Transgenderism: A Medical Condition. Not A Circus, Not a Social Movement

Update: Please see my published novella on this subject.  It contains 14 references to medical studies and is designed to help laypeople understand the science behind this complex medical topic.

 

Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner has raised the topic of transgenderism into the forefront of public debate.  But, like the climate change debate, both sides unfortunately cling to incorrect principles instead of focusing on the science.  Being “transgender” is a medical condition, not a social movement, as the Right and Left would incorrectly have you think.  My citations for this assertion are at the end of the article.

CaitlinJenner

In order to examine this issue carefully, one must first understand the idea of where gender comes from.  Science tells us that most people identify what gender they are when they are about 2-3 years old.  Gender constancy, or the idea that your gender will not change, doesn’t develop until people are about 7-8 years old. [1, 2] That means that little children might “try out” being a boy when they are actually a girl, but this is a phase, and it will pass relatively quickly.  However, gender determination is not very easy for everyone.  Some people are born with ambiguous genitalia, a condition commonly referred to as “intersex.”  At birth, both genitals might be present, the genitals might be missing, or the genitals might be formed incorrectly.  Sometimes, genitals are formed correctly but the right hormones are missing, or there are mixed hormones.  Sometimes, the chromosomes are mixed, like those with XXY.  The standard care in the past was that the doctor would guess whichever procedure would be easiest to perform, based on what he saw, and then the parents would raise the child in that gender…but this did not always work out.  There were children who would grow up knowing that they are definitely the other gender.  Additionally, there is at least one case of an individual whose circumcision went wrong and he was raised as a girl afterward…and it ended tragically.  Those raised in the incorrect gender know from a very early age that things are not right.  They, like most humans, identify what gender they are when they are about 2-3, but unlike most humans, they are told by everyone around them that they are wrong.  Imagine living that life.  Imagine being told that you are wrong about something so personal, so key to your personality and your spirit, that you begin to doubt your own sanity.

It follows logically from the experiences of these intersex individuals that gender is not developed from the genitals, but instead, it comes from the brain.  This is firmly rooted in science.  Multiple studies [3-10] have shown us that male and female brains operate differently.  They form different white matter patterns, visible on an MRI.  They respond differently to spatial and verbal tasks.  They have different connections, different structure, and are built for different ways of thinking.  It should be obvious, then, that gender is rooted not in the tissue below the belt, but instead in the tissue above the neck.  And this means everything to transgender individuals.

Scientific studies have shown that transgender individuals have the structure of the opposite chromosomal gender. [11- 13] In English, that means that people who have the “body” of a man but believe they are a woman actually have the brain of a woman.  If this is the case, then why is it that transgender individuals are not treated as patients, as intersex individuals mostly have been in the past?  Why is society so convinced that this is a “choice,” with the Left arguing that it is their right to make it, and the Right arguing that people cannot change their gender?

This science is new, and that is part of the problem.  The social movement has been around a lot longer than the science.  The idea that society has no right to tell a person what he can and cannot do with his own body, has been around a heck of a lot longer than an MRI of a transgender person’s brain.  Also, the scientific truth hurts the liberal narrative of gender fluidity.  The idea that people can change their gender, and have the right to do so, is a powerful “liberating” idea.  It’s a lot easier to march in the street for “rights” under a rainbow colored flag than it is to read medical journal articles.

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The media is another part of the problem.  People think of “transgender” and images of a Jerry Springer circus come to mind.  Some poorly-dressed drag queen on a TV show about a serial killer who targets prostitutes pops into one’s memory.  People do not think of a patient in a hospital getting a brain scan.  They think of a freak in an alley, or a stage.

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And finally, churches are hugely behind on this issue.  Many churches tell “transgender” people that they are sinning just for existing.  They have no idea what science is out there, because they hide behind the phrase “God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Imagine telling that to a child born with cancer.  “You don’t have cancer.  God wouldn’t make that mistake.”  The logic simply isn’t there.  And those churches that have gotten behind “transgender” people are usually doing it for the wrong reasons, as are most liberals.  They believe that it is a person’s “right” to choose what gender they are.  They say they are “accepting,” and call it “Christlike” when they make that blind jump into the social movement abyss.  They don’t examine the hard question of whether the spirit is male or female–something that only God and the individual can determine.

