Letter from Kendra on "autogynephilia"

I corresponded with Kendra in late April 2003.

A close reading of Kendra's experiences and self-description are interesting in showing where later transition and markers of gender variance intersect. She notes "I don't pass because of my voice," and her greater comfort in a gay bar and neighborhood, as well as in the support groups avoided by assimilationists such as myself, are hallmarks of this intersection of identity and experience. Her comment that "I was completely inexperienced at dressing," is an expression heard among crossdressers and transgenderists: a common chat room opening I recall from my AOL days was "are you dressed?" meaning dressed in women's clothes. Among women assimilated into mainstream society, I can't say I've ever heard this phrase, since "are you dressed" is really shorthand for "are you [cross]dressed." If you identify completely as female and do not feel you're putting on the clothes of the "opposite sex," the term "dressed" is no longer gendered, but simply used to imply whether you are naked or not.

I have noticed a tendency among some who seek feminization to describe their lives as a duality, most notable because they use their old name in doing so. Kendra talks about her time living "as Kendra" as well as her time living "as Ken." In my own case, to do this is quite repellent to me. I would never say I live "as Andrea," and I, as with many women I know, would not dream of using my old name this casually.

I'd also like to point out a phenomenon that was observed when the Benjamin taxonomy reigned supreme: everyone who presented to Benjamin fit quite nicely into his model, because they were familiar with his writings and agreed with (or at least parroted) his theories. One of the main reasons I am thankful to Kendra for sharing her letter is because she shows why Bailey is not offensive to her-- she agrees with Bailey's model that transsexualism is a form of deviancy. As Kendra notes, "If you turn out deviant, say, homosexual or paraphilic, that is a fact of your existence that you must learn to live with."

Thanks once again to Kendra for allowing me to share this!

Dear Andrea,

I am writing with regards your words about Dr. Bailey's book, The Man Who Would Be Queen.

Let me state a couple of things about myself at the onset: (1) I am post-op. I was approved for SRS in April, 2002 by a well-known and very experienced gender therapist, Dr. Barbara Anderson; and I had the surgery done by Dr. Preecha last August. (2) I am autogynephilic. I never claimed to be a woman trapped in a man's body to Dr. Anderson. I told her I wanted SRS because I had a condition of the sex drive, namely autogynephilia.

Because I was completely inexperienced at dressing and did not know anyone in the TG community when I showed up in San Francisco to start my year of RLE under Dr. Anderson, she had me go to TG support groups in order to meet the people of the group. For a year I went to two support groups every week > one in SF and one in Berkeley.

The people in the SF group were "indigent" types -- mostly girls on SSI for mental problems, and prostitutes. The people at the Berkeley group mostly had jobs.
In the course of attending these two support groups for a year I came to know pretty much the whole spectrum of types of the TG group -- everything from the "gender-fucked" bearded man who liked to go out in public in a short skirt and nylon stockings (he was a very nice man, by the way), to very passable TS women who mostly lived in stealth, to queens who worked the street.

I am sure I don't know the group as well as you, Andrea, since I've only been Kendra for a couple of years. But I do have some experience in this regard.

Since I've been in SF I have also acquired some experience with the gay group. I have an apartment at Geary and Leavenworth. My neighborhood used to be very gay until the AIDS epidemic hit, and there still are a lot of gay men in this neighborhood.

There used to be several gay bars and also a queen bar named the Black Rose in my neighborhood. Now there is only one gay bar -- the Hob Nob Lounge. It has been in existence for 27 years, I have been told. It is right across the street from my apartment. I go there all the time -- I am a regular there.

The men at the Hob Nob are mostly older men who have lived in SF for many years. As older men are prone to do, especially when they've been drinking, the men in this bar reminisce about their lives a lot. I have learned a good deal about gay men from the many hours I've spent in this bar.

Now then, I have not encountered anything in Dr. Bailey's book that contradicts the experiences I've had with either the TG group or the gay group.

Regarding the autogynephilia theory, I fail to understand your hostility toward it. You obviously feel that it invalidates TS women or sullies their reputation. I do not understand why you feel this way.

I have said that I became sex changed because I was afflicted with the autogynephilia condition. Let me explain how I have justified this action.

I think there is much more to a sex drive than the erotic desires and pleasures it gives rise to. I think it is a powerful force that is active within you at all times, not just when you are aroused. It is like a river that flows in your consciousness. And at every moment, and in every activity, you are either swimming, as it were, along with the current of this river within you, or you are swimming against the current of this river. Either the current of the river is propelling you forward or you are expending energy opposing it, that is.

Now there is nothing you can do to change the kind of sex drive that you have. The sex drive assumes its form during the teen years, or earlier, and once it has assumed its form there is no changing it. If you turn out deviant, say, homosexual or paraphilic that is a fact of your existence that you must learn to live with.

