Debunking Psychological Diagnoses and Theories about Transsexual and Transgender People
This page compiles all of my articles, essays, speeches, blog-posts and other pieces that I have written that are related to, or which challenge, psychological/psychiatric/sexological theories and diagnoses regarding transsexuality and transgenderism. Admittedly, there is significant overlap between some of these pieces, but I wanted this page to be as thorough as possible.

If you were to only read one of these pieces, I highly suggest Psychology, Sexualization and Trans-Invalidations, which was a keynote talk I gave at the 2009 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. It provides a thorough overview of why I believe many psychological depictions of gender variance are both fundamentally flawed and potentially damaging to trans people’s lives.

Many of the essays here discuss psychologist Ray Blanchard’s controversial theory of “autogynephilia.” The most thorough of these is entitled “The Case Against Autogynephilia” [link takes you to PDF of full article], which appeared in the International Journal of Transgenderism. More info about this article can be found below.

New additions to this page include a recently published article (which appeared in the journal Social Text) about the newly codified DSM diagnosis “Transvestic Disorder” and a pair of pieces about how “The Fetish Concept” (the presumption that attraction to trans people constitutes a “paraphilia” or “fetish”) hurts both trans folks and our partners.

happy reading! -julia

Table of Contents: (in chronological order)

On the Etiology of Transsexuality
This was the original introduction to this webpage (back when it was called “TS etiology”). It explains why I felt that it was important to focus a big chunk of my time and energy on this issue.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
I critique a number of common theories about transsexuality and transgenderism (especially those often forwarded in the fields of psychology, sexology, sociology and gender studies) and put forward some ideas of my own in my book Whipping Girl (especially in chapters 5, 7, 8, 10, 14 and 17).

The Psychiatric Sexualization of Male-to-Female Transgenderism
This is a paper I presented at The Association For Women in Psychology Conference (Pacific Division) in San Francisco on March 10, 2007. It discusses how psychiatric taxonomy and theories of etiology have historcally sexualized people on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums, and places this in the context of the societal sexualization of femaleness and femininity more generally. You can either download a PDF of the abstract and learning goals or listen to an audio reading of the entire paper. A more complete version of the paper has since been published as chapter 14, Trans-sexualization, in my book Whipping Girl.

Academic/Scientific Freedom without Responsibility?
Ray Blanchard’s concept of autogynephilia was an obsure theory only known to a relatively small number of gatekeepers and transsexuals. That is, until psychologist J. Michael Bailey published his 2003 pop-science book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, which is undoubtedly the most sexualizing and sexist book about trans women that I have ever read. Not surprisingly, it provoked a strong negative reaction from the trans community and allies. This article - which originally appeared on August 24, 2007 on the feminist blog Feministing - is my critique of a rather myopic NY Times article that focused exclusively on one small aspect of that backlash, namely, personal attacks on Bailey that were purportedly carried out by a few trans activists.

A Matter of Perspective: A Transsexual Woman-Centric Critique of Alice Dreger’s “Scholarly History” of the Bailey Controversy
This piece takes up from where the previous Feministing article left off. It is my critique of Alice Dreger’s so-called “scholarly history” on the backlash against Bailey’s book. Her book-length article was published in the sexology journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in June 2008; my critique appeared in the same issue as a “peer commentary.” A version of my critique can be downloaded here. For those especially interested in this topic, I’ve also created an audio recording called Even More Dreger Critiquing where I go even more in depth about some of the numerous problems with her article.

A Bio-Experiential Model of Transsexuality
This is a paper that I presented at the Transsomatechnics: Theories and Practices of Transgender Embodiment conference in May, 2008. You can download a copy of my abstract here.

Autogynephilia and the Psychological Sexualization of MTF Transgenderism
This is a paper I presented on February 6, 2009 at the 23rd Annual Conference of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE). It was presented as part of a panel called “Disordered” No More: Challenging Transphobia in Psychology, Academia and Society that also featured Joelle Ruby Ryan and Kelley Winters (more info about their papers can be found here. Feel free to read the abstract of the paper or to listen to an audio recording of me reading the paper at the conference (approximate time: 20 minutes).

Why feminists should be concerned with the impending revision of the DSM
This article is my initial response to a paper Ray Blanchard (Chair of the DSM Paraphilias subworkgroup) presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research in April 2009 outlining some of his suggestions for revising the Paraphilia section of the DSM. This piece was written primarily for a feminist audience, and it first appeared on the feminist blog Feministing. It can also be read below.

