By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
The same week that medical science grabbed headlines for determining that gay men process smells differently from straight men, another notable piece of research eluded attention. This other study, to be published in the August issue of a scientific journal with the rather unwieldy title of Psychoneuroendocrinology, presents a possible genetic difference amongst a number of transsexuals.
I’ll try to break it down a bit more than one might expect from a journal with the above title. What these researchers found via genetic research of transsexuals was a repeating sequence of genes. The genes in question affect the sexual development of the brain.
This study may prove one of the more dominant theories about the cause of transsexuality, as one of the genes in question affects the flow of estrogen to the brain of a fetus. It has long been postulated that it is a “hormonal flush” of the brain – or lack thereof – before birth that could cause the development of transsexuals.
This new study is far from a conclusive answer to why there are transsexuals, but it is likely the closest proof yet that transsexuals are born, not made. The only study to come close before studied an obscure region of the brain, and found differences in the size of said region amongst male to female transsexuals. Each subject had been on feminizing hormones for several years, and these hormones could have potentially affected their brain structure. The older study also only included six male to female subjects: hardly a sizable number.
That is one of the flaws, too, with the new research. They studied 29 male to female transsexuals, versus 229 non-transsexual males. It can be hard to base conclusive studies on such a small test group, though the results appear positive. Unlike the earlier study, it’s rather unlikely that hormones could cause a significant genetic shift.
This research is encouraging that some “proof” may now be had that transsexualism, at least, is more of a physical, genetic variance, rather than some sort of mental health issue. Something that many transpeople have been saying all along.
With a study like the above, we may finally have something we can point to and say “this proves that I’m not just some crazy person.”
Unfortunately, like any of the studies over time that have pointed to causes for homosexuality, I suspect that any potential flaws in new study will be used to discredit any valid findings, or, more likely, this study will be ignored altogether.
Indeed, I suspect members of the conservative right to stick to older dogma that transsexuals are “sick,” can be “cured” through religion, and naturally deserve to be treated as second class citizens.
More than this, I question if finding a genetic link to transsexuality might eventually lead to some form of “gene therapy” or other treatment to try and get rid of those things which might cause the development of a transsexual. It is not that much of a stretch, especially when one considers the forced sterilization of thousands of Americans in the first-half of the twentieth century, as part of the failed “eugenics” movement. It can simply depend on how one views gender variance – and this culture seems to be reinforcing gender conformity more than ever.
The most likely thing to come out of such research could be a genetic screening for transsexuality. It could do away with the current standards of care, requiring a year of cross living and the care of a therapist – or it could be added to the current standards.
For now, things are based purely on the genetic makeup of a mere 29 male to female transsexuals, and while it does seem to pan out, there is still a lot farther to go before any of the above might be justified. For now, I would rather like to think that this research may indeed be a tool for transgender people, rather than one that can be all-too-readily used against us.
Yet, when all is said and done, this study means very little to me. It can only prove what I’ve long since known in my heart – and I’ll take that over any study, any day.
By Gwendolyn Ann Smith