Thus, if you are autogynephilic that is how the river that flows within you is. And you are confronted with an existential decision. You must either live your life swimming against the current of the river that your autogynephilia is, i.e., you must oppress it. Or else you must go with it -- you must swim with the current behind you.

To conclude, I did not choose to undergo sexual reassignment surgery because I sought sexual gratification -- I did this because I sought a better life.

Finally, it would seem that my choice has worked out well for me. My Mom and sister have twice come out to SF (from the Chicago area) to see me, and they are of the opinion that I am much happier as Kendra than I was as Ken.

I believe that my therapist, Dr. Anderson, considers my transition to be a success story.

It is true that I am happy as Kendra. I do not think I was unhappy as Ken, but I like my life as Kendra very much and I am sure I shall never regret my decision.

Sincerely,
Kendra Susan Blewitt

P.S. I am sending a copy of this letter to Dr. Bailey.

Our next exchange is below, with Kendra's responses in italics.

Hi Kendra--

Thanks for writing! I am currently writing a longer piece on autogynephilia. I think you misinterpret my concern about Bailey’s deeply offensive theories. As I have said many times, I do not bristle at the notion of autogynephilia, and I agree it is not only an important idea, but a perfectly valid reason for seeking feminization. In fact, I have frequently counseled people who appeared to be autogynephilic to write to Anne Lawrence. I have also decried the Standards of Care for forcing these people to live in a female role, if all they want is to get genital modification and admire their altered bodies in a mirror. Why should these people be forced to jeopardize jobs, relationships, and even their own safety by making an abortive attempt at being accepted as female, just because they want to modify their bodies?

Andrea, I agree with all this. I think it is a question of Constitutional rights. If what you are doing harms no one else, you have a right to do it.
For the record, however, I do not live as a man and admire my feminized body when I am alone at night. I live as a woman full time. Or as a tranny, or whatever. I turned out to be good-looking. I stand 5'8" and my weight has dropped to 130 due to muscle loss. Meanwhile Ousterhout did "the works" on my face. Men express interest in me almost every day. I have a boyfriend who penetrates me almost every night. I don't pass because of my voice. But I am attractive, and I definitely do not live as a guy.

As I came to understand the deeper issues and problems of taxonomy, I began to see how Blanchard’s categories were ultimately dehumanizing to transsexual women, by putting all of this along an axis of sexuality. It’s all very complicated, too complicated for people like Bailey to grasp from his position as outside observer. As you note in your letter, your view of transsexuals is colored by the idea that there are two distinct groups, when in reality there are many axes along which people want to feminize themselves and socialize.

I honestly fail to see how Blanchard's/Bailey's thinking is dehumanizing to us TS women. If the thought was that it was all about sexual gratification, orgasm, etc., then, yes, it would be dehumanizing. But that is not what Blanchard and Bailey are saying.

I have been to Anne Lawrence’s home, and I consider her a friend and a thoughtful person in many ways. However, she clings so tightly to her belief in autogynephilia, biology, and sexology that she cannot see the ways in which ascribing our motivations entirely to sexuality is not only wrongheaded but dangerous, just as dangerous as old categorizations that held that there were “true” or “classic” transsexuals, and the other types.

You state, “I did not choose to undergo sexual reassignment surgery because I sought sexual gratification. I did this because I sought a better life.” Bailey would tell you to your face you are lying. He cannot conceive of any other reason that you would do this other than as part of your paraphilia. Do you start to see the problem with essentialists like this guy?

No, Andrea, I have corresponded with Dr. Bailey. He would not tell me I was lying for making that statement. He and Blanchard both think there is more to a sex drive than orgasm, sensation, etc. He might not go as far as I do in my idea that it is like a river that flows in your soul, but he agrees with this notion to some degree and he would have no problem with my statement that I did what I did to better my life, not for orgasm, etc.

I’d like to add your letter to my site, and if you have any follow-up comments as you read my later information, I’ll be happy to add those. Let me know.

Take care,
Andrea

I don't have any follow-up comments to make. But as I said at the beginning I am very flattered that you would like to put my letter on your Web site.
Your sister,
Kendra


Kendra sent the following additional materials on 8 May 2003. Please note that I vehemently disagree with much of what Kendra says, but I am trying to give fair representation to the views of those who identify as "autogynephilic transsexuals."

As with many people who identify as such, Kendra appears to to be projecting her own feelings and motivations onto others. As I have noted, those who fall outside the generally-accepted definition of "transsexual" frequently face greater discrimination, and sadly, the discrimination they face from society is often intensified in the microcosm of the transgender community. As such, many women who face rejection from a group they consider themselves a part of become justifiably angry, to the point they call us all "men living as women" as Kendra does.

