Desiring to Have My Desire Desired; Or, My Life Possessed by a Demon
The Nature of Autogynephilic Desire, Part 2
Content Warnings: discussion. albeit fairly abstract discussion, of my (and other people’s) sexual desires. Allusions to masturbation. Crude terms for the sexual act and various human body parts. A very lengthy footnote.
The content, note, not the entirety: for desire is hardly reducible to what can be analyzed in it. It is also a sheer fact, an urge, that is wordless and directional and inexplicable, a phenomenological given. I am trying, in this little trilogy of essays, to sketch what I think goes into my desires (for, in contradiction to what I just said1 a moment ago, desire not simply given: it is developed, nurtured, fanned, stoked. If desire burns, then like all fires it needs oxygen and fuel). But do not lose sight of the fact that the desire is prior and more basic to anything else that can be said about it. When I jack off, I routinely imagine having a pussy, and being fucked in it. This is a sheer, crude, repulsive desire, as repulsive as any man wanting to fuck something. But it is a counterfactual desire, a desire about a body I do not have.
But analysis has its uses as well as its limits, so I will continue. I speak here in the first person, of my desires; but what I have come to understand, as I have turned each corner and found others mirroring my own longings, that my desires, while hardly universal, are also hardly unique. I will say “I”, not we, since I don’t know that all autogynephiles feel this way; but if I didn’t suspect many others did, I would (probably) not publish this.
Alongside sheer want, alongside wanting to be wanted, alongside the belief (or at any rate the alief (see this essay for a definition of the term)) that no one could ever want one such as I, was a conviction that no one could want to be wanted by one such as I. Or, generally speaking, that women not only did not desire men, but that male desire as such hurt women.
To be clear, the conviction here is not simply that what men do about their desire hurts women. The alief is that its mere existence — or, I suppose, its becoming known (I don't think I ever imagined that merely having thoughts worked, through some magic?) by any means whatsoever, regardless of what that is.
Again, this is absurd, shown such by the continued existence of the human race: sex happens, and it is not all rape.2 It is absurd because women date, seek sex partners, express the desire to feel sexy, do things try specifically attract desire — the list goes on.
Yet, taking its utter absurdity as a given, there is a surprising amount to be said for it (which is to say: most absurd things have no evidence in their favor: this has some). Many men have thought (and some have expressed) that they would not mind being catcalled, being objectified, being treated as objects of lust.3 There have been plenty of women who have claimed that men would, in fact, dislike these things, particularly if they were accompanied by the sort of reversal in status and moral standards which would necessarily precede them. I believe they're probably right about most people (some any unusual set of desires/beliefs/preferences, some people will have them).
But the fact that there is some evidence nevertheless promotes the idea in my head. Every time I hear that porn hurts women (which, again, unlike most of these aliefs, I think may be true, although on balance I don't think so), I believe that what hurts is the fact of the desire, the looking with lust that I (and so many others) perform. For that matter, when women complain about all sorts of genuine, horrible evils —catcalling, harassment, lewd comments, and the like — in addition to the perfectly correct lesson that male behavior as a whole must change, and that women suffer disadvantage due to it — some part of me, not the rational part, not the part that draws solid moral lessons, but the part that wants and fears and hurts, draws from this the lesson that what hurts women isn't the calling, isn't the unwanted asking out — it's the desiring at all. As with everything else: I believe it's false, even absurd. But I alieve it at a very deep, irrational, powerful level.
So if I wanted someone to want me to want them — and this desire to have my desire welcomed, like my desire to be desired, was not an abstract or romantic longing, but a rough, sordid, sexual desire — I had to imagine a man wanting that. If I had only been gay, I thought quite often, it would have been simpler. I could have felt the same raw, foul lust that I felt for women towards men instead; and it would have been just fine. But, alas, I was not gay.4
And so this, too, took a preexisting autogynephilia and nourished it, made certain it persisted and grew. My desire was often subsumed, both in a desire to be desired (which was still primary) but also a concurrent and inextricable desire to have my own desire welcomed.
