Tuesday, 23 June 2009

What causes gender variance?

That's the title of a blog post that contains an impressive list of articles touching the subject, over at GenderLines.
Well … the short answer is simply that we don’t really know for sure. There’s plenty of evidence that shows the biology of gender variant people to be unique, in terms of our genetics and brain structure and stuff, but the problem is that we haven’t a clear idea yet of what causes these biological variations. There are plenty of possible causes, but nothing where scientists can say with 100% certainty “This is it.”

Of course, it’s debatable if there is even a single cause – with such a complex biology touching on brain chemistry, our endocrine system and even our genetics, there are quite possibly many factors at work that all influence a developing baby in the womb.


Subsections include:

general research on gender variance - Overarching studies and general research looking at the causes, indications and effects of gender variance.

female biology and sexuality Studies on female sexuality, gender, biology and other subjects that might be of relevance to people who are gender variant. and opportunistic mating in women (2009, biology letters)

male biology and sexuality Studies on male sexuality, gender, biology and other subjects that might be of relevance to people who are gender variant.

puberty General research on the biological and mental changes that take place before and during human puberty.

gender differentiation General research on the biological differences between human males and females and how those differences come about.

gender socialisation This research focusses on how social interaction and development, especially at an early age, influences the formation of gender roles and expectations, social ability and other characteristics. Also included are so-called “nature-vs-nurture” studies that posit purely environmental rather than biological origins for gender.

natural gender variance There is a strong argument that variation in sexual preference and gender identity is a natural phenomenon, and indeed, homosexuality and gender variance are observed in wild populations right along with intersex, and at least as far back as we’ve recorded history, transgender and homosexual people have been known to varying degrees.

biomass pollution Scientists are observing unprecedented levels of deformity and intersex conditions due to widespread pollution. Marine animals especially have been hard-hit due to high levels of estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Humankind is also not immune to this phenomena, with male sperm counts in continual decline and undermasculinesed boys being born more and more often.

diethylstilbetrol (des) Diethylstilbetrol was a medication widely prescribed from the early 1940’s until the mid 80’s as a menopause control and general hormone replacement therapy, and as an anti-miscarriage medication for pregnant women. It has since been found to be a powerful teratogen, causing widespread deformity of children born to mothers who were exposed to or used it during pregnancy. More interestingly, so-called DES-sons have a 20-fold increase of hypospadia, where the urethral tube opens on the underside rather than at the tip of the penis, and have demonstrated greatly increased incidences of gender dysphoria/transsexuality.

brain structure Some of the earliest research looking for the causes of transgenderism focussed on the brain structure, and specifically structures within the hypothalamus. This research is ongoing and has arguably given transgender individuals their loudest argument yet for acceptance and legal/medical recognition.

hormonal This research focusses on hormonal variations amongst transgendered people, and on possible influences early hormonal variation may have on brain structure and gender identity.

genetics Recent research into the etiology of transgenderism has focussed heavily on genetic indications, and late 2007 and 2008 have seen a number of interesting studies published that do indeed indicate a definite genetic component.

anthropometry Anthropometry is the measurement and statistical sampling of physical characteristics. As it relates to transgender individuals, this research looks for typically female measurements in transwomen and typically male measurements in transmen.

asperger’s and autism I’ve read in a few places now that asperger’s syndrome is up to four times as likely amongst transwomen as amongst the population at large. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any studies to corroberate this, but many of the same endocrine disrupting chemicals that get blamed for intersex and transsexual biological variation also feature in autism and aspergers. Interestingly, autism and related disorders have been theorised to be a form of a hyper-masculinized, structuring brain.
polycystic ovarian syndrome Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine condition that affects about 5% of cisgendered women. It causes the body to produce excessive amounts of androgens, leading to masculinisation. Up to a third of female-to-male transsexuals suffer from this condition.

the effects of HRT This research focusses on the effects that HRT have on transitioning gender variant people, both in the short term as well as long term health consequences.

body image Body image forms a major part of Gender Identity Disorder. This research studies variations in the image transgender people have of themselves and their bodies.
There's a number of papers I wasn't aware of - but the list is nowhere near complete. It's not so much the contents though as the framework that is outstanding, and I think I'll be stealing it as an organising template. I hope to send some updates under those categories to Mina, and see if we can get a definitive list of useful articles.

11 comments:

ariablue said...

Do you mean gender variance, or variations in sexual differentiation? I would think the cause of gender variance would be easy to explain- someone doesn't feel like conforming to strict categories. I'm not sure I understand how disagreement with social stereotypes and/or required behavior of the two accepted legal genders fits in with the concept of brain sex. People pushing the gender paradigm should probably explain the link.

Anonymous said...

I would think the cause of gender variance would be easy to explain- someone doesn't feel like conforming to strict categories
Except that isn't an answer. It merely begs the question: Why don't they feel like conforming to strict [gender] categories?

To continue:
Why do most people observably conform to gender categories?

How did the two standard, binary gender categories develop throughout human existence (from hunter-gatherer tribes through to today's sprawling Western metropoli)?

