Monday, June 4, 2018

Reading the Research: Transgender Brains

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article explains the existence of trans people a bit better.  (Because a large percentage of autistic people, including myself, fall into the category of "gender nonconforming," this piece of research strikes me as rather important.)  Transgender people, most commonly, are people whose physical bodies don't match their gender identities.  So, a person born with ovaries and breasts (born with female sex parts) might feel, deeply, that they are a male person.  Their masculinity is a major part of their identity as a person, despite their biological parts.

This is a very uncomfortable place to be, and can cause severe distress, known as "gender dysphoria."  From the article: "Although GD (gender dysphoria) is rare, gender identity is an essential part of psychological health, and if unaddressed can lead to serious psychological issues."  Gender dysphoria is usually helped along by people who don't believe that it's possible to have a parts-brain mismatch, and insist that whatever parts you were born with, that's who you are and you should just deal with it.  Well, as it turns out, it's not that simple. 

Scientists in Europe did brain scans on teenagers who reported suffering gender dysphoria (as well as a control group of non-dysphoric teenagers).  The teenagers were exposed to stimuli and psychological tests that cause different reactions in typical male and female brains, and their brains' reactions were tracked with the scans.  The results?  The trans teenagers' brains tended to act like their preferred gender-identity's typical brain.  Apparently, the brain trumps external genitalia when it comes to gender identity. 

It is not yet known how soon in a child's life these brain differences become apparent to a scan, but I personally know of a child who recognized their sex/gender difference prior to the age of 10.  So there's a good chance it's a lot younger than the teenage years.  From the article, it sounds like these scientists will continue to follow this line of research.  I'll be curious to see what they discover, because I am also, by some definitions, trans. 

I was born into a body possessing XX chromosomes, and my body developed nearly flawlessly in that sense.  However, I have no idea what would occur if you put my brain into the same tests these teenagers took... because I'd personally be happiest if gender identity didn't ever apply to me.  I am what's sometimes termed "agender."  I don't consider myself particularly male or female.  I really don't fit well into feminine stereotypes: I don't like clothes, makeup, most kinds of shopping, accessories, socializing, home-making, or cooking.  But I also don't really fit most male stereotypes, either. 

I am... basically, just me.  And I'd pretty much just prefer people to just judge me by who I am, not what I look like or what parts I happen to have.  Perhaps if they put my brain into those scans, I would test as a combination of male and female, or maybe even not follow the patterns of either.  I am, after all, autistic, and that makes my brain unusual to begin with.  That being the case, it doesn't really surprise me that so many autistic people also identify as one or more of the letters in "LGBTQ+."

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