Female Sexuality and The Two-Type Theory: Why “Autogynephilia” Matters

March 31, 2009

As with my post about the Standards of Care, I find myself not wanting to wade into the fray about Bailey/Blanchard/Lawrence or ‘autogynephilia’. It’s petty, it’s the same damn thing everybody’s always talking about, we all go around in circles and fume and we don’t go anywhere.

Part of my reluctance comes from the fact that so much of the response against it has been couched in sex-negative terms that end up as apology for cissexual supremacy and gender coercion. Why the hell should we care *why* people transition? If it makes you happier, *go do it*. Controlling your own body and sex and gender isn’t a privilege granted to the worthy or the people who’ve got the “right reasons”, it’s a fundamental right. Really, if we say that sexual motivations for things aren’t bad or invalid, then why is the two-type theory a problem? (Note: that link? Super problematic.)

I’m also aware that it, as a theory, had a huge negative impact on my mental health for a long time, and that that it is used to justify the Standards of Care, their attendant abuse, and the denial of basic medical care, and insurance coverage of such through the guise of gatekeeping, which is itself through the guise of ‘making the right diagnosis,’ and that Bailey’s two-type theory even contributed to a young woman getting kicked out of her parents’ house at transition. But y’all already know that it’s pernicious.

How do we talk about the two-type theory in a way that doesn’t succumb to its terms? The argument demands we either accept medicalization and gender coercion in this case, or sex-negativity and the validity of gender coercion in other circumstances. We have to challenge the frame–as the sex-positive argument attempts to do. But the sex-positive argument (that sexual motivations are ok) fails to address the underlying misogyny of the theory, which is so fundamental to why it continues to hold power over us–and moreover, how the two-type theory is part of an attack on female sexual subjectivity (trans or cis).

So, let’s define our terms. I’m mostly focusing on “autogynephilia” in this post, rather than the “classic transsexual”/”homosexual transsexual”-by-which-we-mean-straight-trans-women, because in the theory, though straight trans women are pathologized, they are positioned as more ‘real’ and legit than queer ones:

The mantra of some male-to-female transsexuals is that they are simply “women trapped in men’s bodies.” This assertion has some truth for homosexual transsexuals, who are extremely and recognizably feminine (and like most women, attracted to men), but for autogynephilic transsexuals it is not true in any meaningful sense.

J. Michael Bailey

Gross, huh?

It’s important to note that, according to Bailey et al, “male” bisexuality does not exist, and “women” are inherently bisexual. Really, I’m not making this up, you can really be that stupid and get published. Moreover, according to the two-type theory, trans women are men, and thus inherently “gay” or “straight” (see prev. link). (God, the quotation marks hurt my ears, but not using them hurts more) Their contention is that ‘autogynephilic’ transsexuals will have sex/one night stands with men to confirm their identities as women, but not because they’re really attracted to them. The two-type theory depends on this, because otherwise one could do things a different way around–e.g. transition partially out of autogynephilia and partially to have sex with [cis] men. It’s necessary to hold the two concepts apart.

There’s so much I have to come back and critique, but I need to get all my terms out first. Sorry.

Madeline H. Wyndzen has a good essay describing some tensions (‘slippages’ if you’re being a pretentious philosopher) in the definition of “autogynephilia”. On the one hand, Ray Blanchard defines it as “a man’s [sic] paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself [sic] as a woman.” Wyndzen calls this definition “autogynephilia as a phenomenon,” in contrast to “autogynephilia as a theoretical construct” (a phrase she’s misusing, but whatev):

“Autogynephilia” can be thought of as a “theoretical construct”, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s an “idea that has meaning from its role in an overarching model of how something works.” In this case, the theory is Blanchard’s mis-directed sex-drive model of transsexuality. According to Blanchard there are two ‘legitimate’ sex drives: heterosexuality and homosexuality. A deviance in each causes gender dysphoria, and in extreme cases ultimately causes transsexuality. The deviant form of heterosexuality is called “autogynephilia.”
… J. Michael Bailey not only endorses Ray Blanchard’s theory, but he takes it to an extreme of simplicity. Whereas Blanchard’s model suggests the following three step sequence:

Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Gender Dysphoria -> Transsexuality

Bailey suggests only the following two steps:

Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Transsexuality

Bailey ignores how uncomfortable we feel being perceived as members of our biological sex (i.e., gender dysphoria). Instead, he turns all of our gendered feelings into something directly caused by (if not simply equivalent to) our sexuality.

