I mean, even I was one of them. This was on the very early beginnings of the social Internet; ICQ, the first mainstream chatting application, had just been launched, and webcam chatrooms were still a few years in the future. But, again, my experience was that a surprising amount of crossdressers and other transgender people were coming online; forums and groups and websites for transgender support associations and so forth were popping up like mushrooms.
So what does this tell us?
So long as there is a certain guarantee of privacy and anonymity, the LGBTQI+ crowd are usually among the first to join such spaces, virtual or otherwise. It is, indeed, while they feel they are in ‘control’ of such environments that they ‘come out’ — in the sense of leaving their comfort zone, their invisibility — and suddenly, at least for a while, seem to overwhelm such environments. As these become more and more mainstream, the LGBTQI+ crowd, but especially transgender people, tend to avoid them and seek other places to be more comfortable.
Over the years I have seen this happening over and over again, as each successive new social tool became available. Transgender people are early adopters — but also the first to leave when things become mainstream. Facebook is teeming with all sorts of transgender people because it is next to impossible to search for anything in Facebook, and it allows secret groups, as well as secret profiles, and so forth. It’s possibly the only exception to my own rule, because it allows transgender people to become invisible in the middle of cisgender people, just like in ‘real life’.
Facebook (among other tools, of course) also revealed (at least to me) another fascinating insight: that not only there is a large, invisible group of, say, crossdressers, but that there is an even larger group of ‘crossdresser lovers’, that is, those who want specifically to have sex with crossdressers. The explanation is a bit more complex to follow, but I was fortunate enough to happen to talk to a few of them to better understand what they’re after.
Most ‘crossdresser lovers’ are males (there are many exceptions, though!) who self-identify with being cisgender and heterosexual. Ideally, therefore, they would be seeking for frequent contact with available cisgender heterosexual females. But there is a catch: the way women stereotypically approach such contacts is by denying them unless they are ‘serious’, i.e. will eventually lead to marriage and raising children together. Now of course I’m aware that this is a very sexist point of view, and I’m certainly rejecting it (mostly because it’s not true anymore, and, for ethical reasons, I believe it should never have been like that, but unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world…), but my point is that this stereotype leaves marks in our attitudes, hopes, and expectations. The simple truth is that even nowadays, as a rule of thumb, cisgender heterosexual women are not so eager to search contact with multiple sexual partners, at least not at the same level that cisgender heterosexual men would like them to do. There is, therefore, an imbalance: a lot of males seeking frequent sexual contact, and a small number of females willing to do the same. Please note that such difference in attitudes, no matter how enlightened our society might be, are still a legacy of the evolutionary path that lead to homo sapiens — in other words, it’s not unsurprising to see that at the level of sexuality — perhaps where we humans feel closer to our raw animal nature, and more distant from our rational cognitive processes — we still tend to follow paths dictated by Nature’s evolutionary bias.
But now we can introduce an oddity in this pattern: crossdressing males who, at the very least, dress and act like women, even if it’s only for (sexual) pleasure. Such crossdressers are still technically ‘male’ (at least, I’m assuming those cases where they haven’t gone yet through hormonal treatments and surgery) and have the normal male libido, including the desire for sexual contacts with multiple partners. Now we seem to find a match between those cisgender heterosexual males looking for ‘easy sex’ with something that they view as being ‘female’ (because they identify with being heterosexual!); while, on the other side, we have males who don’t mind dressing and acting the part of females, therefore attracting male partners easily. In other words: such an arrangement is not very different (in terms of sexual activity, that is) as what happens between male homosexuals, but, from the perceptional point of view, the cisgender heterosexual male views himself as having sex with something ‘womanly’, and does not need to drop the ‘heterosexual’ tag from his self-image. He’s still as male, as cisgender, as heterosexual as the next guy; the difference is that he now found a way to get many willing partners — who think in a way much more closer to their own mindset — who look and act female, and welcome and encourage being treated ‘like a woman’.
It is also a common rumour that sex with a crossdresser is much more fulfilling than sex with a ‘real’ (= cisgender) woman. This, of course, is only a question of perception, and naturally it cannot be taken as a ‘law of nature’, to be refuted or confirmed. Nevertheless, there are a few points where we can understand why sex with a crossdresser, from the perspective of a cisgender heterosexual male, can be ‘more fulfilling’ — beware, though, since they are very sexist and therefore not politically correct:
- MtF crossdressers are much more willing to engage in sex — especially, of course, anal and oral sex — than most female partners;
- Crossdressers tend to be obsessive in the way they dress, the kind of lingerie they wear, and so forth; most women, especially once they are happily married, will seldom wear the kind of outfits that males are so fond of;
- Males, in general, are not so good at faking orgasms; both parties know that, and therefore it’s far more likely that the moans of pleasure from a MtF crossdresser are real and not faked; contrast that with having sex with cisgender female prostitutes, where there is no guarantee that everything might be faked;
- Because MtF crossdressers are usually ‘invisible’ — most leading ‘double lives’ — they are far more likely to keep quiet about the casual sexual encounters they have, i.e. no, they won’t ring up their spouse/partner and tell them about it;
- For the same reasons, it’s also much less likely that such crossdressers engage in blackmail or other extortion techniques, since those will necessarily reveal their identity as well;
- Although this is not universal, of course, there is a slightly higher chance of crossdressers willing to engage in many different sexual variants or even indulge in other fetishes as well (BDSM, for instance), and there is an overlap between certain communities — while the average female partner might not be so willing (this naturally depends on a lot of things, mostly personal experience, and cannot be seen as an universal rule, but it certainly is the perception that those males have of crossdressers).
We could go on, of course, but these should suffice to give the overall picture of what is going on: a transgender person who has a ‘male mind in a female body’ is the ‘perfect’ sexual partner for a willing, cisgender heterosexual male; in fact, one of the most common erotic dreams for any healthy cisgender heterosexual male is to have a ‘woman willing to do whatever they please’ — the subject of uncountable porn videos, of course — because, in reality, this is not always the case (and also depends on the society or environment). We can see from many sexual fantasies written or directed by males where the ‘perfect woman’ is a robot or an android or a brainwashed/drugged woman who is available to please the male every time he wants it, and in any way he wants it. Naturally enough, there are many cases where this is, indeed, the case; but it’s safe for me to admit that most males out there will not get such a female partner.
So MtF crossdreamers are the ‘perfect masturbatory aid’, if you wish; the perfect sexual object (the one that doesn’t talk back!); the ‘ideal female’ being the one that thinks like a male! This gives crossdressers in general a huge appeal — even if it’s not true, but merely a perception, that urban myth has been perpetuated for quite a time. The reverse is also true: crossdressers are seen as lusty, sex-hungry machines, always willing to be pleased, and doing whatever it takes in order to get that pleasure. Another common fantasy for males is having a female partner with a high libido; crossdressers can indeed fulfill that fantasy.
There is also something curious, which is the ‘novelty effect’, and this is strangely reported by a lot of transgender pre-op sex workers. Most of them report that, although they would love to do their bottom surgery as well, they’re aware that once they do that, they will be competing with all other cisgender female sex workers. Their ‘novelty appeal’ comes from the fact that they have perfect female bodies except for one tiny detail. Once that ‘tiny detail’ is removed, male customers suddenly lose interest. This is only explainable if the males seeking sexual pleasure build up in their minds the idea that ‘crossdressers’ and ‘she-males’ are much more sexually pleasurable than ‘women’; and a post-op transexual woman is exactly ‘like any other (cisgender) woman’, and, therefore, there is no perception that there will be more intense sexual pleasure with a post-op transexual woman than with a cisgender woman. In a sense, having a penis is the signal for ‘enhanced sexual pleasure’. (Again, please, don’t get me wrong; when addressing these sexist views, I’m not talking about my own point of view, just relating what people tell me, without passing judgement.)
