Autogynephilia is a paraphilic model that pathologizes transgender women’s desire to transition, invented by American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard in the mid-1980s. The typology was largely unknown until the early 2000s, when American psychologist and professor J. Michael Bailey popularized Blanchard’s work in his pop science book The Man Who Would Become Queen.
Despite receiving considerable criticism from the scientific and medical communities, autogynephilia is regularly cited by trans exclusionary radical feminists and anti-transgender activists to deny transgender women their womanhood.
Blanchard first published his paper on autogynephilia in 1989, as The Concept of Autogynephilia and the Typology of Male Gender Dysphoria, in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Here he proposed that “autogynephilic males,” or transgender women, who were not sexually aroused by men, were instead sexually aroused by the fantasy of themselves as a woman.
Blanchard continued to publish papers about autogynephilia throughout the 1990s, though his work received little attention from mainstream sexologists, psychologists, or medical doctors.
Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia first received serious public attention after the publication of J. Michael Bailey’s pop science book, The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Bailey and Blanchard were both members of the neo-eugenics group Human Biodiversity Institute.
The transgender women who were the unwitting subjects of Bailey’s book spoke out against his unauthorized use of their life stories, and professor of biological sciences at Stanford, Joan Roughgarden, critiqued both Bailey’s book and his presentations thereafter.
Sexologist Eli Colemen, then president of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, which would later become the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the preeminent professional association for doctors working in the field of transgender healthcare, referred to the book as “an unfortunate setback in feelings of trust between the transgender community and sex researchers.” As a result, Blanchard resigned his position at the association on November 4th, 2003.
As a result of Bailey’s publication, autogynephilia as a paraphilic model received increased scrutiny from academics, such as the 2010 papers from scientific researcher Julia Serano and physician Charles Moser.
Starting in July of 2023, public commentary on Blanchard’s work by University of Southern California School of Philosophy graduate student Christa Peterson has highlighted methodological concerns such as seemingly arbitrary methods of determining patient sexuality, and inappropriate phallometric practices, or measurements of subject arousal. Peterson’s work is part of an interdisciplinary project on the history of clinical conceptions of transness.
Autogynephilia and Blanchard himself continue receiving promotion in anti-transgender activism circles, despite decades of evidence against the typology’s veracity. In 2017, The Federalist used autogynephilia to justify the continuation of conversion therapy on transgender children. In 2019, Blanchard was interviewed by National Review and Quillette to share his thoughts on transgender people. Autogynephilia is promoted in anti-transgender books such as Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, by Abigail Shrier, and The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society, by Debra Soh.