Psycho-sexually Frustrated – Four Case Studies about the Role of Sex in Gender Transition

The psychologist Ray Milton Blanchard gained his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1973.  His post-doctoral research looked at the clinical castration of sex offenders, which led him to join the Clark Institute for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, before he became their head of Clinical Sexology Services in 1995.  Whilst Blanchard’s name may not exactly be a household one, at the age of 71, he’s still kicking, and currently serves on the American Psychiatric Association’s Subcommittee for Gender Identity Disorders.

Blanchard’s 1989 theory on transsexuality posits that male-to-female transsexuals can be categorised neatly in two distinct groups.  The first, the ‘homosexual transsexuals’, are individuals who are sexually attracted to men – particularly heterosexual men – so homosexual transsexuals seek to acquire a female body in order to be able to appeal to the objects of their desire.  The second group – ‘heterosexual fetishistic transvestites’ – are heterosexual men who seek to become the object of their own sexual attraction; men who find women so alluring that they wish to imitate them completely.  Heterosexual fetishistic transvestites, Blanchard argues, are men who gain a sexual thrill from the thought of being women, and, to describe them, Blanchard coined the term ‘autogynephilic’; which is a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman”.

Blanchard further maintains that there are four types of autogynephiliac.  Transvestic autogynephiliacs are aroused by the act (or fantasy) of wearing female clothing, while behavioural autogynephilia is arousal from the act of performing actions generally regarded as feminine (such as household chores, depilation, or putting on make-up).  Physiological autogynephilia, meanwhile, is the achievement of arousal by fantasising about feminine bodily functions, and anatomic autogynephiliacs get their kicks by possessing (or dreaming of possessing) all – or parts of – a normative woman’s body.

Blanchard’s views may be alarming to those who cling to the notion that being transgender is a more transcendent, spiritual condition than simply getting one’s rocks off wearing fishnets and a belted mackintosh, but he cannot be accused of being illiberal.  He is, notably, a proponent of state-funded gender reassignment surgery – although his primary reason for holding this opinion is that he considers sex-change operations an appropriate palliative for the psychological suffering endured by many transgender people.  In other words, in Blanchard’s view, surgery for transsexuals is as worthy of government funding as any other form of mental health treatment for any other kind of patient.

Such theorising may be grist to the ideological mill of trans-exclusionary radical feminists, but I can’t shake the suspicion that objection to Blanchard’s typology is based on a hope that it isn’t true rather than a conviction that it isn’t.  No-one likes having their lifestyle choices and ambitions – and the huge sacrifices made to fulfil them – reduced to a base, atavistic drive.  Thus, I would like to offer four short tales of psychoanalysis that I think strongly support Blanchard’s assertion that gender nonconformity (particularly amongst non-homosexual men) is an issue of misplaced sexuality and malfunctioning self-esteem, rather than a noble decision to pursue a social and sartorial third way.

(The curious can have a gander at Blanchard’s arguments in favour of publicly funded gender reassignment surgery, here… http://individual.utoronto.ca/james_cantor/index_files/Blanchard2000.pdf)

Frame Blanchard and Teacher
The young Ray Milton Blanchard delighted his teachers by announcing, at a tender age, his intention to grow up to become a sexologist

Case Study One: M. at the Dubrovnik Swimming Pool

I guess I would have been about eleven or twelve when my parents took me on holiday to this resort on the Adriatic.  I can’t remember the name of the town where we went, but I know it was a few miles up the coast from Dubrovnik, so I’ve always thought of that as my Dubrovnik trip.  Most of the holiday is just a blur now – I can’t even say for sure how long we stayed there – but I know it must have been during the summer, because that’s when we always went away as a family.  I know that it was a pretty disappointing holiday, too, and that my parents blamed me for it.  We usually spent our August fortnight in Cornwall, and I had nagged my parents to take me on a foreign holiday because that’s what I thought all my schoolfriends did.  My mother didn’t want to fly, I know that much, so it must have taken quite an effort of will to get her on the aeroplane and put her life in the hands of the pilot and the engineers who had built the 7-3-7.  When the Dubrovnik trip turned out to be such a crushing anti-climax – after weeks of excitement that I was finally going to spend a holiday somewhere other than on the M5 – my mum and dad had yet another reason for giving me their weary, I-told-you-so looks.