Stop Sexualizing Us!
This is a speech that I gave at the GID Reform Now! protest rally at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco on May 18, 2009. It is admittedly less “nuanced” than other things I have written on this subject, but it was meant to be a protest rant after all. It can be read below.

Psychology, Sexualization and Trans-Invalidations
This paper was presented as a keynote lecture for the 8th Annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. I was inspired to write it after, on multiple occasions, I had read or heard sexologists and mental health professionals play down or outright dismiss trans people’s concerns regarding psychological depictions, diagnoses, terminology and theories about transgenderism. With this paper, I set out to explain, in very basic, easy to grasp language, precisely why trans people’s concerns regarding these matters are valid and should be taken seriously within the fields of psychology, psychiatry and sexology. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

The Beauty In Us
This is a speech that I gave at the Sixth Annual Trans March in San Francisco on June 26, 2009. It challenges the concepts of “tranny chasers” and “tranny fetishists” that exist in our culture (as well as within the minds of psychologists such as Ray Blanchard, although his theories are not explicitly discussed in the piece). It can be read below.

The Case Against Autogynephilia
As mentioned above, many of the essays on this page discuss psychologist Ray Blanchard’s controversial theory of “autogynephilia.” I have written a review article entitled “The Case Against Autogynephilia,” which has recently been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. This article provides a review of the evidence against autogynephilia and makes the case that the taxonomy and terminology associated with this theory are both misleading and unnecessarily stigmatizing. The abstract of article can be found below and a downloadable PDF of “The Case Against Autogynephilia,” can be found here.

Two new essays debunking “The Fetish Concept”
In my previous writings (e.g., Why feminists should be concerned with the impending revision of the DSM and The Beauty In Us), I have critiqued what I now refer to as “The Fetish Concept”, which is the presumption (held by many psychiatrists/sexologists and lay people alike) that attraction to trans people constitutes some kind of “paraphilia” or “fetish”. In two essays I penned in 2013, I thoroughly detailed why he Fetish Concept is both incorrect and invalidating for trans folks and our partners. My blog post In Defense of Partners discusses how the Fetish Concept undermines partners of trans folks. This piece is also functions as an introduction to the second piece, Desirable (note: the link takes you to a video of me performing the piece at Girl Talk 2013). “Desirable” more thoroughly debunks the Fetish Concept and explains how it negatively impacts queer-identified trans women and our partners.

Trans People Still Disordered in DSM
In October 2013, the journal Social Text published my article “Trans People Still Disordered in DSM” as part of their DSM-CRIP issue (providing crip & feminist perspectives on the DSM-V). The article is based on two blog posts (Trans people still “disordered” according to latest DSM and Follow up on DSM-still-considers-trans-folks-“disordered” post) that I wrote in December, 2012 detailing how while most trans activists where following the DSM-V revisions of GID (now called Gender Dysphoria), the Paraphilia sub-working group (chaired by none other than Ray Blanchard) greatly expanded the Transvestic Fetishism diagnosis (now called “Transvestic Disorder”) so that it may now be applied to trans male/masculine folks and trans women of any sexual orientation.

end of table of contents



what follows are some (but not all) of the pieces outlined in the table of contents...

On the Etiology of Transsexuality
This was the original introduction to this webpage (back when it was called “TS etiology”). It explains why I felt that it was important to focus a big chunk of my time and energy on this issue.

Unfortunately, discussions about, and research on, transsexuality often focus on “etiology” - that is, the cause(s) of transsexuality. As an activist, this concerns me. In my book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, I put it this way:

Why do transsexuals exist? Why are we motivated to change our sex? Is it due to genetics? Hormones? Upbringing? Living in a plastic-surgery-obsessed culture? Or maybe it’s just a good old-fashioned mental disorder? Such questions represent the intellectualization of objectifying transsexuals...For me the question of why I am transsexual has always been a source of shame and self-loathing. From my preteen years through young adulthood, I was consumed with the question - it was directly related to the fact that I did not want to be a transsexual. Eventually, I realized that it is a pointless question - the fact is that I am transsexual and I exist, and there is no legitimate reason why I should feel inferior to a cissexual [i.e., a nontranssexual] because of that. Once I accepted my own transsexuality, then it became obvious to me that the question “Why do transsexuals exist?” is not a matter of pure curiosity, but rather an act of non-acceptance, as it invariably occurs in the absence of asking the reciprocal question: “Why do cissexuals exist?” The unceasing search to uncover the cause of transsexuality is designed to keep transsexual gender identities in a perpetually questionable state, thereby ensuring that cissexual gender identities continue to be unquestionable.
-Whipping Girl, pages 187-188

