I inherited the letters my father sent to his parents in the early 1980s. In an early letter, my father explains:
“I am what is known as a ‘trans-sexual’. For people who do not ‘suffer’ from the syndrome the whole concept is difficult to understand, but I will do my best to describe the problem. The ‘classic’ TS has the mind of one sex within the body of the opposite sex. On the surface you may say, ‘so what?’ But think again, the complete mental structure of one sex within the physical structure of the other, living a life of relating to the world as a member of that sex while your instinctive and emotional reactions are quite different. There is only one way of ‘squaring the circle’ of the contradictions involved – total control – and this is the triumph of the will that I have managed for as long as I can remember ….”
This is how my father also explained his condition to me – that he had a woman’s brain in a man’s body. And I bought it. How could I not? My father was a great authority, always confident in any of his pronouncements, and very keen for me to know how much more clever he was than me. I believed it for over 30 years.
But… but… what if it isn’t true? What if you are just you in a body? What if brains aren’t really male or female like that? Can you actually be born in the wrong body? I find when you start to ask these questions certain things you encounter along the journey of having a trans parent make more sense even if the answers are quite uncomfortable.
So if it’s not a female brain, what’s going on with your father that makes him want to be a woman?
Dr Ray Blanchard, a psychiatrist who has worked with a large number of transsexuals, suggested that you can categorise them into two groups: homosexual transsexuals and autogynephiles. This idea of there being two groups of transsexual wasn’t new – it had been noted by previous researchers on the subject. The homosexual transsexuals, according to Blanchard, had a lower proportion of ‘fetishistic cases’ than the hetero/bi/asexual cases, which means that the latter group had a much more noticeable fetish for wearing women’s clothing. Blanchard went further in trying to describe the fetish that was obvious in the non-homosexual TS group:
“Gender identity disturbance in males is always accompanied by one of two erotic anomalies. All gender dysphoric males who are not sexually oriented toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as women … [which I wish to call] autogynephilia (“love of oneself as a woman”)”
Here is how Blanchard describes the condition (and I am grateful to transsexual activist & writer Miranda Yardley for all the quotes here):
“It should be noted that the concept of autogynephilia does not imply that autogynephilic males are always sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as women, or by dressing in women’s clothes, or by contemplating themselves cross-dressed in the mirror – any more than a man in love always obtains an erection at the sight of his sweetheart … Autogynephilia … may be manifested in a variety of ways, and fetishistic cross-dressing is only one of them.”
Blanchard suggests that autogynephilia presents in some combination of these four forms:
- Wishing to engage in stereotypically feminine behaviour
- Wanting to have female anatomic structures
- Wanting to dress in women’s apparel
- Wanting to exhibit female physiologic functions
Psychologist Michael Bailey developed this idea further:
“Honest and open autogynephilic transsexuals reveal a different pattern [to homosexual transsexuals]. They were not especially feminine boys. The first overt manifestation of what led to their transsexualism was typically during early adolescence, when they secretly dressed in their mothers’ or sisters’ lingerie, looked at themselves in the mirror, and masturbated. This activity continued into adulthood, and sexual fantasies became increasingly transsexual – especially the fantasy of having a vulva, perhaps being penetrated by a penis. Autogynephilic transsexuals might declare attraction to women or men, to both, or to neither. But their primary attraction is to the women that they would become.”
Psychologist (and transsexual) Anne Lawrence suggests that the autogynephile isn’t necessarily completely sexual in focus, but instead it is a type of romantic love, which often comes from a mid-life crisis of some sort, like losing a job or a relationship: “the process of changing one’s body and living as a woman offers an identity, a program of action, and a purpose in life.” I know that my own father had a breakdown when he was married to my mother. I wonder if this is how he repurposed himself.
Autogynephilia as a theory explains a lot of things I observed, but it’s definitely contentious and upsets a lot of trans-identified men. It certainly helps the partners of transitioners describe the development of the condition and its effect on their relationship. It also explains why some autogynephiles seem mostly benign, while others are much more aggressively sexual. When women talk about concern about autogynephiles in women’s spaces, there’s an awareness that at its extreme this is a paraphilia that can be deadly to women. Serial killers Dana Rivers, Richard Speck and Beate Schmidt are examples of this. Even in its least troubling incarnation, where your Dad just starts wearing women’s clothes and very little else changes, you are on some level aware that he felt he needed to define what a ‘woman’ is, and that definition has a sexual motivation.
While many people assume that autogynephilia is all about the clothes, the fact is that children of transitioners are often familiar with the other markers of the condition. When your father wants to go to a bra fitting or make up session with you, or wants to know all about your period, that’s autogynephilia too. If your father is doing this he is involving you in his erotic world.
India Willoughby (left) and Kellie-Jean Keen-Minshull
Once you understand what autogynephilia is, it’s not difficult to spot. One example is trans television spokesperson India Willoughby’s appearance on Good Morning Britain with women’s rights campaigner Posie Parker in 2018. (During an appearance on ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ in the same year, Willoughby told other contestants that he hadn’t spoken to his son Rhodes for several months because of his sex change.) Posie Parker, whose real name is Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, had posted a billboard with the words ‘Woman: Adult Human Female’ in Liverpool. All she would ask of Willoughby is that he does not say that he is an actual woman. When Willoughby is asked to give a point of view, he turns towards her, and says, “I just want to ask you Kellie, what would make you happy? Would you want to shave my head, make me want to wear boys’ clothes?” The presenter tells her that Willoughby is “A woman trapped in a man’s body.” The interview is a useful example of the way that autogynephiles are dominating the discourse around trans rights. Willoughby suggests that ‘biology goes wrong’ and says that you can’t have a brain transplant, so you have to “change your body.” But it’s not immediately the body that Willoughby focuses on first – it’s the clothes and the hair. Because for Willoughby that’s what ‘woman’ means more than anything, and his first fear is that these scary women would make him give them up.
