Autogynephilia: A Mistaken Model

By Beth Orens

Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey
Late Transition and Lesbian Transwomen
"Manly Men" Who Later Transition

Blanchard, Lawrence and Bailey

According to J. Michael Bailey, whose The Man Who Would Be Queen is the most vicious attack against transwomen since Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire, there are two kinds of male-to-female transsexuals. What he terms “homosexual transsexuals” are heterosexual transwomen. Transwomen who are attracted to men. And what he terms “heterosexual transsexuals”, or “autogynephilic transsexuals” are lesbian or bisexual transwomen. Transwomen who are attracted to women.

Autogynephilia is a fetishistic sexual attraction to the idea of oneself as a woman. The basic idea behind Blanchard’s autogynephilia model is that “autogynephilic transsexuals” are essentially in love with the image of themselves as women. That this is their primary “sexual orientation”, and that they act in order to attain the object of this desire.

Bailey bases his topsy-turvey definitions on the work of Dr. Ray Blanchard of the infamous Clarke Institute in Canada. And tragically, Dr. Anne Lawrence, a transwoman herself, has embraced this terminology and is one of the foremost proponents of the autogynephilia theory (

Lawrence has taken an incredible amount of abuse for this. I have seen references online to "the Blanchard-Lawrence-Bailey axis." Lawrence is viewed as an enemy by many transwomen. And if the damage done by her acts were the sole criterion, this would be an accurate judgement. It is true that her use of Blanchard's terminology is gratuitiously offensive (calling a heterosexual transwoman "homosexual" is a fundamental denial of her identity), but on the whole I think that she is a victim.

Transitioning from male to female in this society is incredibly difficult. I assume it’s not a walk in the park for transmen either, but I can’t speak to that. The blows we take to our self-esteem are extreme. The bludgeoning we take can often result in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, where we begin to internalize the views of our oppressors.

Even as strong a person as Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, eventually internalized the transphobia she was confronted with in parts of the lesbian community by abandoning her identity as a woman. Instead, she began to say that she was neither a man nor a woman, but something else entirely.

The issue is one of models. When someone puts forth a model that accounts for the things we actually see, it makes sense to accept that model. Particularly when there’s no other model available that does as good a job of explaining things. And in fact, Anne Lawrence writes this:

I tried to confirm Blanchard's theories among a group of postoperative transsexual women at the 1996 and 1998 New Woman's Conferences, using an anonymous survey method. In 1996, ten out of thirteen of the women, fully three-quarters, said that "self-feminization was erotic" for them. And over half of the women said that "self-feminization had been their primary erotic fantasy prior to transition."

It is this, more than anything else, that Lawrence cites as her basis for embracing Blanchard’s model.

I believe that had Dr. Lawrence had an alternative model that explained this phenomenon equally well (or better), she never would have fallen into the mistake of both accepting and championing the autogynephilia model. This is why I view her as a victim. She has not gone down this path out of a desire to harm anyone. Blanchard’s model explained certain things for her, and nothing else she had seen had explained them as well before. Thus, accepting his model was an act of honesty. Championing that view, despite its political incorrectness, was an act of bravery. But honesty and bravery do not equal truth. And Lawrence was mistaken.

How do I know that Lawrence was mistaken? How do I know that Blanchard’s theory is wrong? I am a transwoman. A lesbian. I tried to transition at the age of 24, but the combination of living in Israel, where the only feasible work for a transsexual at the time involved prostitution of one sort or another, and where the professionals in charge of the process were both ignorant and obnoxious, of being an Orthodox Jew, and of being married to a woman I loved very much, finally defeated me. I eventually transitioned eight years later, at the age of 32. I had GRS one year and three days later, and haven’t looked back.

I did not display stereotypically female characteristics as a child. Nor, I should say, did I display the usual male ones either. I was painfully shy, and prone for a long time to ineffectual frustration rages. I spent most of my time reading and watching TV. But my primary, and most effective sexual fantasies during my teen and adult years would be immediately recognizable to anyone who has read anything in the genre of “tranny fiction”. Feminization, either forced, or otherwise not by my own responsibility, was what did it for me. And to this day, despite being almost eight years post-op, those continue to be the most potent sexual fantasies I have.

