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23 November 2012

The ebb and flow of social constructions

There is a misconception by some of those who prefer biologistic or even essentialist explanations that they therefore should reject social construction explanations.  For over 150 years now various writers have been proposing that homosexuality, transvestity and/or transsexuality are caused by some mixture of genetics and pre-natal experience, and for 150 years of effort very little has been established, especially in identifying which factors might make someone gay rather than trans or vice versa.  Every now and then some suggestive aspect of brain anatomy/chemistry such as H-Y Antigens or BTSc neurons is accepted uncritically as an explanation.  However these never seem to move on any next stage so that gender variance is as well explained as say autism or schizophrenia, or be developed to be used as a test,  and indeed attempts at replication of the original results by other scientists often fail.

Biologistic explanations have two serious weaknesses.  They cannot explain the dramatic increase in the percentage of us who are trans.  Add up all the known trans people in the entire nineteenth century and you have fewer than the transsexuals who are the newspapers in any one year in the 21st century.

Secondly biologistic factors do not at all explain the cultural changes of how trans persons are perceived and what options are available to trans persons at any time.  The biology was presumably similar for Lavinia Edwards in 1833, Carla van Crist in 1930, Norma Jackson in 1931, Christine Jorgensen in 1953, Bibíana Fernández in 1977 and Jin Xing in 1995, but the social constructions in which they lived have changed enormously.

In the mid 19th century, a person whom we would now regard as transsexual was regarded as an invert, a category that also included what we now regard as homosexual.  In fact the first usage of the concept of a female trapped in a male body, anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa, was to explain male homosexuality.
In the mid 20th century persons like Jorgenson were generally described as transvestists, before the term ‘transsexual’ came into use.

Let us take a small double wave in the sea of social construction.

The HSTS/Autogynephilia distinction was developed by Kurt Freund at what was then the Clarke Institute of Psychology Gender Identity Clinic, and appears in that institute’s Gender Dysphoria: Development, Research, Management 1985, edited by Betty W. Steiner - although different terms are used.   Freund’s protégé and eventual replacement,  Ray Blanchard took the idea and renamed it with the terms that we now use.  Blanchard published papers in the Archives of Sexual Behavior (edited by Richard Green until 2001, and then by Kenneth Zucker) and similar journals that were not read by most trans persons.  However one who did and proclaimed herself to be an autogynephile, was Anne Lawrence who studied for a PhD at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality at San Francisco.  Michael Bailey was one of her thesis advisors.  Speculations continue as to which influenced the other more.  In 2003 Bailey published The Man Who Would Be Queen, and the concept became a public controversy.

Willow Arune, Lisanne Anderson and others set up the Autogynephilia Yahoo group, and a small but significant number of trans women self-identified as autogynephiles.   The group was apparently destroyed by Jennifer Usher manipulating the Yahoo complaints policy.

There were fewer trans women self-identifying as HSTS (homosexual transsexuals).   The most prominent was Kiira Triea, which was odd in that she had previously identified as a lesbian intersex.  She was the prime mover behind  Others involved included Jennifer Ross, Hontas Farmer and Heike Bödeker none of whom still speaks up for HSTS.

Very shortly afterwards, in 2005, Charlotte Goiar met Diane Kearny online, and then they split and founded two competing groups both using the term Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS).  The term had been proposed by Tom Reucher a decade before, but they turned its meaning upside down by applying it to emotions that had been previously expressed by Betty Cowell and Margaret O’Hartigan. The concern here is that most HBS advocates took up the term ‘autogynephile’  (Rose White, the author of the only book on HBS says rather ‘autogyne’ instead implying that she does not properly understand the concept).  It was stated in the short-lived HBS-written Wikipedia page on HBS that non-HBS MTF persons who have gender surgery were either autogynephiles or possibly gay men (no self-identified HSTS woman has ever claimed to be  or to have previously been a gay man).  Kearny claimed that non-HBS transsexuals were autogynephiles and fetishists.  The vast majority of trans women who do not fit these categories were defined out of existence, just as in the Freund-Blanchard-Bailey schema the same vast majority also disappears.

By syllogistic logic, HSTS = not autogynephile = HBS.  However this never worked psychologically.   A small number of HBS persons, could, if you force the HSTS/AGP dichotomy, be considered HSTS.  Diane Kearny who transitioned relatively early and later married a man, is the best candidate.   However most HBSers were first husbands and fathers, and transitioned only later. Thus if we force the dichotomy they would be AGP. Examples include Joanne Proctor, Tabatha Basco, Jennifer Usher, Cathryn Platine.  Rose White’s accounts of her life exclude what she did between the ages of 14 and 57, and it seems reasonable to assume that she fits here also.

