Religious Tolerance logo

Transgender persons and transsexuals.

2017: Why are some people transgender?

Research findings, based on imaging
studies or autopsies of brains:

horizontal rule

Part 4 of nine parts.

horizontal rule

This topic is continued from the previous essay.

horizontal rule

transgender woman1

An unidentified transgender woman.

horizontal rule

Why are some people transgender?

That is, why do they identify their current gender as being different from their gender that was recorded by a physician shortly after they were born on their birth certificate?

Most transgender adults had their bodies examined at birth, declared to be male, and registered as male on their birth certificate. Later in life, often as early as three years of age, they start to proclaim that their gender identity is female. They are referred to as "MTF" (male-to-female) transgender persons. They often describe themselves as having a female brain trapped in a male body. That is, somehow, their brain is telling them that even though they may possess male sexual organs, have male (probably XY) sex chromosomes in their DNA, have a male body shape, etc. their brain is telling them that they are female.

FTM (male to female) transgender persons are fewer in number; they were registered as female at birth, and develop a male gender identity later in life.

A smaller number of transgender individuals identify as both male and female, or neither male nor female.

Although many religious conservatives maintain that transgender persons are simply "gender confused," past experience has shown that this may not be accurate because no amount of counseling, therapy, or prayer has been found to be effective at "curing" them.

Studies showed that identical twins, whose DNA is the same, are more likely than fraternal twins, whose DNA are different, to both be "trans." This pointed to the probability that there might be a genetic cause to being transgender. That is, they were "set up" to be transgender before birth.

It made sense for researchers to compare the structure of brains in:

  • MTF transgender persons, looking for similarities with brains from cisgender females, and in

  • FTM transgender persons, looking for similarlities with brains from cisgender males.

The term "cisgender" refers to the vast majority of adults whose gender identity is in harmony with their body and their DNA.

Many transgender individuals explain that they have a female brain in a man's body -- or vice versa. Brain studies, whether by imaging living people or autopsies after their death, might reveal that they are accurate in their belief.

Sponsored link

Francine Russo, writing for Scientific American reported on three studies comparing brain structures and brain reactions between transgender and cisgender persons. 2 Researchers attempted to determine if their transgender subjects' brains' structures and responses are more similar to their birth-identified gender, or to their current gender identity. Some results:

  • Antonio Guillamon, a psychobiologist at the National Distance Education University in Madrid and Carme Junqué Plaja. a neuropsychologist at the University of Barcelona led a Spanish team who studied the brains of 24 FTM and 18 MTF transgender persons. They used a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) instrument. They examined their subjects' brain structures both before taking hormone medication and after. Their results were published in 2013. They found that:
    • The FTM subjects who identified as male had relatively thin subcortical areas similar to cisgender male brains.

    • The MTF subjects who identified as female had thinner cortical regions in the brain's right hemisphere which is typical of cisgender female brains.

  • Sarah M. Burke, a psychologist at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam and Julie Bakker, a biologist at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience used a functional MRI to examine the brains of 41 adolescent transgender boys and girls, testing the reaction of their brain's hypothalamus' to androstadienone. This is a substance with pheromone-like properties to which cisgender men and women respond differently. They published their results in 2014 after finding that:
    • The FTM adolescents who identify as male have brains that responded similarly to cisgender male brains.

    • The MTF adolescents who identify as female have brains that responded similarly to cisgender female brains.

    • The results were less clear with 39 prepubertal children who were tested separately.

Baudewijntje Kreukels, a specialist in gender dysphoria at VU University Medical Center, said that this type of study is important:

    "... because sex differences in responding to odors cannot be influenced by training or environment."

  • In a study at VU University Medical Center, researchers "... measured the responses of [transgender] boys and girls ... to echolike sounds produced by the inner ear in response to a specific clicking noise." Again, they found that:
    • The FTM adolescents, who identify as male, have brains that responded similarly to the brains of cisgender males.

    • The MTF adolescents, who identify as female, have brains that responded similarly to the brains of cisgender females.

  • Russo concluded:

    "Overall, the weight of these studies and others points strongly toward a biological basis for gender dysphoria. But given the variety of transgender people and the variation in the brains of men and women generally, it will be a long time, if ever, before a doctor can do a brain scan on a child and say, “Yes, this child is trans." 2

horizontal rule

Robert M. Sapolsky, writing for The Wall Street Journal during late 2013, said that scientists found differences in:

  • "... an obscure brain region called the forceps minor [that] is part of the corpus callosum, a mass of fibers that connect the brain's two hemispheres. On average, the forceps minor in cisgender males contains parallel nerve fibers of higher density than in cisgender females." 2 The researchers found that
    • The FTM transgender adolescents, who identified as male, had brains had a higher density nerve fibers, corresponding to cisgender males.

