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Autogynephilia is the "mental illness" described by the theory that male-to-female transsexuals who aren't exclusively attracted to men actually have a sexual fetish for viewing themselves as females. This covers lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual transsexuals. The term translates from Greek to something like "self-woman-love," with the intended meaning "love of oneself as a woman." The theory was originated by Ray Blanchard and Kurt Freund in the 1980s, and endorsed by onetime celebrity psychologist J. Michael Bailey (who was later forced to resign as psychology chair at Northwestern University).
The theory is often accompanied by the notion that transsexuals attracted exclusively to men take an identical developmental route as homosexuals, but are so overtly effeminate that they find it difficult to operate in life as even a homosexual man. And since these transsexuals are developmentally identical to homosexual men, they are labeled "homosexual transsexuals." (Never mind that transsexual people describe their sexual orientation in terms of their preferred sex, meaning that trans women attracted to men consider themselves heterosexual.)
If you noticed something odd in the previous paragraphs, in that nothing in it can be meaningfully applied to female-to-male transsexuals, then you're absolutely right. That is because this theory doesn't deal with their existence (which would have to be covered under a separate theory such as "true" gender dysphoria). Every time you read "transsexual" below, just remember: "This theory completely ignores the existence of FTM transsexuals."
The theory lays out two groups, and only two groups, of transsexuals:
- Excessively effeminate, and exclusively attracted to men, called "Homosexual Transsexuals"
- Everyone else, who thus automatically have erotic fantasies about being a woman, and are called "Autogynephiles"
The central core of the theory holds that one small subset of transsexuals are genuinely programmed to be like women, and thus are of course, automatically and exclusively attracted only to men... just like cis women are only ever attracted to men. Meanwhile, all the others are just dirty perverts. And because no one wants to acknowledge being a dirty pervert, there is a strong compulsion to lie about that perversion.
This leads to the biggest criticism from a scientific standpoint, in that the theory is speciously unfalsifiable. While at first, it seems like it would be possible to find a transsexual who is attracted to women, but does not erotically fantasize about having Lady Parts, the theory invites one to beg the question, and take it as fact that one is simply lying about not having such fetishes, because being attracted to women would mean you have autogynephilia, and thus be a pervert.
Entirely apart from being unfalsifiable, the "autogynephilia" label is used derogatorily to separate the "genuine" from the "fake" transsexuals, a practice that has been around pretty much as long as transsexuals. This works within the theory, because the autogynephile group is based on exclusionary criteria, so nearly anything can be used against a transsexual in order to rhetorically move them from the category of "genuine" transsexuals into that of "autogynephile" "fakes". While it is obvious within the theory that even a single passing interest in a woman would "disqualify" one as "genuine", it is less apparent — because it's implicit in the categorization process — that even simply not looking feminine enough can be used to cast doubt upon the transsexual's actual motivations for transitioning.
Worse so, when any transsexual denies having any erotic fetishes about themselves, then this is used as conclusive evidence to show that they indeed actually are autogynephilic, because only an autogynephilic would lie about this. A wonderful catch 22 for anyone suspected of autogynephilia... which of course, could be any transsexual.
And finally at the tail end of all of this criticism, is that even the "genuine transsexuals", are labelled by the theory as if they were men. This allows proponents for the theory that are against homosexuals to dismiss all transsexuals en bloc as either perverts or homos. No transsexual is thus allowed to be considered genuinely female, despite neurobiological indications to the contrary.
Autogynephilia, while being entirely unscientific as a theory, still has a use in describing a limited subset of transsexuals. There most definitely are people for whom autogynephilic is reasonably descriptive. But attempting, as this theory posits, to apply this as a catch all concept to transsexuals failing to match your expectations of what a genuinely transsexual person would be, is a most inappropriate application of reason.
 See Also
- Gynephilia, an actual scientific term for someone attracted to women, regardless of that person's sex or gender.