The link between autogynephile and HBS was kept alive by the mutual antipathyof Willow Arune and Jennifer Usher across various Usenet fora.

In 2009 the Transkids site was revived by Kay Brown, the author of Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History, writing as Cloudy. She also started a blog: On the Science of Changing Sex.  "I slept through the controversy surrounding the publication of The Man Who Would Be Queen. ... Prof. Bailey graciously gave me access to an online version of the book and I read it from front to back in nearly one sitting. Although I disagreed with several minor points, I felt I could have written the book myself. I agreed with each and every major point. Who wouldn't, if they knew what I know."

Of course the problem with HSTS is that it means ‘homosexual transsexual’, which is a confusing term for women who are mainly heterosexual (some are non-sexual).  It is also a very rude term in that it defines a trans women’s orientation by her birth gender.  There have been attempts to make Blanchard’s system less rude by proposing alternate terms, usually that HSTS should be called by the neutral term ‘androphilic’.  Alice Novic also proposed the terms Love-to-be-femme and Act-femme for AGP and HSTS respectively.  However these terms have not caught on.

The insistence on the term HSTS has kept away those HBSers who might have adopted it and also many others (myself included, even though unlike Triea and Brown, I am a graduate of gay lib).   The site includes a page strongly insisting that HSTS and not androphilic is the right term.  Kay Brown/Cloudy continues the insistence in her FAQ:   “Transsexuals with this etiology are most often called, “homosexual transsexuals” (HSTS) or “early onset” in the scientific literature.  (This does not imply that they act like, nor identify, as “homosexual”.  It only means that they are sexually and affectionally attracted to the same natal sex.)” And goes on to refer to AGPs as non-homosexuals.   This is the same Kay Brown who in her Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History was critical of Harry Benjamin for using the term ‘male transsexual’ for a trans woman.

Anyway the tents are rolled up, and the circus has almost left town. 
  • The Kearny web site and forum are derelict sites.
  • The Goiar web site stands, but the forum has become inactive.
  • The Rose White book caused such embarrassment that most HBS-ers declined to even mention it.  There has not been a second HBS book from anybody else.
  • TS-Si which was initially proudly HBS, later removed the term and denied being HBS, and has now closed.
  • Suzan Cooke, who initially labelled Women Born Transsexual an HBS site, later realized that she did not really identify with the HBSers and removed the label.
  • In 2009 various HBSers wrote pages for the English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Simple Wikipedias, but were unable/refused to include critical opinions, give a history of HBS or support their claims.
  • Alice Novic has removed almost all content from her web site.
  • Cathryn Platine has announced that all “trans themed blog entries“ have been removed from
  • Joanne Proctor and Tiira Triea are no longer with us.

Charlotte Goiar, who is the youngest person mentioned here, is now 40.  I don’t think that I have seen any enthusiasm for either HSTS/AGP or HBS among persons under 40. Their time is over


Billie said...

Having 311 members associated with this blog, I often wonder why no one responds? No doubt most of the individuals within the trans community are smarter than me! I'm a simpleton and I admit I'm confused and totally clueless. Maybe I just need to read up more and step away from my PS3.

But thanks for bringing this to my attention, Zoe.

bonzeblayk said...

An interesting article, Zagria…

One thing I'd like to note is that it's not particularly difficult to posit a biological cause for the huge increase in "obvious" cases of transsexualism: the enormous increase in chemicals in the environment which interfere with hormonal systems, usually called "endocrine disrupters". Deborah Rudacille has a lengthy and fascinating discussion on the topic including dialog with a leading scientist researching the effects of these chemicals in her excellent The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights.

This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone interesting in transgender issues, in my opinion; Rudacille is a science writer whose writing is a pleasure to read, she covers every angle thoroughly, and she includes interviews with a broad range of people with different perspectives, demonstrating no particular bias I can find, other than (possibly) having "tendencies towards being liberal and open-minded"?

As far as the nature/nurture controversy, most people appear to be addicted both to dualism and to locating the menacing presence of Satanic Influence† underlying any disagreements with their chosen stance on one side or the other of the Sacred/Unholy Binary. More recent brain research investigating differences in MRI scans is provocative, and reasonably good evidence that there is a strong biological influence on an individual's sense of gender identity… however, varying brain morphologies clearly do not explain how human beings create cultural norms or individual identities within (or without.-) those norms, now do they?

- bonzie anne

† "LOL implied."

Zagria said...

Most of those those who propose biological explanations are surprisingly mute on the topic of environmental chemicals. I get the impression that being associated with shrinking sperm counts is worse for them than being associated with gays.

Rudacille's chapter on environmental chemicals is based on the excellent work of Christine Johnson, whose thesis is linked to in my Books online section.

