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Think of your most noticeable feature. But whatever it is, for better or worse, it is probably not your most salient feature to the world around you. Gender identity haunts every aspect of our lives, dictating the outcomes of our conversations, our workplaces, our relationships — even our bath products.
Before most infants are named, they are assigned a sex based on the appearance of their external genitalia by a third party. These decisions are dolled out in a typically binary fashion, with no expectations for ambiguity. This is the norm — but has this simplicity led us astray?
In March of this year, Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, banning individuals from public restrooms that do not correspond to their assigned biological sex. This controversial legislation was the first of its kind— though certainly not for lack of trying. S, primarily in the Midwest and South, have attempted, but failed, to bring such bills into law in the past year.
But if we are to regulate gender, we must first assess the extent of our knowledge on the topic. First, some controversial definitions.
These lists, while not exhaustive, are exhausting. The labels are useful in some respects, much like any other label denoting origin or role — they help us navigate social situations and can often be signs of respect. It is a natural human inclination to categorize, but broad assumptions can also lead to stereotyping.
To limit the scope of this article, we will focus on transgender identity. This juxtaposes cisgender , or those who identify with their assigned gender.
Importantly, transgender identity is independent of sexual orientation. The subset of transgender individuals who choose to undergo sexual reassignment surgery are often denoted as transsexual. Rather, those who had suffered ailments could vastly attribute their afflictions to societal stigma, discrimination, and violence. With most mammals, however, the majority of individuals are cisgender male or female; transgender individuals are estimated to comprise about 0.
Little is known about the causes of transsexuality, and many of the studies that have been conducted — particularly psychological studies — have since been widely discredited more on that later. However, scientists do seem to have some information on the biological basis of several factors. First and foremost, is gender identity genetic? It seems the answer is yes — though, as with most traits involving identity, there is some environmental influence. One classic way for scientists to test whether a trait which can be any characteristic from red hair to cancer susceptibility to love of horror movies is influenced by genetics is twin studies.
Identical twins have the exact same genetic background, and are usually raised in the same environment. Fraternal nonidentical twins, however, share only half their genes, but tend to also be raised in the same environment.
Thus, if identical twins tend to share a trait more than fraternal twins, that trait is probably influenced by genetics. Several studies have shown that identical twins are more often both transgender than fraternal twins, indicating that there is indeed a genetic influence for this identity.
So, what genes might be responsible? Transgender women tend to have brain structures that resemble cisgender women, rather than cisgender men. Two sexually dimorphic differing between men and women areas of the brain are often compared between men and women. The bed nucleus of the stria terminalus BSTc and sexually dimorphic nucleus of transgender women are more similar to those of cisgender woman than to those of cisgender men, suggesting that the general brain structure of these women is in keeping with their gender identity.
In and , two independent teams of researchers decided to examine a region of the brain called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis BSTc in trans- and cisgender men and women Figure 2.
The BSTc functions in anxiety, but is, on average, twice as large and twice as densely populated with cells in men compared to women. Thus, these two studies sought to examine the brains of transgender individuals to figure out if their brains better resembled their assigned or chosen sex. Interestingly, both teams discovered that male-to-female transgender women had a BSTc more closely resembling that of cisgender women than men in both size and cell density, and that female-to-male transgender men had BSTcs resembling cisgender men.
These differences remained even after the scientists took into account the fact that many transgender men and women in their study were taking estrogen and testosterone during their transition by including cisgender men and women who were also on hormones not corresponding to their assigned biological sex for a variety of medical reasons. These findings have since been confirmed and corroborated in other studies and other regions of the brain, including a region of the brain called the sexually dimorphic nucleus Figure 2 that is believed to affect sexual behavior in animals.
It has been conclusively shown that hormone treatment can vastly affect the structure and composition of the brain; thus, several teams sought to characterize the brains of transgender men and women who had not yet undergone hormone treatment. Several studies confirmed previous findings, showing once more that transgender people appear to be born with brains more similar to gender with which they identify, rather than the one to which they were assigned.
Interestingly, while the hormone treatments may have caused issues in the previous studies, they also gave scientists clues as to how these differences in brain anatomy may have arisen. Some scientists believe that female-to-male transgender men, for instance, may have been exposed to inadequate levels of estrogen during development Figure 3.
This phenomenon could have two causes: Think of it like a cell phone tower controlling remote calls — the tower may not be producing enough signal scenario 1 , or the receiving phone may be unable to process the message scenario 2.
Possible scenarios underlying insufficient feminization. During normal feminization, sufficient estrogen is present in the fetal environment.