How malleable is someone's [own sense of their] gender presentation? (i.e. assuming no-one will harass 'John' for his gender presentation, is 'John' likely to feel comfortable wearing a skirt? - assuming John is a Western male)

If someone's sexual differentiation is non-standard is their gender presentation necessarily non-standard? How?

The converse: If someone's gender presentation is non-standard, is their sexual differentiation necessarily non-standard? In what ways?

Laserlight said...

I suppose that depends on how extensive you feel the paradigm is and why you're pushing against it. I have a friend who's far better at carpentry and auto repair than I am, but she's unambiguously female. She's pushing "girls don't do cabinetwork" but she's not at all pushing "I'm not really a girl". And if she were, presumably there'd be a reason why there was a mismatch between what she actually has for a body vs what she feels she ought to have.

Battybattybats said...

"How did the two standard, binary gender categories develop throughout human existence (from hunter-gatherer tribes through to today's sprawling Western metropoli)?"

Easy answer. They DIDN'T! there have been cultures with multiple-gender definitions and ones with quite different definitions of what attributed belong to which genders.

Anonymous said...

Easy answer. They DIDN'T! there have been cultures with multiple-gender definitions and ones with quite different definitions of what attributed belong to which genders.

Incorrect answer. The Western culture didn't spring out of nowhere / gift from some $Deity. Out culture now (2009) is not the same as it was in 1984. Ergo it has developed in the last generation, How did it develop to get to 1984? And even further back... how did it develop?

How did your example non-binary culture develop?

ariablue said...

I don't see how the social concept of gender is mandated by biology. The link just isn't there until someone provides it.

utlar said...

In any case, I liked some of the vadlo Biology cartoons!

Anonymous said...

Kailana Sidrandi Alaniz,

Zoe Brain Knock it off

Now I am all for acceptance of trans men and women. Fact is I think many are stunningly beautiful attractive people. But I am getting real tired of seeing you continue to post the same information and then ignore just how inaccurate your claims are.

You used to post on many of the same Intersex support forums that I do. and now your gone, because you know as well as I know that what you push as accurate is a whole lot of nonsense that none within the Intersex Community wishes because we allready know exactly what is going to happen if people like you keep pushing that Transsexuality is a subset of Intersexuality.

All intersex people will end up getting treated using Transsexuality standards of care and we have allready been fighting for our own rights over our own bodies that we were supposed to have allready gotten by the medical community, which turns out that once they assigned us a sex, through the use of surgery they forgot about and said , GOOD ENOUGH, NOW GO WE WANT NOTHING ELSE TO DO WITH YOU, IF YOUR LIFE IS SCREWED IT IS NOT OUR FAULT THAT WE CUT YOU UP TO PIECES AND LEFT YOU TO ROT IN A BODY YOU WERE NEVER MEANT TO HAVE. WE DON'T REALLY CARE THAT YOU WILL NEVER MARRY NOR EVER HAVE KIDS, IT IS NOT OUR FAULT WE FORCED YOU INTO A GENDER YOU DO NOT IDENTIFY WITH. SORRY NO SURGEON WILL HELP YOU NOW EITEHR BECAUSE OF ALL THE DAMAGE WE HAVE ALREADY DONE TO YOU. AND NO WE WON'T GIVE YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS BECAUSE YOU WOULD KILL YOURSELF IF YOU KNEW ALL WE HAVE DONE, OR YOU WOULD KILL ONE OF US FOR WHAT WE HAVE DONE, YOU WOULD SUE US FOR WHAT WE HAVE DONE AND IT IS TO DAMN BAD YOUR A FREAK NOW BECAUSE WE MADE YOU A FREAK BECAUSE YOU AREN'T A NORMAL BOY OR GIRL AND NEVER HAVE BEEN. SUCK IT UP, AND SUFFER FOR AN ETERNITY AND PERHAPS SOMEDAY YOU WILL DIE ALONE AND MISERABLE ALL BECAUSE WE FORCED YOU TO BE A MAN OR A WOMAN BECAUSE YOU JUST WERENT CUTE ENOUGH THE WAY YOU LOOKED WHEN YOU WERE BORN.

OH AND WE ARE NOT SORRY YOUR PARENTS CAN'T ACCEPT YOU OR LOVE YOU EITHER. THAT ISN'T OUR FAULT EITHER. EVEN THOUGH IT WAS US THAT TOLD YOUR PARENTS TO TREAT YOU LIKE CRAP TO REINFORCE THE GENDER YOU HAVE BEEN SURGICALLY PUT INTO. YOUR AN ABOMINATION THAT SOCIETY JUST CAN'T ACCEPT NOW GO. YOUR NOT WORTH OUR TIME OR EFFORT TO FIX. WE SCREWED UP FOR LIFE AND DON'T GIVE A DAMN. SUFFER THAT IS ALL YOU CAN DO BECAUSE WE (DOCTORS) ARE SMARTER THEN YOU AND KNOW WHAT IS IN YOUR BEST INTERESTS.

