We are in an unprecedented crisis with human sexual behaviour. I am aware that this topic is controversial and sensitive, but I was urged to write this piece by people who heard me speak-up at the Genspect conference in Killarney, Ireland, 2023. During the Q&A of the males-only panel I mentioned that I had survived seven years of severe anorexia while attempting to avoid becoming my father. I am familiar with the various theories and opinions around why males attempt to transition to female, but we have heard little of the history of why males develop pathologies in relation to masculinity. I offer this perspective piece as a point of discussion, not to label anyone, or dispense with current theories. Rather, I hope we can expand our understanding of maladaptive outcomes of adolescence in relation to sexual behaviours in males. I defer to future research that will provide a deeper insight into this taboo area. What follows is a snapshot of my own journey to manhood and some questions I have about how Gen Z males are adapting, informed by my understanding of important developments in male psychology.
Let’s begin with a potential flashpoint in the discourse around male transitioning: In June of 2023, the formidable Doctor Debra Soh posted on X:
The definition of autogynephilia in males can be summarised as sexual arousal at the idea of having a female body. Can we really say, “there is no third explanation”. What if we said this about other forms of maladaptive behaviour?
A detransitioner called Chloe Cole replied:
Sexual trauma from a father figure or similar male role model can cause a boy to reject a male identity or to perceive his genitals as an attack vector for more assault and want them gone. The trans community will latch onto that self-hate and call it gender dysphoria.
In the thread many correctly noted that childhood trauma (or ACEs) is a known factor in adult maladaptive behaviours, yet it seems to be overlooked when it comes to the developmental factors of a male who seeks sex re-assignment whether socially, medically, or surgically.
Jaco Van Zyl, a psychologist in Ireland who hosts the podcast for the Critical Therapy Antidote group, noted Jung’s theory of Anima Possession; where the feminine is present within all males and must be balanced with masculinity. This concept seems to have been forgotten in the age of psychological systemisation, the ‘therapeutic culture’ foreseen by Philip Rieff in 1966. To the limited extent that ‘lived experience’ provides any valuable knowledge, my own life has left me with some insight into this crisis. If themes repeat in other people’s lives, it helps us identify patterns and common outcomes.
My journey to manhood
Sadly, my journey to manhood was potholed with many of the common problems young men face. I grew up very poor, when I was age 9 my mother had to fend for us alone after my father left us; my father was a very violent, unempathetic man at the time. My mother was a loving, compassionate woman who struggled with her own mental health until she eventually had a complete schizophrenic break when I was 13 years old. My father beat us with fists for trivial reasons, although mercifully he never drank much and avoided other women. However, my brother developed a malevolent streak, initially this protected me from other predators in a hostile environment, almost like having a bodyguard as discussed by David M Buss in his book Bad Men.
I had five uncles who seemed like broken men that surrendered to the demands of tyrannical, manipulative, angry wives. My grandmother had ruled over her daughters with manipulation and deceit, in turn they had ruled their husbands in the same manner, forming what I would call a malevolent matriarchy. These men appeared to me to be merely providers, with no real voice in the family, sullen, often absent and repressed. One may be tempted to identify this as “toxic masculinity”, however, you would have to overlook the sheer malevolent intent of the women, and the tragic result that these men all died long before their wives did. I do acknowledge that this cohort came from a family tormented by poverty and trauma after fleeing Italy to South Africa, following World Wars One and Two. I had an inside track on their behaviour because they spoke openly in front of me, not realizing I could grasp the malevolence. My brother initially modelled some honour, emulating the characters from old Western and action movies from the late 70s and 80s, I still try to squint like Clint Eastwood when it is appropriate.
Unfortunately, at school I had few good male role models. I was exposed to some catholic nuns who seemed to hate boys, and male teachers who paraded some twisted form of educated hypermasculinity expressed through sport and senseless domination. One should research the hypermasculinity, often referred to as militarised masculinity, that prevailed in Apartheid South Africa to understand this further.
Militarised masculinity is described as violent, unsympathetic, impatient and cruel to all males of all races for different reasons, some justified, others not. Being a weaker, sensitive, creative, emotional type was a gruelling journey. Many of us ended up dying by suicide rather than face a future as a victim or the guilt of becoming a perpetrator. In 2022 I did a sub-analysis of a global survey of mental health which revealed that this persists to this day, with 41 percent of South African males feeling hopeless, sad and distressed, with one in five having thoughts of suicide.
My brush with suicide
I got as far as holding a shotgun to my chin when I was 13 years old. The world seemed like a dark, ignorant, painful, inhumane place. If not for the realisation that my death would destroy my mother, I would have shifted my finger a little more on the trigger and my anguish would have ended in a crimson haze. It had not occurred to me that many suicide attempts go wrong, leaving the person still alive with permanent damage. The observant reader may be noticing a familiar pattern here related to the journey of many trans and detrans people.