Dear Andrea,

I would like to add something to my Kendra-Letter. I have sent two e-mails to Dr. Bailey that I would like to add, along with some general comments.

Very often I hesitate to call myself a transsexual to other transsexuals because I know they will deny that I am a transsexual. I am not one to barge into places where I feel unwelcome, and very often I do feel unwelcome in transsexual circles. Very often I am made to feel like an intruder by transsexuals when I refer to myself as a transsexual.

The general public treats me with much more respect than the transsexual group does. I don't get called a man in a dress very often when I am interacting with ordinary people. I get called a man in a dress routinely when I am interacting with transsexuals. That is what I am to many, if not to most of them -- a man in a dress.

Up the line we autogynephilic transsexuals are going to have to form a group of our own. The present situation is intolerable for us. We are made to feel like freaks or perverts by what should be our own people more than by anyone else. We need a group that we can belong to as equal, full-fledged members. We need to belong to a group where we can feel proud to be what we are. Belonging to a group where we are "false transsexuals" is beneath our dignity and is even unhealthy for us. We need a group of our own.

I know that unity is in our general interest as transsexuals. We are being discriminated against in the workplace. This is a big problem. There are other problems that we all have in common as transsexuals.

But what do we autogynephilic transsexuals have in common with anyone? What we need more than anything else right now is a sense of identity. We need that more than we need fair play in the workplace.

First Letter to Dr. Bailey:

Dear Dr. Bailey,

I think the cause of all the hostility directed toward you and your book by so many transsexuals is that they cannot bear the truth. They have not built their houses of the sense of self on the bedrock of knowledge but on the sandy soil of mere belief, and now the earth is shaking and their houses are falling down -- their sense of self is breaking apart and they are experiencing the pain of deep insecurity.

I do not think Dr. Benjamin was acting completely as a scientist when he drew a sharp distinction between a cross-dresser ("transvestic fetishist") and a transsexual. I think the man was a friend to transsexuals. I think he sympathized with them and wanted to give them some legitimacy in the medical field as well as in the general public's opinion. And he was smart enough to realize that this could not be done if sex in the sense of erotic desires was a part of the meaning of transsexualism. So, to get what he wanted, he drew a line between those who cross-dressed for sexual reasons and those who cross-dressed for "gender" reasons.

I believe that Benjamin's distinction between the "transvestic fetishist" and the "true transsexual" was more polemical than scientific. It was a smart thing to do to get what he wanted, i.e., to give transsexuals some social legitimacy.

This distinction was a necessary thing, given public opinion regarding sexual matters that existed at the time -- i.e., thirty, forty or fifty years ago. But it was not the product of a search for truth. It was Rhetoric as opposed to Philosophy, as Plato would put it.

It was good. It worked. Transsexuals were treated less like criminals. A giant stride forward was taken in this respect. However, whenever mere rhetoric gets institutionalized and given the title of "established fact"there are certainly going to be problems up the line.

Sooner or later this theory that was "rhetoric that worked" is going to be examined by scientists, by men whose interest is the truth.

And this will cause problems. The "myth of gender" that Benjamin gave birth to and which has been institutionalized for a long time now, and given the title of "established fact," has become deeply integrated in the sense of self that exists in many, if not almost all transsexuals. As this myth is being exposed as myth or discredited as scientific theory the poor transsexual women of the present day are getting their egos melted down, and they are experiencing the pain of deep insecurity.

I do not see that anyone is to blame for the pain that many transsexual women are presently going through. Benjamin meant well and he was very successful in a practical way. He bettered the lots of transsexuals, to be sure. But there was a price that would have to be paid in the future that came along with his good work.

There is Science and there is the Political. Rhetoric, the art of engendering belief, is what works in the Political. The scientist hates rhetoric and will destroy it. No one is to blame for the pain we observe in transsexuals today. There is Science and there is the Political. What is happening is just a natural event of the world we live in.

Sincerely,
Kendra Blewitt

Second Letter to Dr. Bailey:

Dear Dr. Bailey,

I read your response to the article that appeared in the Stanford paper. I also clicked on "from the beginning" and read the whole thing you wrote.

It was very good.

Lynn Conway's actions constitute censorship. How can someone who calls herself an intellectual, a scientist, etc., justify this?

These transsexuals are complaining that if your opinions become accepted by society they will be adversely affected personally. People won't see them as women anymore but as men who have a sexual condition.

That is the truth of what they are, in my opinion. They are men living as women who are doing this, in the final analysis, because they have a sexual condition.

They want to believe that they were born with a female gender identity. This way there is a sense in which they are true women - and they are dependent upon this belief.

I don't think there is any such thing as an innate sense of self.

