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Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

10

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

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I've got a new feature almost ready to go. I'm pretty stoked about this one because I've been wanting it for quite literally years, but it was never possible on Reddit.

Hey, guess what? We're not on Reddit!

But before I continue, I want to temper expectations. This is a prototype of a first revision of an experimental feature. It is not going to look impressive; it is not going to be impressive. There's a lot of work left to do.

The feature is currently live on our perpetually-running dev site. Log in, click any thread, and go look below the Comment Preview. You'll see a quokka in a suit asking you for help. (His name is Quincy.) Click the cute li'l guy and you'll be asked to rate three comments. Do so, and click Submit. Thank you! Your reward is another picture of Quincy and a sense of satisfaction.

So, uh . . . . what?

Okay, lemme explain.

This is the first part of a feature that I'm calling Volunteering. Once in a while, the site is going to prompt you to help out, and if you volunteer, it'll give you a few minutes of work to do. Right now this is going to be "read some comments and say if they're good or not". Later this might include stuff like "compare two comments and tell me if one of them is better", or "read a comment, then try to come up with a catchy headline for it".

These are intentionally small, and they're entirely optional. You can ignore it altogether if you like.

I'm hoping these can end up being the backbone of a new improved moderation system.

Isn't this just voting, but fancy?

You'd think so! But there are critical differences.

First, you do not choose the things to judge. The system chooses the things it wants you to judge. You are not presented with thousands of comments and asked to vote on the ones you think are important, no, you are given (at the moment) three specific comments and information is requested of you.

This means that I don't need to worry about disproportionate votecount on popular comments. Nor do I need to worry about any kind of vote-brigading, or people deciding to downvote everything that a user has posted. The system gets only the feedback it asks for. This is a pull system; the system pulls information from the userbase in exactly the quantities it wants instead of the userbase shoving possibly-unwanted information at the scoring systems.

Second, you can be only as influential as the system lets you. On the dev site you can volunteer as often as you want for testing purposes, but on the live site, you're going to - for now - be limited to once every 20 hours. I'll probably change this a lot, but nevertheless, if the system decides you've contributed enough, it'll thank you kindly and then cut you off. Do you want to spend all day volunteering in order to influence the community deeply? Too bad! Not allowed.

But this goes deeper than it sounds. Part of having the system prompt you is that not all prompts will be the system attempting to get actionable info from you. Some of the prompts will be the system trying to compare your choices against a reference, and the system will then use this comparison to figure out how much to trust your decisions.

That reference, of course, is the mods.

I've previously referred to this as the Megaphone system or the Amplifier system. One of our devs called it a "force multiplier". I think this gets across the core of what I'm aiming for. The goal here is not majority-rules, it's not fully decentralized moderation. It's finding people who generally agree with the mods and then quietly harnessing them to handle the easy moderation cases.

(We have a lot of easy moderation cases.)

There's another important point here. The mods are only human and we make mistakes. My hope is that we can get enough volunteer help to provide significantly more individual decisions than the mods can, and my hope is that the combined efforts of several people who don't quite agree with the mods in all cases is still going to be more reliable than any single mod. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's people out there who are better at judging posts than our mods are! It's just hard to find you; some of you may not even comment, and you're pretty undiscoverable right now, but you will certainly get a chance to volunteer!

Also, this will hopefully improve turnaround time a lot. I'm tired of filtered comments taking hours to get approved! I'm tired of really bad comments sticking around for half a day! There are many people constantly commenting and voting, and if I can get a few minutes of help from people now and then, we can handle those rapidly instead of having to wait for a mod to be around.

Wow! You get all of this, with absolutely no downsides or concerns!

Well, hold on.

The big concern here is that virtually nobody has ever done this before. The closest model I have is Slashdot's metamoderation system. Besides that, I'm flying blind.

I also have to make sure this isn't exploitable. The worst-case scenario is people being able to use this to let specific bad comments through. I really want to avoid that, and I've got ideas on how to avoid it, but it's going to take work on my part to sort out the details.

And there's probably issues that I'm not even thinking of. Again: flying blind. If you think of issues, bring 'em up; if you see issues, definitely bring 'em up.

Oh man! So, all this stuff is going to be running real soon, right?

Nope.

First I need some data to work off. Full disclosure: all the current system does is collect data, then ignore it.

But it is collecting data, and as soon as I've got some data, I'll be working on the next segment.

This is the first step towards having a platform that's actually better-moderated than the current brand of highly-centralized sites. I don't know if it'll work, but I think it will.

Please go test it out on the dev site, report issues, and when it shows up here (probably in a few days) click the button roughly daily and spend a few minutes on it. Your time will not be wasted.


Blocking

Right now this site's block feature works much the same as Reddit's. But I want to change that, because it sucks.

My current proposal is:

  • If you block someone, you will no longer see their comments, receive PMs from them, or be notified if they reply to your comments.

  • This does not stop them from seeing your comments, nor does it stop them from replying to your comments.

  • If they attempt to reply to your comment, it will include the note "This user has blocked you. You are still welcome to reply, but your replies will be held to a stricter standard of civility."

  • This note is accurate and we will do so.

That's the entire proposed feature. Feedback welcome!


User Flair and Usernames

We're going to start cracking down a bit on hyperpartisan or antagonistic user flair. Basically, if we'd hit you with a warning for putting it in a comment, we'll hit you with a warning for putting it in your flair. If anyone has a really good reason for us to not do this, now's the time to mention it!

Same goes for usernames. On this site, you can actually change your display username, and we're just leaving that in place. So we'll tell you to change your name if we have to. Extra for usernames: don't use a misleading or easily-confused username, okay? If it looks like you're masquerading as an existing well-known user, just stop it.

I'm currently assuming that both of these fall under our existing ruleset and don't need new rules applied. If you disagree strongly, let me know.


The Usual Stuff

Give feedback! Tell me how you're doing? Do you have questions? Do you have comments? This is the place for them!

Are you a coder and want to help out? We have a lot of work to do - come join the dev discord.

2

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

2

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

Submission statement: Anthropologist William Buckner discusses the social purposes and methods of duelling in various societies.

5

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

5

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

An intensive deep dive into what remain the Pinnacle of the real time strategy genre, and why I believe it might just be the greatest spectator game every created and most strategically interesting game that currently has an active community.

13

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

3

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

3

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

5

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

14

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Submission statement: Misha Saul writes about how fathers love their daughters. With examples from the Sopranos, Disney movies and the Talmud.

