There is a worrying trend that I have been noticing among those blogs who have been promoting alternative explanations to what we crossdreaming transgender people actually feel: Freudian-inspired, as well as inspired by Blanchard and friends, they attribute far too much importance to sexual excitement when MtF transgender people merely dress women’s clothes. The reason that this bothers me is that such an attitude is still clinging to 120-year-old prejudice that everything which is abnormal has something to do with sex.
Well, let me debunk those myths. No, it’s not all about sex, even though erotic/sexual excitement is a huge part of our human makeup, and it is necessarily present at many levels. I certainly will agree with that. I just disagree that it’s all about sex.
Either you’re a ‘sexless’ transexual child, or you must have something sexual going on
All right. I admit it: I sometimes change my opinion — at some point in the past, looking mostly at what crossdressers write about themselves these days, I had to conclude that crossdressing is mostly about sex. That reasoning was based on what crossdressers say on their profiles on dating sites — such as Facebook (yes, I consider Facebook to be primarily a dating site, although it certainly has a few other purposes as well). And a small sample of those profiles will immediately show that everything we read that has something to do with ‘trannies’ will be connected with sex.
Sex is natural; it is pervasive on a society which, fortunately, is much more open minded and tolerant these days, and merely considers sex another aspect of our humanity — one of the most pleasant aspects of it, in fact. We cannot underestimate the importance that sex (or even the lack thereof) has upon us. Sexual desire and sexual excitement are Nature’s way of making sure that we enjoy reproducing ourselves and pass our genes along the next generation. And in order to thrive and survive — meaning: in order to be able to reproduce more — we have created a complex civilization which enabled us to change Nature to conform to our specifications (think agriculture! — or large cities as opposed to living in caves). That strategy worked: we’re one of the most populous species on our planet. Granted, bacteria, and even ants, outnumber us for several orders of magnitude, but if you start adding up the numbers of animals in each species, homo sapiens beats them easily. So our reproductive strategy has worked. And why? Well, because we are motivated by sex to do all sort of things.
When studying so-called ‘abnormal behaviour’ from a scientific study of the human mind, Freud used sex as the motivator. He — and his followers — were able to trace most mental illnesses to a sexual issue or problem of some sort, either physical or — more commonly — mental. Psychoanalysis produced (and still produces) good results, so we are still stuck to the idea that if we think differently from the average guy, then it must mean that it has something to do with sex.
Consider homosexuality for a moment. The problem is not necessarily what two same-sex individuals do in the provacy of their homes. No, the actual problem is envy. There is this rumour that somehow same-sex individuals engage in much more sex than heterosexual individuals. And, what do you know? Statistics show that this is precisely the case — at least among the male homosexual crowd, they tend to have, on average, much more sexual partners than heterosexual males. Those heterosexual males feel that this is ‘wrong’ and ‘not natural’ because… well, those poor heterosexual guys want to have as much sex as the homosexual ones, but, unfortunately, the way Nature designed women, they’re not always willing to have sex — at least, again, from a statistical point of view. Naturally enough, some women have long ago given up their prejudice and have as many sexual partners as men; and, again, they’re frowned upon by society. Why? Envy again: the other women would also like to have that amount of sex, but, for several personal reasons, they might not have it.
So… sexual envy somehow shapes our societies, and the norms and the ethics surrounding sexual contacts. We all have the drive to have sex — often to have it ‘as much as possible’. But society, for some good reason, has curbed those desires and urges, either through religion, or law, or other social norms. The point is that we, sex-driven animals, also have a rational mind, and, as such, we are supposed to be above our base animal instincts: we ought to keep the desire to constantly have sex in check and instead focus our minds on more productive things.
All those who are perceived to have ‘more sex’ than the average individual in a society is seen as… a freak. Well, this should not come as a surprise: it’s society’s reaction to people who are breaking the social norms. In the past, such behaviour was even deemed illegal to a degree, and people would be arrested for having ‘too much sex’, or, worse, ‘the wrong kind of sex’. Homosexuality is unfortunately still forbidden in many countries on Earth and homosexuals can be incarcerated merely because they love other fellow human beings. Again, the reason is not really ‘the wrong kind of sex’, but rather the idea that homosexuals enjoy themselves sexually much more than heterosexuals. So if you’re having too much fun with sex, you get arrested.
Logical? By no means. But that’s how backwards societies think. And we must not forget that our society was also backwards, not so much time ago. Looking at how more of 40% of Americans are willing to vote on an idiot like Trump, or more than 50% Brits voted to leave the European Union, it’s clear that our society might be much more tolerant and enlightened, but idiots are still around, still holding wrong views and ties to the past, and, more precisely, still jealous of those others who have more fun than them. This is especially true when the fun and enjoyment comes from having sex.
Therefore, LGBTI people are at a huge disadvantage when fighting for their rights: they will be perceived by the cisgender heterosexual majority as having a lot more sex than them. And they are envied for that. That’s the only reason why conservative thought tends to frown upon so much fun and enjoyment — even though, reading through the stories of the harems described on the Bible, it would seem that in biblical times people enjoyed sex much more than today. Nevertheless, the Puritan streak that re-interpreted the Bible as meaning that human beings ought to have as little sex as possible — ‘all pleasure is sin’ — is still very much at the vanguard of conservative thought. And even those who are not religious are contaminated by society’s frowning upon pleasure derived from sex. This is so widespread that societies in the Far East who had completely different ways of looking at sexual pleasure are being contaminated by Western thought, as they absorb Western culture — just look at how paranoid the Chinese government is about porn. Nevertheless, friends of mine who have visited the hinterlands of China and Tibet, report that still to this very day hotels in China will politely ask you what your sexual preferences are and if you prefer girls or boys as bedwarmers. I’m not joking; this still happens. Perhaps not in the main cities of China, and perhaps not in all hotels; but the Far Eastern tradition of welcoming a guest and being a good host included a sexual partner for the night is still not completely dead. ‘Room service’ had a different meaning in traditional China and Japan. Nowadays, however, Chinese and Japanese, strongly influenced by conservative Western thought, are slowly discarding their attitude towards sex and adopting ours. Why, I have no idea, except perhaps that they view our way of life as leading to better opportunities in a modern world, so if that means changing one’s cultural attitudes towards several things, well, it’s a small price to pay to exchange for a better life.
Ironically, though, in our societies, we look at children as ‘pure’ in terms of sexual development — something that has also been passed along by certain religious views. While all small children will explore their own genitalia, and, if given the opportunity, will also explore the genitalia of same-age family members or close friends, we shrug it away as ‘silliness’. Children, however, soon become gendered individuals, even if their parents pretend that they don’t. In fact, thanks to a lot of reasons, sexual maturity comes much sooner to children — one reason, unfortunately, has to do with the level of hormones that cattle are given to grow mature more quickly, and then we ingest their meat, so… the point here is that children are not sexless individuals, pure angels in terms of sexuality, as their parents wished them to be; they will discover a lot by themselves and by asking friends…
In a sense, people are a bit more tolerant about transexual children, because they imagine them as ‘pure beings’, before they engage in wild sex, and therefore their transexuality must be ‘real’. This is possibly the reason why, in the space of very few years, doctors became much more open-minded about prescribing puberty blockers to transexual and transgender children. Nevertheless, the radical conservatists at the extreme right end are scared about the thought — because they see ‘puberty blockers’ and eventual transition as the first step towards paedophilia — ‘preparing’ young children to become sexual objects, first for the pleasure of others, and later, of course, as transitioned transexuals, they will have sex like rabbits, and lots of pleasure, and enjoy it at a much younger age than others. This scares those extremists, and they have been attempting to prevent doctors from prescribing puberty blockers.
Note the irony here. Puberty is defined by the dictionary as:
The period during which adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction.