Basically, the difference is this: in def’n #1, ‘autogynephilia’ is a bad kind of sexual desire and in #2 it’s the more pathological one of two kinds of sexual desire that cause transsexuality. The problem here is that Bailey et al try to prove #2 simply by asserting the existence of #1–as Wyndzen quotes Bailey:

Even if autogynephilic transsexuals exist, aren’t they rare?

No. Every indication is that autogynephilia is a common motivation for male-to-female transsexualism.

In a recent review by Anne Lawrence of 11 studies with requisite data, the median percentage of transsexuals who acknowledged a history of sexual arousal to cross-dressing (a hallmark sign of autogynephilia) was 37%. In her large survey of SRS patients of Dr. Toby Meltzer, Lawrence found that 86% of respondents had had at least occasional autogynephilic arousal …

[EDIT ADDITION 9:30pm]–Note that there’s no attempt to check and see the rates of such arousal in other gender categories, e.g. cis men, cis women, trans men. He’s not even bothering to argue that “autogynephilia” is more common in trans women than others (or that “autogynephilic” fantasies are distinct from fantasies that cis women have)–only that it exists. I’d respond that correlation doesn’t imply causation, but he doesn’t even establish correlation.

So, according to both Blanchard and Bailey, autogynephilia’s a paraphilia. What’s a paraphilia?

Paraphilias are defined by DSM-IV-TR as sexual disorders characterized by “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving (1) nonhuman objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or (3) children or other nonconsenting persons that occur over a period of 6 months” (Criterion A), which “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (Criterion B). DSM-IV-TR describes 8 specific disorders of this type (exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, voyeurism, and transvestic fetishism) along with a ninth residual category, paraphilia not otherwise specified (NOS). (link)(emphasis mine)

This is where I hit paydirt.

So, getting sexual pleasure out of the idea I’m female. How is this a paraphilia? The nonconsenting/not-of-age criterion is out. So either 1)a woman is a nonhuman object, or 2)being female & sexual = suffering and humiliation. Blanchard defines 4 “types” of autogynephilia (what the hell is it with these people and their categorizations? Numerology?)

but noted that “All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone.”[9] [10]

  • Transvestic autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing women’s clothing
  • Behavioral autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of doing something regarded as feminine
  • Physiologic autogynephilia: arousal to fantasies of female-specific body functions
  • Anatomic autogynephilia: arousal to the fantasy of having a woman’s body, or parts of one.

The first could go either way–whether you’re talking about the clothing or the wearing of such. The second isn’t about an object, so my only option is to conclude that it’s paraphilic because doing feminine things is suffering and humiliation. The third can *kind of* go either way, but mostly seems like female-body-as-object, and the fourth seems pretty clear: female body parts are non-human objects.

Basically: labeling “autogynephilia” paraphilic and pathological depends on the objectification and subordination of women. There’s really not a way around it.

The two-type theory tries to account for bi/pan/queer trans women by claiming that when we have sex with men, the

“effective erotic stimulus in these interactions, however, is not the male physique of the partner, as it is in true homosexual attraction, but rather the thought of being a woman, which is symbolized in the fantasy of being penetrated by a man. For these persons, the male sexual partner serves…to intensify the fantasy of being a woman.”(link)

I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd. I fantasize about having sex with Angel, I’m really not ashamed of this fact, he’s fucking hot and his relationship with Buffy, no matter how fucked up, has a lot of emotional/sexual charge. But what I want to know is–why should anyone care about whether I’m fantasizing about Angel fucking me or fantasizing about the sensations my body would experience in that encounter? Isn’t it kind of a duh thing for being-Buffy to be an integral part of a fantasy made hot not only by Angel’s body but by their relationship? (She’s the protagonist–the viewer is supposed to envision hirself as Buffy, and if the person doing the fantasizing isn’t a cis woman, then that envisioning is a ‘fantasy of being a woman’.*) Furthermore, who in the hell decided these were discrete categories, ones that one had either one or the other of, not only within a single fantasy, but over a lifetime? Moreover, what do these categories represent?

Part of what makes BTVS so rad is that it does a good job articulating [white] [able] [cis] [thin] female sexuality/sexual subjectivity–and a sexual fantasy is a fundamentally selfish thing, fundamentally a matter of sexual agency and desire. It exists for your own pleasure, not for anyone else’s (though of course it can be acted upon to bring someone else pleasure). So for true sexual subjectivity, one has to be able to be as self-centered as one pleases in a fantasy. But what the two-type theory does is say that some fantasies–those that cater to [cis] men’s desires and center/glorify cis male bodies–are legit, and other fantasies–those that are irreducibly about female desire and embodiment and sexual subjectivity, those that derive pleasure from one’s own body, those that don’t center cis men–are pathologized. If your fantasy centers deriving pleasure from your cunt–whether or not your bits are currently recognized as such–then it’s fucked up, and if it centers a cis male body deriving pleasure from your cunt, it’s legit.

