On the Science of Changing Sex

Transkids Really Are Alright

Posted in Transgender Youth by Kay Brown on December 14, 2019

female_scientistWith pre-adolescent gender atypical and gender dysphoric children we have seen dramatic changes in attitudes during the past fifty years.  We have gone from extremely negative, indeed, punitive treatments to extinquish gender atypicality and demand gender typical behaviors, under the misguided belief that doing so will preclude youth from becoming transsexual and/or homosexual to accepting natural gendered behavior.  Recently, some parents and clinicians have become affirming, rather than denying, that the most gender dysphoric of these youth may benefit from early social transitions, knowing as we now do, that some of these youth will persist being gender dysphoric and will demand to social transition as teens or adults regardless of how they are treated as pre-adolescents.

This change has not gone unchallenged.  There is still a current of homophobic and transphobic feelings found in both the public and in some medical circles that cling to the old model of demanding that these youth should be “encouraged to accept their natal sex” / “encouraged to be more gender conforming”.  The question of how one goes about “encouraging” youth who are overwhelmingly both gender atypical and gender dysphoric without adding to their distress is almost never addressed.  If history is our guide, concern for that distress is largely absent, indeed, the goal of such “encouragement” is often to increase that distress in an effort to make the social cost of being gender atypical sufficiently high that the child’s natural expressions will be suppressed.  We have seen the resulting psychic damage such treatment, clinical or simply social (by family, neighbors, teachers, and bullying peers) has wrought on millions of LGBT people.

When making clinical decisions and recommendations, nothing is more important than scientific evidence.   So it is a happy day when researchers step up to examine transkids experiencing this new, kinder, gentler, and yes, affirming, approach to easing childhood gender dysphoria.  One such group is led by Professor Kristina Olson at the University of Washington Social Cognitive Development Lab and their TransYouth Project.

graphsIn their studies they are following a large number of transkids, now in the hundreds, many of whom have socially transitioned before puberty.  One recent study allowed them to compare transkids to age matched non-transkid controls.  The results did NOT surprise me personally, but may either surprise or dismay virulent transphobes and religious bigots, in that these kids are doing quite well.  Further, the findings show that as a population, one would be hard put to find any differences in psychological make-up, views, attitudes and self-concepts with non-transkids of the opposite natal sex as shown in the histograms shown here. (Note that “Transgender Girl”= MTF Transkids, etc.)  However, transkids and their siblings were more open minded about gender atypical people in general, as one would expect.

Another important finding is that this similarity does NOT change with time post-social-transition, neither increasing nor decreasing with age.  This should put to rest those concerns (if indeed they were genuine concerns and not merely ‘concern trolling’) that social transition either causes persistence or makes it more difficult for desistors to detransition.  The data shows that for pre-adolescent gender dysphoric youth, social transitions occur only in the persisting population, either because desisters abandon the social transition experiment (“Real Life Test”) or simply never even try.

If I have any complaint about this work, it is that the authors of these papers use the term ‘gender typical’ for non-trans-controls but ‘gender non-conforming’ instead of ‘gender atypical’, as though they could be conforming if they just chose to, instead of being naturally gender atypical (and actually quite typical when being compared to the opposite natal sex).  That is say, they didn’t describe the controls as “gender conforming” because that would silly.  Old habits and biased thinking die hard.

Further Reading:

Child’s Play; Essay on Transkids Self-Concept

Because Boys Must Be Boys; Essay on why “Gender Non-Conforming” label is problematic

Further External Reading:

TransYouth Project

References:

Gülgöz, S., Glazier, J. J., Enright, E. A., Alonso, D. J., Durwood, L. J., Fast, A. A., Lowe, R., Ji, C., Heer, J., Martin, C. M., & Olson, K. R. (2019). Similarity in Transgender and Cisgender Children’s Gender Development. PNAS. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1909367116  Link to pdf

Olson, K.R., & Gülgöz, S. (2018). Early Findings from the TransYouth Project: Gender Development in Transgender Children. Child Development Perspectives, 12(2), 93-97.  Link to pdf

 

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Critique of Gliske’s Gender Dysphoria Conjecture

Posted in Editorial, Science Criticism by Kay Brown on December 3, 2019

phrenologyWhen a radically new conjecture is put forward regarding the etiology of a phenomena that purports to be a new explanitory theory it must explain all of the previous observations, evidence, and data in a better, more compact way to be accepted as a theory, displacing or augmenting a previous one.  Stephen V. Gliske claims to have a new explication of the mechanism leading to a unitary theory of gender dysphoria, displacing our current two type taxonomy with its two separate and distinct etiologies, namely extreme gender atypicality vs. Erotic Target Identity Inversion caused by an Erotic Target Location Error.