Puberty blockers, therefore, prevent adolescents to reach sexual maturity (and reproduction), so, in fact, instead of ‘preparing’ the child for a life of sexual rampage, they are actually postponing their sexual life, in order to give them time to be sure about their gender. One would expect that conservatives would all applaud this decision — since firstly it delays sexual activity in adolescents, and secondly it might make them ‘give up’ transition after all, and therefore become a boring cisgender heterosexual person who rarely has sex or sexual pleasure, and, when they do, it’s mostly for reproduction. So puberty blockers should be enthusiastically adopted and approved by conservatives 🙂 (Yes, I know, it’s never that easy…)
In any case, people start accepting, in general, that transexual children are very likely too young for being crazy about sex, so maybe they really are the real McCoy — ‘true’ transexuals, exactly as the mainstream public thinks about ‘real’ transexuals (assuming that they think about them at all, of course). And that’s ok. Children are innocent. Anything that makes children smile must be good for them.
All other transgender people, of course, are sexual perverts. Unless they are merely mentally ill. Or both.
If we continue to study transgender people as part of ‘sexology’, it’s obvious that we’ll be treated as sex freaks…
Imagine that you’re a middle-aged male who, for a time, has been having difficulties in urinating. If it happens once or twice, well, they will probably not worry too much about it. But if it starts to be recurrent, there is the immediate thought that something might be wrong. So what do they do? They go to a urologist, get their bladder and prostate checked, because it’s highly likely that there might be a problem there. It might be just a benign prostate enlargement which is quite common. That can be reversed with hormone therapy using 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, which will prevent a type of testosterone to be synthesised (DHT), which is known to make the prostate enlarge. Simple medical solution. End of story.
Now imagine a much perverser world than ours. Because the prostate is an organ involved in sexual activity (its fluids nourish sperm), it would be considered as being something to be treated by a sexologist. And because not every male has problems caused from an enlarged prostate, and that enlargement is connected to hormonal imbalances, one could suspect it to be… a sexual condition. Maybe you simply had way too much sex in your youth. That made your body produce too much testosterone. Well, of course, all that time spent masturbating between the days you couldn’t get laid didn’t help, either. You therefore will have to face a smirking sexologist who knows all about your perverse sex habits. The result? You have now a medical condition due to your perversion. And — wink, wink! — what is the treatment? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You have had so much sex that you’re all pumped up with testosterone. The wrong kind of testosterone, too. So the treatment is getting you rid of testosterone — effectively, as punishment for your years and decades of enjoying far too much sex, you will be feminised. That’s right! You will not be a ‘full man’ any more. Your prostate will shrink, yes, but so will your libido. You might even start growing breasts — moobs, that is. And your body hair may fall out. Tough — the punishment is adequate — too much sex enjoyed as a male, now you have to become more like a woman, in order to survive… and you will be branded a sexual pervert forever, as the sexologist commits that information to your medical records…
Horrible scenario, isn’t it? Fortunately for us, this is not what happens when you complain to your doctor that you have difficulties urinating. If the problem is linked to an enlarged prostate, the doctor will not think that it has anything to do with how much sex you had — the myth that the more you ejaculate, the less the risk of prostate problems has also been debunked over a decade ago, so doctors know very well that ‘sex’ and ‘prostate problems’ are unrelated. Even if hormonal treatment for an enlarged prostate might, indeed, include testosterone blockers, neither the doctor, nor anyone else, will think of you as ‘less of a man’. You will just be seen as someone who had an illness and needed a cure, that’s all.
Unfortunately, the ‘perverse world’ scenario is exactly what happens to transgender people, when they seek medical help.
Well, the difference is that it’s highly likely that sexologists these days are a bit more open-minded than they used to be, and so they won’t think that you’re a sexual pervert seeking a solution for your ‘problems’, namely things like gender dysphoria, depression, anxiety, and so forth, so that you can enjoy unusual forms of sex again. Honest sexologists will know that whatever is causing your gender dysphoria is related to identity, not to how much sex you had or wish to have.
But that’s not how the public looks at transgender people. In general, they see us merely as people with a deviant sexuality; those who are tolerant and open-minded simply don’t care what kind of sexual perversions you do in the privacy of your homes, and they will be completely honest when they say that they have no issue with transgender people. But what they’re saying is not that they accept and understand your identity issues; what they accept and understand is that you have a different sexuality from theirs, and they’re fine with that, and even defend your right to have whatever sexuality you wish.
In other words, even the most tolerant and best-intentioned people are addressing the wrong issue. But how can we blame the mainstream public for that? After all, we transgender people are thrown in the middle of the LGB crowd — so, for an uninformed person, we’re just part of the non-heterosexual spectrum of sexuality. While this is, indeed, often the case, the point is that LGB stands for sexuality (and the right to love whomever you wish, regardless of what gender they are), while the T stands for gender identity. And, naturally enough, when transgender people look for help, they go to… medical specialists in clinical sexology.
So for the mainstream, ‘transgender issues’ are merely a subgroup of ‘sexuality issues’ — in other words, when we talk about ‘gender identity’, it is assumed that this ‘gender identity’ is contextualised in the framework of ‘sexuality’. In plain English: if you’re transgender, your sexuality is different from other people. That’s ok and should be respected and protected; and we (the public at large) condescendingly understand how much you will suffer for not being able to have the ‘right’ sexuality according to your perceived gender, just because you have the ‘wrong’ body. Because people get so much pleasure out of their bodies, when their gender is aligned to their body and to heterosexual sexuality, they can even be very compassive with transgender people: how horrible it must be for them, not to be able to have the sexuality they identify with, because they are so unfortunate to have the wrong body for their sexuality!
Well, of course all this is correct; and obviously transgender people also want (and have a right) to enjoy their sexuality (with the ‘right’ body), just like anybody else. But we’re putting the cart before the horse. Transgenderity has to do with identity first, and sexuality next. Or a lot of other things before sexuality (depends on the person). More crucially, the sexuality might just be at the bottom of all the other priorities. It’s not that it isn’t there, it’s just that there are more pressing issues to fix first before addressing the rest.
Unfortunately, this is not how transgender people are seen and perceived, even though most honest doctors will worry about the health of their mind first, and their sexuality next. Some sexologists like Blanchard, however, see it the other way round: there is something inherently wrong with the sexuality of certain transgender people, and the only way to make them feel better about it is transition. But it means admitting that you’re a ‘sex freak’. One comment I saw on a blog from a late teenager scared me: he assumed that he was an autogynephilic sex freak, after reading too much Blanchard, and because he couldn’t tolerate the idea of being a freak for the rest of his life, he was seriously considering committing suicide. Of course, we should not pay too much attention to what we read about anonymous people on the Internet, but it’s still worth noticing that labeling transgender people as sex freaks is not necessarily going to help them.
