Grayson Perry, a successful English potter, has from the age of 10 enjoyed dressing up as a woman. Perry’s “alter ego” Claire sometimes favours a Mrs. Thatcher persona, sometimes a “girlish shepherdess” look. Perry considers his penchant a fetish – “my greatest sort of potent sex dream was to be a housewife walking down the road” – and nothing to do with gender identity. “I have no special insight into being a woman. I am just a bloke in a dress.”
There is a name for Perry’s erotic fetish: autogynephilia, an ugly word in English, rendered far more beguilingly in French – amour de soi en femme. It was coined by Toronto sexologist Ray Blanchard of CAMH, and describes men who get sexual pleasure from seeing themselves as women. These men don’t want to actually be women — that is, they have no wish to transition surgically as male-to-female transgenders (TG) do — because they understand, exactly as Perry says, that they are not females trapped in a male body; they are biological males indulging an erotic fantasy.
Autogynephilia poses a serious problem for TG advocacy. For two reasons. First, Perry and his ilk muddy the pure waters of the unitary TG narrative: namely that males who yearn to appear as female “are” females who were “assigned” the wrong body at birth, and require rescue by the medical community in order to be made whole. Second, the introduction of eroticism (“potent sex dream”) into the near-spiritual and de-sexualized tropes cultivated in TG advocacy lends credence to the idea that at least one form of cross-gender identification is paraphilia – kinkiness in lay terms – rather than a noble, existential struggle for self-emancipation.
Blanchard’s writings on autogynephilia are directed toward the scientific community, so have little appeal for the general public. But in 2003 a disciple, J. Michael Bailey, popularized Blanchard’s work in a provocative, reader-friendly book, The Man Who Would be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism.
Bailey describes the typical autogynephiliac as the opposite of the “femme” boy we associate with transgenderism. The autogynephiliac […]