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QUEER TRANS MEN VS STRAIGHT TRANS MEN
Between the Gender Lines: Wu figures by Brad Wierbowski 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. 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. An incomplete and incomprehensive representation of gender identity and sexual orientation. Transgender individuals are those who identify with a gender that differs from their assigned sex. This is a facet of identity that is completely distinct from sexual orientation. These graphs do not represent the full spectrum of either facet, as they are multidimensional. 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: For a previous SITN blog article discussing sex determination systems, see: 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.
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