There is also an additional, interesting point, which is directly connected to the ‘invisibility’ and ‘secrecy’ of crossdressers: it’s hard to contact them. And males, of course, are conditioned by Nature to find those partners that ‘play hard to get’.
In other words: while sexual workers are usually easily found, and even people for casual sexual contacts are not hard to meet — either in special places (swing/swap clubs, for instance) or via the Internet, which has specific social sites to address such needs — finding crossdressers is another story. Because they hide behind their closets, and remain unavailable to the mainstream world, they are not easily contacted. There are not many places where crossdressers can meet, in public, potential sexual partners; in fact, the most public-going crossdressers will very likely be those least interested in sex. Those that do will not advertise — at least not publicly.
Usually, to gain access to a crossdresser for sexual pleasure, it means going through several ‘filters’ — perhaps talking to a friend of a friend of a friend who had sexual contacts with one crossdresser, and, between all those intermediaries, it might be possible to gain access to the crossdresser. Or maybe not. This is a ‘game’ that is played by both parts — crossdressers trying to make sure that the willing partner will not ‘expose’ them; the male seeking pleasure trying to persuade the crossdresser that he’s ‘safe’ to have sex with, because he will keep the ‘secret’ well.
You might not be surprised to know that over 99% of all contacts I get from cisgender heterosexual males are from seekers of sexual pleasure; but what might surprise you is that the second question they ask (after I’ve told them that I’m not interested in sex with them) is if I can give them the contact of a willing crossdresser friend. That’s how they try — very hard — to reach the ‘inner circle’, those crossdressers who are available for ‘easy sex’. They are very persistent, I might say.
Almost all crossdressers I’ve talked to routinely get thousands of requests from interested males — always from different males, too. In fact, even when ‘exchanging’ contacts with friends — ‘have you ever talked to this John Doe?’ — we usually find out that we have completely different lists. Or, well, perhaps there will be a match or two. But, in general, there are so many that our contact lists are unique.
What does that mean? First and foremost, that there is a huge, huge demand for crossdressers as sexual partners. Twenty years ago or so, it would be normal to get all those contacts, but from cisgender heterosexual males who confused us with cisgender heterosexual females. But nowadays, most contacts are very well aware that we are crossdressers and what that means; and they know exactly what they want, and are even willing to treat us as we wish (they will always address us as women, never getting a pronoun wrong, and talk to us exactly as they would talk to a cisgender female), so long as we are willing to fulfill their desires. But they are also cool with rejection. This is what intrigued me most — knowing how nagging, persistent, obsessive some men can be, why are they so easily rejected, never bothering us again? (Again, no generalisations: there are obviously some idiots that don’t take no for an answer, and all of us had to deal with such cases. But, in general, those who are specifically seeking for crossdressers know how easy we can block them forever; to make sure that this doesn’t happen very early in the conversation, they prefer to ‘behave like gentlemen’ — or what passes for such behaviour in their minds — and try not to make us angry. That way they have more chances to remain in touch with us. And who knows, we might change our minds in the future…)
The only answer I can give is: because there are so many of us. And that’s what those men all know: crosdressers are a multitude. There are many to ‘choose from’. There is no need to get frustrated because of one or two rejections, since there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of more crossdressers to get in touch with. Ine rejection, a dozen rejections… that’s nothing for them.
How can I be so sure of my answer? Well, again, I cannot. I must rely, once more, on indirect evidence. A friend of mine, who passes especially well, did the following experiment: she opened a Facebook profile to the public, making sure that everyone knew that she was transgender. I believe she hit the 10,000 mark of friends after a week. If you think that’s nothing, you should take into account that her profile was in Portuguese, that she only speaks broken English, and that 99% of those contacts came from our country, which only has 11 million inhabitants.
After that week, she was advised to shut down her profile and be more selective with whom she connects; we explained to her the problems of too much exposure to the public, the risk of stolen identities (it happens all the time, especially in the crossdressing world), or even of violent people figuring out where she is (physically) because Facebook and similar tools might reveal the location, and so forth. My friend accepted those arguments, closed the profile, and opened two new ones — one exclusively for close transgender friends (where she just has some 500 contacts — but all of those have been hand-picked and are almost all from either the transgender community, or from friends, allies, sympathisers, etc. who can be relied upon), which was secret; and the other slightly more public, where, however, she was much more careful in the way she accepted friendships — namely, she would chat a bit with every new person, see how they reacted, see what they wanted, and so forth. Since my friend loathes men in general, you can imagine the kind of answers she gave to most of the men who were immediately rejected and blocked. Nevertheless, after a few weeks or so, she easily got some 5,000 contacts.
You might claim that she was ‘merely popular’, but this is not the case. I have had similar stories related to me by many other crossdressing friends. Almost all have adopted this ‘double profile’ strategy: one for close (transgender) friends, the other more public, but where they hand-pick each contact from complete strangers, and only accept a tiny part of all requests. It’s easy for them to reach thousands in a relatively short period of time. And when we compare lists, we see that most of the names are completely different — here or there, we might find a few common friends, mainly from people who contacted one of us, saw our list of transgender friends, and contacted all of them in turn. But the simple truth is that the sheer amount of people — mostly male — who are actively searching for crossdressers every day is staggering. Baffling. Mind-boggling.
Why am I so shocked?… Well, the point here is that I would consider all this to be perfectly ‘normal’ if those cisgender heterosexual males were looking for cisgender heterosexual females for sexual contacts, and got ‘confused’ with some of us, who might pass sufficiently well — at least on Facebook — to ‘confuse’ them. This is certainly the case with many contacts; but I would claim that these days, the majority of them knows very well what they’re looking for.
Now comes the tricky bit. If we stick to a strict binary gender/sexual orientation, we might wonder how much ‘heterosexuality’ can be claimed by those who deliberately seek sexual contacts with MtF crossdressers and pre-op transgender women; in other words, all those people most definitely want to engage in sexual relationships (and sometimes even romantic/affective ones!) with persons that are biologically of the same sex as them, even if in terms of gender identity they might or not might be male — this varies so much among MtF crossdreamers that I won’t generalise — but this clearly does not worry them.
We can, of course, provide a simple explanation (well, ‘simple’…): if a MtF crossdresser is merely being looked at as a ‘masturbation aid’, then, to be honest, it’s a far cheaper choice than a RealDoll and probably much more interactive than the future-generation AI-based sex dolls. So what I’m saying is that having sex with a crossdresser might just be seen as fulfilling a fantasy, a fetish, whatever you wish to call it, and not really a ‘homosexual experience’. For all purposes, the cisgender heterosexual male is just looking at the crossdresser as a way to have (cheap) sex without strings attached.
But then we also have the ‘complex’ explanation. We would need to assume that the ‘average’ cisgender heterosexual male is not interested in having sex for what is, for all biological purposes, another male — no matter how ‘decorated’ it has been to look like a female. We would need to conduct a survey, and make sure that the questions are free from any implied morality. For instance: ‘If you could not satisfy your current sexual needs and urges with your regular partner, would you consider having no-strings-attached sex with a person presenting as female in all regards, except that she would have a penis?’
