Review of Anne Lawrence’s recent article “Becoming what we love: Autogynephilic transsexualism conceptualized as an expression of romantic love”

2 December, 2007 (12:44) | Book/article reviews

This article published in the autumn/fall 2007 edition of the academic journal “Perspectives in Biology and Medicine” got me thinking the theory of autogynephilia in quite a new light.

Before I go on I’d like to give a bit of a background on my views on autogynephilia theory prior to reading this recent article by Lawrence. I first became aware of the theory when I came across Lawrence’s website in 2003. My initial reaction to the theory (or at least Lawrence’s interpretation of it at http://www.annelawrence.com/newintroagp.html) was very positive. I was beginning to explore the possibility of transition, and had always worried that I was doing the wrong thing because I had the experiences of what Lawrence describes of an autogynephilic transsexual, so when I read on Lawrence’s website that experiencing these things doesn’t necessarily make you any less of a transsexual, I felt more empowered, and more confident to go on with what deep down I knew I wanted to do – transition.

Of course, I soon became aware that Blanchard’s theory, and Lawrence’s promotion of it had been heavily criticised among the transgender community. From reading these criticisms I became a bit more critical of some aspects of Blanchard’s theory, especially the fact that the theory holds that it is sexuality that causes transsexualism – even though I didn’t become aware of my gender-variance until I was 12 years old, I believed that these feelings were there much earlier, probably for as far back as I could remember, I was just in a state of denial about those feelings and wouldn’t allow them into consciousness. A large proportion of other transsexual women who would be characterised by Lawrence as autogynephilic also report being aware they were transsexual/gender-variant prior to the onset of puberty. How could their transsexuality be caused by their sexuality, if their sexuality hadn’t developed properly? Also, it doesn’t really feel to me that it was my sexuality that motivated me to transition – it is difficult to explain, but it feels to me that my sexuality is more a symptom (sorry to use medical terminology but that’s the best word I could think of), rather than a cause of my transsexualism.

Another issue I have with Blanchard’s theory is that I’m not convinced that all transwomen fit neatly into his two categories. In her “Becoming what we love” article (which I will get to soon – I promise!), Lawrence doesn’t really address this issue, so I wont go into much detail about it here. The issue of whether transwomen who say they don’t fit into the typology are lying will have to be left for another blog (possibly).

In the article in question, Lawrence really shifts the emphasis of the description of the theory of autogynephilia from sexuality to romantic love, and she believes that if autogynephilia is thought of more in terms of romantic love than sexuality than it may be more acceptable to people in the community, and make more sense to those of us who have lower sex drives. Although Blanchard did note in one of his articles that autogynephilia could be likened to a “love-bond” I hadn’t given this idea very much thought until reading this article. Lawrence also includes what I take to be a convincing counter-argument to the suggestion that autogynephilia could not cause transsexualism that appears to develop prior to puberty. She points out that a “longing for union” with opposite sex peers that is comparable to that reported by adolescents has been demonstrated in children as young as four, meaning that it is entirely plausible that children predisposed to autogynephilic sexuality in adulthood could experience a desire to transition in childhood. She also outlines some distinguishing components of romantic love: idealisation and intense desire to be with the target, becoming the primary focus of one’s life; bringing reprise from frustration, hardship, and repetition; and providing meaning to a person’s life; and she likens these to the experiences of transition among “autogynephilic” transsexuals.

As I stated above, this got me thinking about autogynephilia, and my own experiences with it in markedly different way. To me it does seem a lot more plausible that it could be an experience similar to romantic love that is causing my transsexuality than just sexuality, however I am still far from convinced. The article did, however, get me thinking in depth about my own (not always successful) experiences of romantic love. One conclusion I came to was that falling in love or having a crush seems to have been a bit more emotional experience for me – more anxiety and that funny feeling you get in your tummy (I know not a very scientific explanation from someone who claims to be, at least to some degree, a scientist). I don’t recall ever getting that from transitioning or my desire to transition which seemed to come more from my head than from my emotions. That’s probably an oversimplification though – I’m sure there was some emotion involved in my transition, and it feeling like it is more in the head could just stem from the fact that it has been a lot easier for me to intellectualise transsexualism than it has to intellectualise feelings of love for someone.

Overall, this article hasn’t produced a major change in my thinking about Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia, however it did leave me thinking that this theory might be more plausible than I had thought it was before reading the article. The article also served as a reminder that just because I want to believe in a certain theory (in my case that my transsexualism is cause by some difficult to define gender identity) doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the correct theory. Although I don’t believe this article would bring about a change in attitude of the many who are vehemently opposed to Blanchard’s theory, I recommend this article to anyone who doesn’t take such a hard-line view of this theory (for instance those of you who aren’t completely disgusted by this blog entry for even giving Blanchard’s theory the time of day). It is a pity she hasn’t made this article available on her website like she has done with some of her others.

