Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Transgender Gene?

Science or Hokum?

The transworld is all a dither about a report in Biological Psychiatry that suggests there is a "transgender gene" that has been identified. Some suggest this "validates" our experience, others worry about tests that could prove harmful. Me? I'm just gonna be a wet blanket. Not only am I not all that excited about fact I'm quite skeptical.

First, they report finding only that the gene variation (regarding a gene string thought to have impact as an androgen receptor) is noted more often in MtF's than the control group. So some/many MtF's did NOT have this genetic string and some/few of the control group did. I'm no geneticist, but I did a pretty good job in logic in college. Some is not all and neither is many. So if there are some who do not have the gene variation (which some reports have labeled a "defect" - another reason not to trust these reports) then one cannot claim this is THE cause. At best, it may be ONE cause. Or it just may be total bupkus.

Also, in reading the report it referenced the AR gene structure in how it *might* relate to "masculinity" and/or "femininity". Those are sociologically constructed
gender roles, NOT personal identity factors. Many of us are/were very "masculine", just like many gay males are quite "masculine" and many lesbian women are "feminine". So once again, behavior is confused with status.

I first read about this via the BBC website - which you can find here:

That page will also link you to an "authoritative" study from 2000 by Professor Richard Green of Imperial College in London who said that MtF's had certain traits in common - lefthandedness, late birth order and an abundance of maternal aunts. Of course, I'm right handed, first born and had no maternal aunts.

And I recall an article in the
San Francisco Chronicle about Dr. V.S. Ramachandran's theory of a "phantom pain" connection and his rather egotistic declaration ""Those who study transsexuality tend to be territorial because they themselves have made so little progress. There is no literature that illuminates the underlying mechanisms, other than psychological mumbo jumbo. And then someone comes striding in and spends two weeks solving the riddle. It must be infuriating." I don't think so, but I'll give him props for "psychological mumbo jumbo"!

As someone who offers what I believe to be a rather credible presentation on transgender understanding, I come across a lot of these studies and research efforts. Some may have merit, most probably don't. Ours is an existence that lends itself to a lot of "pseudoscience" either by those trying to make a name for themselves or by those like Focus on the Family that have a clear agenda to support. In fact, I recently gave a presentation to a local college class. One of the student's memos that were forwarded on to me was from someone not terribly supportive, which is okay by me. What is not okay was his belief this was due to a sexual trauma earlier in my life....'cuz that's what he'd heard. So here is someone who'd rather believe the phony myths because it neatly fits his biases, rather than attempt to understand the real science as we can best discern it.

Its hard enough to recognize true scientific discovery and breakthrough when we are constantly bombarded with stories such as this. In fact the headlines cite "transgender gene found!", when even in the article the authors suggest this may only be a connection. Thus we can't even trust the scientific journalism involved, let alone the authenticity of the scientists themselves. Is it really that important to find the "cause"? Isn't our collective existence and experience sufficient? Listen to us and you will learn. Those who don't want to listen are the ones bound and determined to deny our journeys by finding some "cause".


Corrino said...

It would be nice to present a tangible causation to being transgendered in light of "profesionals" like Dr. Kenneth Zucker and others like him.

Donna said...


I would agree, except if a specific causation were ever identified, folks like Zucker would then work for a "cure"...or "vaccine". In other words, the focus of their transphobia would simply shift.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog; I agree with you and completely disagree with you. You're right about "do we really need a gene to verify ourselves." However, you clearly did not take biology in College, or high school for that matter. Even the more simple genes, lets say coding for eye color, require the interaction of 100 genes. You are right, that there is not just one Transgendered Gene, it will turn out to be the interaction of maybe 100 or 1000 or the interactions of 10 000 genes. That is the important concept here. And as a graduate in Neuropsychology, entering post doctoral studies at the UBC, I hope in the future you keep a more open mind, and informed mind. This is important research that although will not probably affect you in your life time or mine, it has far reaching Social and economical impacts. Don't tell me you also by into the nature vs nurture debate when even my child in grade 4 knows its all about the INTERACTION.
TG in BC :) :)