What can happen to transgender people as a result of this mess?  From the age of 2-3, the person knows they are in the “wrong body” (which, spiritually speaking, is not true, but we’ll get there in a bit).  They tell their parents that they are, say, a boy, but are contradicted and told that they are a girl.  Everyone tells them this, from the time they are very young throughout their childhood.  They firmly believe they will go through puberty the “boy way”, but then it happens and it turns out that it was not as they expected.  With still a strong male identity, but with no support, they become suicidal (at an extremely alarming, nearly 50% rate).  Many will attempt suicide and (thankfully) fail.  They enter a clinic, and tension between they and their parents grows.  By the time they’re ready to leave the house, they can’t wait to get out–maybe they run away.  They run right into the arms of whoever will accept them.  Not their church.  Not their parents.  It will be some liberal group, which will tell them that they have a right to live however they want.  They will adopt those beliefs, and they will become, for lack of better words, radicalized, believing that they have been put down by a “system of oppression” and “privilege.”  They will march under a colored flag and demand “rights” for those who have been “marginalized.”  They may get hormones from a clinic funded by taxpayer dollars.  By now, they are probably militant atheists who hate anything to do with religion.  It is unlikely that they will have what their conservative parents hoped would be a “normal” life.

How do we prevent this mess of a social movement from growing into the accepted norm?  We, as a society, must approach this from a scientific perspective.  So few people are affected by this illness that it is unlikely a giant breakthrough is going to happen any time soon, in the diagnostic imaging department.  But it would be nice if, in 20 years, we can diagnose a 10-year-old before he hits puberty, provide puberty blockers, and then hormones, to ensure he goes through puberty the right way, and can lead a normal life.  In the mean time, we can still provide treatment to people without picture perfect diagnostic testing.  Most individuals with this disease will show persistent, consistent identities with the opposite chromosomal gender, and it will last throughout childhood and into adolescence.  If a doctor sees this presentation, it makes sense to provide puberty blockers to a child who is not yet in puberty.  This has been proven to be reversible, and not harmful to the child.  It simply delays puberty.  Then, when the family and the child are absolutely certain of the diagnosis, it makes a lot of sense to provide the correct hormones.  If parents have a child like this, they can offer the same support and love to him as they would if he had a different disease–say, misformed genitalia, or a tumor on his leg, or diabetes.  With strong parental and medical support, the child is a lot more likely to grow up believing that medicine, not marches in the streets, will be beneficial to him.

And that brings us to the most critical aspect of this story: the spiritual society must also approach this from a scientific perspective.  How is a church to embrace science?  The same way they do treatments for cancer.  They do not excommunicate members who receive radiation, do they?  Why then would they banish or isolate members who seek treatment for any other disease?  If a loving church wraps its arms around a transgender teen who is receiving hormones so he can go through puberty the right way, under the supervision of a doctor…what difference would that make in that teen’s life?  I can guarantee you, a lot less would be atheists.  A lot less would come away feeling rejected by society.  And all of his peers who look on at this treatment would be less likely to turn away from churches because they see them as hypocrites.  Whether a person’s spirit is male or female can only be determined by God, and that individual.  Churches should encourage troubled people to pray to receive personal revelation as to whether their spirit is male or female, and then support them in whatever medical intervention they and their doctors deem is appropriate.  Transgender people would learn that they were not put into the “wrong body”, any more than a person with cancer was put into the “wrong body.”  Rather, they have a medical challenge to overcome, and a church community and family that is 100% behind them in their efforts to overcome it.  If we, as conservatives, want to be on the right side of history, we must end this ‘social movement’ nonsense and start treating this issue with the lens of science and love that it deserves.

