Transsexualism is high profile these days. But what actually causes it? Who are transsexuals? Since there is clearly a deal of ignorance over this, I’m going to go over the explanations again, in a short series of articles.
Women trapped in men’s bodies?
Many people are familiar with the idea that male -to-female (MtF) transsexuals, or transwomen, are ‘women trapped in men’s’ bodies. At the same time, they probably have heard the inverse about Female to Male (FtM) transsexuals or transmen. That is to say, they are ‘men trapped in women’s’ bodies.
A moment’s reflection should make anyone with a brain ask a pertinent question: how can they possibly know that?
I know what it feels like to be me. But that’s it. I don’t — indeed can’t — know what it feels like to be you, or anyone else. Maybe it’s exactly the same and maybe it’s not; how would we know for sure?
I trained as an artist and I know this: artists spend their entire productive lives trying their best to express what it is like to be inside their brains. This can’t be done in any direct sense. Perhaps one day we will be able to enter the mind of another person and see what it really feels like to be that person; but for now we can’t.
The closest we can get is through art. When we look at a painting, or read a novel, watch a film, listen to music, we are actually experiencing somebody else’s thoughts and feelings. But think how limited that is. Does Beethoven’s 5th tell us anything about how it felt to be a homosexual man in the 19th century?
Even in literature, it can’t be done. Perhaps the most daring attempt I have ever seen is Lawrence Durrell’s wonderful Alexandria Quartet, in which the same sequence of events is seen through the eyes of four different people. But much as I love this book, and recommend it to everyone, it still doesn’t tell me what it felt like to be Lawrence Durrell.
The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train
I am essentially a journalist and my best work, in both writing and photography, is of that ilk. I wrote a book some years ago called The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train, another wonderful read by the way, in which I deliberately inserted myself in the imaginary position of a man who had to deal with something he had never encountered before — falling in love with a transwoman. Yet hard as I tried and while I do think the book works on many levels, I admit that it doesn’t really let you know what it feels like to be me.
If you have never had children, you cannot know what it feels like to be a parent. If both your parents are alive you cannot know how it feels to lose them. (Hint: treasure them now.) You cannot know how it feels to be something you are not.
All we can do is to imagine what it might feel like to be that which we are not.
So when someone says ‘I am a woman inside,’ or even ‘I feel like a woman inside,’ actually what they are saying is ‘I imagine I know what it feels like to be a woman.’
You cannot know how it feels to be that which you are not.
Most of my research into transsexualism has to do with transwomen, but I will here, in order to avoid a non-sequitur, refer to transmen. Suppose a transman says to me that he ‘knows’ what it feels like to be a man. I must counter, ‘No you don’t. You know what it feels to be a transman. You imagine you know what it feels to be a man, but you cannot really know it, because you are not that thing.’
I am not at all threatened by transmen and the few I know I like, but many women (and not a few men) do feel threatened by transwomen, especially in the West.
This feeling of others — in this case the dominant majority — of being threatened by a minority is incredibly dangerous for that minority. The only way to deal with that feeling of threat is to explain that the threat is not real; andthe only way to do that is to explain the true nature of the phenomenon that is perceived to be threatening.
A credible explanation.
So, we have to explain transsexualism. But here is an immediate problem: the way that many transsexuals like to explain themselves — that they were ‘born in the wrong body’ — is patently ridiculous. It requires — insists on — a massive suspension of disbelief to accommodate it. We know it’s not true. We know it cannot be true, because we all know, instinctively, that we cannot know what it feels like to be that which we are not. It’s simple.
In order to claim she had been ‘born in the wrong body’, a transwoman would have to know what somebody else — a woman — felt like. But that is impossible.
No transwoman on the planet knows how it feels to be a woman. They know how it feels to be a transwoman. And when someone you feel threatened by tries to give you an explanation you know cannot possibly be true, you don’t feel less threatened.