With the result of that survey, we might be able to figure out where exactly runs the fine dividing line between a ‘typical cisgender heterosexual male’ and one who is fond of having sex with MtF crossdressers, while still identifying as a cisgender heterosexual male. I would guess that, outside those deeply engaged in religion, the dividing line would be very blurred.
Another point is that many of those males exhibit a curious behaviour. Some will be willing, during intercourse with the crossdresser, to don a piece of female clothing, brought by her. They would totally refuse to think of doing the same with their own wives or companions. Other would go a few steps further and admit that they are crossdreamers as well, and having sex with a crossdresser is a way of dealing with their own urges — even if they utterly refuse to wear anything female-looking. And others still will be more than happy to engage in crossdressing, but only if they have intercourse with another (generally more experient) crossdresser — not to mention, of course, all the cases of sissification, which are usually placed under the overall label of ‘BDSM’ but which are most certainly also a way of physically expressing a form of crossdreaming.
All the above cases are very frequent — at least, that’s what my acquaintances tell me. There is certainly a large group which does not engage in any crossdressing and does not admit to MtF crossdreaming. So we cannot make any claims about them. But we should be able to create an interesting picture out of all this: one that shows that crossdreamers — even if they don’t admit it to anyone — must somehow be much more numerous than it’s usually thought.
It’s very, very hard to look at numbers of an ‘invisible’ population: by definition, those ‘invisible’ transgender people do not answer surveys, they are never counted by the census, and will never reveal themselves to strangers or to government; so we can only estimate them based on mostly parochial data. For instance, let’s assume that each person has about 150 people in their close friend’s list (yes, I’m talking about the Monkeysphere again). I look at my own list, and I can see that 50-70 of those people are most definitely crossdreamers. So I could wrongly infer that crossdreamers are a third of the population. This, of course, is biased judgement based on parochial data — and I have this special privilege that I know who is a crossdreamer, because they have told me so. Most people will live all their lives in contact with those 150 people and never hear about their ‘revelation’ as crossdreamers. In fact, we know that about 15 of those 150 will be gay (to a degree), but it’s also highly unlikely that all of them will ‘come out’. If LGB people suffer from being forced to be invisible, in a society that is more and more tolerant of them, what to say about the transgender people, who still face much higher barriers? It’s logical, then, that crossdreamers — and transgender people in general — will keep silent about their own gender identity.
But I still believe — and this can be only a matter of faith, since I can only offer indirect proof — that crossdreamers are far, far more numerous than people might think, even though the exact number is one of the most asked questions about crossdressers 🙂 And don’t forget that people crossdress for all sorts of reasons; not all crossdressers will be crossdreamers. Some, of course, will be ‘classical transexuals’; the vast majority will very likely be transvestic fetishists; and, of course, a few will be crossdreamers…
Conclusion: no, nobody really knows how many crossdreamers there are. The issue here is that if they are too few — say, much less than 1% of the population — we will have to scrap Felix’s theory, or come up with a better explanation that also fits into evolution.
The most disturbing conclusion of Felix’s model
Let’s assume that we can somehow ‘prove’ that Felix is correct in his assumptions. Jack Molay, in his review of Felix Conrad’s book, makes some criticisms: namely, that Felix’s model actually implies that something is broken, i.e. that crossdreamer sexuality is an ‘error’, while Jack, of course, prefers to see it merely as ‘diversity’.
Felix actually does not imply that crossdreamer sexuality is wrong or deviant or something like that. He just posits it’s different. And he provides disturbing evidence, as we have seen: he assumes that somehow the underlying biological triggers that make us feel attracted by someone else are, in crossdreamers, drawn inwards, as crossdreamers are attracted by their self-image as a different gender. At the same time, Felix affirms that crossdreamers are a special kind of narcissists who, instead of being in love with their own image (the one they see in the mirror), they feel attraction to an imagined self-image of themselves in a different gender. So it’s even a more disturbing kind of narcissism.
Blanchard, as said, came very close to the same conclusions. His idea of erotic location target error assumes that something is wrong with the dopamine trigger — instead of being triggered by ‘another person of the opposite sex’ (as Nature would have wanted it), it is triggered by parts of one’s own body (or imagined body). Blanchard draws the comparison with amputees, as we have seen. So what makes Felix’s proposal different?
First, Felix assumes that a MtF crossdreamer really has a female gender core (Blanchard assumes the opposite); however, due to social pressure and education, that particular person is ‘forced’ into a male role, with which it feels awkward — that provokes gender dysphoria.
Secondly, that the attraction is neither the ‘common’ attraction of a cisgender heterosexual male (feeling attracted to females) not the attraction of a cisgender heterosexual female (feeling attracted to females). So this means that the MtF crossdreamer has no sexual orientation whatsoever, at least from the perspective of reproduction. And this makes crossdreamers feel very weird about themselves; they will constantly try to ‘become’ their inner self-image; some have even reported that when the journey is at the end (transition), while gender dysphoria might have been cured, there is something missing: that person, now in a body attuned to their gender core, is still not quite a ‘normal female’ in the sense of having a ‘normal’ sexual orientation. They will still be attracted to their self-image. In short, they will effectively become absolute narcissists after transitioning!…
Jack is far more careful in those assumptions. First, he notes that it’s not merely visuals that trigger sexual attraction. This is naturally the case among humans. And we would extend that to include how primates (and other gregarious species) get their sexual attraction triggered: it’s all about perception of rank. This will include visuals, yes, but it will include a lot of other things, namely the behaviour, the interaction with others, the ‘badges of rank’ that are carried. That would mean that ‘being attracted by one’s self-image as the opposite (biological) sex’ is not the whole story: there is much more to sexuality than ‘image’, so it’s not quite correct to establish that crossdreamers have a ‘different sexuality’ based on what visuals attract them.
One could argue that both are right to a degree. Felix, perhaps, can be accused of oversimplification. However, he gives the example that some crossdreamers are not merely attracted to their self-images as the other gender: they want to take steps to enact that gender role. This includes visuals, of course, but it also includes a lot of behaviours, attitudes, even feelings and perceptions. So not even Felix is totally reducing ‘sexuality’ to merely visuals; he goes beyond that, visuals are just a simplified way to explain sexual attraction.
Felix, interestingly, also points out the problem about these theories — including Blanchard’s. Crossdreamers, in their constant quest for defining their own gender and sexuality (to themselves), are fond of complex explanations with which they can identify. I admit it, before understanding the consequences of Blanchard’s model of autogynephilia, I could definitely relate with it. It was only the conclusions that bothered me, but I assumed I had not understand Blanchard completely. In truth, I didn’t, and that explained quite a lot 🙂
Felix is proposing an alternative explanation which is, however, constructed on the same principles. It is undeniable that crossdreamers do get excited by their self-image as a different gender. How exactly that works out is, of course, a mystery, but at least Felix proposes a model. I’ve tried to explain that Felix’s model can be justified in evolutionary terms, because, as Felix pointed out so clearly, MtF crossdreamers (his example) can have satisfactory sexual relationships with cisgender heterosexual females (even though the reason for their attraction might be completely different), and that means reproduction — Nature couldn’t care less if the ‘reason’ is the ‘correct’ one or not, what counts is the result. So crossdreamers have an alternative, successful reproduction strategy, and that means it makes sense to accept that such strategy would be preserved genetically from generation to generation, and didn’t go extinct.