The only clear memory I have of the trip (apart from that my parents had wasted their money on account of my keeping-up-with-the-Joneses response to playground peer-pressure), was the afternoon we spent at an open-air swimming pool with a wave machine and water chutes.  The complex was called Poseidon, and probably covered about sixty acres.  There were areas with tables and bars, and others with sun-loungers and parasols.  Once my parents were installed a one of these, and my mum had had a bit of a swim and settled down with a paperback while my dad nodded off in the sun, I wandered off to explore.  I spent time idling in a jacuzzi, and then found a shallow little pool for toddlers that was heated to pleasantly volcanic temperatures.  I got thrown out of that by a lifeguard for being too old when I tried swimming along the bottom, so I made my way to the water-slides.

There were two slides, and they started at the top of a tall tower at the centre of the park.  The tower had flights of wooden steps on the inside to reach the platform at the top.  The blue-painted handrails were rusty and the steps were slimy with mildew, and the queues were interminable.  Dozens – maybe a hundred – holidaymakers waited in line on those flights of stairs, rejoicing when they reached a ninety-degree turn on the staircase because it meant a slight change of scenery.  Once you reached the top, you were helped into the mouth of whichever slide you chose by one of the lifeguards, but then you were held in suspense by one of them placing a sinewy, sunburnt leg in front of you across the fibreglass halfpipe.  When the lifeguard judged the previous thrill-seeker was safely out of the way, he would lift his leg, and you were carried away by the rush of water.

I had ridden (and queued for) the slides maybe a dozen times, and was waiting on the final flight of steps just before emerging from the shadows inside the tower into the sunshine, when I became aware of a sort of ripple passing through the huddles of people below me.  Punters were reluctantly shuffling on the narrow steps to make room for someone who was shouldering their way self-consciously up between them, and making their way to the top.

When the source of the disruption reached the flight of steps where I was standing, I saw that it was a girl.  She was a little bit older than me, but not much – thirteen or fourteen, I reckon.  Her long, black hair was already wet from swimming, and she had smooth, olive skin from, I fancied, spending hours in the Balkan sun.  She was wearing a green, two-piece swimming costume the colour of an avocado.  She had a heart-shaped face, and we made eye-contact, very briefly, as she climbed past me.  She had a sulky, bored-looking expression, and her eyes were wide apart and a very light, almost transparent brown colour, like marbles held up to the sun.

The lifeguards exchanged secretive, knowing looks as the girl passed between them and settled herself at the start of the water-chute nearest to me.  I now realise that she was probably the daughter or something of some bigwig at the waterpark – the owner’s niece, probably – and that she therefore had immunity from the tedium of queuing, and was able to jump straight to the front of the line.  The glances the lifeguards gave each other certainly, I now realise, suggested that they had seen this girl before, and that they were more than familiar with her silent, haughty jumping in line.  I know now that that was what their bemused looks meant, but, at the time, my confused adolescent mind connected this girl’s apparent power and aloofness with the fact that she was slim and pretty.  I wanted what she had; I wanted the same authority to have people move aside for me, and I wanted people to gaze enviously at my trim shoulders and slender legs as I walked past them.  But to have that dominion, I knew I had to be a girl.

At the top of the chute, the girl didn’t turn and look back.  After a few seconds, the lifeguard lifted his leg, and she was gone – borne away down the halfpipe in a plunging churn of water.