Comments

Comment from HFarmer
Date: March 28, 2008, 5:33 am

I want to commend you for being brave enough to not only take another look at Dr. Blanchards’s theory. Rather than accepting the folklore version that is out their you have looked at it yourself. I agree with you about it’s being far less than a perfect explaination. I hope that you do not become a target for some kind of smears for taking a moderate position. For that has happend to me. I have been called an internet faker, accused of being much older than I provably am, etc. Nothing like what has been done in the past but still it’s not pleasant.

My own personal experience with this theory is a bit different. I have been open about my gender expression for all but four years of my life. In home video’s and photo’s I am seen to be a sissy in accord with my memory. I have always liked men. I thought for a while that it was bull that such things could indicate transsexuality. Then towards then end of those four years of man life I saw someone allot like me. 6/10 of the way along in transition and more or less stopped just short . Only then did I really think about all of this as a critical adult. I really needed this and it wasn’t just some childish thing I could somehow outgrow.

Their is more to being a transsexual terminally attracted to men than just being really really really really really really really really…GAY! Or really really really really really really attracted to the image of onese self as a woman. I think those things are their in the mix but they can’t be all of the story.

What is the rest of that story? That is the question.

Comment from hfarmer
Date: March 28, 2008, 11:17 am

I have read your paper “Sexuality of Male to Female Transsexuals”. It is very good and interesting. The most interesting is this one choice you made and wrote about on page 10….

“Transsexual participants were categorized as autogynephilic or non-autogynephilic based on their scores on the Core Autogynephilia, Autogynephilic Interpersonal Fantasy,Attraction to Feminine Males, and Attraction to Transgender Fiction scales. These scales”

Which is different than most other research on this topic. Where the categories are determined simply by looking at sexual orientations. Correct me if I am wrong but this resulted in transsexuals in your study who were non-autogynephilic but not non-homosexual and transsexuals who are autogynephilic but homosexual? Even then an autogynephilic difference is observed? Furthremore I would like to know how you interpret that in light of the fact that no sample ever taken has found a total lack of autogynephilia in the “homosexual” grouping.

I know it would be controversial to do so. But could you publish data on the breakdown of the sexual orientation of the “non-autogynephilic” group? Is this grouping in your study equvalent to the grouping “homosexual transsexual” used in basically all other research done on this topic?

Comment from Jaimie
Date: April 6, 2008, 9:35 pm

Hi hfarmer,

The reason I didn’t classify transwomen based on their sexuality is because there were errors in the way I measured sexuality in the study (this is outlined in the journal article “Investigation into the sexuality of male-to-female transsexuals”. However, if you look in the Master’s thesis there is some analysis of transwomen based on the measures of their sexuality.

Jaimie

Comment from M. Italiano
Date: April 17, 2008, 3:33 pm

Hi Jaimie, The Lawrence article is severely flawed. There are 4 studies on the brains of transsexuals.
2 from Swaab’s group on the BSTc, 1 from Berglund’s group (with Savic) on the hypothalamus using PET
and one in German from Elke Gizewski’s group on the hypothalamus, amygdala and insula cortex. But when we look at the research of Helen Fisher (with Art Aron) on romantic love/attraction, they found people madly in love, when shown pictures of the person they had fallen madly in love with, “didn’t show axctivity in either” the hypothalamus or amygdala (Fisher, 2006). Instead, the VTA and caudate were activated. Furthermore, activity in the insular cortex, was shown only after having been rejected (described as the “flip side” of romantic love). There is also a 3rd
“mating system”, which is found to be distinct from romantic love, and is known as attachment, with seperate brain areas. Of interest, attachment or pair-bonding is facilitated largely through oxytocin, which gets us back to the hypothalamus again. I do want to state, that I like your paper very much (and thesis). In particular, your finding that
none of the individuals with autogynephilia even reported asexuality is highly significant. Blanchard had very little evidence to claim that asexuality was a form of so-called non-homosexual transsexualism. In fact, he had little more than a “forcing of the data of Bentler (1976)”, to try to fit his theory. Many of us believe, that asexual transsexualism reresents a distinct type of transsexuality (seperate from androphillic and gynephillic), that their motives for seeking gender reassignment are directly related to gender identity and basal brain sex reversal.

Comment from Jaimie Veale
Date: October 23, 2008, 7:22 pm

This article is available online at Anne Lawrence’s website at http://www.annelawrence.com/publications/becoming_what_we_love.pdf

Comment from Ricjunette
Date: October 30, 2008, 4:59 am

Keep up the good work.

Write a comment