As a scientist, I can understand why people might feel that “what causes transsexuality?” is a compelling question. But as a trans person I find that such questions invariably reduce me to an object of inquiry and curiosity. In other words, questions of etiology marginalize me. Furthermore, many who are interested in answering such questions do so because they view transsexuality as abnormal, immoral, or a developmental disorder that needs to be corrected/eliminated. Because of such concerns, some researchers have gone out of their way to state that eradicating transsexuality is not their ultimate goal. Frankly, such claims seem somewhat naive to me. After all, these researchers may personally accept and/or respect trans people, but surely they are also aware that there *are* people out there who wouldn’t think twice about using such knowledge/info to eliminate or further marginalize trans people.

For all of these reasons, I have (up until now) mostly avoided the issue of transsexual etiology in my activism and writings. However, in the last year, I have had a change of mind about this. It has become increasingly clear to me that when we transsexuals - who I would argue are the real experts on transsexuality, having lived and experienced it first hand - remain silent about this issue, it creates a vacuum that is too easily filled by cissexual “authorities” (whether they be psychiatrists, sexologists, sociologists or gender theorists) to posit their own speculative (and typically oversimplistic) hypotheses as to why we exist.

Furthermore, these etiological theories are often closely associated with similarly oversimplistic taxonomies (i.e., ways of categorizing trans people). These taxonomies - whether they be transsexual vs. transvestite, primary vs. secondary, homosexual vs. nonhomosexual, etc. - are not merely hypothetical abstractions. Often they have a very real impact on who is able to access the means to transition and who is not. These taxonomies are also problematic because they define transsexuals for a lay (and largely trans-ignorant) public. When a psychiatrist/gatekeeper defines and describes transsexuality in a newspaper article or a TV documentary, their words carry far more weight than trans people’s own self-definitions and self-descriptions. When a so-called “expert” claims that someone like myself is not a “true” transsexual (when I identify as transsexual) or that I am “autogynephilic” (when I don’t see myself that way), they erase/invisibilize my identity, perspective and experiences.

This issue has become most concerning to me with regards to the recent resurrection of Ray Blanchard’s model of transsexuality, which postulates that all trans women are motivated to transition for sexual reasons. [For those completely unfamiliar with Blanchard’s theory and his contentious concept of “autogynephilia,” I highly recommend Madeline H. Wyndzen’s thoughtful collection of essays called Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Autogynephilia (but Were Afraid You had to Ask); her site also contains links to countless other writings on both sides of this debate].

The fact that a theory like Blanchard’s - which has so little supporting data, is thoroughly contradicted by countless trans women’s life experiences, which plays into and reinforces the societal sexualization of trans women, and has the very real potential to negatively affect our legal and social status as women - continues to appear over and over again represents a very real political threat to transsexuals. It has led me to recognize that it is not simply enough for us to stand on the sidelines critiquing gatekeeper etiologies and taxonomies. We need to put forward theories of our own - ones that fully take into account our own complex life histories, the intricacies in the way we experience our own genders and sexualities, and that accommodate the vast diversity of trans people that actually exist.

return to the table of contents



Academic/Scientific Freedom without Responsibility?
This article originally appeared as a post on the feminist blog Feministing on August 24, 2007.

This Tuesday, the New York Times ran an article about the continuing controversy surrounding psychologist J. Michael Bailey’s 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. The premise of the book is that *all* transsexual women transition for purely sexual reasons - either to attract straight men or because they are sexually aroused by the idea of being or becoming female. This sexualizing of trans women’s motives is of course nothing new. In the media, trans women are regularly depicted as either sex workers, sexual deceivers who prey on unsuspecting straight men, or as fetishists who get off on the idea of wearing women’s clothing. The media’s (as well as Bailey’s) assumption that MTF (but not FTM) transsexuals transition in order to fulfill some kind of sexual fantasy not only dismisses trans women’s deeply experienced female gender identities, but also insinuates that women as a whole have no worth beyond their ability to be sexualized. (For those interested, I discuss this more in depth in my own book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity).

