These excerpts from my early web essays have not appeared in any of my published articles.
Readers who are seeking a general introduction to the topic
of autogynephilia are advised to begin with my article Becoming
What We Love.
"It's been seven years, and y'know what? I still get a thrill when I look at myself in the mirror and see girl, not boy."– Kate Bornstein, The Seven Year Itch"We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense."– Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power
We autogynephiles must eventually confront the fact that the strongest feelings we know are tied to fantasies of being someone we are not. The emotions and desires that make us feel most alive seem as though they can never be actualized or expressed. The love and pride we should feel for our own bodies are absent: At worst, our bodies disgust us; at best, they are unsatisfactory and make us long for something different. Our attempts at intimacy are undermined by the fact that the selves we seem to be to others ar vastly different from our idealized internal selves, which ache to be touched and loved and seen in the form we wish them to have.
Our choices are unenviable. Trying to accommodate or compartmentalize our paraphilia sometimes works, at least for a while. Many strategies are available, and most of us try several. Crossdressing can be exciting, although it provides little lasting comfort to those of us who desperately want female bodies. Putting ourselves in all-male surroundings can temporarily facilitate our denial or repression by removing the reminders of who we desire to be. Throwing ourselves into our work, our hobbies, or our art provides satisfaction of a kind and helps us forget that which stirs us most. Habitual resort to fantasy in sexual situations is tempting, since it provides us with a brief respite from our unhappy reality. But continual retreat into fantasy inevitably leads to shame. It also precludes real connection to others and results in isolation, emptiness, and despair. Still, many of us never even consider our other option, transitioning; or, if we consider it, we do not go forward. We let our dreams languish. That is the safe choice, the easy choice. It is the choice that lets us keep our families, our possessions, and our reputations. If the price we pay is constant longing or emotional deadness, we can at least console ourselves that many others around us are paying the same price in their own way. The safe choice is the choice I made for thirty years, and it would have been frighteningly easy to have kept on making that same choice for thirty more.
But, thanks to medical technology and our time in history, we autogynephiles do have another choice. We can honor our strongest feelings by essentially rebuilding our lives around our paraphilia. It is our peculiar blessing that we are able do so: Most paraphilias do not really permit this option. The practical problems are, of course, huge. If we try to live as women, we risk losing everything: our friends, our jobs, our families and our reputations. The discrepancy between the bodies we can construct and the bodies we desire is frequently a source of disappointment. But the greatest problem we face is that we must create our womanhood from the ground up. To make our transitions work, we must try to become women, or the best facsimile we can create. It is much like learning a second language as an adult: difficult, time-consuming, and often frustrating. But it has to be done. It is the labor of a lifetime, and although we may become fluent in our second language, we rarely lose our accents or pass as native speakers. But if we persist, we earn—at least in my opinion—the right to call ourselves women.
Although our losses are often great, the rewards of our efforts are many. The most obvious of these is that we can give expression to our most intense feelings: We get to move through life feeling truly alive. Part of this is, undeniably, the palpable sexual frisson we feel when we see our own images or when someone treats us as the women we have always wished to be. Part of it is the satisfaction of knowing that we have actively created our lives and have not been mere passive victims of a fate we did not choose. And beyond this, we get to live in the world as social women, which is its own reward. Many of us find that this is better and richer than we ever could have dreamed. It becomes our entrance ticket to true humanity. It is so good that it becomes easy for us to forget the path by which we came. Some of us seemingly do forget.
So that is our choice: to live safe, respectable lives and lose our souls, or to honor our strongest feelings and risk losing everything else, in pursuit of self-made womanhood. That is our existential dilemma.
I want to share a few thoughts about the spiritual implications of Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us."
Nietzsche's observation is directly relevant to our individual responses to the autogynephilic eroticism that, for many of us, lies at the core of our transsexual desire. One of the negative consequences of our Judeo-Christian heritage is our tendency to see anything sexual as evil, degraded, and unworthy. Other high cultures have taken a more balanced view of life. The Greeks, whom Nietzsche revered, understood the importance of expressing and integrating both the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of life. Many non-Western cultures have also understood that sexual desire is the wellspring of our creativity and our emotional and physical vitality. They have understood that sexuality can be our most direct pathway to transcendence and to the spiritual dimensions of life.
There has been an unfortunate tendency to see Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia as pathologizing or degrading the transsexual experience. I don't see it that way at all. We have grown up hearing that our sexual desires are evil and unworthy, and many of us have come to believe it. But I believe, with Nietzsche, that to live fulfilling and authentic lives as transsexual women, we must be willing to rechristen our sexual desire as that which is best and most profoundly human within us. We must honor our sexual desire as that which moves us most, as that which makes us feel most truly alive.
We need make no apology for deciding to rebuild our lives around the most powerful feelings we know. I think it is an act of existential courage to honor our deepest feelings by giving them a central place in our lives. By transitioning to live as women, we can give tangible expression to our sexual feelings—feelings that many of us have tried too long to suppress and deny. And, although our paths can be challenging, the benefits in terms of vitality and inner peace can be profound.
Although I usually write about transsexuality as a physician and a scientist, I can also appreciate and embrace the views of authors like Rachel Pollack and Susan Stryker, who write about the transsexual journey from a more spiritual perspective. To me, the erotic desire at the core of autogynephilic transsexualism seems like just another aspect of what Pollack called the "divine force" that leads us to abandon ourselves to our bodies' desire, and what Stryker referred to as the "enlivening power" of our identification with Nature's dark, creative chaos.
When we recognize and honor the autogynephilic feelings within ourselves, we do not declare ourselves sick or debased. Rather, we affirm that a life built on passion and authenticity is truly a life worth living.
Bornstein, K. (1994). The seven year itch (what goes around, comes around). In Gender outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us. New York: Vintage Books.
Lorde, A. (1984). Uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. In Sister outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1966). Epigrams and interludes. In Beyond good and evil: Prelude to a philosophy of the future (W. Kaufmann, Transl.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1886).
Pollack, R. (1992, Fall). Abandonment to the body's desire. Rites of Passage [journal of the New Women's Conference].
Stryker, S. (1994). My words to Victor Frankenstein above the village of Chamounix: Performing transgender rage. GLQ, 1(3), 227-254.
© 2011 by Anne A. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D. All rights reserved.