  • The hypothalamus was also studied. It is a part of the brain that produces hormones.
    • The FTM transgender adults, who identified as males, had brains that are stimulated by the scent of estrogen similarly to cisgender males.

    • The MTF transgender adults, who identified as females, had brains are stimulated by the scent of androgen similarly to cisgender females. 3

horizontal rule

A review article on why some people hold transgender beliefs:

A literature study was conducted by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) into biologic nature of gender identity.

Corresponding author Joshua D. Safer wrote:

"This paper represents the first comprehensive review of the scientific evidence that gender identity is a biological phenomenon," explains corresponding author Joshua D. Safer, MD, FACP. "As such it provides one of the most convincing arguments to date for all medical providers to gain the transgender medicine skills necessary to provide good care for these individuals, 4

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

The findings of all of these studies point to:

  • The brains of MTF transgender persons who currently identify as female respond similarly, and are structured similarly, to the brains of cisgender females.That is, their biological sex is male, their gender identity is female, and their brain has internal female structures and responses.

  • The brains of FTM transgender persons who currently identify as male respond similarly, and are structured similarly, to the brains of cisgender males. That is, their biological sex is female, their gender identity is male, and their brain has internal male structures and responses.

This implies that their sense of personal gender is caused by a difference in brain structure or response, not by being in a state of "gender confusion" as conservatives frequently cite.

We have been unable to find any studies which found that the brains of transgender persons are structured similarly or responded similarly to the brains of cisgender persons who had the same birth-identified gender.

horizontal rule

DES exposure by women might possibly cause their children to be transgender:

DES -- whose full name is Diethylstilbestrol -- was the first synthetic estrogen developed. It was given to an estimated 3 to 10 million pregnant women in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971 because it alleviated morning sickness and was -- mistakenly -- believed to reduce miscarriages. It was also widely prescribed to women in Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Unfortunately, it sometimes had major negative side effects, causing abnormal reproductive organs, cancer, and infertility among children of women who took DES. These children are often referred to as "DES daughters" and "DES sons." Since 1997, DES has been no longer manufactured or marketed in the U.S. for humans, but it is still used by veterinarians on dogs.

There has been a widespread suspicion among women who took DES that the drug might cause their children to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation, or become trans. However, large-scale, conclusive surveys have been never been conducted. Existing surveys are contradictory, and the research remains controversial. 5

horizontal rule

This topic continues in the next essay

horizontal rule

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Photo of a transgender woman. The image was copied from who provide excellent images, free downloading, and no royalties.
  2. Francine Russo,"Is There Something Unique about the Transgender Brain? ," Scientific American, 2016-JAN-01, at:
  3. Robert M. Sapolsky, "Caught Between Male and Female," The Wall Street Journal, 2013-DEC-06, at:
  4. "Transgender: Evidence on the biological nature of gender identity," Science Daily, 2015-FEB-13, at:
  5. "Diethylstilbestrol," Wikipedia, as on 2017-, at:

How you may have arrived here:

 Home > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

 Home > "Hot" topics > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

 Home > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

Home > Christianity > History, practices... > Christian practices > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

Home > Religious Information > Basic data > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

Home > Human rights > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

Home > Morality and ethics > Transgender topics > Why are some people transgender? > here

Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted on: 2017-JAN-18
Latest update: 2017-JUL-18
B.A. Robinson
line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link

Go to the previous page, or go to the "Why are some people transgender" menu, or choose:


Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Hot, controversial topics

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.

Twitter icon

Facebook icon

About us
Our beliefs
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' essays
Our forum
New essays
Other features
Buy a CD of this site
Vital notes

World religions
Christian def'n
 Shared beliefs
 Handling change
 Bible topics
 Bible inerrancy
 Bible harmony
Interpret the Bible
 Beliefs & creeds
 Da Vinci code
 Revelation 666
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Comparing Religions

Non-theistic beliefs

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Confusing terms
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
Science vs. Religion
More information

Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Death penalty

Same-sex marriage

Human rights
Gays in the military
Sex & gender
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news