But obviously the conclusions are nevertheless very disturbing. Felix’s model, for instance, explains my lack of sexual interest — my quasi-asexuality — much better than mere gender dysphoria. Because I feel attracted to my self-image as female, and I cannot be the person I’m attracted to, this frustrates me — sexually speaking — and it means I cannot derive much pleasure from having sex with anyone (male, female, heterosexual or homosexual…). It’s simply not satisfactory; yes, I feel strongly attracted to females, but that’s because I want to be one. Because I cannot be one, my sexuality sort of shut down almost completely. I say ‘almost’ because I obviously get turned on by deliciously sexy women. This is also something that used to disturb me in my teens: why would I only feel a strong attraction to very sexy women, but not to ordinary women? (All my friends had no problems in falling deeply in love with ordinary-looking women.)
I think — taking Felix’s model into account — that this is also connected to certain expectations I have. Like many crossdreamers report feeling excited about the idea of having sex with a ‘faceless man’, my own fantasies always involve my own body being incredibly gorgeous. This is not a strange fantasy — after all, cisgender heterosexual males will dream of having sex with gorgeous women. Crossdreamers like me want to become that gorgeous woman. I don’t feel (visual) attraction to, say, being fat, ugly, and dressing horribly, and misbehaving in public.
I remember a few of my early crossdressing sessions when I was becoming minimally proficient in applying makeup. At that time, I was between girlfriends, and still a bit sore from the emotional backlash. In a sense, I told myself that I could become the ‘perfect’ girlfriend — dress like I would love a girlfriend to be, have the hair I would love a girlfriend to have, act and behave like I would expect my girlfriend to behave, and so forth. Note how this sounds so similar to the men who are looking for having sexual intercourse with MtF crossdressers — who, in a sense, embody the image of ‘the perfect (female) sexual partner’. There is much to be said about the way crossdreamers think…
So — Felix claims that crossdreamers have no sexual orientation at all. No wonder that we might suffer from a lot of anxiety, depression, and, well, gender dysphoria in general. What can we do about it?
Felix’s totem and how it may help crossdreamers
Good philosophers don’t merely ask questions. They don’t even simply answer them. Instead, they offer a way of life — basically, a series of procedures or ethical guidelines in order to fulfill the answers to the questions they asked. Obviously not all philosophers do this, but from Socrates through Jesus of Nazareth to Siddharta and Nagarjuna, until even to our modern days with Bertrand Russell and Ayn Rand (no matter if her views are completely twisted or not), good philosophers have always presented us with some guidelines for living our lives in a fulfilling manner.
Felix is not different. The end of his book, after presenting some more erotica, gives a suggestion to MtF crossdreamers: not only to closely observe our self-image as a woman with a critical eye, but to learn what kind of life we would lead if we were truly her. This means typically going beyond looks, and asking ourselves a lot of questions — Felix gives a few suggestions, like asking where our inner female would live, what kind of friends would she have, what education did she have, where would she work, and so forth. This will, according to Felix, give us an insight about the kind of life we would like to have — of which this inner female self-image is a representation — and therefore list our goals, objectives and purposes, and strive to reach them.
In other words: Felix invites us to search for our personal meaning of our lives by observing our inner self-image as women. He calls this representation a totem. It’s not merely a fantasy, an utopian ideal of a woman, or something that we use to get wet dreams. Felix, by the contrary, believes that this ‘totem’ is somehow pointing us the way to deal with all issues bothering us — and which might cause us frustration leading to depression and anxiety.
Felix also describes a method for doing so, which basically relies on relaxing before our sleep, and, while we have some privacy and time for ourselves, engage in dreaming — dreaming about our own self-image as a woman — and see what ‘she’ would be doing. Felix somehow believes that our unconscious desires and wishes will manifest themselves, once we divert the focus from the mere sexuality of this inner self-image, and start observing the environment ‘she’ lives in. He even goes further to imagine that our ‘totem’ has been hopelessly disfigured by an accident; that way, ‘she’ will not be visually attractive, and will make us focus in ‘her’ personality, ‘her’ ambitions, ‘her’ goals — which we ought to recognise as our own.
Jack Molay states, in his review of Felix’s book, that this is probably the most interesting aspect of Felix’s book. He finds it very interesting that Felix suggests that we turn something that is intrinsic to our nature — namely, we crossdreamers are unable to ‘get rid’ of this strange attraction to our self-image as a woman — and use it, in a therapeutic and pedagogic way, to study ourselves, by studying our ‘mirror image’, a projection of our underlying fears, expectations, wishes, desires, and so forth, and therefore learn what we really are looking for in this life. Basically the idea is to go beyond the mere sense of gender dysphoria (‘I want to physically be her’) and engage in actively pursuing the aspects that are not gender-related, but which are (possibly) intrinsic to our self-image’s imagined personality.
In a sense, Felix is proposing that we ‘become’ our self-image, but not in the physical sense (which would require transition, of course). Instead, this ‘becoming’ should be the path we establish for ourselves in order to reach a state of happiness, of contentment. We know that our self-image doesn’t live in a vacuum; ‘she’ has a personality, an environment, friends, education, a job, possibly a family life. Each of these aspects are part of our desires and wishes that we project unto our self-image; therefore, by carefully analysing our ‘totem’, we will figure out what we truly wish — and this, in turn, may reduce the levels of frustration, of inadequacy, which so often lead to depression and anxiety.
I cannot say for sure if this approach works or not. It certainly seems to be helping Felix, who is not ashamed to tell us about his horrible past, and how his ‘totem’, Stephanie, represents everything that Felix is not. However, by seeing what Stephanie does in his imaginary world, Felix learns more about himself, and can strive to achieve the same goals as Stephanie does, and, through that, feel a sense of accomplishment — one that does not even require transition. In other words, he can ‘become Stephanie’ in all senses of the word except the physical one, and, for that purpose, he imagines Stephanie to be physically deformed, focusing instead in her personality and so forth.
Remember, Felix’s writings are almost always targeted to crossdreamers who experience a degree of gender dysphoria (accompanied so often by depression and anxiety) and who cannot transition for some reason, therefore needing a new coping strategy to deal with their own situation. This book proposes one such strategy.
Now I personally may be a little critical about this approach, even though I recognise its merits. Let me try to explain why, and I will need to borrow Libertino’s taxonomy of crossdressers once more as an explanation. If you recall that earlier article, you might remember that Libertino has found a few kinds of crossdressers that clearly had two different personalities. Sometime, they were mere role-playing (and fully admitted as such); sometimes, however, they were authentic, in the sense that the person truly wasn’t roleplaying anything, but fully embracing a different personality who just happened to inhabit the same body. While this might sound strange to many people, it will be a familiar concept for many crossdressers, who simply ‘feel different’ when crossdressing and most certainly talk, act, and behave differently.
There is a fine dividing line between ‘pretending’ and ‘authenticity’, of course, and we can take ThirdWayTrans‘s own experience as an example. TWT was a MtF transexual who has detransitioned back to male for many reasons, one of which was that after two decades of ‘being’ a woman, he was ‘tired’ of acting in a superficial way, where even his own voice started to sound strange and ‘fake’ in his ears. After a visit to a psychiatrist, he concluded that he should have never transitioned, since his gender dysphoria had been caused by trauma — something no doctor had figured out before his original transition — which can be adequately treated; as a consequence, his gender dysphoria disappeared, and he didn’t feel the ‘need’ to be in a woman’s body any more, therefore detransitioning back to a male.
