Monday, August 24, 2015

Gender dysphoria

“In other words, it seems that Dr. Kranz may have found a neural signature of the transgender experience: a mismatch between one’s gender identity and physical sex.” — Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College 

THERE'S more research all the time into gender dysphoria. The below piece from The New York Times walks us through recent studies.




How Changeable Is Gender?

By Richard A. Friedman
August 22, 2015

THANKS to Caitlyn Jenner, and the military’s changing policies, transgender people are gaining acceptance — and living in a bigger, more understanding spotlight than at any previous time.

We’re learning to be more accepting of transgender individuals. And we’re learning more about gender identity, too.

The prevailing narrative seems to be that gender is a social construct and that people can move between genders to arrive at their true identity.

But if gender were nothing more than a social convention, why was it necessary for Caitlyn Jenner to undergo facial surgeries, take hormones and remove her body hair? The fact that some transgender individuals use hormone treatment and surgery to switch gender speaks to the inescapable biology at the heart of gender identity.

This is not to suggest that gender identity is simply binary — male or female — or that gender identity is inflexible for everyone. Nor does it mean that conventional gender roles always feel right; the sheer number of people who experience varying degrees of mismatch between their preferred gender and their body makes this very clear.

In fact, recent neuroscience research suggests that gender identity may exist on a spectrum and that gender dysphoria fits well within the range of human biological variation. For example, Georg S. Kranz at the Medical University of Vienna and colleagues elsewhere reported in a 2014 study in The Journal of Neuroscience that individuals who identified as transsexuals — those who wanted sex reassignment — had structural differences in their brains that were between their desired gender and their genetic sex.

Dr. Kranz studied four different groups: female-to-male transsexuals; male-to-female transsexuals; and controls who were born female or male and identify as such. Since hormones can have a direct effect on the brain, both transsexual groups were studied before they took any sex hormones, so observed differences in brain function and structure would not be affected by the treatment. He used a high-resolution technique called diffusion tensor imaging, a special type of M.R.I., to examine the white matter microstructure of subjects’ brains.

What Dr. Kranz found was intriguing: In several brain regions, people born female with a female gender identity had the highest level of something called mean diffusivity, followed by female-to-male transsexuals. Next came male-to-female transsexuals, and then the males with a male gender identity, who had the lowest levels.

In other words, it seems that Dr. Kranz may have found a neural signature of the transgender experience: a mismatch between one’s gender identity and physical sex. Transgender people have a brain that is structurally different than the brain of a nontransgender male or female — someplace in between men and women.

This gradient of structural brain differences, from females to males, with transgender people in between, suggests that gender identity has a neural basis and that it exists on a spectrum, like so much of human behavior.

Some theorize that the transgender experience might arise, in part, from a quirk of brain development. It turns out that the sexual differentiation of the brain happens during the second half of pregnancy, later than sexual differentiation of the genitals and body, which begins during the first two months of pregnancy. And since these two processes can be influenced independently of each other, it may be possible to have a mismatch between gender-specific brain development and that of the body.

Is it really so surprising that gender identity might, like sexual orientation, be on a spectrum? After all, one can be exclusively straight or exclusively gay — or anything in between. But variability in a behavior shouldn’t be confused with its malleability. There is little evidence, for example, that you really can change your sexual orientation. Sure, you can change your sexual behavior, but your inner sexual fantasies endure.

To read the entire article, click on this link.

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