When I was first coming out as trans, I had a lot of internalized transmisogyny. I knew how negative society’s images of trans women were and I was convinced that I was somehow different. I was terrified of being seen as a man in a dress, so I just never wore dresses. In that respect it was rather convenient that I’m butch. I was not going to be - as another trans woman put it to me - “a masturbating freak in panties.” I internalized a list of norms and behaviors that I had to avoid in order to be taken seriously and seen as a real woman. This list of “don’t”s is more or less the autogynophilia diagnostic citeria.
Years later, after I had begun writing on transmisogyny I still had a lot of these messages internalized. I had a wake up moment when I was traveling and visiting a girlfriend. Her roommate came home after a difficult day and mentioned that she had gone clothes shopping to cheer herself up, and quickly showed off her new underwear and dresses, in particular one slinky sequined number. There was much oohing and aahing and her mood significantly improved.
About an hour later she came back out of her room and said that she was having a hard time doing her work for the evening because she was still depressed. My girlfriend sat her down and gave her some sage advice. ”Just put you nice new dress on, as well as your fancy new underwear. It will make you feel sexy and you’ll feel better.” ”Then what, just work while wearing it?” “Yeah.”
Warnings had been popping into head the whole time but now alarm bells were going off. I so desperately wanted to warn them “Don’t do that! You’re directly admitting a connection between feminine clothing and sexual arousal and using that almost as if you’re self medicating! No one will take you seriously as a real woman, you’ll just be seen as some fetishist!” But I didn’t say that of course. Not only because it would have been very rude, but because they were cis women. No one is going to take away their womanhood for feeling sexy about lingerie and slinky dresses. This seems to be something cis women, particularly femmes, do all the time.
The bottom line is that the behavior classified as autogynophilia is normal female behavior. Charles Moser did a small study where he tried applying the criteria for it to cis women and found that 93% of cis women qualify as autogynophiles. So why are trans women subjected to this standard and often stigmatized, punished, or denied access to healthcare if they fit this criteria? And why is there no similar criteria for trans men?
It seems to me this is primarily about exerting the control doctors have over trans people to maintain male control over the sexuality of women. It encourages us to be sexually available to men and discourages us from having a sense of sexuality focused in ourselves or in other women. It sets up a pass/fail system so we are beholden to gatekeepers and must prove that we are the good kind of trans woman and not the bad kind. And it pits us against each other as enforcers of this system and keeps us divide so we cannot challenge the psychologists who create the rules of who can and cannot access transition. It’s no accident that one of the main proponents of using autogynophelia as a diagnosis was caught having sex with his patients, not informing them he was using their experiences in his research, and manipulating their testimony by granting/denying medical care based on whether or not they said they fit his model.
I avoided the autogynephilia cannons because of the particular path I wended to trans medical care, but I’ve seen that shit get in so many people’s brains. This is a good post.
i don’t know if anybody who reads my tumblr already isn’t familiar with this stuff but the reality is that this mode of understanding transsexuality literally was the official stance on transsexuality in trans women for decades. Autogynephilia was named in what, the late eighties or early nineties? It’s just so explicitly a bunch of fuckin dudes who don’t know or care about any women’s subjective experiences and/or oppressions, requiring trans women to conform to their own patriarchal understandings of women’s experiences in order to access the health care they need to live. But the dudes get to do it because they have lab coats. It’s patriarchy inside of patriarchy inside of patriarchy and then one patriarchy more tucked inside of them- the Inception of patriarchy, the twenty-six dimensions of bosonic string theory of patriarchy- and then people who don’t have a horse in this race look at trans women, who are fucked up by this stuff worse than anybody else by a factor of a thousand, and blame us for it. Hey you guys! Remember patriarchy? This is patriarchy. It’s not your fault that you’ve internalized it but you need to go back to fucking Go on the feminist Monopoly board if you’re not checking yourself for internalized patriarchy.
And this stuff is so insidious! You didn’t need a diagnosis of autogynephilia to internalize it, all you needed to do ten years ago was be like “oh no, gender,” turn to the internet for help, and find tons and tons of stuff explaining about this, about how if there was a sexual component to your gender identity that meant, ultimately, not so much that you weren’t trans as just that you were bad, that you should feel hell of shame around it. Luckily, in the patriarchal culture at large, femininity (especially in people everybody thought were dudes! but also in a double-bind way for all women) in any form was shameful, and so of course this subcultural thing saying that you should be ashamed made sense, it matched so clearly up with everything you had been fed in your entire life everywhere. We grow up in patriarchy, patriarchy is around every corner, yelling at us, patriarchy is parents and schools and paradigms for interacting with other people, it’s capitalism and fear and the gentrification you might unintentionally have been implicated in, the way you interact with people on the bus and all your sad aspirations; when all you’re given in patriarchy is patriarchy it’s hard to see over the fence (which is made of patriarchy and covered in patriarchy) to find stuff that isn’t patriarchy.
This is why the apparently trans positive, everybody is trans, masculinity worshipping, identifying-as-not-really-a-woman-is-better-than-identifying-as-a-woman, “oh, either she or they,” the-asterisk-means-we’re-all-the-same discourse in queer communities that’s replaced autogynephilia as the subcultural norm is still poison and it’s why so many trans women are always so goddam angry all the time. It’s like hey queers your queerness is made of patriarchy, that glitter is patriarchy and fuck your obviously-made-out-of-patriarchy mustache :(
oh. wow. the bolded is like, one of the most perfect descriptions of why i have neverending bitterness and hate for the radiqueer community. Jesus.