[Trigger warnings for rape mention and autogynephilic sexuality]
As an autogynephilic male transsexual, I have noticed an assumption of homogeneity about us. Certainly, no group of individuals who share one similarity are all the same, but when it comes to a characterization of AGPs there is a tendency towards homogenization in large part because of our unwillingness to come forward and admit our human complexity. If most of us shared our stories from a standpoint of honesty with regards to our motivations, I believe we would immediately see a diverging of groups.
I think one of the most clear-cut categorizations within our community (if there were enough of us willing to admit to AGP for there to even be a community), would be those with or without sex dysphoria. Sex, or body, dysphoria is something that is not easy to “test” for, if at all. One might say that an AGP would simply claim sex dysphoria in order to be more accepted, but is this not true of non-AGP transsexuals as well? In fact, this is a common trope that AGPs are faced with – the idea that anything we say is immediately to be doubted, that the testimony of others, especially those transsexuals who are non-AGP (and who can know if they are not actually “stealth” AGP or in severe denial?) are to be believed over us.
In many ways, this thinking is correct. We are not to be completely trusted concerning statements about our motivations to transition. However, I think this logic applies to all transsexuals.
Behaviors are more reliable methods of judgment rather than mere opinions. I use observations of my own behavior in order to more closely judge myself, which is probably one of the main reasons I am able to identify myself as AGP, despite lacking a behavior of cross-dressing as a child, or any erotic connection with women’s clothing. I judge myself to be an anatomic/physiologic AGP based upon my inability to form an erotic connection without also thinking of myself as a woman, physiologically and anatomically. Additionally, my transition was rather late, and I allowed myself to follow the path of male social patterns of development, culminating in a marriage. I am AGP because I am attracted to my own body as “female,” or at least as close as it can come to such a facsimile. People often assume that AGPs are seekers of pleasure, and in a way, we are. The sad truth is that we are desperately unhappy. Simply look at the proliferation of death threats, violent rhetoric, and active deceit in the trans community and you will see the dismal effect that unacknowledged AGP has upon its bearers. In my case, awareness of reality allows this unhappiness to be reduced to a bitter frustration. Unpleasant, but livable.
This is by no means meant to excuse the behavior listed above. No matter the origin, it is reprehensible and indefensible. However, I mention it because only by understanding the mentality behind such behavior can transsexuals attempt to oppose it and clean up our community.
Behaviors. How does one differentiate between AGPs with, and AGPs without, sex/body dysphoria? An easy way might be to see who is happy with the lessening of erections following HRT, and who is not. Masturbation habits preceding HRT/transition are not necessarily relevant, because depending upon the manner in which the act was conducted, could be simply for pleasure, or (as in my case) used as a form of ritualistic dissociation from the body itself, and from trauma attached to that body.
The lessening, followed by complete cessation, of erections has been a profound source of peace for me. I was rarely able to enjoy the act of sex with another person, because then I was forced to pay attention to my own body. Only by imagining myself “switched” with the woman during heterosexual intercourse, and always with the help of mind-altering substances, was I able to hobble my way through the experience, usually by fantasizing that I would end up pregnant. I have, for the first time, been able to reconsider the facts of my sexuality without prejudice and despair.
I am aware that for many others, the lessening of erections is a source of great frustration. I would posit that these individuals do not experience sex dysphoria. This would be a good starting point in which to begin a differentiation within the AGP community. I think most would agree that those transsexuals who are perfectly comfortable with their normal male genitalia and want to keep them are intrinsically different from those transsexuals who feel unable to engage in sexual activity without SRS (being quite terrified of SRS, I have considered just obtaining an orchiectomy, being celibate, and ignoring everything going on down there for the rest of my life as an alternative).
Another possible divergence would be the presence or absence of cross-dressing behavior. This is, supposedly, the defining characteristic of AGP. I am not so certain. If one believes the blogosphere, it is the only defining characteristic, aside from being abusive, rapey, and just plain horrible people all-around. From what I have seen of the behavior of a great many male-to-trans, this is not far from the truth.
For me, the fact that I am attracted to myself as a “woman,” that I am romantically enthralled with my “woman” self, is the defining characteristic of AGP. By this standard, many transsexuals who consider themselves non-AGP because they did not cross-dress as children or find women’s clothing to be erotically stimulating would suddenly be considered under the AGP category. This would be entirely dependent upon a vague idea of oneself as being in love with oneself as a “woman” (as the facsimile of the same). This is not limited to sexual arousal, but may simply be a romantic attraction. Certainly, this type of thinking is narcissistic.
One may have noticed that I did not mention sexuality as a defining characteristic of AGP. Blanchard originally divided AGPs from non-AGPs by presence or absence of a strict homosexuality. As a lumping technique, this may be somewhat useful. However, this ignores many factors: effect of religious upbringing, presence of ego-dystonic homosexuality, cultural environment, childhood sexual abuse, childhood trauma, substance abuse, and pornography addiction. Many or all of these factors work in tandem. The fact that some individuals do not come out as gay until late in their lives, often after having outwardly successful marriages, shows the degree to which human beings will manipulate their own needs and desires in order to fit within a social rubric. Some break out of this box early in life, and are certainly punished for this offense. The journey of the early-transitioning transsexual must be extremely difficult, and I do not envy the experience.
Some, however, take much longer to break out. I have a theory that in many cases (not all), AGP is a self-defense mechanism that reacts to the presence of sex dysphoria. Just like the narcissism that is a self-defense reaction to the isolation that defined my childhood, the effect of AGP upon the individual, and its concomitant behavioral characteristics, may fade with continued awareness of the presence of sex dysphoria and the utilization of strategies to cope (such as transition and/or cognitive behavioral therapy). The person with AGP does not “have a harder time of things” and develop AGP because of some extreme form of sex dysphoria. My explanation is somewhat counter-intuitive. I think that those with AGP actually choose what they perceive at the time to be the easy way out, and that possibly this is based upon having chosen “the easy way out” in previous circumstances.
For example, I both remember and do not remember my rape. I have had long conversations with a friend of mine, a grandmother and mother of three, who was and is my confidant in very personal matters that I have shared with no one else, not even my therapist. She also does not remember her rape. And yet she does. We don’t talk about this with other people, because it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. But it makes sense to us. You see, we know what happened. We know we know what happened. We just don’t remember it, not really. Long ago, our minds took “the easy way out” and we are paying the price for it, in ways we cannot fully understand. There was one time I “remembered” what happened, and it almost resulted in me jumping off of a bridge. I remember remembering. I remember choosing to forget. But I still do not remember what truly happened. Oh, well, I suppose I am better off. And who knows? Maybe I made it all up! I can certainly keep telling myself that – but I cannot ignore the suspicious behaviors that have resulted from this “non-existent” memory, or the years of maddening self-doubt.
I think for many AGPs there is a similarity to this phenomenon. We chose one of two paths, long ago: awareness or denial. I am an expert at denial. I started early. When I became aware of what I know now to be sex dysphoria, this experience was essentially thrown under the bus and squished into paraphilia, grotesque and mangled, in a similar fashion to what I did with my rape memory. Transsexuals without AGP are correct in asserting they are vastly different from us. They knew, early on. They chose the trajectory of awareness, complete with all of its misery and open-handed abuses. We chose the trajectory of denial, and led ourselves into a labyrinth of our own making.
Just as it is important to differentiate between the AGP and non-AGP transsexuals, it is also important to describe the varying motivations that help to categorize and delineate those of us with AGP. I am not alone when I say that, just like non-AGP transsexuals who read AGP narratives and say “this is not me,” there are a great many AGP narratives to which I also say, “this is not me.”