So I fit fairly well into the category of what Blanchard would call an autogynephilic transsexual. And yet, I deny the idea that I am anything of the sort. But unlike most of the transwomen who have rejected Blanchard’s model, I have an alternative model that I believe better explains what I have described above.

I think there are more than a few transwomen who have had similar experiences to mine. I think that some of the outrage against the Blanchard model stems from the fact that they know intuitively that it is wrong, but simply have not found any way to counter his views other than vitriol and denial that they ever have such fantasies. While I understand this, I think it is clear that the only way to defeat a flawed hypothesis is to replace it with a better one. And this is my intent.


What is arousal? The term is used most commonly in the case of sexual arousal. A psychophysical reaction to sexual stimulus. And yet, this is only truly a subset of the psychosexual reaction we call arousal. Students of biology have heard of Fight/Flight response. It is a normal response to perceived danger, and it is part of what is known as the General Arousal Syndrome. It is not uncommon for people who have undergone life-threatening situations to respond by exhibiting heightened sexual appetites.

When I was a child, I used to experience arousal when I was afraid. I didn’t recognize it as such, of course, because I was only a child. I would play hide-and-seek, and the jumpiness I felt at the prospect of being caught made me feel like I needed to urinate. At any rate, that was the closest I could come to understanding the feeling. This was years pre-puberty, of course. But even at the age of six or seven, I had this reaction to almost being caught. If I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to at school, and I was afraid that I was about to be caught by a teacher, I had the same reaction.

Later on in life, that “tickling” sensation was accompanied by at least a partial erection. It was a normal fear/anxiety reaction.

So how surprising is it that fantasies that I knew would land me in a world of hurt (and years of therapy) should anyone find out would be the most potent? How unusual is it that fantasies that included the fear of being caught would be the most effective?

Was this the source of my wanting to be a girl? Did I really seek to be female because the thought of feminization turned me on? Hardly. I remember as a child, young enough that my mother was still bathing me, tucking my genitals between my legs and thinking with great satisfaction, “I’m a girl now.” When my parents enrolled me in Cub Scouts, I was so uncomfortable that I acted out almost constantly until my parents pulled me out of the program. I remember feeling jealous of the Brownies, but nothing in the world could have gotten me to express that feeling outwardly. In fourth grade, I would stand on the playground and watch the girls as they played hopscotch and jumped rope, and my heart broke inside of me knowing that if I dared try to join in, I might as well be painting a big red target on myself. Of course, even standing there was too much, and my teacher eventually forced me to go and play soccer with the boys.

I’d always known that I was supposed to be female. But it was my fear of the consequences of expressing that need which were the basis of the fantasies I had later on.

As the years went by, I crossdressed in my bedroom, or in the bathroom. And yes, I would often experience arousal. But far from revelling in it, it horrified me. All I wanted to be was normal. A normal teenaged girl. I would think of icicles, or of anything I could to stop the arousal, because that wasn’t what I wanted. Yes, I would fantasize about crossdressing and other aspects of feminization when I masturbated, but when I dressed, it wasn’t about anything sexual. Far from it. It was a pathetic and embarrassing attempt to be, even for a moment and even in my own imagination, normal at last. The illusion would only last for a minute or so, and then I would be left with nothing but self-loathing. Internalized self-loathing, based on what everything in our culture says about boys who dress like girls.

But what about the fact that those fantasies are still the ones that I resort to when nothing else will work? The sad fact is that our psyches are like riverbeds. The path of the water in a riverbed will wear grooves into the ground, and future streams will continue to run along the same path, simply because that is the path that has been carved. And the same is true for sexual fantasies. For years after I transitioned, I tried to fight and deny the feelings I got from fantasies of feminization. But ultimately, I came to realize that I have been imprinted in a certain way. What is flexible and malleable at the age of 12 or 13 is nothing of the sort when you’re in your 30s and 40s. There are women whose most potent fantasies involve rape. This doesn’t mean that they actually want to be raped. Far from it. The human mind is infinitely complex, and interpreting sexual fantasies is a mug's game. It is like interpreting dreams. Sometimes there are obvious meanings, but sometimes you have to just accept that our minds work in mysterious ways.