What can we learn from TWT’s experience? Somehow, he had created not only a physical image of what his body ought to be, but he also constructed a ‘female persona’ to go with that body, and we can read between the lines that this ‘female persona’ had several stereotypical traits (and therefore unrealistic, unauthentic) — ‘she’ would act much dumber than TWT, worry only about superficial things (one might imagine things like clothes, makeup, accessories), and so forth. TNT was, in a sense, trying to escape from his male persona which he hated, and tried very hard to create a new persona, a female one, based on his own ideas of how a woman should act and behave. He did a conscious effort for quite a long time, since he explained that he lived as a male for 19 years and as a female for 20 years. Two decades is truly a long, long time to develop a new personality. But clearly TWT felt that something was deeply wrong: this ‘new personality’ continued to exhibit gender dysphoria, although theoretically the mind was now inside the ‘correct’ body.
What was wrong with TWT? We can only speculate, of course, since his conversations with the psychiatrists are naturally private. Where TWT went wrong, in my opinion, is in imagining that just because he now had a female body, he had to ‘act female-ish’. Let me try to put this in a different way: TWT, like all males, got conditioned from a tender age to ‘act male’, something which he abhorred. Many of us crossdreamers will immediately empathise with this. After transitioning, TWT probably — and I’m just speculating here — tried very hard to ‘conform’ to his idea of how a woman ought to act and behave in society, and did that for two decades. But at the end of the day, he apparently felt that he was merely replacing one act by another act.
Now obviously I cannot generalise, but it seems to me that there is an equal amount of crossdreamers who adopt a new personality when crossdreaming/crossdressing as those who really maintain their personality. I guess that for each person in each camp the other camp’s attitude might sound very strange; after all, if one assumes that gender is binary, then gender roles are binary as well, and one would expect different personalities to go with different genders.
In fact, even my wife, when I revealed myself, was a little worried about that — would I suddenly become a ‘different person’? When manifesting my ‘inner female’, what would my personality be? Such questions naturally will worry significant ones; after all, this might give them the idea that they really never knew the person they live with, i.e. that somehow their partner had been lying all the way. They might even understand the reason why they had to repress or suppress their ‘inner female’, but they will naturally be shocked by a ‘change of personality’.
But those of you who don’t know me personally can rest assured that I don’t change personalities when dressing as a woman 🙂 However, I can also empathise with TWT — and to a sense with Felix Conrad as well. When I first started assuming my inner self-image as a female on social media (I’m talking about text-only chatrooms and some forums), I also presented myself as a much younger version of myself, and adopted a persona who was nowhere close to ‘me’. This was, of course, just role-playing. It was fun by itself, at least at the beginning. But I quickly became bored.
Around 2005/6, I also started appearing on webcam chats. Again I role-played a persona which I thought would be more consistent with my image. Transphobia on webcam chats was much, much higher back then (it’s incredible how a decade made a huge difference), but by coincidence, I met a small group of people who totally accepted me, and couldn’t care less about how I looked or what gender I was. I learned my lesson back then: there was no point in pretending, there was no reason for role-playing something I’m not.
I have no ‘male’ nor ‘female’ personality. I’m just me; that has barely nothing to do with what I wear or how I look. My personality is the same. When I follow Felix’s advice, and dream of who my totem might be, what my totem would be doing, and so forth… I just find myself. I found some of the points in Felix’s advices most curious: he suggests that we look into our totem’s closet and ask ourselves what we would find there, and try to figure out where we work, what kind of friends we would have, what lifestyle we would lead. Well, I dream often — mostly involuntarily — about that. And what I see inside my totem’s wardrobe is what I see in my ‘real’ wardrobe — minus or plus one dress or pair of shoes.
Felix’s advice, by the way, is a technique known in some circles as ‘fusion’, i.e. accepting both male and female aspects of your persona and try to get them to complete each other, and become the sum of the parts. I always found that technique intriguing. I have no idea if it applies to me, and, if it does, how it is supposed to work.
My wife tells me that I tend to exaggerate the advantages of ‘everything feminine’ while at the same time exaggerate the disadvantages of ‘everything masculine’. That might, indeed, be the case; in fact, I’ve talked about that with my psychologist. But that does not really mean that my totem is not really me, but something I aspire to be in some sense.
Now, I’m not saying that Felix is wrong in this aspect. His technique might be useful in all those cases where there is a clear dissociation between one’s male and female personality. While I have no idea how many crossdreamers exhibit this dissociation, I believe they might be many — I just know about a few: most of my friends (but not all!) do not make a difference between their ‘male’ and ‘female’ personalities, and, yes, I have met them in both male and female clothing, sometimes even in the very same environments. Their personality does not really ‘change’. They are the same persons; and I know that they say exactly the same about me. But, yes, there are a few exceptions. Those might indeed benefit from Felix’s advice.
In other words: Felix, as said, is writing to those crossdreamers who are unable to transition and affording them a solution to deal with their gender dysphoria. This is naturally a fundamental need that we have. Not everybody is able to transition, and we wish to avoid regrets such as the one experienced by TWT due to a wrong diagnosis of his condition. Working on ourselves according to Felix’s techniques might, indeed, help people. It seems to be helping Felix himself.
However, I think that we need to address the issue of non-transitioning crossdreamer in a much more diverse way — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While it’s true of all MtF crossdreamers that they do, indeed, dream about themselves as their feminine self-image, and that this self-image is powerfully erotic for them — and Felix proposes a rather ingenious theory to explain why — that ‘self-image’ does not automatically imply a change of personality, but merely a different gender identity.
I think that a large part of crossdreamers are neither role-players nor exhibit a clear dissociation between two (or more) different personalities, one of which is clearly male (and conditioned through education and peer pressure), the other female. But here we must see how each of these personalities are actually stereotypes — the male one created to ‘hide’ the female side, and being more ‘macho’ than the average guy in order to divert suspicion; the other one being also a creation of one’s imagination on how an ‘average woman’ ought to behave. Such examples are probably not so frequent as eventually Felix is implying. Indeed, even among the late onset transexuals I’m personally acquainted with, there are really no examples of Felix’s split personality; nor do they, like TWT, adopt a ‘fake’ female personality to be more conforming to what society (stereotypically) expects of a woman. Indeed, even under the influence of female hormones, my friends who have transitioned, or are in the process of transitioning, are not really ‘different personas’. There is simply a continuity in personality which goes beyond the body; of course there is a slight difference between someone who crossdresses occasionally, someone who crossdresses regularly, and someone who dresses as a woman full-time — there is most certainly a different view of the world, and, depending on how well you ‘pass’, a MtF crossdreamer presenting herself as a woman all the time might experience what transphobia really means on a daily basis — something that a ‘closet crossdreamer’ might never experience at all.
Because of that, Felix’s approach will not be universal. It will appeal to those who clearly are projecting a lot of their subconscious onto their self-image; for them, I side with Felix and also believe that a close exam of their ‘totem’ might give them some clues about what they are looking for.