The alternative explanation of masochistic emasculation fetish theory also uses the same approach. Basically, in this scenario, if you’re a MtF transgender person, then you’re mentally so far gone as to get sexually aroused by the idea of chopping bits off your body — namely, those bits that ‘make you male’. This theory, of course, does not believe in the ‘feminine essence’ that I brought up on the previous article; instead, they propose that MtF transgender persons are a subgroup of apotemnophilia, a paraphilia related to the desire of having parts of their bodies amputated. In the specific case of transgender people, of course, the amputation is to be performed on their genitals — the ultimate form of emasculation. Apotemnophilia is currently being researched regarding a possible neurological source (an inability of the brain to ‘own’ a limb or a part of the body due to a neurological defect), which is even more convenient: you, as a transgender person, are not only mentally unstable but physically (neurologically) defective. Also, Wikipedia refers to apotemnophilia as being vaguely linked to a ‘sense of identity’ as well; in other words, people being sexually aroused by getting a limb amputated feel that they are ‘not complete’ (an identity issue) unless they get that limb amputated. The proponents of the masochistic emasculation fetish theory suggest that the same happens with MtF transgender people, who just wish to get their bits chopped off in order to feel ‘less male’, and this is the source of their sexual arousal. The ‘identity’ is something tagged along the whole fetish in the sense that we try to justify the reason why we get sexually aroused with our ‘maleness’ amputated: we tell lies to ourselves, just like those who have apotemnophilia think of themselves as always having been amputees and therefore requiring surgery to modify their bodies in order to feel comfortable about themselves. Because apotemnophilia can be treated with medication and some kinds of therapy (including aversion therapy) — at least in some cases — it’s clear that those proposing the emasculation fetish theory, unlike Blanchard, don’t think that transition is the answer, but therapy. Note that the Blanchardians defend transition as the only ‘cure’ for autogynephilia. And also note that the proponents of the masochistic emulation fetish theory truly believe in a ‘(MtF) transgender conspiracy’ to get doctors to chop bits off their bodies…
The problem is that we don’t have ‘identitology’ as a medical specialisation. All we’ve got is sexology. Therefore, the medical class is forced to learn about identity issues while having to deal with the larger picture, which is human sexology. There is an inherent flaw in this model, which is far too Freudian for my taste: we are certainly sexual beings, that goes without question, but we are so much more than that.
On the nature of ‘excitement’
Now we come to the crucial bit of all such theories: they are strongly based on Freudian assumptions about sexuality being the driving force of practically everything — mentally, emotionally, and so forth. This is, of course, arguable. Nevertheless, most of clinical sexology has been grounded on Freudian theories, modified over the decades as things have evolved. But to this very day sexologists still discuss what is a ‘fantasy’, what becomes a ‘fetish’, and when does it become a ‘paraphilia’, since most of these cases can simply be explained as sexual diversity and nothing more. It’s only when one’s personal sexual tastes start affecting our abilities to function socially and/or affect others that doctors really need to look into things.
In other words, a crossdresser who just gets sexually aroused by crossdressing, but who otherwise has absolutely no issues (mental, social, etc.), then it’s not really worth of placing any ‘label’ on such person — it’s a harmless activity and nothing else.
There is, however, a catch.
In our Western societies, even though we are supposed to have ‘grown out of it’, we still label certain things as ‘sexual perversions’ and teach our children not to engage in them; and we frown upon anything which is ‘deviant’ from, well, vanilla sex. The constraints placed upon generations of people subject to religious authority have left a huge mark in our collective unconscious that is hard to shake off. Therefore, we still view anything strongly related to ‘sex’ as inherently ‘bad’, at least to the extent that it interferes with ‘normal’ life (which, in a strange sense, is supposed to be ‘sexless’, meaning having nothing to do with sex, when of course sex is part of ‘normal life’ as well…).
Not surprisingly, therefore, a lot of early writings by crossdressers dropped the whole sexual aspect altogether. Crossdressing is an activity that causes well-being, diminishes stress, and leads to social groupings (with other crossdressers) to explore one’s ‘feminine essence’. In other words, crossdressers have long since expressed themselves in a ‘sexless’ way, which they assumed that would give them far greater credibility. Long-standing institutions created by crossdressers (like the Beaumont Society) actively expelled members who did somehow benefit from the organisations’ venues or social media in order to find available sexual partners. As the Internet became ubiquitous, such groups concluded that there were more than enough dating/porn sites already, catering to the sexual desires of crossdressers, and that meant they could simply promote the ‘non-sexual’ aspects of crossdressing and refer to such sites for those who had an interest in them.
Thinkers like Felix Conrad are a bit more careful with this separation of the ‘sexual’ and ‘non-sexual’ areas in transgenderism. Felix argues that sexuality, no matter how hard we ‘repress’ it, is one of our strongest emotions (if not the strongest), and, as such, it drives us to do certain things in a very compelling way. There is nothing inherently wrong in crossdressing for sexual pleasure; like all similar fetishes, it can be overwhelmingly compelling, and we cannot discard it so easily.
Transexuals undergoing transition ought not to have ‘sex’ at the top of their priorities, but it’s agreed by both doctors and the community that there is obviously a desire to change one’s body to fit one’s gender identity, not only for finally having mind and body aligned, but also for allowing the transexual person to be able to have a normal, healthy sex life, under the gender role they identify with, and with a body that allows them to have the kind of sexual interaction that is appropriate for their sexuality. Among MtF transexuals it’s not unlikely that many have started to come out as homosexual, since they felt a deep attraction to other men, and had no other plausible explanation for that attraction, except for being homosexual. However, once they engaged in relations with male partners, they felt that something was inherently wrong — because they felt no attraction to ‘gay men’, but only to cisgender heterosexual males. This lead them to understand that they were not really ‘gay’, but rather transexual, since the only way to attract cisgender heterosexual males is to have the body of a woman and live the gender role of a woman. So, once again, we can see the strong links between identity and sexuality. None of these can (or should) be discarded.
However, saying that crossdressing and/or certain cases of transgenderism are only motivated by sex is a generalisation that simply isn’t true. And here the issue is complicated by misunderstanding word usage: ‘sexual arousal’ is confused with ‘excitement’ — because getting sexually aroused is exciting, while not everything that excites us is related to sex.
Consider adrenaline junkies who love extreme sports. They most certainly get ‘excited’ by risking their lives while engaging in such sports. This ‘excitement’ is simply the result of having adrenaline flooding the system, and triggering all kinds of positive feelings through the brain’s reward system. Now of course sexual activity also engages the same mechanism; and one might even admit that there is nothing like sex to trigger an adrenaline rush and the release of chemicals that come from the reward system, although it’s not the only thing that triggers such a mechanism. Asexual people, for instance, can get ‘excited’ as well by a lot of things — there is nothing wrong with their reward system and/or the way they react to adrenaline — it’s just that ‘sex’ is not one of them.
Indeed, infants and pre-pubescent children most definitely get ‘excited’ by many things — often almost continuously, to the utter despair of their parents — and we can all agree that this ‘excitement’ has nothing to do with sex.
So we must be very careful and clearly separate ‘arousal’ from ‘excitement’. Obviously this is not an easy task. When a crossdresser dons some articles of women’s clothing, they most certainly get excited. Many, of course, will also get sexually aroused as well. The latter are most certainly fetishist crossdressers; but what about the former?
We cannot simply argue that the excitement has the same source. It doesn’t. Even if the actual response from the reward system is similar, we have to avoid generalisations. Because people can get excited by a lot of different things, we cannot claim that all of these are sexual in nature. Someone might get excited from reading a book about politics; it really has nothing to do with sex.
Some psychologists are aware of the difference. In the late 1980s, one way to separate so-called transvestites from the ‘real’ transexuals was by asking if they felt sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothes. Transexuals would answer that they didn’t feel any sexual arousal; transvestites, by contrast, would get sexually aroused merely by the idea of wearing women’s clothes. But is that separation legitimate? After all, cisgender women also get sexually aroused when they wear certain clothes — they feel ‘sexy’, and that feeling is clearly sexual arousal. That doesn’t mean that they are ‘lesser women’ because the idea of wearing sexy clothes excites them. In other words: excitement, as well as arousal, are part of one’s identity; it’s not just a fetish, much less a paraphilia.
A trans woman has the same ‘right’ to feel sexually aroused by ‘feeling sexy’ in her clothes as a cisgender woman. ‘Feeling sexy’ because one is a woman is not supposed to make a trans woman ‘less of a woman’ either; this is one of the fundamental points where Blanchard (and the proponents of the masochistic emasculation fetish theory) get it all wrong. Quoting Felix Conrad again: trans women might feel sexually aroused by their self-image as woman, not because they are ‘autogynephilic transexuals’ (a paraphilia), but because many women also feel sexually aroused by their self-images. Not all of them, sure, but many do. And that’s just because of their core identity, not because they are insane sexual perverts!
