Arguing Against Blanchard Typology with Observed Trans Archetypes
The only way to fight Blanchardism effectively is by describing its incompatibility with reality
Part 1: The Background
The Blanchard typology of trans people, which classifies trans women into ‘HSTS’ and ‘AGP’ types, is arguably the most well-known ‘typology’ of trans people out there, despite being fundamentally wrong, as I repeatedly argued in the past. The vast majority of the trans community, i.e. the people who have the most experience interacting with trans people, strongly disagree with the Blanchard typology. Moreover, many experts have pointed out its flaws over the years. However, all this hasn’t stopped it from finding more and more interested audiences in recent years.
If the Blanchard typology continues to interest people, it must be because it provides value, at least in the eyes of some people. What value is it that they think they are getting out of Blanchard’s theory, then? Among the people I’ve discussed this topic with, the point most commonly raised was that they could see how trans people are not all the same, and only the Blanchard typology seems to provide an explanation for this. Meanwhile, the mainstream trans community would not talk about the topic at all, other than to oppose Blanchard’s theory. They reason that, under these circumstances, even if the Blanchard typology isn’t entirely correct, it would provide a starting point to better understanding. As I previously argued, I disagree with this view, because Blanchard typology is not merely empirically wrong, it also comes with many theoretical assumptions that, if popularized, could distort the public’s understanding of trans people. Therefore, we must continue to argue against Blanchard’s theory.
Based on the aforementioned conversations, I have come to believe that we can only effectively argue against Blanchardism if we are willing to honestly explore the very real differences between trans people. Additionally, I think having a reality-based alternative ‘typology’ would help us effectively demonstrate where Blanchard gets it wrong.
Part 2: An Observed Typology of Trans Women
Here is my proposed main archetypes of trans women, based on my interactions with the trans community for the past 16+ years. It is based on observing thousands of trans people. Most importantly, it is based only on observation, and does not contain flimsy theoretical justifications like Blanchard’s theory does. Note that I am talking about ‘archetypes’ rather than ‘types’ of trans people: not all trans people will neatly fit into the four archetypes, and some might exhibit characteristics of more than one archetype. The archetypes are like stereotypes, and we should be just as careful in the way we think about them, remembering that it would be unfair to assume something about someone based on a stereotype, for example. Also note that the archetypes make reference to society’s gender stereotypes sometimes. I am not endorsing these stereotypes, I am just pointing to reality, and how trans people suffer under the current reality. It is not trans people’s fault that society remains sexist, and the trans discourse shouldn’t have to tiptoe around this reality.
Archetype 1: Early onset, with femininity very noticeable by other people from an early age. Extremely feminine behavior and interests. Long term social dysphoria due to social exclusion from feminine activities, and/or forced participation in masculine activities. Finds it very unsatisfactory to ‘live as a man’ in society as a result. Social transition therefore makes social life much easier overall (excluding the effects of possible discrimination). Varying degrees of physical dysphoria, but sometimes masked by intense long-standing social dysphoria at first. Usually attracted to men only.
Archetype 2: Early onset, femininity not as obviously noticeable as archetype 1, but clearly not masculine from an early age. Behavior and interests not as extremely feminine as archetype 1, but still feminine enough to be largely within the usual female range, and outside the usual male range. Long term social dysphoria due to social exclusion from feminine activities, and/or forced participation in masculine activities. Finds it unsatisfactory to ‘live as a man’ in society as a result. Social transition therefore makes social life easier overall (excluding the effects of possible discrimination). Varying degrees of physical dysphoria, but sometimes masked by intense long-standing social dysphoria at first. Can be attracted to men, women, or both.
Archetype 3: Onset after puberty. Nerdy/geeky type interests and behavior. Social dysphoria seems to stem from being seen as male, rather than long-term exclusion from feminine activities. Could prefer socializing within the trans community, or with communities sharing nerdy/geeky interests. Varying degrees of physical dysphoria. Can be attracted to men, women, or both.
