Summary of the findings of my Master’s thesis

I have written up this web page to report the findings of my recently completed Master’s thesis in psychology at Massey University in New Zealand. This page has been written for those people who have completed my questionnaire, and anyone else who is interested in reading about these results.

If you are interested in viewing the entire thesis you can download it here. However the entire thesis is 148 pages, so you might be content to just read the summary below.

Summary of Results:

Before I get started I would just like to thank everyone who has helped me. Firstly my academic supervisors, Dr Dave Clarke for his guidance, and Dr Tess Lomax for her knowledge of transsexualism and computers. This web site has been made available thanks to Tess. Web site debugging was also aided by Angela. I would like to thank those friends and acquaintances who passed on my questionnaire to their friends and acquaintances: Katie Krueger, Toni Reid, Kim Stedman, Petra White, Roxanne Henare, and Christina Loughton. I would like to thank Kaye Barrie for supporting me at a presentation of these research findings, also my wonderful girlfriend Olivia Singh for her support, encouragement, and friendship during this past year. Lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to thank all of the people who took at least 20 minutes (and often a lot longer) out of their busy lives to not only complete my questionnaire, but also give some very thoughtful comments at the end of it. This thesis would not have been possible without the support of those who worked with me, and the enthusiasm of the larger community. I am grateful to you all.

This summary is divided into four sections. The first section gives a bit of a background to my research. In it you will find a brief overview of previous research on MTF transsexual sexuality. This should give you a grounding in concepts used in my research. The second section is an overview of what I did to complete this research. The third section discusses the results that I found. Implications of these results are made in the final section.

Overview of previous research on transsexual sexuality:

Firstly, I would like to point out that this research only dealt with male-to-female transsexuals. To save repetition, in this web page whenever I refer to ‘transsexuals’, I am referring to the MTF variety.

This overview is very brief. I do not want to bore you with too many details about previous literature. By no means does this overview do justice to the large amount of literature that exists examining transsexual sexuality.

A large amount of the academic literature that I have read that examines transsexual sexuality has attempted to classify transsexuals into different “types” according to their sexuality. For instance, from the mid 1970s, some authors have proposed that transsexuals be classified as either “primary” or “secondary” transsexuals. These authors believe that primary transsexuals are effeminate from earliest childhood, sexually attracted to males, never function in ‘masculine’ roles. In contrast, secondary transsexuals tend to be attracted to females, show no effeminacy in childhood and do not engage in girl’s activities any more than other boys, have a history of sexual arousal associated with cross-dressing, and attempt to live in male role in adulthood.

Another way of classifying transsexuals was proposed by Dr Ray Blanchard in the late 1980s. He believed that transsexuals are either homosexual or autogynephilic. He uses the term homosexual to refer to transsexual who are exclusively attracted to males (or homosexual relative to their biological sex). However, many transsexuals find this term offensive when it is applied to them (not to mention confusing!), so I will not use it any further. According to Blanchard, those transsexuals who are exclusively attracted to males also have higher levels of femininity in childhood, and present, on average, at an earlier age for treatment of their transsexuality. On the other hand, autogynephilic transsexuals are either sexually attracted to females, bisexual, or not sexually attracted to either sex (asexual), have lower levels of femininity in childhood, present for treatment at a later age, and experience autogynephilia.

Literally translated, autogynephilia means “love of oneself as a woman”; Blanchard uses it to mean sexual attraction to the thought of oneself as a woman. Prior to Blanchard, most researchers had focused on sexual attraction to wearing women’s clothing (transvestism); however, autogynephilia is more broad than this; autogynephilic transsexuals will find anything that causes them to perceive themselves as more feminine to be sexually arousing. This includes situations such as such as going to the hairdresser, somehow gaining a female body, or even doing knitting.

What I did:

This background of previous research can help to give an understanding of what I set out to do in my research. I wanted to test Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia using a sample that was not recruited through a clinical setting (so people who participated didn’t have to worry that what they said would effect their chances of getting hormones/surgery etc.), and also use a group of biological females to compare my results to. I also wanted to examine a number of other aspects of sexuality to see how they fitted in to the picture of things.

Upon receiving ethical approval for my research, I recruited 210 transsexual participants were recruited from support groups in New Zealand, and transsexual online groups worldwide, and 127 biological females from Massey University and online groups.

