Is TERF ideology taking over EA?

TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism. TERFS are a hate group that views trans rights as a threat to women’s rights.

“Trans women are pervert men that prey on women in women’s bathrooms and trans men are confused lesbians. Medical transition is a patriarchal notion to keep gender roles intact and is antithetical to any body-positivity movement. Bleh bleh bleh.” – TERFs

So, suppose you are a transphobe and want an air of scientific legitimacy for your views. Enter the two-type taxonomy of Blanchard. It proposes trans women come in two separate varieties: effeminate homosexual men who think they would have an easier time by pretending to be a woman and straight men with the paraphilia of being sexually attracted to the idea of themselves having female bodies. The latter are called autogynephilic transsexuals.

Where does this divide come from? Julia Serano summarizes that, after noting that not all trans woman seemed to fit the picture that gatekeeping therapist had of trans women (outwardly feminine from early childhood, transition early in life, attracted to men),

Blanchard subdivided MtF transsexuals by sexual orientation into four groups—androphilic, gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual. He found that a majority of the gynephilic (87.5%, n = 16), asexual (75%, n = 12) and bisexual (65.7%, n = 35) groups reported having experienced cross-gender arousal in response to wearing women’s clothing on at least one occasion in their lives, while only 15% (n = 100) of the androphilic group responded similarly (Blanchard, 1985). He also found that the gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual groups, on average, reported less recalled childhood feminine gender expression and presented for sex reassignment later in life than the androphilic group (Blanchard, 1988). Based on these results, Blanchard argued that there are two fundamentally different types of MtF transsexuals—androphilic and nonandrophilic (where nonandrophilic includes the gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual groups).

Furthermore, statistically, it seems that trans women from the second group are more likely to have STEM jobs, pass less well and share some other traits. So I mean, sure, there might really be an axis of correlated traits, though the theory does not manage to pass some basic sanity checks.

  • Can we trust numbers consisting of self-reports to gatekeepers?
  • Axis of correlated traits, sure, but are these really two clusters?
  • How is this narrative possibly the best explanation of the observations?
  • Why do >99% of trans women say this does not describe their experience, instead describing the feeling of gender dysphoria?
  • How does this theory relate to the observations surrounding phantom limbs in transgender people?
  • Why are both groups of trans women at such risk for suicide, in contrast to other paraphilic populations?
  • What about trans men? Non-binary peoples?
  • Are cis women autogynephiles?
  • Sex and sexuality are disgusting and nobody would let those guide their actions. [Never mind, we will fix that later.]

For more about the theory and why it is unscientific bullshit, see Contrapoints for hilarious jokes, woke feminist theory and personal experience or Julia Serano for a more scientific treatment. Mind that the prevailing gender identity theory has its own problems, but probably the least of any theory that treats gender in essentialist terms.

But this post is not about the theory, but about the fact that people in my favourite community are taking it seriously. Among those are major EA feminist blog Thing of Things, aspiring Less Wrong Gender Czar and self-identified autogynephilic The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought and even the otherwise amazing Putanumonit. Putanumonit seems to forget his usual sceptic view of things presented as evidence, Scintillating claims without further exposition that Blanchard’s theory has more explanatory power and that introspection never gives scientifically valid information, and Thing of Things expresses disagreement with Blanchard’s theory but does treat it as a valid theory and gives it a podium.

Belief in Blanchard’s theory is leaking into the EA community, against the mainstream scientific view. I find this scary and I don’t know what to do about it. But at the very least, I think we should make it clear that Blanchard’s model is an unnecessarily stigmatizing fringe theory on shaky evidential ground. It is more like hate group ideology than good science.

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