The estrogen is recognized by fetal cells and triggers the development of a female fetus. In Scenario 1, very little estrogen is present in the fetal environment. Even though the fetal cells are capable of sensing estrogen, very little enters the fetal environment and the fetus is insufficiently feminized. The amount of estrogen in the fetal environment is a little tough to measure — but there appears to be some evidence for transgender individuals having poor hormonal sensitivity in the womb.
A team of researchers found that the receptor for estrogen that is, the cell phone receiving the signal seems to be a little worse at receiving signal in female-to-male transgender men — think a flip phone trying to process photos from Instagram.
The psychological studies that have attempted to unravel the causes of transsexuality, on the other hand, have largely failed to gain traction in modern times. For many years, psychologists characterized transgender identity as a psychological disorder. Other psychologists have attempted to differentiate groups of transsexuals based on factors such as IQ and ethnicity; similarly, these theories have been overwhelmingly rejected due to poor study design and issues with ethics. So, where do we stand on transgender issues?
Science tells us that gender is certainly not binary; it may not even be a linear spectrum. Like many other facets of identity, it can operate on a broad range of levels and operate outside of many definitions. And it also appears that gender may not be as static as we assume. But we know now that several of those causes are biological. The transgender identity is multi-dimensional — but it deserves no less recognition or respect than any other facet of humankind.
This article is part of our Special Edition: Note August 10, We will no longer be accepting some types of comments on this article. We are open to conversations about science whether you agree or disagree with the science presented here.
We will not, however, be accepting comments that are personally accusatory or inflammatory towards trans people in general or specific commenters including, but not limited to, those who have identified themselves as trans. If you have questions about why your comment was not accepted, please e-mail us at sitnbostonblog at gmail.
Can you send me the bibliographies for the research articles you refer to please? It all sounds very logical to me.
I would like to share them with people I know who are skeptical of the research. Hi Liane, All of the studies referenced are linked throughout the article.
Let us know if you have trouble accessing them. I wanted to thank you for this article. I have two trans teenagers. My 18 year old I had gave up for adoption and we recently reconnected.
I myself would have identified as either bigender or gender fluid at a young age if the term existed back then. I identify now as demigirl. My teens are both gender fluid but lean more towards ftm.
I have two older cis daughters who were born prior to me developing PCOS. This article makes a lot of sense to me. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
He made them man and woman. Man and woman he made them. Check it out he made me a woman, Strait up. I love you too. I am a Trans woman. Certainly fits scientifically, I agree! Demigirl is where you feel agender no gender at all and female at the same time, according to most people. How amazing that this article really relates to you Lynda! Hello, I looked through the article and found many useful things.
Essentially an assertion that harassment cannot be the cause of such a bit difference. Where can I find it? A lack of standards also opens up significant opportunity for fraud by sexual deviants and criminals, which most definitely will lead our society astray!
Especially when there is no fully approved science that can definisay prove this is not a mental illness, right? You can see the utter chaos this would create. My sibling was born male, identified as male for a long time. ZERO harassment for the first 19 years of his life. My sibling was depressed long before there was harassment. Everyone in our family has depression./p>
For quite a long time I was against getting dressed up. I haven't worn a dress preferring a blouse and dress pants since middle school [i'm 20]. But I just bought a dress the other day that I actually really like, and feel comfortable in - but I also couldn't help but look over to the guy's section and long to be able to wear a waist coat or a suit and tie and look great.
But it's not like I want to do it as a girl - I'd want a guys body to dress like that. I'm ridiculously self concious and loathe drawing attention to myself, which is why I don't think I would ever dress up like a guy except in costume for anime conventions or come out to anyone about this. I'm perfectly fine with people using female pronouns but I don't know if it's just because I'm so used to it?
Or I'm self concious? I also quite like my female name. But I think if someone called me he or something I wouldn't mind. You could be agender not identifying with male nor female. Alternatively, you could be bigender feeling both male and female or genderfluid sometimes feeling male, sometimes feeling female.
Or demigirl feeling definitively female, but without strong attachment to the gender. Only you can decide which is correct I know-- you've probably heard that from everyone, but I had to add the disclaimer , but since you asked for advice, here's a breakdown as I see it and maybe it'll help. FYI, I'm a bit new to the more-than-just-two-genders thing as well, though I'm learning fast, so forgive me if there's mistakes in here.
Female-- You feel like a girl. You may or may not dislike looks, social roles, stereotypes, etc. Girl is your go-to description not because it's the default, but because it fits. While you might enjoy daydreaming about what life might be like as a guy, you don't have any real desire to be a guy in real life.