As a woman, of course, both of these would be possible.
Related to all this, and important in it, is a feeling that men’s sexual desire is demonic. It feels like being possessed, like an outside force that inhabits you and wills evil. Again, as with the idea that no woman wants to be desired, this an absurd and obviously false belief with a lot going for it. Obviously all the harms done by men in desire’s grip can be cited here. But there is also a surprisingly wide variety of testimony of other people citing this too. Of most interest to me are reports by trans people talking about having this experience start or stop when they began hormone therapy. There are numerous reports of trans men who are startled, once they start testosterone, of how rawly lustful it makes them. They often say that they feel like a teenage boy; what they don’t realize is that a lot of full-grown, far-from-teenage men feel like that all the time (and even more feel like that some of the time). That’s not what being a teenage boy feels like; it’s what being male feels like. Welcome to the team.
(I never am more convinced—again, a matter of alief, gut belief, not rational belief—of the manhood of trans men than when they talk about being consumed by lust in this way. And I am always suspicious of the masculinity of some trans men who seem so, well, nice. Men are possessed by a demon. If there isn’t that demon in them, are they really men?5 Sometimes I—and, anecdotally, other men—feel that the demon is, in fact, the vile and repulsive little worm attached to us. From the testimony of trans men who do feel possessed by the demon, I know that it is probably the liquid hormone and not any lump of despicable flesh. But when trans men do act too nice, too decent, too rational to seem like men, I can’t help but wonder (on the gut level that thinks things I don’t believe) if it is the lack of the demon between their legs.)
Even more interesting to me, since it relates to me personally, is the testimony of trans women who are freed from the demon by their transition.
I intend to go into detail about this in an upcoming essay, so I will restrict myself to one example here: Natalie Wynn, a youtuber whose channel, ContraPoints, is controversial in the trans community, but which I love (even when I disagree with some claim made on it). She did a video on autogynephilia which, despite rejecting the term of Blanchard’s which I am (perhaps foolishly) adopting, actually said a very large number of things that I agreed with, and a lot more that sounded right to me. Here’s what she said about her own sexual desire (around the 26:15 mark):
I don't think I realized the extent to which my own sexuality felt like a demonic possession or alien infection until I was free of it. Thank God.
She also makes the following chart of her own experience of male versus female sexualities:
A few things to say here.
First, I feel like these experiences fit well into the trans women become women framework. It’s not that trans women don’t have female desires (acknowledging that, yes, that characterization is at best ludicrously simplistic and at worst flat-out wrong), it’s that they come to have those desires due to the hormones in their system. Which… makes sense? We are biological creatures, creatures as much of hormones as of chromosomes (yes, the latter make the former, but that speaks to the former’s power). If there are differences between men and women, then making men’s bodies more female should slide them along that spectrum.
Second, these characterizations fit well with my own experiences (albeit not with my rational beliefs). Being aroused by visual cues—an often-cited aspect of male desire—simply seems an objectively worse way to be sexual than being aroused by interpersonal ones. “Daily, obligate coming” and being prone to paraphilias (say I who am defining myself here as paraphilic) seem clearly worse than the reverse. The evil part of the demonic claim is backed up by this.
And, of course, in her quote, she backs up the feeling: that male desires feels like being possessed by a demon, or an alien invasion. It is an unwanted, outside force become dominenet and inward.
Blanchard says that trans women transition to fulfill their desires. But I wonder if perhaps for some of them (some of us, I am almost tempted to say, although I have not and do not intend to transition) the motive is as much to be free of them as to fulfill them? GC feminists sometimes—unfairly, in my view—accuse trans women of just fulfilling a paraphilia. Perhaps they would feel better if they saw them as overcoming them, being exorcised from them.6
But I, in my sins, am a man. While I often long to be free of my desires, I also often long to have them welcomed (and, as discussed in a previous essay, to be the object of others’). SF writer Theodore Sturgeon once wrote that “an old shoe lover loves loving old shoes”; and there are times that I wouldn’t give up the demon for anything. It is too much a part of me, foul though it is.