To say I despised my father would be an understatement. I used to say that if I saw him bleeding on the side of the road I would drive on. On a hopeful note, when I was 33, I decided to visit him to see if he was the demon I remembered. A few years later he passed away at age 92 and we had become best friends. This changed my world view for the better; I had to take full responsibility for who I was and who I would become. Even demons can change. The important part here is that at the onset of puberty, between age 11 and 13, I despised my father, and other males generally seemed either weak or irrational. This coincided with realising that I could not follow Catholicism any longer as it seemed to me at the time to need fear as a manipulation tool to subdue people, while providing cover for them to continue abusing others. Therefore, I suffered an existential collapse of assumptions about the world, a dramatic change in my world view. However, I had no positive role models, I lacked basic competencies to develop in isolation. I now see how this left me vulnerable at a very young age.
Unbelievably, at age 14 I was forced by the malevolent matriarchy to live with my father again. This, even though he was partly responsible for my mother having the mental health breakdown a year earlier. My time with him was unbearable. We never spoke. We were still poor; I had few resources of any kind. We slept in the same room in a tiny apartment. He only provided enough to eat for himself, leaving me to scrounge for food at school. By then I was essentially an adolescent alcoholic. Drinking daily, skipping school to hang out in a bar where everyone believed I was a college student. I hated him, I hated myself, I hated life, I hated my family, I hated God. Yet I endured for my mother. Mercifully, he became restless and moved out; but this left me alone at age 15, living on the bread line, skipping school to work so I could feed myself, surrounded by gangs and crime in a country at war with itself during Apartheid (1988).
If all this sounds like a journey into darkness, you would be wrong. I realised later that I had guardians watching over me when it mattered for example; a lesbian bar lady kept an eye on me, my best friends’ mother demanded I have dinner with them whenever I wanted to, a friend of my mother’s paid my electrical bill for 2 years without me knowing about it. In this maelstrom of existential angst, I met a girl who would help me find joy, escape my circumstances and discover my talents. At age 16 I finally experienced joy again. However, the wounds did not heal. Instead, I deflected. I used this newfound energy to attempt an exorcism of the Father, the shadow within me. I use Father and Mother here in the archetypal Jungian sense.
My attempt to kill the father within
My girlfriend suffered with anorexia and bulimia. I had never heard of these conditions. Deliberately rejecting nourishment sounded insane at first. But it wormed its way into my life through orthorexia: the urge to fanatically control what you eat. I finally found a way to exercise control over something: my diet and my body. By diminishing my appearance, I diminished my risk of being a target, I also engendered empathy, and my sophisticated explanations served as a proxy for wisdom. I had good reasons to be anxious about food I had access to, and how it was used. I had experienced starvation several times in my childhood. We had to kill and eat wild pigeons when I lived with my mother, later there was a short period when I was forced to shoplift food or starve. Another positive side note: this anxiety meant that I did all the cooking. Later I would go on to start my own brand of restaurants for 21 years, I still do all the cooking at home, my wife loves it.
Initially the food obsession in my teens led to positive results, my girlfriend stopped being bulimic. She gained weight while I lost weight. I was eventually 22 per cent underweight. I replaced her anorexia with orthorexia without realising what I was doing. It became a lifestyle. The thinner I got, the more she adored me, I became what she needed. We met others with similar eating habits, mostly females, who celebrated my emaciated body. The reader should note the Jungian theory mentioned above, the male will seek to present his feminine side in an attempt to reconstitute the Mother. I had effectively lost my mother at 13. The anima ruled. By presenting myself as weak, I removed any threat I might pose to women, by emaciating myself I killed the Father emerging in the mirror. I had finally regained the Mother and defeated the Father. I felt in control of my own fate. No longer could ‘toxic’ masculinity shame, humiliate or hurt me.
It should be obvious that this would end in disaster. It did. Seven years later the girl cheated on me. I realised I was surrounded by maladapted frauds; I was living a lie. It dawned on me that I was on a path I had not chosen. I was serving the needs of others, upholding a fantasy of being totally unlike all other men, unlike my father. I went into a period of experimental self-discovery. But I also abused porn, socialised recklessly and even shared an apartment with a friend who was gay, but also a kleptomaniac and occasional transvestite. I deflected from my emotions with alcohol again for the second time in my life. But after two years, there were unexpected benefits to all this chaos: I gained weight, recovered my passion painting art, left an unfulfilling career path (advertising designer), met new and fascinating people, discovered I had strengths in other areas, began enjoying sex again, and I started liking myself for the first time in my life. By now I was 25 years old.