These participants were all given a questionnaire to fill out which measured: sexual orientation, recalled childhood gender identity, autogynephilia, fetishism, masochism, preference for younger sexual partners, interest in uncommitted sex, interest in visual sexual stimuli, importance of partner status, importance of partners physical attractiveness, and attraction to transgender fiction.

What I found:

The results showed that transsexuals tended to prefer younger sexual partners, and have lower levels of masochism than biological females. For the remainder of the sexuality variables measured, transsexuals and biological females did not differ, with the exception of those TS who acknowledged a history of autogynephilia. These transsexuals scored significantly higher on measures of autogynephilia, attraction to femininity in males, attraction to transgender fiction, interest in visual sexual stimuli, and importance of partners physical attractiveness

The majority of participants did not think that the theory of autogynephilia applied to them, although 42.1% believed it did at least “a little bit”. However, it appeared to occur in a different manner to what was proposed by Blanchard. Although autogynephilia was most commonly reported by transsexuals who were sexually attracted to females, or bisexual, it was seldom reported by asexual transsexuals, and reported by a significant number of transsexuals who were exclusively sexually attracted to males. In addition, autogynephilia was not related to a less feminine gender identity in childhood.

A large number of TS participants reported discontent with Blanchard’s theory, although some still believed that it applied to them. The most common comment made about autogynephilia was that the theory is too narrow. A lot of participants did not believe that MTF transsexualism could be completely explained using two groupings, and many did not feel that they fitted clearly into either of Blanchard’s two groupings. For instance:

“I fall in both categories”

“It is society trying to put TS people in a box. Some like me are a mix”

“Far too simplistic a reduction of human sexuality. Denies the existence of feminine lesbian M2Fs, when I’ve met a few so know they exist.”

“There are not two separate groups of MTF’s, rather a broad spectrum between two poles”

The question of whether transsexuals were aroused by transgender fiction was also proposed. From the results, transsexual participants, especially those acknowledging a history of autogynephilia, reported a significantly greater amount of sexual attraction to transgender fiction themes than biological females. To take this further, by analysing the different transgender fiction themes it was hoped that some conclusion could be made about which themes are rated more sexually arousing by transsexuals. Results showed that transsexual participants most commonly endorsed themes of magical transformation into a female, having to be transformed into a female as part of a deal, bet or dare, and gender body swaps. Transsexual participants least commonly endorsed themes of wearing high heels or having their hair done. However, all of the themes appeared to be endorsed by some transsexuals, and no clear pattern of themes appeared among them. It was concluded that sexual attraction to these themes is varied among TS, and sexual fantasy to certain transgender fiction themes does not appear to be predictive of transsexuality (as opposed to transvestism).

What do these findings mean?

These findings have implications for Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia; it was found that autogynephilia does appear to exist among a number of transsexuals, however it did not appear to exist in a pattern that was as simple as Blanchard proposed. Autogynephilia was reported by transsexuals from across the spectrum of sexual orientation. Although those transsexuals who were sexually attracted to females, and bisexual were most likely to report autogynephilia, a number of these transsexuals did not.

There are implications of these findings for clinicians working with TS. The research found that the theory of autogynephilia could not account for all transsexuals experiences; clinicians are warned against categorising TS without an appreciation for the diversity and complexity in individual cases. This can result in restricting and marginalising these persons.

A final word of note, there were a number of limitations to what I did which should be considered when interpreting these findings. Probably the biggest problem with my research was the over-representation of relatively higher socioeconomic, European, computer literate transsexuals, and the under-representation of lower socioeconomic transsexuals. For instance, only two transsexuals identified prostitution as their occupation, such a group is under-represented

Again, thanks to everyone who took the time to take part in this survey.


Comment from natalie rickman
Date: November 11, 2007, 12:51 am

i’m interested a lot in your work, and would like to know more, i’m also thinking of writing a book on the battle we have to get the understanding of our biological origins.

Comment from admin
Date: November 30, 2007, 8:33 am

Hey Natalie – thanks for commenting on your page. I’m very interested in the results of your finger-length ratio research.


Comment from Terry King (birth name, that is)
Date: April 21, 2008, 7:26 pm

I am transgended (ts, if you will), and am currently in transistion. I am from the lower side of the economic spectrum, yet I am at least somewhat computer literate.
I am bisexual, but i do not become aroused, nor ever have, at the thought of suddenly becoming a woman. When I am with a male, I prefer, very strongly, to be in the femimine role, so to speak. I don’t necessarily consider that a submissive role, however.

Write a comment