I suppose some part of the love of daughters must be wrapped up in the feminine. That is, after all, the defining line between daughters and sons.

The love of daughters may be the purest form of love of woman possible: desexualised, a man can appreciate the feminine in all its splendour, unmarred by lust. Gentle. Soft. Loving. Fiery.

A father’s love of his daughter mirrors a boy’s love of his mother. But the love of his mother is the water a boy swims in — as a forever-presence, it’s sometimes harder to appreciate. But a daughter is a new thing that arrives in the flush of adulthood.

Daughters bring out what is best in a man: he provides where she needs him, he protects where she is vulnerable, he dotes where she is playful.

A daughter is the confluence of everything a man needs in life: relevance and love. What greater need is there than to provide and protect your baby girl? And she is the first woman after his mother to love him unconditionally from the get go. But well before the feeling of being loved melts him — when she is two or three or four and tells him she loves him and kisses him — he discovers another feeling of love. The pleasure in loving. The simple pleasure in being near her, silly with her, holding her. Your wife may be the love of your life but that love is bound up with the banalities and duties of marriage and the strictures of covenant. A daughter is a strange, angelic extension of you. A beating heart outside your chest.

6

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

4

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

3

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

17

This is part 3 of a 3 part review. Part 1 Part 2


Autogynephilia and sexuality

The relationship between autogynephilia and other parts of the autogynephile's sexuality are varied. Lawrence spends a lot of time on this, but I don't find it particularly interesting or enlightening in most respects, so I'll just leave you with a few key points.

Since autogynephilia appears to be a misfiring version of heterosexuality, it unsurprisingly coexists with it; however, it also competes with it in various ways. In different people, the following are all possible:

  1. Normal heterosexuality is present most of the time, except during an autogynephilic "episode"; autogynephilic feelings are ended by orgasm.

  2. Normal heterosexuality and autogynephilia coexist, with soft rather than sharp boundaries, or some blending. Autogynephilic feelings may go away temporarily while falling in love with a woman.

  3. As (1), but autogynephilia is dominant and only temporarily goes away after orgasm.

  4. Normal heterosexual attraction to women exists, but orgasm is only possible while having an autogynephilic fantasy.

  5. Romantic attraction to women exists, but only autogynephilic fantasies/behaviors are sexually arousing.

  6. Complete absence of romantic or sexual attraction to anyone except a female version of oneself.

I wasn't able to get a good sense of how common each of these was except that the last was relatively rarer, and the first wouldn't be common among MtF transsexuals since they would be less likely to transistion.

Autogynephilic transsexuals' interpretations of autogynephilia

While a frankly shocking number of respondents (selection bias?) expressed that their autogynephilic sexual feelings were the dominant factor in their transition or desire for transition, most respondents, while acknowledging their autogynephilia, gave it an alternative interpretation or attributed to it a lower degree of significance.

Some of these alternative interpretations are present in the discourse, and seem to represent an attempt to rationalize the reality of autogynephilia in the context of the prevailing dogma of the transgender movement. Lawrence catalogues and argues against these briefly; since they are probably of interest I'll summarize them here.

  1. Autogynephilia is a symptom, not a cause, of transsexualism. This is the idea that gender dysphoria precedes autogynephilia, and that autogynephilia is a somehow a response to the female gender identity or to gender dysphoria, such as an escapist fantasy. This position is contradicted by the evidence that autogynephilia generally precedes the female gender identity, and doesn't explain why the fantasy of becoming female is so erotic.

  2. Autogynephilia can't be part of the reason for desire to be female because nonsexual desires preceded puberty. Lawrence appeals to the fact that sexual feelings can and often do start before puberty, including in many of the transsexuals cited in the book, as a counterargument, as well as to the unreliability of memory and testimony in such cases. I don't think this is a knock-down argument against the second part of the statement, but at any rate the first part just doesn't follow.

  3. Autogynephila is just the sexualization of childhood cross-gender wishes (for coincidental or idiosyncratic reasons). Lawrence's response here seems to be bewilderment, and I'm inclined to agree; these reasons seem like so many just-so stories, many of which are bizzare in their leaps of logic.

  4. Autogynephilia can't be the reason for transition, because it feels incidental / something else seems more important. But while the direct motivations might not be autogynephilia, this ignores the role that autogynephilia likely played in the development of the more immediate reasons.

  5. Autogynephilia is just part of normal female sexuality. This one shows up a lot, due to a couple of studies which seemed to find autogynephilia in natal women. I recall that Scott drew a similar conclusion from a question on one of his SSC reader surveys. The problem with those studies (and Scott's has a similar issue), according to Lawrence (p 176), is that they do not

adequately differentiate between being aroused by wearing sexually provocative clothing or by imagining that potential romantic partners might find one attractive (which some natal women apparently do experience) and being sexually aroused simply by the idea that one is a woman or has a woman’s body (which natal women arguably rarely or never experience).

  1. Transsexualism is due to a feminized brain in a male body. This is of course one of the "standard" theories, but makes no sense in the context of autogynephilic transsexuals who are within the normal-male distribution in everything except for wanting to be feminine.

Non-transsexual autogynephiles

Lawrence devotes a chapter to the testimonies of the of non-transsexual autogynephiles who responded to the survey. With a few exceptions (such as the people who just wanted to have breasts, but nothing else) they were very similar to those of the transsexuals, only somewhat less so. The primary distinguishing factor is that they had not made the decision to transition, for various reasons. This is further evidence for Lawrence's conclusion (which really ought to be the default one) that autogynephilic transsexualism, autogynephilia in heterosexual men, and fetishistic transvestism are all regions in the same general cluster ("part of a spectrum" as they say), differing by degree and specifics more than kind.

Lawrence talks about clinical implications

At the end of the book we come to Lawrence's suggestions for what can and should be done in clinical care. Given that Lawrence is an advocate of Blanchard's theories and thus not in good graces with the trans activists, perhaps you can guess what they are...

I'll spare you the tedious scrolling. Yeah, it's a trick question. Here are a few things Lawrence proposes:

  • Transition (including SRS) is a good way to manage the gender dysphoria associated with autogynephilic transsexualism.

  • Cross-sex hormones are a good way of both giving men with less severe autogynephilia some of what they want (feminization) while also reducing their libido and thus (sometimes) the intensity of their autogynephilia.

  • Autogynephilia should be destigmatized, and presented according to Lawrence's theory that it is a sexual orientation and not just a paraphilia.