“A woman in a man’s body” … “Assigned male at birth” … “In the wrong body”
None of this is true. There is zero scientific evidence that trans people have the brains of the opposite sex. For a start, human brains are fairly similar and what brain differences there are don’t show anything for autogynephiles. It’s easy to find articles on Twitter reporting on studies that say that transgenderism is apparent in the brain, for example this one from Newsweek.
Debra Soh explains in her book The End of Gender that the brains of gay men have an area that is similar to straight women, and the brains of lesbians have an area that is similar to straight men. Studies like the one quoted in Newsweek don’t record the sexuality of the participants. What we are seeing is not an indicator of transgenderism – not proof of a ‘woman’s brain in a man’s body’, but of sexuality. So no matter what Sam Smith tells you, having a brain similarity doesn’t actually make a gay man a woman. So Blanchard’s ‘homosexual transsexual’ would show up with a similarity to straight women, but not the autogynephile.
The End of Gender is recommended for giving the actual science that disproves the ‘feminine essence’ theory. Soh says:
“Like many truths around the transgender debate, information is swept under the rug, and so-called experts deny its veracity because they are either afraid of the activists or their livelihoods depend on them doing so. Within sexology, everyone acknowledges that autogynephilia is real, including clinicians who treat adult patients presenting with gender dysphoria, but only a handful of my colleagues have been brave enough to go on the record and say so.”
This isn’t to say that you can’t support your father, but it’s realistic to understand that he has done what he has done because he has a transvestic disorder. And perhaps that’s better than pretending that the clothes make him a woman.
In the wider world, this need to prove that men can have a ‘female brain’ has dire consequences for others. For a while I wondered why late-stage transitioners were so emotionally invested in the idea of ‘trans children’ given how compelling the evidence is that gender non-conformity in childhood is a marker for homosexuality, and also given how severe the physical consequences are for children taking puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones . The answer is, of course, that if transgenderism can be seen to exist without an erotic element, in pre-pubescent children, then perhaps we can pretend that the erotic element doesn’t exist in adults.
This is why a trans professor at Berkeley, Grace Lavery recently encouraged Twitter followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book on ROGD and destroy it, and trans ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio also called for Shrier’s work to be removed from circulation:
Writer Jennifer Bilek argues that this acceptance of autogynephilia at the institutional and corporate level damage people by causing a dissociation. We are all being groomed to accept a sexual fetish as a civil right:
“With autogynephila being framed as a human right, via transgenderism, men with this fetish are being encouraged to come forward while embodying their fantasies at work, in corporations, in institutions and in politics. Their embodiment of their fantasy is the disembodiment of females. Others are being pressured to accept this fetish, with pronoun use and allyship being forced at the corporate and institutional level. These men are then passing laws to validate this sexual abuse of the rest of the people in society, including children, learning about “transgenderism,” under a guise of acceptance, in their grade schools. A common feature of sexual abuse survivors is their instinct to dissociate for survival. Pay attention. We are being corporately groomed for greater levels of dissociation.“
Nevertheless, there is definitely a growing pushback. In the UK, the Department of Education has now explicitly told schools to stop teaching the ‘born in the wrong body’ narrative and trans charities and activists have been backtracking on ever having used the term.
The recent Keira Bell judgement also challenges the idea of the ‘trans child.’
For the children and partners of transitioners, the fear that researchers have of attack from trans activists has created a desert of knowledge.
Trans activists operate a range of strategies that effectively censor us:
- The fierce denial by activists such as Julia Serano that autogynephilia even exists (Serano is a hero of Heather Bryant and quoted extensively in ‘My Trans Parent’, which raises the question of how families of transitioners are being groomed)
- The need to create an idea that you can be born trans, and that children can be trans and be medicated as early as possible. This is advocated by charities such as Mermaids and supported by late stage transitioners to justify their own choices.
- The ‘no debate’ culture which cancels anyone who wants to speak on this issue
- The cry of ‘transphobia’ which is used to control us when we ask questions
Not every autogynephile goes on to transition. The evidence doesn’t seem to show that surgery helps. There are therapies. Not everything has to be about hormones and surgery. People like Walt Heyer are trying to talk openly about why transitioning won’t heal your problems:
If you google ‘autogynephilia’, you wouldn’t think it exists because even talking about it is considered ‘transphobic’. But we must talk about it because it’s our reality. It was 30 years after my father’s transition that I learned the language to describe his condition and understood why he felt the way he did. When I read my father’s letters there is no doubt he is in emotional pain. Was it worth the damage he did to the lives of his two wives, his daughter and his parents to deal with that pain by transitioning? It’s too late for us but not for others. Let’s encourage more research, more understanding, and more honesty.
Debra Soh’s book The End of Gender is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1982132515/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_qhm0Fb7S7CZK7
Transsexual activist Miranda Yardley’s history of autogynephilia, which points out that Blanchard’s work on this condition was prefigured by others in the 20th Century:
Michael Bailey and Kiira Triea, ‘What may transgender activists don’t want you to know: and why you should know it anyway’: