December 16, 1998
1998: Christmas Remembered
|Since I have chosen to continue an involvement in the world of transsexual persons, I've tried to read the works of other authors who deal with transsexual topics. These books are very diverse in their approach to the subject. Some are written by transsexual people themselves, such as Renee Richards's "Second Serve" or Jan Morris's "Conundrum." Many are written for lay audiences, by health professionals. Recent examples include "True Selves" by Mildred Brown and "Confessions of a Gender Defender" by Randi Ettner. There are works such as "Brain Sex" by Moir and Jessel which don't directly mention transsexualism, but still are relevant to our lives. And I haven't even mentioned the actual scientific textbooks. All these works are very helpful for most of us, and are recommended reading.
And then there's Janice Raymond.
Janice G. Raymond, Ph.D., was an assistant professor of women's studies and medical ethics at Hampshire College in Massachusetts in 1979. She is a self-described lesbian feminist and she harbors an unconcealed loathing for transsexual persons and the medical professionals who treat them. This hatred is rampant in her book, "The Transsexual Empire," published in 1979.
The book is a disjointed rant, with much misinformation, inaccurate conclusions, and blind prejudice which leads to complete intolerance. I feel dirty after reading it, and I wonder what sort of bad experience Raymond had at the hands of a transsexual person to inspire such venom.
There are no good men in Raymond's world. Men are totally testosterone toxic, including the physicians and surgeons who enable transsexuals to invade women's space. Even the sensitive, caring men are pilloried:
"All men and male-defined realities are not blatantly macho or masculinist. Many indeed are gentle, nurturing, feeling, and sensitive, which, of course, have been the more positive qualities that are asociated with stereotypical femininity....The androgynous man and the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist deceive women in much the same way, for they lure women into believing that they are truly one of us..."
And to Raymond, all male-to-female transsexuals are men. She uses the male pronouns exclusively to refer to us. We are called "she-males" or "male-to-constructed-females." She quotes selectively from "Sister," a West Coast lesbian publication, with derogatory articles about male to female transsexuals and the letters of angry reaction inspired by those articles. She quotes the very early literature - John Money, Charles Ihlenfeld, Robert Stoller - out of context to support her views. It's a mean-spirited, hateful piece of work.
But I found myself going back and reading "Empire" again recently and wondering if some of her ideas find more application now than they did in 1979. My motivation was the recent essay by Dr. Anne Lawrence on her Web site, "Men Trapped In Men's Bodies: An Introduction to the Concept of Autogynephilia."
Let me state quickly that I am not writing to disparage Dr. Lawrence. She puts a great deal of time and effort into her writings, and undoubtedly has been helpful to a great many people. But she and I see the world from different points of view on most subjects.
Bear with me as we look at a few quotes from "...Autogynephilia."
Really? Certainly it's true for the President, a testo-saturated alpha male. But it's not true for me or for most of the transitioned persons I know. That force is, of course, inner personal identity.
I gave up my entire former life to be true to my inner personal identity. I could not live in the male role any longer. Death would have been preferable to living out my days as a male. I gave up family, friends, and professional position. I wouldn't do it differently if I had it to do over.
But for sexual desire? I'm sorry, but I would not give up anything for sexual desire. It's not worth it. I would not have lost my family or my job. Sexual desire can be suppressed without one's life becoming desperate. At least for me it can.
The Clarke Institute is rather notorious among transsexuals. Their lengthy requirements for crossliving before hormones, much less surgery, seem designed to produce a high failure rate. Many members of the Harry Benjamin Association regard them as reactionary.
Blanchard characterized transsexuals as "homosexual," meaning those who were attracted to men from an early age, and "heterosexual," including those who married women and tried to live the role of a husband. It's interesting that his classification implies a primary male identification for male to female transsexuals.
This indicates to me Blanchard's bias against transsexuals, his lack of compassion. We are research subjects to him; he gives no importance to our personal identities.
Lawrence quotes Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia as follows:
And gives her opinion of the theory:
Ray Blanchard's conclusions were based on a study of 200 males who identified as gender dysphoric, but none of the 200 had even undergone transition at the time of the study. I think it's reasonable to interpret the statement "had not undergone transition" to mean they were living full time as men. This is hardly a group to which accurate comparisons to transitioned transsexuals can be made. It's quite possible many of these men never transitioned, and were reporting their own unrealized fantasies. We don't know.
Lawrence began a study of her own by asking questions of postoperative transwomen at the 1996 and 1998 New Woman Conference attendees. The numbers were small: eleven in 1996 and thirteen in 1998 (with some overlap). In this small sample she found that about half the women reported that self-feminization was their primary erotic fantasy prior to surgery.
Aside from the small numbers, the New Woman Conference is remarkable mainly for its emphasis on sexuality and eroticism. Attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite toys, and workshops are available on autoeroticism. Again, it's a skewed study population for an objective analysis.
The remainder of the essay deals with the feeling that autogynephilia has been considered less-than-respectable; a paraphilia; or an inadequate reason for pursuing transition or SRS. Lawrence closes with an appeal for other autogynephilic transsexuals to write her, and her Web site indicates that a number of persons have written her expressing similar feelings.
Certainly, persons who have such feelings need to know validation of their status, and it's always reassuring to know that there are others who share the same experience. But other people have read the essay also, including Blanchard's phrase "all the rest" which indicates that all late-transition transsexuals are autogynephilic. Some of them write to me:
It was very disturbing to me to realize that many transsexuals, who like me have not held sexual arousal as a primary cause for our transition, are reading this essay and having doubts about the legitimacy of their transition. Lawrence's response to these persons, as stated in "Frequently Asked Questions #26," is:
I would expect that many persons who are disturbed by the autogynephilia hypothesis are persons who already have a standing relationship with a counselor or gender therapist. They have already accepted the reasons for their transition - reasons which may or may not include "sex" as one of many components.
I would imagine they will not agree with the idea that they need to redirect their therapy to incorporate a hypothesis which does not fit their life experience.
In fairness, Lawrence does say that "there are exceptions" to the generalization that most late-transition transsexuals are autogynephilic. The implication remains that the majority do fit this category.
Maybe that's correct.
I do think that classic transsexuals - "women trapped in men's bodies" - are a very small minority among transgendered folk. The usually quoted percentages (one in 10,000 who are transsexuals as compared to one in 100 genetic males who crossdress) suggest such. Where the autogynephilic transsexual falls in terms of numbers, no one can yet say.
It's apparent now to me that those of us who call ourselves transsexual are a diverse group. Janice Raymond even alludes to this in "Empire" as she quotes researcher John Randell on page 138:
This seems to describe the "classical" transsexual. (Raymond, of course, considers this group "disabled males" just as she does all male to female transsexuals.)
And on page 30 of "Empire" Raymond is describing a different group:
It's probable that the division of persons who consider themselves transsexuals into only two groups is an inadequate description of what may be multiple groups, or a spectrum of degrees of importance of sexuality to the transition imperative. Even if it is oversimplification, I believe most persons will primarily identify with one or the other end of the spectrum: eroticism or inner identity. Hence I refer to "two groups."
Although we see distinct differences in the two groups of persons who consider themselves transsexual, there seem to be some common features. Some autogynephilic persons are sexually attracted to men, and some classical transsexuals consider themselves lesbians.
Sexual orientation is not a predictor of whether a transsexual person is autogynephilic. The easy assumption is to consider early-transition persons, who have always been attracted to men (Blanchard's "homosexual" category) as one group and the late-transition persons as attracted to women or bisexual. But many late-transition transsexuals do find their sexual attraction to men is only recognized after transition.
One of my friends explains it this way:
I think this describes many classical transsexuals who, despite having been married to women, have no post-transition attraction to women. It's a good description of my own feelings. I never considered living in a gay-male relationship; it never had any appeal at all for me. After transition, however, my feelings have become those of a heterosexual woman: interested in men as a woman.
Another important issue which needs to be clarified concerns autoeroticism. One might suppose that a history of sexual arousal with fantasies of feminization would mandate a diagnosis of autogynephilia. But the situation is more complex.
A classical transsexual can have sexual fantasies also, and will sometimes relieve the tension created by these fantasies. The sex drive is a secondary objective, not to be compared with the all-powerful force of sexual desire described by Lawrence.
I propose two ways to help clarify the difference between classical and autogynephilic transsexuals. The first was a thought I proposed to a group of my friends who were recently discussing the subject on a mailing list.
I can summarize the second exercise, a strictly rhetorical question, as follows:
Most classical transsexuals would make the first choice. While we certainly desired SRS, it was even more important to have a woman's life and role. An autogynephilic person might well choose feminization of the body as more important than the role change.
At the risk of being misunderstood, I will state my belief that there are major differences in the two groups. The emphasis of autogynephiles on sexual desire raises comparisons with the condition sometimes called "transvestic fetishism." Can a crossdresser pursue transition, realizing that prolonged homonal treatment may significantly reduce sexual desire? Or that sex reassignment surgery permanently changes the nature of one's sexual responsiveness? Are autogynephiles "advanced crossdressers" who have taken their dreams to another level and are living their ultimate fantasy? Does it make any difference if they are? What did they tell their therapists regarding their reasons for transition, and how does this impact future patient-therapist relationships?
"Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: An Introduction to the Concept of Autogynephilia" describes the experience of Dr. Lawrence and some other persons. I support the legitimacy of their feelings, and emphasize that there should be no ideas of one group being "right" or "wrong." However, I do see implications if autogynephilia were recognized as the norm for all transsexuals:
It's appropriate to introduce the subject of autogynephilia, which has never been recognized by therapists or physicians who treat transsexuals. Further recognition of the diversity among transsexuals can only advance our understanding of our life situation.
Still, it's also appropriate to reassure classical transsexual persons of the legitimacy of their own feelings. With our transition, we have sacrificed so much for the validation of our personal identity. We didn't do it for sexual desire, as Lawrence suggests, nor did we do it to "deceive" women and invade woman's space, as Raymond would maintain. We did it to relieve our own discomfort and live the rest of our lives in the role that is right for us.
We are women - in spirit and finally in body. That, in itself, is all we need.