But even if we can argue that cisgender women might not feel sexually aroused by their self-images, and probably not come to any conclusion, at least we can agree that some women will feel excited when they dress up to go out with friends. Again, we are not falling into generalisations; some women will never feel excited at all after a marathon of hairdressing, makeup application, testing series of clothes to see which ones fit, and endlessly moving things from one handbag to another… they might just get anxious, or even irritated. Others simply won’t feel ‘anything’: it’s just another night going out with friends, what is there to be excited about?
We therefore face the same dilemma as before: women might get excited when they look at themselves in the mirror, and, in some cases, sexually aroused. While the latter might be comparatively rare, the former isn’t — just look at teenager girls before prom night! Or when they get invited to their first marriage of an older friend or familiar! There is surely a lot of excitement there, and that excitement is undeniable. Yes, it triggers an adrenaline rush for sure. And why shouldn’t it? For many girls, this will be the prelude to an exciting evening (there goes the word ‘excite’ again)… even if it’s all going to be ‘plain vanilla’, without hugging, kissing, or sensual dancing… but nevertheless still thrilling.
Words are important here. When a MtF crossdresser says that she is ‘excited’ by wearing a woman’s dress, that does not mean that she feels sexually aroused by it. This can also happen, of course. And it’s clear that the crossdresser will know the difference between both feelings: even though ‘sexual arousal’ includes ‘excitement’, the reverse is obviously not true. We might argue that being ‘sexually aroused’ is far more intense than merely being ‘excited’, and Felix Conrad would certainly agree with that — sexual arousal being probably the strongest feeling we can have. But ‘excitement’ in the sense of ‘thrilling’ is pretty up the scale as well, and shares several characteristics (namely, triggering the adrenaline rush).
A decade or so ago, I could easily distinguish a ‘mild sexual arousal’ from ‘intense excitement’ — the only thing I needed to do is to use the toilet 🙂 If there was any pre-seminal fluid, then, well, I’d label it as ‘mild sexual arousal’; if not, it was just ‘intense excitement’. Scientific? Not by far! It just shows that, yes, there is a fine dividing line between both — like everything else, ‘excitement’ is also a spectrum of emotions and feelings, with more or less intensity; physical excitement, for instance, will almost always trigger an adrenaline rush, while mental excitement, which is certainly more than possible (what you get by reading a fascinating page-turner, for instance…), might trigger it or not. We still refer both as ‘excitement’. Similarly, we can get ‘sexually aroused’ by watching porn, but the level of intensity — if we actually ejaculate or not — will naturally depend on a lot of factors (where we are when we’re watching porn, if we’re alone, if we’re ‘in the mood’, etc.).
People like the followers of the masochistic emasculation fetish theory will say that ‘crossdressers are lying when they say that “dressing up” does not sexually arouse them’ — something which the Blanchardians, to a degree, will also claim. The idea is to separate the so-called ‘true transexuals’ — who allegedly do not get sexually aroused by presenting themselves as the gender they identify with — and ‘fetishists’/’paraphiliacs’, who do get sexually aroused. Needless to say, my doctors also ask me if I get sexually aroused when I dress up; my answer is a laconic: ‘It used to, decades ago, but now it’s just exciting in a non-sexual way’. However, I’m pretty sure that they don’t know the difference, or pretend not to notice it.
Can we determine the difference of excitement and sexual arousal scientifically? (Not using my method, of course!) There are a few psychological models that suggest that ‘excitement’ is a phase that comes before ‘arousal‘, which in turn springs from ‘sexual desire’. Tension builds up, and at some moment, there must be a release of tension, and this is what we usually call orgasm. Sounds complicated for something that pretty much every human being experiences, right?
I would agree. Just looking at the kind of implements that scientists use to measure desire, arousal and orgasm makes me shudder; not being very fond of sex toys myself, I imagine that I would be a terrible object of study. And, in any case, I guess that test subjects would need to build up some confidence before starting to insert all those measuring devices inside their bodies. Even more simple tests like skin conductivity — or merely observing heat distribution using an infrared camera (where one can see how the many bits and pieces involved in sexual activity will get flooded by blood during arousal and orgasm, therefore making them hotter) — requires that such subjects are perfectly comfortable with scientists poking and prodding them, attaching probes and electrodes to various parts of the bodies, or, at least, watching what is going on through cameras of all sorts. Really, in presence of so much privacy intrusion, I can only speak for myself: I would be utterly unable to sexually perform in such a test environment!
Nevertheless, this is how sexual activity in humans has been thoroughly measured for the past seventy years or so, since the famous Kinsey Reports were published, and a whole area of science that was previously absolutely taboo (even though Freud had his saying much earlier than that) — sexology — was founded. Even today, people still freely cite Kinsey’s work, as well as his sexuality scale, which, under several different forms, has been updated and kept around until this very day. Even though many other sexologists have expanded and elaborated over Kinsey’s original work, a lot of conclusions are nevertheless still dubious, confusingly described, full of prejudice, or simply wrong. Science has definitely advanced a lot in this area, but there are still contradictions. Take sexual desire as an example. Some researchers believe that desire is merely the prelude to arousal and orgasm; while others concluded that desire can be maintained during not only those two phases, but also during the so-called ‘refractory’ phase, which was initially believed to be a moment where males receive from the brain’s reward system so much pleasure, well-being, and a sense of tiredness that they would abandon all sexual desire for a while (shorter periods at younger ages, much longer periods as age progresses). But recent studies has shown that such limitative descriptions simply didn’t apply to all subjects. Some women, for instance, also get refractory phases; while some males have no such measurable phases and can perfectly have multiple orgasms — not unlike what popular folklore attributed to women only. In fact, Wikipedia lists some interesting experiments with some drugs that can inhibit the refractory phase in males — thus allowing them to enjoy the pleasure of multiple orgasms just like women (even though the side-effects of such drugs have not been established and they are not available commercially). Last but not least, it’s clear that many people — males and females alike — are perfectly able to get sexually aroused merely by their mind thoughts, not even needing physical stimulation, and their reward system is similar to those who go through the phases of arousal and orgasm; so-called ‘mind orgasms’ are therefore measurable (and provable to exist), and no, they aren’t limited to women only — unlike what popular belief says. Such experiments have involved paraplegics — people with spinal cord damage — which can measurably go through all those phases although, obviously, they cannot feel anything physical. In fact, by comparing a series of experiments, some researchers even believe that men and women can feel pretty much the same kind of desire, arousal, and even orgasms — in other words, the concept that males and females feel them differently has been questioned as well!
The conclusion? Well, Kinsey already knew the issue was very complex. He had, of course, some prejudice when writing his reports, but he meant well — to advance science in this area — and he was probably the first claiming that all things sexual are not ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘all’ or ‘nothing’, or even ‘male’ and ‘female’, but a spectrum of possibilities. People like Dr. Benjamin, who has adapted Kinsey’s sexuality scale to figure out transexuality, came to similar conclusions — even though, at that time, the notion of something called ‘gender identity’ separate from ‘sexuality’ was still unknown.
My point here is simply to claim that no, this issue is anything but simple; it has been researched for years and years, but we are still coming up with new conjectures and hypothesis, and having some difficulty in measuring them to ‘prove’ them empirically. Sex is a complex subject to study, and the more people feel easier about talking about their experiences, the more ‘confusing’ the overall picture becomes.
But this has a major impact in the way we are supposed to ‘read’ certain physiological responses. And here, again, is where we can clearly depart from Blanchard and the masochist emasculation fetishist proponents. We will need to review a few key points to illustrate the difference.
Beware of too narrow categories!
Imagine that you wish to describe the amount of light that the Earth gets during one of its rotations around its axis — more or the less 24 hours — to an alien. You might start with the easiest way: sometimes it’s day, sometimes it’s night, we have the Sun during the day, but (at best) just the Moon to give us some light during the night. Night is, therefore, essentially ‘darkness’.
