Research on causes for FTM Transsexuality

30 07 2008

I’m always a little wary of research that seeks to locate a unique cause for any kind of human phenomenon. People are complex and, as a social scientist myself, I see that most of what we do has multiple causes. Therefore, while I’m not entirely opposed to research that looks for biological components of sexual identity, I’m always worried about the tendancy for reductionism.

Once in a while, though, there appear to be researchers that acknowledge that what they have found might only be a fragment of a possible truth. This article is an example. The researcher here focus on FTM transsexuality and a possible genetic component while being careful to mention that this gene would probably be only an indicator of predisposition, not a definite cause, and that one’s culture has a lot of influence as well. I’ll have to re-read it a couple of times and maybe try to get my hands on the more scientific version since the articles written for the lay public are always over-simplified. But my immediate reaction to it is NOT to be angry, which is my usual reaction to these types of articles.

In addition to the acknowledgement by the researcher of the partiality of the results, what I like about this research is that FTMs are not only acknowledged but we are a focus of study. Too often in scientific research, transsexual actually means MTF. The articles often start by indicating that research was done on transsexuals in an attempt to locate a genetic component of transsexualism. Later in the articles, the reader all too often finds out that most of the data was gathered among MTFs. The scientific powers that be seem much more interested in what XY folks are up to than on what XX folks are up to. Nothing new there in a patriarchal society.

Anyway, I encourage anyone who is interested in this kind of stuff to have a read. It’s not perfect but it’s not as bad as some of the other stuff out there that tries to investigate this “mental illness” that us trans folks supposedly have. I’ll try to re-read it a couple of times and would love to discuss it with anyone who has thoughts.

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19 responses

31 07 2008
queerunity

I think the article is interesting and requires further research but certainly is not a defining reason for transsexuality as some have this gene and others do not.

31 07 2008
Jacky V.

Absolutely. I think the researcher acknowledged that, which is why they indicate that it could be *one* possible cause for *some* people. I think there are people out there who acknowledge that there might be different “causes” for different people.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was mostly biological for some and mostly social for others. But I doubt we’ll ever really know – just like with gender, sexual orientation, etc.

1 08 2008
zoebrain

You might want to have a look at BiGender and the Brain, despite the MtoF bias.

It shows that hormonal environment in the womb (indirectly) affects gender identity. So of course a gene that increases T in the womb will create 46xx boys. e.g one of the quoted articles is Prenatal exposure to testosterone and functional cerebral lateralization: a study in same-sex and opposite-sex twin girls by Cohen-Bendehan et al.

That the effect is indirect is shown in Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?” by Diamond. But it’s all in the article.

1 08 2008
Jacky V.

Thanks for the link, I will check it out. I generally don’t have a problem with statements about hormonal or other biological influences, as long as they’re not posited to be *sole* determining factors.

1 08 2008
transpassage

Hmm…

I was also surprisingly less upset with the article than I would have expected. It is nice to see something FTM focused, for once, even if I’m not fond of the subtle suggestion that FTMs and MTFs still belong to their birth sex:

“In women, however, there were some differences: 44% of FtM transsexuals carried it, compared with 31% of non-transsexual women.”

Why can’t they just say “in those born female”? I guess that would be a lot to expect from the scientific community at large, however. Sigh.

On the whole, though, a good article. Thanks for sharing!

2 08 2008
Jacky V.

Thanks for commenting Transpassage; Yeah, those little things are irksome and demonstrate that, all too often, researchers have very little knowledge about the realities of those they are studying.

2 08 2008
zoebrain

Yes, I noticed that too. And gritted my teeth yet again.

Never mind, in some of the older literature, I’ve seen such absurdities as “a non-crossdressing male homosexual crossdresser exclusively attracted to females” . That was when TS women were by definition male homosexual crossdressers. So things are a little better than they were.

It’s not always that the researchers are always ignorant, just shackled by absurd standard terminology formulated by the ignorant.

2 08 2008
Jacky V.

“a non-crossdressing male homosexual crossdresser exclusively attracted to females”

Argh! It boggles the mind.

