[Content note: Gender, relationships, sexuality. Some sexually explicit content. Discussion without endorsement of various forms of transphobia, homophobia, et cetera. Ozy wishes you to know they wrote this in a very timely manner after Spandrell's original post and I just took forever to publish it.]
I made fun of this post on my tumblr and then Scott requested I actually argue with it.
First, let’s address the issue of homosexuality. Spandrell argues that “There’s no way on earth that a condition that makes you lose attraction towards the opposite sex is going to survive natural selection.” On the contrary, there is a lot of animal homosexuality. The linked book contains much fascinating information, such as the fact that animal sexuality has been documented in almost 500 species and that, in one study, ninety percent of observed giraffe sex was between two males. I am not sure why animal homosexuality is so common: I am not an evolutionary biologist myself. But it suggests that the simplistic model in which fucking something other than a vagina is not selected for is incorrect.
In addition, homosexuality is probably not inborn. A Swedish twin study with a sample size of 7600 found that genetic factors and shared-environment factors together explained only a third of the variance in sexual orientation, while two-thirds were explained by unshared environment. In short: sexual orientation in humans is less inborn than how hardworking you are. Indeed, Spandrell admits as much, saying that we do not know the cause of gayness. Maybe because it’s not inborn? Just saying.
One must point out that the “born this way” myth was invented by LGBT people to get people to accept us: “we can’t help it! It is mean to hurt people because of something they can’t help! Don’t worry, it’s genetic, accepting us won’t make anyone else gay!” I don’t fully understand what the Cathedral is, but if anything is part of the Cathedral the Human Rights Campaign is, and I feel like that is a fairly depressing amount of belief in the Cathedral’s myths from a self-declared neoreactionary.
Spandrell argues that female paraphiliacs do not exist because they do not usually tell researchers about being paraphiliacs. Unfortunately, he is missing the very large confounding variable, which is that women are fucking liars about sex. As I pointed out in my Anti-Heartiste FAQ, evidence suggests that the entire sexual partner gap between men and women is explicable by women being goddamned liars. There is no reason to believe they wouldn’t also be goddamned liars about their paraphilias.
Spandrell challenged me in his comment section– if female paraphilia is a thing– to find cases of female death by autoerotic asphyxiation. It is true that women are less likely to die by autoerotic asphyxiation. However, women are less likely than men to masturbate, and even when they do they masturbate less often than men do, decreasing the risk of women dying through masturbation. However, this is self-report data and thus falls under the “women are goddamned liars” explanation. Autoerotic asphyxiation deaths are massively undercounted to begin with; it is relatively common for people who die by autoerotic asphyxiation to be mistaken for suicides or “sanitized” by family members who don’t want to admit their child died by masturbation. Given that women lie massively about sex, it is possible that families are more likely to sanitize female autoerotic asphyxiators. Finally, I hate to be the feminist who points this out to the neoreactionary, but men and women are different. This probably extends to sexual fetishes. I admit that none of these are particularly solid arguments. However, I do have reason to believe that women have things that may be considered paraphilias.
The rise of the ebook has massively expanded the amount of porn that women read. Like I said, women are fucking liars about sex. They want to read porn, but they don’t want to admit that they want to read porn– and as plausibly deniable as Harlequins are, those Fabio covers make it look a little too much like porn for a lot of readers.
Ellora’s Cave is the largest erotic ebook producer in the United States. If you are curious whether women have paraphilias, you can explore the BDSM Elements section, featuring such titles as Taming the Raven’s Son, Pack and Mate, and Elf Struck (tagline: “When a BDSM slut is matched with a warrior virgin, both tempers and desires flare.”)
Part of the problem here is that I don’t fully understand what qualifies as a ‘paraphilia’ in Spandrell’s analysis. Spandrell provides as examples: “There are all sorts of paraphilias, all of which seem to only occur in men. Some men are attracted to babies, others to feet, others to shoes, others to obese women, others to old women. There’s a lot of weird stuff out there.” If we are going to the “at least as weird as being attracted to fat women” standard, then I feel like a lot of non-BDSM things in Ellora’s Cave count. For instance, paranormal erotic romance is basically just a fetish for fucking vampires and werewolves.
However, I suspect that female paraphilias are also going to be structurally different than male paraphilias. Eliade’s List of Fanfiction Kinks, Tropes, and Cliches is the most extensive list I’m aware of of fanfiction porn tropes. Literally, I have never been able to think of one that is popular and not on her list. The interesting thing about Eliade’s list– which is something I’ve found personally in my fanfiction consumption– is the lack of distinction between purely sexual and purely narrative tropes. The list does include things like “intercrural or interfemoral sex (i.e., thrusting cock between partner’s thighs),” but also things like “makeovers.” I suspect a list of favorite male porn tropes would be unlikely to include makeovers. Similarly, it’s a common observation that a plot what plot story on AO3, which is female-dominated, and an extraordinarily plotty story on Literotica, which is male-dominated, contain approximately the same amount of plot. I suspect when one studies female paraphilias one will find primarily narrative paraphilias: where men tend to fetishize a single act, women tend to fetishize an overall storyline. While one might not consider the latter to be a paraphilia, that seems to be far more related to an androcentric definition of paraphilia than a difference in the prevalence of paraphilias between men and women per se.
