Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 4 : Trauma


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4. Trauma

What causes AGP? Blanchard does not address this question. But, the question of how paraphilias in general might develop was addressed by Stoller — who again relies on a psychoanalytic framework, heavily influenced by Freud. 

It’s important to note that Stoller’s views on transexualism are no longer taken seriously by most researchers in this field. Freudian ideas have fallen out of favour, and are considered by many to be pseudoscientific bullshit. Nevertheless, I find them interesting.

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Stoller wrote about something called ‘perversions’. By this, he meant (roughly) those unusual sexual behaviours that are motivated by hostility. He theorised that these ‘perversions’ (in which he included transsexualism) are defensive psychological reactions to childhood trauma; a way of resolving internal conflicts. They typically involve some form of risk-taking, as well as self-punishment derived from guilt. As the underlying conflict can never be fully resolved, the behaviour is repeated. 

Here is an edited extract from this essay, which is well-worth reading in full:

It’s not a comfortable read.

[Stoller] views perversion as a masturbatory fantasy – a defensive structure raised to preserve erotic pleasure. The perverse act, and accompanying fantasy, is motivated by extreme pleasure which, by its very nature, demands repetition. The perversion is also motivated by a need to maintain gender identity. For Stoller, perversion is the result of family dynamics that, by inducing fear, have forced the child to avoid full immersion in the oedipal situation.

Stoller argues that the core of the perverse act is a desire to harm others; that perversion is an erotic form of hatred – a fantasy that is acted out. Moreover, Stoller suggests that perversion is a habitual, preferred aberration necessary for the person’s full erotic satisfaction and that it is primarily motivated by hostility. Hostility in perversion takes form in a fantasy of revenge. The hostility is often hidden in the actions that make up the perversion, with the perversion itself serving to convert childhood trauma into adult triumph. In order to create the greatest excitement, the perversion must also portray itself as an act of risk-taking. 

Stoller, then, postulates that […] the perverse act is the reliving of historical trauma that was aimed at the person’s sex or gender identity, and that it has the effect of transforming trauma into pleasure, orgasm and victory. The need to carry out the perverse act again and again, unendingly in the same manner, derives from the person’s inability to rid him or herself completely of the danger or to resolve the trauma.[…]

Stoller emphasises that the details of a particular perversion are to be found in the fantasy, for therein is embedded the remnants of the individual’s experiences with other people who, in the real world during childhood, provoked the reaction called perversion.[…] 

The essential purpose of such acts is for the perpetrator to be superior to, harmful to and triumphant over another person. […]

[The] source of the anger that is hidden in the perverse act lies in the subject’s victimization in childhood, usually by parents or their surrogates. Through means of the perversion, the subject transforms anger and helplessness into victory over those who made him or her feel wretched, for in perversion trauma becomes triumph. […]

[With] regard to men, Stoller argues that the failure to achieve a masculine identity is the greatest promoter of perversion – that perversion may be a gender disorder constructed out of a triad of hostility. This hostility takes the form of rage at having to give up one’s earliest bliss and identification with the mother; fear arising out of unsuccessful attempts to escape from the mother’s orbit; and a need for revenge on the mother for having been placed in such a predicament. 

To reiterate: these days, Stoller’s approach is widely regarded as nonsense, at least as far as transsexualism is concerned.

Personally, I’m uneasy with the idea that transsexualism necessarily entails ‘perversion’ — as Stoller put it, an “erotic form of hatred”. Perhaps it’s true in some cases. But all? I find that hard to believe.

Sexual Imprinting

In any case, if paraphilias develop as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma, why are there so many of them? According to Stoller, the details of the associated erotic fantasy include remnants of the traumatic experience that provoked it. 

This suggests that something like ‘sexual imprinting’ may be taking place. This is the process by which the young males learn from their mother the characteristics of a desirable mate. It occurs in many animal species, and may play an important role in evolution.

Sexual imprinting, learning and speciation

The coevolution of sexual imprinting by males and females

Perhaps something like this also occurs in humans, and paraphilia result when a child ‘imprints’ on an unusual stimulus?

On Sexual Imprinting in Humans

Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis

Something that looks like sexual fetishism has been observed in other animals, most significantly in chimpanzees — so perhaps this idea has some merit.

Emasculation Trauma

The following analysis of transsexualism, written by an anonymous person, doesn’t mention Stoller’s work, but appears to echo some of his ideas:

Here’s a pdf version:

The basic idea put forward is that boys are often severely punished for exhibiting ‘feminine’ behaviour in childhood; they may be humiliated, labelled ‘sissies’ etc. This usually causes the offending behaviour to be suppressed. In some cases this ritual humiliation can lead to ‘emasculation trauma’ — this is more likely, and more severe, in cases where the boy is otherwise fairly ‘masculine’ and / or where conformance to impossible standards of ‘masculinity’ is demanded, either by parents, peers, or wider society. 

Boys who are more physically ‘feminine’, may find their ‘feminine’ behaviours are more socially acceptable, especially as they enter adulthood. They may feel more able to express this side of themselves openly — particularly if they are homosexual. Some of these boys will grow up to be feminine gay men; a few become what Blanchard termed ‘homosexual transsexuals’.

More physically ‘masculine’ boys will find no such outlet, and may feel greatly ashamed of their ‘feminine’ tendencies, particularly if they are heterosexual. Modern society is less accepting of ‘feminine’ traits in straight rather than gay men. If heterosexual men appear feminine, people may think they are gay. Most heterosexual men don’t want to be thought of as gay, for all sorts of reasons; these men are no different. So, in public, they will likely suppress this side of themselves completely; some may even adopt a hypermasculine public persona, the better to ‘prove’ their manhood — to themselves as well as others. 

At the same time, they may develop a feminine (or hyperfeminine) persona, or pseudopersonality, which allows them to express their ‘femininity’ in private. This may involve cross-sex fantasy, cross-dressing and indulging in other ‘feminine’ activities,  which serve as a coping mechanism for their underlying ’emasculation trauma’. The individual may feel a great deal of shame and self-disgust about this private ‘feminine’ behaviour, particularly if and when it becomes sexualised — in much the way Stoller described. The anonymous author of this theory suggests this may be the root cause of autogynephilia.

Note that according to this theory it’s not the ‘feminine’ behaviour that causes problems for the individual, but the suppression of it by means of shame and humiliation. The problems are caused by enforcement of ‘masculinity’, particularly in heterosexual men. (This resonates with the radical feminist view of ‘gender’ as an oppressive system of sex-based stereotypes that harms both women and men.)

This theory links both Blanchard’s ’types’ of MtF transsexual, through the concept of ‘emasculation trauma’ — caused, essentially, by childhood humiliation for the ‘crime’ of displaying feminine behaviour. It also explains why the distinction between the types is not clear-cut. Some homosexual transsexuals may show autogynephilic tendencies, and some non-homosexual transsexuals may appear quite ‘feminine’. It is a matter of degree.

Of course, boys are routinely humiliated for many reasons other than displaying femininity — this is typical of male socialisation. Only in some cases does this cause ‘emasculation trauma’. Of those who are traumatised, many do not grow up to be transsexuals at all; instead they find other ways of coping — sometimes, this includes the development of unrelated paraphilias.

As far as I know, there is no experimental evidence to support this theory — but anecdotally, it fits well with the personal narratives of many MtF transsexuals, including some who regard Blanchard’s theories as utter nonsense.

Notably missing from this theory is Stoller’s idea that ’there is always a victim, no matter how disguised’. The idea of the ‘victim’ is not mentioned at all; and in this account it’s not obvious who — or what — that might be. Presumably, it would be the person or persons responsible for the childhood humiliation. In some cases, this could be a parent, or sibling; in others, it could be childhood peers. 


But who or what is really responsible for the childhood humiliation that leads to ‘emasculation trauma’? The individuals vary, but from a radical feminist perspective, the true culprit is patriarchy, which uses gender as a tool of oppression. But what constitutes this patriarchy? Men, of course; but it’s not just them, it’s everyone. The whole of society grooms the individual to think, act, and even feel whatever is deemed appropriate for those of their sex. The details vary among cultures, but the fundamental structure is all but universal  — the devaluation of the ’feminine’, which is imposed on women, and the elevation of ‘masculinity’, which is imposed on men.

