Biopsychology and Transgender Studies
Biopsychology Pieces the Puzzle Together
Biopsychology can play a major role in the acceptance of the idea that gender identityhas a biological basis. One reason is because it is factual. These gender variation can be proven with evidence, pictures, and statistics. The theories of the bio-psychological perspective are not like the psychoanalytical perspective of Sigmund Freud, which are based in the idea of the mind or subconscious which cannot be observed. The brain can be observed. Genetics can be observed and broken down. The ability to observe and study is what the scientific method is all about. That is what make it more reliable. A more reliable source and study equates to a more persuasive argument of the facts that gender identity has a biological basis.
The nature versus nurture debate is always at the heart of the gender identity debate. From the time that the transsexual’s dad thinks that he did something wrong as a parent to the time when a mother says “I knew you were difference when you were 2 years old”, the implication of the environmental causes and genetic causes start to clash. Like with other abnormal human conditions, biopsychology has the potential to put to rest the never ending nature versus nurture debate and religious scorn as it pertains to gender identity. With evidence of natural occurring physiological differences, it places gender identity in the same realm as being born with red hair or down syndrome. It is only a matter of time before the evidence is explored and the idea of gender being a black or white, male or female issue will be put to rest.
Sections of the Brain
In 2004 a study was conducted in Amsterdam by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. With the use of three different staining throughout the nuclei of the hypothalamus, they were able to determine that male-to-female transsexuals, in fact, had the same size and number of neurons as normal females and this similarity occur prior to the actually administration of hormones like estrogen to the male-to-female body. This same evidence was found to be true as it pertained to female-to-male transsexual and their similarities to males. The researchers came to the conclusion that these findings prove that gender identity is apart of a complex network involved in various aspect of the transsexuals hypothalamic nuclei that is shaped like the genetic gender they were born but it is the size and number of the gender that they feel like.
Another study, the largest study of transsexualism to date, was conducted on 122 male-to-female transsexuals that found that there are three genes known to be associated with sex development: androgen receptor, the estrogen receptor, and an enzyme which converts testosterone to estrogen. In the subject they found that the androgen receptor was longer in them than other genetic males which causes a weak testosterone signal. This weak signal can have integral effect on gender development in the womb. Lauren Hare from Henry’s Institute of Medical Research, who headed the study says this
“We think that these genetic differences might reduce testosterone action and under masculinize the brain during fetal development “
The co-author Professor Vincent Harley added:
“There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simple a lifestyle choice, however our findings support that a biological basis of how gender identity develops.” (Hare. 2008)
Another research study shows that the corpus callosum, which is the portion of the brain that connect and facilitates communications between the left and right hemisphere of the brain, shape is reverse in transsexuals, opposite shaped of a norman person born with the same genitalia. This study was done through the use of MRIs on normal males, normal female and transsexuals of both kind. So this evidence shows the existence of a mental sex between your ears as oppose to just a physical sex between your legs. So determining sex is not as easy now as opening the baby’s legs and seeing a penis or vagina.
These studies and countless other studies show that it is extremely likely that there is a genetic basis to gender identity. It is my belief from personal experience and personal evaluation of the transgender community that there is a biological basis that predisposes transsexual to become what they are. Yes, making the choice to transition to the new gender depend on what you environment allows. A transsexual cannot transition in Uganda without the risk of death. The extreme social negativity toward the transition prevent that choice of living the social life of the new gender to be made. Whereas if a transsexual is in America, they can transition freely because of the wealth of rights we have and American citizens. Although the lifestyle is still marginalized in America, so transition is not without some form of resistance. Due to conservative religious beliefs and other social obstacles, even with evidence, transsexualism will have an uphill battle to become respected as more then a lifestyle choice. I find this ironic because it was so quickly and easily accepted that alcoholism had a genetic basis. So society can except that someone choosing to pick up a whiskey bottle and gluttonously drink irresponsibly has biological reasoning but a person feeling like the opposite sex with studies that can explain this feeling on a biological level is unacceptable and shunned. This does not seem very logical or fair. The difference though is drinking is social acceptable and in some instance seen as “cool”. Whereas transsexualism is seen as a weird sexual deviant lifestyles only explore by perverts , exploited in the sex industry and smut TV for shock value and ratings i.e. Jerry Springer Show and Maury Polvich. I think the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation will end in a way similar to the issue of the shape of the planet. When everyone thought the world was flat, science and research came along and prove that it was round. There was period of that transition where people who were consider educated at the time like Thales, Hecataeus of Miletus, and the prevalent people of that era spoke against the idea that the world was round but over time and continuous studies and proof, the round world became public knowledge and a world wide excepted fact and not just in theory (except for Sherri Shepard on The View who didn’t get the memo or something…lol)
The truth of the matter is that the layman or average joe is not keeping up with the advances in neuroscience especially as it pertain to gender identity. Gender identity is not their issue until we are trying to use their restrooms, be a girl scout, or receive the spousal support for a spouse’s death. The key is to bring this knowledge to school books and colleges so that the next generation is not suck in the notion that if an individual is born with a penis he is just simply a male/man or if a individual is born with a vagina, she is just simply female/woman without any consideration of variation to the obvious physical. There is a inside of all humans and many things we are yet to understand. With time and constant exposure of the truth, I have faith that society will come around.
Various link to more information and the studies
Swaab DF. Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender
identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation. Gynecol Endocrinol
2004; 19: 301–12.