Finally, let us discuss trans women. To be honest, I don’t fully understand what the difference between “trans women are homosexual men” and “trans women are heterosexual women” is. The empirical facts remain the same: many trans women transition as soon as possible, are attracted to men, and behave in ways typically considered feminine. All I can figure is that it is the result of a belief that we should call trans women men in order to be pointlessly upsetting to them.
I am aware of two studies applying Blanchard’s autogynephilia questionnaire to a group of cisgender women. The first, unpaywalled here, I shall ignore because of its 29-person sample size, despite its astonishing revelation that 93% of cisgender women are autogynephiles by Blanchard’s definition. The second actually has a reasonable sample size, so let’s examine it more closely. The study divided autogynephiliac arousal into two categories– Autogynephiliac Interpersonal Fantasy (essentially, sexual fantasies about being admired as female) and the Core Autogynephilia Scale (essentially, sexual fantasies about being a very sexy woman). There was no difference between cisgender women and transgender women in the Autogynephiliac Interpersonal Fantasy scale. However, transgender women scored significantly higher on the Core Autogynephilia Scale.
To put it bluntly, this makes no goddamned sense. Cis women are just as likely as trans women to have a particular subtype of autogynephilia, but less likely to have autogynephilia itself?
Let us look at the Core Autogynephilia Scale a little more closely. The study authors modified the scale so that the cis woman population were asked if they have ever sexually fantasized about themselves having attractive or more attractive female body parts. However, imagine that you have a vagina and you have sexual fantasies in which you have a vagina. Nothing interesting here, probably going to mark “no” on the relevant questionnaire. Now imagine that you have a penis and you have sexual fantasies in which you have a vagina. You’re going to notice. This is contrary to expectations. If someone asks you “do you have sexual fantasies about having an attractive or more attractive vagina?”, you’re probably going to mark yes (assuming you don’t specifically fetishize having ugly genitals). The exact same behavior leads cis women to mark “no” and trans women to mark “yes.”
Essentially, autogynephilia is ordinary female sexuality. Women are often erotically aroused by dressing in lingerie and wearing makeup; women are erotically aroused by looking at themselves naked; women have sexual fantasies in which they have vulvas; for that matter, women are erotically aroused by imagining themselves as sexier than they are. If we assume that trans women are, well, women’s minds in men’s bodies, this entirely explains the autogynephilia data: women have female-typical sexuality instead of male-typical sexuality. (It does not explain the autogynephilia anecdotes, as one assumes it is quite uncommon for cis women to be aroused by the idea of knitting, but those seem to be selected for vividness rather than for representationality. One guy who is turned on by the idea of knitting does not mean that every trans woman who is attracted to other women is an autogynephile.)
Now, the pro-autogynephilia group may respond, “but it is normal for cis women to fantasize about having a vagina and deviant for trans women to!” But in that case there is no way for trans women to win. If they had sexual fantasies in which they had a penis, you would be like “ah, yes, that is proof they are men. Why would they even want sexual reassignment surgery if they are fine with having a penis?” Since they instead fantasize about having a vagina, you would be like “that is sexual deviancy!” There is no evidence that can convince you that trans women genuinely have what they say they have– a condition in which they are genuinely upset by their bodies, being seen as male, or both, which is best treated by allowing them to transition.
Spandrell opines that allowing trans women to transition and get sex reassignment surgery “can’t work well, at the very least because men have male sex drives, which are a very dangerous thing when not constrained by women.” I must remind him that the male sex drive is mediated through testosterone. Trans women typically take estrogens and anti-androgens, which lower the libido to the level of an otherwise-comparable cis woman. A woman who has had sexual reassignment surgery does not even have testicles to produce testosterone. She could not possibly have a male sex drive, unless Spandrell is advocating the theory that the male sex drive is actually mediated by ghost balls.
Finally, I must address the notion that I am an autoandrophile. First, I find it highly amusing that Spandrell believes I am the first trans person assigned female at birth to be attracted to men. I assure you I am certainly not. Second, my fetish is (mostly SFW, but TMI warning) very well documented. It is such a shame how no one ever does research before they insult you these days.
Third, I must clarify what I meant in that particular comment. In my experience, social dysphoria is subject to the hedonic treadmill: I was elated the first time someone called me ‘zie,’ but now it is an everyday thing. I imagine that if I went back, I would spend six months or so in a pit of constant dysphoria, but eventually get used to it. However, I have been constantly distressed by my breasts since puberty; when I thought I was cis, I would have constant fantasies of cutting them off with a knife; when I stop binding regularly, I notice a deep loss of psychological stability. The hedonic treadmill simply does not work for me having breasts. I value my relationship highly, but not that highly. (Being monogamous was a similar constant drain on me, and being polyamorous– several years after I started– is still a major contributor to my happiness, which is the reason I say it would be extremely hard to go back to monogamy.)