  • Puberty blockers in adolescence should be used more for autogynephilic boys, so that if they decide to transition they can have more feminine bodies and do so at an early enough age that they don't have baggage.

  • Autogynephilic adolescents should be given an environment supportive of things like cross-dressing, so that they can develop cross-gender identities more quickly and so be comfortable with (and eligible for) transition at an earlier age.

I'm afraid I disagree on all counts. (Well, I'm not exactly happy with the stigmatization part, but given the other items I suspect I don't envision the same sort of destigmatization that Lawrence does.) I guess the difference is that Lawrence is transsexual and thinks that it's a good thing, whereas I'm not and don't.

Also from this section, I can't resist quoting the following related, and rather incisive, bit about the attitudes of the trans activists and the associated medical industry (p 209):

Thirty or 40 years ago, mental health professionals who specialized in treating gender identity problems used to argue that paraphilic men—autogynephiles—who sought sex reassignment were not acceptable candidates because they were not genuinely transsexual. Nowadays, their successors seemingly want to argue that paraphilic men—autogynephiles—who seek sex reassignment have become acceptable candidates because they are not genuinely paraphilic!

My own final thoughts on autogynephilia

As I indicated early on, I think that autogynephilia is both real (personal experience is hard to deny on this one) and likely to be a key driver for a good fraction -- probably half in the eighties and a substantially higher proportion now -- of MtF transitions. Lawrence persuasively argues that autogynephilia is deeply tied up with the feelings (cross-gender wishes and identity, gender dysphoria, and so on) that lead to transition even when it is not the consciously-experienced primary motivation. But I disagree somewhat with the overall picture Lawrence paints.

Lawrence's model seems to be the following:

(Male heterosexual + ETLE) -> (autogynephilia) -> (cross-gender wishes and behaviors) -> (cross-gender identity and gender dysphoria)

where autogynephilia is understood in the "sexual orientation" sense that includes both overt lust but also some kind of romantic attraction to the feminized image of oneself and some sort of pair-bonding to that feminized self.

I'm skeptical about both "erotic target location error" and "autogynephilia as sexual orientation". The first honestly sounds quite a bit like "dormitive potency" (it's an unenlightening description, not an explanation) and the second seems like it doesn't quite cover the right territory. It seems to me that the model is stuck in a worldview where the explicitly sexual elements of things are the most basic and real, and everything else is just accretions around that.

My model is somewhat more complicated, but the gist is that the core thing is a whole complex of self-reinforcing desires all around the theme of "desire to be female/feminine", of which autogynephilia proper (the sexual arousal) is a very important part, but not necessarily more fundamental than the rest. Hence we see some people for whom the autogynephilia-proper seems to exist almost as an afterthought, or is even felt to be fundamentally undesirable (maybe because it spoils the "purity" of the rest of the fantasy), and others for whom it is almost the whole thing, as well as different times and places of emergence of various aspects of the desire, with sometimes the sexual preceding and sometimes succeeding cross-gender wishes. That is, the cross-gender wishes are at the same fundamental level as the sexual desire, and are mutually reinforcing with it, rather than being a simple consequence of it. I also disfavor ETLE as an description of what's gone wrong. I think that normal heterosexual desires-for femininity, including, of course, the purely sexual/lust part, "bleeding into" an abnormal desire-to-be female/feminine, is a more helpful way to think of it. But that may be mostly a difference in philosophical disposition.


Responding to Questions

I'm willing to answer questions in the comments. This includes questions about my own experience, if you think they'd be enlightening (I kept my experience out of the review itself since (a) I'm not transsexual, and (b) it seemed a bit too much like navel-gazing).

Background: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/03/07/chinas-new-foreign-minister-qin-gang-holds-first-press-briefing.html

What is the rational course for US foreign policy regarding e.g. the Taiwan problem? What is China's? What is Taiwan's? Are the US, China, and Taiwan currently acting in rational ways in regards to this geopolitical issue? If not, why? If every actor was acting rationally, would this result in the possibility of cooperation to solve the problem peacefully? Or does at least one actor's rational course of action necessarily put them on a 'collision course' with the others? Or, worse, for this situation, is it possible that it is in every actors' most rational course of action to desire the same peaceful resolution/treaty, but some type of tragic coordination problem renders this impossible?

To avoid this being a culture war topic, let's avoid talking about what type of resolution would be best in the sense of most moral, just, etc. Let's only discuss what would be the most rational course of action for every party involved, whatever that may mean.

Of course there have been many attempts to solve geopolitics in the past (see: the various schools of international relations theory). Even still, I'd hope that this wouldn't prevent us from having a discussion of our own about this. Most schools of IR theory attempt to explain why nations do what they do, and some schools ascribe this to possibly non-rational reasons e.g. social constructivism which says that sometimes culture of a nation might explain that nation's actions, and of course often times cultures can hold irrational beliefs or encourage irrational actions. Other schools e.g. realism attempt to explain international relations by stating that nations are rational actors at least as wealth/power-maximizers, but this is obviously contentions, and even if true it could be said that nations that always act as wealth/power-maximizers are not acting rationally, etc.

I'll start the discussion by giving an example of what I consider to be an extreme version of an irrational geopolitical actor, and one for whose actual historical actions have well-understood explanations other than rational behavior: the Empire of Japan after the Meiji restoration. At a certain point it became clear to many Japanese elites that their country was on an undesirable path, one that put them on a collision course with the United States. This war was correctly predicted by many Japanese leaders to be an un-winnable war, if not at least a highly undesirable one. With this in mind, it would probably have been 'most rational' for Japan to abandon their colonial possessions in Manchuria and Korea in the interwar period in order to avoid war with the US, rather than starting a new and more ambitious war with China to try and expand their empire to acquire the natural resources required to prop up those colonies, instead. However, due to ideological sentiment, any Japanese leader against the expansion of empire was essentially selected against by a series of ultranationalist assassins, leaving only irrationally hawkish leaders to direct their country in terms of foreign policy. Thus, Japan irrationally went to war in China, which eventually brought them into war with the US which was disastrous for them.

