[Just as a warning, talking about autogynephilia and my sexual past inevitably involves some things people will probably find disturbing/gross/weird/all-of-the-above. To clarify, this post is probably WAY too “awgawd-I-didn’t-want-to-know-that!” for many of my readers. If so, please be aware that not all of my posts are like this.]
There’s a reason so many radical feminists refer to AGPs as “porn-sick men.” If a study were to be done, it would no doubt find that an overwhelming proportion of those suffering from autogynephilia (and who make others suffer with them) are addicted to pornography (overwhelming would probably mean all). In my personal experience with autogynephilia, and my observations of those purported to be “just like me,” I would posit a difference between those who have had their AGP induced by a combination of pornography and internalized homophobia, and those who have a long and rich history of transvestic fetishism, AKA erotic cross-dressing.
I am fortunate to be able to state that I am not a transvestic fetishist. The AGP cliche of stealing and subsequently ejaculating into female family member’s underwear is a memory I (very thankfully!) do not have. I have cross-dressed all of three times in my life prior to transitioning.
The first was for a Halloween party, and ironically (is it ironic?) my girlfriend-and-future-wife suggested I go dressed in women’s clothes. Apparently multiple people simply thought I was a woman who had been too unimaginative to dress in a costume, and my girlfriend later told me, humorously, that upon seeing me from behind she thought, “who is that ***** wearing a jacket just like mine– oh, that’s my boyfriend.” To me, it was a rather boring affair and I wished I had thought of something more interesting – especially when a guy I knew started hitting on me in a very creepy fashion.
The second time, I was really wasted. It was probably a week after I had first told my then-wife that I “wanted to cut my balls off,” again while I had been drunk (the next day I just pretended it didn’t happen – how difficult this must have been for her). So, I threw on a little skirt and a sequined top, and looked at myself in the mirror. My god, I was so fucked up that night (on multiple substances).
Now, as a little history, I had found erotic pleasure in my own mirror image for a very long time, probably since the age of 11 or 12, when my male parts started demanding that type of attention. I didn’t cross-dress…I was attracted to the male person in the mirror. Probably because I am attracted to males in general, and I won’t be shy – I am my own type (jesus, how weird is that?). Ok, so I got turned on by this image – but then a funny thing happened. As I became physically turned on, I realized – with mounting horror – that I wasn’t attracted to me in women’s clothes, but rather to what they were hiding, and was attracted to the idea of taking the clothes off so I could get at the real deal…the delightfully male body in the mirror.
There was a great deal of dissociation represented in that moment, and it threatened to “break through” the mental blocks protecting me against the realization that I was a gay man in a (nearly sexless – my wife later told me she always felt like I was “doing her a favor,” how horrible that must have felt) heterosexual marriage, and that I refused to come to terms with my weird desire to mutilate my male parts beyond recognition. The man in the mirror was my homosexual partner, and he was safe because he was me, but he was also not me. Yeah, this was a mindfuck I engaged in for about 17 years.
Third time, similar situation. It was after I started socially transitioning, and I was still addicted to pornography, alcohol, and drugs. The particular thought pattern that led to this act of cross-dressing is fuzzy, but it may have been based upon reading some experience of an undoubtedly fetishistic crossdresser/transsexual and I was like, “is this me?” So, in typical unabashed fashion of someone in the throes of a porn addiction, I decided to try it out, see if it was something I enjoyed. It lasted all of 30 seconds. Why? What was the problem? Well, I couldn’t see my body in the mirror anymore. I was becoming UN-aroused.
This is not the reaction of a transvestic fetishist. When I read the experiences of men who are turned on by it, I just don’t get it. Their stories simply do not have anything to do with me. They bear no relevance upon my life.
So where did my mostly-unconscious AGP come from? Why was it there? I posit that a deeply ingrained internalized homophobia in combination with pornography led to my experience of it. When watching pornography, I would imagine that I was the woman – by necessity, this was the only way I could enjoy being penetrated by men without “being gay.” When watching my body in the mirror (and when I did not have access to porn, a mirror was ALL that I needed) I could be attracted to men without it “being gay,” because I wasn’t actually being attracted to other men! How clever of me, to engage in the dual injuries of dissociation and narcissism as a way of circumventing my attraction to male-bodied people.
When a month or three of sexlessness had passed, and it came time to have sex with my wife who was feeling incredibly lonely, unappreciated, and ugly (frequent cuddling, light kissing and/or statements of how wonderful she was did not function as a replacement for sexual intimacy), I engaged my AGP in order to “make it work.” For those who may not understand, when someone is in this type of relationship, it is not enough to just focus on pleasing them – they can tell. They need you to also be enjoying the act. Seems obvious, I suppose. Pretending to enjoy it was something I got good at, but a man can only fake so much, know what I mean? So, when it came time for the full performance, I imagined that I was a woman, and she was a man, and that everything going on down there was inverted, so to speak. Weird stuff. Most of the time this occurred at the border of conscious and unconscious – I was an individual deeply in denial about pretty much everything.
