For most people, their sex (based on their private parts) matches their gender (whether they feel or “identify” as a boy or girl). But for one in 100 people, there is a mismatch. They may anatomically look like a girl (their sex), but inside they feel like a boy (their gender).
This is not a weak or fleeting feeling to belittle – gender identity can be as strong a feeling in transgender persons as it is in non-transgender persons. The gender the brain assigns overrides whatever genitalia the body possesses.
|Gender identity is the brain’s sense of being male or female, regardless of physical appearance.|
A transgender boy is born with female parts, but his brain does not identify with that sex. He likes hanging out with the boys and doing typical “boy” things like eating worms off a dare and getting into heated discussions about the quantity and quality of explosions in the latest Michael Bay movie. Despite female genitalia, these children adamantly feel that they are one of the guys.
How can this happen? A 2013 study of twins showed that there is a strong genetic component driving transsexuality. Identical twins, who share the same exact DNA, are up to 3x more likely to both be transgender than fraternal (non-identical) twins. This finding argues that genes play a major role in gender identity.
Studies in mice show that disruption of just a single gene can cause females to act like males. Female mice lacking a gene called TRPC2, which is present in brain cells and aids in pheromone recognition, displayed typical sex-crazed male behavior – these females engaged in masculine courtship rituals, pelvic thrusting, and mounting of mates. These female mice also enjoyed burping loudly and watching football with one paw down their pants.
Gender identity may also be under epigenetic control, which means the genes themselves haven’t changed but their expression levels did. One way to dampen a gene’s expression is through a chemical modification called methylation – when DNA is methylated, it represses that gene’s activity.
DNA methylation in certain parts of the brain appears to play an important role in the development of gender identity. A remarkable 2015 study showed that a drug that inhibits DNA methylation can make female rats behave like male rats.
|Scientists can easily make Minnie Mouse behave more like Mickey by altering genes or gene expression.|
Finally, a sophisticated array of hormones influence sexual development and impact the brain. Variations in the genes that manufacture these hormones, or their receptors, could lead to mismatches between sex and gender identity.
This is just a small sampling of the studies confirming that gender and sex are clearly separate - gene variations or changes in gene expression can make the brain assume a gender that is not consistent with the equipment down below. You cannot pick your gender identity any more than you can pick your nose. Wait, let’s rephrase that! You cannot control your gender identity any more than you can control the size of your nose.
Critics have also asserted that children who haven’t hit puberty can’t know that they are transgender. Again, science does not support such a claim. A 2015 study on transgender children has shown that gender identity emerges at a very young age (as early as two years old), and toddlers align with this gender with great conviction. To tell the child otherwise or, worse, to punish the child for acting like the gender they feel they are, can do profound psychological damage to the child’s well-being. In some cases, this has led to debilitating depression and even suicide.
Parents of transgender children are also unjustifiably persecuted, often accused of providing the child with the “wrong” environment or not raising the child the “right” way. However, as we outlined for the children above, no one is at fault here. Experts recommend that parents provide an environment that is consistent with the gender the child feels.
Just like any child, transgender kids deserve an inclusive and nurturing environment, and kudos to the BSA for living up to the Boy Scout Oath “to help other people at all times”, and to be friendly, courteous, and kind.
Contributed by: Bill Sullivan