Research for a Physical GID Cause
Most laypeople tend
to view the concept that Gender Dysphoric individuals are "born"
to the condition with some skepticism. This is only natural, since the
very nature of the condition manifests itself as a perceptual (and therefore
appearing to be only mental) disorder. The classification of Gender
Identity Dysphoria (GID) within the International Classification of
Diseases-10 (ICD-10) and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Illnesses (DSM-IV) serve to support the belief that the transgender
condition is a mental illness.
Much of the reasoning, however, for categorizing GID as a "Mental
Illness" is based in science and psychology that is now decades
old - beliefs which are being overturned by current research.
It has long been
known that "floods" of various hormones are instrumental in
the development of a fetus. What remains a vigorous area or research
is to determine exactly what effects what hormones have on virtually
every structure within the developing fetus. Large scale sexually differentiated
structures are the easiest to observe, and the general effects of various
hormones on gonadal structures have long been known. However, microstructures
such as clusters of neurons in the brain, have proven to be much more
difficult to observe. Coupled with that is the fact that the precise
functions of neurons in brain is a field of study still in its infancy.
Again, only large scale structures are known with very generalized concepts
about the functions of those structures. Nevertheless, new research
has shed light on the closest thing we have to "proof" that
GID has an underlying congential cause.
fetuses start out the same, whether they will ultimately develop into
male or female, the fetus contains a structure that has four ducts that
can develop into male and/or female genitalia. The determining factor
for "normal" development is the presence or absence of a "Y"
chromosome. [ I say "normal" because there are numerous deviations
from the XX/XY karotypes ] Generally, if the Y chromosome is not present,
the fetus will develop as female, with enzymatic signals sent out for
"floods" of Estrogenic hormones and Mullerian Hormone (which
causes the Mullerian Ducts to develop into female genitalia). Without
a flood of Testosterone, the other two ducts do not develop into testes
and the tissue is reabsorbed. If there is a Y chromosome present, it
sends out "enzymatic signals" during the pregnancy for a number
of "Male" hormones. These include Androgen, Testosterone,
and Mullerian Inhibiting Hormone. Testosterone is the best known to
laypeople and is believed to be primarily responsible for the development
of two of the ducts into testes, while the Mullerian Inhibiting Hormone
prevents the other two ducts from developing into ovaries - the other
ducts whither and the tissue is reabsorbed by the fetus. Androgen, it
is believed, is primarily responsible for structural differentiation
of neurological tissues. Because of this, Androgen is sometimes said
to "hard wire" the brain to process as "male." 
Of course there are numerous, well-documented cases where this "normal"
process is interrupted or deviates, resulting in children born with
Klienfelter's Syndrome, Intersexed (formerly known as "Hermaphrodites"),
Turner's Syndrome, Down's Syndrome, and so on[3, 4,
5]. The deviations that cause easily observed physical deformity
or mental inhibition are most readily diagnosed. However, milder forms
of deviation often go undetected, sometimes for the individual's entire
life. The mechanisms that cause such deviations are varied and mostly
unknown, they result from genetic errors, susceptibility, environmental
toxins, maternal stress, malnutrition, drugs, radiation, and probably
a host of things that haven't yet been discovered.
out in the mid-1990's may have discovered just such a previously "undetected
deviation" in the brain structures of transgender individuals.
In 1995 the Journal Nature  reported
on the findings in Holland concerning an area of the brain called the
bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) region and its put it forth
as a possible explanation for Gender Identity Disphoria. The BST region
had long been believed to influence sexual behavior, and is known to
be larger in male vertebrates, which was why the researchers compared
the brains of six transsexuals to the brains of non-transsexual men
and women. Although the sampling was small, the BST regions in all six
transsexuals were closer to the average size observed in female brains.
[I should note that there have been similar comparisons of the size
of the BST region between known homosexual and heterosexual men that
found them to be comparable. I could find no references to studies comparing
the relative size of BST regions in known homosexual and heterosexual
women, however ]. The next challenge came in determining if the size
of the BST region could be altered post-natally.
Tests performed on laboratory rats and primates have subsequently determined
that the size of the BST region is determined in utero by the presence
or absence of Androgen and is not affected by hormones after birth.
The BST region is basically part of the Hypothalmus, which is part of
the "primitive" brain and is known to be responsible for regulation
of autonomic functions, hormone production, and sexual behavior. In
laboratory animal tests, where normal fetal development was purposely
altered, male subjects have been observed exhibiting female mating behaviors.
Upon examination of the BST regions in these animals, the male brains
more closely resembled those of typical females. As this has been tested
and shown among primates, it is reasonable to believe that the same
processes and results would be observed in human subjects as well.
