Discover more from The Distance
Sympathy for the Devil with the Blue Dress On
A review of Phil Illy's 'Autoheterosexual'
Phil Illy has written a bible for trans faith, the belief in a true self that is not the same sex, or even the same species, as one’s body. It is a gospel for disembodiment of the alienated soul from its sexed existence as a biological organism.
Although the contents of his book include science, indeed a very great deal of interesting science, this is not a science book. It is scientism, a confession of his faith in science to eventually cure the spiritual sickness related to his embodied being.
As regular readers of this website will no doubt be aware, we approach everything ‘trans’ (as well as ‘woke’ more broadly) through the historical prism of faith formation. Autogynephiles tend to form overarching, universe-explaining theories around their condition, and so Illy has followed in his faith tradition. It is a strange one for outsiders to consider, but then so is any cult worthy of the name.
By his own accounting, Illy’s spiritual journey has passed through circus performances, eight Burning Man festivals, at least one hundred psychedelic trips, “quite a few relationships” with women in “poly culture,” and physical growth into the body of an adult heterosexual man, 6’4” tall, who wears a dress in public. It is how he brings his imaginary girlfriend with him.
I am not being mean to Phil here. I have bluntly restated how he describes the experience of autogynephilia as an “internal marriage to the cross-gendered self.” He wears his girlfriend everywhere. That’s what the dress is, in his own words.
Phil does not ‘pass.’ He is not trying to ‘pass.’ He has never medicalized and does not use pronouns because he wants to remain rational and grounded despite the persistent fantasy of being a woman. He is in fact signaling to us what he is, and that he knows what he is, when he wears the dress.
He wants us to know that he is an autogynephile. Phil knows that he is male and can never be female and he wants us to know that. He is advertising his condition to raise awareness. When I saw Phil Illy in the hotel lobby at the Genspect conference on Friday, 3 November, he stood out because of that dress. It was a signal: Come here maybe. I am interesting to talk to. He was looking for conversations and for people who would read his book.
Phil is not denying that autogynephilia is primarily a matter of sexual arousal for him. On the contrary, he calls it an “epistemic injustice” that trans activists work so hard to deny autogynephilia exists. The resulting “widespread ignorance harms [autogynephiles] by damaging their ability to properly interpet their situation, be understood by others, and give truly informed consent for hormones or surgeries,” he says. He has a point. Topics which are not allowed to have a Wikipedia page are harder to discuss on the basis of shared information. Poor information also explains many of the medicalization horror shows that we see in Reddit threads, for example.
What worries Illy most, however, is that autogynephiles must accept themselves in order to protect themselves. “The sooner trans people destigmatize these orientations among themselves, the better the odds of successfully combating political backlash,” he writes. He wants to stop rubbing against the rights of others: “It’s flat-out unaceptable to suggest to someone that they might be transphobic (or that transphobia informs their sexual preferences) simply because they don’t want to have sex with trans people,” Illy writes.
Education is his solution. “Put autoheterosexuality and the two-type transgender model in sex ed. Leaving them out is lying by omission.” While Illy is making a policy argument that aims for a more honest conversation, he acknowledges that it is still a fraught topical area, and the battle over youth education is the most contentious part of it. His request seems dubious, frankly.
Ideologically motivated stances on youth gender transition are unlikely to reflect what is actually best for transsexual youth. It’s still unknown whether it is possible to adequately differentiate kids who would be harmed by medical transition from those who would achieve a net benefit. Clinical experience and empirical studies will ultimately provide insight into the best practices for dealing with juvenile gender dysphoria. Ideology will not.
Of course, the phrase ‘transsexual youth’ is already ideological. Illy has ideas that will not make the cut with the public, especially about children. Yet is refreshing to see someone in the cult of gender drop the sanitized language and admit they believe in the existence of special ‘trans’ children. If there had been more honesty about the intentions and motivations for elective sexual maiming and endocrine destruction of minors, the practice might not have gotten off the ground in the United States.
Illy then sees two areas of agreement with the ‘gender critical’ view. “One is the need to curtail the use of puberty blocker monotherapy because being hormonally sexless wreaks havoc on the human body.” Better, he thinks, to put kids directly on cross-sex hormones. “The other [goal] is to expand the scope of data collection to improve trans health care outcomes for future generations,” he writes.