Case Study Two: R. Explores Spencer Marsden’s Pornography Collection

During my second year of high school, I formed an unsavoury friendship with a plump, freckled boy in my year called Gavin Marsden.  Marsden had flame-red hair and bulging, thyroidal eyes, and he led me astray in no small measure.  With the basic expedient of peer pressure, he intimidated me, at various times, into playing truant, committing acts of mindless vandalism, and indulging in petty bouts of small-scale shop lifting.  I am in no way proud of my twelve-month association with him.

Marsden’s principal appeal wasn’t his magnetic personality, his double-jointed thumbs, or his ability to belch, to order, phrases of increasing lexical complexity.  It was his step-brother’s compendious assortment of pornography that kept me in thrall to him.  Spencer Marsden was a good decade older than Gavin and me, and his library of grot ranged from the everyday mainstream material of the newsage’s top-shelf, to hours of videotape of eye-popping acts of sexual kink and vulgarity.  In his limited defence, Spencer Marsden didn’t appear to have amassed this impressive Aladdin’s Cave of filth for mere titillation: like Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis are reputed to have done with the Victorian porn they accumulated, Spencer kept his treasure-trove well catalogued, and padlocked in an impressive oak wardrobe in his bedroom.  To my callow sensibilities, Spencer’s connoisseurship lifted him high above the rank of a mere common-or-garden masturbator, but, unfortunately for him, Gavin and I were soon adept at picking the wardrobe lock, and we skipped school on many afternoons to pore over the collection while Gavin’s family were all at work and the house was empty.

This pornucopia of muck constituted the lion’s share of my adolescent sex education.  In today’s parlance, most of the content was pretty vanilla, but, every now again, Spencer’s library included something a little less middle-of-road.  Gavin and I whiled away hours fast-forwarding through miles of tape for fleshy tableaux to boggle at in amazed awe.  We squinted in disbelief at vaginas stretched to accommodate dildos the size of saxophones.  We gasped in horror at a woman fellating a donkey with a West Country accent.  We winced in revulsion at the squatting coprophiliacs performing with alacrity at the Glass-Topped Coffee Table Club.

I realise, looking back, that some of the X-rated imagery I witnessed left me with deep, irreparable scars, and, as a young adult, I fretted for years over the psychological damage watching Down on the Farm must have done me.  (I was granted some emotional solace years later by a random encounter with a friend of a friend at a party, who told me, “To be haunted by images of men violating chickens and woman being serviced by horses is a good thing.  The time to worry is when you find yourself thinking, Where can I get my hands on more of this stuff?”  God bless him, whoever he was: he restored to me tremendous peace of mind.)

But it would be impossible to fully exorcise the troubling memories of every fifth-generation grumble epic that flickered before our adolescent eyes in those afternoons in the front room of Gavin Marsden’s parents’ house with the curtains drawn.  My psyche will never be completely purged of some of the things I saw, but what all these startling masterpieces had in common – to my impressionable eyes, anyway – was that the women seemed to be the ones having all the fun.  That is not to say the men (when they appeared) didn’t appear to be enjoying themselves, but it was the women who always had the interesting toys; or had food mashed into their bodies; or had bendy things inserted into them; or had two or three (or more) men attending thoroughly and diligently to their every sensual need at once; or (and this is perhaps the most important and relevant observation about the whole, clandestine, year-long experience) who wore the sexy costumes.  The women seemed to be deriving all the pleasure, I deduced, whilst the men were doing all the hard work.  If ever I were to appear in a naughty movie, I decided, it would be in one of the women’s roles, and in one of those beautiful costumes of lace and silk and corsetry and garters.

