Transgender persons and transsexuals
Part 2 of 2:
Beliefs by religious conservatives,
religious liberals, researchers, etc.
about the cause of transsexuality.
What do most liberal Christians believe is the reason why transgender persons identify their gender as different from their birth-identified gender?
They generally believe that the two original creation stories at the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures -- a.k.a. Old Testament -- were copied and slightly edited from two earlier, separate stories. The latter had originated in two Middle Eastern Pagan cultures. Therefore, there are internal conflicts within the Book of Genesis' two creation stories.
Many interpret Adam and Eve's consumption of the fruit as a myth, not a event that actually happened. It suggests that Adam and Eve were originally like animals with no moral sense; they had no knowledge of good and evil. Eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil magically caused them to develop a moral sense, so that the became able to differentiate between good and evil for the first time. This is something that ordinary animals cannot do. The first humans' eating of the fruit therefore is symbolic of "The Rise" of humanity from its animal origins to full humanity. Religious liberals generally do not recognize the concept of original sin. They regard each individual as responsible for their own misdeeds, and consider transferring guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent to be profoundly immoral. Most accept the theory of evolution as explaining the actual origins of humanity.
Mitochondria Eve (a.k.a. mt-mrca or African Eve) is:
"... the name given by researchers to the woman who is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all living humans" 1
That is, every human on Earth today has African Eve as one of their distant ancestors.
Similarly, "Y-chromosomal Adam," was the patrilineal MRCA -- the most recent common male ancestor.
Geneticists estimate that African Eve lived about 140,000 years ago, not 6,000 to 10,000 years as many conservative Christians believe. She lived somewhere along the easter coast of Africa, in the area that is currently Ethiopia, Kenya, or Tanzania. This location is in the same general region of the world -- but a considerable distance from -- the Tigris and Euphrates river in Iraq as the Bible states. Wikipedia reports that:
"By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, geneticist Spencer Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 - 90,000 years ago." 2
Therefore, most religious liberals would join with scientific researchers and therapists, and assume that transgender individuals do not differ from cisgender people because of Original Sin, or the nefarious workings of Satan who:
"... as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." 3
Rather, religious liberals generally assume that a transgender person's gender identity which is different from their birth-identified gender is due to some difference in their brain structure and/or their DNA.
Sexual dimorphism and transgender individuals:
"Sexual dimorphism" refers to differences between females and males of a given species.
Considering a newborn human. Her or his biological sex can be assessed by observing or measuring various factors:
- The presence or absence of a Y sex chromosome in their body cells. A Y chromosome indicates maleness.
- The type of gonads -- internal ovaries in a female or external testes in a male.
- Sex hormones produced by the body.
- Internal reproductive organs (e.g. uterus/womb in females)
- External genitalia -- penis and scrotum for a male or vulva for a female. 4
Normally all five factors are consistent and and follow a standard male or female design. However, in rare cases, these factors are inconsistent. For example, the external genitalia will have similarities to both the standard female and male designs. The newborn will be considered intersexual. To simplify the discussion of transgender individuals, intersex conditions will not be discussed further here).
In almost all cases, a cursory examination of a newborn's external genitalia is sufficient for a medical person to assess gender reliably, tell the parents whether they have a girl or boy, and enter the data on a birth certificate form. No further testing is generally needed.
Sexual dimorphism extends to a person's brain. One example is the overall size of the brain which is larger in males than in females. This is necessary because males typically have a larger body mass than females, and thus males need a larger brain to regulate body functions.
Two more subtle brain differences between the sexes was described by Robert M. Sapolsky in an article in The Wall Street Journal.
Scientists found differences in:
- "... an obscure brain region called the forceps minor (part of the corpus callosum, a mass of fibers that connect the brain's two hemispheres). On average, among nontranssexuals, the forceps minor of males contains parallel nerve fibers of higher density than in females." 5
During the 1990s, scientists started to study the brains of transsexuals. They found that female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals did not have the forceps minor nerve fiber density of females -- the sex that they were identified as having at birth. Rather the density matched that of males -- the sex that they identify as having during adulthood. This observation supports the commonly expressed statement by FTM transsexuals that they have a male brain in a female body. The statement appears to be literally true as far as the forceps minor is concerned.