Late Transition and Lesbian Transwomen

Yet another phenomenon that Blanchard’s model is meant to explain is why straight transwomen (what he calls homosexual transsexuals) tend to transition earlier in life, while lesbian transwomen (what he terms autogynephilic transsexuals) tend to transition later.

It should be fairly obvious as to why this is the case. Simply put, straight transwomen have less to lose by transitioning than do lesbian transwomen. If you are an 18 year old biological male who has the psychological makeup of a female, are you are attracted to males, you can either transition and be a heterosexual woman, or you can choose not to transition, and be a homosexual male. Either way, you’re going to be a kind of outlaw in our society. The added social penalty of transitioning just isn’t that extreme. On the other hand, if you are that 18 year old, and you are attracted to females, what do you have to gain by transitioning? You can stay as you are, avoid the shunning that comes with social rejection, and you have a much larger field of women to choose from.

Of course, that reasoning is flawed, and it is only a matter of time before that fact is driven home to you. You’ve avoided both the stigma of being a transsexual and the stigma of being a lesbian, but you still have to maintain the pretense of being male. Some people manage to keep up the pretense and the rationalization for decades. Others only for years. Crossdressing can delay the inevitable crash. It can act as a sluiceway in a dam, lessening the psychological pressure you feel on the inside.

Of course, there is another possible reason for the higher than average rate of lesbians among late transitioners. As mentioned above, habits run deep. So does shame. Many late transitioners who might be somewhat attracted to men as well as women feel a sense of shame at the prospect. They have internalized many of the myths in society, such as Blanchard's "homosexual transsexual" idea, and are afraid that if they get involved with a man, they will actually be less accepted as a woman, because people will think they transitioned solely for this reason. Or worse, they may suspect that any man who is interested in them might be gay, and only interested in them as a "male". The prospect of this kind of "left-handed acceptance" is more than many transwomen are willing to risk.

Other late transitioners simply don't pass well, and are afraid to try relations with men. They find women to be more understanding and less focused on surface appearances.

Lastly, there is a question to be asked about the nature of homosexuality and heterosexuality. I have discussed this elsewhere.

"Manly Men" Who Later Transition

This part is a bit of conjecture, because I was never exactly a manly man. But it fits with what I’ve seen in many other transwomen. And again, this is almost too obvious to need saying.

One of the most common things that happens to introverts when they finally manage to come out of their shell is that they go a little overboard. This is true not only for introverts, but for any psychological aspect that a person tries to change. Many transwomen go overboard into hyperfemininity when they transition. And when you are a young person who is trying desperately to quash the crossgender feelings that would have such a high social price should they ever get out, hypermasculine behavior is far from unexpected.


That some transwomen have had, or continue to have, sexual fantasies that could be termed autogynephilic does not make them “autogynephilic transsexuals.” They are merely transwomen whose bodies have been trained over the years to respond with physical arousal to the fear associated with being caught doing something socially “wrong”. Even after the fear is gone, the habit of responding with arousal to images of feminization persists.

The shame that so many transwomen feel about these fantasies is a shame that has been internalized, and stems from the response of so many people who have no understanding of what it is like to grow up with gender dysphoria. When so many people try to read a sexual cause into gender dysphoria (consider the word transsexual itself), any marginally intelligent person knows that admitting to these sorts of sexual manifestations is only likely to confirm that mistake in the minds of listeners.

While Dr. Ray Blanchard’s work can be seen as an extension of the transphobic attitude experienced by so many transmen and transwomen at the Clarke Institute, and while J. Michael Bailey use of transwomen as experimental subjects with neither their knowledge nor their consent places him far outside the bounds of any serious researcher, Dr. Anne Lawrence deserves our sympathy more than our condemnation. Her guilt and shame at feelings which were nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of led her to embrace a model that explained those feelings in a way that seemed to dispell her guilt and shame.