Spencer Marden’s pornography collection probably did me deeper, more complex and more lasting damage than over-exposure to adult entertainment does most individuals.  Even now, when I watch porn as one of the worldly-wise, I don’t imagine myself doing things to the female performers.  Instead, I imagine myself as one of the female stars, having those things done to me.  Did my crossdressing blossom as a consequence of seeing the submissive, accelerated enjoyment of sex (with all the fabulously fussy outfits) the women appeared to be having in the movies in Spencer Marsden’s archive?  At that vulnerable age, how else was I supposed to connect the dots between the clothes and the women and the attention and the pleasure in those films?  Of course I wanted those ecstatic experiences or being worshipped and attended to for myself; of course I did.

Frame Treasure Chest
The Box of Delights – you never forget your first encounter with pornography

Case Study Three: J.’s White-Trouser Rejection

When I think of the sort of thirteen-year old I was – mawkish, awkward, pathologically unfashionable, no discernible taste in music, capped with a pudding-bowl haircut like a minor character in a Billy Bunter story – it doesn’t surprise me in the least that none of the girls at school fancied me, but that didn’t stop me wanting a girlfriend more than anything else in the world.

I had that uncanny capacity, too, of being able to oscillate wildly from pudgily overweight to very skinny, so that my blazer and school trousers either hung off me like bags, or barely met at the zip.  This capacity for rapid and dramatic weight loss and gain was, I suspect, a symptom of the bouts of depression I suffered during puberty.  I wasn’t able to diagnose myself at the time – nor to connect my mental state to the ebb and flow of my waistline – but I certainly spent a great deal of time as an adolescent crying, and, on those occasions when I did attempt to confide in my mother, complaining to her that I was ugly.

The thing I blamed for these periods of misery, of course, was my inability to get a girlfriend.  Unfortunately, being such a spaz (to use parlance popular at the time) meant that I didn’t handle rejection gracefully, or particularly philosophically.  Instead of taking a long, hard look at myself and attempting to replicate the things my contemporaries did who had more success with the ladies, I elected to play the averages game, reasoning that, if I threw myself at enough hapless females, one of them would eventually cave in and say yes.  Sadly, however, it didn’t work out that way, and, the more clumsy proposals I made, the more rejections I racked up.  Or, to put it another way: my conversion-rate of propositions to rebuffals remained constant at a perfect one-hundred percent.

On top of my increasing desperation, I realise with hindsight that I was granting the girls at my school more and more power over me.  In fact, I started to assume that their power over me had been earned for no other reason than that they were girls, and that it must be a marvellous thing to be female, because, that way, you had boys simply hurling themselves at you, and you could take your pick without any thought for the broken corpses of unrequited suitors littering your wake.  To my mind, you see, I wasn’t giving girls power over me: they had pre-eminence for no other reason than that they had nice hair, no hair on their legs, and could wear pleated skirts and shoes with buckles on them.

To make matters worse, my mother’s advice on the subject was always jaw-droppingly inadequate.  The most telling example of this happened while we were on holiday that summer on a campsite of static caravans near Scarborough.  Overall, I think I’d been enjoying the holiday up until the night I’m going to tell you about.  There was an amusement arcade on the campsite, and plenty of other things to keep me amused: trampolines, a pool, and it was possible to hire bicycles for the afternoon, and I idled away hours in my own company while my younger brother and my parents did whatever it was they did to pass the time back at the caravan.

The campsite had a clubhouse with two distinct areas.  In one room, there was bingo, stand-up comedy, a bar, and general adult entertainment; and, in the other, there was a disco for under-eighteens to keep them out of their parents’ hair for the evening.  Not being big drinkers, however, my mum and dad seemed quite happy to hang around the children’s disco with my brother and me, smiling benignly from their table as my brother drifted off with the new friends he’d made and I pleaded for a ten-pence piece to go and play another round of Space Invaders in the arcade next door.

Having put the best part of two pounds into the Space Invaders machine, I was sitting disconsolately with my parents when my mum leaned over to me so I could hear her over the sound of Agadoo.  She told me that a pretty, blonde-haired girl on the dancefloor had been staring at me.  This seemed unlikely – and I was right to be dubious – but I asked my mother how she knew anyway.  By way of explanation, she simply said that the girl had been hanging around by the edge of the dancefloor to get my attention, and that I should go and ask her to dance.