And, I will provide examples of what I consider to be rational geopolitical actors, as well: both the US and the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. The Soviet Union initially began to emplace nukes in cuba for a variety of reasons, but for one because they correctly determined that they were at a disadvantage in terms of MAD and putting nukes in cuba could bring more core American territory into range, in order to better ensure their deterrence against a US first strike. Ensuring national security against that of e.g. nuclear destruction, for example, seems to me like a rational goal. The US felt rationally quite threatened by the development, and as well felt their global political situation was threatened unless the responded properly, and so there was a crisis. The US considered doing nothing, which is a rational thing to at least consider, but correctly concluded that a better outcome for their own self-interest could be reached by brinksmanship. The US (namely, Kennedy) also rationally decided against a full scale invasion of cuba despite the unanimous advice of the joint chiefs, probably correct in his assumption that an escalation such as that would have been beyond the pale, and would probably be matched by a soviet invasion of at least west berlin, etc, which would necessitate further escalation, and so reasoned again that a better resolution could be reached through diplomacy. Eventually, the crisis was resolved through a decently clever compromise, with the nuclear disarmament of cuba in exchange for the secret nuclear disarmament of turkey -- a resolution which involved both actors properly considering the others' positions and being willing to make concessions in order to accommodate for the other's circumstances, rather than being driven by ideology, pride, etc. at least in and of themselves. Khrushchev is considered to have lost face from this outcome, and it perhaps seriously contributed to his eventual ousting two years later, but considering the alternative was potentially nuclear armageddon, (i.e. a situation which would have greatly harmed the Soviet Union) it seems notably rational to have leaders at the helm of your nation willing to lose face/sacrifice their own personal career in order to achieve better outcomes for the nation as a whole such as not having it destroyed by nuclear bombs. If any actor can be said to be irrational in this situation, it might be the United States considering that there is an argument to be made that nukes in cuba wouldn't have seriously worsened the soviet nuclear threat and that Kennedy/US was more beheld to the irrational whims of the US public, and that they should have been the ones to rationally decide to take the PR hit by 'losing' the crisis in order to avert even the risk of extremely negative outcomes posed by engaging in brinksmanship. However, I think both the US and the USSR acted rationally enough on balance, at least to demonstrate enough individual examples of rational international relations behavior over the course of the historical anecdote, for the example of them as 'rational' to be sufficient.

With this in mind, how should we describe the geopolitical courses of China, the US, and Taiwan regarding the problem of Taiwanese sovereignty? Are any, or perhaps multiple of the involved actors making decisions meaningfully similar to imperial Japan on the leadup to war with the US i.e. irrationally? If so, why? Or are any or perhaps multiple of the involved actors acting more like the US/USSR during the cuban missile crisis, i.e. acting rationally -- but perhaps still on a collision course, even possibly on a collision course with other rational actors?

13

This is part 2 of a 3 part review. Part 1 Part 3


How it all starts

Cross-gender fantasies in autogynephiles can start anywhere between early childhood and the onset of puberty; Lawrence reports that most of the respondents who specified an age of onset indicated a start between 4 and 6 years old, although this is likely due in part to selection bias (those with later age of onset are less likely to specify it, since the timing wouldn't seem as significant). Explicitly erotic feelings often started later, usually by puberty, though some reports also indicated an erotic aspect to the fantasies even in early childhood.

Expression of a fundamentally erotic fantasy prior to puberty sounds rather odd to modern Americans, but this is because our culture has a strong belief in childhood innocence -- a defense against bad actors like molesters, maybe, but not exactly accurate. Boys as young as toddlers get erections, and frequently displays of emotion associated with their eventual sexual orientation are present in early childhood.

At any rate, many respondents engaged in cross-dressing from an early age, and a good number of them reported erotic feelings from it then, though for others they did not start -- or were not remembered as such -- until later.

We maybe shouldn't read too much into occasional cross-dressing or cross-gender wishes at a young age, though. Lawrence points out that non-erotic cross-dressing or occasional wishes to be the opposite sex are fairly common, quoting studies that found these in several percent (varying by age) of preadolescent boys. Still, when these behaviors are erotic, that probably means something; several respondents mentioned masturbating to fantasies or while cross-dressing at as young as 6 (!) years old.

Lawrence notes that the existence of cross-gender fantasies and cross-dressing doesn't indicate consistent and persistent cross-gender wishes or a persistent cross-gender identity in childhood; indeed one narrative reports these from 4-6 years old, followed by a relative cessation in late childhood until it came back in full erotic force at puberty. This is a quite different pattern than the "classic" MtF presentation which includes consistent cross-gender wishes starting in early childhood.

What about cross-gender behaviors, such as playing with girl's toys, a choice of female friends, and so on? Here the data is more muddy. Partially this is because the normal range of male behavior is quite wide, many ordinary boys occasionally play with girl's toys, or prefer girls over boys as friends. Lawrence also cites a study which (p 82)

found that “preferring girls’ games and toys as a child” was one of the most frequent areas in which MtF transsexuals reported having lied to or misled their psychotherapists

So studies based on self-reported preferences should be taken with a grain of salt. The data seem equivocal; it's possible that autogynephilic MtF transsexuals are more likely than other boys to exhibit cross-gender behaviors as children, but it's also possible that the distribution is in reality much like the distribution for ordinary boys, and the prevalence of later in life reports to the contrary are mostly due to misremebering and misinterpretation of memories.

Many of Lawrence's respondents explicitly denied having female-typical interests in childhood; oddly, at least one of them still seemed to interpret his experience as evidence that he wasn't male enough; quoting Lawrence at length (p 83):

It is surprising that a boy who became cadet lieutenant-colonel at his military high school and was an avid water-skier and cross-country runner would conclude he was “not successfully masculine” simply because he was not proficient at baseball. Green (2008) observed that MtF transsexuals sometimes hold stereotyped views of masculinity and femininity and are apt to conclude that, if they deviate from the masculine stereotype in any way, they cannot really be men. Green gave the example of a gender dysphoric patient who concluded he was transsexual in part because he was not interested in cars and football. Although Green makes an important point, another explanation might be that autogynephilic men who are unremarkably masculine but experience a strong and seemingly inexplicable desire to be female might be eager to find evidence, however insubstantial, of psychological femininity or unmasculinity that would help them make sense of their cross-gender wishes.