Again, he has a point. The WPATH SOC8 does not even mention autogynephilia. Clinicians are indeed working in the dark with men like him. Contrary to the denialism of trans activists like Julia Serrano, he finds Blanchard’s typology of transsexualism useful. “It’s fast, and with just the smallest scraps of information about [someone], it’s possible to have a strong guess about which etiology they are,” he says. See? He’s being scientific and rational about all this. “It’s time to end the lie,” he says.
But then he would like us to just skip past “the bathroom thing” if we could. Also, it’s not gay to like traps because men who like men dressed as women are really just straight men who are maybe into women with penises. We must use language that treats transgender sexual attractions as “worthy” or else we will cause autogynephilic men to lose their astral connection to heaven. Sex mimicry exists in nature, to be sure, but Illy would have the mimic count as the actual sex by way of words. Words are magic. For instance, pronouns are magic. Just use the magic pronouns and transgender people will not-die. Why would you want them to die? After all, they have such high suicide rates.
It works just like Tinkerbell, you see. Positive feelings from you are all the magic necessary to make the fairy live despite drinking the poison. If the fairies want pronouns, use pronouns, or they will die. And here is where I tap the sign: THE TYPE OF SOCIAL MOVEMENT THAT THREATENS SUICIDE IF THEY DON’T GET WHAT THEY WANT IS CALLED ‘A CULT.’ Cults do that sort of thing. Dangerous, harmful cults. Don’t become a cult leader, Phil.
Because how dare you, Phil Illy. How very fu*king dare you. I am an American. How dare you even suggest that any American can be required to participate in somebody else’s wizard circle, or utter their mystical incantations? For any reason?
Aside from his political project — Illy wants to bring autogynephilic men and autoandrophilic women together as an organizing force under a new “autoheterosexuality” umbrella — his book is explicitly spiritual. “Countless autoheterosexuals have prayed to God or blown out birthday candles with a wish to change sex,” he writes. “The idea that gender identity is simply ‘who you are’ is fairly common in the gender-variant community,” he adds, citing Stonewall’s language.
Problematically, the gender-soul is unique to the person. “With no uniform solution for appeasing our inner cross-gender spirit, we must repeatedly decide the role our sexuality will play in our lives: will we fully repress, pursue transsexualism, or choose something between these two extremes?” He asks.
This neo-Cartesian gnostic split of gendersoul from fleshbeing is an “emotionally satisfying” explanation to the believer. “Some feel it as a cross-gender soul that dwells inside them,” he insists. “At its most extreme, their natal gender becomes spiritually devoid of worth, while the other is exalted above all else.” When people speak of their experience as being “born in wrong body,” the idea has “emotional significance,” Illy says.
This explicit faith statement, ‘born in the wrong body,’ is not simply a fetish, a thing linked to sexual gratification. Rather, it is a fetish in the pre-sexology meaning of an inanimate object that someone worships, or believes to have magical powers, or believes to be inhabited by a spirit. The blue dress is the totem of Phil Illy’s magical fetish.
Sex appeal is clearly not his goal. Phil’s dresses are practical, not pretty. He has several in each style and merely throws one on, its color depending on the day of the week. “Dressing is a sort of ritual,” he quotes one decades-old source. “I am really ‘in the spirit’ and see myself as a woman,” experiencing “aesthetic feelings of happiness and content.”
He quotes Magnus Hirschfeld: “The influence which masculine or feminine clothing exerts on the spiritual life of transvestites is uncommonly strong.” Dressed in the stereotypical clothes of the opposite sex, they feel “security, restfulness, and exaltation.”
According to Illy, state of mind is in fact the key to understanding what happens in “psyche autoheterosexuality,” as he calls his own form of gendered soul-ness. Everything this type of autogynephile tries to do “is about having the consciousness of the other sex.” Altered consciousness, so to speak.
When “sartorial autoheterosexuals” conduct their rituals, for example, they are chasing a dragon called euphoria. Seeing themselves in the mirror, even for an instant, as the thing they imagine themselves to be, helps them to “fall in love with a beautiful idea” rather than another human being.