To be incredibly blunt–according to the two-type theory, female genitals are a hole for a man to stick a dick into, not a source of pleasure. “Real” women aren’t focused on getting off or getting laid, they’re pleasing men and cementing relationships. Have we heard this somewhere before?

‘Autoandrophilia’ isn’t a paraphilia not because it doesn’t happen, but because (according to teh Patriarchy) being male isn’t suffering or humiliation, and a penis isn’t a non-human object–one should derive pleasure from it. If an ‘autoandrophilic transsexual’ were to have sex with a woman to confirm his maleness, rather than out of attraction to her, it would be ok in the medicalized discourse–because using and objectifying women is what he’s supposed to do–his having sex for his own purposes isn’t seen as problematic. Not only is male sexual subjectivity perfectly licit, but it’s still licit when it crosses over into oppressive behavior.

Furthermore, focusing on another woman’s body is insufficient–that desire may or may not be licit, but according to the two-type theory that means your sexual desires as a whole are pathological and bad. Only devoting all your energy to men is acceptable. Erotic attraction to women implies–is synonymous with–self-centered desire (which apparently only men are supposed to have). This categorization/equivalence again positions women as objects to be taken and used, legitimating (actual) men treating female partners as means and not as ends. It assumes that women aren’t even capable of eliciting–let alone worth–service, sexual devotion, or an other-centered desire to please. It’s telling that while Janice Raymond and other cissexualist-feminists (who think of [cis] women as valuable sexual partners that everyone’s trying to get into bed with) assume that queer trans women transition in order to “gain access to women,” the concept of a trans woman transitioning out of desire for dykes (in a non girl-on-girl-pr0n kind of way) never occurs to the authors of this two-type schema. Men–particularly cis straight men–are valuable sexual partners one might transition in order to have access to, whereas lesbians are pretty worthless–my fantasies about Willow and Tara couldn’t possibly have the same motivational force as my fantasies about Angel or Riley or Spike. (We also have a devaluing of homosexuality going on here, such that while someone might transition ‘to be straight’ they’d never transition ‘to be queer’)* And while my assumed motivation for fantasizing about being Willow or Tara and having sex with the other–to confirm my own femaleness–is unremarkable and assumed in the BBL typology (why else would I be fantasizing about them?), ‘using’ men for such confirmation (objectifying them) is unacceptable and pathological. (I’m not endorsing this possibility, just talking about the implications of their blind spot.) A real woman’s purpose is to serve men, subordinate and objectified.

Female sexual subjectivity? Not allowed. By making a focus on one’s own body & sex illegitimate, the two-type theory seeks to control and subjugate all women’s sexuality. Focusing this pathologizing discourse on trans women–who cis people are very willing to believe are pathological–allows misogynistic social scientists to get these ideas circulating in public discourse without triggering feminist response or critique, allows them to get people to internalize sexist beliefs without necessarily even being aware they’re doing it. We as a community cannot afford to address autogynephilia solely as a transphobic (and sex-negative) theory, because its power and its goals are rooted in misogyny.

ETA: a number of small edits about 9:30pm on 3/31, both content and syntax. Significant additions are marked with a * or an [edit] lead off to a paragraph.

15 Responses to “Female Sexuality and The Two-Type Theory: Why “Autogynephilia” Matters”

  1. This is a great post. My main frustration with the two-type theory is that is that setup where being sexual available for men is one of the main criteria for being legitimate. It makes me think Bailey crafts his theory with the goal of creating a world that sexually caters to him and straight men in general.

    I mean, he might as well get up and say “All legitimate trans women must be willing to have sex with me — I mean men. All women must be into kinky threeways if I want to bring another woman into the mix. And there’s no way that I’m bi even if I’m attracted people I see as men [trans women] because no men are ever bi.”

    The misogyny in that is huge.

  2. Elly Rouge said

    Wow, that’s a really interesting and enlightening post, thanks for it.

    I was pondering about this part:

    “‘Autoandrophilia’ isn’t a paraphilia not because it doesn’t happen, but because being male isn’t suffering or humiliation, and a penis isn’t a non-human object.”

    I think that’s the case for transsexuals, but I wondered about the “transvestism” part, ie., what Blanchard calls:

    “Transvestic autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing women’s clothing”

    Which is always a «man’s thing». Which puzzles me because, honestly, I must confessed I am aroused by the act (or fantasy) of wearing men’s clothes and, among lesbians I know, some also like to drag-king themselves, and I suspect there might be, in some cases (though not always), some part of erotic game in that.