Along similar lines, a number of other respondents described some instances of feminine interests and behaviors, but with no indication that these were common or persistent, about which Lawrence says (p 85):

In my clinical practice, I not uncommonly elicit histories like these from nonhomosexual gender dysphoric male patients. In many cases, the feminine behaviors in question turn out to be a few isolated and unrepresentative episodes (e.g., “For a time my closest playmate was a girl”—for 2 months one summer; “When I was 6, I used to play with dolls”—on three or four separate occasions). These isolated episodes of feminine behavior nevertheless feel quite meaningful to the men who experienced them. I almost never get the sense that these patients are trying to mislead me by portraying these childhood episodes as more representative than they genuinely are. Instead, I believe that these patients are desperately trying to make sense of their powerful cross-gender wishes and are grasping at straws in an effort to find evidence of childhood femininity that might help to explain their adult feelings.

I think that Lawrence is exactly correct here. Memories are, more than we would like, malleable things, and there is a lot of internal pressure to make sense of the powerful feelings involved. It probably takes an unusual level of commitment to the truth to not make mountains out of relative molehills in such cases.

An interlude about self-descriptions

Lawrence takes some space to discuss how the respondents processed the standard "woman trapped in a man's body" framing in light of their autogynephilia. Some asserted that that expression fit them, others adopted the "man trapped in a man's body" variation (Lawrence published a shorter piece with the same title as the book, and some of the respondents had read it); still others tried other variations or denied that the (original) expression fit them without providing an alternative.

I didn't find all this particularly interesting, except for the following quote from one respondent (p 88):

The best phrase to describe my belief about myself is that “I desire (or need) to be a woman with all my heart, in every way,” as opposed to feeling “I have always been a woman.”

Keep that one in your back pocket. I suspect it's the key to this whole mess.

Autogynephilia over a lifetime

The vast majority of autogynephilic MtF transsexual/transgender people (Lawrence here uses both terms, to include those who don't have an intent to fullly transition, I think) express that their autogynephilia has continued during their entire adult life. This is not great news to people who might expect that they will "just grow out of it" (though I will note that the fraction of people who don't report lifetime persistence is nonzero). Lawrence adduces this as evidence for the autogynephilia-as-sexual-orientation hypotheses, though I'm not sure it's really evidence for that over it being "just" a paraphilia.

Perhaps surprisingly, a large fraction of MtF transsexuals who had undergone SRS also reported continuing autogynephilia, and some of them reported that feminization fantasies (about becoming female) were necessary for them to acheive orgasm. Others said that contemplating their own body was now sexually arousing. Some respondents also reported a lessening or cessation of autogynephilic fantasy after transition, but people also frequently reported a lessening of their sex drive in general, so it's kind of hard to tell what's going on.

Four Types of Autogynephilia

Following Blanchard, Lawrence divides the actions and fantasies typical to autogynephilia into four types:

  1. Transvestic autogynephilia: Erotic cross-dressing, basically. Lawrence's contention is that "transvestic fetishism" in the old sense is in most cases a subtype or expression of autogynephilia.

  2. Anatomic autogynephilia: Fantasies/actions having to do with having female anatomic features. Typical examples include: breasts, genitalia, body structure, facial structure, soft skin, etc.

  3. Physiologic autogynephilia: Fantasies/actions having to do with female physiological functions. Examples include pregnancy and breastfeeding, but also more unusual fantasies like menstruation.

  4. Behavioral autogynephilia: Fantasies/actions having to do with engaging in (stereotypically) feminine behaviors. This can cover pretty much anything, and in some of the accounts of this you can see some pretty sexist underlying assumptions, honestly. One particularly important type of behavioral autogynephilia is the "act or fantasy of engaging in sexual activity with a man as a woman", which Lawrence thinks is particularly significant for interpreting data and in a clinical setting.

These are not mutually exclusive (e.g. cross-dressing could also be behavioral, or as an aid to anatomic fantasy, etc) and they frequently co-occur (all are present to an extent in most of the transsexual survey respondents). It's important to also note that autogynephilic behavior can consist of pure fantasies, actions, or both.

Lawrence goes on to give details of each of these types; we'll hit just a few of the highlights.

Transvestic Autogynephilia

Lawrence says that transvestic autogynephilia is the most prevalent type, and that "almost all autogynephilic males probably experience it". The first part is probably true if Lawrence is correct that almost all fetishistic cross-dressing is just a species of autogynephilia. I'm not so sure about the second part.

Transvestic autogynephilia can center around almost any type(s) of feminine clothing. There's the stereotypical one, of course: clothes that men find sexually attractive when worn by women: lingerie or high-heels, for instance. There's women's clothes that are associated with key parts of femal anatomy, such as panties (the number of respondents that talked about wearing panties is crazy) and bras. But this can also include ordinary and unremarkable women's clothing.

The reasons that these men cross-dress can vary a bit also. We can group into roughly five categories (these are mine, from reading the examples; Lawrence doesn't explicitly categorize like this):

  1. Because it's arousing, with no reference as to why.

  2. Because it helps to imagine oneself as a woman, and that is arousing.

  3. Because it is exciting, pleasurable, or "comfortable" as such, but with no conscious experience of sexual arousal (Lawrence thinks that this is usually due to low-grade sexual arousal that the cross-dresser is unaware of).

  4. Because it facilitates female-typical behavior.

  5. As (2), but not necessarily experienced as arousing.

There's some clear overlap between these, and between cross-dressing and other manifestations of autogynephilia as well.

Anatomic Autogynephila

According to Blanchard and Lawrence, although transvestic autogynephilia is more common, anatomic autogynephilia is (perhaps understandably) the one most associated with gender dysphoria and the desire for SRS.

The two big ones here are having breasts and having female (external) genitalia. Testimony after testimony reports a strong desire for breasts and female genitals, and often intense sexual arousal at fantasizing about having them. Of course, having female genitals mean not having male genitals, so many respondents report sexual excitement at the idea (or fact!) of the removal of their male genitalia, and frequently become uncomfortable with the continued existence of their penis and/or testes. We can see how the positive desire to have a female body leads to the negative body-associated dysphoria popularly associated with transsexualism.

There's also some weird cases. Some men expressed a strong desire for a female body, even to the point of seeking SRS, but no desire to be female in any other way. Others (Lawrence did not count these as transsexuals) went as far as to use feminizing hormones to develop breasts, but had no interest in having female genitalia. (You might call them boob men.)

Physiologic Autogynephilia

Some people have pregnancy or lactation fetishes. Some autogynephiles have pregnancy or lactation fetishes about themselves. This manifestation of autogynephilia is probably the least common, but it is present. It seems pregnancy and breastfeeding were the most common fantasies, here, but menstruation fantasies were also present. Some people reported also taking actions to act out or pretend to enact their fantasies, such as stuffing a pillow to pretend (to themselves) to be pregnant, or urinating on sanitary pads.

