Transgender Asexuality

| Dec 28, 2020
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The first time I heard about asexuality was when I was looking at a survey of the sexual orientation of transgender people. I was surprised to see that many transgender people were asexual and that there was some suggestion that this percentage actually increased during transition. Later when Caitlyn Jenner came out, transitioned and said that she was asexual it brought the subject up again to me. I thought that she might just be dodging the question of sexual orientation. Then a cisgender friend of mine said that she thought that she was asexual. At that point, I had the nagging feeling that asexuality was something that I needed to study and, in particular, to examine potential causal factors that could be analyzed in light of its frequency in transgender people. Just as transgender people demonstrate dissociation of sexual capability from gender, can transgender asexuals help tease apart potential factors underlying asexuality?

There has been considerably research done on asexuality, and some specifically for asexual transgender people. The general population frequency of asexuality is 1-1.3%. (Asexuality, like being transgender is not a disease or illness, so the word prevalence does not apply.) But the population frequencies of around 1% for asexuality is considerably lower than the rates reported for non-transition people and strikingly lower than those frequencies after transgender transition. Studies for trans women report 4, 6, 7, 10 percent before transition and 23% after transition. Studies for trans men, although involving considerably fewer people, are 7% before transition and 13% after transition. Change in sexual orientation after transition occurs in about 64% of transgender people and asexual is one of the categories that increase. Are these reports due to clinical bias or some sort of sampling error? Those are good questions for future research. But taking the numbers at face value why would a non-transitioned transgender person be uninterested in having sex, or go through transgender transition, only to lose even more interest in having sex?

I began to consider my own past behavior and am now entertaining the notion that my label should be gyne-sapio-romantic asexual stone butch transgender lesbian, despite the fact that I hate labels. I am only interested in what such labels may bring to science. Not to be outdone by other sexual orientations or gender categories despite our small size, we gyne-romantic folks even have our own flag.

The words in my label may be Greek to you and they were to me as I sifted through the numerous qualifier words for asexuality on the AVENET Site (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) and other sources. And some of these words actually are Greek.

I will decode the meaning of these words and, as usual, as in all science involving behavior I will start with definitions. Asexuality simply means that a person prefers not to have sex. Many refer to themselves as “Aces.” Asexuality is a type of sexual orientation like heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or pansexual (the latter, attracted to people regardless of sex or gender).

It is important to know what asexuality does not mean. Many people have misconceptions about it. Being an Ace does not mean that a person cannot physically perform sex. It simply means that they do not feel that they want to have sex and will not seek it out. In psychological terms, they do not have the “drive” to have sex at all or may only have a weak drive. Asexuals are not mentally ill, not necessarily homosexual, not damaged nor just waiting for the right person to come along. Most do not suffer from shame and many are proud to be Aces. They can and do have sex sometimes to please their romantic partners.

Gyne-romantics symbol.

Asexuals are divided into two primary categories: romantic and aromantic. Romantic in this context refers to a positive emotional connection with another person that is more intense than a friendship and may be associated with preferred gender and sexual attraction. An aromantic Ace does not seek out an intense romantic emotional connection with another person. Romance comes from the middle ages and the code of chivalry when knights would have elegant, intense relationships with noble women which were typically not sexual.

We usually think of a romantic relationship as accompanying or a prelude to sexual relations with a person, but it need not be. Some romantic relationships develop into long-term pair bonding.

As if that were not confusing enough, we can go deeper into the asexual categorization. We can further define how a person may be romantic. There are gyne-romantics (gyne is Greek for woman) who form romantic connections only with women and there are andro-romantics who only form romantic connections with men.

Sapiosexual romantic symbol.

And finally, there are there are sapio-romantics who tend to form connections with smart people. Gyne-sapio simply means smart women. If you need an example in literature, Sherlock Holmes was intended to be an asexual character although he had a gyne-sapio romantic relationship with the character Irene Adler whom he considered his intellectual equal.

