Identity, Privacy, Perversion, and Public Speech

or, On Speaking of What We Usually Hide

Having just published last week my first entry which discusses, however abstractly, a bona fide sexual fantasy (being a Playboy playmate), the question now demands to be asked:

Why say all this out loud?

Are not these things private?  You're not talking about being a woman, in public, but about fantasies and dreams, particularly sexual ones.  If you think them, very well, but why speak about them?  Why move beyond one to two, and put thoughts into words, words onto paper, paper into print?

To be specific: the question here is for those of us who are autogynephiles, but not trans.1 If you are trans, well, then you are moved to be in public whom you feel to be inside: that is what it means to be trans, and, by definition, it has to be public.  Now some trans women may be moved in their transition by autogynephilia in part (certainly some are not), or perhaps none are—this is a complex issue we shall return to.  But either way, once they have transitioned the matter is moot.  They are living as (naming themselves, dressing, presenting, choosing spaces;—being) women.

The first answer, one that I wish to dispense with (but that I will, after some antithesis/synthesis action,2 return to) is the argument made, in an earlier generation, for gay rights.  One response to claims of equal rights (which often conceived itself as sympathetic to the claims) to that was to ask why it needed to be publicI don't care what people do behind closed doors (it was often said), but do they need to talk about it?  Why march in the streets and proclaim pride?

The answer to that, of course, was that these things were not just about sex; and were public for everyone else.  The introducing of someone as a boyfriend or girlfriend; the wedding announcement; the photo on the desk — in a million ways relationships were public things, achieving their identity through others' recognition of them.3  Even to the degree that it was just about sex, the necessity for it to be public was there: so as to be able to say in reply to someone trying to set you up, "sorry, I don't date women, I date men"; or to be able to ask someone in whom one has a frank interest, "are you straight or gay?": the unspokenness of the assumption to the contrary was an imposition, the articulation a matter of necessity.  The closet, as Paul Monette said, is no fit place for a human being.

This answer I can dispense with.  It can rightly be given by gays and lesbians, by transgender people, even by crossdressers: but not by non-trans autogynephiles, surely?  I just defined them (us) as people who had a specifically sexual vision of themselves as women (despite being men).  Surely that can be private?  Why speak aloud your fantasies?  Who wants to read about your porn habits?  What you think about as you masturbate? Eww!!

Before saying why this is false, I should say, first, that it is true.  There are many people who do not want to read about this! And while not all the posts on this substack will be about these things, some will. Never fear: I will post content warnings atop every page that might offend. If you, Delicate Reader, do not wish to hear of my sexual thoughts and fantasies, pay attention to those content warnings, and read only the ones on politics, or culture, or bits of memoir that involve non-sexual things. There will be plenty of things for you to read that are not about sex; and, of course, there is the vast universe of other texts. Go explore.4

But.  On the other hand.

Well, first, a lot of people are interested in sex.  The bizarre shapes of the human spirit are never more varied or bizarre than in speaking of human sexuality.  And a great many people just find sex intriguing, in ways that have nothing to do with seeking their own arousal; it's a fascinating topic, an enticing one, even (dare I say) a sexy one.  It will likely have interest to some people for reasons of professional interest (academic sexologists and pornographers come to mind), and to others for reason of salacious, or simply casual, curiosity.  So I write for those who might wish to read.  That's one answer.

But not the only one.  I have already touched several times on the relation between articulation and understanding, between vocabulary and ontology, between mirroring and identity, between other and self.  In writing this, I seek to understand myself (even as, in writing this, I to some extent bring it about).  "Know thyself” applies to the sexual self, too.

Then there is the part that is an attempt to overcome self-shame.  Shame is deeply tied with sexuality, at least in our culture and in many others.  The nature of the shame I feel is not, I think, what you will suspect having read so far—I am not ashamed of my desires as such—but I do feel real and intense shame, and it cannot be spoken (and therefore cannot be overcome) without speaking clearly and directly of these matters.

So there is interest out there in reading it; and I have an interest in writing it.  But yet there is more to it.

The philosopher Tamar Szabó Gendler (presently a dean at Yale) wrote:

There’s an ancient Jewish teaching that says that every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “For my sake was the world created” On the other you should write: “I am but dust and ashes.” The teaching continues telling you to reach for each these papers at the moment that you are feeling the opposite... But there’s another pair — hinted at by the pair that I’ve already mentioned — that I’d also advise you to have on hand. So here’s another version of the parable. Every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “All others experience the world as I do.” On the other you should write: “My perspective is mine alone.” There are moments that you will need to pull each of these from your pockets: there are times when you will assume too much commonality with those around you, and times when you will assume too little.... So keep those contradictions in your pockets... And when circumstances require, pull them from your pockets and read them aloud to yourself.