While the specifics seem weird, the origin seems (to me) to be clear: these people are obsessed with having female experiences, and what experiences are more quintessentially female than ones associated with reproduction?

("But wait," I hear you saying. "Isn't there another important experience associated with reproduction?" We'll get to that.)

Behavioral Autogynephilia

This manifestation of autogynephilia has to do with engaging in "feminine behaviors", as understood by the autogynephile, of course. Sometimes these are explicitly erotic, other times, they are part of the general program of fantasizing about being a woman.

Examples include: having a feminine voice, using a feminine name, tossing one's hair, being "one of the girls", being in a women's locker room or restroom without sexual overtones (yes, multiple people reported sexual arousal at the thought of not having sexual arousal), having to sit/squat to urinate, acting sexy, taking birth control pills, getting manicures, and so on.

There's a lot of crossover with the other categories, especially transvestism (wearing women's clothes, especially in public, is a behavior).

Of particular public interest here is the bathroom/locker room thing. It's safe to say that there probably are some trans people who are getting horny about using the women's bathroom or locker room, but the reason they do it is not to ogle or engage in predatory behavior, but because it makes them feel like a woman (and that makes them horny). You can decide for yourself whether that makes it better or not. (To respond to the inevitable, yes, there are also predators that are using the trans-bathroom-thing as cover. I have no idea how much overlap they have with trans people.)

And then there is the ultimate female behavior, which also touches on female anatomy and physiology.

Sex with men

Here we have the autogynephilic sexual fantasy as it touches on fantasizing about sex. Sexual behavioral autogynephilia is pretty common, and one common form of it involves the fantasy of (as a woman, this is important) having sex with men. From one perspective this is very odd -- autogynephilia is, presumably, due to a malfunctioning heterosexual male sexuality, and heterosexual men are not exactly well known for fantasizing about having sex with men.

Nevertheless, it is explicable, and its explanation has some pretty important implications. The explanation is this: what autogynephiles have is a desire to be female, and what is more quintessentially female than enacting the female role in reproduction? Add this to the fact that the desire is sexual, and it is unsurprising that "being a woman having sex with a man" is a potent fantasy. It hits all the high points: female anatomy, female physiology (reproduction), female behavior, and, of course, sex.

The only problem is that (with possibly a few exceptions) they aren't actually attracted to men.

Lawrence spends a lot of time describing how the autogynephilic transsexuals surveyed dealt with this, and drawing out the implications. Some of this analysis goes back to Blanchard (who is cited here). I'll give the quick summary.

Many of these fantasies (and actions, when autogynephilic MtF transsexuals do have sex with men) involve an explicit desire to be validated as being "real women", being desirable, and other ways in which it proves femininity and enables other aspects of female experience.

Most of these fantasies seem to involve a "faceless" (that word was literally present in many testimonies) man, not a particular individual, or any particular imagined male attributes. This allows the fantasizer to enact "having sex with a man as a woman" without having to deal with the the fact that they are not actually attracted to men. Many people reported that they found the idea of sex with a man to be exciting, but only when they were also fantasizing about being a woman or otherwise inhabiting a female role; they found the idea repulsive otherwise.

Many of the autogynephilic MtF transsexuals report that their sexuality changed, from exclusively attracted to women to bisexual or even exclusively androphilic as part of or after their transition. All I have to say about that is that if they are right about some of the reasons they gave, society gave up on gay conversion therapy too soon.

Lawrence suggests that a better question than the standard of asking whether someone is sexually attracted to men or to women is to ask who the first person they fell in love with is, or whether they habitually fall in love with men (respectively boys for adolescents) or women (resp. girls). Lawrence observed that only one of the respondents here claimed to fall in love with men, despite many claims of orientation change or sexual fantasies involving men, and speculates that a real androphilic sexual orientation among autogynephilic MtF transsexuals is extremely rare.

This lends some credence to the explanation that Blanchard gave of the puzzle that many autogynephiles report, across a number of studies, that they are either bisexual or exclusively androphilic. Some of this might be lying, but more likely it is reporting of autogynephilic sexual fantasy of being a woman having sex with a man as sexual attraction to men. They are both about sex, and there's some powerful internal pressure to adopt the narrative that says "it's because you're a (normal) woman".

A funny tidbit is the stories some of these people tell to explain their (pre-transition) attraction to, and sexual behaviors with, women (marriages with children are not uncommon). Lawrence quotes several who attributed it to "internalized homophobia". Suuuure.


In the final part of this review, we'll look at how autogynephilia interacts with other parts of sexuality, and what all this means: to the autogynephilic transsexuals themselves, to non-transsexual autogynephiles, and to everyone else.

15

This is part 1 of a 3 part review. Part 2 Part 3

What is this?

This is a review of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism by Dr. Anne Lawrence (2013).

The subject is enmeshed in a bunch of culture war, but since this is a book review outside the CW thread, I will try to keep culture war heat out of it. Please do the same in the comments.

What is the book about?

This book is about autogynephilia. If you don't know what that is, I'll explain below; you can also read @drmanhattan16's description in this review of a book on the history of transgenderism. The book engages with various studies in the literature, but is primarily a synthesis of testimonials from MtF transsexuals with autogynephilia, aiming to describe and understand the phenomenon and its role in gender dysphoria and transsexualism.

Who is the author of this book? Who are you?

The author of the book is Dr. Anne Lawrence, a now-retired psychologist, sexologist, and (per Wikipedia) former anaesthesiologist. Lawrence also happens to be an autogynephilic MtF transsexual.

I am a thirtysomething man who suffered from autogynephilia for much of his life, beginning in adolescence (arguably earlier, depending on what you count). You might quibble about the past tense, according to the same theory that a former drunkard is still an alcoholic no matter how long he's been sober. At any rate I do not consider myself trans and live a normal life without any of the behaviors typically associated with autogynephilia.

The point is that both the author and reviewer of this book have personal experience of the thing under study, albeit from quite different perspectives.

Why do you keep using the word "transsexual"?

To avoid wading into culture war issues or getting into the weeds of definitions, I'm going to use the terminology and definitions that are used in the book -- with one exception. Lawrence uses "homosexual" in the context of MtF transsexuals who are exclusively sexually attracted to men. Regardless of your culture war position, this is in today's context very confusing, so I'm going to call these individuals exclusively androphilic.

