Friday, November 07, 2008

Genetic Indicators for Gender Identity

From an early age, we develop an inner sense of being a boy or a girl - male or female. This is called gender identity.

Individuals who have a gender disorder identify with the sex opposite of their assigned biological sex. They feel as if they are not in the right body, and yearn to be someone other than who they are.

These feelings begin in early childhood and have been considered "disordered" thinking in the past. A psychological problem, like homosexuality was perceived years ago. Not too long ago, such gender issues were seen as "choices", not biologically bound within one's DNA. And as a result, many children, teens and adults would hide in shame. Some even choosing suicide.

More research, like this recent one from Australia, show that there is a genetic link for gender identity. "There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simply a lifestyle choice, however our findings support a biological basis of how gender identity develops, " reports Dr. Vincent Harley, Head of Molecular Genetics at Prince Henry's Institute.

This research will be published in the January 2009 journal Biological Psychiatry and suggest that pathologizing "Gender Identity Disorder" will be a thing of the past.


phd in yogurtry said...

Not too long ago, such gender issues were seen as "choices", not biologically bound within one's DNA.

Unfortunately too many still believe this. Argh.

Health Psych said...

Excellent post, Deb. Have to agree with PhD though and fear it will take a lot of research to gain understanding for some.

OHN said...

I realize that not being a physician I would not understand the minute details of such a study but as a lay person, it seems SO obvious to me that we are what we are because of genetics.

I find it confusing and frustrating that anyone would not automatically understand that. To me, it seems like common sense.

Raine said...

I kinda think there is a biological factor to homosexuality also- I saw a small once where they followed children from gestation to adulthood and found that if the mother had too much estrogen and was carrying a boy he was likely to be homosexual and the same with girls and testosterone. That always made sense to me

Jade said...

This is a topic that I've hearing quite a bit about lately. A lot of nature vs nurture arguments as well as hormone therapy to prevent puberty and gender surgery before appropriate ages for the child to decide themselves.

I find it amazing that people feel that they must be able to label someone. You HAVE to be seen as a male, you HAVE to be seen as a female, YOU HAVE to be straight, You HAVE to be gay. Very interesting how people can not see a person as a person without a label attached....
Great post as always Deb

jumpinginpuddles said...

Strange i think of gender confusion as a real and true phenomen rather than a choice

Teresa said...

Personally, I don't think that there is any biological factor in homosexuality or transgender. It is what it is.

In the end, we are all still "people," we still have our likes and dislikes, personalities, dreams and goals. Labeling in our country alone (USA) has become so overrated.

Kahless said...

Someone I know is transistioning their body to their true gender. It is really tough for them I reckon, but their only route to peace.

S'onnie said...

I have a transgender friend who I grew up with and she is really open about what is going on with her and why she feels the way she does. I must admit at times its hard reconciling between the boy I grew up with and my best friend went to the prom with to the woman I now interact with but I am all the richer for having her in my life

Deb said...

Dear Yogurtry,
Many cannot believe what science is showing.

Dear HP,
I agree. For some it will take more than just science and a trend in research.

Dear OHN,
It makes SUCH sense to me as well.

Dear Raine,
I think I recall that study. It was done in the UK, I believe.

Dear Jade,
Genetics and biology are the root of many a thing for us all. I try to see or use labels - to see a person an uniquely him or herself.

I agree. It is a biological imperative. It's like saying you can change your eye color by just choosing.

Science shows us that sexuality is biologically determined. And for those who are gay, it is a chance to shout to the world that homosexuality is a real, biological issue. We are all people, but as the passing of Prop 8 in Cali just showed us, only a certain kind of person can be recognized as married.

I wish your friend peace and a life of ease once this transition is complete.

Your friend sounds like a very important person in your life. And you to her.

Mindy said...

I am really confused on this. My best friend is a male who thinks he is female on the inside. He loves wearing dresses, heels, panties, painting his fingernails, etc, but at the same time loves trucks, tools, all things electrical and computer, is 6'4" tall, and is very masculine in many ways. He had a very traumatic childhood (abused, possibly sexually, by his father), and claims to remember very little of his childhood. He insists he is a woman on the inside, and he has come very close to suicide several times. There are some times he tells me he loves me but wants to be me. To me, it seems more like he goes through "phases" of wanting to be a woman. I never know when he will want to change the tires on his truck or go panty shopping. To me, his case seems more of a "choice" or how he's feeling at a particular time. I think there could be a genetic link, but not sure thats the case with him.

~Deb said...

My friend Patty, who is a transgender woman (MTF) was a man, changed into a complete woman, post-op and all, yet prefers women still. My mother is still coming to grips with this, since she identifies "her" as a gay man in drag, when I keep trying to reiterate the fact that he is now a she, who happens to be a lesbian.

MANY people do not understand it, because yes, it can be confusing, but it's about identity vs. orientation and preferences of who you are attracted to.

I'm glad you brought this up!


Ian Lidster said...

I enjoy being a boy.

Teresa said...

I meant that you are BORN that way in my opinion...I guess I worded it wrong. Biological I meant - not genetic maybe...meaning a parent doesn't have to be gay in order for their kids to be gay.

I guess I wrote that post too fast without editing it :)

Barbara K. said...

I can imagine the day when we all see our own genetic markers for the maleness and femaleness in each of us. We don't exist at the ends of a spectrum. We sit somewhere on the curve.

Thanks for blogging about this.

Deb S. said...

Intriguing research. Excellent and timely post. I have learned a great deal from this, Dr. Deb. Thank you.

Deb said...

It can be very difficult to find one's true self, so societal pressure may make your friend tip the scales from one end to the other. Sounds like there are other issues pressing on his psyche, so continue to be supportive and open minded. There may be more going on as you say.

You are SO right how many don't understand. The key is "trying" to understand when things don't make sense to a person. Acceptance and undersatnding or two different things and can come in gradients. So lucky your friend has you in her life.

And I a girl. Imagine how torturous it must be to feel you have been assigned the wrong sex.

Gotcha. It is hard to get inflection and tone in written now we are all clear ;)

What a beautifully written thought. I think you have said it best of all.

Hey Deb,
I agree. When research can help dilute "hatred" or "misinformed beliefs", it's a good thing.

James said...

I think the fact that our gender identity is, at least in part, genetically determined is fairly obvious. Individuals with a Y chromosome overwhelmingly tend to identify as male, those without as female. But, that there may be a genetic component to disordered gender identity (transsexualism) doesn't make it any less disordered. Some people are predisposed to certain types of cancer. This doesn't make cancer a "normal variant" any more than gender identity disorder is a normal behavior.
I don't know where the research will eventually lead us in the debate over how much of our gender identity is biologically vs environmentally determined. But the fact that we can identify it as abnormal and worthy of study makes gender identity disorder pathological almost by definition.

Therapy said...

Excellent post!! From a scientific and non scientific angle this throws a lot of light of transexuality and helps in clearly some of that stigma that transsexuals suffer.

Bobbie Dawn said...

Hello Dr. Deb,

what a great article and thank you for your submission this month to the Carnival!

xo Bobbie Dawn

Anonymous said...

That something is biological in origin not mean it doesn't owe its etiology to a pathological cause.