A History of Autogynephilia

Miranda Yardley
Aug 2, 2017 · 11 min read

Autogynephilia as an idea suffers from far more talk than understanding. A fair barometer of whether an individual understands even the first thing about autogynephilia is their denial, either of its existence, its veracity as a scientific framework within which to understand key aspects of transsexualism, or the role of autogynephilia in the process which creates the non-homosexual transsexual.

A lot of the ‘blame’ for autogynephilia is placed at the feet of the researcher who coined the term, Ray Blanchard, and that he somehow has it in for the trans community, an unusual position given his support for the rights of and access to medical care for transsexuals, whether autogynephilic or not.

The purpose of this essay is to contextualise Blanchard’s role in the understanding of transsexualism and demonstrate this line of enquiry was hardly new, having started at least a century ago, and show his role in the development of the idea along with J Michael Bailey’s work which popularised the concept, and Anne Lawrence’s later conceptualisation of autogynephilia as romantic love with aspects of attachment.

This, more than anything, is the history of an idea, with the topic of autogynephilia having been mandated out of public discourse for political end, even though the effects of this are manifest in plain sight, affecting and leading the lives of millions of transsexuals and transgender individuals. It is important to ‘keep the conversation going’ because ideas evolve, and compassion can be shown and understanding given to autogynephilic transsexuals without indulging in fantasy or supporting delusions.

The Two Type Model of Transsexualism

The identification of an erotic component to transsexualism goes back to the early twentieth century where the existence of what was described as an ‘automonosexual streak’ amongst transvestites was discussed:

…the experience shows that this automonosexual streak, just like the homosexual streak, isn’t the same for every transvestite. There are many for whom the simple changing of clothes isn’t enough to cause erotic feelings and just see it as a way of bringing their feminine inner side to the outer world. I knew those, who were already content if they were able to go for a walk as a woman from time to time. During the walk they never had erections nor ejaculations nor the desire to have any sexual intercourse, be it with male or female persons. One could say they are asexual. (Hirshfeld 1918)[1]

The existence of two discrete types of transsexual, differentiated by sexual orientation and age was hypothesised by Buhrich in 1978, which also conjectured why transsexualism was observed to be more common in males than females:

The results of this study indicate that they can be differentiated into two clinically discrete groups. In an investigation of 29 transsexuals who sought a change of sex operation it was found that those who had experienced fetishistic arousal were significantly more likely to be older, to have experienced heterosexual intercourse, to be married and to show penile responses to pictures of men and women indicative of a more heterosexual orientation. They had less experience of homosexual contact to orgasm as compared transsexuals who had not experienced fetishistic arousal , but this difference was not statistically significant. Frequency of cross-dressing, strength of feminine gender identity and intensity of desire for a sex change operation did not discriminate the two groups. The fact that desire for a sex change operation may be associated with experience of fetishistic arousal could be one reason for the higher incidence transsexualism in men than in women. (Buhrich 1978)

In a later paper, Buhrich and McConaghy went as far as to suggest there were three distinct classes of fetishistic transvestite: (Buhrich and McConaghy 1979)

“nuclear” transvestites who are limited to cross-dressing;

“marginal” transvestites who wish for hormonal feminisation or surgery; and

“fetishistic transsexuals” who demonstrate fetishistic arousal but as transsexuals seek sex reassignment surgery.[2]

In 1985, sexologist Ray Blanchard used a larger sample size and confirmed the observation that there exists a fundamental difference between homosexual transsexuals (homosexual males romantically and sexually attracted to males) and non-homosexual transsexuals (which includes heterosexual, bisexual and asexual transsexuals):

This study tested a prediction derived from the hypothesis that asexual and bisexual transsexualism are actually subtypes of heterosexual transsexualism… (a) cluster analysis of their scores divided the subjects into four groups: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual… there were no differences among the asexual, bisexual, and heterosexual transsexuals, and all three groups included a much higher proportion of fetishistic cases than the homosexual group… these findings support the view that male transsexuals may be divided into two basic types: heterosexual and homosexual. (Blanchard 1985)

Together, these papers teach us that transsexuals may be grouped into homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals, and that the latter group appears to contain a number of subtypes which could be taken to correspond to an ordinal degree of fetishistic transvestisism. These observations are supported by empirical evidence; the difference is manifest in “a much higher proportion of fetishistic cases than the homosexual group” and so Blanchard confirms the identification of two types of male transsexual, who are differentiated by sexual orientation, with one group displaying a fetishistic, or paraphilic history.