Should I read the book?

I am going to recommend that you not read the full book, unless one of the following applies:

  1. You are a doctor, psychologist, or therapist who might see patients for gender- or sex-related issues.

  2. You personally suffer from autogynephilia, and want to try to understand your condition better. I give this particular suggestion with some trepidation; you might find some of the content of the book to be something of an infohazard.

  3. You think someone you care for (spouse, child, etc.) may suffer from autogynephilia.

This is not because the book is a bad book. It's just that reading about other people's paraphilias is really not a healthy thing to do and you will probably find it unpleasant and gross.

Introduction: Blanchard's typology and autogynephilia

In the 1980s, psychologist Ray Blanchard discovered that a lot of patients seeking MtF transition did not fit the standard picture of especially feminine men who had since early childhood considered themselves to "really be" female and were sexually attracted to men, but were instead basically the opposite on all counts except for their extreme desire to transition. What would drive them to this? He discovered that many of them exhibited sexual arousal at fantasies of themselves as women: what he came to term autogynephilia.

Blanchard described two types of MtF transsexuals:

  1. The first group fit the standard picture. Feminine from an early age, they "behaved like girls, identified with girls, and frequently proclaimed themselves to be girls". They hade female-typical interests, hobbies, and occupations, usually cross-dressed openly since childhood, and were exclusively sexually attracted to men.

  2. The second group were basically mostly-normal men, except for their intense desire to be women and their autogynephilia, and some behaviors associated with the autogynephilia.

He proposed that this typology was essentially complete, and that the autogynephilia in the second group was their ultimate (though perhaps not conscious) motivating factor for transition.

Now, this complete binary classification was probably not justified by his original data. A small fraction (15%) of the people who reported being exclusively androphilic also reported symptoms of autogynephilia; a larger fraction (27%) of the non-exclusively-androphilic group did not. Further studies seemed to support a strong, but not complete association.

As for autogynephilia being not merely a symptom, but the cause, of the autogynephilic transsexuals' desire to transition, Blanchard proposed that autogynephilia was a paraphilia, resulting from an "Erotic Target Location Error" (ETLE). Essentially, these people had a normal heterosexual male orientation, but something went wrong (as it does) and these men located the sexually desired feminine object in themselves, instead of (or in addition to) in others. This erotic desire led to all the other wishes, feelings, and behaviors associated with transsexuality.

Needless to say, this theory wasn't, and isn't, popular. Nobody likes to hear that their core desires and a major part of their identity might be due to a paraphilia -- even aside from the stigma of having a paraphilia. And nobody likes to be associated with, well, perverts -- at best it's bad optics for the movement. Plus, a lot of the noisiest proponents of the theory definitely take the line that "this proves trans people are just gross perverts". In addition, the theory was rather sweeping (exactly these two types), and the data seemed not to fully support the clean bifurcation, at least not without assuming that people were lying or very mistaken about their self-reports; similarly, these self-reports usually denied the putative etiology of their condition. So the theory had additional unpleasant implications about the reliability of the transsexuals' testimony. Whether or not it was true, the theory was going to provoke a lot of backlash.

Is Blanchard's typology true?

Well, the book really isn't about arguing whether Blanchard's typology is true, but about describing the nature of autogynephilia, so...

Oh, screw it. It's true. At least to a first approximation. Maybe there are some exceptions to the two-type categorization, but if so they are rare. Maybe the simple etiological description for how autogynephilia is the full cause of transgender ideation and gender dysphoria in the autogynephiles is wrong, but it's more right than the other major hypotheses on offer.

About the fact that some of the non-exclusively-androphilic transsexuals reported no sexual arousal around, say, cross-dressing? Well, it turns out that psychologists have a way of figuring out if a male is aroused by something. Yeah. You check if they get hard ("penile tumescence"). It turns out that most of them were, in fact, aroused by imagining cross-dressing. Blanchard and Lawrence think this is not preverication, but because the these people are honestly not fully aware of it.

For the other error type -- (reportedly) exclusively-androphilic MtF transsexuals who reported autogynephilia -- Lawrence has another explanation, which we'll get to later. (Besides the obvious "they lied about being exclusively-androphilic," for which there is some evidence in that some people have admitted to doing just that to get past gatekeeping.)

Finally, the etiological part. So what if all of these MtF transsexuals have autogynephilia -- couldn't this be irrelevant? Maybe it's a result rather than a cause of their feminine identity, maybe it's something of an epiphenomenon, or maybe it's just normal female sexuality? Autogynephilic transsexuals have proposed all these things. But we'll see (Lawrence has a chapter on this later on) that these are mostly not good explanations.

Why should I care about a tiny number of people?

Because it's not a tiny number of people. It's hard to draw conclusions about prevalence, but Lawrence estimates about 3% or more for any form or amount of autogynephilia, and that severe and persistent autogynephilia affects "probably fewer than 1% of men and perhaps fewer than 0.1%" (I interpret that as a vague confidence interval).

Lawrence also estimates that about one-half to two-thirds of transsexuals are autogynephilic. But this is based on data from the 1980s through 2000s. With the explosion of transgender identification since then, and the apparent collapse of the old gatekeeping regime which disproportionately excluded them, I expect the group of MtF autogynephilic transsexuals -- both as a fraction of the population and as a fraction of the people undergoing medical treatment (hormones and/or SRS) -- to be much larger now.

So it's all really "just a fetish"?

Sort of, but not really. There's more to the autogynephilia thing than just getting off. Lawrence thinks of it as more of a sexual orientation, complete with impacts on romantic love, pair bonding, and so on, than purely a paraphilia. I don't think that's the best lens, but it's apparent that what's going on is a whole complex of things, of which the paraphilia proper is a (larger or smaller) part. If you want a pithy-but-accurate statement, you could do worse than Lawrence's formulation: people with autogynephilia are "men who love women and want to become what they love".

Perhaps unfortunately, reading this book (or this review) may create the impression that it is pretty much just a paraphilia, because the sexual element is the focus of the book. And the sexual element is pretty important to the phenomenon! It's just not the whole story.

Getting Narratives

So what do transsexuals with autogynephilia have to say about themselves?

Lawrence obtained a few hundred extensive, anonymous narratives, and classified them. From the book (p 41):

I considered informants to be transsexual if they (a) identified themselves as such or described the severe gender dysphoria (discomfort with anatomic sex or gender role) or pronounced cross-gender identity (desire to be female, live as a woman, or undergo SRS) that are typical of MtF transsexualism; (b) stated that they were using hormones to feminize their bodies (with one exception noted below), were living full-time in female role, or had been approved for SRS (implying both of the former), or (c) stated that they had completed SRS.