Much of the transgender community’s initial outrage over Bailey’s book centered on the fact that it was presented to the public as a work of science. It was published by Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of National Academies Press, whose goal is “publishing well-crafted, authoritative books on science, technology, and health for the science-interested general public.” But if one looks beyond the back cover copy, one finds little science at all. Bailey simply rehashes a scientifically flawed theory that was put forward by fellow sexologist Ray Blanchard nearly a decade ago. Rather than providing data to support Blanchard’s theory, Bailey instead attempts to make his points through the use of lurid (and often demeaning) anecdotes, sexist and racist commentary, gross generalizations and unsubstantiated speculations (for specific details, see Joan Roughgarden’s review of the book). In addition, Bailey conveniently claims that trans women and gay men whose personal accounts differ from his thesis are merely lying (he’s used this tactic before: see a 2005 NY Times article called “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited”, in which Bailey insinuates that men who say they are attracted to both sexes are lying).

Of course, this week’s NY Times article doesn’t discuss the hypersexualization of trans women in our culture, and it barely mentions the fact that Bailey falsely presented stereotypes and sexual innuendo as “science” without any hard data to back his claims up. Rather, the article focuses almost entirely on accusations made by Alice Dreger in her forthcoming article in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, in which she claims that several prominent trans activists stooped to conducting personal attacks on Bailey during their campaign against the book. As Dreger comments in the NY Times article:

“If we’re going to have research at all, then we’re going to have people saying unpopular things, and if this is what happens to them, then we’ve got problems not only for science but free expression itself.”

Now, I’m not going to comment about the accusations Dreger makes, as the trans activists involved have denied her charges and have made counter-accusations of their own. And while Dreger presents her essay as a work of scholarly history, it’s clear that she is not an impartial, objective observer - she is currently a colleague of Bailey’s and has become embroiled in the controversy that surrounds the book herself.

What does strike me though are the parallels between the way Bailey misrepresented anecdotes and opinions as “science” in his book and the way Dreger’s take on this controversy is now being misrepresented as a work of scholarly/scientific history. Indeed, the fact that a scientific journal such as Archives of Sexual Behavior would dedicate a whopping 62 pages (several times more than it allocates to standard research articles) to Dreger’s highly personalized account of this matter is unusual to say the least. While it is not uncommon for scientific journals to publish viewpoints from individual scientists on noteworthy issues, they tend to be clearly designated as editorials or opinions pieces, rather than as actual research papers (as Dreger’s article is being presented).

As an academic scientist myself, what bothers me most about the NY Times’ retelling of this controversy is that they portrayed Bailey as a “scientist under siege” fighting for academic freedom, without any mention of *academic responsibility*. In our society, people tend to view opinions as being inherently valid when they are spoken in the name of science and when the person voicing them has an advanced degree in a germane field. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than in public discourses on transsexuality, where the opinions of non-trans “experts” (whether they be psychiatrists, sexologists, sociologists or gender theorists) regularly trump, or completely stand in for, the perspectives of actual transsexuals.

The fact is that when a self-appointed “expert” like Bailey claims that transsexual women transition for purely sexual reasons, and that they are lying if they state otherwise, people will believe him because of his academic/scientist status. The NY Times may try to frame the controversy surrounding Bailey’s book as an example of political correctness run amok, but the truth of the matter is that Bailey himself did exponentially more damage to the field of academic research when he misrepresented anecdotes and innuendos as though they were science.

return to the table of contents



Autogynephilia and the Psychological Sexualization of MTF Transgenderism
Below is the abstract for this paper, which was originally presented as part of a panel called “Disordered” No More: Challenging Transphobia in Psychology, Academia and Society. You can also listen to an audio recording of the entire paper.

Autogynephilia is a paraphilic model of transsexuality that claims that a “misdirected heterosexual sex drive” is the underlying cause of the gender dysphoria experienced by MTF transgender individuals who are not exclusively attracted to men. Most previous critiques of this model have centered on the fact that it is scientifically unsubstantiated, mistakes correlation for causation, conflates sexual orientation with gender expression, gender identity and sex embodiment, and fails to take into account the vast diversity that exists in MTF sexualities, trajectories and histories. In this presentation, however, I will focus on what is perhaps the most startling oversight in autogynephilia theory: its failure to take into account how the routine sexualization of femaleness and femininity in our society might impact the way in which transgender individuals come to make sense of their own crossgender identities and experiences. An acknowledgement of this phenomenon provides a nonpathological alternative model that readily explains previously observed differences between both “homosexual/nonhomosexual” and MTF/FTM trajectories. Furthermore, the societal sexualization of femaleness and femininity can also account for why MTF spectrum individuals are regularly sexualized in our culture (especially in the media), and why psychologists have routinely sexualized MTF spectrum individuals (while largely ignoring those on the FTM spectrum) with regards to taxonomy, theories of etiology, descriptions of case histories, and diagnoses.

