Saturday, 4 April 2009

The atypical brain development of transsexuals

A Brain post, this one.
Dick Swaab is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam and is associated with the Nederlands Institute for Neuroscience. He writes a weekly column for NRC Handelsblad.
He's also one of the world's leading researchers on transsexuality. But not just that, he covers all of neuroscience.

On his blog in the NRC Handelsblad (That's Dutch of "Business News" BTW) he has an article this week on "The atypical brain development of transsexuals". Basically, readers of this blog will have heard it all before - or most of it. One bit that did catch my eye as being new:
Last year Ramachandran, a psychologist and neurologist in the United States presented an interesting hypothesis and preliminary results on transsexuality. His idea is that in M2F transsexuals the representation of the penis is lacking in the cerebral cortex and in F2M transsexuals the region for breasts during development is not mapped onto the cerebral cortex, which is why the brain does not consider the organs as its “own” and wants to get rid of them.
That we still have a long way to go in educating the psychiatric profession is proven by the following paragraph though:
Everything indicates that during the early stages of development, the sexual differentiation of the brain occurs atypically in transsexuals, and not that they are “simply” psychotic, as a psychiatrist from Limburg recently dared to assert.
A distinctly cheesy remark, and contrary to every piece of evidence in the last 50 years. This goes beyond ignorance, and into the realm of stupidity.

16 comments:

autogynephiliac? said...

Do non-TS men get envious of pregnancy too?

My mom told me that men are envious of women and that is why I want to change over. Should I give her this evidence?

Boo said...

Not quite buying this one. I wonder how much the whole "not a part of me" is just part of the telling-clinicians-what-they-want-to-hear thing. Personally, I had SRS for what I would consider entirely practical reasons, chiefly that the sexual options for women with penises are limited and IMHO unattractive. If it wasn't necessary to change legal documents, and there was no increased risk of violence in the case of inadvertent discovery, and it made no difference to any potential sexual partner, I probably wouldn't have bothered with surgery. And I would bet I'm far from alone.

Anonymous said...

You are not alone Boo!

Nicole

Zoe Brain said...

You know...if it wasn't for the fact that it would involve dissecting your brains... I'd love to have an expert examine your neurology!

Anonymous said...

On the contrary Boo, I am buying this one.

Firstly I prefix that I think body image type issues will be important to greater or lesser degrees in individual TS patients... so YMMV.

I was distictly aware of my penis since kindergarten - awesome seeing as everyone thought I was a girl.

Skip forward some years and my girlfriend and I realised that unless I could see her touch my chest, I couldn't feel it.

Regardless of assimilation into social role, regardless of the understanding of my girlfriend, I got surgery ASAP simply so my head didn't explode.

I think it is a mistake to consider the brain as one giant, homogenous entity. The 'body-map' chunk of the brain is just one chunk and it can be gendered to a greater or lesser degree - as can other sexually dimorphic chunks of the brain. I would think it possible, even common, to find a TS patient where the body-map was the least gendered part of the brain (or of the subset of sexually dimorphic parts of the brain), or where the body-map aligned with the actual body, despite every other part of the brain suggesting otherwise (i.e. I am acquainted with FtM men who miss their breasts, yet are definitely blokes).

Yet you raise a valid point Boo, that psychiatrists tend to only (readily) approve those patients that closely fit the mold, therefore patients tend to *cough* align thmselves with this mold (after all it is in their best interests...), therefore psychiatrists never get to understand the extent of variation within the patient subset thus reinforcing the mold...

To conclude, prefix Ramachandran's statement with "some" (i.e. ...in some M2F transsexuals ... in some F2M transsexuals...) then it's a perfectly fine statement. Research into quantifying "some" would be a useful future direction.

Hamster

Battybattybats said...

"Yet you raise a valid point Boo, that psychiatrists tend to only (readily) approve those patients that closely fit the mold, therefore patients tend to *cough* align thmselves with this mold (after all it is in their best interests...), therefore psychiatrists never get to understand the extent of variation within the patient subset thus reinforcing the mold..."


So then a good study would allow the subjects complete anonymity so the results do not effect their transition etc or appear on their medical records. Of course we know that doesn't guarantee results but it could at least help.

Boo said...

Zoe's a zombie trapped in a human body!!!

"Brrrraaaaiinnnssss!"

K, I'm basically in agreement with Hamster. It could happen that way for some people, it's just one of my biggest pet peeves (I've named her "Sally") is when anyone says "All TSs are X"

But it's good to know I'm not simply psychotic.

radicalbitch said...

Someone who didn't have the biological imperative to bring the body into congruence with the soul/mind/neurology isn't a classic transsexual by definition so I'm not surprised that those lacking the imperative "don't buy this".

Me, I've been watching with fascination as science finally confirms theories I was writing about 12 years ago....and psychiatry has been testing with interesting results for the past three years.....based on the idea of female and male neurologies being the key to understanding classic transsexuality as opposed to transgenders.

Bad hair days said...

Zoe postet a studie earlier, that 60% of men that lost their penis had a phantom penis... with transsexual Women (or women of transsexual history for Cathryn) only 30% know it. That shows both. That many transsexual people have bodymap issues - and many don't.
BUT - all other studies on the brain showed, where it was measurable, every diagnosed transsexual person had a brain that was developed along the sex they say they am. So its true, for those 30% with a phantom penis, too. So can you say, people with a fantom penis are not classic transsexuals? Or are they just classic transsexuals with an additional problem?

Boo said...

radicalbitch-

There's a lot more to the body than the penis.

It doesn't bother me if you want to draw your imaginary line excluding me to the "transgender" ghetto, cause there's always someone else out there whose imaginary line will exclude you too. The "classic transsexual/HBS" stuff is really just the flip side of the "autogynephilia/homosexual" silliness.

Anonymous said...

Why haven't you got a blog I can read Boo?

I'm finding myself agreeing with everything you've said here.

Nicole

Boo said...

I was gonna blog once, but I found I couldn't think of much to say.

Now I mainly do improv.

Bad hair days said...

@Boo
> I wonder how much the whole "not a part of me" is just part of the telling-clinicians-what-they-want-to-hear thing

Nothing at all. Its not part of the diagnosis here in Switzerland and in Germany. Guess what, most of the transsexual people tell you of rooted problems in that - later, after you know them a bit better, cause this is a very personal thing for the most of us.

autogynephiliac? said...

One thing I notice is that my rib cage (at its widest line) is about the same width as my hips. Is that good or bad?

My shoulders seem wider than my rib cage though, is that normal, and is it likely to be that way because of muscle?

Sorry, so much about anatomy I'm just trying to find out.

autogynephiliac? said...

Sorry, my rib cage actually seems to be a few centimeters narrower than my hips. Is that good?

Anonymous said...

Great post