Maybe I'm wrong. Sometimes it does seem that I was a girl all along. I think this is because I have been living as a woman for two years now, and my sense of self has been affected by this experience. But maybe I was born with a female gender identity.

I am willing to be reasonable and discuss the matter. Are they? No, there is something they are dependent upon. There is something that they need to believe. They cannot afford to be reasonable.

They will try to have it made "politically incorrect" to espouse the autogynephilia theory.

One thing they have conveniently forgotten is the effect that the institutionalization of the gender identity theory has had on autogynephilics like me. We are not true transsexuals but mere transvestic fetishists, according to this theory. Isn't that nice? We live as women too. We don't like being made to feel like a man in a dress any more then these "true ones" do.

The "true ones" have been doing this to us for a long time -- denying that we are real transsexuals and making us feel like a man in a dress. I guess they don't remember.

Sincerely
Kendra Blewitt

Kendra's note to me (sent 18 May 2003)

As with Willow Arune , I had requested a photo so readers could connect a human face to Kendra's comments, and Kendra has graciously submitted one as well.

Kendra's letter asks why I called Anne Lawrence a "brick" (a derogatory term used by some transgender women I know at Chicago's Baton nightclub and out in the club scene to describe visibly gender-variant people). Please note that I did not call Anne Lawrence a brick. I used the term in my Annotated Bailey, p. 141 (the comments on "more attractive") to discuss discrimination based on appearance, even within transgender circles, against the visibly gender variant.

My point was that the same powerful type of discrimination we see among transgender women is even worse among people who consider themselves outside the community like Bailey. His entire book assesses the appearance of each woman in our community he meets, and there are clear differences in his writing style when he describes women he finds attractive.

I'm sure if Anne Lawrence asked her good friend Bailey for his honest opinion about her presentation (and he was willing to be as "honest" as he thinks he is), Bailey would tell her point blank she is clearly gender variant, especially her voice. Bailey opines that "Cher"/Anjelica Kieltyka is "clockable" (p. 191), and Anjelica is considerably less identifiable as gender variant than Anne. If Bailey used a film clip of Anne in one of his offensive lectures to demonstrate transgender stereotypes, I am certain Bailey's audience would chuckle in immediate recognition of Anne's gender condition. Still, Anne does not consider herself clearly gender-variant, so Bailey's "honest" assessment and his audience's response would be an enormous blow to how Anne self-identifies.

Kendra makes an interesting comment that her own motivation is less for the social role than for the sexual role. I believe this is a common characteristic of those who self-identify as having a paraphilia, and why many assimilated women feel this does not describe their own motivation for transition or life after transition. I would rather be the fat and plain passable TS woman Kendra mentions, than have the "sex appeal" which Kendra says allows her "to get away with talking like a man."

Thanks again to Kendra for sharing her thoughts and photo! I encourage everyone who identifies as "autogynephilic" to send in their stories, so readers can better understand their lives and motivations. Paraphilics like Anne Lawrence, Kendra, and Willow need to have their stories told, so their condition can be better understood in the context of the larger community.

Hi Andrea,

The photo you asked for is included as an attachment.

At first I was going to send you a "nice girl" photo. It was a photo of me with my Mom. It was taken when she and my sister came from the Chicago area to visit me in San Francisco last November.

I decided instead to send you a sexy photo. This one was taken last September, a month after I'd had SRS.

Why a sexy one? Andrea, why did you call Anne Lawrence a "brick"? Would you have said such a hurtful thing if she were not promoting the autogynephilia theory? Do you think that those of us who identify as autogynephilic are doing so out of resentment because we are physically too man-like to pass and live in stealth? I chose the photo I did because I wanted to show you that I have a good body. (It is a terrible photo of my face. I was drunk at the time. Very drunk.)

Andrea, I have a body that has sex appeal to men. Andrea, I have not gotten breast implants, as you can see. Why is that? It is because I am confident of my sex appeal. I know I can turn men on even though I'm flat. Andrea, are you that confident? Do you think your body is good enough that you could afford to be flat? Well, I am that sure of myself. I haven't bothered with breast implants for that reason.

It is the same with my voice as it is with my flat chest. If I had to I would do something about it. But I don't have to. My sex appeal is good enough that I can get away with talking like a man.

Now then, the most passable TS woman I know is a plain jane who is fat. She is great at passing as a woman, yet her appeal to men is nil.

There is no correspondence between passability and the ability to have men want you as a lover. Passability does not imply attractiveness, and attractiveness does not imply passability.

By what authority has it been determined that the true woman of our kind is the one who can pass? Is this written in the Book of Moses, or what?

I say the criterion of who is a true woman of our type is how good you are at getting an attractive, masculine man to want you to be his lover.

I am good at that. Therefore, I am a true woman.

Sincerely,
Kendra