- The hypothalamus, is a part of the brain that produces hormones.
- In cisgender men, this part of the brain is excited by the scent of estrogen.
- The same part of the brain in cisgender women is excited by the scent of androgen.
- MTF transsexuals, who were identified as male at birth were found to follow the same response as cisgender women by being excited by androgen.
Here is evidence that MTF transsexuals actually have a female brain in a male body. 5
There have been criticisms of these conclusions
- Some transgender individuals have taken cross-sex hormones as part of their treatment to more closely resemble the gender with which they identify. These hormones modify the brain. However, the differences cited above were found to be present before the hormone treatments were started.
- Perhaps the observations are not about the sex with which one identifies, but are rather about the sex of people to whom one is attracted. However, the findings were found to be the same in transsexual individuals who are attracted to the same or to the opposite sex.
Some persons who read Sapoksly's article posted comment. Two were:
- Jane Clark said:
"Finally, Someone explains the scientific truth. Now maybe the bigots will finally shut up and quit harassing trans people."
- John Kessler said:
"Completely agree. An opportunity for introspection on all sides.
One issue with the article. It seems the APA has it exactly right. The mental illness is not gender confusion but rather the set of conditions created by the fact that the body and brain are not built along normal gender lines. Instead of:
'he made a choice to present himself as a woman and now he's got a bunch of other psychological conditions,'
'he is in fact in part a woman and this physical reality begets or is correlated with a bunch of other psychological conditions'." 5
During the year 2000, an international team of neuroscientists reported on their research into the brains of transgender and cisgender persons. 6 They studied the "central part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc)" in the brains of persons as a function of their biological gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and past or present hormone status. Previous studies had shown that, regardless of sexual orientation, this structure within the brain in men had almost twice as many somatostatin neurons as women. They found that:
- Sexual differentiation between males and females is not confined to ones genitalia, but extends into the brain.
- The number of neurons in the BSTc of male-to-female transsexuals [MTF] was similar to that of the females."
- "The neuron number of a female-to-male transsexual [FTM] was found to be in the male range."
- Hormone treatment or sex hormone in adulthood did not seem to have influenced BSTc neuron numbers.
- Their findings "... clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of Gender Dysphoria. 6
In simplified terms, a MTF transgender persons does in fact have a female brain in a male body. A FTM transgender persons does in fact have a male brain in a female body.
Their gender identity -- what they currently identify their gender to be -- is opposite to their biological gender -- how their external genitalia and sex chromosomes appear.
It normally takes two decades or more for most therapists to adsorb and accept the latest findings of research into sexual orientation and gender identity. It normally takes another two decades or more for religious conservatives to accept these findings as well. The majority of older teens and young adults with fundamentalist or other evangelical Christians beliefs now support same-sex marriage. We can probably expect that they will reject the "gender confusion" model of gender identity in favor of a neurobiological model over the next decade or so. The Internet is speeding these processes up. So is the fact that young adults are the first generation in which most have at least one lesbian or gay friend or family member. A minority probably know a transgender person or transsexual as well.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Mitochondrial Eve," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- "Y-chromosomal Adam," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- From the King James Version of the Bible, 1 Peter 5:8.
- "Sexual dimorphism," Wikipedia, as on 2015-JUN-13, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
- Robert M. Sapolsky, "Caught Between Male and Female," The Wall Street Journal, 2013-DEC-06, at: http://www.wsj.com/
- Frank P.M. Kruijver, "Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus," The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol. 85, No. 5, at: http://sindromebenjamin.tripod.com/
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 2015-JUN-14
Last updated 2015-JUN-14
Author: Bruce A Robinson