    But I guess it can’t be possible that women are the subject of erotic desire and masculinity what is “fetichized”?

  3. Dori said

    I have heard a lot of talk about autogynephilia in trans communities that I hang in, but this is the first time its hit me as to exactly what it means. I haven’t seen a great deal of analysis until now, which is my own failing, but now that I have, I kinda feel sick.

    It seems so clear just how wrong a concept it is, and it terrifies me. It terrifies me because I can see this flawed concept creating a huge hurdle for my spouse simply because of our marriage. I’m probably being paranoid but I can’t help the thought.


  4. Michelle said

    Great post! This puts the whole subject into a new light, and I’m quite pleased to have read it. Very relevant to a lot of thoughts/worries that I personally have about autogynephilia.

    I do, however, have some concerns: it seems we could defend Blanchard and company from your critique by arguing that the problem stems from the DSM-IV-TR’s definition of paraphilia being inconsistent and/or narrow, not from the classification of autogynephilia as paraphilic.

    Consider partialism–sexual arousal from or fetishization of typically non-sexual body parts. This encompass foot fetishes, nose fetishes, hair fetishes, etc. (the last two are apparently popular enough to warrant their own Wikipedia articles). The DSM-IV-TR *does* list partialism as a paraphilia, yet clearly it (partialism) does not focus on non-human objects, does not involve suffering or humiliation, and does not require children or non-consent.

    Applying your argument here, we would be forced to conclude that the DSM itself either objectifies the human body (male or female) as non-human or that it treats non-sexual body parts as related to humiliation somehow. I could maaaaaaaybe see a case for the latter conclusion with respect to foot fetishism, since feet are considered “dirty”, but that doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever for many other body parts.

    So, rather than rejecting two-type theory, we can reject the DSM’s definition of paraphilia. Which might be warranted.

    The following article, speaking of the DSM’s revisions over time, says that “DSM nosology, and to some extent, therefore, psychiatry’s understanding of the paraphilias, has not been consistent” (p1) and then later that “[t]he distinguishing phenomenological characteristic of paraphilias is an intense craving or urge to fantasize or engage in some form of sexual expression that most people would not find erotic” (p3).


    Granted, the point of the article isn’t to critique the DSM’s definition of paraphilia, but I think that the “distinguishing phenomenological characteristic” which the authors supply for paraphilia works better and better fits how professionals actually understand the term than the DSM’s literal criteria. Again, we can see this as a problem with the DSM rather than with Blanchard or anyone’s theories.

    Note, by the way, that I’m not defending their view because I support two type theory or the favoring of one transsexual motivation over another as “more legit”. I’m just highlighting something that stuck out to me in the interest of being charitable to the opposition’s stance.

  5. Cedar said


    Argh, the internet ate my reply!

    I don’t think my argument hinges on that aspect of the definition of paraphilia–I think it’s supporting data, but the idea that we should not only be having sex with [cis] men rather than other folks but we have to do it for the right reasons and even have the right sexual fantasies, and what “right sexual fantasy” means is so clearly derived from misogyny… well, I don’t think there’s much they can say. Also, if we start defining paraphilia as “non-normative sexuality” or “sexuality I don’t like” it loses all validity as a concept. As it stands, I can kinda understand it–if you forget about consensual BDSM contexts, or think they’re invalid, then pathologizing #s 2 & 3 makes sense, and getting off on non-human, non-sexual objects isn’t a problem but I feel like it’s not totally arbitrary. meh. but “non-erotic body parts”? Give me a break.

    One of the larger issues here is whether “autogynephilic” fantasies can really be made distinct from other kinds of fantasies, and I just don’t think it’s the case. I mean, yeah, you can draw lines but I think they get really fuzzy. Even if you could isolate some fantasies that are “uniquely” “autogynephilic” you’d still end up having to say that the same fantasy that’s “normal” in one person is autogynephilic in another (e.g. my Buffy/Angel example), which draws the validity of the concept into question.

    • Michelle said

      Thanks for the response Cedar. Yeah, drawing the line between autogynephilic vs normal fantasies is problematic, as with so many other distinctions…

      Anyway, I agree that your other points stand just fine without paraphilia’s definition entailing that autogynephilia is misogynist; but I had wanted to point out that there are other ways to interpret what’s going on here.