So, I am trying on the label of gyne-sapio romantic asexual. As I consider my past, I can see instances of this. When I was in elementary school, I was attracted to smart girls but when I got to junior high school, my sexual arousal got in the way. The hormones were flowing and I felt like I was out of control talking to my former friends who were girls. By then, they had seized all the sexual stimuli for their presentations which were too arousing for me. They also started doing social activities with men which I had no desire for. Later in college, it was hard to find smart women because I went to an all-male school and encounters with women were short or non-existent. I also think that intelligent women saw me as a macho, football-playing, raucous frat boy and interested in going into the military. The Animal House stuff ( I was actually in the real Delta house) was probably repulsive. And that was during the anti-Vietnam-war movement. All that was, of course, my masculine cover story to conceal my transgender secret. Throughout my life I always felt that having sex was a way to please my partner, not myself. I have to say in my own defense that I was/am pretty good at it. Of course, having studied neuroanatomy and neurophysiology helps.

Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes.

A few years ago, I discovered that I was a lesbian. Lesbians have a particular category for women who vicariously receive pleasure from their partners enjoyment. They are called stone butch lesbians. So, you are probably sick of words by now but the complete set is gyne-sapio romantic asexual stone butch transgender lesbian. Given all the Venn diagram circles, there probably are less than a handful of us in the world.

So, what are the causative factors for asexuality and can the phenomenon of asexuality in transgender people help us understand what is going on, pending future research. What, if any is the evidence for these factors. As Captain Louis Renault says in Casablanca, bring in the usual suspects. There are four suspects to interrogate:

  • Genetics and epigenetics
  • Emotional learning
  • Culture
  • Hormones

It is hard to dismiss genetics and epigenetics as factors which form genetic predispositions because these predispositions form the basis for organization of the nervous system. We can see this best in newborns in their body movements. Newborn to-be trans women tend to have lower activity levels and to-be trans men show higher activity levels than controls or each other. We also know that activity level reflects how personality will develop. That might account for lower sexual interest in trans women but, using this as evidence, asexuality among trans men should be lower both before and after transition but the evidence says they are not.

It is well established that sexual arousal is a learned response of the mammalian emotional system. Animals and people can be conditioned to become sexually aroused to neutral stimuli according to Pavlovian conditioning principles. You probably know about Pavlov’s dog experiments in which a neutral stimulus was followed by access to meat. Over several trials, the bell began to signal the meat and the dog would salivate in anticipation. The same thing can be done with a neutral stimulus and a stimulus that triggers sexual arousal. During childhood and especially puberty, sexual arousal responses begin to be learned when hormone levels of testosterone and estrogens begin to increase, making conditioning easier. Especially, during this period particularly novel stimuli (e.g. revealing dresses, masculine muscles) may trigger arousal and consolidation of arousal learning for the opposite sex. The learning process continues throughout life. Novel stimuli are the basis for fashion. Are these arousal signals less effective in Aces due to genetic predispositions or past negative experiences?

Culture identifies gender categories, a subset of which provide signals of whom culture wants them to perform sexual behavior. This system is not based on biology but on tradition and cultural history. Signals are necessary for humans because culture insists that we clothe ourselves. There are overlaps among other signals such as voice pitch and body size. Are there flaws in the cultural gender behavior category system that foster asexuality? It is easy to see how transgender people might be confused by this system. Since their genetic predisposition causes them to have positive and negative reactions to gender behaviors which are based on biology, not based on culture.

Finally, there is the potential role of hormones which might reduce sexual arousal in trans women because hormone therapy reduces testosterone levels. (Estrogens also stimulate sexual arousal although at reduced effectiveness from testosterone.) However, these hormonal effects do not explain asexuality in trans men who have increased testosterone levels both before and after transition. There are also no reports that asexuals in the broader population have hormonal levels out of the normal lab ranges and most are fully capable of having sex.

So, don’t take my extreme label of gyne-sapio-romantic asexual stone butch transgender lesbian too seriously; ultimately the smallest minority on earth is the individual. But do take the phenomena of asexuality and transgender asexuality seriously. You may be one now or may be one of them someday. Science learns from differences in things and people.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at

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