If patriarchy is responsible for the humiliation, could the ‘hidden victim’ sometimes be patriarchy itself? Or could it be gender? Is the heterosexual transsexual carrying out an erotic act of hatred against the system that made him what he is? (Subconsciously, of course…)

But if society is being punished, why does it seem that punishment is more often directed at women than men? Because these men have internalised the values of patriarchy. Under patriarchy, it is primarily women who are expected to be kind and gentle and nurturing. When women say no to men, it is humiliating; it is a threat to their masculinity. This is true of most men, feminine or otherwise. When women say no, they are punished. 

Women may not be the intended ‘victim’, but they’re getting in the way. They must be trodden underfoot like ants. The true goal is to triumph over ‘gender’ — to destroy the system and then build a better one, run by different men. This would be an erotic act of hatred against other men; perhaps the ultimate form of masculinity. 

But this is crazy. Surely the intended victim can’t be something abstract like gender, or society! It’s much more likely to be whoever the individual believes is to blame for their troubles — right or wrong. 

Or perhaps sometimes there is no victim, and Stoller was mistaken — either completely, or on this point alone.

Masochistic Emasculation Fetish (MEF)

I found the writings of that anonymous person thanks to a Twitter user known as ‘wxhluyp1’, who has drawn from it, and come up with the idea of a ‘Masochistic Emasculation Fetish’ (MEF). This person appears to be the sole proponent of this concept — nevertheless, I find it intriguing.

Wxhluyp1 is convinced that AGP as such does not exist, and that the idea of the ETLE is nonsense. According to wxhluyp1, there are only two types of MtF transsexuals — the homosexual transsexual as described by Blanchard, and the MEF fetishist. Wxhluyp1 claims to be an MEF fetishist himself, and a connoisseur of sissy porn.

His idea is that what Blanchard called AGP is really a form of self-humiliation, or masochism. The AGP individual takes control of his underlying emasculation trauma by fetishising it, and continually re-experiencing the trauma in a controlled way — again, this is in line with Stoller’s views on ‘perversions’. 

The reason, supposedly, for AGP arousal to cross-dressing (or to the idea of being a woman) is not due to a fetishisation of womanhood as such, nor the trappings of womanhood. Instead, it is a fetishisation of the distress associated with emasculation; ie. of not being a man. 

But perhaps this is a false distinction. For many men, womanhood is the ultimate form of emasculation. They see women as not only different, but inferior — as incomplete human beings. Womanhood is nothing more for them than the negation of masculinity, of everything it means to be a man. To be emasculated is therefore to become a woman. To be a woman is to be less than human; it is indecent. To choose this willingly is to debase oneself; in their imagination, a woman is the most worthless, disgusting thing a man could ever want to be. 

To be seen a woman, or to be associated with the trappings of womanhood, is extremely distressing. Through masochism, the distress is transformed into sexual arousal, which alleviates the childhood trauma of emasculation.

(For these men, the thing furthest from a man is a woman. For some others, that might be an animal, or a baby — so furries, otherkin, sexual ageplay, sexual petplay, and AB/DL fetishism could perhaps be explained by this same framework.)

In wxhluyp1’s own words:

To generalize, the are only two kinds of crossdressers, being hyperfeminine gay drag queen types and masochistic emasculation fetishists (“AGP”)

[AGP] is sexual arousal by the masochistic anxiety of oneself being associated to symbols of emasculation, to which the symbolic antithesis of masculinity is always what is most powerful = symbolism of female embodiment & sex with men[.]

It is self evident how widespread masochism is throughout the fetish, yet it has never been articulated. At most, mentioned in passing reference, masochism being supposedly a commonly associated phenomenon,  inconsistent in it’s presence, with some enjoying it more than others[.]

The problem being that those in the AGP discourse do not understand masochism. In particular, that in masochistic fetishism, sexual arousal has replaced the sensation of anxiety in a situation of anxiety[.]

It ultimately isn’t really about females, as feminists want it to be. Rather it is about *this is what a male [is] supposed to be, therefore it is distressing to imagine myself being associated with that which couldn’t be farther from it*. This is how you predict the most common themes[.]

What ‘themes’ does wxhluyp1 mean? He means the details of the sexual fantasies associated with MEF — which, according to him, are explored in sissy porn.

If you were familiar with common tropes of the fiction within this fetish, you would know that they most commonly follow a narrative of resistance, only to dramatically and devastatingly succumb to and embrace effeminacy.


Here’s a longer post from wxhluyp1, which explains his MEF theory in more detail:

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