But then you need to be more precise. In fact, the amount of daylight is not constant during the ‘day’ — that’s why we divide it broadly into ‘morning’, ‘midday’ and ‘afternoon’. These reflect different intensities of light. It’s not that ‘daylight’ doesn’t apply to them, but they are just more refined and precise definitions. What about ‘twilight’ — what happens during dawn and dusk? It’s not quite ‘daylight’ but clearly not ‘night’ either. Also, moonless nights are far darker than those with the moon — and full moon can be so bright as to throw clear shadows on the ground. It’s nevertheless much less ‘light’ than ‘daylight’.
What about… clouded days? Fog? A solar eclipse? Well, you might argue with the alien that these are… ‘exceptions’ to the rule. But then again, some countries have clouded days almost every day… even if just for a few hours. While other countries might have unclouded days 330 or even more days per year — and the remaining days might just be ‘partly clouded’. And then there is smog, strong volcano eruptions, and other forms of pollution that can also cloud the sky and make the ‘daylight’ much less brightly than it should…
So you can see that things get pretty much difficult when trying to describe all possibilities. It’s not that dividing the 24 hours into ‘day’ and ‘night’ is wrong; it’s just an oversimplification. It works well for most things, like casual conversation — ‘during the day I work, during the night I sleep’ — but it shouldn’t be taken as a rigorous classification. Nevertheless, we can measure the amount of sunlight we get with immense precision — we most certainly have tools that are able to measure that! But going from ‘precise measurements’ (across a very broad spectrum of possibilities) to ‘categories’ is a long step — and one that is not that trivial to make.
Bearing this in mind, let’s get back to Blanchard for a moment. When categorising MtF transexuals, Blanchard found an astonishing thing: that late onset transexuals almost always (he would claim ‘always’) have erotic dreams of themselves as women, while early onset transexuals have not. This was baffling for the main reason that it didn’t ‘fit’ into any existing model of gender and sexuality we had before. Blanchard therefore reasoned that gender and sexuality must go hand-in-hand, and either a transexual has a ‘normal’ sexuality (i.e. a MtF transexual will feel deeply attracted to males only), or something must be seriously wrong with their sexuality. As an explanation, Blanchard suggested that such individuals, instead of having their object of physical and romantic attraction outside themselves (as any sensible human being ought to have), they have it inside themselves, something which Blanchard refers as ‘erotic target location error’ (sounds like a Windows 95 error, doesn’t it? 🙂 ). So he conjectured that there was something ‘wrong’ with such transexuals, but it was a certain ‘wrongness’ that couldn’t be ‘undone’ either with medication or therapy. Just like aversion therapy in its many forms is unable to turn a heterosexual person into a homosexual one, or vice-versa — something which fortunately was well known and established when Blanchard started studying his subjects — Blanchard also found out that those late onset transexuals did not respond to medication and therapy to change their ‘erotic target location’ to a human being outside themselves: in other worlds, those so-called autogynephilic transexuals would remain autogynephilic no matter what psychologists and psychiatrists would do with them. Blanchard, in short, was proposing that autogynephilia was an alternate sexuality, albeit a flawed one, since he couldn’t see any ‘purpose’ in it; however, what he could see was that autogynephilic transexuals, like non-autogynephilic ones, would respond well to transition — so he proposed that they were ‘allowed’ to go through transition as well as early onset transexuals.
Now, I don’t wish to go through the hundreds of arguments pointing out the many flaws in Blanchard’s arguments, since so many respectable scientists in the field have already published their peer-reviewed debunking of Blanchard. But I would like to point out how limiting Blanchard’s views were, even for the mid-1980s, when it was generally accepted that sexuality and gender identity were a spectrum, although probably a not well-understood one (it still isn’t). Blanchard, by contrast, proposed that there are only four categories of human beings: males (hetero, homo, bi), females (hetero, homo, bi), homosexual transexuals (MtF transgender people strongly attracted to males), and autogynephilic transexuals (males with ‘damaged’ sexuality).
It should be immediately obvious that this does not even come close to convey the diversity of gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. Where, for instance, were the crossdressers? Blanchard shrugged them away; they were merely ‘transvestic fetishists’ like the DSM called them, and that was it; in other words, they were just males acting upon harmless fantasies and not needing to be taken seriously. And then, of course, what about FtM transexuals? Blanchard had some difficulty wriggling out of that embarrassing question, since he didn’t treat them in his clinic, and so couldn’t have a theory explaining them; one would assume, therefore, that all such transexuals were ‘homosexual transexuals’ like their MtF counterparts, because Blanchard did not have any evidence that ‘autoandrophilic transexuals’ existed.
We know, of course, that there are FtM transgender people who do dream of themselves as males (irrespectively of their actual sexuality). Just because they are rare, Blanchard did not come across them. But that’s ok; one might imagine that he could construct another theory around them; the main point, however, is not why the theory is incomplete, but how it starts with wrong assumptions.
It just takes a little time to join any online group or forum of crossdressers and transgender people to see that there is a huge spectrum of diversity among them. In particular, it’s clear that many of them, if MtF, dream of themselves as being women. But so do cisgender women. What’s the difference? Well, ‘men’ ought to dream of themselves as ‘men’, while ‘women’ ought to dream of themselves as ‘women’. Men dreaming that they are women, and vice-versa, seem to be an aberration upon the Lord 🙂 However, it’s more than clear that pretty much everybody has had a dream of themselves in a different gender. It’s called imagination. If that dream is recurring, you might call it a fantasy (not necessarily in the sexual sense — just a plain vanilla normal fantasy, like dreaming of yourself as being a character in Game of Thrones).
Then, still going back to such forums and online groups, we will also encounter such people that get excited with either the idea — or the fulfillment of the idea — of presenting themselves as a different gender. In other words, there is an adrenaline rush when such fantasies are either imagined or fulfilled. As I’ve said before, ‘excitement’ is not the same thing as ‘sexual arousal’; at best, it’s a prelude to sexual arousal — but not always so. Someone who engages in the extreme sport of mountain climbing might get ‘excited’ with the idea when they start to pack their equipment for an upcoming climb. That ‘excitement’ will definitely trigger an adrenaline rush; in some cases, it might be so intense and last so long that they will not even be able to sleep from all the excitement!
Now, if I were Blanchard, I would conclude that this ‘excitement’ is a sure sign that a mountaineer wants to have sex with a mountain, which is clearly a paraphilia, and that person is therefore terminally insane — however, it might actually be good for them to ‘live their fantasies’, because they cannot be ‘trained’ to change their sexuality to something else — say, skating or any other more radical sport.
Obviously that this is utter nonsense! Just because someone gets ‘excited’ by an idea, or an activity, or something upcoming… whatever it might be that triggers that excitement… which can be measurable (adrenaline rushes can manifest themselves in many different ways, but typical external signs include sweating and trembling; and, of course, we can also take blood samples and measure the change in hormonal content during an adrenaline rush…). But it really, really does not need to be something sexual in nature. It would require stretching wildly the definition of ‘sexual’ to include ‘all activities that we enjoy’ — from eating lunch to defecating, from playing Solitaire or calling an old friend on Skype. Because we can get ‘excited’ in this non-sexual sense about gazillions of things, it’s very hard to equate ‘sexual desire’ with all of them. We cannot even talk about a ‘substitution’ — e.g. I cannot get enough sex, therefore I go mountaineering, which also provides me with thrill and excitement. While such ‘substitution’ might be possible in many cases, most people are really not ‘replacing sex by some other form of excitement’, but rather seeking exciting things for their own sake. It’s unquestionable that seeking sexual partners is also exciting, and on top of that, also triggers sexual desire and, of course, arousal; but there are far more things that excite us beyond the search for a sexual partner!