This might not sound relevant to Doctor Soh’s Tweet mentioned above, but I argue that simplifying drastic efforts to survive, however maladaptive they may be, fails to understand the complex pathways that produce pathological outcomes like AGP. And it is revealed in the Tweet by Cloe Cole: “trauma from a father figure or similar male role model can cause a boy to reject a male identity”. She notes that the “trans community” (I assume she meant the online mob) will exploit these vulnerabilities to gain members and prop up their ideology. I became vulnerable in the period that I was rejecting the Father within. It left the door open to predatory ideology, in my case that of eating disorders and its neurotic acolytes, all piggybacking on misguided attempts at benevolent metro-sexuality. For a young male in puberty, the battle for an identity begins with learning to live with high levels of testosterone (up to 50 times more than pre-puberty), it requires managing aggression, processing new emotions, controlling incessant sexual urges, coping with major physical changes and detaching from our mothers, all while performing academically in a hostile education system. My journey took me 12 years; from being suicidal at age 13 to an autonomous adult at 25. But I only really entered manhood in its true sense around age 33. I believe that I narrowly escaped developing a paraphilia to escape adapting to my emerging masculinity. Arguably, my development to full mature manhood was severely delayed by real world demands of survival so perhaps I did not have the relative luxury to entertain sexual fantasies at all. But then again, perhaps the culture at the time was not infused with groomers online, waiting to pollute my development for their own benefit.
It seems to me that as opposed to conditions that we share with females, like anorexia; AGP (autogynephilia) is now being used in a simplistic and dismissive manner. This happens often when it comes to anything related to men, under the influence of the cognitive distortion called Gamma Bias identified by Martin Seager and John A. Barry in 2019.
Gamma bias predicts “that within mainstream western cultures, masculinity is highlighted only in the domain of ‘privilege’ and ‘perpetration’ but hidden in the domains of ‘celebration’ and ‘victimhood’.” Commonly seen when news media reports the sex of a perpetrator when he was male, but not if the perpetrator was female. In this case I believe it is demonstrated when people assign all males who transition to either having a maladapted paraphilia (AGP) or being born gay. The gay men are misled by Marxist ideology in the health professions under the banner of the Affirm approach, but the implication is that males who deal with AGP are perverts, practising a fetish of some sort, unpredictable, to be isolated, banished and feared. We are now using AGP the way people casually throw around the antagonistic term “toxic masculinity”. This is grossly unfair on the victims of what I would call a maladaptive pathway of sexual feedback cemented during critical developmental stages. Many are desperate for help to escape this condition.
We already know that males are dying by suicide because they cannot face failing at manhood. Transitioning, and AGP might be a more bearable option to many young men. For me it was anorexia and alcohol. We should not underestimate the mind’s ability to develop strategies to survive from the available options. In my opinion, the development of AGP is fuelled by, among other factors; the failure to develop a healthy pathway for powerful sexual urges in an environment that vilifies the traditional pathways for Western males. Porn additionally poisons these pathways with shame and guilt. Transitioning has become one such option. While AGP could be feeding shame, transitioning seems like the only route out of this unbearable condition. As verification, look at the opposite effect which can be seen in the popularity among young males of hypermasculinity presented as a viable option by sociopaths like Andrew Tate.
In a recent study they found that media images do not significantly affect body dissatisfaction or eating disorders. But from personal experience and working with my clients I believe social media hijacks a predisposition to belong to a community, any community, even if it is destructive to our wellbeing. Worse, if porn is involved it distorts sexual development further, leading to paraphilias and gender dysphoria in many. Why can we acknowledge how porn destroys marriages, causes erectile dysfunction, and promotes abusive behaviours in adults but somehow it has no impact on adolescent male sexual development? For some of these boys, could AGP be a distortion caused by an unholy combination of misdirected sexual energy induced by porn, excessive guilt, humiliation and shame during critical periods of brain development? After all, no one is suggesting AGP is genetic. Young men, as young as age 12, plead for help getting off porn and detransitioners have repeatedly warned of grooming and ideology in social media platforms.
We must ask what is the function of AGP behaviour? I believe it succeeds in one critical area; it provides much needed relief from the shame and guilt of overwhelming sexual urges, however distorted this relief is. It could help to avoid engaging in mating strategies at all, a way to survive a world where all mate-seeking strategies have been made problematic, supercharged by exposure to porn. In the wake of the #metoo movement, who would blame young men from being terrified of any “toxic” traits they may inadvertently present? The auto-gynephile succeeds in deflecting all risk related to sexually charged encounters. He transforms himself from aggressor, potential perpetrator, to a self-satisfying sexual singularity. He is rewarded in a transhumanist society. Be aware that sexual release in young males is like molten lava that will find the easiest, safest path to gratification. Internalising sexual energy is a form of absolution, albeit maladaptive. It is remarkable that many who attempted to transition to female report that they reject autogynephilic behaviour after detransitioning. It tells us that AGP can be managed, perhaps by managing anxiety. A further analysis of these ideas was provided by clinical psychologist Joe Burgo at the Genspect 2023 conference, you can view his presentation here.
