Autogynephilia, Junk Science, and Pseudoscience

plus links to my academic articles, online essays, and explainers on the topic

Julia Serano
6 min readJan 30, 2024
Photo of an older man in a lab coat examining a test tube filled with red liquid using a magnifying glass. That is to say, there is no actual science taking place in the photo, just the veneer of “science-ness.”
photo by Kindel Media at Pexels

The scientific method is fairly straightforward. If you believe something may be true about the world, that is your starting hypothesis. Then you carry out experiments to test whether that hypothesis is true or false. If your methods are designed to only provide evidence in support of the hypothesis without serious consideration of potential contradictory evidence or alternative explanations, that is called junk science. And when multiple independent researchers disprove your hypothesis, but you continue to tout it as “science,” that is called pseudoscience.

Ray Blanchard’s concept of “autogynephilia” started out as junk science. The hypothesis that he wanted to prove was that there are two types of trans women based upon sexual orientation, and that the “subtype” of trans women who aren’t exclusively attracted to men must experience gender dysphoria and a desire to transition due to a paraphilia he dubbed “autogynephilia.” Blanchard’s experimental design begged the question he was asking and relied on surveys about sexual fantasies that seem purposely designed to produce his desired outcome. He didn’t use any controls, nor did he seriously consider any alternative hypotheses. He mistook correlation for causation. When presented with contradictory evidence, Blanchard accused his subjects of lying and/or invented ad-hoc explanations to handwave that evidence away, thus rendering his hypothesis unfalsifiable. All of these problems are detailed here.

During the late 2000s through early 2010s, a series of research studies and critical reviews carried out by multiple independent research groups provided numerous lines of evidence that, taken together, disprove Blanchard’s taxonomy (his “two types” of trans women) and etiology (that female embodiment fantasies/“autogynephilia” are what drive lesbian, bisexual, and asexual trans women to transition) (Bettcher, 2014; Moser, 2009, 2010; Nuttbrock et al., 2011a, 2011b; Serano, 2010, 2020a, 2020b; Veale, 2014; Veale et al., 2008). Yet despite this large body of work, many people — including Blanchard, fellow psychologist J. Michael Bailey, and a bevy of anti-trans activists — continue to promote “autogynephilia” as though it were settled science. In other words, “autogynephilia” has now clearly drifted into the realm of pseudoscience.

I have written extensively about “autogynephilia” and the many debates surrounding the concept. Here, I compile those writings. The first four articles listed below appeared in academic journals, although I tried to make the language as accessible as possible. If you read just one of these, make it my 2020 review listed at the top, as it is the most current and comprehensive. The rest are online essays written for general audiences — I recommend “Making Sense of Autogynephilia Debates” for those who are relatively new to this topic.


Autogynephilia: A scientific review, feminist analysis, and alternative ‘embodiment fantasies’ model [PDF link]
In this 2020 peer-reviewed article published in The Sociological Review, I provide an updated overview of the scientific case against autogynephilia. Following that, I forward an alternative “embodiment fantasies” model that explains all the available evidence better than autogynephilia theory, and is far more consistent with contemporary thinking regarding gender and sexual diversity. Finally, given the theory’s recent popularity among trans-exclusionary feminists, I demonstrate how autogynephilia relies on essentialist, heteronormative, and male-centric presumptions about women and LGBTQ+ people, and as such, it is inconsistent with basic tenets of feminism.

The Case Against Autogynephilia [PDF link]
An earlier peer-reviewed article (from 2010) that appeared in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In it, I provide my most detailed analysis of why autogynephilia theory’s taxonomy (its two “subtypes”) and etiology (the assertion that female embodiment fantasies/FEFs cause gender dysphoria and desire to transition in lesbian, bisexual, and asexual trans women) do not hold true. In addition to refuting the theory’s main tenets, I forward simpler non-pathological alternative explanations that better account for Blanchard’s and other researchers’ findings.