One final consequence of all these linked aliefs must be mentioned. As the more-or-less inevitable result of them — particularly the belief that desire hurt women, that women did not want to be desired, certainly not by men — I developed a deep alief that men are naturally evil.
And yet again this is a false belief, an absurd belief, a belief that even I, a non-philosopher, would be competent to rip to shreds. Which is why I don't, in fact, believe it. But as with all the other deeply irrational, deeply held aliefs, I did really alieve it. Sometimes it merged with a (separate and at that time untreated) depression to convince me that I, particularly, was evil. But more often it was a broad-based misandry. I didn't think evil of any of my friends — or most specific people that I read about; it was a generalized and abstract alief only. But whenever I read about the evil men did, particularly when I read about evil that men did disproportionately — and how much there was! Most murders, most rapes, most wars, are all done by men. As with all the other obviously false beliefs, the alief, able to ignore contradictory evidence, counter-argument and even any need for consistency, found a great deal of evidence to latch on to. This, too, is a false belief with a surprising amount to be said for it.
And when I would identify men as such as evil, what I would think of was what was inside me: desire. Sexual desire. Lust. I could think about men and think that I understood every horrid deed they ever did (particularly those to women): the demon that I felt beat against my ribs from the inside every single day, usually every waking hour, was in them, and they had got careless and let it out.
When, during her pregnancy, my wife and I discovered our forthcoming child was male, I was seized by upset. I was contributing to evil. We were supporting the wrong team. A brief return to therapy was necessary to calm me down (by strengthening, in the terms I have put forth here, my beliefs against my alief). And, of course, as soon as he felt real to me — before he was born, but all the more the instant he was — any notion of evil vanished. I had always found my individual misandry suppressed by actual men I knew; this simply meant that there was a male I lived with, indeed, one whom I cherished above the entire rest of the world. No longer could I toy in the abstract with plans to castrate all men at age thirteen, for I would never allow anyone to hurt my son. (Even if, in some horrible, inconceivable circumstance, he in fact did do harm to anyone.)
It will not do to say that becoming a father to a son cured me of my misandry; but it came close. And what that left was an alief, not that all men are evil, but that many are, far, far more than is true women; and that I was among them. How could I not? I felt the demon inside me.
Like my shame over seeing pornography, my feeling of my own evil faded over the years, but never went entirely away. And my alief that no man could be truly desired, and that no man's desire could ever be truly welcomed, remained, raising wack-a-molishly with every attempt of mere reason to batter it down.
Why would I want to become a woman? Who would not want to be on the side of good? Even if they were more oppressed (which I saw, knew, and freely conceded) I would rather become not evil myself even at the price of suffering evil from others.
Besides: only that way would anyone, ever, look at me, and see me week-kneed with raw desire, and be not hurt, not disgusted, not amused, not scornful, but happy at their luck.
(Recurring) Notes on practical matters
This newsletter is a part of Confessions of an Autogynephile, an ongoing memoir in the form of a Stack of Sub essays (with occasional bonus politics thrown in, as there is this week), posting once a week, on Wednesdays. If you are interested in reading more, I would be very grateful for comments, responses, and subscriptions. I would be equally or more grateful if you would share it—publicly, on social media, or with friends—since, at the moment, I am known to no-one, having been just (re)born as poor Yorick: so there is no one to promote this newsletter to. (For what I rather hope are obvious reasons, I will not send a link out to my friends and family!) So please: like, subscribe, comment, share.
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I’d quote Whitman here about how I am large and contain multitudes, hoary chestnut though it is, but in this case I think the point is that we are large and contain multitudes.