So the method used, by many transsexuals, to explain what they are — which they claim to hope will help to reduce the perception of threat by ‘normalising’ them as women — has the completely opposite effect. We all know it’s not true, because we all know that it is impossible to know how somebody else feels.
Unwittingly, perhaps, the very explanation itself is dangerous.
Transsexualism is now a Media hot topic.
As I write a story has hit the wires from the USA. Shaun ‘Shauna’ Smith, who ‘identifies as’ a woman, was arrested for secretly filming women undressing in changing rooms in a clothing store.
Let us not be under any illusions: whether or not Smith is genuinely trans, and whether or not there is risk in his being so, Smith’s behaviour has compromised all transwomen in the USA, and perhaps furth.
A few years ago, this story would have been buried. But the spotlight of publicity is well and truly on trans people now, and the old platitudes and trite, simplistic explanations have to be replaced which one that is actually credible.
Bizarrely, perhaps, one exists, though you might never know it. In fact, transsexualism is well understood by science. The problem is that many transgender activists do not like what the science says about them and so they deny it. They are the equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. Their intransigence, in refusing to let go of a glib and facile explanation that any child could see cannot be true, is dangerous and foolhardy.
The science of transsexualism has been confirmed time and again. For example, just this month a heavily researched review paper by Guillemon at al. was published in the ‘Archives of Sexual Behavior’, a leading peer-reviewed journal. Here’s the article.
The study examined the ‘hard’ neurological evidence, from autopsies to MRI scans, published over the last 20 years. It is the most comprehensive analysis of the data I have ever seen. The authors note:
‘the available data seems to support two existing hypotheses: (1) a brain-restricted intersexuality in homosexual MtFs and FtMs and (2) Blanchard’s insight on the existence of two brain phenotypes that differentiate “homosexual” and “nonhomosexual” MtFs.’
This paper, once again, confirms that the Typology developed by Dr Ray Blanchard is essentially correct. There are two distinct subtypes of MtF transsexualism, as Blanchard shows. Only one of them, the Blanchard HomoSexual Transsexual or HSTS, has a shift in brain morphology that might be categorised as ‘brain sex’. The other type, Blanchard autogynephilic transsexuals, or AGPs, does not display this.
Blanchard’s Typology is the basis of both the WHO’s and the APA’s understanding of transsexualism. It clearly shows that transsexualism in MtFs is a direct function of male sex drive. It has been repeatedly confirmed, and this review really just stitches it all up nicely.
To sum up, transsexualism in MtFs has two forms which are both a function of male sex drive. These can be seen as distinct sexual orientations and as such, are a part of normal human variation.
The first type, which used to be called ‘Primary’ or ‘True’ Transsexual, has close relation to highly feminine gay men, such that they may be seen to share a common aetiology*. In Blanchard these are ‘Homosexual transsexual’ or HSTS.
The other type is more complex, and in this the subject is sexually or romantically attracted to himself, as a woman. We might express that differently, by saying that he is in love with the idea of being a woman.
This form was previously known as ‘Secondary’ or ‘Pseudo’ transsexual. In Blanchard, it is ‘Autogynephilic transsexual’ or AGP. While some AGPs live as men and occasionally dress up as women, or secretly wear women’s clothing, others are fantastically glamorous, beautiful women**. In a range in between are the majority of these transwomen.
Attempting to deny the truth, by constructing fantastical philosophical explanations for relatively simple phenomena, cannot be the way forward. It cannot help trans people to understand themselves or to make their lives easier.
Blanchard is not controversial: it is mainstream science. It’s time it was properly accepted.
*The Guillemon paper highlights a suggestion that there may be a fundamental rather than incremental distinction between these two phenomena; I will return to that in another article.
**In the West, we are most familiar with autogynephiles like ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner. They tend to transition as mature men, usually after their children have grown, and will often have been married (to women). However in Asia, for example, a remarkably different profile exists. Here, AGPs may transition in their early teens and begin taking hormones then. They are so passable, and so different from the Western standard that it is usually not realised that they are in fact AGP.
Also published on Medium.