By Rex Emerson Jackson, Learning Mind, March 27, 2015
It has been found that there are prenatal differences in brains of different sexes, and there is more proof that men and women are wired differently in the brain since some neuropsychiatric disorders have different ways of presenting in children of each sex.
It should be noted, however, that sex and gender are two different things. Sex describes your anatomy, your genes, and your chromosomes. Gender is socially constructed, shown by the way a person presents himself or herself in the world. It appears that sex is coded directly in the brain. But if sex is determined by what you have between your legs, wouldn’t you say that it’s gender, instead, that’s between our ears?
There exists in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnosis known as Gender Dysphoria. This diagnosis is characterized by a person who identifies as a different gender, a strong and persistent cross-gender identification that can’t be explained by wanting the perceived social privileges of the other gender.
Most people are familiar with the hormones testosterone and estrogen. Genetic males tend to have more testosterone and females have more estrogen, and these hormones affect behavior. Gender dysphoria has been traditionally thought to be a psychiatric problem, leading doctors to try and “fix” the problem through reparative therapy. More recent research shows, however, that gender dysphoria is actually biological and is present in the brain before birth.
All unborn babies are female, at least during early pregnancy because only the chromosome inherited from the mother, the X chromosome, is active. After 8 weeks, the chromosome inherited from the father becomes active, and this can be either an X or a Y. Once the second chromosome is determined, the corresponding hormones work to masculinize or feminize the genitals and the brain.
Sometimes the hormones don’t work on all parts equally, causing differences between the brain’s structure or “gender” and the physical sex. This can be caused by additional hormones in the mother’s womb, potentially due to medication, or an insensitivity known as AIS, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or other rare conditions such as intersex conditions.
So if our chromosomes determine what parts we have, imagine growing up with a brain that says they should be different. Gender dysphoria can be a crippling condition, causing transgender people to hate their bodies and even wish to harm themselves. Medicine is moving from the old standpoint that says that gender dysphoria is a psychiatric problem, and instead is starting to recognize it as a physical one. But transgender people still face much prejudice within society.
So maybe you should hold off on buying that light blue football just yet. More support is being given to parents who allow their child to choose what gender they identify as, and catching gender dysphoria early can save the trauma of puberty in the wrong body. As American actress Mercedes Ruehl said, “Nature chooses who will be transgender; individuals don’t choose this.” No. But we do have to live with nature’s consequences.
If your child or someone you know identifies as another gender and you would like some help or information, contact your local chapter of PFLAG.