Gendler's dichotomy — which I quote largely because it is so splendid that I would like to see the quote spread further — implies, of course (as I suspect she would admit) a third category: there are ways in which we experience the world which are very much not universal but are very much not individual, either.  And some, maybe many, of those ways we tend to erroneously assume are individual.5  Thus the importance of the recognition I spoke of in my first non-introductory essay.  Perhaps in writing this some other autogynephiliacs will see themselves — and, even, be guided to yet others, who share our psychological peculiarities. All the words, ideas, notions and concepts that surround this topic were created by people brave enough to discuss these things. Am I not indebted to them for articulating what I was (when they articulated it) years away from understanding about myself?  Isn't it, if not a moral duty, then at least a service to others to pass these articulations on?6

Then again: perhaps my experience does not reflect many others. (Reach for a note in the pocket.)  We simply do not know how many autogynephililes there are out there; what research has been done has been limited to self-selected surveys on the web (I may discuss some of it later).  But if we are to research it — to understand it — we must first understand what it is.  Description is prior to analysis.  My experiences may be in part common, vanishingly rare, or true for a significant minority.  My experiences may be common for autogynephiles, but untrue for trans women; or may differ from even most autogynephiles. I can't know—we can’t know—unless they are described, and described accurately — which means forthrightly, without fear of offense.  It is easier to see ourselves in a large and well-polished mirror.  The details here, Reader, may be sand and grit for its polishing.

Nor is it just a matter of recognition.  It turns out that this tiny niche, as is so common, contains multitudes.  The merest dip of the toe into these waters show a variety of people: those who might, some day, transition (even if they haven't yet) and those who never will.  Those for whom crossdressing is a central part of their crossdreaming, and those who never do it.  Those who fantasize about being largely feminized but retaining a penis versus those who fantasize about being entirely transformed into a woman.  And so on.  The multiplicity and complexity of words which some bemoan reflects a multiplicity and complexity of human desire and identity and thought that can only be cause for celebration.  Which means that to articulate these things is to invite others to articulate their experiences.  There will be similarities with mine; there will be dissimilarities.  I would gain from seeing each, just as they would.

Take, for instance, the increasingly public nature of bondage-play (called BDSM, for bondage-dominance-submission-(sado)masochism — or did you know that already?) — something which many people may well, even at this late date, have never heard of, but which many others will think too familiar to bother defining.7  Surely the public articulation of these desires and practices has helped others?  Even more, it has shaped others: what we say of ourselves, what we see of ourselves, can mold who we are.8

Finally, there is the fact that this is a topic that is (sometimes, to some degree) only discussable in public.  This is not, of course, absolutely true: most of us, one hopes, will discuss it with our spouses, if married, or our lovers, if we have them.  Some people (possibly more than I imagine) speak about it with close friends.  But there are certainly some people who don't feel comfortable talking about it with anyone they know.  Some of those may seek anonymous forums (say, a sex addiction help group).  Others may discuss it in public by talking about it anonymously on internet bulletin boards.  All such forums have their advantages.  But surely a public conversation seems like it, too, may have advantages?  For myself, I feel that it is, perhaps, the only way I will speak of this.  It is not the biggest thread in my life; not even among the biggest.  But it is a big one; and in contrast to every other thread, it is one that I have heretofore felt I could talk about with (not literally but almost) no one.

Know thyself.  But what I am suggesting here is that knowledge is fundamentally a communal endeavor: forged from individual experiences, true, but forged in inherited concepts and words, and tempered by debate and disagreement and other-stimulated reflection. Which means that to know ourselves we must speak of ourselves: and if we are, in part, sexual beings, to know ourselves fully we must speak of our sexuality— our desires, our habits (even mastubatory ones), and even our perversions, if that is a term you would ascribe to them.9

Which returns us to the answer I abandoned at the beginning.  Even sexual desire (and this is not only sex: I am an autogynephiliac, my title declares it, but I am also, to a lesser but quite real extent, a crossdreamer, too) is in some sense public.  We understand human lives, our lives, as we understand everything, namely, in dialogue with others.  Even those who bemoan an overly sexualized culture (and I think in certain respects that they too have a point) must recognize some realm for the discussion of sex, even if, at the extreme edge of that view, only between spouses, or perhaps mentors preparing virginal intendeds for a later wedding.  Sex, a subject of so much censorship, is also necessarily a subject of speech.  Many of us will want it to be more spoken of than it currently is, not less.  And fantasy and desire and pornography are all part of human sexuality. — Of my sexuality.

