If there’s one thing the trans borg hates, it’s Ray Blanchard’s suggestion that some trans women are not “women trapped in men’s bodies” but are acting out their particular paraphilia, in this case, autogynephilia. The mere mention of this term is guaranteed to start a shit storm in any online arena populated by trans women (and trans men and queers)…or any online arena these folks can find via Google. As radical feminists know practically and intuitively, whenever something strikes a nerve so powerfully and gets such a strong reaction, it’s got a grain of truth at the center. Also, there are plenty of individuals out there who feel at home with the autogynephilia descriptor. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
Ray Blanchard, a much-maligned sexologist, sat on the gender dysphoria working committee for the DSM-IV, which makes many on the LGBTetc spectrum nervous. Blanchard definitely falls into the category of thinking that transsexual people suffer from a mental disorder (whether they think they’re suffering is another story) and does not think surgery is the answer, generally. This last opinion alone is enough to warrant him death threats, I’m sure.
So here’s how Blanchard defines autogynephilia: “a male’s propensity to be erotically aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” (Origins of the Concept of Autogynephilia, 2004)
While there are several types of transsexualism for males recognized by researchers and lay observers alike, this term specifically describes a group of men who “seek sex reassignment in their 30s, 40s, 50s, or even later, after having lived outwardly successful lives as men. Usually they were not especially feminine as children, and many are not especially feminine as adults, either. Often they have been married to females and have fathered children. Many identify as lesbian or bisexual after reassignment. Nearly all have a past or current history of sexual arousal in association with cross- dressing or cross-gender fantasy.” (Autogynephilia: A Paraphilic Model of Gender Identiy Disorder, Anne Lawrence.
The individual who generally matches this type at some point in their “transition” is the one I want to explore today, in relation to some revelatory statements from Andrea Dworkin’s book Pornography: Men Possessing Women. (This piece will not address other manifestations, such as the younger, queer theory/identity politics trans group. Although, similar motivations will affect anyone raised male in the patriarchy and claiming female.
Dworkin posits that males objectify everything around them in order to dominate the objects and thus feel their own power and gain a sense of self (side note: that is terrifying). (Dworkin, p. 104) The male, therefore, objectifies and dominates the female-as-object, basing the actual reality of a woman on an idea or idealized notion of woman. When the real woman does or acts not according to the ideal, the male’s spell is broken, and she must be punished.
“In his view, she is not a woman unless she acts like a woman as he has defined woman. … His definition need not be coherent. It is never scrutinized for logic or consistency or even threadbare common sense. He can theorize, fantasize, call it science or art; whatever he says about women is true because he says it. He is the authority on what she is because he has made her, cut away at her as if she were a piece of stone until the prized inanimate object is extracted.” (Dworkin, p. 65.
Of course, most, if not all, autogynephiles (AGPs for expediency) and “trans women” claim to not “think like men” or to have “allied with” women early on. They claim to have “felt like a woman” even as they outwardly appeared as a man, with all the attendant external and internal benefits that affords. Out of sheer survival, they had to negotiate the male hierarchy to whatever extent they could, and in many cases, did so successfully.
In the patriarchy, true womanhood is hidden behind the foggy veil of male assumptions about women and womanhood. For men who operate in the world as men while only secretly thinking of themselves as women, to pierce that veil deeply enough to truly know what it’s like on the other side is impossible. Many point out that their behaviors and preferences while still men prove that they were women all along. But let me be clear: Time spent trying on women’s clothes, pretending to be the woman in a sexual fantasy, or even taking the “submissive” (e.g, childcare, vacuuming, etc.) role in a marriage does not make you a woman. That is simply the AGPs idea-of-woman being paraded out as reality, which is the most male thing a person can do. But I digress.
As the male’s entire worldview is based on objectification of the world around him, it comes as no surprise that male heterosexual sexuality is also completely based on objectification. (Dworkin, p. 113) Like all other objects in the male’s grasping view, men assume it’s their God-given right (huge surprise given they invented God) to act upon the woman-as-his-own-idea.
Fetishes are, essentially, this objectification taken to an extreme – only part of the idea is romanticized and seen as bestowing the magic erection-giving powers. In the autogynephile, this notion and behavior is taken to an even further extreme: the ideal female is not even nominally based on an actual woman, on the existence, out there in the world, of real femaleness. The woman isn’t even necessary here – she’s merely a figment of the AGP’s imagination, conveniently projected within the only mise-en-scène that counts for anything in the patriarchy: the male’s own body and in the male’s own mind.
Here’s the problem: “Male perceptions of women are askew, wild, inept. Male renderings of women in art, literature, psychology, religious discourses, philosophy, and in the common wisdom of the day, whatever the day, are bizarre, distorted, fragmented at best, demented in the main.” (Dworkin, p. 64) Thus, we end up with men who want to be women but who not only have no idea what it’s like to be a woman, but no idea what a real woman is.
With the figment of female firmly implanted in the real actor of man, the AGP has closed the circle of objectification and purified the ritual of dominance.
In one sense, this makes them the utterly ideal male – he doesn’t even have to get his hands dirty by using a live female. In the real male world, the removal and redirection of man’s external objectification schema from female to male self threatens the entire hierarchy, thus bringing on them a shit storm born of terrified male egos (hate crimes). At the same time, all men know that they have the birthright to act out whatever desires they have – this is how war is created, serial killer-rapists are made and surgeons came up with the idea for inverting the penis. Deep down, if a man wants to do it, they will find a way.
For women, and feminists, to accept someone displaying this behavior/desire into space meant for born-females means accepting that real women have no autonomy – no right to define their own reality whatsoever. It’s not even about the AGP individuals in women’s space – it’s about the precedent that sets to the male world in general. To argue that born-females cannot set our own boundaries argues for the continued imprisonment of all womankind.
But the more dangerous point is this: To accept someone displaying this as being one on our side of the misty veils of patriarchal womanhood means accepting that real women are not even necessary in the world. The AGP sets the precedent that there is another way to femaleness, through maleness. And as anyone who has even considered the patriarchy for even a moment knows, that’s exactly what the fuckers want.