I wasn’t convinced.  Every instinct in my body (raw from the memory of the long list of rejections from the girls at school) screamed that my mother was wrong; that it was mere coincidence that the girl had been looking my way.  We were sitting quite near the door, and it was very possible that the girl had just been squinting through the flashing neon to see where her own mother and father were.  Deep down, I knew my mother was mistaken, and that to listen to her would only invite disappointment and humiliation, but, with the wretched credulity of perennially desperate, I stood up and made my way to the dancefloor, braced to ask the pretty blonde if she would stand facing me from two feet away, and watch while I gracelessly leaned from one foot to the other with my fists clenched and arms bent at the elbows like I might punch someone in the stomach, and while I wore a pained and embarrassed expression like someone ordered to fake enthusiasm with a gun held against their head (or ‘dance with me’, as I liked to call it at the time).

A period of about seven or eight minutes passed before the girl offered me a weak smile and walked away, but, as she hadn’t actually laughed at me or burst into tears, I considered my preliminary advances something of a success.  I couldn’t wait to go back to the caravan and wallow in my victory, and I was still so pleased with myself the following morning that, over breakfast, I allowed my parents to persuade me to undergo something of a makeover.  I needed to ditch the corduroy, they said, and get some jeans.  And not just jeans: white jeans, no less, with high-top trainers, and a tie-died tee-shirt to top off the ensemble.

So: they took me into Scarborough and kitted me out like a prize dickhead, and I was so stoked by the afterglow of the previous night’s conquest, that I allowed them to.  I was more than an innocent bystander: I was a willing accomplice to my own disgrace, and, as my dad had a shave and we got ready to retire to the clubhouse that evening, I even used my mother’s hand mirror while I applied a generous dollop of hair gel to my unfashionably utilitarian locks.  I like to think I still had possession of sufficient wherewithal not to wear a medallion with a silver-plated marijuana leaf on it, but I have the awful feeling that I pulled such an item of jewellery over my head nonetheless.

You can’t gild a turd.  It takes a certain je n’ais c’est quoi to pull off white jeans, high-top trainers and a tie-dyed tee-shirt, and I just didn’t have what it took.  No amount of hair gel could compensate for the self-conscious slope of my shoulders or my tarmac-gazing, pigeon-toed gait, and I went into the clubhouse that night like a lamb to the slaughter.

When I eventually found the pretty blonde-haired girl and tried to reacquaint her with who I was (“Hello.  I’m the inverse Cinderella!  We danced last night, when I looked more like a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ tribute act and less like a sex offender…”), she goggled at me in wide-eyed horror for a few seconds, and dashed over to a group of boys my age who were hanging around the Slush Puppy machine.  When she had reached the relative safety of her peers, I was acutely aware that the slow, dawning turning of their attention onto me meant that she was telling them that that nutter from last night was harassing her again, and that they must kill me if I made any further attempt to speak with her.

I watched with petrified ignominy as the group closed ranks around my blonde-haired princess.  I knew the game was up, and that my mortification was complete.  I had gone out and tried to dress myself like the boys I had seen who didn’t stutter like an imbecile when they tried to talk to girls, and those clothes had swallowed me whole.  I had drowned in them.  It was the defining statement, I think, of my relationship with male clothes, and I hated what I had done to myself by attempting to fit them.  Certainly, I was never able to go shopping for clothes after that with any sense of enthusiasm or joy, and I knew, as plainly as I knew that girls had the power to humiliate and hurt me, that I would never, never, listen to the advice of my mother and father again.