return to the table of contents



Why feminists should be concerned with the impending revision of the DSM.
This article is my initial response to a paper Ray Blanchard (Chair of the DSM Paraphilias subworkgroup) presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research in April 2009 outlining some of his suggestions for revising the Paraphilia section of the DSM. This piece was written primarily for a feminist audience, and it first appeared on the feminist blog Feministing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been called the “bible of mental illness” because it lists and defines all of the “official“ psychiatric diagnoses according to the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM is in the early stages of undergoing its 5th major revision; each previous revision has seen the total number of mental disorders recognized (some might say invented) by the APA greatly increase. Last year, trans activists were particularly concerned to learn that Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard had been named to play critical lead roles in determining the language of the DSM sections focusing on gender and sexuality, especially given that these researchers are well known for forwarding theories and therapies that are especially pathologizing and stigmatizing to gender-variant people.

Blanchard has recently presented some of his suggestions to revise the “Paraphilia” section of the DSM. In the past, this section has generally received little attention from feminists, as it has been primarily limited to several sexual crimes (e.g., pedophilia, frotteurism and exhibitionism) and a handful of other generally consensual but unnecessarily stigmatized sexual acts (such as fetishism and BDSM) that are considered “atypical” by sex researchers. However, there are two aspects of the proposed Paraphilia section revision that should be of great concern to feminists, as well as anyone else who is interested in gender and sexual equality.

Expanding “Paraphilia”

First, Blanchard is proposing a significant expansion of the DSM’s definition of “paraphilia” to include:

“any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, consenting adult human partners. ”

The first concern here is the term “phenotypically normal” (meaning “normal” with regards to observable anatomical or behavioral traits). Thus, according to this definition, attraction to any person deemed by sex researchers to be “abnormal” or “atypical” could conceivably be diagnosed as paraphilic. So, do you happen to be attracted to, or in a relationship with, someone who is differently-abled or differently-sized? Or someone who is gender-variant in some way? Well congratulations, you may now be diagnosed with a paraphilia!

Seriously.

Blanchard and other like-minded sex researchers have coined words like Gynandromorphophilia (attraction to trans women), Andromimetophilia (attraction to trans men), Abasiophilia (attraction to people who are physically disabled), Acrotomophilia (attraction to amputees), Gerontophilia (attraction to elderly people), Fat Fetishism (attraction to fat people), etc., and have forwarded them in the medical literature to denote the presumed “paraphilic” nature of such attractions. This tendency reinforces the cultural belief that young, thin, able-bodied cisgender women and men are the only legitimate objects of sexual desire, and that you must be mentally disordered in some way if you are attracted to someone who falls outside of this ideal. It’s bad enough that such cultural norms exist in the first place, but to codify them in the DSM is a truly terrifying prospect.

Another frightening aspect of Blanchard’s proposal is that any sexual interest other than “genital stimulation or preparatory fondling” is now, by definition, a paraphilia. In his presentation, he claimed that paraphilias should include all “erotic interests that are not focused on copulatory or precopulatory behaviors, or the equivalent behaviors in same-sex adult partners.” Copulatory is defined as related to coitus or sexual intercourse (i.e., penetration sex). So, essentially, all forms of sexual arousal and expression that are not centered around penetration sex may now be considered paraphilias.

So, do you and your partner occasionally role-play or talk dirty to one another over the phone? Or engage in arousing play that is not intended to necessarily lead to “doing the deed”? Do you masturbate? Do you get a sexual charge from wearing a particularly sexy outfit or performing any act that falls outside of “genital stimulation or preparatory fondling”? Well, then congratulations, you can be diagnosed with a paraphilia!

“Transvestic Disorder,” Gender Inequality and the Sexualization of Feminine Gender Expression

Blanchard also wants to retain (with minor tweaking) the “Transvestic Fetishism” diagnosis from the previous DSM Paraphilia section; the new diagnosis is to be called “Transvestic Disorder.” Like it’s predecessor, it applies to “heterosexual males” who experience “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving cross-dressing.” As Kelly Winters of GID Reform Advocates points out:

“Curiously, women and gay men are free to wear whatever clothing they chose without a label of mental illness. This criterion serves to enforce a stricter standard of conformity for straight males than women or gay men. Its dual standard not only reflects the social privilege of heterosexual males in American culture, but promotes it. One implication is that biological males who emulate women, with their lower social status, are presumed irrational and mentally disordered, while biological females who emulate males are not. A second implication stereotypically associates femininity and cross-dressing with male homosexuality and serves to punish straight males who transgress this stereotype.”