“At first, mental shifts are transient,” he explains. As with most historical ritual movements, this is a narrative process. Illy is repelled by sissyfication porn but acknowledges it is part of the story some men tell themselves about their spiritual journey of becoming their own girlfriend. These experiences are initially intense, and “hard to put into words.” Nevertheless, “these ineffable emotions are transformative,” which sounds like a religious conversion.
“Through repetition, mental shifts happen more often and last longer when they do.” This of course sounds like prayer or meditation. The initiate keeps trying to repeat the endorphin rush of seeing themselves as they imagine themselves. “In the beginning, triggers such as crossdressing tend to induce [phantom shifts], but with practice, some autogynephilic people learn how to directly will them into being,” Illy writes. Rumination leads to gratification.
This is not a science book. It is a manual for self-sorcery. Operant conditioning can manipulate mood shifts. Synaesthetes and ghost hunters and automatic writers have been fooling themselves this way much longer than autogynephilia has been in the literature. Humans were fooling themselves this way before they even invented literature.
“Some autoheterosexuals consider living as their default gender to be absolutely devoid of spiritual worth, so they may question the value in continuing to exist if they can’t live as the gender they want. This is a dangerous frame of mind to be in.” Why, they might just rampage through a school with an AR-15 if we don’t let them. Perhaps Illy does not see how the threat is implied in such a statement, but of course the manuscript was completed before Audrey Hale shot up that school in Nashville.
“Since sexuality has so much potential to bring meaning to our lives, some autoheterosexuals” — again, his word — “consider living as their default gender to be absolutely devoid of spiritual worth. They may question the value of continuing to exist if they can’t live as the gender they want. The crisis of meaning brought on by this perpetual inner heartbreak can result in suicide.”
Don’t become a cult leader, Phil.
“Societies in which autoheterosexual trans people can live openly as their cross-gender selves tend to be the same societies in which people have more freedom to chart their own course in life and live in alignment with their innermost feelings,” Illy writes. “Homosexual transgenderism tends to be more common in collectivistic countries. In contrast, autoheterosexual transgenderism is usually more common in Western, individualistic countries.”
That is true, and that is interesting, because it points to what we have argued here at The Distance all along: that his mental condition is a First World problem and an elite luxury belief.
Illy is trying to resolve a “crisis of meaning” that afflicts “ecumenical empires,” as philosopher Eric Voegelin referred to cosmopolitan societies of the past which produced gnostic religious movements rejecting the material inequalities of their age.
A crisis of meaning propels us moderns to extremes. This text embraces the crisis as a faith formation moment. “In spiritual subcultures, it’s common for people to use spiritual ideas and practices in order to avoid addressing their unresolved issues — a phenomenon known as ‘spiritual bypass,’” Illy writes.
This behavior has a serious flaw, however: by trying to hitch a ride to the transcedent tip of Maslow’s pyramid via spiritual bypass, spiritual seekers ultimately leave their inner conflicts and wounds intact.
Something analogous seems to be happening among autoheterosexuals who aren’t self-aware about their orientation, except the dynamic involves identity instead of spiritual enlightenment.
Marking this project as elite is the turn towards Hermeticist elementalism: “Instead of asking, ‘Am I trans'?” [people] can ask, ‘Which aspects of gender transition do I want, and are they worth the trade-offs?” Illy says of his personal utopian vision.
While he rejects “the postmodern gender memeplex,” believers in the genderbeing are trying to “achieve an aesthetic” as though their bodies were clay to be sculpted, he says. “Effective feminizing technology didn’t exist in Hischfeld’s time. Fortunately, autogynephilic people today can attain feminine physical traits by taking hormones and having surgeries.” Fortunately. “Thanks to scientific advances, the boner-killing powers of feminizing hormone treatment allow autogynephillic transsexuals to enjoy the pleasures of feminine embodiment without their bodies reminding them that their cross-gender inclination is ultimately sexual in origin.” Boner-killing.