Autogynephilia Is a Flawed Framework for Understanding Female Embodiment Fantasies: A Response to Bailey and Hsu (2022) [PDF link]
This is my and Jaimie Veale’s response to Bailey and Hsu’s article How Autogynephilic Are Natal Females? (both published in Archives of Sexual Behavior). Their article attempts to refute the existence of “autogynephilia in women.” We point out numerous methodological and interpretive flaws with their study — including how their results are incompatible with Blanchard’s original taxonomy — and make the case that “autogynephilia” is a flawed framework for considering both trans and cis women’s sexual fantasies and desires.

A Matter of Perspective: A Transsexual Woman-Centric Critique of Dreger’s “Scholarly History” of the Bailey Controversy [PDF link]
A recurring complaint made by autogynephilia’s proponents is that trans women who oppose the theory must be “anti-science” and/or attempting to “ruin” scientists’ careers. This narrative was popularized by Alice Dreger in her 2008 article The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age. This is my Archives of Sexual Behavior peer commentary in response to that article, in which I point out the numerous oversights and biases inherent in Dreger’s narrative (which has since been repurposed numerous times).


Making Sense of Autogynephilia Debates
My 2019 essay in which I briefly summarize the evidence against autogynephilia theory, then explain the main reasons why many trans women so strongly object to it (besides the fact that it is incorrect), and the numerous rationales and ideologies that lead some people to continue to support and promote the theory despite its lack of scientific validity.

Autogynephilia, Ad Hoc Hypotheses, and Handwaving
In this 2020 essay, I delve into several esoteric arguments that autogynephilia’s proponents continue to forward in their attempts to resuscitate the theory. Most of the article addresses the questions: Do cisgender people truly experience “autogynephilia”/FEFs, and are FEFs capable of causing gender dysphoria in anyone? I end with a critique of the “Dregerian narrative” (the assertion that transgender activists are “attacking science”).

Autogynephilia and Anti-Transgender Activism
This 2021 post chronicles anti-trans activists’ increasing promotion of “autogynephilia” in their efforts to smear trans women en masse as “sexual predators.” I also document their recent attempts to wield “autogynephilia” (often in tandem with the fake diagnosis “ROGD”) to undermine trans-related healthcare more generally.


Reconceptualizing “Autogynephilia” as Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs)
A blogpost I wrote in 2015, and which was later updated for my latest book Outspoken (you can freely download that chapter here). This extends upon what I wrote in my 2007 book Whipping Girl, offering non-pathologizing explanations for why “autogyephilic fantasies” (what I call FEFs) exist, and why they are more prevalent in some trans subpopulations than others.

The real “autogynephilia deniers”
A blogpost I wrote in 2015 in response to James Cantor (one of the few proponents of autogynephilia theory who is still actively practicing sexology) wherein I list all of the major research and review articles that together demonstrate that the theory is incorrect. I also highlight instances where anti-transgender individuals and organizations have cited autogynephilia theory in their attempts to invalidate, stigmatize, and slut-shame trans women.

Psychology, Sexualization and Trans-Invalidations [PDF link]
A speech that I gave in 2009; an updated version of the essay now appears in both my book Outspoken and on An accessible analysis of why there is so much focus on trans female/feminine people’s (real or presumed) sexualities in the lay public, media, and in the fields of psychology/sexology, while their trans male/masculine counterparts remain under-theorized in these regards. I discuss Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory in the context of these more foundational stereotypes and biases.

Finally, my earliest writings on “autogynephilia” can be found in my Chapter 14 of my 2007 book Whipping Girl. And my most thorough critique of the concept of “paraphilias” can be found in Chapter 10 of my 2022 book Sexed Up.

This post was made possible by my Patreon supporters — if you appreciate it, please consider supporting me there. A non-paywalled version of the same essay can also be found on Substack.



Julia Serano

writes about gender, sexuality, social justice, & science. author of Whipping Girl, Excluded, 99 Erics, & her latest: SEXED UP! more at