Obviously that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any fetishes; there most certainly are! Consider women’s lingerie, for instance. Lingerie has a practical purpose (in which case, in the Anglo-Saxon world, it is given the much more sensible name of ‘underwear’). But it has also an erotic one. Original lingerie designers were quite often men, and they knew that a lacey bra would be much more likely to trigger arousal and sexual desire in men than ‘boring white bras’ in cotton. It’s one of those cultural things — a meme — that perpetuates itself: men feel aroused by women wearing lacey bras, and so the fashion industry pushes women to wear them, so that they also feel sexy themselves — and get their partners aroused. ‘Feeling sexy’, of course, is also a form of excitement — but one that most definitely borders sexual arousal. So when a male-to-female crossdresser wants to touch, and, ultimately, to wear a lacey bra, he’s just responding to a conditioned social impulse that tells him ‘lacey bras are sexy’. This can induce a fetish — the fetish of not only touching lacey bras on women, but wearing them themselves (i.e. feeling them on their own body instead of the partner’s body) — but it might not. Men, after all, feel embarrassed when they have to touch their partner’s bras to put them to wash — or to store them away. Why? It’s just a piece of clothing; there is nothing to be ashamed about it. Nevertheless, there is a strong sexual connotation with the ‘bra’; it symbolises a certain allure, or sexyness, which is associated with the object of sexual arousal, namely, one’s female partner. In other words: even cisgender heterosexual males will find lacey bras sexy. And that does not make them ‘fetishists’ — or we would have to claim that the totality of the human species were ‘fetishists’ because practically all men will respond with arousal when seeing their female partners in sexy, lacey outfits.
It’s very important to stress out this point, because it will also help us to show how the masochist emaculation fetish theorists also get this wrong. While it’s true that ‘clothes are genderless’, they are nevertheless worn in specific contexts, associated to gender roles, and worn either in public, in private… or in the secrecy of the bedroom. Such items of clothing acquire the ability to induce arousal on others — and not necessarily those who will wear them. It’s not even true that only men get turned on by sexy clothing in women; many women, for instance, can easily get aroused by seeing men in uniform, which, for them, exalts their maleness — and that’s exactly what they are intended to do, after all. So clothes do acquire a symbolic potential for arousal, and, of course, this depends from society to society.
While there are naturally a billion reasons for a male to wish to crossdress, it’s unquestionable that most do it because they derive pleasure from it; again, we’re not talking about ‘sexual pleasure’, but your plain, run-of-the-mill pleasure, the kind that gets induced by certain hormonal cocktails that are dumped by the brain’s reward system. Some kinds of pleasure, of course, are associated to bodily functions — eating and drinking are perhaps the best examples, and so is urinating and defecating, because the brain’s reward system need us to perform such activities regularly in order to function properly. Some researchers believe that sex can be included in this category as well; after all, we can talk about a ‘healthy sexuality’, and this means regularly feeling the urge and compulsion to turn sexual arousal into orgasm and get the pleasurable benefits of the reward mechanism that way. In fact, I would say that most individuals with a healthy libido would agree that sex is as important as eating and drinking, and they would point out eagerly that when they don’t engage in sex with regularity (which is different for each individual, depending on a lot of factors, including one’s age), they will feel irritated, anxious, and eventually even depressed. Sex is part of our nature, and, as such, neglecting sex is prone to make us feel bad or even ill.
But is that really the case? It’s hard to see anyone as happy as Pope Francis or the 14th Dalai Lama; they are perfectly sane, happy, healthy individuals, both well into their senior years and still tremendously active for their age, perfectly lucid, and both having a huge sense of humour. And of course we can add a lot of other people just like those two. Clearly, there is no ‘universal rule’ that people who have voluntarily ‘given up’ sex cannot be as happy as any others. Contrast that to ‘giving up’ food and drink — you will quickly die, end of story (and the same if you stop urinating or defecating). So there should not be any question that the essence of those things is different, even though they can be similar. And, again, we have to return to the point: for a crossdresser, stopping to crossdress is as hard as for a healthy human being with a normal libido to forfeit sex: you can do it for a while, sure, but suppressing the urges will eventually become unbearable, and something will ‘give’ — either you burst and ‘go insane’, or you get into a deep clinical depression.
But of course this is not true of all crossdressers! Just like some people are ‘differently wired’, like the Dalai Lama, and do not ‘need’ sex in the same sense that a healthy person with a normal libido ‘needs’ sex, some crossdressers can voluntarily withhold their ‘urges’ to crossdress, and it will not really affect them in any way. Sure, I’m aware that such cases are not frequent; but they do exist, because I happen to be friends with many of them 🙂
So, my hypothesis, regarding what actually happens in the minds of those crossdreaming transgender people, is that their imagination is not the same thing as what sexologists would call a ‘paraphilia’. In many cases — many more than the Blanchardians would like to admit — people who crossdress do not attribute that act to ‘something sexual’, but merely to ‘something pleasurable’ — in the sense that it triggers their brain’s reward system. On the other hand, some male individuals most certainly experience sexual desire (and, why not?… sexual arousal which can culminate into orgasm) by imagining themselves as women. Is that an ‘alternative sexuality’? No … not really, especially because most of those crossdreamers will not transition. Some might not even suffer from gender dysphoria — they might, for instance, be genderfluid or gender oscillating (which I believe is much more common than sexologists would admit — and this is in part confirmed by my friend Libertino, who has encountered many people who identified as gender oscillating without really having a ‘name’ for what they felt). Or, even though they might admit that the images created by their minds can trigger arousal, they will shrug it off — as so many other people with their fantasies (not fetishes!!) will dream about the craziest things to get aroused. ‘Mind sex’ (or mindfuck as some call it) is very powerful, and I’m always amused when I read about sexologists, psychologists, and sociologists trying to warp their minds around that concept. But is that because they never experienced such powerful dreams or imagination? I find that really hard to believe; both males and females spontaneously have ‘wet dreams’ and they can often identify, in their dreams, what was the specific thought that triggered the arousal. Sometimes, the similar thought can be evoked during broad daylight and not during the dreaming state, and it will still trigger arousal; sometimes, because eventually such thought crossed some social taboos, they will be forcibly suppressed during the day, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t connected to erotic pleasure, desire, arousal, or even orgasm.
We humans are complicated beings! As you can see, there is a vast diversity of possibilities, some of which will trigger sexual arousal, some that will merely trigger ‘pleasure’, some that will trigger excitement/adrenaline rush without being sexual in nature — and we shouldn’t place them all in the same bag and claim that they are all one and the same. We’ve done that with Freud; but even though some conditions can be ‘treated’ that way, not all of them spring from our sexuality. What Blanchard seemed to be unable to understand is that there are, indeed, similarities between what he called ‘homosexual transexuals’ and ‘autogynephilic transexuals’ — when they go to doctors, it’s because they are suffering from gender dysphoria. In other words: lots of crossdreamers have exactly the same kind of dreams and desires that so-called ‘autogynephilic transexuals’ have, but they do not suffer from gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a medical condition; it can be identified; it makes life miserable for those who suffer from it; but, fortunately, it can be alleviated or even completely eliminated through transition (and, sometimes, using other techniques).
Now, gender dysphoria, by itself, does not really mean that one has to subscribe to the ‘feminine essence’/’gender core’ theory. It can be just applied literally: no matter what ‘gender’ actually is, or how it is perceived by a certain individual, that individual simply suffers because they strongly feel that they have the ‘wrong’ gender (or rather, the wrong body for the wrong gender). It’s irrelevant what they dream about. They can have sexual fantasies about being dogs, for all we care; it’s completely irrelevant for the diagnosis. That’s why mainstream doctors will not even care much about the individual’s sexual preferences; they are absolutely irrelevant for either the diagnosis or the treatment. And, as such, it’s absurd (not to call it stupid) to assume that, somehow, certain types of transgender people are ‘more real’ than others because they ‘fit better’ into stereotypes — in Blanchard’s case, into transgender stereotypes, of which he surprisingly could only come with two, which is a notorious underestimation of the vast diversity of transgender individuals!
