This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the things that struck me about the whole theory of autogynephilia is the way in which it seemed to confuse subject and object. Desire is a subject, a body of knowledge to be studied; if it focuses on an external object divorced from the body of knowledge, it may be a fetish, but the definition of a fetish, to me, depends upon that divorce of subject and object.
The whole point about desire and desirability is that it is an intellectual construction that reflects social circumstance. Let me give you a concrete example. I am currently not feeling especially desirable. That reflects my low mood, a reactive depression that is a logical product of circumstances. Now, I am not a medical practitioner, and what I say has no diagnostic value for anyone other than me, but there are times in my life when a low mood and the psychological equivalent of hitting the wall or a sugar deficit during tough exercise is the logical consequence of circumstance. At that point I recognise the consequences of that low mood that pitch it into what I call reactive depression; my attention span shrinks, I find it hard to evaluate evidence, I become physically lethargic, and I feel utterly undesirable.
Now, this isn’t a black dog moment, and I’m not commenting on anyone else’s experience of clinical depression – this is my experience of a reaction to another threat that I might lose my main source of income, another death in the family, another cancer test for a loved one, and a significant life change that lots of other parents face at this time of the year. That’s why I call it reactive depression,to make it clear that the experience is different and has, in my opinion, an external origin*. That knowledge, that soap opera plot of events doesn’t change the experience though. (Incidentally, huge respect to Professor Green for this very personal and very wise article in the Guardian which helped prompt me to write this.)
The point is that, in terms of desirability I haven’t changed, externally, but my brain has. Desire and desirability are an intellectual construction that reflects social circumstance, and my social circumstances are challenging at the moment. The fact that I am aware of this, and can make assumptions about the aetiology of my mood and feelings makes it easier to live with, so much less of a challenge than it otherwise would be, but like the lactic acid in your muscles at the end of a long workout it doesn’t go away just because you understand the science and the reasons why it’s there.
The definition of autogynephilia seems, to me to be confused about the idea that we make our own desirability, and the fact that it varies depending upon how we feel. It also seems, to me, to fail absolutely to recognise the possibility that there might be a process that says, I am X, and X’s look like this, and therefore to be a sexy X must look like this, and that I experience arousal from achieving this.
Part of my masculinity (which is not everyone’s masculinity) is a strong link between sporting achievement (in terms of completing a challenging task) and sexual arousal / desirability. Now, I can imagine there may be some chemical link in the brain between endorphin activity and sexual desire, but, if that was the case, then the showers after PE at school would have been even more of a sexual minefield than they were for those of us who feared our cocks would give us away. So I’m quite happy to accept the idea that my view of my desirability can be influenced by physical achievement, as well as by my mood. Incidentally I’m not saying that I only become aroused when I achieve things physically, but that I am conscious of the arousal that can occur after that achievement.
If I’m right, and I’m hardly scratching the surface, my experience of myself as desirable, as an erotic individual, is made up of components that are about my mood, my sense of myself as a person, the feedback I receive from others and my perceptions of that feedback. (It is that feedback, of course, that is the key to being more than merely a narcissist, and I fear, the inventor of autogynephilia was either ignorant of the concept of narcissism, or, more likely, deliberately ignoring it because it is widely acknowledged as a concept not unique to trans people). I suspect there is at least one reader of this post who will tell me that I am still as sexy as always. Their feedback, as ever, will be part of my recovery from this mood, this lethargy and this weariness.
If someone whose most central component of their being is that they are a woman, becomes aroused by how they feel and look, should we really be surprised? More-over, if their experience of the world is of being bullied and threatened because of their trans status, should it surprise us if their desire has a strongly auto-erotic component? (When I am very depressed, I have a very low sex drive – when I am in a low mood, I often have a higher urge to masturbate, as if I am reassuring myself that the plumbing still works, even if no-one wants it.) The inventor of the charade of science that is autogynephilia appears, to me, to have missed that point completely in favour of an entirely cruel and dismissive use of pseudo-science to stigmatize and disparage a group they dislike.
*The alternative option that I am in fact a depressive whose low moods and clinical symptoms are endogenous, who then uses the external features of a sometimes chaotic life to avoid facing up to my illness, is part of my routine self-evaluation. However, I struggle with that model because,it seems to me, it would strip e of the limited agency that arises form trying to make the best of trying circumstances.