The “heterosexual male” nomenclature should also be of concern to many trans women, as Blanchard (and like-minded psychologists) routinely mis-describe lesbian-identified trans women as “heterosexual male transsexuals” in the medical literature. Since the Transvestic Disorder diagnosis does not explicitly exempt transsexuals, then a queer-identified trans woman (such as myself) could theoretically be diagnosed as having “Transvestic Disorder” any time that I have *any kind* of sexual urge while wearing women’s clothing. Since I wear women’s clothing pretty much every day of my life these days, my sexuality would presumably be considered perpetually transvestically disordered according to this diagnosis.

Kelley Winters has also written at length about how the vagueness of Transvestic Fetishism/Disorder wording enables the diagnosis of individuals who do not experience any sexual arousal in association with wearing women’s clothing. She argues:

“It serves to sexualize a diagnosis that does not clearly require a sexual context. Crossdressing by males very often represents a social expression of an inner sense of identity. In fact, the clinical literature cites many cases, considered diagnosable under transvestic fetishism, which present no sexual motivation for cross-dressing and by no means represent fetishism.”

We live in a heterosexual-male-centric culture, where femaleness and feminine gender expression are routinely sexualized, and where sexual symbolism is projected onto women’s clothing. For this reason, people (including psychologists such as Blanchard) regularly sexualize trans women, male crossdressers, and others on the trans feminine spectrum, and attribute sexual motives to us, even when no such motives exist. Thus, the Transvestic Disorder diagnosis both sexualizes people on the trans feminine spectrum, while simultaneously reinforcing the societal sexualization of women and feminine gender expression more generally.

Sexism and the DSM Paraphilia Section

Proponents of the DSM Paraphilia section would argue that paraphilia diagnoses are only applicable when the individual in question exhibits “significant distress or impairment” over their sexual urges. This ignores the fact that many happy and healthy individuals are sometimes diagnosed with paraphilias. Further, the mere fact that Transvestic Fetishism, Masochism and Sadism have been listed in the DSM (under the same category as several nonconsensual sexual crimes, no less) is regularly cited by those who wish to delegitimize or legally discriminate against male crossdressers and people who practice consensual BDSM. Labeling any form of gender or sexual expression as a “mental disorder” is necessarily stigmatizing and ignores the vast amount of gender and sexual variation that exists in the world.

It was not that long ago that Homosexuality and Nymphomania were listed in the “Sexual Deviation” (which was later renamed “Paraphilia”) section of the DSM. They were removed, in part, due to public pressure, as both diagnoses only served to reinforce cultural double standards (i.e., the idea that same-sex attraction is less legitimate that heterosexual attraction, and that women should exhibit less sexual interest than men, respectively). We have a word to describe double standards that exist with regards to sex, gender or sexuality - it’s called sexism.

The proposed revision of the DSM Paraphilia section is sexist in numerous ways. We, as feminists, should fight to have *all* forms of sexual expression that occur between consenting adults removed from the DSM entirely. And we should especially fight for the removal of “Transvestic Disorder” on the grounds that it sexualizes feminine gender expression and reinforces rigid cis-hetero-male-centric gender norms.

What you can do to help:

1) raise awareness about this issue in feminist circles.

2) contact the American Psychiatric Association and share your concern with them.

3) if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come out to the protest of the upcoming American Psychiatric Association conference on Monday, May 18th between 6:00pm to 7:30pm in front of the Moscone Center. This protest will focus primarily on the removal of the trans-focused DSM diagnoses Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Transvestic Disorder. While the GID diagnosis is of great concern to trans activists (including me), I did not discuss it here because it is not listed as a Paraphilia, and because (to the best of my knowledge) no information has been released regarding proposed revisions to GID in the next DSM.

For more information about the Paraphilia section of the DSM, I encourage you to read DSM-IV-TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal by Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz.