Alternatively this could have no bearing whatsoever; you don't see any reason to dress up as something you're not "not male, so why not stay female? You see a clear divide between male and female genders and while you'd like to do "guy" things, you don't feel it applies to you right now as-is because of your current gender. If you were a guy, you'd be fine doing them. You feel comfortable as a girl. That fits , though you'd be fine exchanging bodies. Agender-- You don't feel like a girl.
You don't feel like a guy either. When you think of yourself, "girl" seems a bit off and so does guy. You're most common thought on your gender is "I'm not female" because while you enjoy female activities you don't see yourself as a girl. However, being male also doesn't seem right because that would mean you actively identify as male, which you don't. Your second most common thought would be "I'm not male. You don't care which pronouns people use. Bigender-- You feel both male and female.
Sometimes at the same time. You can mostly equally apply male and female gender when thinking about yourself not as fantasy, but in mundane everyday thoughts. It's not like a split personality, but at any given time on an average day, special "gendered" activities such as nail painting aside you could just as well be male as you could be female. Gender fluid-- sometimes you feel like a girl. Some days you feel like a guy.
At those times, "girl" really doesn't fit and it's weird thinking and referring to yourself as a girl. At other times, the reverse is true; being a guy seems like the furthest thing from the truth because being thought of as a "girl" seems so natural. At these times, it would be weird being a guy. Discount gendered activities -- Just a general feel I get from your post is that you usually feel closer to one or another, but not usually both at the same time, but there's not really a specific line I could pull.
I didn't put 'You don't like dresses usually ' and 'you like your female name' because they aren't very useful in sorting things. The former could simply mean you're tomboy OR could hint at any of the others. The latter could just be you like pretty names and are comfortable with what you've been called all your life OR it could indicate you're female. There's nothing wrong nor weird about a girl doing a "guy" activity or behavior, nor vice versa, because gender is irrelevant.
Based on that, I'd guess genderfluid over bigender. Alternatively, you don't have strong ties to either male or female, which indicates agender, but this is a weaker argument, in my opinion, because that could also be viewed in support of genderfluid not feeling tied to one specific gender, but comfortable as either one. I'm not a guy!
You do, however, seem to identify as a girl, at least to some extent though perhaps not very strongly , which would make this my second vote. If I had to list it in decreasing likelihood and I am almost certainly WAY overanalyzing your wording Why most of my favorite explorers are women. Intrepid Travel also recently reported in its inaugural Adventure Travel Index that nearly half of all travelers with the company go solo.
And the majority of them are women. And this knowledge pushes my fear aside. This is my territory. I smiled politely; blood boiling. So, after almost two decades of riding with boys, I did my best to acknowledge my fear and then swiftly kick it to the curb.
Keep up my speed, I thought. My favorite thing about snowboarding is carving; taking big long turns with the edge of the board, leaving a clean line in the snow. On our first powder day though, all consideration for my male crew is thrown out the window. And so it is that we find ourselves standing at the base of St.
Anton as snow clouds deliver the goods. Of course, I had no reason to be worried in the first place. With this in mind, I swap my hire board for a bigger powder board and convince the guys to swap their skis to better suit the conditions.
Fresh snow is when I come into my own. When we get to the top of Kapall chair 2, meters , I follow Maris over wind drifts and one of the guys joins us in the challenge. We laugh and fall all over the place—together. I no longer care; the beauty of the Arlberg and the privilege of being somewhere this special overrides all silly thoughts about a lack of speed or ability. I fly past everyone as we race down faces of thigh-deep snow, duck between trees and hop over unsuspecting holes.
We all somersault, lose skis, get stuck, and hunch over, panting, when we reach the next chair. We check on each other when one of us stacks falls ; we cheer each other on when we land a drop.
The camaraderie is strong and the schnapps, later that night, stronger.
Zoe Strimpel: There are no men in my gender studies MPhil class This imbalance comes as more men than ever, among my friends at least, But I think in courses like these they are too critical of what they call male-dominated reality. the LSE for offering an anti-man course – the claim was thrown out. These guys want to chill somewhere less public or exclusively at their place so my existence as I stood there a couple feet from him while he talked to his friend. words—and actual words seem to be irrelevant on our profiles. binary male and female, it doesn't show your gender on the swiping screen. Friends with benefits situations are inherently risky no matter the gender or . your girlfriend, or your guy friend's girlfriend to want to have nothing more to do.