Theory, Grounded Theory and EroticMALE FEMALING
BY RICHARD EKINS
ROUTLEDGE: 1997: 185PP: $36.95
REVIEWED BY JULIE PETERS
Richard Ekins is Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Ulster at Coleraine and has had an academic interest cross-dressing and sex-changing since 1979. At that University, he has set up probably the worlds largest archive of male femaling behaviour; writings and case studies, from erotica to the academic.
This book is both an incredible series of case studies into the lives and social worlds of male femalers and a sociological and psychological theoretical treatise on male femaling behaviour.
Male femaling is a broader term than transgendering. Ekins names three modes or tendencies of male femaling; body, erotic and gender male femaling. I found these very useful in understanding the diversity of transgendered behaviour. For the individual these different modes, body, gender or erotic male femaling can dominate at different times of their lives; he shows evidence for some becoming fixed in a particular mode, some cycling through the different modes, some stopping off at points and others evolving through an idealised personal history.
Those who emphasise body femaling may depilate body hair, tuck their genitalia or use hormones or surgery to alter their bodies. With gender male femaling they get pleasure from building up female wardrobes and studying female gendered behaviour or they may not dress as women at all and develop a "feminine" personality. Erotic femalers may fantasise being the woman during heterosexual love making; or be aroused by wearing women's clothing, or seeing a fashion magazine and this may result in a diffuse sensuality or an intense genital orgasm.
He shows the habitual erotic femaler may build up masturbatory routines and most often meets others through advertisements placed in contact magazines. In Ekins' idealised typical career path transvestites forgo erotic femaling for gender femaling. He show a transgenderist who does not want to alter their body and has no erotic interest in male femaling and who emphasises gendered behaviour such as being passive, nurturant, compliant and emotional. And we meet transsexuals who totally give up erotic femaling and even de-emphasise gender femaling to embrace body femaling.
A problem I had with his treatise was that even though he describes people who use male femaling to transcend, transgress or threaten gender, sexes and sexuality he seems to give no significance to this in his "career path". Whereas I would argue that this transcending of the limitations of gender is in fact the primary aim of "male femaling".
I was very pleased that, as a sociologist, he used grounded theory to describe male femaling. Grounded theory is theory that is informed by data. And so unlike so many theoretical books that purport to know everything about the transgendered this one has a reality check; it actually presents the data its theory is based on. And so it has appeal to anyone with a personal or theoretical interest in male to female transgendered behaviour.
I felt that the theory in the introduction was a bit obtuse, so I skipped part two "Mainly Theory" and went straight to part three, "Mainly Practice." This is the bulk of the book at 100pages.
The case studies are fascinating and are continually placed in the theoretical context in a very approachable way. He continues to compare reality to his idealised case history.
In "Beginning Femaling" we get a clear picture of why some events of childhood could lead to erotic femaling later on, and similarly for body femaling and gender femaling. He intelligently uses these vignettes to show the difference between the often confused concepts of sex, sexuality and gender.
In "Fantasying Male Femaling" gender and body daydreams are looked at but the bulk of the evidence is from erotic telephone sex-line scripts. The male femaling telephone intimacy scripts show adoption of a fantasy female body, the importance of gender in sexualisation and the role identity changes have in the service of the erotic.
In "Doing Male Femaling" I was impressed with Ekins case studies showing the great variety of male femaling. The stories of the extremely isolated and lonely lives of some male femalers, who do male femaling as a substitute for a relationship and are scared of disclosure were very moving. Elena spent all her spare time locked up in a secret attic full of womens' clothes taking photos of herself.
"Constituting Male Femaling" marks the period where the femaler seeks an explanation and a usually a label for their behaviour. I found Daniel Paul Schreber's story fascinating. Predating terms such as transsexual he used what he knew and believed and came to a "logical" conclusion; he was about to be changed into a woman by divine intervention, become god's mate and redeem the world and restore it to its lost state of bliss. He then describes male femalers today; these people find the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite" in the literature then define themselves as such. "You cannot imagine the comfort in knowing that one is "something", and not merely monstrous."
"Consolidating Male Femaling" enables the individual to develop a comprehensive and coherent frame work, a way of fitting it into their social worlds. The body femaler may take on the label "transsexual" and change sex. The erotic femaler may put a lot of energy into finding the most arousing ways of masturbating and forge contacts with others. The gender femalers tend to re-define the erotic and body femaling in terms of better gender femaling. They may keep this consolidating apart from their male maling lives or they may totally immerse themselves in new lives which are totally devoid of malness. Others try to integrate all aspects of their of their lives and transcend the constraints of sex and gender stereotyping. Ekins research suggests that most never reach a consolidated outcome.
When I finished "Mainly Practice" I went back to "Mainly Theory" and realised that I now understood what was being discussed in the theory section, and found it very interesting and approachable. And I also realise that I've already described most of the theory section to you as well. I like this grounded theory concept.
Even though he mentioned it, I felt there could be a further step in the idealised personal history; "transcending gender". He doesn't question societal sex roles but tries to describe what is happening in this highly gendered culture we live in.
Ekins different modes of male femaling and his idealised life history certainly gave me new personal insights and forced me to question my own position/s within this model. I was certainly challenged to acknowledge and question the erotic component to my male femaling. Writing this book suggested far many more questions in many areas of sociology, queer studies than it answered for Richard Ekins as it did for me. The most intellectually exciting for me was his suggestion that similar grounded theory studies in male maling, female femaling and female maling would be how you would begin to form grounded theories of "gendering".
© Copyright Julie Peters 2000