by Emilia Dunham
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.