Monday, April 22, 2019

The Science of Transgender

Below is a short article from RollingStone 2014. It has likely been posted on other sites, however I like its brevity and it affirms parts of my best theory. 

I cannot find any psychosocial event in my life triggering being transgender. I theorize some type of hormonal influence, in utero (in the womb). I.e. hormonal communicating signals were disrupted at a critical point during my early development. After all, hormones are the body's regulatory substance, transported in tissue fluids such as blood, to stimulate/curtail specific cell actions.

My mother's pregnancy was at a time when DES (diethylstilbestrol) was given to women to prevent miscarriages or premature deliveries. DES is a strong man-made (synthetic) estrogen. My mother's pregnancy was in her early 30's, somewhat later in life. I have no way of ascertaining if I was her first pregnancy or if she took DES, although I believe it was possible. It is estimated that about 5 to 10 million babies are thought have been exposed to DES during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971. A staggering  number which points to DES being widely prescribed. 

What is known is that my mother was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of  breast cancer along with other cancers, six years after I was born. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the breast cancer risk factor is 30% higher than for non DES prescribed mothers.

The American Cancer Society has done extensive research on DES daughters; however not as much is know about sons. The potency of the drug is documented in that it is clear that even children born to DES-exposed daughters and sons (second and third generation) have a greater health risks than other children not exposed.

Daughters of DES exposed mothers have a greater risk of cancer of the vagina and cervix, known problems getting pregnant, premature birth, breast cancer and others.  The drug was banned in 1971. 

There is also a strong suspicion by many researchers that exposure to DES before birth might cause transgender identity disorders.

 Wikipedia reports under DES birth defects:

Dr. Scott Kerlin, a major Diethylstilbestrol research scientist and founder of the DES Sons International Research Network in 1996, has documented for the past 20 years a high prevalence of individuals with confirmed prenatal DES exposure who self-identify as male-to-female transsexual, transgender, or have intersex conditions, and many individuals who report a history of experiencing difficulties with gender dysphoria.

Here is the RollingStone article:

By: Sabrina Rubin Erdely 

What causes people to be transgender in the first place? The prevailing theories used to be psychosocial: That early traumas like dysfunctional family dynamics or childhood sexual abuse were responsible. “That is absolutely not true at all,” says Dr. Johanna Olson, medical director of the Transgender Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But I still get people in my clinic who are trying to unravel what the traumatic incident was, that caused their kid to be trans.”

Rather, a growing body of research is pointing to biological origins. The 2008 discovery by Australian researchers of a genetic variation in transgender women—their receptor gene for the sex hormone testosterone was longer, making it less efficient at communicating signals—set off speculation that insufficient uptake of male hormones in utero contributed to a “more feminized brain.” And the brains of trans people do look different. 

Recent Spanish imaging studies have shown that the white matter of untreated trans men look much like those of biological males, and that the patterns of trans women’s white matter fell about halfway between those of biological male and female control groups. But it’s premature to draw conclusions from those studies, warns Olson, since “those parts of the brain are shaped by performance and experience,” and so may be a product of nurture, not nature. And despite the big genetic finding, it’s unclear what precise role genetics plays, since a recent survey of identical twins found that only in 20 percent of cases did both twins turn out transgender, despite having identical DNA.

“Trying to identify causes, whether they be genetic, hormonal, or something else entirely, those studies are underway,” says Olson. “The question is, what contributes to the formation of gender identity? It’s really complex.”


  1. Hi Rhonda, Thanks for this although I don't think we needed anyone to confirm 'it's really complex', we all could have told them. Love Linda

  2. There are theories but every situation seems to be somewhat unique. My mother miscarried three daughters before I was born and she had told me that she was kept in bed for most of her pregnancy with me and also place on high doses of estrogen, most likely DES.

  3. DES, my mother was 40 in 1959, and she told me that her Dr. was concerned about her age. My mother never spoke about DES but she always made a big deal about being an older mother and worried about her pregnancy. Just thinking back and adding it all up I am reasonably certain she used DES.

    Knowing "why" comforts me.

  4. This is rather common knowledge among those who care to know. lt should make you all feel much better about yourselves. Now that you have that monkey off your back, where do you go from here?

  5. It is interesting to note the media coverage of number of male as well as female twins who BOTH transition gender at the same time!. While this shows a distinct correlation to genetics as well as the effect of hormones in utero, it is not a controlled investigation, but most certainly a testament to the diversity of the human species.
    Yes, I do conduct my own 'self analysis of my own subconscious', but the results on this specific matter have not revealed any hint of etiology.
    Most of my revelations have been related to my receipt of abuse (trauma) and derision from elders, educators and childhood peers. "Just another brick in the wall".
    In the long run, we should 'play the hand we are dealt', and not 'throw in..."
    P.S. Rhonda, you do play 'your hand' quite well.

  6. So since only 1 in 5 examples of identical twins who have at least one trans person are both twins trans that seems to eliminate the genetic cause possibility. But the different twins may have had different hormone amounts somehow in utero, possibly? Or there is some other principal cause, hard to say! More research is needed!

  7. I think Nature's key strength lies in its diversity. Instead of a limited range of species, unable to evolve to suit local conditions, it's my belief that just as hair colour ranges from pure white to black, that people's height varies between 4'6" to around 7 feet and beyond - then why would Nature allow just 2 types of brain?

    I am physically male in all respects, I'm attracted to women but my gender identity is female. I think most people fall within a standard bell curve distribution physically - but how about mentally?

    As for factors that may have influenced me - I remember seeing my father strike my mother once when I was about 4 years old. Would that have stopped me from emulating him as my male role model later on? Who knows.

    I admire people who can follow that maxim "to thine own self be true" - but for me that risks throwing a large rock into our domestic pond - and it's a step I'm unwilling to take. I told my ex and she was totally unable to come to terms with it.. Perhaps as I might be if my wife suddenly told me she wished to live as a man.

    My view? We've just been dealt a bad hand - no-one said life is fair because it surely isn't. I'm grateful for what I do have.