My biggest gripe with Rudacille is the casual way that she dismisses the Conway-Olyslager estimates in favour of the old established 1:30,000 simply on the grounds of the latter being more established. One would think that a science reporter would be able to go thought the maths. Also does not her heavy reliance on Simon LeVay and Paul McHugh, both supporters of HSTS/AGP, strike you as a bit odd.

Just Jennifer said...

Alas, close, but not quite the truth about the demise of the Autogynephilia list. Arune, as is typical, tells a rather embellished (and largely fictional) version of what happened. Yes, I was, actually quite inadvertently, responsible for the demise of the group. And yes, it is true that it was apparently the result of a complaint I made about Arune's mailing list attacking Andrea James. Beyond that, the version you publish, unchallenged, and obviously with no attempt to find out the truth, is, well, not the whole story. Arune was making posts bragging about how a new mailing list attacking James. That struck me as questionable, and I simply checked out the Yahoo terms of service, and I found, as I suspected, that creating a mailing list for the purpose of attacking anyone was forbidden. I sent a complaint, including a link to the description of the group, and Arune's account, and all associated lists, were quickly removed. My only intention was to shut down the attack group targeting James. The removal of the Autogynephila group was unintentional, and it should be kept in mind that the real fault lies with Arune's blatant, and quite frankly, arrogant disregard for Yahoo's terms and services.

So, no, I did not "manipulate" rules to destroy the Autogynephila group. It's loss was a result of Arune's actions, and Arune's actions alone. Something Arune tried to deny at the time, and continues to lie about. I simply pointed out a violation to Yahoo.

Zagria said...

Well, given that Arune's account has been on this site for almost two years, and this is your first response, it was certainly close enough.

Just Jennifer said...

Sorry, while I occasionally stop by for a good laugh, or to see if you have said something so silly that it is worth commenting on, I don't obsessively search your site for every last tidbit. I noticed your comment, clicked on the link, and found the comment by Arune. As is typical, it was largely fiction, so I provided a correction. Autogynephilia is gone because Arune violated the rules, period.

bonzeblayk said...

I get the impression that most of those arguing the hardline HBS all-biology case just aren't very smart. I actually sympathize with them, but am invariably horrified by the overreach. Kay Brown may be reasonably smart, but… how intelligent can a person who doesn't allow comments on their website, or at least provide an email contact to allow people to submit corrections to errors in citations, etc., really be?

I also think there's a little something to the HSTS/AGP partitioning, but there are probably more types (condensing them down to only two and inventing "autogynephilia" is Blanchard's dubious claim to fame here), and the distinctions are radically overstated, and denying the existence of "autogynephilia" in natal women is dumb, stupid, moronic, and… hell, "they obviously never met some of my girlfriends".

I just looked over Rudacille's treatment of the prevalence estimates, and given that it's all condensed into one paragraph, I think she probably viewed them all as suspect, or decided it a topic of marginal interest that was not worth dealing with in depth in such a broadly focused book. She describes the 1:30000 estimate as "very conservative": "This is believed to be a very conservative estimate, based on SRS statistics that are decades old. Professor Lynn Conway of the University of Michigan suggests that the DSM-IV figures are off by at least two orders of magnitude and that 'the prevalence of SRS in the U.S. is at least on the order of 1:2500, and may be twice as much as that value. Therefore, the intrinsic prevalence of MtF transsexualism here must be on the order of ~1:500 and may be even larger than that.'" She then goes on to cite Jillian Weiss on potential causes for underdiagnosis of transsexualism, so… I view her as presenting the case for higher prevalence rates in a favorable light?

And with respect to "Doctor" Paul McHugh, psychiatrist, who is an opponent of ALL transsexual surgery, I am ever so happy that she interviewed him and quoted him extensively.

"The feelings of happiness and contentment expressed by postoperative transsexuals are irrelevant in the view of Paul McHugh, who closed the Johns Hopkins clinic after the Meyer study. 'Maybe it matters to them, but it doesn't matter to us as psychiatrists. We're not happy doctors.'"

Indeed. For me, that single quotation is worth the price of the book… reminding me: I have to buy a copy sometime.-)

If you read the Meyer study, you'll find that it's a smear job. Pathetic, truly pathetic "research"… assumptions? Oh, lesbianism is bad, m'kay? Two women living with each other… bad. And successfully transitioning to the roles reserved for what my mother described to me as "second-class citizens" - women, right? - is supposed to somehow not lead to a loss in pay and status? Hell, beat me with a stick, this study is beyond-belief stupid. Only a Catholic bigot like McHugh or a fanatically anti-female "feminist" like Janice Raymond could take this seriously as research.

Anyway, quoting assholes is the price you pay for being evenhanded in presenting all views when treating a controversial subject. I think she does pretty well, myself.

… thanks again for the amazing blog, Zagria!
- bonzie anne