“Autoheterosexuality drives autohets to think of themselves as the other sex, and in the process, it can generate a dissociative alienation from their bodies or the world around them (depersonalization or derealization),” Illy writes. “Gender-affirming sexual interactions and hormones can help all alleviate dissociation by helping trans people feel at home in their bodies.” This is alchemy, not advice.
His liberating project aims to end the stigma around “sexual interest — a sexually-motivated interest in a particular type of entity, embodiment, or method of interaction” which achieves the state of euphoria desired by the autoheterosexual. He has chosen this term for its “protective qualities due to the widespread acceptance of heterosexuality.” This is cognitive politics, a choice of label that “makes it as relatable as possible, to as many people as possible.” Mimicry, again.
His argument for this concept is political, not scientific. “The autoheterosexual concept is efficient: it packs female autoandrophilia and male autogynephilia into one word,” he writes. “Both rest on equal footing under the autoheterosexual umbrella, giving autoandrophilia the long-overdue recognition it deserves as the female counterpart to make autogynpehilia.” Equality at last, hooray!
What Phil Illy wants us to remember is that we are not necessarily the objects of transgender desire. The auto “orientation” is a “stable sexual preference for particular types of things,” including other species, nonliving objects, and fantasy monsters. I said this was sorcery and I was not joking.
Illy introduces therians, “people who feel a deep integral connection to an animal species and often identify as an animal themselves.” Therians “often believe their connection to their inner animal side … is spiritual or psychological in nature,” he notes. “They’re also likely to believe that they were born with a connection to their animal species, that they share traits with it, or that they were that species in a past life.”
Unsurprisingly, most therians wish they were wolves. “Perhaps because so many therians identify as wolves, some of them report that a full moon can increase their shifting ability, cause emotional changes, or increase their sex drive.” This is a list of old wives’ tales. “Some therians don’t shift in a binary fashion between human and animal. Instead, they exist on a spectrum between human and animal, fluidly wavering between the two.” Nonbinary shapeshifter. Speciesfluid. Your DEI department will be delighted.
“Furries are a marginalized sexual minority,” Illy writes with a straight face, because the whole world is now a comic book convention. “Furry roleplaying is associated with a weaker sense of human embodiment, which itself is associated with negative sentiments toward humanity and greater species incongruence between one’s body and identity.” Species incongruence. “Transpecies identity can also be a permanent state of being.” Hey kids, want to become a wolf? Or a dragon. You can be a dragon, kids, and this proves that autoheterosexuality is real.
The key thing to know — the secret knowledge, the gnosis — is that the “auto” in autoheterosexuality means attraction to some sort of erotic target. The autogynephile is so attracted that he wants to become that target. “People with autosexual orientations often want to embody the same traits they admire in the entities they’re attracted to.” This “erotic target error,” as it is known in sexology, leads the suffering initiate of the cult of the imagined true self to fixate their sexual fantasies on impossible things. Invoking the language of drug culture again: they are chasing a dragon.
I want autohet trans people to realize that if dragon-identified people are sexually attracted to dragons and sexually attracted to being a dragon, maybe something similar happens with autoheterosexuality. And since heterosexuality is the most common orientation, maybe its autosexual version is prevalent enough to be the most common cause of transgenderism.
What a breakthrough. After all, people can fixate sexually on people of other races. “These similarities raise an important question in the domain of trans identity: if transracialism can be caused by race-based autosexual attraction, who can authoritatively say it isn’t every bit as legitimate as transgenderism that’s caused by gender-based autosexual attraction?”
Here lies the crux of “the autosexual theory of trans identity: for each attracton to, there exists a corresponding attraction to being, and for each attraction to being, there exists a corresponding type of trans identity — each with its own flavor of embodiment subtypes, euphoria/dysphoria, and shifts.”
Phil Illy, the autogyenephile, is not even supposed to exist. Not only does he exist, however, he agrees with the infamous feminist writer Rebecca Tuvel and Ben Shapiro, the conservative opinion troll who famously borrowed her argument, that transracial identities should be treated “more respectfully” than they are.