Notes:

[1] Slaby, R.G., & Frey, K. S. Development of gender constancy and selective attention to same-sex models. Child Development, 1975, 46, 849–856

[2] Marcus, D., & Overton, W. F. The development of cognitive gender constancy and sex role preferences. Child Development, 1978, 49, 434–444

[3] Speck, Oliver, Ernst, Thomas, Braun, Jochen, Koch, Christoph, Miller, Eric, Chang, Linda.  (2000) “Gender differences in the functional organization of the brain for working memory.” NeuroReport Volume 11 Number 113: 2581-2585

[4] Allen, John S., Damasio, Hanna, Grabowski, Thomas J., Bruss, Joel, Zhang, Wei.  (2003) “Sexual dimorphism and asymmetries in the gray-white composition of the human cerebrum.” NeuroImage Volume 18 Issue 4: 880-894.

[5] Keller, Katherine, Menon, Vinod.  (2009) “Gender differences in the functional and structural neuroanatomy of mathematical cognition.” NeuroImage Volume 47 Issue 1: 342-352.

[6] Döhler KD. (1991) “The pre- and postnatal influence of hormones and neurotransmitters on sexual differentiation of the mammalian hypothalamus.” Int Rev Cytol 131:1–57

[7] Cooke BM, Hegstrom CD, Villeneuve LS, Breedlove SM. (1998) “Sexual differentiation of the vertebrate brain: principles and mechanisms.” Front Neuroendocrinol 19:323–362.

[8] Del Abril A, Segovia S, Guillamon A. (1987) “The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the rat: regional sex differences controlled by gonadal steroids early after birth.” Dev Brain Res 32:295–300.

[9] Guillamon A, Segovia S, Del Abril A. (1988) “Early effects of gonadal steroids on the neuron number in the medial posterior region and the lateral division of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the rat.” Dev Brain Res 44:281–290.

[10] Chung WCJ, Swaab DF, De Vries GJ. (2000) “Apoptosis during sexual differentiation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the rat brain.” J Neurobiol 43:234–243.

[11] Zhou, J.N., Hofman, M.A., Gooren, L.J., Swaab, D.F. (1995) “A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality.” NATURE, 378:68-70.  http://faculty.bennington.edu/~sherman/sex/TRANSGENDER.pdf

[12] Rametti, Giuseppina, Carillo, Beatriz, Gómez-Gil, Esther, Junque, Carme, Segovia, Santiago, Gomez, Angel, Guillamon, Antonio.  (2011) “White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study.”  Journal of Psychiatric Research Volume 45 Issue 2: 199-204.

[13] Kruijver, Frank P.M., Zhou, J.N., Pool, Chris W., Hofman, Michel A., Gooren, Louis J.G., Swaab, Dick F. (2000) ” Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus.”  The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Volume 85 Number 5: 2034-2041.

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8 thoughts on “Transgenderism: A Medical Condition. Not A Circus, Not a Social Movement

  1. This is a good article.
    Not great, but good.
    First; as an atheist, I do not feel that ‘God’ has anything to do with my condition. I do not have a female ‘spirit’. I do have a feminine brain, coupled with a male body.
    Second; please stop referring to my transgender condition as an ‘illness’. I am not ill. I am a trans* person, and I have some medical issues related to this condition, but I am not ill.
    I would like to thank you for your support of the idea that my medical condition should be treated solely as such and that a more scientific approach is definitely needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Even if we don’t totally agree, we can agree on a lot and that’s a good start. I think we and people like us can definitely be allies to get more scientific research on this subject.

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      1. I understand that it is your instinct to find agreement with everyone who posts on your blog, but I would strongly suggest you address the issues raised by this individual. It’s troubling to me as well, a non-trans person, that being trans is referred to as an illness. I’d like you to address that in a more straightforward way.

        Also, rather than vilifying atheists, as you do in this piece, you may wish to find common ground with them. This part of your piece in particular is hugely troubling:

        “They will adopt those beliefs, and they will become, for lack of better words, radicalized, believing that they have been put down by a “system of oppression” and “privilege.” They will march under a colored flag and demand “rights” for those who have been “marginalized.” They may get hormones from a clinic funded by taxpayer dollars. By now, they are probably militant atheists who hate anything to do with religion. It is unlikely that they will have what their conservative parents hoped would be a “normal” life.”

        Trans people are regularly denied rights. They’re regularly denied access to health care. They’re institutionally discriminated against, fired for the sole reason that they’re trans, and have higher risks of suicide and mental illness. These disparities could very easily be re-labeled as oppression; I would support that label.