‘Fusion’ is known to be one possible way to deal with anxiety and depression resulting from not being able to transition. The idea behind ‘fusion’ is that one gets directed by a therapist to label those male traits that they find horrible, and the female traits they love; and then, somehow, correlate them to one’s own personality (or personalities/personas); the therapy is supposed to accomplish that the person understands that nobody is ‘fully male’ or ‘fully female’; that there are positive sides to be male, as well as many negative sides to be female; and, finally, that they can express themselves as a ‘blended mix’ of their inner female self and the outer male ‘roleplaying act’ they put up to please society; both do not need to be antagonists, but might work together. For example, there are people (and I’m talking from personal experience, not merely hypothetical examples) who fully admit that they are aggressive, irritable, and prone to insult others while in their ‘male mode’; by contrast, when dressing as a woman — which they try hard to do as much as possible — they discard that aspect of their personality (almost) completely, because they think it’s a ‘male trait’ that has no place in their female persona, who behaves like a lady. This is a very good example to have a therapist bring both personas together, by asking why that person thinks that males have to stereotypically be aggressive and insulting? Why cannot males be polite and nice as well? You can see how this might work.
Felix’s approach, as far as I can understand it, goes along similar lines. By listing all positive traits we admire in our totem — and which we might imagine that would give us great pleasure, in the sense of ‘living the way we would love to live’ — we can set our own goals, see what are our priorities, what truly matters to us. It’s very likely that we have been conditioned since birth to follow someone else’s goals (for example, parents might ‘push’ us towards a career or a lifestyle that has little in common with what we think and like). By examining our totem carefully, we might figure out what we want from life, as opposed to what others expect from us.
Sadly, however, there will be a lot of crossdreamers completely left out of this method — those that do not truly have a ‘different persona’. In my case, there is no ‘totem’. The self-image I have in my mind is purely physical. The mental states are the same as I have now. The aims that I dream for my self-image are the same as I dream for myself… and now I’m stumbling over my own words. To be clear, in my mind, there is not a he-mind and a she-mind. There is not something which I call ‘I’, which is my male side, and something which I call ‘the mind of my self-image’ — my totem, using Felix’s words — which is allegedly the mind that my suppressed ‘inner female’ is supposed to have.
No, it doesn’t work like that for me — and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that for many, many people I know personally, and whom I have often met both in ‘male mode’ and ‘female mode’. Most of them, especially the ones I consider my close friends, just have one mind and one persona, and they’re quite fine with ‘just one persona’. It’s just that some aspects of one’s mind will drift into focus when you’re dressed as a female or as a male (but so often we forget, when having fun together, what we are actually wearing — and so our conversation may sound very strange to outsiders!). This, however, can happen even if we aren’t wearing anything; as Libertino found out during his survey, the old idea that ‘crossdressers are just part-time females’ is completely wrong. Crossdreamers are crossdreamers all the time: the difference is what ‘outer appearance’ they are forced by society to present in their daily chores, and what they choose to manifest when they are in private. This will need a separate article, of course, because there is quite a lot to be said about this fundamental issue.
So… no, deep inside my mind isn’t a deeply repressed and suppressed ‘Sandra’ — like Felix’s Stephanie — jumping up and down and wanting to ‘take over’ my body. A ‘Sandra’ that has her own history, her own personality, her own wishes and desires. There is nothing like that in my case! Instead, there is a complex mental construct that I call ‘I’, and that ‘I’ has a very strong desire to live in this society as a female, and, by contrast, has been pushed and forced to suppress that urge. This desire to ‘live as female’ is not something that I can ‘shake off’; it doesn’t work like that. It’s always there; I’m just very good at trying not to be bothered by it.
I suppose that it’s the way that some handicapped person might feel: they are always aware of their physical limitations, but that doesn’t truly ‘bother’ them in the sense that they have to continue to live their lives. The closest example I can give is that I have a disfunction in the tendons that connect to the middle finger of each of my hands. This means that they cannot close completely; and if they do (by mistake), the tendon will somehow snap and lock the finger in place; getting it straightened out again is very, very painful. But in my daily life I don’t really think much about it; I can do practically everything without even thinking that I have two malfunctioning fingers, and most people have no idea that something is wrong with them. Yes, sometimes they can get a bit more inflamed than usual — especially after lifting some weights, like when I do the laundry… — and then they are painful, a constant reminder that something is wrong with the tendons (btw, the only way to ‘fix’ them is via surgery, but I’ll reserve that last option when and if the pain becomes unbearable).
My inner self-image is a bit like that; I don’t really need to think about it specifically — it’s always with me. In the same way that my brain is always aware of where my body (and all its parts) is — in terms of three-dimensional location — there is always this female self-image lurking behind. Of course, most of the time it’s not nagging me. It’s just there — sort of ‘waiting’, if you wish, for me to pay attention to it. It drifts in and out of focus — much more when I’m feeling down, of course; but also when I’m euphoric from going out with some friends, or even when chatting online or writing on my blog. Then my female self-image is dead centre on stage! But that doesn’t mean there is a ‘takeover’, or, like others have reported, a ‘switch’ that gets flipped and you change from your male to your female persona, and vice-versa — that’s not how it feels to me.
I prefer, instead, to give my old example of wearing different masks when in different social environments: your ‘loving husband’ mask that you show to your wife is not the same as your ‘caring parent’ mask that you show to your kids; it’s not the same as your ‘ruthless boss’ mask you wear at work, or the ‘cool dude’ mask you wear when going out with your (male) friends to do some stereotypically male activity, like watching sports together or having a beer (or both!). Each of this ‘masks’ is not, by itself, ‘you’ — but all of them are ‘you’ together, even if the way you act and behave in one environment may be completely opposite (i.e. you might over-pamper your kids in your ‘caring parent’ role, but be cold and unforgiving as the ‘ruthless boss’). When we switch these masks and act a different social role, during the day, we don’t necessarily feel that we are a different person, unless some of those roles are something we loathe (then we feel as if we’re role-playing a role just to please others). In general, though, most people don’t think twice about switching roles easily along the day. You might be in the middle of a business meeting, harshly punishing a lazy employee, but get a phone call from your wife and instantly become mellow. Most of us are like that. We’re not suffering from multiple personality disorders! It’s just how we act (and react) to the different social environments — we need masks for each of those occasions, and we develop them over the years (the young kid learns that at kindergarten he cannot behave as he does at home… and from there, our ability of adopting masks will only grow and get better).
So for me, ‘switching to Sandra’ does not feel like a ‘switch’ at all. It just flows naturally, I don’t need to consciously play a new social role (in the sense that TWT explained how he had to ‘construct’ a persona more in line with a stereotypical female). I just behave as I normally behave; I think like I normally think; I speak, talk, gesticulate — within socially appropriate norms, of course, which are slightly different for males and females — in the same way. Interestingly enough — at least from my point of view — this actually causes some surprise to those few people who know me in both my male and female presentations: it’s as if they expect me to ‘become’ a different person. Well, sorry to disappoint you!
Of course, I should add that I also enjoy some role-playing! My YouTube channel, as well as many of the pictures I take, are just that — role-playing. Yes, I’m a smoking fetishist — that’s something I cannot get rid off, a fetish will usually stay with you forever — but there is no need for smoking fetishists to do the kind of videos I enjoy to do. So those are supposed to be fun. I get a lot of comments (fortunately most of them in private) by people who are confused, and who think that the Sandra on video is the ‘real Sandra’. Again, sorry to disappoint you. My YouTube channel had a specific purpose in mind — providing material for the smoking fetishist community, which is tiny, and ten years ago did not have much public (and free to view) material. When I do those videos, I’m acting. You may argue (and I might agree with you) that I’m not really a very good actress, but that is beyond the point: those videos are a way of having fun, and entertain a few others who have the same tastes that I do. I guess that at some point I will have to drop that channel because it might be too confusing for some people…
My point here is that I could not act as the ‘Sandra’ that you see on the videos all the time. That’s not really ‘me’; that’s just role-playing. Sure, it’s fun to role-play things; I used to play Dungeons & Dragons so I’m quite fond of role-playing games; but there is a dividing line between ‘role-playing for fun’ and, well, ‘being the authentic self’.