For “if one is legitimate, so is the other.” And so on with xenogenders. All of them are “a type of heterosexuality — the least queer kind of sexuality” according to Illy, or else homosexuality that might change with the new identity. Next time someone tells you there is no possible way that anyone could ever believe such-and-such, show them this book. Make them read highlighted passages. Make sure you say his name, because it might be famous one day.
Phil might just become a cult leader. (Don’t become a cult leader, Phil.)
“Rather than being born already transgender or transsexual, people are born predisposed to developing gender issues because of autoheterosexuality or homosexuality, and they later come to identify as trans or choose to undergo social or medical transition as a way of addressing their gender issues,” he writes. Any which way you go, there you are. Like the Hotel California, or an abusive relationship, you can check out any time, but you can never leave.
For this reason, Phil Illy says that the LGB can never quite divorce from the Q and the T and the dragons and wolves and aliens. With this rainbow-spectrum category he has created “a truly dynamic orientation with great diversity among the people who have it, which is why autoheterosexuals may ultimately identify as any of the letters in the LGBTQ political coalition.” People who just wanted the freedom to fu*k each other cannot possibly keep their rights without retroactive acknowledgement that the Great Furry Scritch is an original part of Pride™. They have always been us.
What’s amazing about all this is how brazenly he invokes stereotypes, especially sexist and sexual stereotypes, as objective scientific categories. Also, how he brazenly admits things that the alphabetical activists have denied to our faces for years. We take the good with the bad.
Andrea Long Chu infamously defined womanhood as a hole that is ready to be fu*ked. Likewise, being the bottom “shows up especially often” in autogynephiles, Illy says, because men are “wanting to enact a feminine role during sexual activities.” That is, they would like to be “womanish, passive” rather than masculine and active. They would like the woman to be on top this time. A woman in the literature wanted a penis “because it made [her] strong.” Put Andrew Tate in a blue dress. Give him sexology. His next video rant is this book.
Every manner of boundary that feminists have defended from AGP men in recent years has a history in the literature, it turns out. Men really do fetishize pregnancy to the point of womb envy, ladies, and they always really have, to the point of autogynephilia. Lactation fetish too: Illy describes the phenomenon a little, but without mentioning any health concerns for a baby suckling on elevated levels of male nipple discharge. “Validation” and the resulting euphoria are paramount. Like Tate, boobs are at the center of the AGP equation. “Autogynephillic people are more likely to want female breasts than any other body part.” You don’t say!
Radfems, when you encounter a man stripping off his top in the street, writhing and fondling his hormone-and/or-surgically-enhanced breasts, note that this is called “ego-dystonic arousal.” It is what happens when a man gets upset about the thing that turns him on. His arousal conflicts with his idealized self-image. He is so in love with the woman he has become that this theory of autogynephilia is known to sexology as “the romance hypothesis.” Attraction has led to enticement has led to attachment. He is attached to her. He wears her like a dress. As a dress.
He is however “straight, turned inside out” and not a man out of his mind. “I was my own best friend,” one respondent told Hirschfeld. Remember when you had an invisible friend as a child? Illy is his own visible girlfriend as an adult. Allegedly.
He had his first realization at a Lady Gaga concert, he says, and then over time, his “sartorial” fetish for wearing a rave dress “greatly improved my quality of life.” He hated his job as a mechanical engineer because the clothes and the cubicles were confining. A layoff was his triggering event to “explore” his new girlfriend-identity. Autogynephilia “is a sexual interest in being a woman,” he says, emphasis being. “By tapping into this source of meaning, we can feel we matter. By guiding our lives with this inner light, we can carry our love within us, wherever we go.” Faith conversion is a process of reconstructing the past into a narrative that explains the intended future.
I had a mystical experience of my own meeting Phil. It happened as I walked into the lobby and spotted him attracting attention. I suddenly felt the absence of my radical feminist partners and friends. Just as suddently, however, they felt present, and I was ready to burst out in delighted surprise at their unexpected appearance. But they were apparitions, dear reader. Mere phantoms. Passing me by. Like avenging Erinyes, mere shades of radfemitude, dragging Phil’s gendersoul down into the nether regions for eternal punishment.
