The Gender Critical community seems convinced that transgender people, especially transgender women, that being transgender is merely a sexual fantasy or fetish.
First, let me say that the purpose of this article is not meant to kink shame anyone. Personally, if your kink or fetish doesn’t harm another living being (human or animal), then I won’t judge. I have my own kinks, so no need for me to be hypocritical. In the current parlance, you do you.
What is a Fetish?
Let me clarify what is meant by a fetish. Medically, a fetish is a sexual fixation on an object or nongenital body part, such as shoe or foot fetishes. Fetishes are classified as paraphilic tendencies. However, colloquially, fetishes can also refer to sexual kinks or specific sexual activities.
“Autogynephilia” (/ˌɔːtoʊˌɡaɪnəˈfɪliə/; from Greek αὐτό- (“self”), γυνή (“woman”) and φιλία (“love”) — “love of oneself as a woman”) is a term coined in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, to refer to “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.”–Wikipedia
An alternate of autogynephilia would be autoandrophilia, the paraphilic tendency of a biological female to be sexually aroused by the thought of becoming male. However, Blanchard himself doesn’t believe that autoandrophilia exists, and has instead proposed the concept of autohomoeroticsm for transgender men. His argument is that while autogynephiliac transsexuals appear to be sexually aroused by the idea of becoming women, autohomoerotic transsexuals are sexually aroused by the idea of having sex with gay men.
I will not claim to be an expert, but I know for a fact that the idea of transitioning to become male or the idea of being able to engage sexually with gay men, is not why I am transitioning. I personally doubt this is the case for most transgender people. Why would anyone go through the lengths of hormone replacement therapy and surgery in order to fulfill a sexual fantasy?
Julia Serano, of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley wrote a paper, The Case Against Autogynephilia. She argues that not only does Blanchard’s research not show causation, merely correlation, that this classification needlessly sexualizes transgender people.
This is an argument I’ve personally made many times myself. The public at large seems to assume that everything about LGBTQ+ people has to do with sex. In fact, they seem obsessed with our sex lives. I’ve often seen questions asking how transgender people have sex and wanting explicit details. It’s almost as if they are the ones fetishizing transgender people.
Gender Expression vs. Gender Identity
This brings me back to a topic I’ve touched on before; the difference between gender expression and gender identity.
A person can be born with one biological sex — male, female, or intersex — and identify with that sex, while outwardly expressing themselves in a way that society views as stereotypically different from that sex. For example, take a person who is born biologically female, identifies as female, but dresses in a suit and tie. Her gender expression falls into what currently we view as masculine or male in our society.
There certainly is overlap between gender expression and gender identity, but there are plenty of people who are considered cisgender — people whose gender identity matches their biological sex — who still express themselves in how they dress, cut their hair, whether they wear makeup or any of a number of other nuances that could be seen as either masculine or feminine in their expression.
The reason I’m bringing up gender expression is because there is an acknowledged fetish related to cross-dressing. This is known as transvestic fetishism, and has been equated by some with autogynephilia. However, I would like to argue that the tendency by some men to be sexually aroused by dressing like a woman, does not equate to them being transgender.
Both straight and gay people engage in various forms of cross-sexual role-play, including but not limited to drag queens, male rock musicians who grow long hair and wear nail polish, or female rockers who cut their hair and dress in suits and ties. That doesn’t make them transgender, nor does that necessarily mean they have any sort of sexual fetish for expressing themselves that way.
To be transgender, there is complete incongruence between a person’s view of their own gender, and their biological sex. It comes with a deeply rooted desire to be viewed as the gender they identify with. Due to that desire, transgender people often begin their transition journey through cross-dressing, in order to begin looking more like the gender they view themselves as. Hormones and surgery come much later, if at all, because it’s not always easy to access those options.
In the end, it isn’t always about taking hormones or having surgery. Oftentimes it’s far more about having our gender identity acknowledged, instead of our biological sex. This is why pronouns matter so much to those of us who are transgender.
Bottom line, while there is undeniably a fetish some people have — mostly men — to express themselves as another gender, this in no way makes them transgender. Transgender people aren’t transitioning in order to fulfill a sexual fantasy or fetish. We transition to feel more comfortable in our own skin and to hopefully get the world to view us as the gender we view ourselves.