Many of my acquaintances and some of the friends claim that their ‘authentic self’ is locked inside themselves due to social pressures to repress it; that they have, in fact, very feminine and delicate personalities, but have to hide those beneath a mask of male aggressiveness; or, by contrast, they are really very slutty females, but hide behind a mask of male shyness. Or anything in between, of course. But the majority of them is not like that at all. They, like me, just have a personality. It’s just their manifestation that is being repressed, not exactly their personality.
To conclude this thought: Felix is quite right when he warns his audience that his ideas and suggestions are only for those crossdreamers who perhaps may have faced transition, but don’t really ‘need’ it. Those who are affected by severe gender dysphoria, of course, will get no satisfaction from Felix’s suggestions. I, however, would further claim that Felix’s suggestions (at least on this book!) are appealing to an even more limited number of MtF crossdreamers, namely, those that quite clearly ‘switch personalities’ (as opposed to merely donning a social mask) when manifesting their inner female self-image — and when this manifestation is not purely role-playing, of course. So, yes, there is most certainly a group of crossdreamers like that: not only Libertino has found them in his survey, but I’m pretty sure that Felix has found a lot as well. ‘A lot’, unfortunately, does not mean ‘all’. I don’t remember the exact data from Libertino’s work, but I remember that those with a clear ‘double personality’ (or, more precisely, ‘heteronominity’ — to avoid the negative psychological connotations) were few. Few doesn’t mean ‘inexistent’. It doesn’t even mean that they are ‘just a handful’. It means merely that it’s a small percentage — in terms of absolute numbers, of course, we might be talking about millions of individuals world-wide. But the ‘mainstream’ crossdreamer does not really have a ‘double personality’, and their inner self-image as a woman is just manifested differently than their socially assigned male image, which is a different construct.
In other words, the larger number of crossdreamers (again, not all, of course, but they will be a plurality, even possibly a majority) is a bit ‘the other way round’. They have just one personality, which is female — at the gender core. But they have been conditioned to role-play a male personality, because that’s the only one accepted by society. This male personality may be something they are so used to that they have no problems in continuing their pretense; or it might actually cause some suffering because they are tired of lying to everybody (and in that case they will suffer from gender dysphoria). And, finally, there are those who, while still finding their self-image as women quite erotic and attractive — thus falling neatly into the model described by Felix — have no issue whatsoever in also having a self-image as men. They might oscillate between both, or adopt something in the middle (gender fluidity). Not surprisingly, those who oscillate without any ‘suffering’ are in the largest group. They do not see themselves as ‘different persons’ (or different personalities), no matter what they are currently wearing…
My article is almost as long as Felix’s book, even though it hardly conveys any information 🙂 so it’s time to wrap it up.
I’ll try to summarise the essential ideas that Felix has conveyed in his book (at least, the ones I managed to figure out):
- MtF crossdreamers have a different way to relate to women than cisgender heterosexual males
- Effectively, they may strictly not have any sexuality at all (according to the definition of what sexuality is supposed to be)
- During the gestational period of a crossdreamer, something went horribly wrong, and the dopamine trigger for sexual attraction has been connected to one’s self-image as a woman (the ‘drunken Irish minion’ hypothesis)
- A lot of fantasies related to crossdreaming have to do with evolution — namely, the need for primates to assert rank, and have sexual relationships with those of higher rank (I haven’t covered this concept here, because it has little to do with my own experience)
- One way to deal with the eventual mild gender dysphoria is to face one’s totem — the inner self-image as a woman who points to us the direction we should take with our lives — and examine her very carefully, and see what our subconscious is projecting onto her: this is where we ought to be, and these are our goals in life.
Each of them is polemic!
The first one is very hard to argue — either in favour or against. Felix’s main argument is that crossdreamers never have the fantasy of penetrating women; rather, their fantasy when seeing an attractive woman is to be her and be penetrated. Now, as said, this would require a bit more research — Felix does not offer any ‘proof’ of this, except his own case. Well, he can add myself to the list as well. But the truth is that I cannot offer any more help — I have never conducted such a survey, not even informally. On the other hand, I think this is really easy to figure out — we just need to add a poll on the crossdreamer forum and see the results after a while. Or maybe try on a much larger crossdresser forum. In any case, this is good science: Felix has provided a way to (eventually) falsify his hypothesis. I would guess that he is right, at least on an overwhelming majority of cases, and the exceptions might just be people who are not really ‘crossdreamers’ (even if they might identify as such).
The second point — one of the more disturbing hypothesis that Felix presents! — is the equivalent of using your nails on a blackboard and screeeeeeeeeeech. Felix’s argument is very persuasive, and follows from the definition of ‘sexual orientation’: the desire or attraction towards someone else (no matter what gender, or absence of gender). Now, crossdreamers may effectively be only attracted sexually to their self-image as a different gender. If that’s really the case, then, by definition, we have no sexual orientation.
And there are a few good hints that this might be the case. Felix shows how he does not feel any attraction towards men whatsoever, even if his fantasies include the ‘faceless man’. On the other hand, he’s clearly attracted to women — very much so, indeed — but he claims that this attraction is not to penetrate them, but to be them.
To this Jack Molay answers with some caution. This might merely be a different way of expressing sexual attraction towards others: in other words, why must ‘sexual attraction’ be defined merely in the terms of ‘dreaming to penetrate the other partner/being penetrated by the partner’? ‘Attraction’, sexual or otherwise, can be exhibited in a lot of different ways, and, even though the ‘penetration/be penetrated’ bit are evolutionarily logical (or else, well, if we don’t have such a desire, we simply would go extinct as a species), we are allegedly intelligent creatures and are suppose to create much more abstract, complex forms of ‘attraction’.
I cannot say who is right and who is wrong. Felix argues flawlessly that the desire to be a woman might lead to bonding, to establishing a relationship, which, in turn, will lead to sexual intercourse and reproduction; as such, it’s a valid reproduction strategy, therefore validating the assumption that there might be many, many crossdreamers out there, since they have the same chances of reproducing as non-crossdreamers. Jack, by contrast, claims that humans have a vast variety of types of ‘attraction’, many of which are not even ‘sexual’ in nature, so the distinction that Felix makes is not so relevant. In other words: a MtF crossdreamer being attracted to a woman because he wants to be her is not a ‘deviant’ form of attraction; it is just a different form of attraction. Ultimately, both (as well as many, many other forms) lead to bonding, coupling, and reproduction. So he disagrees that there is anything ‘wrong’ with the fantasies of crossdreamers, because the result is a healthy couple with a common family life that will eventually reproduce, and, from the outside, be exactly the same as any other human couple who might have different ‘fantasies’.
So I’d say the jury is out on this one. I would tend to be on Felix’s side, because I effectively have a libido close to zero, and all my fantasies since I was 11 or 12 years old were to be a woman (not necessarily to be penetrated as a woman, but simply to be one). But, then again, I’m quasi-asexual, and the romantic relationship I have with my wife has years ago (a decade?) been ‘sexless’ for all purposes, even though our common bond has only strengthened and strengthened. So I would see myself as an edge case, an exception to the rule, and not really trust myself to emit an unbiased opinion in favour of Felix’s proposed model.
