NewScientist reported today on a study (slated for publication next month) suggesting that transsexuals can be identified early in life by white matter patterns in parts of the brain. Brain MRI scans of untreated (I assume this means hormone therapy, although they never quite say) female-to-male transsexual (FtM) individuals match cis-male brains in certain key regions more than cis-female brains. A previous study by the same group reported that the same regions of the brain in untreated (again, I am assuming that this means individuals not undergoing hormone therapy) male-to-female transsexual (MtF) individuals appeared to be inbetweeners when compared to cis-gendered male and female individuals, seeming neither predominantly male nor female. The article goes on to add: One of the four regions – the superior longitudinal fascicle – is particularly interesting, she says. “It connects the parietal lobe [involved in sensory processing] and frontal lobe [involved in planning movement] and may have implications in body perception.”
I find this effing cool, and it is definitely an interesting discovery. I’m all for anything that puts evidence on the side that these things (anything deviating from cis-gendered heterosexuality) are in many cases hardwired into us and not necessarily a choice. However, I am concerned by the claims made in the article that these methods could be used to identify transsexual children and delay puberty for them. The argument is that delayed puberty can result in more successful sex change operations, but I am incredibly concerned by the idea of labeling children as transsexual before they’ve even developed their own understanding of gender and sexuality. Lots of people experience gender dysphoria in their adolescent years, but not all of them grow up to become transmen and transwomen (I am speaking from experience, here). I wish I knew a trans neurobiologist, because I know there’s a myriad of issues going on here, but I don’t have the tools to tease them apart myself.
Photo: Daniela Sea, a female actress playing Max Sweeney, a female-to-male transsexual on The L Word. Photo credit: Paul Michaud/Showtime.