Of course, ethically, such human trials can't be done and researchers
must rely on data collected from the population. There are two factors
that are impeding human research on the subject. One is that human beings
have complex sexual social behaviors that do not often tolerate deviations
from the norm (unlike with animal subjects, where homosexual mating
behaviors have not social or moral constraints). Transgender individuals
will often conceal their true nature and even act opposite to their
own instincts as a method of self-preservation. It therefore becomes
difficult to identify a significant portion of such individuals and
gather data. Even if individuals are identified there is the second
problem - the BST region currently must be examined post-mortem by dissection
of the brain. Clearly this would be an easier hypothesis to prove if
researchers were dealing with a society as uninhibited as the animal
kingdom and also had a non-invasive method of observing the BST region
in living subjects.
UPDATE 5 May
researching the BST region has confirmed that the concentration of neurons
in transsexual males is within the observed average female range, while
heterosexual and homosexual males both had larger nuron counts in the
BST region. Furthermore, supporting evidence that this region is unaffected
by post-natal hormone levels was observed.[u1]
Another new study,
conducted in 2002, discovered an unexpected finding: the BST region
in human beings does not become significantly sexually dimorphic until
adulthood. This was unexpected because it was not observed in lesser
mammals. While some people believe this new study has "dealt a
serious blow" to the assertion that the BST region is a significant
factor in determining transsexuality, I would beg to differ. The researchers
themselves conjectured that neonatal hormone levels could STILL affect
gender identity by simultaneously producing changes in BST "synaptic
density, neuronal activity, or neurochemical content" that might not
occur early in life, but come to fruition during adulthood. No studies
have yet been done to determine if exposure to hormones early in life
may affect how the BST becomes sexually dimorphic, but previous studies
seem to indicate that, once the region has already developed in adulthood,
anti-androgens or supplemental hormones have no effect on altering BST
size or structure.[u2]
While it appears
that the BST region of the brain is a very important contributor to
"Gender Identity," it is by no means the ONLY part of the
brain researchers are exploring. Some research is also looking at the
effects hormones have elsewhere in the brain, for example a number of
Androgen Receptors have been observed in the Hippocampus of rats - and
area that is associated with learning and memory, not sexual behavior.
It is currently unknown why it would be important for that region of
the brain to recieve Androgen. In other research, scientists are studying
the forebrain projections that product the neuropeptite "vasopressin."
The density of these projections is greater in male brains than in female
brains, and their activity is known to be linked to gonadal hormone
production. However, even in cases of castration it takes months for
the vasopressin to clear from the neural projections.
It is believed that vasopressin is partly responsible for male aggressive
behavior and possibly contributes to libido. This may explain why sex
offenders who are castrated do no immediately become less agressive
or aroused, it may also help to explain the "shift" in sexual
oriention experienced by many transsexuals usually months after they
have had a bilateral orchiectomy. It is also believed that male hormones
may be responsible for other, broader, changes in brain development.
Male and female brains have both been observed "processing"
under Magnetic Resonance Imaging. One of the most striking differences
was that language skills appear to be centered in a specific region
of the male brain, while language processing was observed to involve
several areas of the female brain - including the visual cortex. There
also appears to be more cross-hemispheric communication in the female
brain. Science is well on its way to proving some of the long standing
beliefs about the differences between the ways men and women think.
Some of it appears to have been determined ("Hard Wired")
prior to birth, while other things are more "plastic" in nature
- effected by hormones or other environmental influences.
The bottom line:
Gender Identity Dysphoria is NOT a mental problem and therefore psychotherapy
will not make it "go away." It is a PHYSICAL CONDITION, the
cause of which cannot be altered by any known methodology. Individuals
with GID are often in need, however, of some form of therapy to deal
with the SOCIAL problems that often go hand-in-hand with the condition.
Those problems, though, are caused by something external - namely a
society that will not accept the preferred gender identity of the individual.
This is a problem FOR the transgender individual and a problem OF society
that requires either better coping mechanisms for the individual and/or
a more tolerant social environment.
Research for a Physical GID Cause Page 2
The following article
pertains to research performed in the United Kingdom concerning the
thought patterns of gays and lesbians as compared to heterosexuals.
This research might also be applicable to many intersexed and transgendered
people in that it provides stronger evidence that there is a neurological
difference between the brains of heterosexual people and their non-heterosexual
counterparts. Of particular note is the statement that says these differences
in the brains are attributed to hormone levels during the first trimester
lesbians have 'gender-bender' brains
25/03/2003 - 6:00:24 pm
Gay men and lesbians
have gender-bending brains that contribute to their effeminate and “butch”
stereotypes, it was claimed today.
A new study has
found that gay men really do think like women, while lesbians show a
similar affinity with men.