For more info about “Transvestic Disorder,” check out Transvestic Disorder and Policy Dysfunction in the DSM-V by Kelly Winters. (Also, her blog and book provide excellent critiques of both the Transvestic Disorder and GID diagnoses).

return to the table of contents



Stop Sexualizing Us!
This is a speech that I gave at the GID Reform Now! protest rally at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco on May 18, 2009. It is admittedly less “nuanced” than other things I have written on this subject, but it was meant to be a protest rant after all.

For decades, the general public, and especially the media, have had a lurid fascination with trans people’s bodies and sexualities. From talk shows like Jerry Springer, to reality shows like There’s Something About Miriam, novels like Myra Breckinridge, and the countless movies that portray trans women almost exclusively as either sex workers, sexual predators and sexual deviants. This hypersexualization of transgenderism predominantly targets trans women and others on the trans feminine spectrum - because in a world where women are routinely objectified, and where a woman’s worth is often judged based on her sexual appeal, it is no surprise that many people presume that those of us who were assigned a male sex at birth, but who identify as women and/or dress in a feminine manner, must do so for primarily sexual reasons.

We are here today to say, stop sexualizing us!

This sexualization of trans feminine gender expression also runs rampant in psychiatry. In the current version of the DSM, there is a diagnosis called Transvestic Fetishism, which specifically targets “male” expressions of femininity. When nontransgender women wear traditionally feminine clothing, they are viewed as healthy. But when the same behavior occurs in people assigned a male sex at birth, the APA deems it psychopathology. This is hypocrisy!

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And while crossdressing by men is often an expression of femininity, or of an inner gender identity, Transvestic Fetishism presumes that the act of wearing feminine clothing must (in and of itself) be an expression of aberrant sexuality.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Studies have shown that, “Cross-dressers...are virtually indistinguishable from non-cross-dressers.” Despite the empirical lack of evidence that crossdressing is associated with psychopathology, the APA continues to mischaracterize crossdressing as a mental disorder.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Transvestic Fetishism has been categorized in the Paraphilias section of the DSM - the category that used to be called Sexual Deviations. This section used to be home to diagnoses like Homosexuality and Nymphomania - societal double standards that for decades were reified in the DSM as mental disorders. Like its predecessors, crossdressing is a harmless, consensual activity that is unnecessarily stigmatized in both the culture at large and within psychiatry. We are here to call for the removal of all forms of crossdressing and transvesticism from the DSM.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And while there are many psychologists who understand the distinction between gender and sexuality, who understand that trans people’s identities, personalities and sexual histories are infinitely varied, the APA passed over such people, and instead tapped Ray Blanchard to chair of the sub-working group for the next DSM’s Paraphilia section.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard is the inventor of the controversial theory of autogynephilia, which claims that all transgender women are sexually motivated in our transitions. Despite the overwhelming scientific and experiential evidence that contradicts his theory, it has gained traction in the psychological literature - including a mention in the current DSM - precisely because it reifies hypersexualized stereotypes of trans women.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard views trans feminine spectrum individuals the way most movie producers do. To him, we are all either gay men who become women in order to attract straight men, or we are male perverts who become women in order to fulfill some kind of bizarre sex fantasy.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard not only believes that we are sexually deviant, but in the psychological literature, he has forwarded his belief that those people who are attracted to us - our lovers, partners and spouses - must also suffer from a paraphilic disorder.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard’s theories have been challenged by a majority of trans activists, allies, advocates and countless trans-knowledgeable psychologists and therapists. Yet, the APA selected him to play a lead role in rewriting trans feminine gender expression back into the DSM.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

When you sexualize someone, you invalidate them. That’s why feminists have worked so hard to put an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, and it’s why we as trans activists seek an end to the psychiatric sexualization of trans feminine gender expression.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Clothing choice does not constitute a psychopathology. We call for the complete removal of crossdressing and Transvesticism (in any form) from the DSM.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

return to the table of contents



The Beauty In Us
This is a speech that I gave at the Sixth Annual Trans March in San Francisco on June 26, 2009. It challenges the concepts of “tranny chasers” and “tranny fetishists” that exist in our culture (as well as within the minds of psychologists such as Ray Blanchard, although his theories are not explicitly discussed in the piece. It can be read below.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where many people view trans people as unnatural and illegitimate. And one of the most effective ways in which they try to invalidate us is by assuming that we are somehow unlovable, that no one in their right mind would find us desirable. And sadly, many of us end up believing this ourselves.

When I was a teenager and young adult, one of the things that helped keep me in the closet was the fact that I believed that if I did ever come out as wanting to be a girl, or if I were to ever physically transition to female, that others would undoubtedly see me as a freak, and nobody would want me as their partner. I worried that I would become unlovable. And you know something, I was wrong.

