A new study lends credence to the belief that it is possible for people to be born transgender, as their brain activity appears to be similar to that of cisgender people of the same gender identity, as opposed to people of the same biological sex.
As explained in a report from Newsweek, a team of researchers led by University of Liege neuroendocrinology expert Julie Bakker worked with about 160 adolescents, using MRI scans to study their brain activity. These included a group of young people with gender dysphoria, as well as a control group of cisgender participants or those whose gender identity matches their birth sex. In order to come up with their findings, the researchers noted how the participants’ brains changed when exposed to androstadienone, a steroid whose effects resemble that of pheromones, according to a separate report from RT.
After assessing the reactions of the study participants, Bakker’s team discovered that the transgender subjects had brain activity resembling that of the cisgender adolescents in the control group who identified with the same gender. The results of the study were presented recently at the European Society of Endocrinology’s annual meeting.
In a statement quoted by LGBTQ Nation, Bakker said that her team’s study proves how sexual differentiation manifests differently in the brains of young people with gender dysphoria, as their “functional brain characteristics” match those of the gender they relate to.
“We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously,” she added.
Although Bakker admitted that the study was limited due to the small number of participants, she told Newsweek that researchers have been comparing notes and discussing the findings of similar studies. Bakker also noted that researching about how sex differences originated in the brain doesn’t just benefit people who have gender dysphoria or other similar conditions, but also those who suffer from a range of neurological diseases.
“There are important sex differences in the incidence of a wide variety of neurological diseases such as autism, depression, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
British Association of Gender Identity Specialists president James Barrett, who was among the researchers to peer review the new study, also spoke to Newsweek and offered his thoughts on the delicate subject matter covered in it. He said that the research added to existing literature that backs up the belief that being transgender is more “nature” than “nurture.”
Commenting on people who insist that being transgender is something that people voluntarily subscribe to, Barrett added that he has no experience dealing with such individuals.
“Do people choose to be left-handed? You can make them write right-handed, and they can get quite good at it, but they’d be fundamentally left-handed. Why people are left-handed is a complicated business—but in the end, left-handed they are.”
According to RT, Bakker’s team plans future studies on transgender people and how their brains develop, including a look at how hormones affect their brain activity during puberty.