Updated: Sep 11, 2019
I am thoroughly comfortable with the idea of being a transgender person. Other than trying to explain the trans experience to others, I have not been overly concerned with the causes for it. In short, I have been content with “just being,”
That was until this past October 2018 when the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia released the first peer-reviewed study that has uncovered a potential biological basis or cause for being transgender or – as they wrote – “for gender dysphoria.” Specifically, they have identified 12 genetic markers that were significantly over-represented in 380 trans women vs. a comparable number of cisgender women. These genes control how the human body processes sex hormones like estrogen and androgens.
This study is not an outlier. Two scientific projects - including a longitudinal study that involves over 1,000 trans people - are indicating similar outcomes. Added to a recent study that was published in the European Society of Endocrinology which indicated that the brain activity of trans children resembles the activity of cis gender children of the gender they identify with, scientists are clearly building a consensus around the concept of transgenderism having biological underpinnings
The news of these studies has broken over the trans community like a wave. Many trans folk who have felt stigmatized and feared that they were mentally ill – sometimes for decades – celebrated the news. The relief has been palpable. Simply put, we are who we are. Phew!
Of course, there are plenty of science deniers out there. All you need to do is look at the controversy over climate change or the 160-year controversy about the validity of evolution to know this. There will always be deniers, but a potentially bigger issue may well be those who accept the science and turn the discussion over trans rights into a debate revolving around the concepts of “genetic predisposition” and “birth defects.” Let’s take each of these in turn.
The Future Debate Part One: Dealing with Predisposition and Birth Defects
Since the human genome was mapped in 2003, more and more people have been requesting, paying for, and receiving genetic testing. In some cases, they are seeking information about their family history. But for others, they are seeking to discover if they have a genetic predisposition for “disease.”
There are genetic markers that indicate people may have a predisposition for Breast Cancer, Diabetes, Celiac disease and even Psoriasis. The reason people get these tests is not to validate and proudly state that they have these conditions. They do it so that they can prevent and treat them. And notice that these conditions are still referred to as “diseases”. Diseases that need to be treated and eradicated.
There are also genetic markers that indicate whether a person is Autistic, has Downs Syndrome or may be Bipolar. Others indicate that the person will likely develop Tay Sachs Disease or Cystic Fibrosis. Pregnant women are encouraged to test for these genetic markers during their pregnancy. Why? So, they can either prepare for dealing with these issues or to give them the option of terminating the pregnancy.
Therefore, it is important to consider the potential implications of genetic testing to identify trans people. It may lead to the view that being trans is a birth defect that must be managed. People who are anti-trans may could stop saying being trans is a mental illness but switch to saying it is a physical malady that must be prevented or physically treated. Prospective parents could choose to terminate a pregnancy because their future child could be transgender.
The Future Debate Part Two: Who Is “Trans-Enough.”
Within the trans community it is not uncommon to hear statements like:
“If you don’t have bottom surgery you are not really trans.”
“I don’t understand people who are say they are genderqueer or non-binary. Why can’t they just make up their mind?”
“That person isn’t really trans… They are just a crossdresser.”
As offensive as these statements may be to those who believe in the importance of inclusiveness, they are an indicator of the significant and ongoing challenges within the trans community – and the LGBTQ movement as a whole – around defining “transgender.” They are evidence that certain people are creating ad-hoc “tests” to affirm someone’s trans identity. Now, assuming the studies mentioned above are validated, there could be the development of an actual test for transgenderism.
This raises the issue of institutionalizing the prejudices against people who choose not to have (or cannot afford) confirming surgeries; who cannot take advantage of hormone treatments; or who simply are happier leading a queer lifestyle.
It also raises questions around medical needs testing. What happens if genetic tests become a requirement for transition? Imagine you are a trans person who is suffering from dysphoria and you are seeking treatment, but you only have 5 out of the 12 genetic markers. Will you be refused the right to legally change your name and gender marker? Could you be refused medical treatment that will help you to lead a more productive life? Would you be considered mentally ill and be forced to undergo psychological treatment? Will you be labelled as not being “trans enough?”
Yes. I Do Care.
If you have not figured it out yet… Yes, I do care that scientists are uncovering biological causes for the transgender condition.
This discovery can serve as a salve for parents who think that it is their fault that their child is trans – that somehow, they did something terribly wrong.
It can help hundreds of thousands of trans people understand that they are not suffering from mental disease or some physical defect.
But, trans people and their supporters need to keep their eyes wide open. There will still be a loud and reactionary minority that views our lifestyle as a problem. And they will use every tool they have at their disposal to prevent us from living our lives freely and proudly.
Learn More About the Lehigh Valley Transgender Community
Would you like to write for our transgender blog or learn more about our support group for transgender people in the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania? If so, please contact Lehigh Valley Renaissance or better yet join us at one of our monthly meeting!
Corinne Goodwin is one of the leaders of Lehigh Valley Renaissance. She regularly speaks to local community groups about transgender issues.
Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by Lehigh Valley Renaissance.