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causation model?

Thirdwaytrans is a website run by a former transwoman and offers the unique perspective of someone who transitioned at age 19 only to detransition 20 years later.

This particular entry from the site is nothing short of brilliant and I just had to post it in its entirety. Not only do I agree strongly with what is being said but the analysis here is very much spot on. I also very much favor his use of the term erotic imprinting instead of what Blanchard calls AGP:

Third Way – Why I am in neither the AGP camp nor the feminine essence camp

I’ve had a couple of people read my writing and assume that I believe that my MTF transition (and maybe all MTF transitions) are caused by a fetish. This is not what I believe and I am trying to be careful with language to emphasize that point. I don’t believe my female identity was caused by a fetish. Indeed this stuff is complicated, and does not lend to a simple solution.

I think the idea that pre-transition fantasies of being female and transitioning are correlated is non-controversial. People in both camps would agree that this happens. What they argue about is the causality. As the scientific saying goes, correlation is not causation Let A represent the fantasies, and B represent the female identity

One possibility is A causes B.

Theorists such as Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence believe that transgender identity (in non-androphilic transsexuals) is caused by a kind of paraphilia (which I refer to as erotic imprinting to be non-stigmatizing). This erotic fantasy is used to allievate anxiety and becomes stronger and stronger, eventually taking over the psyche and creating a compulsion to transition. According to this theory this identity is nothing but the ultimate expression of the fantasy, and involves a kind of self-love or falling in love with an internalized woman. Of course the big trouble with this, is that if it was sexually fueled we would expect the removal of testosterone to eliminate the issue. This clearly doesn’t happen, and Blanchard explains this by saying that the love for the internalized woman remains, even when the sexual feelings are gone.

A second possibility is B causes A.

This is the feminine essence theory which is espoused by queer theorists and many trans women. This states the fantasies are an expression of a repressed feminine identity that is being distorted by the presence of testosterone and converted into erotic fantasies which are the only way she can express herself. Then eventually the person accepts their feminine identity and transitions, and maybe eventually moves to HRT and SRS. The removal of the erotic compulsion when testosterone is eliminated and positive feelings when estrogen is added are seen as evidence of the feminine essence.
However, when looking at a correlation there is a third possibility: C causes A and B. This is what I believe.

In my model C is a combination of trauma and biological factors. I also want to emphasize that when I say trauma plays a role in transgender identity development I am not saying it is the sole cause. Biological factors can play a role as well. Indeed, this multiple causation is the norm in psychology. Through identical twin studies we know conditions as diverse as schizophrenia and homosexuality are neither completely genetic, nor completely environmental. It would actually be surprising if there weren’t multiple causes involved here as well.

In my model A is erotic imprinting, and B are various pre-verbal structures. It wouldn’t be surprising if the structures manifest themselves as feminine figures in the psyche and archetypal themes, as these are pre-verbal constructs and that is how we can interact with them. I will write more on that later


  1. Hi Joanna, as an ecologist I am quite interested in complex models of causation. When you think of the complexity of the developing endocrine system, individual genetic predispositions, and the interplay bewteen those elements and our formative environment, it's a little difficult to think that the transgender experience is not a result of environmental and biological factors. From my own experience I would broadly agree that it is likely that biological and environmental factors are at play. I am not so sure whether environmental trauma is necessary to disrupt normal imprinting, though perhaps what ThirdWayTrans is suggesting is that any disruption to normal erotic imprinting is traumatic by nature. I can only speak from my own experience, in feeling that I identified in some way with the females in my family rather than the males, and that this was somehow causal in my subsequent expression of erotic fantasy.
    Thankyou for your thoughtful blog

  2. Hi Barbara, there is no question in my mind that what happened to us involves a complex model that combines genetic predisposition with social circumstance. For example in my case I had a dominant mother and two sisters immediately after me. This meant spending a lot of time with three females. However other males in the same situation need not become trans and probably don't. Identifying with females early on is no doubt part of the causation model but I think a biological spark needs to be present. Unfortunately we don't know what that is at this time..


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