Gender fluidity has come much under the spotlight recently. It has been suggested that there are ‘thousands of genders’, ’98 genders’, that ‘gender is a spectrum of gradations’ and even that it doesn’t exist. Yet if you walk down the street in any part of the world, you will see two genders. So how can this be?
This baffling conundrum is what you get when people don’t do enough research. In fact, BOTH the binary model and the gender-spectrum model are valid; but their relationship is being wilfully misunderstood.
In large parts of the world, but best documented in South America and Asia, the principal gender division is not between men and women but between men and ‘not-men’. I have referred to this in other pieces and it was well described by Prof Don Kulick in his 1998 book ‘Travesti’.
In the last few years the terms transgender, transsexual and transvestite have become more mainstream than anyone could have thought a scarce ten years ago. But along the way they have become distorted and confused. So we need to look at them again and define what the words transsexual, transgender and transvestite actually mean.
Few clinical definitions, established by obscure researchers in obscure institutions, referring to an obscure subject, can have caused more brouhaha than Ray Blanchard’s definition of autogynephilia as ‘a man’s paraphilic propensity to be sexually aroused at the thought or image of himself as a woman.’
Strömholm ‘s Transsexuals: Les Amies de Place Blanche
Christer Strömholm (1918-2002) was ‘the father of Swedish photography’. A talented and influential photojournalist, he favoured direct contact with his subjects. He never ‘stole’ candid pictures and instead always had a relationship of some kind with the person or people he was photographing.
For over a decade, beginning in 1958, Strömholm documented the lives of a group of transsexual women (male-to-female) living in an area of Paris called the Place Blanche. His body of work is remarkable. In 2011 Aman Iman Publishing in Paris republished it as Les Amies de Place Blanche. The price is a very reasonable 45 Euros.
They have different characteristics, most notable being their primary sexual orientation: HSTS are uniquely attracted to men, whereas AGPs have a complex array of sexualities. These are all based on their autogynephilia, which Blanchard defined as ‘a man’s propensity to be aroused at the thought of himself as a woman’.
We should be aware that ‘arousal’ doesn’t just mean in the sense of becoming sexually excited, though that is a prominent characteristic of AGPs in the West. In fact there appear to be romantic and existential components to autogynephilia, which is a subtle and complex orientation. This has led some writers, for example Dr Alice Dreger, to suggest a definition of ‘amour de soi en femme’ — being in love with oneself as a woman. I would put that slightly differently: being in love with the idea of oneself as a woman.