[Let me just re-iterate how shitty this situation must have been for her. To my readers, please imagine her in her current relationship – full, happy and joyous, as I hear from my friends – and considering that her current husband was living with us during our failed, two-year attempt at a polyamory, I know they have a great sex life.]
So, fast-forward to me now. Things are a little different. It has been almost 7 months since I stopped consuming pornography, drugs and alcohol. These were all interrelated, of course, but the pornography had the worst effect upon my mental health. It is hard to describe how I can say that AGP has diminished to the point of no longer seeming to be there, but I recognize it in certain moments – namely that the only times I become turned on now are when I imagine being involved sexually and intimately with a man. I do not fit the common narrative of AGP in which a man is simply a “prop” for validation of my “feminine identity.” This was something I realized a short time ago, and which caused me to think realistically about detransitioning.
Feeling the level of dysphoria I once felt – feeling that terrible sense of unreality/dissociation and self-hatred again – is almost worth it in exchange for an honest, loving relationship with a man. The catch is that I am not ready to detransition yet (or ever, who knows?) and that in order to be successful at it, at least during this period of my life, I would need the love and support of a partner to help me through. Yet, I may be able to work it, somehow – there are some pretty amazing people out there, and I bet some of them are men who might fall in love with me, weirdness and all!
My AGP, from what I have observed of my own behavior/actions, seems to have been the result of a dual process of porn-sickness and internalized homophobia. As I have eliminated porn from my life (including television, whose advertisements are just porn to me) and have come to terms with needing/wanting to be in love with – and be sexually involved with – other men, the AGP has either dissolved, gone dormant, or taken a backseat in my psyche.
This does not mean that I never was AGP. Oh, I definitely was, in my own way, and I am terrified that if I ever decide to detransition, I will feel its malign fingers upon me again. But the motivations leading to it are important. Men who are transvestic fetishists have a different lived experience and behavioral trajectory than someone like me. I don’t feel anything remotely similar to the constant sense of satisfied lust seen on the faces of fetishistic cross-dressing men, or to the delusion that I am constantly walking around as the star of my own movie. I am also not attracted to women, and the fact that I am attracted to men puts me at an increased risk of violence. The fact that I also care about passing, so that people simply ignore me in my day-to-day life, increases the chances of facing “gay panic” reprisals. There are differences.
However, there is a last point to be made: a man who finds personal satisfaction in being seen as an “attractive” woman (to their own male gaze, of course), whether they themselves are aroused by their own image or not, is enacting autogynephilia in my view. What this means is that, at least on some level, a male transsexual who devotes effort to being perceived as a “pretty woman” really cannot claim that they are entirely unmotivated by autogynephilia.
To my mind, AGP is not so much a particular identity as it is a nearly inevitable aspect of being a male transsexual – the difference is how much, in what way, and by whom (obviously there are going to be exceptions – which is why I said “nearly”). The homosexual transsexuals will have a different motivation to their AGP than will a heterosexual transsexual who may be attracted to their own image as a “woman.” This distinction is made obvious to me as my body slowly changes to resemble less and less that of a man and subsequently my mirror image loses its erotic appeal.
Further, the transvestic fetishists who go on to become transsexuals will display AGP in a way which may seem entirely separate from what other transsexuals experience, especially if they are motivated to transition entirely because of this, and not sex/body dysphoria. Because of these disturbing examples, and the fact that many transvestic fetishists are also pedophiles/rapists/sex-offenders, very few transsexuals will admit to also being influenced in some way by autogynephilia.
This is how I think of it: all aspects of self are essentially neutral (well, almost all). Take, for example, being self-centered. This can be a really good thing, especially if someone is going through a difficult or traumatic event and needs to focus on themselves. A certain degree of self-care and self-focus is healthy. However, take someone with narcissistic personality disorder. These people are not very nice! They could do with a significant lessening of self-centeredness. However, saying that one engages in self-centered behavior is not saying that they are just like these narcissists.
In the same way, saying that someone is engaging in autogynephilic thoughts/activities as a male transsexual (literally, a male doing anything that makes them feel satisfied as being perceived as a “pretty woman,” sex dysphoria or no) is not necessarily a “bad thing.” There are a ton of reasons why a male transsexual would not only want to pass, but to look “pretty” – not all of them are as disturbing as a transvestic fetishist who is constantly aroused by themselves, and many of these reasons have to do with survival and/or finding a romantic/sexual partner in a rather fucked-up, patriarchal world.
Autogynephilia may in part be a survival tactic for many male transsexuals in order to maintain a healthy level of self-confidence and ability to find a romantic partner, or it may be the entire motivation for transitioning, as in the case of transvestic fetishists who go on to become transsexuals.
A strict delineation of those with/without AGP is not in my opinion especially accurate, nor does it aid in analyzing the phenomenon of transsexualism.