What is “autogynephilia” and why is there a snarky Internet web page with Jamie Faye Fenton’s name on it?

If you do a Google search of my name, a web page about autogynephilia comes up.  It claims to represent my views. I don’t agree. The reason that page exists is an interesting story.

Autogynephilia is a word coined by Ray Blanchard, a professor of psychiatry in Toronto. The word unpacks to mean “auto” (with one’s self) “gyne”  (woman) and “philia” (attracted to). An autogynephile is thus someone whose sexual orientation is being attracted to (the image of) themselves as a woman. In Blanchard’s world, there are also androphiles (who are attracted to men). Heterosexual men become autogynephilic women, Gay men become androphillic women.

Blanchard claims that autogynephilia is the prime motivation for gender transition for heterosexual men. This is the controversial part. Most male to female trans people think there is more than just that going on. I am one of those. Autogynephilia is also considered a type of paraphilia, which places it within the purview of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

When these ideas were first introduced back in the 1980s, they were liberating. Before then, admitting to any erotic aspect of your transgender journey disqualified you from getting hormones and surgery. Trans people learned to lie about that. With Blanchard’s theory we could acknowledge our sexuality at long last.

This changed as the transgender rights movement advanced. Our mention in the DSM was being used by our opponents to label us as sex perverts. A movement to remove transgender expression from the DSM arose and it progressed. Part of our strategy involved de-emphasizing the erotic in favor of a narrative evoking innate gender identity.

In 2003, things were coming together, then hell broke loose. A Northwestern University psychology professor named J. Michael Bailey wrote a book called The Man Who Would Be Queen” which presented Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory as scientific fact. It didn’t help that he chose an offensive cover image and made “tone dumb” politically incorrect statements about transgender people. This pissed a lot of people off.

The angry included Lynn Conway, a celebrated computer engineer, economist Deirdre McCloskey, and ecologist Joan Roughgarden. There was also Andrea James. I knew the first three and have tremendous respect for their scientific acumen. I was also becoming dismayed as I saw them attacking the author’s scientific claims in non-scientific ways that became more bizarre every day. It went from insults to attacks on Bailey’s colleagues and family to filing multiple bogus claims of misconduct with the University and State.

Against my better judgement, I entered the fray. I thought the best way to defeat a scientific theory would be to develop a better one. I also believe in engaging with everyone involved to find strengths and weaknesses. This lead me to a Yahoo Group called “Autogynephilia Support” which, despite its name, was a discussion venue that encouraged vigorous debate.  I had useful conversations with Bailey, Anne Lawrence, Madeline Wyndzen, and others.

One member of the group, hiding behind an assumed name, was Andrea James. She did everything in her power to shut it down, and eventually succeeded. Andrea also created “denunciation pages” about each of the active group members, including me. Andrea was also corresponding with me directly and I responded. My goal with her was to open her mind, which turned out to be a fools errand. Curiosity was answered with insult and I eventually gave up.

Her version of the interaction lives on at her web site. (My actual positions differ). It comes up near the top when you Google my name. I have asked her to put it behind a robots.txt file (which directs Google to only index the file internally). She agreed to, but never actually did. Its not as bad as Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem”, but I am sure she intends the same effect.

Andrea James and her cohorts met their match in Alice Dreger, an academic historian of science. Dreger wrote an extensive article about the Bailey Affair which was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. They went after her too. A year ago Dreger published “Galileo’s Middle Finger”, which describes what happened to Bailey & her, as well as what happened to other scientists who offended political sensibilities. GMF casts Andrea James and Lynn Conway in a poor light, who are now campaigning to brand the book and author as transphobic. (It isn’t).

I have resisted writing about all this for many years. Andrea James is a troll – someone who causes trouble to draw attention to themselves. Even negative attention will do. She has been doing this for years and has made a host of enemies.

Usually it is best to ignore trolls. I encourage you to do so.

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