Archetype 4: Onset after puberty. Can be very good at sports, have a military career, etc. Dysphoria is due to inability to be a woman physically, therefore has intense physical dysphoria. Social dysphoria may or may not be present. Probably majority later transitioners. Usually attracted to women only.
Part 3: The Things that Blanchard Gets Wrong
As you can see, Blanchard typology gets a few things superficially right: that early onset and post-puberty onset trans people are often quite different, and that there is some correlation between sexual orientation and femininity-masculinity. Blanchard’s ‘HSTS’ corresponds well to Archetype 1 and ‘AGP-TS’ corresponds to Archetype 4. However, here is where Blanchard’s theory starts to fall apart. According to Blanchard’s theory, HSTS transition because of their attraction to men. If he is correct, you would expect the number of Archetype 1 trans people to have decreased dramatically since the 1980s, due to increased social acceptance of gay people. Indeed, Archetype 1 trans people logically wouldn’t exist anymore in a time when gay marriage is legal. However, the opposite has happened in reality. Not only has Archetype 1 trans people not ceased to exist, they are coming out earlier and in greater numbers. Moreover, some people who previously identified as gay men are now coming out as trans, a development that wouldn’t make sense under Blanchard’s ‘HSTS’ hypothesis. It is clear then that Archetype 1 trans women don’t transition primarily because they are attracted to men. This point alone would make the Blanchard typology fall apart, because it is a required part of the theory.
However, let’s talk about the other archetypes too. Archetype 4 in my typology corresponds well to ‘AGP-TS’ in the Blanchard typology. However, the difference is that I haven’t made an assumption as to why these people choose to transition. It is certainly unscientific to force fit a theory with very limited supporting evidence onto all these people. Blanchard has never convincingly demonstrated that all Archetype 4 trans women have autogynephilia, let alone this being the motivation for them to transition late in life. Most Archetype 4 trans women I’ve come across said they did not have autogynephilia, and I see no reason to doubt their honesty. While autogynephilia certainly exists, it is mainly found in straight men rather than trans women. Straight men with autogynephilia don’t transition to ‘satisfy’ their autogynephilia, because they know that taking hormone therapy that lowers sexual appetite will defeat the purpose. On the other hand, the small minority of trans women who report autogynephilia-like experiences seem to be evenly distributed across the four archetypes. Nor do they transition because of autogynephilia: the autogynephilia-like experiences are always coincidental and often unwanted for these people. In some cases, the autogynephilia-like experiences even happened after trans identity had already been firmly established, something the Blanchard typology denies can happen. All this shows that Blanchard’s hypothesis about ‘AGP-TS’ is fundamentally wrong in many ways.
Besides the serious flaws with the ‘HSTS’ and ‘AGP-TS’ models themselves, the Blanchard typology also insists that all trans women are able to be classified into these two groups. This means it fundamentally denies the existence of Archetypes 2 and 3 in my typology. Blanchard’s followers usually force-fit those in Archetypes 2 and 3 who are attracted to women into the ‘AGP-TS’ category, applying Blanchard’s ‘rules’ faithfully. When those in Archetype 2 insist that they had gender dysphoria since early childhood, Blanchardians sometimes accuse them of lying. But why would so many people be lying at the same time? And not to gatekeeping doctors, but to their friends in the trans community? As for those in Archetype 3 who are attracted to men, Blanchardians sometimes say that they are not real HSTS due to not being feminine (as required by Blanchard typology), but rather AGP-TS who have a special type of autogynephilia which requires being with a man to satisfy. Again, this appears to be pure hypothesis (and quite a weird hypothesis too), with no empirical supporting evidence whatsoever. As you can see, a major problem with Blanchard’s theory is that it does not line up with actual reality in many ways, and its supporters often try to explain these inconsistencies away with hypotheses that are neither logically convincing nor supported by evidence.
Originally published at The TaraElla Project https://taraella.substack.com where I reply to interesting and controversial points of view in the trans discourse.