Although growing up in a household with books by Andrea Dworkin — whose writings are subtler than this, yes, but which have been misread as this, and recall I was only a high-school kid, so it is no wonder that I fell into the available misreadings — did not do much to reassure me on this point. Some people have offered this as critiques of feminism, but I do not, at all: those books were not really written for me; they did good, I think, for those to whom they were addressed (and even if not, any harm I took from them was incidental and accidental). About the overall positive impact of feminism, even just restricting our consideration to the radical feminism of a Dworkin, I do not think any doubt can be rationally entertained: it has simply been too clear a positive. But that does not mean that it did not have, along the way, some bad effects, and while no one should hold it responsible for them, I do not want them to be denied in order to prevent that misallocated responsibility, either. The allied armies killed innocent civilians too.
One further example of this. My mother, a feminist as I have said, was once on a panel with two other women; one of them was Catharine MacKinnon. (I do not recall the third one.) The topic was the Baby M case, a famous incident in 1988 where a surrogate mother was hired by a couple, and then changed her mind and wanted to keep the baby; she sued for custody, and lost. I went up to MacKinnon afterwards and talked about her position. At one point, I recall, I pointed out that men could simply be castrated at puberty after depositing sperm in a sperm bank — this to eliminate some issue with men's control over women. This was, of course, a rather appalling thing to say, and she—possibly wondering (reasonably albeit inaccurately) how my mother had raised a budding Men's Right Activist —quite scornfully replied, "No one is suggesting that." My prompt reply: "I am!" Although I doubt she believed it, I was, in fact, sincere, not in a 'really wanting it to happen' sense but in a 'there's no reason not to consider it on the merits" sense. The point is that this is what an impressionable young boy, an avid reader reading without much guidance, wisdom or context, and conclude from some feminist texts. Again: to weigh this as a point against feminism (or as a failure of my mother) would be is absurd. But is it too hard to believe that overwhelmingly good movements can, inadvertently, create some negative effects?
Some trans women have expressed this, too, a point that gender critical feminists take fierce exception to. I think (as is my usual, wishy-washy way) that both sides have a point. I think that the GC side does not adequately imagine what it feels like not to be wanted, to think oneself inherently undesirable, to the point where even such violating and crude attention is (to some degree) welcomed. (For that matter, some cis women—a tiny minority, sure, and not one that excuses such behavior in any way, so don’t get any ideas, fellow men—have said they don’t mind.) On the other hand, in their longing for certain experiences of womanhood, some trans women can be insensitive to women’s experiences they don’t have (c.f. Caitlin Jenner saying that the hardest thing about being a woman is deciding what to wear. Well, maybe for you!) It comes down to: it is a reasonable thing to want (or, more frequently, to feel ambivalent rather than fully negative about); it is important to see and express the limitations of one’s own experiences here.*
* Why, Yorick, you would have everyone be as wordy and full of exceptions as you? Well, my imagined interlocutor, what can I say but Eh… yes and no, sort of it, it depends?
As I have mentioned in passing before, I did have a brief period of thinking I was. I wonder how much of what I thought was attraction then was, in fact, my excitement at the picture of myself as desirable (to the only type of creature I really alieved as being capable of this sort of pure, foul desire), and the picture of my returning that desire and having it not only do no harm, but be fully welcomed. Not all, certainly. But also, certainly, not none.
This is not an actual suggestion for how to treat people, socially or legally. Remember, I am reporting a false belief I can’t rid myself of, like the person who won’t eat from a brand-new bedpan, despite knowing that it is brand-new.
As is perhaps predictable, I think everything is true of some people. I think for some trans women it really has nothing to do with sexual desire at all. I think for others it is slightly related to a kink, but primarily about other things. This goes all the way up the spectrum to those for whom the sexual feelings are paramount—and there split into the cases of trans women who transition to fulfill their desires and those who do so to be free of them. (Some may start in the former group and find themselves in the liberated latter.) Often in this debate, people’s claims which seemingly contradict are in fact true of different sets of people (and to different degrees.)