What should a transgender person do when someone brings up the “autogynephilia” theory?
Trans people and friends of trans people who have interacted with transphobes online, know that it does not take long before one of the anti-trans activists bring up the “autogynephilia” or “AGP” theory. It is actively used to invalidate transgender identities and present transgender women as some kind of sexual perverts.
This is an old tactic, previously used against people of color, independent women and gay people. The science sounding sexualization is meant to trigger old fashioned prejudices and sexual hang-ups.
AGP vs. HSTS
According to the “autogynephilia” theory trans women who are attracted to women (i.e. lesbian trans women) are suffering from some kind of “erotic target location error” (being in love with themselves), while trans women who love men (insultingly called HSTS or “homosexual transsexuals”) are seen as extremely feminine gay men.
Needless to say, contemporary science sees gender incongruence as a real phenomena. It does not reduce the gender identities of trans women or men to a fetish or a sexual orientation.
How to handle AGP in discussions
So what should trans people or their supporters do when someone brings up this theory online, like in social media?
Unless I ignore the message, I normally address one or more of the following arguments:
1. I explain that, yes, erotic cross-gender fantasies is a “thing” among some trans people, male, female or nonbinary. It is hard for them not to imagine themselves as their real gender in their sexual fantasies, so the idea of becoming their target gender may in itself be thrilling. (Cis women may also get aroused by imagining themselves as sexy or attractive.)
2. I dismiss the “autogynephilia” theory’s explanation for this phenomenon with a few relevant links to articles or posts that explains why the theory has no sound scientific basis. It has been falsified, over and over again.
3. I explain how bigots, throughout history, have tried to sexualize all kinds of marginalized groups, in order to make others hate them. So black men have been presented as hypersexual and violent, independent women as seductive witches or nymphomaniacs, while gay and lesbian people have been accused of “grooming” children to become like themselves.
What I never do, is to engage in a detailed discussion about the basis of the theory, because that would force me to discuss transgender identities within the limits of a model that leaves trans people no reality, no dignity and no justice. if you accept the premise of the theory (an extreme debunked 19th century kind of sexual binary), you are caught in their trap.
Given the transphobic nature of the AGP approach, you may also decide to block the person using it.
Typewriter Monke AKA @tpwrtrmnky explains her approach over at twitter (translated from Norwegian by me):
I instantly block people who claim that “AGP” is a real problem with trans people.
The reason is that the use of the term “AGP” is a serious warning sign, telling us that those who use the term are much deeper embedded in transphobic communities than they pretend to be.
If you go behind the discussions about AGP/HSTS, it quickly becomes apparent that there are serious shortcomings to the work of the psychologist [Ray] Blanchard presented when he claimed he had discovered this alleged phenomenon.
Patients who did not easily fit into his categories were accused of lying.
Blanchard’s model cannot explain asexual trans women. It cannot explain trans women who felt their gender identity before puberty. It completely ignores trans men.
Still, his original model is better than contemporary usage of the term, because Blanchard argued that both “HSTS” and “AGP” [trans women] should be allowed to transition medically.
The current use of the “AGP” term, on the other hand, exclusively reduces trans women to fetishists.
Too kind to Ray Blanchard
I think Typewriter Monke is too kind to Blanchard here.
It is true that Blanchard has argued that trans women should have access to HRT and surgery, but given that he sees trans people as mentally ill, that will not lead to the respect and the social inclusion they need and deserve.
(By the way, he also thinks gay and lesbian people should be classified as mentally ill, which makes it weird to see “gender critical” lesbians embrace him in the way they do.)
Moreover, he is currently actively helping white supremacists and transphobic “gender critical feminists” in their attacks against trans people, so his actions are clearly aimed at ruining the lives of trans people.
You do not stumble upon the AGP theory by chance
Typewriter Monke continues:
Contemporary “AGP” proponents use the bad research Blanchard did in the 80’s as an attempt to legitimize several of the standard myths about trans women. That we are “really” men who want to appear as women for sexual reasons.
What makes the concept n such a big red flag is that this narrative is not something you just stumble over and start to believe in easily. It’s an obscure theory from the 80s made by a guy who thinks Japanese cartoons turn people trans. [Our link]
So when someone says that “I am not transphobic. I am just a little concerned about AGPs in women’s wardrobes,”… that is a clear sign that they have accepted the whole conspiracy.
My point is that if someone initially believes that AGP is real, it’s because they’ve intentionally bought into ideas that allow them to delegitimize trans people.
How do I know?
Because I know many trans people who have used the same mindset to suppress the fact that they are trans.
Typewriter Monke admits that it could be — potentially — that she is actually interacting with someone who just happens to behave in a way typical of the transphobic communities. Yet: If they use a word like “autogynephilia” the chances are that they are far down into transphobic rabbit hole. It is better to be on the safe side.
Illustration: Mikhail Seleznev