I have been reading a few websites from alleged respectful researchers, followers of Blanchard, who attempt to discuss these issues in a serious way, and who do not wish to alienate the transgender community whatsoever. They still believe that recognising that some people ‘have erotic dreams of themselves as the opposite gender’ is important, and, even though it’s quite easy to empirically validate this to be the case — yes, sir, indeed, a lot of people dream of themselves as a different gender, and yes, oh horror, it’s not only pleasurable for them, but actually erotic. The keyword here is ‘important’. I don’t see any ‘importance’ at all about trying to rationalise about people’s dreams; indeed, even though sometimes dreams can help a diagnostic, in general, they are far too fickle and vague to give them any scientific validity (in spite of Freud’s book on dream ‘interpretation’, the truth is that he just had anecdotal cases to report about). On the other hand, what is important is if the person does suffer from gender dysphoria or not; and in which degree that gender dysphoria is incapacitating for them. Unlike dream classifications, which at best are good for icebreakers in a doctor-patient relationship, actual symptoms from gender dysphoria can be measured and compared objectively. And there is where the focus of the research should be: not in ‘dream interpretation’ — and trying to come to wild conclusions based on what people dream about! — but in finding real, measurable symptoms that can aid therapists to guide people who suffer on the road to a cure.
A similar argument can be made for the theory of masochist emasculation fetish. Now, it’s certainly true that such a fetish exists; sissification, after all, is a very ‘hot’ fetish, and one that has a large number of followers and practitioners. It’s arguable that for many such fetishists there is a ‘tension release’ during sissification: playing the male role all the time can be so oppressing at times that sissification can be a wonderful ‘escape’ mechanism — which can be pleasurable by itself, and, of course, it can lead to sexual arousal and orgasm as well. Now, while I wouldn’t argue that many of those fantasies are all derived from a desire to ‘escape’ something (some might be merely enacted for the sheer pleasure of indulging in them — sexual or otherwise), I would also not argue that all masochist emasculation fetishism is derived from childhood trauma, as many of the proponents of this theory believe. We are here at exactly the same problem as with Blanchard’s hypothesis: while it’s undeniable that some childhood trauma will lead to masochist emasculation fetishes, it doesn’t mean the reverse, i.e. that a sissification fetishist has to have had some kind of childhood trauma. That would be pathologizing the whole spectrum of sexual fantasies — again, this touches once more on Freud’s theories, where theoretically everything we do is linked somehow to some sexual frustration or trauma in our childhood. We ought to know better.
While the masochist emasculation fetish theory can, indeed, offer a plausible explanation for some cases of childhood trauma — and therefore a good psychologist ought to look into it before looking for other sources for gender dysphoria, because childhood trauma can be relatively easily treated (with high degrees of success), while gender dysphoria can only be ‘cured’ through transition — it is simply wrong to assume that all MtF transgender individuals ‘suffer’ from masochist emasculation fetishism. Again, I refer to Electra’s article explaining the non-scientific approach that the proponents of this theory follow; it sounds ‘buzzwordy’ and high-brow intellectual-y, but, in fact, it’s really non-scientific — especially when we are talking about universals here, e.g. all MtF transgender people are masochist emasculation fetishists. Some will be, for sure; but not all. And proposing such a theory offers little help for those who did not suffer any kind of childhood trauma but nevertheless suffer from gender dysphoria; telling them that ‘it’s just a sexual kink’ will not help them in the least!
Now, it’s important to remember three things which can easily get forgotten in the middle of such a discussion.
First and foremost, the purpose of all such classifications, from the perspective of the individual that ‘fits’ into them, is that they should aid professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical sexologists, endocrinologists…) to correctly evaluate and diagnose what exactly the person suffers from and provide the best possible health care that will have a reasonable chance of a cure. It’s perfectly nonsensical to advance any ‘theory’ in this area which merely proposes a classification for classifications’ sake: we have already way too many labels, we don’t need more — in fact, we need less labels (and I have found a few comments here and there to abolish the ‘crossdresser’ label altogether, because it just describes an action, but not the actor, and nothing can be inferred from that action — therefore, it’s useless as a diagnosis tool), so that therapists and professionals can focus on the most delicate aspects of treating the individual (one of my doctors just told me that the only label we need is ‘human being’; the rest can be safely discarded and thrown down the drain to be forgotten). So, as a rule of thumb, if I come across a ‘theory’ that has as its only purpose making moral or ethical claims over what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ — and not about how people who suffer can better be helped — I wrinkle my nose at that and pretty much throw such theories into the bin. Blanchard’s, in this regard, is even worse — because by only looking at what people dream, Blanchard fits them squarely and nicely into the category of ‘freaks who should go through transition ASAP, or they will become terminally depressed or suicidal freaks’. Instead, one ought to look at several other issues that such people might have, and consider them one by one, to see if they are treatable with available medication and therapy or not. Similarly, masochist emasculation fetish theorists propose that therapists first start with investigating if childhood trauma could be causing gender dysphoria, instead of immediately pushing them into transition; I can most certainly agree with that aspect of their theory, so long as they understand that not all people have childhood traumas (or at least not all transgender people have childhood traumas that result in masochist emasculation fetishes!).
While the social sciences might report on the diversity of transgender people, and use several and diverse classifications for them, we have to understand that their acquisition of knowledge about transgenderism has different purposes than the medical sciences. In particular, one aspect of the conclusions of several researchers in social science is to give the community a solid framework for recognition of civil rights. The second thing to have in mind, therefore, is that not all transgender people suffer from any kind of dysphoria. In fact, the only thing that they might ‘suffer’ from is the lack of social acceptance of their condition. That’s one of the good arguments for ‘depathologizing transexuality’ — in other words, to legally allow anyone to formally register themselves as the gender they identify with without the need to have a doctor’s approval.
Although obviously doctors disagree with this — at least for now — it’s very important to separate three things: one is the right to affirm one’s gender. The other is suffering from a medical condition known as gender dysphoria, which is a real issue, and requires medical attention. And the third is that transgender people may require help from doctors with hormonal therapy and/or surgery independently of the fact of their suffering from gender dysphoria or not.
In other words, right now, in most countries, all three things are mixed together: people who suffer from gender dysphoria consult doctors; they evaluate them and eventually sign them off for surgeries and HRT; and finally they give them the stamp of approval for legally changing their gender and name. In some countries, the last two points can be reversed. However, this approach begs the question: what happens when a transgender person does not suffer from gender dysphoria, but still wants their legal identification to reflect their gender identity? In other words: doctors tend to believe that ‘normal’ people do not wish to change their gender and name; it’s only ‘sick’ people that do so, and, because they are ‘sick’, they need to be treated first (or at least evaluated), and only afterwards they can change their documentation.
Again, this is very similar to the issue of excitement vs. sexual arousal — they are two different things, even if they trigger similar responses from the brain’s reward system. In this case, we are confusing people who are perfectly healthy and do not require any therapy, but currently have to subject themselves to the scrutiny of doctors that will (eventually) figure out that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them but remain baffled why they wish to change gender and name. It’s time we change that, and separate the two cases. Things like ‘autogynephilia’ (which implies transition) or ‘masochist emasculation fetish’ (which implies treatment for an alleged ‘childhood trauma’ preventing transition) are just clinical labels (or attempts to turn those theories into clinical labels) with which not every transgender person will identify with, and which will deprive them of the basic civil right to one’s integrity of identity. As such, they should be abandoned.