ZOE BRAIN, AE BRAIN, A-Z or whatever other nick's you use, if you were intersexed you would not be pushing that transsexuality was a subset of Intersex.

Now grow up and quit trying to push that Intersex has anything to do with Transsexuality.

We are intersexed, and apparently you are an Intersexed Wannabe. Which Is why you are not welcome in Intersexed Support Forums. Your views counter our own views and are detrimental to the Entire Intersexed Community.

Anonymous said...

Oh and just out of curiousity just what condition do you have. I know from years ago that you had no known cause. Yet assumed you were intersexed. I happened to have had a high level of interest in you and assumed off hand, because of some of your hormone levels that is was late onset CAH, 17a or 17b. possibly 11b.

I am unaware that you know what you have, and like most things, you probably went and took over the counter herbal suppliments to screw your body all up. <---not fact, just what I suspect. An intersexed Activist with an intersexed condiotion does not push and refer to other conditions of intersexuality and call them naturally occuring transsexualism. Your own words betray what you are.

and yes this is Kailana Sidrandi Alaniz.

I would actually love to skype, or chat with you once again, to figure out why it is you keep Pushing Transsexuality as being intersexed. Why must you confuse Transexuality to those who are drastically affected by genetic conditions that has many health problems with wanting to change ones gender to that opposite of what a person was born as. Why are you not promoting intersex Rights Intersex Advocacy, but instead pushing Transsexuality? All you are doing is confusing and allowing other people to treat intersex people badly. I do not want to see Intersex Bashing, Intersex Killing because some bigoted idiot that an intersexed person was a Transsexual MtF or FtM. Do you not understand that doctors have allready pushed onto parents that infantile surgical normalization of the genitalia will keep their kids from being homosexual and transsexual? Which is complete nonsense, because many are what they are because of the same surgery's that were forced onto them.
Damn it hun, I am one of the most support Trans accepting people in the world, i see MtF as women and FtM as men, which what they wish. And now you come along and hook up with doctors who are trying to make Intersex and Transexuality mean the same thing. And there is nothing similar about having a genetic error that makes ones life difficult with having a desire to live as the opposite sex that a person was born as.

Zoe Brain said...

*Sigh*

Trying not to be boringly repetitious....

In 1985, I was diagnosed at a Fertility Clinic as a mildly intersexed male. PAIS-1.

In 2005, after huge numbers of tests, MRI scans, Ultrasounds, Karyotypes etc this diagnosis was changed to "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman".

The tests were triggered by some quite spectacular somatic changes, not to say anomalous results regarding my whole cholesterol-based endocrine system.

And I blogged it as it happened.

Now maybe that doesn't make me Intersexed. But if not, what? From a practical view, any syndrome that can cause such consecutive diagnoses must be labelled "Intersex", or the word is meaningless.

On the other hand, until the somatic changes, amounting to a partial and incomplete female puberty happened, I could accurately have been called a transsexual woman. One who had managed to come to some sort of accommodation with her situation.

I therefore answer to either label.

The fact that I'm not quite the standard transsexual model has caused me quite significant legal problems regarding identity documents and passports, plus the not inconsiderable medical expenses.

The fact that I transitioned has also caused problems - there is no SOC for transitions of Intersexed people. If you're lucky, you get fast-tracked. If unlucky, treatment is flatly refused, as the diagnosis is GIDNOS not GID, as I'm sure you're aware. That is, if any diagnosis is given.

As regards your counter-arguments about insufficient data, hormones being possibly causal etc I invite you to read the actual papers. Not just the ones from 1996, but the ones from the last 5 years, where all these criticisms have been answered.

Regarding having been removed from Intersex groups - not that I'm aware of. Try asking OII Australia about that one. The only person I know who has been banned from multiple sites as a serial pest is one Nick Chaleungphone, of whom you're aware.

Intersex and Transsexuality are not the same thing, any more than CAH and CAIS are the same thing, or mixed gonadal dysgenesis and PMDS are the same thing. Given what we now know about neurological cross-gendering, I'm not even sure that "transsexuality" defined as a purely psychological condition with no somatic component actually exists. I think it probably does, but accounts for a vanishingly small proportion of those diagnosed with severe GID, though a rather larger proportion of those with no intention to transition.

The most important thing to me is to put a stop to surgery on young children who are unable to give informed consent, merely to satisfy parental wishes, and ensure they conform to a sociatal norm. Whatever our differences, I think on that one we agree.

Zoe Brain said...

Oh yes - CAH was the last condition to be eliminated, and that was only as the result of some tests for cortisol levels only 6 months ago.

A combination of late-onset AIS and CAH 17b would have accounted for most of the symptoms, so 10/10 for your deductions.

Right now, the best conjecture is a combination of apo A-1 Milano and another anomaly. Possibly CCR5-delta32, which is common in my genetic ancestry. Though apo A-1 Milano is not found outside one genetic line in Italy, and so although my blood test results match that well, it may be another gene sequence with a similar effect.

We just don't know. :(

We've eliminated all the syndromes that are not idiopathic, and my treatment is based entirely now on heuristics, not theory.