I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Either I want to find out for myself or I want to advise you: think what you like. If you're right, I'll do what you do. If you're wrong, I'll set you straight.
—Publius Terentius Afer1
I should have known it would happen: no sooner had I set out upon the road than I found obstacles in my path. I feel a need to spare a minute to clear them. This will not (I hope) break, but rather just supplement, my pattern of Wednesday posting (and I hope it will be a one-time thing—though I fear it might not).
The main obstacle was my word, “autogynephilia”. I should not be (and basically am not) surprised, although somehow resistance is always surprising even when expected.2 Let me reiterate one point, and make a few others.
Reiterating: I am not using Blanchard’s word as he meant it; I am stealing it. It was lying there, next to his theories; I have taken the one and left the other. I am doing so because I do not know if Blanchard’s approach is true or not, is useful or not. (And I mean that: I don’t know. If you want to tell me it’s been “debunked” (as several already have), this will not be useful: I have read the debunkings (they were linked to in my earlier essay), but I have also read the debunkings of the debunkings, and so on. Both sides like to deny there is a real debate here, but I am not seeing consensus; I am seeing assertions of consensus on both sides. What would be useful, at least to me, would be if the proponents of the theory took on, in detail, the best arguments of the opponents of it, and vice-versa; but I have not seen that. So I am simply agnostic.) But the word I find useful, so I intend to kidnap it.
Perhaps it is too late to steal it, as one person has told me in so many words and others are hinting. Maybe they are right. But the world is young, not old; we have much further to travel yet. And other words have been far fouler for far longer and yet have been redeemed. It may be I will convince no one today or this year. But maybe in ten years, or twenty, people will come around. And certainly I cannot do it by myself; but if I can, over time, persuade others to join me, why then, “If you will it, it is no dream.”3
Of course, maybe I will not have a chance to persuade; it may be that I will be shunned if I try. All I can say is: I hope not. I have reasons for using it:4 first, the word is far more recognized than “crossdream” or any other proposed synonyms (and given the Greek routes, is recognizable even to some who have never seen it before), and, second, I want a word that refers specifically to the sexual aspect of crossdreaming, since I intend to talk about that a lot (although I am a crossdreamer as well as an autogynephile).
But what I am trying to say here is not simple nor quick. I am trying (God help me) to put forward, in the age of twitter, a complex & nuanced position, with many interlocking parts. I am hoping that some people might want such a position, and so I will brave forward putting it out there. I hope, at the very least, that people who read what I write will understand (if not agree with) those reasons, and will be willing to listen even if they disagree5 (everyone who I hope to speak to will disagree with a lot of what I have to say! But if they didn't, I don't think it would be worth saying, since it would only be telling them what they already know and believe). And in the end all I can do is talk to those who are willing to listen, and hope that what I say will be of use to them, if only as fodder for disagreement and further discussion.
Nevertheless, it is true that I will repel many using it—as I have been typing this very response, trying to take a nuanced look at a complex question, the person who assured me (on this bulletin board) that it is too late to reclaim it chimed in again to say she finds my reasons weak, and said she said it “makes me and I hope others question your true motivation.” Suspicious Reader, I have no doubt that it does. This is an issue where everyone’s motivation is constantly questioned—indeed, everything is, these days. We are drawn up on battle lines, but spend as much time shooting suspected traitors beside us as we do shooting bootlessly over no man’s land at the enemy. This is why I spent three long (many would say: tiresomely long) essays introducing myself, and announcing my purposes. But if you are going to doubt what I say, what can I say to erase doubt? You will only doubt that, too.
My motivations are really and truly few. I want to speak about my experiences—experiences that seem to me to be best described with the word “autogynephile”. Everyone in this debate insists (and properly so) on their own labels for their own selves; would you deny me mine? But also and equally, I want to try to understand why it is that we (that is, the culture broadly) are at each others throats over this, and point to what I think is a way out. I may be wrong in my understanding; no one may wish to follow my path. But if I am to be useful, I must tell the truth as I see it. I am not saying all trans women are autogynephiles; I am saying I am an autogynephile. I am certainly not saying that all trans women are paraphilic perverts; I am saying I have a paraphilia, and if that makes me a pervert, well, make the most of it.6 I accuse no one but myself.7
Some will be repulsed. Yes: no doubt. What I want to say is repulsive in many directions: believers in trans rights will be repelled by my attempted reclamation of the word “autogynephilia”; those who believe paraphilias are perversion, or porn is immoral, will be repelled by my admission to having and using those. What I want to do is suggest that both of those repulsions are similar: both are a refusal to listen to another point of view about how the world is and how we might live in it. We are a culture that makes snap judges, draws bright lines, and condemns easily. I seek another way.