However, as one digs into Gliske’s recent paper published in eNeuro, one very quickly notes several serious defects.  First, he relies on neuro-anatomical studies that have been shown to be purely effects of hormonal treatments.  He attempts to recruit xenomelia as a point of argument for his thesis but fails to note that such evidence supports the two type as that phenomena is also highly correlated with apotemnophilia and thus another example of an Erotic Target Location Error.  He cites a study which showed reduced activation of part of the brain to sensory touch of transmen’s breasts as evidence that this is a cause of gender dysphoria, rather than an effect of gender dysphoria (attentional suppression of emotionally distasteful experience).  Finally, he fails to explain or even directly acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for the role of autogynephilia in the development of gender dysphoria in one of the two types including the studies that concluded that the two types have different brain structural shifts.

inah3Gliske leans very heavily on post-mortem studies of MTF transsexual brains by Swaab’s group in the Netherlands.  For a while so did many other researchers and especially the transgender population.  Sadly for Gliske’s argument, this effect on areas of the BNST (BSTc & INAH3) was shown to be purely an artifact of these patients being treated for gender dysphoria using female hormones for years.  These changes are activational effects of hormones.  Perhaps Gliske can be forgiven for not knowing this, given that even Swaab’s group continues to publish papers referencing this earlier work as though it hadn’t been shown to be meaningless as evidence for any etiological arguments.

Gliske proposes a mechanism of gender dysphoria that arises out of a disturbance of sensory networks in the brain.  This idea is not new.  It was proposed by Ramachandran some years ago but with a different twist.  The earlier work suggested it as supporting the sexually dimorphorphic brain hypothesis.  That earlier work was shown to be statistically weak and inconclusive.  Later work using fMRI scans of transmen while their breasts were touched were interpreted as evidence of an intrinsic neurological difference in the sensory networks involving the breast of transmen.  However, as I have argued in the past, this ignores the ability of the attentional networks of the brain to both highlight and suppress sensory experience awareness at multiple levels.

{My reader can test this ability for themselves.  While reading the above, were you keenly aware of the exact position of your left foot?  Are you now aware of it?  Now imagine you hate your left foot and concentrate on your right hand.}

Ramachandran and Case also attempted to cite the example of xenomelia and observes that this may be similar to transgender, but ascribes it to somatic mapping issues while failing to note that we have another name for xenomelia, “apotemnophilia”, the erotic desire to be an amputee and how that desire arises out of an Erotic Target Location Error (ETLE) for the primary erotic target of amputees.  The authors thus sweep the well documented erotic motivations of both amputation “wannabees” and of autogynephilic transwomen under the rug in order to further their thesis of transgender as a brain mapping issue alone.  Gliske commits the same academic sin.

Gliske doesn’t completely ignore the two type taxonomy, but makes a sweeping statement that he does not back up with compelling evidence, that the two types are better characterized by age of onset than sexual orientation, failing to note that once false self reporting for both characteristics are taken into account, the two are in fact merely labels for the same taxons that focus on one or the other of the two very highly correlated items.  However, as has been shown repeatedly, sorting for the two taxons on sexual history to determine likely sexual orientation leads to significantly higher statistical signals.

Finally, Gliske ignores that the very studies he cites as evidence for his thesis more properly supports the two type taxonomy, as Guillamon, et al., concluded in a meta-review of the papers.

“The review of the available data seems to support two existing hypotheses: (1) a brain-restricted intersexuality in homosexual MtFs and FtMs and (2) Blanchard’s insight on the existence of two brain phenotypes that differentiate “homosexual” and “nonhomosexual” MtFs”

Gliske ends his paper with a classic Bad Science Journalism(tm) move by suggesting that his work will lead to better therapies for treating gender dysphoria without the slightest evidence or hint of how that might be.

Gliske calls this a “new theory”, but in fact, it is poorly warmed over previous conjecture with very little evidence to support it, certainly not enough to displace the Two Type Taxonomy and Erotic Target Identity Inversion.

Addendum 4/30/2020:  Gliske’s paper has been retracted.  I guess I’m not the only one who noted that this paper fails to meet basic standards:

https://retractionwatch.com/2020/04/30/journal-retracts-paper-on-gender-dysphoria-after-900-critics-petition/

Further Reading:

Essay on Swaab’s research on BSTc & INAH3

Essay on Ramachandran’s paper on phantom pain after SRS

Essay on Case & Ramachandran’s paper on Transmen’s responses to breast touch

Essay on Apotemnophilia arising from an Erotic Target Location Error

Essay on Age of Onset vs. Sexual Orientation

Further External Reading:

https://community.sfn.org/index.php?%2Ftopic%2F4375-editorial-ethics-issues-of-eneuro%2F&tab=comments&fbclid=IwAR0WSHgJPGtnsywVbkagfFbs9lyv0q27_bkLB4ddKUqY5uUTCLnKfmmJQZk#comment-12809

Essay on Bad Science Journalism(tm)

References:

Stephen V. Gliske, “A new theory of gender dysphoria incorporating the distress, social behavioral, and body-ownership networks” eNeuro 2 December 2019, ENEURO.0183-19.2019; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0183-19.2019

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