Sure, the majority of people in our culture are too insecure about their own masculinity or femininity to ever consider dating a trans person. But there are lots of people who aren’t that way. When I came out as a crossdresser 15 years ago, I went onto have relationships with several women who were totally cool with that aspect of my person. And since my transition 8 years ago, I have met many people, both women and men, who have expressed a sexual or romantic interest in me. For me, the problem hasn’t been finding someone who desires me, but rather finding someone whose interests coincide with what I want out of an encounter or relationship. And frankly, that is something that many people, whether trans or not, have to contend with.

This is why I get really frustrated when people automatically presume that any person who is attracted to, or has sex with, a trans person must automatically have some kind of “fetish.” This is extremely invalidating, as it insinuates that we cannot be loved or appreciated as whole people, but rather only as a “fetish objects.” Sure, there are some people who are specifically attracted to the fact that we are trans, and some of us might find that to be uncomfortable or annoying. But I have also experienced men (who were presumably unaware that I was trans) starring rather obsessively at my chest. But nobody ever seriously accuses such people of having a “breast fetish” or of being “breast chasers,” because breasts are seen as a perfectly normal and valid thing to be attracted to. Similarly, there are people out there who specifically date people because of their money or social status, but nobody ever accuses them of having a “fetish.” People only use the term “fetish” when they believe the person in question is inherently undesirable - and I refuse to buy into that mindset!

We are beautiful people who are legitimately desirable. We are not “fetish” objects! And people who find us attractive are not “chasers,” but rather they are simply people who see beauty in us. Because our culture deems us undesirable, our lovers and partners are often expected to explain why they choose to be with us. Others may start to question their sexuality, or they may be ostracized from their straight or gay or lesbian communities. In a sense, they share a bit of our stigma - a stigma that is based on the presumption that we are unlovable. And we shouldn’t stand for it!

So, let’s purge the phrases “tranny fetish” and “tranny chaser” from our vocabularies. Let’s celebrate our lovers, partners and spouses for seeing the beauty in us. And let’s give a big shout out to all of the significant others who are standing by our sides today supporting us. And importantly, let’s remember that we are beautiful and fabulous and desirable and deserving of love.

return to the table of contents



The Case Against Autogynephilia
A major focus of my analysis and activism has been centered on psychologist Ray Blanchard’s theory of “autogynephilia.” While countless trans activists, allies and advocates have long argued that the theory is short-sighted, not supported by the available scientific data, and unnecessarily stigmatizing, a handful of sexologists who favor the theory (e.g., J. Michael Bailey and Anne Lawrence) have dismissed these critiques on the basis that they have not been “published in a peer reviewed journal.” To rectify this situation, I wrote the following article entitled “The Case Against Autogynephilia,” which has since been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism (aka, a peer-reviewed research journal).The abstract of the article can be found below or at the above link. Because it was published in a research journal, the only people who can access the entire article from that link are those with a subscription to IJT, or those who are a part of a university or institution that has a subscription to IJT. However, I am allowed to share this article with a limited number of interested colleagues. I know that quite a few people who read my website and writings are involved in the fields of trans health, psychology, advocacy and/or activism. So for those of you interested in obtaining a copy of this article, please email me and I'd be happy to send you a copy. (my email address can be found on the contact page of my website.)

Citation
Serano, Julia M. (2010). The Case Against Autogynephilia. International Journal of Transgenderism, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp. 176-187. URL = http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/15532739.2010.514223.

Abstract
Autogynephilia is a paraphilic model that states that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals who are not exclusively attracted toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as a woman. The assertion that transsexual women are sexually motivated in their transitions challenges the standard model of transsexualism - that is, that transsexuals have a gender identity that is distinct from their sexual orientation and incongruent with their physical sex. This article provides a review of the evidence against autogynephilia and makes the case that the taxonomy and terminology associated with this theory are both misleading and unnecessarily stigmatizing.

Keywords: Autogynephilia; paraphilia; erotic target location error; transsexualism; transvestic fetishism; transgender; gender identity; sexual orientation; cross-gender arousal; sexualization

return to the table of contents



sign up for Julia's mail list!
homepage - about - booking - news & events - writings - press - contact
Whipping Girl - Excluded - stuff to buy - audio-visual - music - blog - Twitter - Facebook


julia serano ©2002-2014