Blanchard became a key figure in the history of investigation into transsexualism a few years later where he attempted to impart some meaning and rigor into the terminology surrounding the taxonomy of transsexuals, as part of systematic study into this phenomena, he coined the term “autogynephilia” as a clearer description of something that had hitherto been described as part of automonosexualism. This is what has become known as “Blanchard’s transsexual typology” or the “two-type transsexual typography” (Blanchard 1989):

Gender identity disturbance in males is always accompanied by one of two erotic anomalies. All gender dysphoric males who are not sexually oriented toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as women. The latter erotic (or amatory) propensity is, of course, the phenomenon labeled by Hirschfeld as automonosexualism. Because of the inconsistent history of this term, however, and its nondescriptive derivation, the writer would prefer to replace it with the term autogynephilia (“love of oneself as a woman”).

It should be noted that the use of the expression “erotic anomalies” is used in a morally neutral context, to describe sexual acts that are inherently non-procreative, rather than being a pejorative expression.

Key to the concept of autogynephilia is that it’s not something that is always on the mind, nor is it something that is confined solely to cross-dressing:

It should be noted that the concept of autogynephilia does not imply that autogynephilic males are always sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as women, or by dressing in women’s clothes, or by contemplating themselves cross-dressed in the mirror – any more than a man in love always obtains an erection at the sight of his sweetheart, or pair-bonded geese copulate continuously. Autogynephilia, according to this hypothesis, may be manifested in a variety of ways, and fetishistic cross-dressing is only one of them. Those individuals labeled transvestites by contemporary clinicians would, on this view, be understood as autogynephiles whose only -or most prominent -symptom is sexual arousal in association with cross-dressing, and who have not (or not yet) become gender dysphoric. (Blanchard 1989)

Classifying this behaviour in terms that lie outside of transvestic fetishism allowed Blanchard to apply his systematic study to a wider spectrum of behaviour observed within transsexuals, and he explained the etymology of this word based upon “a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a female” (Blanchard 1991).

He then identifies four different types of autogynephilic behaviour, which may exist in any combination: physiological, behavioural, anatomical and transvestic fetishist:

Autogynephilic fantasies and behaviors may focus on the idea of exhibiting female physiologic functions, of engaging in stereotypically feminine behavior, of possessing female anatomic structures, or of dressing in women’s apparel. The last-mentioned class of fantasies and behaviors represents the familiar form of autogynephilia, transvestism. All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone. (Blanchard 1991)

Blanchard provides a typological framework for researchers to model or systematically analyse the behaviours of male transsexuals that separates these into homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals, the latter who tend to be autogynephilic exhibiting one or more types of paraphilic behaviours. Blanchard has compared these paraphilic behaviours to a sexual orientation (Blanchard 1993).

The homosexual transsexuals are what one may consider the more ‘classic’ popular image of the transsexual, with the non-homosexual transsexuals making lives that encompass successful careers as men as well and marriages and children, before transitioning later in life (Lawrence 2004).

It is important to understand that the homosexual transsexual and the non-homosexual transsexual have different lives and experiences, although there is commonality in they are both transsexual, and as Lawrence refers to above similar levels of experienced gender dysphoria. In his 2003 book ‘The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism’, psychologist J Michael Bailey (Bailey 2003) explains:

Two different types of men change their sex. To anyone who examines them closely, they are quite dissimilar, in their histories, their motivations, their degree of femininity, their demographics, and even the way they look. We know little about the causes of either type of transsexualism (though we have some good hunches about one type). But I am certain that when we finally do understand, the causes of the two types will be completely different.

To anyone who has seen members of both types and who has learned to ask the right kinds of questions, it is easy to tell them apart. Yet the difference has eluded virtually everyone who cares about transsexuals: talk show hosts, journalists, most people who evaluate and treat them, and even most academics who have studied them. One reason is that the superficial similarity of the two types is so striking – both are men, usually dressed and attempting to act like women, who want to replace their penises with vaginas – that it prevents us from noticing more subtle, though also more fundamental, differences. Another reason is that the two types of transsexuals rarely show up side by side, where they would be easily distinguishable… The most interesting reason why most people do not realize that there are two types of transsexuals is that members of one type sometimes misrepresent themselves as members of the other. I will get more specific later, but for now, it is enough to say that they are often silent about their true motivation and instead tell stories about themselves that are misleading and, in important respects, false.