And finally, it’s really time to move on beyond Freud. While I have previously agreed that the vast majority of crossdressers in social media are, in fact, transvestic fetishists — and love it! — and therefore I have to agree that for the vast majority of people, ‘dressing up as a woman’ is strongly tied to sexual arousal (and intercourse!), it’s fundamental that we stop looking at things in black and white. There is still a very large number of transgender people out there who genuinely suffer from gender dysphoria, and, for them, it’s not ‘all about sex’ (although of course it might be for some), even though many will agree that ‘dressing up as a woman’ might provide them relief (escapism), or pleasure/excitement (triggered by the adrenaline rush and brain’s reward system), but that such feelings are not related to sexuality at all.
It’s very hard to escape the clutches of sexuality! For years and years I considered myself nothing more than a fetishist, because I always got excited when dressing up. It still happens to this very day. Because of all what I read, I considered that excitement to be ‘sexual arousal’. But after so many years, and some Buddhist training allowing me to deeply look into my feelings, I started to wonder how much of that ‘excitement’ was really sexual in nature. Fetishists, in general, would dress up only because they want to feel the pleasure that comes from sexual arousal; they almost always report having an erection, and even if they don’t get it (you know, guys, sometimes it happens! 😉 ), they had the intention of getting it. When we start entering into the realm of crossdreaming, things get more complicated, but also much more interesting, because, in some cases, certain MtF crossdreamers can only achieve orgasm by imagining themselves as women. I could relate to that very strongly, because it’s true for me in over 99% of all cases (but not all — sometimes mere physical stimulation could be enough).
However, even this is a simplification. As my friend Libertino has found out, some transgender women he has been in touch with have not transitioned (for several reasons), but they are still always in touch with their ‘feminine essence’. What this means is that when they can dress as women — usually a rare event — they naturally act and behave as women, since that’s the gender role that they identify with; but during the day, they are always ‘crossdreaming’ — thinking of themselves as women, no matter what their gender presentation might be — and can immediately respond in their female gender role when contacted by email, Facebook chat, texting, or even phone calls. In other words: the mechanism that ‘shuts down’ their (forced) gender presentation as males and that triggers their gender presentation as females happens instantaneously — it’s always present, even if that person is not actively crossdressing (or isn’t daydreaming of crossdressing in the near future).
Such examples call for a much deeper examination of the causes and conditions that make certain persons act and behave as if they have an inner essence of a different gender that the one assigned at birth — even though they are usually constrained not to present that gender publicly (for many different reasons — social, familiar, professional, etc.). In a sense, they are un-dysphoric transgender people, in the sense that they do not present the usual symptoms of gender dysphoria, but are nevertheless transgender — although possibly medical science, and to a degree the social sciences as well, would not label them as ‘transgender’ in the more strict term of the word, because they do not see a wish to be ‘full-time women’, nor any suffering (in the gender dysphoric context) for not being women full-time.
And of course there are those who assume a different gender presentation because it gives them non-sexual pleasure — in the same sense that a mountain climber gets excited by a new challenge without that excitement being labeled as ‘sexual arousal’. Note that there is nothing wrong in invoking ‘sexuality’ to explain things — after all, sexuality is part of human nature, and using sexuality has good explanatory powers, since the times of Freud until the times of people like Felix Conrad. My only point is that human nature is not only sexuality, but we have, from the physiological to the psychological aspects, more ways to ‘feel excitement’ beyond sexuality.
Therefore, while never neglecting aspects of one’s personality that might have been caused by childhood trauma — especially of a sexual nature — as well as other, even deeper causes, possibly linked to neurological changes at the brain level, both doctors and social scientists should be aware of the role of ‘doing things because they are pleasant or exciting’, even if those are not linked to sexuality at all. Gender identity is, after all, linked to identity; and, again, even though one’s sexuality is certainly part of our overall identity, our identity (and even our gender identity) is not only determined by our sexuality. We have several mechanisms which trigger our well-being and register as pleasure; we should not ignore all of them, in an almost perverse desire to find ‘sex’ in all things, a bit like Freud did. Obviously, people with gender dysphoria very often exhibit sexual frustration at many levels; again, this should not be overseen, but, at the same time, just because there is no sexual frustration as part of the symptoms of gender dysphoria, it doesn’t mean that someone is not suffering from all other symptoms!
Separating gender identity from sexuality is a relatively recent event in the medical and social sciences, at least in the West. It’s natural if we spent centuries oppressed under a strict religious interpretation that ‘all sex is bad’ (except that which leads to procreation among married couple) and ‘everything pleasurable — because sex is pleasurable! — is bad’, then it’s easy to understand why such memes still persist to this very day. We might live in enlightened times, when we have broken many sexual taboos — and became a much better and healthier society because of that — but at the same time established strict differences between issues pertaining to ‘identity’ and those that pertain to ‘sexuality’. A lingering effect of those centuries of linking everything bad to sex is that even today gender identity issues are studied by… sexologists, as if somehow ‘identity’ is still subsumed by ‘sexuality’, at least in the minds of the medical theorists of our time. Obviously I’m not saying anything against clinical sexologists — thank goodness we have them, since nobody else is interested in researching into this field — but it’s interesting how studies related to ‘identity’ in general come from a mix of philosophy, neurology, and psychology, while ‘gender identity’ is still firmly rooted in ‘sexology’, even though, of course, inroads have been made into neurology and genetic studies of certain markers of the brain.
I think it’s mostly because gender issues are studied by sexology in the medical sciences that they influence all other sciences (and even some activists!) to believe that, for transgender people, all ‘excitement’ and ‘pleasure’ comes from sexuality — granted, it might be an alternative form of sexuality, but, essentially, it’s still sexuality at some point. This naturally saddens me, because this is the view that the uneducated public has about transgender people — for them, transexuality (the more frequently encountered type of transgenderity, at least for the public at large) is a ‘special case’ of homosexuality, which is something that comes from centuries ago. In other words, in the minds of the public, when they see a ‘guy in a frock’, they can only conclude that the only logical reason for that is a sexual kink of some kind. Because we live in much more enlightened days (I’m typing the remainder of this article at a perfectly ‘normal’, non-LGBT esplanade by the river, where I used to write a lot on my lapbook in the early 1990s — dreaming that one day I could be en femme in such a place — and the truth is that most people haven’t looked at me twice, except, of course, for the attendants, since it’s their job to ask me if I want something else 🙂 ), such an attitude frustrates me. We should be better than that: I just dress in women’s clothes because I like it, there is ‘nothing more’ beyond that, although it’s also clear to me that the reason why I like it is because I suffer from gender dysphoria, at least to a certain degree…
One might reasonably assume that as a MtF transgender person, the feeling that everybody looks at me as a sexual object walking on legs is exactly how cisgender women feel all the time, and, therefore, I should really not be surprised, but rather empathise with what cisgender woman have to deal with every day, while I’m ‘lucky’ to only feel that occasionally, in part-time. True. I cannot argue against that!
As well as I can’t argue against people who cannot see the difference between ‘excitement’ and ‘sexual arousal’. Perhaps, like so many other things, it requires a certain mindset to be able to see the difference; it might not be immediately visible to everybody, and not even complex logic to show the difference might suffer for most people who instinctively believe the two things to be the same. Even though they might go out mountaineering and get excited about it, they still will insist that transgender people, somehow, get a sexual kink from dressing clothes of a gender different from the one assigned at birth…
Quoting my wife: even though she has read quite a lot about transgenderity, and has endured my ‘secret’ for twelve years, she still cannot understand what inside me pushes me to go out dressed as a woman and be seen by everybody like that, making a fool of myself. What possibly can drive me to be publicly humiliated — especially when she knows that I suffer from rejection sensitivity syndrome? To that I really cannot offer a logical explanation; saying ‘it’s who I am, it’s how I feel, it’s what gives me pleasure’ is far too vague, and clearly irrational.
Perhaps. Perhaps I’m also being irrational when trying to separate excitement from sexual arousal!… and in that case, I shouldn’t be bothering you to read 13,000 words on the subject 😉