      For that matter, another way occurs to me now: even sticking with the DSM’s definition to the letter, Blanchard and Bailey might think that it is the men who experience autogynephilic desires themselves who find the idea of being female objectifying or humiliating; hence any arousal derived therefrom really is paraphilic.

      If all such men *do* see being female as something humiliating/degrading/whatever, then it is those autogynephilic cis men who possess misogynistic attitudes rather than the scientists who describe them. Of course, this is quite a big and as yet unproven assumption about cis male motivations; but Blanchard and Bailey’s expectation that it holds true could indicate their (implicit) belief in the *prevalence* of misogynistic attitudes among autogynephilic men rather than *their own* belief that to be a woman is demeaning.

      Sorry, I realize I’m being kind of nitpicky here. At any rate, you’re definitely right that setting up prescriptive boundaries for female (or any gender’s) sexual desires and fantasies is invariably an attempt to control/delimit/stifle female sexual subjectivity.

  6. Clarisse said

    Awesome post.

    How do we talk about the two-type theory in a way that doesn’t succumb to its terms?

    Predictably, the communication question is the one I find myself coming back to. Are there any resources you can recommend to me that talk about how we can discuss these things in a way that is accessible to the mainstream (this is important to me) without, as you say, succumbing to the opposition’s terms?

  7. Cedar said

    Would I write these things if other people had already covered it?


    • Clarisse said

      heh. I think my question is broader than maybe it came across. Really I’m looking for any resources on words/arguments we can use to try and make any and all trans issues accessible to the mainstream. (Not to say that I don’t love this post, all your posts, but they are not the kind of thing we can distill into bite-sized chunks, or explain to the uninitiated within fifteen minutes.) A focus on this particular topic would be awesome, but it makes sense that it wouldn’t exist yet. 😀

      • Clarisse said

        yikes, my colon-grin-colon got formatted into a smiley! I hate that from the depths of my bitter, bitter soul.

  8. “It’s telling that while Janice Raymond and other cissexualist-feminists (who think of [cis] women as valuable sexual partners that everyone’s trying to get into bed with) assume that queer trans women transition in order to “gain access to women,” the concept of a trans woman transitioning out of desire for dykes (in a non girl-on-girl-pr0n kind of way) never occurs to the authors of this two-type schema.”

    I think this is a very good point. Really, if I had wanted to gain access to women, or even men at that matter, I would have had a much easier time doing so by remaining male. Prior to my transition, I was considered highly desirable. The only reason I didn’t sleep around more was because I was in a committed relationship.

    I think what feminists writer like Janice Raymond fail to recognize is how appealing soft, caring, sensitive men “in touch with their feminine side” are to many heterosexual and bisexual women, and that really most lesbian identified transsexual women had very little problems finding partner prior to their transitions. In fact, I suspect that it’s this very ease in which many of us found partners and found ourselves in relationships that causes a lot of us to delay in our process of transition.

  9. […] 8, 2009 Last time around, not having read any of The Man Who Would Be Queen, I wrote about how the two […]

  10. […] like necrophilia and pedophilia. Additionally, trans women are the subject of pet theories like autogynephilia, which is defined by an erotic interest in the thought or image of oneself as a woman. This theory […]

  11. bonze blayk said

    “So, according to both Blanchard and Bailey, autogynephilia’s a paraphilia. What’s a paraphilia?

    Paraphilias are defined by DSM-IV-TR as sexual disorders…”

    With Blanchard, it’s not so simple… he’s pushing to redefine the basic meaning of the term “paraphilia” used in the DSM, so that a “paraphilia” will be “any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, consenting adult human partners” — see — and a “paraphilic disorder” will be defined as “a paraphilia that causes distress or impairment to the individual or harm to others”.

    In some ways this is a distinct improvement over the current “definition” of paraphilia… but it’s a fine distinction, which is liable to be lost in translation to the general public, who are going to hear “paraphilia” and assume any “paraphilia” == Truly Gross and Abusive Stuff.

    With Bailey… seriously, nobody should care what Bailey thinks about anything: the man’s a pig trying to pass as a “scientist”, and succeeding as a model for EPIC FAIL. Not even Alice Dreger thinks TMWWBQ is “scientific” :-).

  12. bonze blayk said

    … somehow the link that should appear in my post above was omitted (“– see ? –“)…

    Here’s the link to Blanchard’s discussion of his proposals for redefining “paraphilia”.


    BTW, as I recall, this is very much along the lines that John Money advocated… (and no, Money was not some kind of demonic entity, just another Very Smart Fellow who was entranced by his own theories… in Money’s case, his theories regarding gender identity, which he believed became fixed after age 4 (or so?), but was plastic before that time.)

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