Case Study Four: Matty Dresses like a Girl for Hallowe’en

I cannot exaggerate how unexceptional I was at school.  When report-writing season came around, I suspect I was one of those students my teachers had to really think long and hard about before they could remember who I was.  I wasn’t popular; I didn’t excel in any particular subject; and I had no sporting ability whatsoever (and this is, cruelly, the aptitude that is prized above all others in schools – by children as well as their teachers).  I never won a competition; was never chosen to represent the school for anything; I was never invited to the front of the hall during assembly; I never had my work framed and displayed on the wall.  In fact, the most memorable thing about me was that I once wet myself when I’d been sent out of a maths lesson for talking and was too scared to go back inside to ask if I could go to the toilet.  When my classmates were allowed out at the end of class, they could see (and smell) that I was standing at the centre of a broad, pungent circle of urine.

Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame, though, and, when I was nine and in the third year, I had mine.  For reasons that escape me, every October my school thought it more appropriate to devote a day of effort and curriculum time to a Hallowe’en costume parade than to marking a more meaningful, less pagan, festival like Diwali or Yom Kippur.  (My school was in a district of Manchester that had quite a large population of Sikhs and Hindus.  Now I’m older and wiser, I often wonder those children felt knowing my school was more interested in witches, zombies and Dracula than it was in the Festival of Lights.)  The last two Hallowe’ens, I had shuffled around in the costume parade with heavy heart.  Some of the kids had parents who took the event very seriously, and they always had great costumes.  They were so good that them winning the parade was always a foregone conclusion, and there was almost no point anyone else making an effort.  (Mark Baxter, for example, usually came as a wizard, and the attention to detail on his costume was always breath-taking.  He had half-moon glasses and a little goatee beard, but the thing that impressed me most was that he had an old hard-back book under his arm that his step-dad had rebound in black paper and painted a pentangle on in Tipp-ex.  I couldn’t compete with that: my parents just didn’t have the imagination.)

It was the girl’s costumes that I envied most, though, and I always wished I had a princess’ gown or a Snow White dress that I could pull out of the wardrobe to fall back on at events such as this: something pretty that I could enjoy wearing without it bothering me that I had no chance of winning.  My fancy-dress options were always so pitifully thin that one year my mum told me to pull one of my arms out of my sleeve and hide it inside my shirt.  I was given a pair of her tights to wear on my head and a cardboard sign on a string to put round my neck with ‘One-armed Bandit’ written on it.  That was how bad things were for me.

This one year, however, I determined not to be miserable on Hallowe’en.  I told my parents I wanted to go the parade as the bearded lady, and my mum couldn’t root out a dress for me fast enough.  My father was a member of the church pantomime society (he usually played the villain because he was quite stocky and had quite a good singing voice), and he had a word with the woman who usually did the make-up and wigs for their performances, and I was booked for a beard fitting with her when my dad was next expected at rehearsals.  My mum lent me a pair of her sandals and a long, dark brown wig she had (and which matched her own actual hair so exactly that I still can’t fathom why she owned it).  The pièce de résistance of the outfit, though, was, without a doubt, the fulsome pair of rubber breasts my older brother had once returned with as a souvenir from a stag-do in Blackpool.

I’d never had any intention of wearing the false beard.  That had been a ruse to get my parents to agree to me wearing a dress for school (and quite a well-chosen one, if I may say so), and I threw it away in the park on my way to school.

When it came time to get ready for the costume parade, my transformation created quite a stir.  Peter Varnavas (who, as well as having a father who owned a fish and chip shop, was – by common consent – the hardest kid in school) was especially captivated by the false breasts.  If I’d worn a dress in public under any other circumstances, Peter Varnavas would undoubtedly have fed me my own teeth, so it was especially gratifying to have won his approval through the simple expedient of rubber tits.  And his reaction proved to be just the tip of the iceberg.  When I appeared in the assembly hall, a buzz went around the room that granted me a celebrity status that was both immediate and spectacular.  When I stood up to sashay up and down before the judges with my class, the crowd went wild, and I will never forget, over the clamour, making eye-contact with Peter Varnavas.  His eyes were wide; he was grinning from ear to ear, and he was cupping his hands in front of his own chest as if holding two imaginary galia melons.  Even through the din of three hundred hyperactive school children, I could hear him shouting, “Push ’em up!  Push ’em up!”