After elimination of irrelevant and fabricated stories and deduplication, Lawrence had narratives from 249 transsexuals and 52 non- (or not-clearly-) transsexuals. All of them reported autogynephilia (that was in the call for submissions); many of them, however, rejected the accompanying theory or denied that their autogynephilia was as significant as Blanchard's theory implies.

Unreliable Narrators

Lawrence is well aware that individual narratives are unreliable, especially when there is no way to cross-check their stories. One major source of this unreliability is bias towards a socially-preferred or consistent narrative; as Lawrence says (p 44):

Several clinicians who have worked extensively with MtF transsexuals have reported that their clients tend to consciously or unconsciously distort their histories to conform to the picture of “classic” MtF transsexualism. A classic MtF transsexual is one “who has felt and acted feminine from earliest childhood, has never been sexually aroused by women’s apparel, and is romantically inclined toward males”

Lawrence also provides some choice quotes from earlier papers to this effect; from one in 1959:

A wishful falsification of memory takes place, the patients begin to recall and misinterpret various insignificant incidents in their childhood, till they finally firmly believe that "ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a woman.”

from one in 1972:

[One patient] when first seen reported his transexual feelings to be of recent origin; 9 months later he was reporting them as starting much earlier in his life.

and from another in 1974:

the patient quite subtly alters, shades, rationalizes, denies, represses, forgets, etc., in a compelling rush to embrace the diagnosis of transsexualism.

Lawrence makes it clear that this is the general pattern of bias one should expect, and that narratives that do not fit the pattern of "classic transsexualism" should be seen as "reluctant testimony", something of a declaration against interest, and are more likely to be accurate.

In this, as in other places in this book, I find that I agree with Lawrence's conclusions while being vaguely uncomfortable with what seems to be bad epistemic practice. Every datum that goes against Lawrence's narrative is explained away, and every datum that confirms it is accepted without much question. I'd prefer to see comments along the lines of "this seems like evidence against the theory, but I think the evidence for is just better on balance" or "this would support the theory, but I am nonetheless skeptical of it". This isn't supposed to be a pop-science book, you can just admit it when the evidence is not totally one-sided!

I'm in this picture and I (don't) like it

Lawrence reports that the respondents often had very strong reactions to encountering the concept of autogynephilia. Some respondents described it as relevatory, or said that it offered increased insight into their experience. Others expressed gratitude for being able to talk about the erotic aspect of their experience. Some expressed relief at finding a concept that described them, when they had felt uncomfortable with not matching the standard descriptions, or crazy for being transsexual while not matching those descriptions. Many expressed a sense of finally not feeling alone in their experience.

Not all reactions were positive. A number of people expressed discovering the concept to be true of them as difficult; it had uncomfortable implications. And there were the people who talked about others' reactions: being shamed for their feelings, often by other trans people, hiding information from gatekeepers in order to pursue SRS, and so on.

Respondents also had varying perspectives about their autogynephilia's role in their transition, ranging from full affirmation of the centrality of sex to their decision, to placing it as one among several motives, to denial of its importance, to introspective descriptions of how their initial sexual feelings had grown to something more broad over time.

Some of them hated their autogynephilic sexual arousal, despite being aware of it. It spoils the fantasy, since there's hardly a clearer symbol of maleness than an erection.

I'm not sure why Lawrence places the chapter on these reactions before the analysis of the respondents' experiences of autogynephilia itself. Its presence here highlights one of the frustrating things about this book, though probably it was inevitable: everything seems to be all tangled up together, developments and etiology and motivations and fantasies and actions and reactions, and it's hard to know how to form a structured analysis or narrative.


In the next part we'll look at the development of autogynephilia and at what kinds of things autogynephiles are doing and fantasizing about.

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3

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

Safety being both a major problem with illicit drugs and a major concern of rationalists, this raised an eyebrow. The simplest explanation is that the people concerned with safety aren't the people using psychedelics and that I underestimated the availability of psychedelics through whatever the normal drug-buying channels are (and perhaps self-experimenters overstate the precision of the doses?), but I'm curious about other possible explanations. Assuming commonality, which I do not take for granted, the two most plausible explanations I came up with were:

Is there a rationalist Bear (preferred name of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, another early psychedelicist who started weird and became extremely weird) out there? As I understand it, synthesizing LSD requires serious know-how and equipment, but there are surely rationalist synthetic chemists and perhaps one is willing and capable.

Dark-web sales and purity testing labs? That meshes with the techno-libertarian side of things, but I have no idea how those labs operate and I'm guessing buying drugs online practically requires you to commit a federal crime in the US, which is a pretty big hazard.

I'm guessing the simplest explanation is the correct one, to the extent that there's a connection between rationalists and psychedelics, in the first place, but if someone actually knows, I'd rather know than guess.

4

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17

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Quality Contributions to the Motte

@Rov_Scam:

@wlxd:

Contributions for the week of January 30, 2023

@OracleOutlook:

@MathWizard:

Rowliphobia

@FarNearEverywhere:

@DaseindustriesLtd:

Identity Politics

@faceh:

Contributions for the week of February 6, 2023

@TransgenicSolution:

@Walterodim:

@Ecgtheow:

@Dean:

Who Teaches the Teachers?

@gog:

@Lewyn:

Identity Politics

@ymeskhout:

@RandomRanger:

@100ProofTollBooth:

@ChestertonsMeme:

Contributions for the week of February 13, 2023

@whatihear:

@ActuallyATleilaxuGhola:

@Dean:

@FiveHourMarathon:

Babies Everywhere

@wlxd:

@SSCReader:

Identity Politics

@DaseindustriesLtd:

@ThisIsSin:

Contributions for the week of February 20, 2023

@Rov_Scam:

@urquan:

@ThisIsSin:

Battle of the Sexes

@Ecgtheow:

@FiveHourMarathon:

Battle of the Genders

@hanikrummihundursvin:

@Amadan:

@Harlequin5942:

@RococoBasilica:

Identity Politics

@Hoffmeister25:

@HlynkaCG:

@hooser:

@FCfromSSC:

@FiveHourMarathon:

Contributions for the week of February 27, 2023

@TheDag:

@DaseindustriesLtd:

@dovetailing:

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