I wish, in many ways, I could speak otherwise; I wish I had a simple view. It is so much easier on a battlefield to pick a side. But my motivation is to use what feeble strength I have (“All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie…”) to bring people together. As I said before, perhaps all I will do is unite them in hatred of me. But perhaps not. I think I see some things that (many, not all) others do not. So I am going to try to speak of them. For
I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.
There is more to it than whim: I have dwelt here too long for there not to be. And I will spend a minute in explanation.
One reader said I was confusing. I admit it, Harried Reader: I write in a circuitous style, one more suited to centuries ago than today and tomorrow. For this, too, I have cause.8 I think that my frustration at the state of this debate (which I awoke and found myself enmeshed within) has a lot to do with the style that it is being conducted in: fast-draw certainty, simple slogans, easy answers. These are, alas, appropriate to the mediums of our time: bulletin boards, twitter. But I will try to forge ahead, to stuff my words into the ill-fitting shape of today’s vessels, and see where they float. Judging from my very earliest responses, my recondite style may be as off-putting as my paraphilias and my politics. It would be a painful irony if so. But it is not news to me that “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” I hope there are some out there who might prefer a longer look at a more complicated view. And if so, I hope that this words find them.
If that is you—if it even might be, if you are interested enough to read another essay or two—please subscribe! You can always cancel later. And it would be heartening to see that some are signing up.
(Recurring) Notes on practical matters
This newsletter is a bonus edition of Confessions of an Autogynephile, an ongoing memoir in the form of a Stack of Sub essays, intermixed with political arguments. Usually it posts once a week on Wednesdays, this piece being, of course, an exception. And for the foreseeable future, this newsletter 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).
Homo sum : humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Vel me monere hoc vel percontari puta:
Rectum'st, ego ut faciam ; non est, te ut deterream.
(The translation I used is from Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmpolitanism)
Which is, I take it, ironic in that hall-of-mirrors way that fits so well with the human mind: he’s joking, but underneath that he’s not joking, although underneath that he is… and it’s turtles all the way down.
“What the fuck is that?”
“State of Israel. If you will it, Dude, it is no dream.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
And here, Greedy Reader, I shall risk summarizing what is in fact complex; it is a gift, Forgiving Reader, that I do not intend offer often, so take it with both hands.
Untrusting Reader, did you think it was incidental that I began my very first essay with this quote?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
— Plato, The Republic (trans. B. Jowett)
Plato, the first philosopher was telling us on the opening page of his greatest book, that we could only be persuaded if we do not refuse to hear.** He is, he is subtly but unmistakably saying, only speaking to those who are willing to listen. Who else has any of us ever spoken to?
** First, at least, by many measures; but for that matter, it is his greatest book by many (but not all) measures, and this is the opening page on many (but not all) editions. Andwhy oh why does the substack editor not allow footnotes on footnotes? “Now how am I supposed to perform basic bodily functions on this?”
I will admit that I don’t know what “pervert” adds to the word “paraphilia” save scorn; and I do not believe that paraphlias rate scorn. If you disagree… well, perhaps you’ll let me try and persuade you. But, of course, I cannot persuade you if refuse to listen. Certainly not.
Another reader questioned this word, asking if I wanted to be lumped in with sadists and pedophiles (the examples from a dictionary definition of paraphilia). Well, I have no problem with consensual BDSM play, so no, I will not object to being put in a category with sadists who behave (as I believe some do) honorably. As for pedophiles, there is no possibility of consent (children being too young to do so); but there are, I believe, pedophiles who struggle not to act upon their urges, and they have my respect. There is, I suppose, a fundamental difference between urges which by their nature harm if carried out and those that don’t (as autogynephilia doesn’t (although what “carrying it out” would mean is admittedly unclear)). But none of us chose our urges, only our actions; and I think we should judge people by their actions. So no, I will not object to the term paraphilia. As far as I can tell, it is correct; and as far as I can tell, it has no necessary negative connotation.
Although this, too, is driven in part by my wanting not to hide who I am: I am a man with autogynephilia; I am also a person who likes complex sentences and literary allusions. Here I stand; I can do no other.