But then the moment passed. In fact there were radical feminists at Genspect, but none of the ones who have demanded apologies of me or of Genspect for Phil’s presence there. For some reason, I have been expected to either condemn Genspect or be condemned myself, going on a week, because of Phil Illy being there. This RAEG is quite misdirected. Having read the entirety of Illy’s book, I feel your rage, ladies. I empathize. Objectivity took a little longer than you wanted but the historian is finished. Phil is all yours. Take him away to those bottomless torture chambers of your mind.
If you do not, he will likely become a cult leader, or else get plagiarized by a future gospel-writer. Best nip this one in the proverbial bud. Surround him and sticker him all over, maybe.
I do not know whether Illy will be at Genspect next year (though I doubt it). It is unclear to me just how he came to be there, as accounts conflict. I have reached out to Genspect for confirmation of the circumstances and I will report back if they respond. Everyone should consider cutting them some slack. It was the tightest security I have ever seen at a conference; I have attended TS:SCI job fairs, gun fairs, and renfairs. The people running Genspect are clinicians, not book reviewers, and they are managing a massive undertaking that is much bigger and way more important than our feelings about Phil.
Some people don’t want Genspect to succeed. They would rather not slay the pediatric transition dragon. They would rather milk the dragon forever, earning clicks and likes and superchats with outrage. It is what they do. Phil Illy understands them perfectly. He was counting on them, and they delivered, granting him days of ‘earned media.’ They want to build his legend even now. Watch them try.
Phil Illy does not want the ‘gender critical movement’ (whatever that is) to cohere long enough to have significant impact. “When it does,” he predicts, “gender-critical feminists (aka ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ or ‘TERFs’) and socially regressive political groups [read: Republicans] will disparage autoheterosexuality and push the narrative that suits their ideological goals. They already do.” Actual genocide, in other words. He has to stop us, otherwise he can never get to build his heaven on earth.
There have been three podcasts about Phil published since yesterday morning. Therapist Stephanie Winn had the most revealing conversation in my opinion. She was able to push back on his too-easy dismissal of women’s concerns about “the bathroom thing.” She got him to admit some of the limits of his philosophy. Leslie Elliot also interviewed Phil. There has been some conspiracy-mongering on this scheduling event. My understanding is that both episodes were scheduled for later, with Winn’s being for this week and Elliot’s for later this month, but both were bumped up in order to take advantage of the sudden surge of interest in him. The Solid Ground podcast also discussed the controversy.
On Substack, I thought Heather Heying, who gave a marvellous presentation at Genspect, had the best take on pseudoscientific uses of subjective stereotypes.
Name a thing, and it becomes real—this is the postmodernist thinking behind many modern arguments. Once the thing is made real by its name, it comes to seem ever more true. And voila, the slippery naturalistic fallacy is manifest: name X, point to the reality of X on the basis of its name, conflate X’s reality with its inexorability and its goodness, and in turn, force the acceptance of X.
[…] Not everything that has evolved is good. Nor does it follow that anything that people currently believe, no matter how much of a community they have found on-line, or how many university professors have written scholarly articles about the phenomenon, is either evolutionarily robust, or good.
Shannon Thrace was also at Genspect and she offered a transwidow’s perspective. She appeared on Elliot’s podcast linked above, too.
Such debates make me despair not for those on the right side of some gender question, nor on the wrong side of some gender question, nor for the state of the gender-concerned world. They make me despair for the myopia social media fosters in in-groups, and particularly, its paralyzing effect on effective activism.
[…] The vast majority of people publicly complaining about autogynephiles quite frankly do not know what they are talking about. I'm going to write a whole article on autogynephilia someday—it's been in the queue for a while—but very briefly, “fetish” is not a strictly accurate synonym for it (though clothing fetishists do exist). Further, the talk of autogynephiles “drawing” people into their paraphilia is, as far as I can tell, a whole-cloth fabrication invented by insular radical feminist circles.
Donovan Eva will have the floor tomorrow. I am finally taking off time from travel and dealing with this mess to finish editing a thesis. See you guys next week. Hopefully by then, everyone will have chosen something else to get upset about and we can resume our own mission, the one where we make history.
The Distance is a reader-supported publication. Please like, share, subscribe, and consider a paid subscription to support our work