When I was first coming out as trans, I had a lot of internalized transmisogyny. I knew how negative society’s images of trans women were and I was convinced that I was somehow different. I was terrified of being seen as a man in a dress, so I just never wore dresses. In that respect it was rather convenient that I’m butch. I was not going to be - as another trans woman put it to me - “a masturbating freak in panties.” I internalized a list of norms and behaviors that I had to avoid in order to be taken seriously and seen as a real woman. This list of “don’t”s is more or less the autogynophilia diagnostic citeria.
Years later, after I had begun writing on transmisogyny I still had a lot of these messages internalized. I had a wake up moment when I was traveling and visiting a girlfriend. Her roommate came home after a difficult day and mentioned that she had gone clothes shopping to cheer herself up, and quickly showed off her new underwear and dresses, in particular one slinky sequined number. There was much oohing and aahing and her mood significantly improved.
About an hour later she came back out of her room and said that she was having a hard time doing her work for the evening because she was still depressed. My girlfriend sat her down and gave her some sage advice. ”Just put you nice new dress on, as well as your fancy new underwear. It will make you feel sexy and you’ll feel better.” ”Then what, just work while wearing it?” “Yeah.”
Warnings had been popping into head the whole time but now alarm bells were going off. I so desperately wanted to warn them “Don’t do that! You’re directly admitting a connection between feminine clothing and sexual arousal and using that almost as if you’re self medicating! No one will take you seriously as a real woman, you’ll just be seen as some fetishist!” But I didn’t say that of course. Not only because it would have been very rude, but because they were cis women. No one is going to take away their womanhood for feeling sexy about lingerie and slinky dresses. This seems to be something cis women, particularly femmes, do all the time.
The bottom line is that the behavior classified as autogynophilia is normal female behavior. Charles Moser did a small study where he tried applying the criteria for it to cis women and found that 93% of cis women qualify as autogynophiles. So why are trans women subjected to this standard and often stigmatized, punished, or denied access to healthcare if they fit this criteria? And why is there no similar criteria for trans men?
It seems to me this is primarily about exerting the control doctors have over trans people to maintain male control over the sexuality of women. It encourages us to be sexually available to men and discourages us from having a sense of sexuality focused in ourselves or in other women. It sets up a pass/fail system so we are beholden to gatekeepers and must prove that we are the good kind of trans woman and not the bad kind. And it pits us against each other as enforcers of this system and keeps us divide so we cannot challenge the psychologists who create the rules of who can and cannot access transition. It’s no accident that one of the main proponents of using autogynophelia as a diagnosis was caught having sex with his patients, not informing them he was using their experiences in his research, and manipulating their testimony by granting/denying medical care based on whether or not they said they fit his model.