From soon after birth, the homosexual male-to-female transsexual behaves and feels like a girl. Unlike most feminine boys… these transsexuals do not outgrow, or learn to hide, their femininity. Instead, they decide that the drastic step of changing their sex is preferable. They unambiguously desire and love men, especially heterosexual men, whom they can attract only as women… one type of transsexual man is a kind of homosexual man…

Honest and open autogynephilic transsexuals reveal a much different pattern. They were not especially feminine boys. The first overt manifestation of what led to their transsexualism was typically during early adolescence, when they secretly dressed in their mothers’ or sisters’ lingerie, looked at themselves in the mirror, and masturbated. This activity continued into adulthood, and sexual fantasies became increasingly transsexual – especially the fantasy of having a vulva, perhaps being penetrated by a penis. Autogynephilic transsexuals might declare attraction to women or men, to both, or to neither. But their primary attraction is to the women that they would become.

Bailey’s interpretation of the motivation to change sex of homosexual transsexuals is to attract heterosexual men; we could consider given the choice in a homophobic society of living as a feminine gay man or as a woman, the homosexual transsexual may opt for the latter. While identifying the autogynephile’s motivation for many behavioural traits, he stops short of hypothesising why the autogynephile would transition; surely, the prospect of castration and removal of the penis would be an irrational course of action for someone whose sexual identity was so invested in this? This, however, would be based on the misconception that autogynephilia is exclusively erotic. Anne Lawrence suggested the autogynephile’s motivation may be compared to romantic love with elements of attachment (Lawrence 2003):

…purely erotic aspects of autogynephilia have received the greatest emphasis, while the aspects related to “amatory propensity,” “sexual orientation,” and “love” have received comparatively little. Love has been conspicuously absent in most discussions of autogynephilia, whether by its advocates or by its critics… individuals are often especially inclined to seek out passionate love experiences, or to allow themselves the possibility of entering into them, in middle age and in times of crisis. This is consistent with the life histories of many, if not most, nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals, who tend to seek sex reassignment in their 40s or later, sometimes in association with a midlife crisis … (t)heir decision to undergo sex reassignment is not uncommonly preceded by some significant loss or reversal, such as unemployment, physical disability, or the end of an important relationship… (f)or individuals who experience autogynephilia, deciding to become what one loves can represent an attempt to cope with adverse life circumstances, just as deciding to pursue a love affair with another person can for individuals with more conventional sexual orientations… the process of changing one’s body and living as a woman offers an identity, a program of action, and a purpose in life


The understanding of an erotic component to transsexualism is at least a century old. The ability to discuss and exchange ideas leads to the formulation of better ideas and a better understanding of the phenomena we investigate, as can be seen with the conceptualisation of autogynephilia as romantic love. I will cover the political eradication of autogynephilia from public understanding in another, later post. To continue to ignore this idea betrays women, who are directly affected by the imposition of men becoming women, and the men who themselves seek to ‘become’ women.


[1] See also Hirshfeld, M 1923: ‘Die intersexuelle Konstitution’. Jahrbuch fuer sexuelle Zwischenstufen. 23: 3 – 27

[2] Compare to the following tweet from sexologist Ray Blanchard @BlanchardPHD “Some autogynephiles have no gender dysphoria, some mild-moderate, and some severe. I support sex reassignment surgery for the last group.” 14 February 2017

Work cited:

Bailey, J Michael. 2003. The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Joseph Henry Press.

Blanchard, R. 1985. “Typology of male-to-female transsexualism.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour Jun;14(3): 247–61.

Blanchard, R. 1989. “The classification and labeling of nonhomosexual gender dysphorias.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour 18, 315 – 334.

Blanchard, R. 1991. “Clinical observations and systematic studies of autogynephilia.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 17: 235–251

Blanchard, R. 1993. “Partial versus complete autogynephilia and gender dysphoria.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 19: 301–307.

Buhrich, N & McConaghy, N. 1978. “Two clinically discrete syndromes of transsexualism.” British Journal of Psychiatry Jul;133 p73–6.Buhrich, N & McConaghy, N. 1979. “Three clinically discrete categories of fetishistic transvestism.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour Volume 8, Number 2.

Hirshfeld, M. 1918. Sexualpathologie Teil II 1918. Bonn: Marcus & Weber.

Lawrence, A A. 2003. “Becoming What We Love.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine Vol50 No4; 506 – 20.

Lawrence, A A. 2004. “Autogynephilia: A Paraphilic Model of Gender Identity Disorder.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 8(1/2), 69–87.

Further reading:

Blanchard, R. 2008. “Deconstructing the feminine essence narrative.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 505–10.

Blanchard, R. 2005. “Early history of the concept of autogynephilia.” Archives of Sexual Behaviour 439–446.

Lawrence, A A. 2003. “Becoming What We Lovep.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine Vol50 No4; 506 – 20.

Lawrence, A A. 2017. “Autogynephilia and the Typology of Male-to-Female Transsexualism.” European Psychologist 22(1) 39–54.

This was originally posted at MirandaYardley.com

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