Transgender Science: Biology and Identity

by Emilia Dunham

Program Associate

Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, psychiatry resident at NYU presented on a fascinating topic at the Philly Trans-Health Conference: Transgender Science: Biology and Identity. She is the editor of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, a resource guide by and for transgender and gender non-conforming communities.

Laura discussed the latest on Brain Gender Theory – basically this means that a person’s “brain”, or inner sense of self, does not match one’s sex. Many scientists and pseudoscientists have tried to prove or disprove this theory throughout the years. Trans people and allies are of course interested in this theory as well, but past research and intentions haven’t always had the best intent for trans people.

You may be familiar with some of these studies as many included gays and lesbians as well. Some of

Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD

the most popular ones tried to prove that gay men have less testosterone than straight men, and some of these studies even tried to give gay men testosterone to make them straight… which didn’t work, surprise, surprise.

There were some studies on folks, who due to circumcision mistake,  or other factors were raised as the different gender of their “assigned sex”, but many of these folks later identified as their assigned gender. These types of studies show that despite socialization, they can identify as other genders.

There were studies of chromosomes which didn’t show that trans people were likely to be chromosomally intersexed (ex. XXY). There have been family studies of twins (identical and fraternal) where one is trans, and another family/heritability study showing that of the siblings of 1000 trans people, 12 were trans, but that could just be the law of statistics anyway.

As stated before, some studies don’t have the best of intent so several problems occur: bad data, small population sets, or similar studies have opposite findings.

Of course there are also the birth order and finger length surveys. The former supposing that birth order can predict sexuality because women hypothetically have less testosterone after each boy. So if you are gay or a trans woman, do you have older brothers?

A larger index means you're gay while a shorter index means you're straight

Finger length studies have been around for a while and I remember in grade school we compared our finger lengths to see who was gay. I can never seem to remember which one makes you gay, but this article might help if you are questioning your sexuality.

All kidding aside, there is obviously a lot of research that still needs to be done. The only definitive thing is that there is no proven ‘gay’ or ‘trans gene’, and what decides who we are is our own inner sense of identity. Until then, we need to make sure research is accountable and make sure we’re included.

Published by Emilia Dunham, MPP, MBA

Emilia Dunham is currently a Project Manager at MassHealth/Department of Public Health, and formerly the Project Manager of the Life Skills project at The Fenway Institute, an HIV intervention study for young transgender women. Emilia worked at Fenway for 7 years, first as a Quality Control and Regulatory Assistant mainly involved with biomedical HIV prevention trials, before serving as the Program Associate for The Network for LGBT Health Equity, a network instrumental in many national LGBT health policy improvements. She is also involved with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, serving as a Steering Committee member and the Policy Committee Co-Chair, an organization largely responsible for the recent passage of the Trans Rights Bill. Additionally she serves as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, Co-Chair of the Recommendations Committee. Emilia received a Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University. There she served as President of the LGBTQ student group where she planned programs such as Pride Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and AIDS Week. In addition, she advocated for LGBTQ inclusive policies and programming on campus such as a Gender Neutral Housing program, an LGBTQ Center and the expansion of Women’s Studies to Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Emilia recently earned a Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration in health policy and management from the Brandeis Heller School School for Social Policy and Management.

2 thoughts on “Transgender Science: Biology and Identity

  1. Women’s hands are different from males in that women index fingers extend higher than the ring finger and the male ring finger extends higher than the index finger. I’m really not sure but it wouldn’t surprise me if Transgender humans have a varying hand-finger length. So those photos show a female hand on the right and a males on the left. Kind of deceiving, nothing to do with gay or straight, that part she didn’t get wrong.

  2. The hand on the left is male, the one on the right is female. The part she got right is the length of fingers has nothing to do with being gay, it has to do with gender. Unless you are Transgender then likely a variety of lengths depending on your X Y Chromosomes.

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