Also, what about crossdreamers who have the urge to have sex with men with a face? 🙂 Felix discusses his sexuality from his own perspective — he is disgusted with the idea of having sex with real men, while women are endlessly fascinating and attractive to him (even if for different reasons than non-crossdreamers). Yes, but that’s not universal. I’m pretty much aware of many crossdreamers who have no problem of having sex with real (i.e. cisgender) men; others who only have sex with other crossdreamers; and others even which will have sex with pretty much everything, without discrimination 🙂 Jokes beside, I find the case of crossdreamers who do want sex with cisgender males to be at least as frequent as crossdreamers who loathe the idea of having sex with men. And I definitely know a lot of people on either side. The only thing that I’m not sure about is how deep their crossdreaming fantasies go. I’m pretty sure that Felix’s is quite similar to mine (with the differences I have pointed out), and I certainly have read about tons of examples that will substantiate Felix’s claims. But there is so much more than that out there! So, I’d say, in this point we remain undecided.
The ‘drunken Irish minion’ hypothesis is very, very appealing. It shows at least as much explanatory power than Blanchard’s erotic target location error, without the stigma that Blanchard attaches to it (i.e. that MtF crossdreamers with erotic target location error are just deviant perverts, deeply male inside, without a hope for a ‘cure’, except transition, when they can explore their female bodies as much as they want and remain the rest of their lives in a masturbation-induced semi-apathetic state… well, ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea 😉 ). In fact, Felix’s model clearly posits an inner female core (without which the whole mechanism doesn’t even work) and has absolutely no doubts about it. He claims, probably very correctly, that the ‘male shell’ — the everyday personality that a MtF crossdreamer exhibits to colleagues at work, to familiars, to friends and beloved ones… — is just a construct to be accepted socially, but beneath it, there is a ‘trueself’ — something which is undoubtedly female, but, due to years and decades of repression, is not easily brought out of the depths of consciousness. When it does, well, it manifests itself as a fantasy of being a woman — and this, surprisingly, is incredibly erotic.
Now, as said, the mechanism that Felix uses to explain how this would work — and much more importantly, why Nature is constantly having ‘drunken Irish minions’ plugging the cable wrongly — or perhaps I should say differently — compared to non-crossdreamers, well… this has a solid evolutionary explanation and background. Crossdreaming (as explained by Felix) is an alternative method for reproduction, and one that works as well as the ‘standard’ one, therefore we have good reasons to argue that they would both be preserved. With this argumentation, Felix completely trashes Blanchard’s theory that ‘erotic target location error’ is somehow a defect, something that has gone wrong during gestation, and therefore crossdreamers are just ‘broken humans’ (to be pitied, of course, and offered the choice of transition to mitigate their suffering!). Blanchard, of course, cannot explain why that ‘error’ is so common. He has no valid mechanism to explain it: he just observes that it exists, but does not talk about its implications. That’s possibly because his area of expertise is not evolutionary biology, but psychology and sexology — it’s enough for him to observe and to invent a theory that somehow tells others what he has observed.
Well, these days, we have evolutionary theories to explain why we feel depression, something shared with other animals; and many other psychiatric ‘diseases’, which ought to have been weeded out by evolution, have, instead, good (evolutionary) reasons for being around. It’s only normal to assume that something so fundamental as sexuality (which, in turn, implies gender, and gender roles) will have solid evolutionary reasons to be passed along. I’ve exposed the reasons for Nature having preserved homosexuality and, to an extent, transexuality in our genes; crossdreaming is a bit more complex to tackle, but Felix does it in an admirably convincing way. And the end result is that there is nothing ‘wrong’, from a biological point of view, of being a crossdreamer: it’s just another reproductive strategy, which, granted, might be a bit strange, but it works. And because it works — at least as well as conventional cisgender heterosexuality — it has been somehow preserved in our genes.
Felix also shows how transgender erotica are so appealing for crossdreamers, and why those fantasies are around. While I haven’t touched this subject much — even though it’s presented in detail on Felix’s book — he argues that all the usual crossdreamer fantasies revolve around the way primates assert rank: through aggressivity (because subtler signs are not so easy to figure out, i.e. how much money someone has in the bank) to establish a ‘higher’ rank; and, on the other side, having sexual relationships with someone perceived as of a higher rank is terribly exciting (and that’s what Nature intended all along). This will explain things like sissification, humiliation, and so forth. Because sexual fantasies are beyond my sphere of knowledge, I accept Felix’s hypothesis and explanations with a nod. They make sense. I have no idea if they are correct, but they follow logically from his premises.
Lastly, Felix presents one possible solution for those crossdreamers suffering from mild gender dysphoria: get in touch with your inner female, your totem. Observe her with attention; take note of the details. Your subconscious will somehow reveal to yourself what your goals in life are. You will project your objectives, your wishes, your purpose in life onto your female self-image; if you’re able to pick up the clues, then you’ll know what you need to do in order to lead a fulfilling life. Felix’s technique is a variant of many ‘fusion’ methods that are used by some psychologists to alleviate symptoms of gender dysphoria.
I explained how Felix’s method only applies to some crossdreamers: those who clearly and unmistakably exhibit different personalities according to the gender they are currently manifesting; or, even if they don’t manifest them physically (through apparel and behaviour), but merely in their minds, there might be a ‘switch’ from, say, male to female, that goes way beyond merely role-playing, or even behaving according to a specific gender role, but it is really a different personality, with different characteristics and eventually even different skills, often with different sexual/romantic preferences… in those cases it is not unusual, for those MtF crossdreamers who accept a binary gender, to push all ‘negative’ traits upon their ‘male’ personality, and push the ‘positive’ traits upon the ‘female’ personality (this, of course, can become more complicated with those that have more than a personality, or accept more than two genders, and so forth). Bringing those traits together — accept that, as an individual, you can have both types of traits (and do not need to label them as ‘male’ or ‘female’ — not even as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘positive’ or ‘negative’) — is the kind of therapy session that some psychologists try to engage to alleviate the symptoms of gender dysphoria. This is a desensibilisation technique — not unlike the way certain phobias are cured (by showing that the object of fear is not that ‘fearsome’) — and may help many people to deal with their dysphoria and, as a result, avoid the need of transition.
Felix is quite clear when he warns that his suggestions will not work on every crossdreamer, but probably only on those with relatively mild cases of gender dysphoria. I would add on top of his explanations that his technique will not work on those people who have one personality — i.e. one that is already ‘fused’ — but who might manifest themselves publicly in different gender roles. Such people are, in my experience, the plurality (or perhaps even a majority) of crossdreamers. There is no ‘totem’ for them who might help them to figure something about their goals in life: they already are that totem, in the sense that, if they were allowed to manifest their ‘inner self’ publicly, they would do so — and be exactly the same person, just in a different gender role.
Whew. I think I broke another record in terms of size 😛
Now what are you waiting for to go to Felix’s site and buy his book? (And no, Felix is not my sponsor 🙂 )
Credits to Kevin Hale for his awesome minions vector art. Of course, the minions themselves are ©2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved. No copyright infringement was intended; this is just fan art to illustrate a point. The ‘minion font’ used on my graphics is actually a sample of the Moderna font by Fontalicious, which is listed as free for personal use. The other images are either from Wikipedia, distributed with a Creative Commons license, or have been listed by Google as being ‘free for personal use’. If you are the owner of any of those images and wish me to remove them, please contact me, I’ll be happy to replace them with other images or give you proper credit, as well as helping you out to get Google to list your copyrighted images correctly.