If these paragraphs make you uncomfortable, I draw your attention to gamma bias, and the fact that it is this taboo around openly discussing young men’s sexual urges that could in-turn be driving the fascination with porn. Ultimately, this could all be about a lack of role models modelling competency in healthy, responsible methods of directing sexual energy.
Porn for men is addictive in the sense of becoming an escape from feeling anxiety. For many men, porn is a very powerful deflection from our emotions; I cannot emphasise this point enough.
Consider that we already know men are conditioned to avoid their emotions through distractions like alcohol, aggression, eating disorders and stubborn stoicism. Porn totally hijacks the brain and delivers massive doses of oxytocin and serotonin, inducing calm, reducing pain and stress, and providing a sense of satisfaction. This combination of incentive and reward creates the perfect storm that keeps Pornhub afloat. If the abuse of porn is adopted in adolescence it is rewiring the brain, feeding off the powerful forces in male sexual development. Many females who attempted to transition to male by using testosterone have experienced a glimpse of this in the brief period that they had testosterone in their system. Many report that they could not live like that any longer. Now imagine how many young men feel in early adolescence when this hormone floods their system permanently. Unless you are male, you simply cannot fully imagine what this is like.
This may be an alien idea to many people, but these same people fail to explain why porn is 30 percent of internet traffic. I have heard comments like “porn just utilises innate preferences”. I ask you; do you honestly believe a 13-year-old boy has an innate preference for BDSM? If you believe this, you have a myopic view of masculinity. I urge people to refrain from presuming to know what porn does to males, repeatedly we have told you what we experienced. Support to stop abusing porn can be found here. Observers might have good intentions, but denying the power of porn is a betrayal of those who desperately want to escape the grip porn has on their lives.
The development of males in the internet age is being mutilated by porn. The sensitive, intelligent, emotional male will completely ‘castrate’ himself rather than become that which he sees, and is being told, is the root of all evil. Those who perpetuate the idea that males are all violent misogynists are inadvertently adding to the pressures that drive men into one of the other camps to survive this hostile environment. Many will be trapped by porn yet also be viscerally disgusted or feel utter intimidation when they see what is presented in porn. Remember it’s not only hypermasculine males who are misrepresented in porn, but also women. In porn, the message to young men is; unless you can do this, you will not be wanted, and the man who can do it will lure the women you love. Of course, this is a grotesque lie, but after hundreds of hours of porn during developmental stages in adolescence it no longer matters what the truth is.
We forget how limited our capacity to understand the world was when we were teenagers, how vulnerable we were. Porn traps young males by creating extreme material they will never see in real life. Rather than adapt to reality as it is, they adapt to the world presented by porn. A victim will have effectively been rewired, indoctrinated and forced to capitulate, his values are erased, and he becomes a hostage to fear of failure upon fear of banishment from his family and his community. This is further reinforced by gamma bias in the media and the incessant accusations that all men are to blame for all the worlds problems.
A better way
My journey through anorexia occurred in a period before the easy access to porn, I was affected by the trends of the time. Today things are objectively much harder, males are bombarded by social media algorithms, hypermasculine ‘influencers’, gamma bias in the media, grooming predators, shame and extreme porn. Some are being driven to choose emasculation to survive, by attempting to transition to female, adopt an eating disorder, or mimicking non-threatening traits. Others are responding to this threat by embracing hypermasculine behaviours to lure and trap women in a crude role play of principles found in evolutionary psychology, while many are simply giving up and dying by suicide. This all provides cover and distraction for the real predators who are invading female-only spaces. Understanding how males are being distorted by these forces requires some nuance, rather than simplistic labels like AGP or “toxic masculinity”.
Many men like me, inspired by figures such as Jordan Peterson, are working hard to deliver competencies, inject hope and knowledge into the media, isolate bad men (like Andrew Tate), build networks that empower good men, and pull young males out of the jaws of porn. I am reliably informed that reputable researchers are working on papers regarding “men who actively dis-identify with masculinity out of shame” and may have transitioned due to an overwhelming fear of “toxic masculinity”. I urge others to investigate the possible aetiology of AGP that may provide explanations and approaches to this crippling maladaptation. Let’s see each other as complex emotional beings, with the capacity to adapt, rather than simplistic static categories. Your support is needed. Your children deserve better.
Vincent Deboni is a registered professional counsellor who is based in Sweden.