So yes, I will speak often in this substack of my sexual desires. There may even be entries that themselves approach, or even attain, the condition of pornography (again: watch the content warnings).  These will not be the focus of my writing here, nor even the one-tenth part of it; but there may be some. After all, I am writing here a chronicle, a memoir, a confession, of my desires: those desires have been pornographic.  Am I to deny you, Worthy Reader, the fullness of that experience out of this last shred of delicacy I am (like a model about to drop her brassiere) unwilling to shed?  Am I to simply omit such a central part of what I have worked so hard to accurately convey, at the expense of such much pains, so much embarrassment? No: this confession is an honest one; and my thoughts have often been about sex.10

So that is why I have spoken, and will speak, so frankly about my own sexuality.  Those who wish not to hear of it should take my earlier advice, and watch carefully the content warnings.

(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). At least for the foreseeable future, this newsletter will post once a week on Wednesdays, and will be free.

If anyone wishes to contact me, I am reachable by email under the handle YorickPenn at gmail, and am on twitter as PennYorick (I don't know why twitter wished that backwards).

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!)  Therefore, if you know anyone who might find it of interest, I would be grateful if you would send it there way.

Next week: Talkin’ about my C-C-C-C-C-C-C-Cancellation11

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1

Although, yes, the question of whether or not we autogynephiles who do not identify as women and do not plan to transition are, nevertheless, trans is a complex one. (Certainly, by most definitions of “cis”, save those that simply define it as not trans, we are not cis.) The same considerations apply to crossdreamers, whether they have a sexual component to their crossdreaming or not. I will return to it in a future essay.

2

How dirty does that sound? Wolf whistle: Hegel, you dog.

3

Weddings, according to the Book of Common Prayer, are conducted "in the sight of God and this congregation".  The latter half is important, too.  And, of course, the government also wants, nay demands, to be informed.  And so on.

4

Borges is good. Have you read Borges? Try Borges.

5

Others, of course, we will erroneously assume universal, but that will not concern us here.

6

I think this is true even if it is not always received as such. Jack Molay, the man who invented the word “crossdreaming” (and did you think he was not one of us?) banned me from his bulletin board for insisting on my right to use the word “autogynepyhile” to describe myself. Nevertheless, I am indebted to him for inventing his term (a useful one, which is, to my mind, not synonymous with “autogynephile”), and even to his objections, for they taught me things about the world and myself. Others may not wish to hear what I have to offer: but that does not, I think, excuse me from the duty to offer it.

7

Granted, the former are probably frantically searching out some Borges by now.

8

This is a point about which one must tread carefully, as it abuts the conservative (and harmful) argument that articulating, say, gay and lesbian lives, or trans lives, encourages people to become gay or lesbian or trans.  This is, to an important and real extent, false: many gay and lesbian and trans people have existed through the centuries, and the intensity of those desires is testified to by their reoccurrence even under the most frightful oppression and the most absolute silences.  But it is also, to an important and real extent, true.  If we admit that most people are not purely gay or purely straight — are not, say, either a 0 or a 6 on the Kinsey scale; if we admit that people have desires to varying degrees and in multiple ways; then we must see that while some people are (and there will always be some people who are) LGBT in an innate or unalterable way, there will also be middle cases, people who might have otherwise repressed (or even failed to recognize) those desires who will, because of the liberation of LGBT people, come to accept and act upon them.  One conservative position that is at least arguable is that only those for whom the desires are absolute should be allowed to express them; all others should be shoehorned into a vanilla heterosexuality.  But this is a position for which few (if any) arguments can be found that do not involve a theocratic imposition of one set of beliefs upon others.  Once LGBT people are accepted as part of the human spectrum, an exploration of that spectrum, including its limit and edge cases — even if that exploration itself ends up changing the explorers — becomes hard to gainsay.

9

As I have said, I do not find the term useful: it is intended, largely, to stigmatize and shame. But none of us chose our desires, so I don’t think any of us should be stigmatized and shamed for what we want, only what we do. To be sure, there will be some desires which cannot be morally acted upon (certainly I myself don’t think autogynephilia falls into this category, but some may). But we should not shame others merely for wanting things, even unusual things (and anyway, if we forbid speaking of them, how will we know they are unusual?)

10

It is even conceivable, Corporeal Reader, that you, or, let me say, one or two among you, may be tempted to join me: may feel yourself aroused by my words, and let your hand drift down to rub yourself to excitement.  If so, do not let it bother you: your arousal is but a sign that you have accurately read my thoughts, and seen some part, however tiny, of yourself reflected in them.  If you do this, Reader, I will smile, not only at having brought you pleasure, but for myself: it means I will have accurately and effectively conveyed to you the experience and thoughts I have tried to convey. It means I will have succeeded.

11

If any members of the crossdreaming forum (with whom I recently had what diplomats call “a free and frank exchange of views”) happen to wander by: no, this will not be about y’all.