In tests, scientists
found that gay men excelled at mental tasks women generally perform
better than men, but were not so good at tasks traditionally seen as
did as badly as heterosexual men in a test geared to get the best out
The traits seem
to be “hard-wired” into the brain before birth by varying
levels of exposure to the male hormone testosterone, say scientists
from the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
Men are generally
better than women at spatial perception – the ability to mentally
reposition shapes and objects and judge the orientation of lines.
It is for this reason
men despair at the apparent ineptitude of women trying to read maps
and park cars.
Qazi Rahman and
Glenn Wilson conducted a series of neurocognitive tests of spatial skill.
They found that gay men performed less well than heterosexual men, but
matched the ability of women.
But gay men performed
better than heterosexuals and as well as women at remembering the locations
of objects in an array.
In several language
tests, traditionally a female strong point, gay men did as well as heterosexual
women. Lesbians, on the other hand, performed the tests as poorly as
Dr Rahman said:
“Because we know that performance on these cognitive tests depends
on the integrity of specific brain regions, the differences implicate
robust differences between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual
men and women and suggest that hormonal factors early in development
(probably during the 1st trimester of pregnancy) produce these differences.”
The findings are
published in a series of articles in the journals Neuropsychology and
They may help explain
why gay men and lesbians often suffer mental health problems quite different
from those of heterosexuals, the authors claim.
Dr Rahman said:
“The fact that gay men and lesbians show cross-sex shifts in their
brain functioning might also be related, partly, to the cross-sex shifts
in their presentation of certain mental health problems, such as higher
levels of anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders (found
more in women) in gay men.
variations among groups of people in brain function is becoming an important
area for research in human mental health, and a thorough scientific
understanding of the biological and social factors which shape human
sexual orientation is necessary so we can begin to tackle the mental
health problems that gay men and lesbians may suffer from.”
also found that gay men and lesbians both had longer ring fingers relative
to their index fingers than heterosexual men and women.
ring fingers are a sign of exposure to elevated levels of the male hormone
testosterone in the womb.
The length of ring fingers as an indicator of testosterone exposure
in the womb is disputed and unproved - though it is often stated as
fact by the press, it is only a THEORY]
The findings supported
the idea that high, not low, testosterone levels in men produce shifts
in sexual preference.
But the evidence
suggested that the testosterone levels involved were not high enough
to be damaging.
This indicated that
homosexuality was a normal biological phenomenon, and not the result
of biological fault.
Gender Identity IS Genetic!
Mon October 20, 2003
at UCLA have published important new finding in the Journal Molecular
Brain Research which repudiates the concept that homosexuality and transgender
identity are a choice.
may help answer an important question -- why do we feel male or female?"
Dr. Eric Vilain, a genetics professor at the University of California,
Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Sexual identity
is rooted in every person's biology before birth and springs from a
variation in our individual genome."
Since the 1970s,
scientists have believed that estrogen and testosterone were completely
responsible for sexual differentiation of brain structures. Recent evidence,
however, indicates that hormones alone cannot explain everything about
the differences between male and female brains.
were carried out on laboratory mice using two genetic testing methods.
The researchers compared the production of genes in male and female
brains in the embryonic mice which occurs in gestation long before the
animals develop sex organs. The basic genetic principles are so fundamental
to the process of sex differentiation that the results are believed
to be directly applicable to human beings. The research team identified
54 genes produced in different amounts in male and female mouse brains,
prior to hormonal influence. Eighteen of the genes were produced at
higher levels in the male brains; 36 were produced at higher levels
in the female brains.
It is already an
established scientific fact that male and female brains differ in a
number of measurable ways both anatomically and in function. The scientists
plan to undertake additional studies to determine the role for each
of the 54 genes they've identified.
are hopeful that the UCLA discovery will provide them with a better
means of determining the "base sex" of children born with
ambiguious genitalia - using the genetic findings as a factor in surgical
gender assignment decisions for such infants.
there will likely still be a bias toward female gender assignments because
the surgical procedure is easier to perform. Statistics indicate doctors
choose erroneous gender assignments for intersexed children at least
half the time. Without surgical advancements making assignment as male
equally feasible the findings of this research are unlikely to greatly
affect the trend of surgical misassignments. Intersex advocacy groups
maintain that such surgery is, by and large, medically unnecessary anyway
and see no great benefit in the addition of one more factor for surgeons
to take into consideration when considering performance of a surgery
that many intersexed people believe is simply "mutilation"
of a defenseless infant for no reason but cultural bias dictating individuals
be either "male" or "female."
As for transgendered
the research provides yet more evidence their gender identity are not
a "lifestyle choice."
may explain why we feel male or female, regardless of our actual anatomy,"
said Vilain. "These discoveries lend credence to the idea that
being transgender --- feeling that one has been born into the body of
the wrong sex -- is a state of mind.
article at Reuters. Editorial note: The prevelence numbers they
give for intersex births appear to be incorrect]
Some of the References
I consulted in compiling this included: