Being transgender is not a social impact— studies show it is biological

As research is collected, the less the stereotypes of being transgender can be backed up.


Anakin Morales-Jimenez, Reporter

A common argument against the ideology and concept of being transgender is that it is a mental disorder, or that people with mental disorders have a mix-up in their brain.

When looking at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, there is a reason why homosexuality was once considered a disorder: the lack of research and lack of questions regarding the whole wiring of a homosexual individual. Once scientists had aimed their focus on the concept, homosexuality was removed during 1986 from the DSM.

The same is beginning to happen with transgender individuals. Of course, the identification itself is not in the DSM, but its counterpart known as gender identity disorder (or gender dysphoria) is listed since it is the distress that comes from being transgender. It is what several people use to justify that the identity is in fact a mental disorder even though it is not necessarily set-up the way they assume so.

However, there is relatively new research on transgender individuals being explored surrounding a similar yet separate idea. It does not have to do with gender dysphoria, but with how the brains of transgender people are set up and if they are similar to the brains of the gender they identify as.

In 2013, psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon from the National Distance Education University in Madrid, and neuropsychologist Carme Junqu Plaja from the University of Barcelona researched the idea.

The brains of biological males and females are only different in structure and wiring, and so the investigators had collected 24 male-to-female transgender* individuals and 18 female-to-male transgender* individuals. Both groups were adults and varied in terms of whether or not they have received hormone replacement therapy* prior to the investigation.

The investigators used MRI, and respectively, the results were interesting: even prior to hormone replacement therapy and treatment, the brain structures of the subjects showed similar aspects to the brain of their gender identity rather than of their birth sex.

The male-to-female subjects showed slimmer cortical regions within the right hemisphere of the brain, a trait that is seen in a biological female brain, while the female-to-male subjects had slimmer subcortical regions like a biological male brain. The differences become more sound with hormone replacement therapy.

The only but to the situation is the question if these differences are inborn. Clearly, people can inhibit transsexual brain wiring that causes gender dysphoria which sometimes drives them to transition into their correlating sex, yet it is still a vague area of research.

Psychologist Sarah M. Burke with VU University Medical Center within Amsterdam along with biologist Julie Bakker with the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience ran a similar investigation in 2014.

The investigators collected 39 pre-adolescents and 41 adolescents, both males and females, with gender dysphoria and used functional MRI. The two observed how the subjects responded to a potent steroid called androstenedione that triggers male and female hypothalami to respond in different ways.

It would be assumed by critics that responses to odors can be shaped by environment or training/conditioning, but it is not the case since those sex differences cannot be changed.

While the adolescent subjects had a highly similar response to the hypothalamus of their experienced gender, the pre-adolescent subjects had foggy results, which is why inborn studies are not very conclusive. It will be a while until a doctor can say with clarity that a child is definitely transgender.

*male-to-female: a female that was born male.

*female-to-male: a male that was born female.

*hormone replacement therapy: a treatment that some transgender people undergo to further transition and physically adjust to an excess of hormones of the opposite sex. Treatment not only changes appearance, but some aspects of the brain.