Nature never tells all at first sight

Maria Isabel Garcia

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When will the rest of us come out of the closet of our own biases?

When humans are born, we come with nature’s first gift packs. Our parents count our limbs, toes, fingers, even our orifices, for “irregularities” – things that do not match the general visible anatomy of a child.

But what about the things that we do not see that is happening even before the child is born? What if those things are crucial to the baby’s identity – to his or her gender identity?

Gender is not just about to what sex you will be attracted. Sexuality is just part of gender identity – one that has been clumsily and haphazardly defined by all sorts of religions, laws, and norms across human history. But again, because it is easy for people to simply classify people as either male or female based on a mark that they assume says it all, gender identity has always been viewed as an “either-or” story. But increasingly, we are learning that nature never gives up her secrets at first sight. And we have been saving ourselves ever since, as we have discovered that sex is in our brains and not in our genitals.

A recent study on the brains of transgender adolescents revealed that their brain looks and works the same way typical of the gender that they experience, and not the gender that biology assigned to them. To do this, they were given a pheromone that has been established to activate the brains of males and females in different specific patterns.

“[Gender dysphoria] is a condition, a state in which one can be confused by the tug between what the person is feeling, and what is expected of him or her as a person based on the assigned biological mark. But it is not a disease.”

Three main things were revealed by the study: one, that for both boys and girls, the pattern of parts of the brain that came alive upon the introduction of the pheromone corresponded to the gender that they’re experiencing, and not the gender that was assigned to them at birth, as seen in their genitals.

Second, during a test on spatial/visual memory, the transgender girls showed an activation that reflects the pattern seen in males. Lastly, there were differences even in brain structure. The volume of white and gray matter in both the transgender boys and girls diverged from the pattern that exists associated with their “birth sex,” and looked more toward the gender they identify with.

Unfortunately, genitals are the most visible difference between boys and girls at birth, and so the “authorities” (doctor and your parents) employ a very quick scan of these body parts at birth and based on that, declare your “gender” and with it, a world of expectations that comes along with that gender that was assigned to you at birth.

These expectations come in all shapes and sizes, and they could all dramatically become one big serious burden if how you experience yourself does not match the “call” of the genital that came with nature’s pack. Scientists call this “gender dysphoria.” It is a condition, a state in which one can be confused by the tug between what the person is feeling, and what is expected of him or her as a person, based on the assigned biological mark. But it is not a disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a definition for disease, even as it also admits that it escapes a strict definition because of its social aspect. It defines disease as “a failure of the adaptive mechanisms of an organism to counteract adequately, normally, or appropriately to stimuli and stresses to which the organism is subjected, resulting in a disturbance in the function or structure of some part of the organism. This definition emphasizes that disease is multifactorial and may be prevented or treated by changing any or a combination of the factors.”

In other words, diseases are results of the inability to cope with an irregularity that adversely affects the way one functions. The WHO recently removed “gender dysphoria” as a disease from its International Code of Diseases, saying that “evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder” but that it remains coded as a condition.

Being confused as to why you feel you are someone else other than the singular gender your body came with is not a failure. If you see a conflict in anything, especially with your own self, of course you could get confused and anxious. Why would it be a disease to get confused about that? Isn’t that an adaptation in itself – the first step to figuring out one’s identity? The WHO, though, classified it as a condition to emphasize that if transgender people are not able to sort out and could not function as who they think they are because of the stigma or some other reason, then it could lead to actual disorders and diseases.

So we know now that transgender brains really behave according to the gender they experience, and that the planet’s biggest health organization has just stopped calling “gender dysphoria” a disease. The big question now is directed to the rest of us: when will the rest of us come out of the closet of our own biases? –

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