        They SHOULD be getting hormones from a clinic funded by taxpayer dollars, in my opinion. Many trans people, if they don’t, will order hormones from outside sources that are untested.

        Best of luck in your future career as a medical professional and a writer, and I would strongly suggest that you attend any and all events held by LGBTQ organizations at your school; I am absolutely certain that you and your (our, in fact!) colleagues would find huge benefit in them and hopefully begin to resolve some of the health disparities in medical education and medical care related to LGBTQ people.

        Who knows? You may be a leader within the LGBTQ faction at your medical school; you’re clearly an ally to LGBTQ people, and OUTpatients could very much use your help.

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      2. JA,

        Thank you for your comment! I do not mean to vilify all atheists, but there is definitely a subset of that population that openly, loudly, and without reason attacks all religion (and *especially* Christianity), and seeks converts to atheism in a militant way. It is only they who deserve criticism–I don’t care what one believes, but when one openly seeks “warfare” with those who believe differently than them, that’s when we have a problem.

        With regard to transgenderism being an illness, I respectfully disagree. By definition, a disease is a dis-ease, something that sets you not at ease. Being transgender is very likely an abnormality in the brain, which sets the patient “not at ease”. This doesn’t mean that the individual suffering from it should be attacked–quite the contrary, we certainly don’t attack cancer patients for having cancer, or depressed patients for having depression. But we also acknowledge that the cancer is a dis-ease–something that needs to be addressed medically in order for the person to live a normal life.

        As stated in my article, it is my humble opinion that the “rights” argument is everything that is wrong with arguments coming from both sides (Left and Right). The Left argues you have the right to change your gender and the Right argues that you don’t. In reality, neither are having the right conversation. Being transgender, in my opinion, is a medical condition. If a child is treated early on with proven medical care, just as a child with malformed genitalia is treated early on, he has a much greater chance of living a normal life and not having to worry about “rights”. If society recognizes the illness as a medical condition instead of as a social movement, there will be no conversation needed about “rights”. The Left may not like that because there will be less victims to stick up for–there will be less people feeling oppressed. But that’s what I want–I want a society where less people feel oppressed, because we have gotten to the root cause of the problem and fixed it.

        How did I get involved in all of this? I have watched my Christian brethren leave their church because of poor treatment, and I have studied psychology to come to a conclusion about the nature of their illness. The articles I linked in my blog here are my evidence–I honestly believe that these people are born with a medical condition. Furthermore, I believe that this does not contradict my faith in the least, and there is no reason for them to leave. In the LDS faith, we believe in the pre-existence. We believe that spirits are sent to bodies here and that gender is eternally male or female. I believe that is true. I believe that due to nature, sometimes our bodies are not in accordance with our spirits–anyone who has had any medical condition at all knows that’s true. A divine spirit came into a broken body, and the point of medicine is to heal the body. We believe that the soul is the spirit + body, and that what happens to one affects the other. I believe that in order to heal souls, we must allow the body to be in accordance with the spirit. When a patient presents with a brain that is opposite-gendered to their body (but probably in accordance with their spirit given the strong link between the brain, personality, and spirit), I believe that the moral course of action is to treat the body so that the person can live a normal, healthy, happy life. And a lot less of them would leave the Church.

        With regard to reaching out to the LGBTQI community, there is something in the works. I hope it works out. More to come later.

        Like

  2. This os EXACTLY what I have been trying to say to a T. Getting a lot of ridicule on my facebook, but I don’t care. Reading the judgemental and hateful words of my fellow LDS friends and other Christian people spewing hatred for Jenner’s decision has deeply affected my soul. I too have friends who suffer with their gender identity. And it really is very personal. I told them I hold their struggles with the up most amount of respect. Thank you so much for your facts and eloquent writing of expressing my same thoughts. To me that is the spirit confirming, once again. 🙂

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    1. I’m so glad my thoughts and research were helpful. I also prayed about this issue before deciding anything about it, and I’m glad that the Spirit seems to be confirming the same thing to the both of us!

      Like

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