Peter Varnavas is dead now.  He had a boxing coach and was a junior champion, and he suffered a brain haemorrhage during a match when he was sixteen.  But on that afternoon in October when we were both nine, he gave me a gift as intangible as it is impossible to repay.  Along with the student body of my primary school, Peter Varnavas taught me that people pay attention to you if you look like a woman.  If you wear sandals and a nice dress, and if you have long hair and big boobs, people look at you; they cheer you and shout your name; they approve of you and make you exceptional.  If you look pretty, people like you.

Frame Gollywogs
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” – October 31st has been providing ideal cover for people whose clothing habits lean towards the unconventional for as long as anyone can remember

David Ebershoff’s novel, ‘The Danish Girl’ (2000), tells the story of the life (and marriage) of Lili Elbe – one of the first people ever to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  The passages in Ebershoff’s book detailing Elbe’s first experiences of crossdressing may be coy, but they communicate an undeniable sense of the sensual thrill experienced by Elbe (then called Einar Wegener) when he first posed in women’s clothes for his wife to paint.  Einar began to feel dizzy and warm”, Ebershoff writes when Elbe ascends the model’s podium.  “The yellow shoes looked too dainty to support him, but his feet felt natural arched up, as if he was stretching a long-unused muscle”, Ebershoff continues, before offering the following version of Einar’s emotions as he transforms into Lili:

“A strange feeling was filling Einar as he stood on the lacquer trunk, the sunlight moving across him, the scent of herring in the air.  The dress was loose everywhere except in the sleeves, and he felt warm and submerged, as if dipping into a summer sea.  …the silk was so fine and airy that it felt like a gauze – a balm-soaked gauze lying delicately on healing skin.  Even the embarrassment of standing before his wife began to no longer matter, for… Einar was beginning to enter a shadowy world of dreams where Anna’s dress could belong to anyone, even to him.”

If you overlook the saccharine prose of these passages, there is something in Ebershoff’s fictionalised version of Lili Elbe’s formative crossdressing experiences that every male-to-female transsexual can identify with: the desire to feel attractive and to believe that you look attractive, in the way that women do and women can.

Is this desire sexual in origin?  A more useful question is surely, Does it matter that this desire is sexual in origin?  I would argue that it doesn’t.  It is almost impossible to separate huge numbers of human actions from their sexual motivations, from the way we dress to the way we walk; from the way we interact with others to the language we use and the sort of music we like.  If so much of our behaviour and impulse is already psycho-sexual in nature, then why should it matter that some men want to look the way that millions of women do every day, and why they wish society would treat them accordingly?

The individuals whose stories are told in this article – that is, the autogynephiliacs whose souls are laid bare – have clear and comprehensible reasons for assuming that the power and pleasure they witnessed (and, in one case, experienced) originated from the femininity of the people who wielded and enjoyed it.  While the names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, they are all true stories.  Imagine for a moment, however, that they aren’t the encounters of four separate individuals, but the cumulative vicissitudes of the same person.  That would be intolerable, wouldn’t it?  The individual in question couldn’t be blamed for embracing their new identity rather than attempting to process in another way what happened to them, could they?  These incidents are so closely related to different ways in which boys and girls are treated as children and adolescents – and the role of clothing is so intricately woven through these narratives – that it seems only natural that the participant should seek solace in transition.

What impresses me most about these stories, however, is that they weren’t told to a therapist, or pulled from the mind like a thorn from a foot after hours of psychotherapy.  This self-awareness was achieved through introspection and the patient interrogation of people who care.  These people are far more precious than the professionals who charge by the minute for their willingness to listen.  Therapists are a poor replacement for good friends.