2 08 2008
Jillian

Interesting piece, Jacky. Increasingly, I’m thinking our transsexuality is “caused” by a combination of factors– biological and social, and spiritual, too. I don’t know how much research has been done on the spirituality of transgenderism, but personally, I see the individual’s spirit as a manifestation of the greater Source, which embodies both male and female traits. As above, so below — we’re free to develop either and/or both, and society is making it that much easier for us to do so now. Little wonder that given the freedom, so many transfolks are emerging now.

Just my two cents worth.

Cheers
Jillian

2 08 2008
Edward

Well I need to give it a read but unfortunately can’t right now…..sounds interesting just based off of your post and the comments! I am currenty reading Transmen & FTM’s identiies, bodies genderes and sexualiteis by Jason Cromwell (happens to also be a transperson (FTM). MIght want to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

4 08 2008
Jacky V.

Jillian: I’m with you on the spiritual thing. For me, it’s a very spiritual process and way of being. I’m only 1/4 Native so I don’t want to do the cultural appropriation thing but the idea of Two Spirit resonates with me. And I haven’t blogged about it yet but my transition has largely to do with giving Nancy, who will always be a part of me, space for spiritual growth. She didn’t have this space when she had to concern herself with corporal and material existance. I feel like I’m freeing her.

Alas, it’s hard to do “scientific” research on something that is spiritual. However, there is a lot of anthropological material on how 3rd (and sometimes 4th, etc) genders have a spiritual meaning in various cultures.

Edward: I’ll have to put Cromwell on my to read list. That never-ending list *sigh*.

4 08 2008
Jillian

Jacky, I found an interesting site on spiritual transgenderism that might interest you and your readers. Pretty good read. Here’s the link:

http://www.trans-spirits.org/spirit_of_transgender.html

Am enjoying your conversations here and on my blog very much. Nice to know you, Jacky.

Cheers
Jill

4 08 2008
Jacky V.

Thanks for the link, Jill. I will make sure to check it out. Yes, the conversations on these blogs are enjoyable. I hope you check out some of the other bloggers on my blogroll. Both the similarities and differences between all these trans experiences are fascinating.

12 08 2008
BT

*snort* It’s weird, but I see this and have parallels to reading essays on the causes of multiplicity. (As of yet, we don’t have anyone to protest over being called “a fascinating mental illness.”) Most of them rarely fail to piss me off. I am not a symptom or an ego state, ya jackass, I’m alive and well and have my own mind, thank you so much.

Got kicked out of work for the first time for using the T-word in relation to myself today. I feel like I’ve joined a club!

–Rogan

13 08 2008
Jillian

Rogan, I’m curious to know why they kicked you out of work for using the T-word. Can you tell me/us more about it? You can write it up here or email me at j_lafemme@yahoo.ca.

Jillian

13 08 2008
Jacky V.

Rogan;

I’m curious as well, and also furious. That really sucks. Are you guys doing OK?

15 08 2008
BT

Yeah, we’re all fine, it wasn’t a huge deal because it was more losing the chance of a job we were applying for, rather than losing an established one. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was upset, but it was a case of: two jobs said they’d hire us, we disclosed, top choice said, no way. So we’re okay, and we’d still have a couple weeks to get things fixed even if we hadn’t had a back-up.

–Rogan

15 08 2008
BT

Er, and more context for Jillian: we are American, going to work in New Zealand in a program called “Willing Workers on Organic Farms.” (Google it, it’s a worldwide organization.) It’s volunteer work, and the basic idea is such: you go and stay with a farm (or B&B, or yoga clinic, etc) family for whatever amount of time suits the both of you. They pay your room and board and teach you about their methods, and in exchange, you work a few hours a day. The whole system is based on people generally negotiating with each other and getting along despite close quarters. Remember, you’re pretty much sharing these people’s houses.

We had two families we mailed that said, “Yes we’d love to have you!” which we were interested in. Our top choice we e-mailed back and forth, everything’s going great, they seem to love us, and so we decide to disclose. (After debate, we’ve for now decided that disclosing up front is better, just to get it all done and over with and be honest from the start.)

At which point they say, “Sorry, can’t keep you, it’s too close quarters, and we have a child.” (Because apparently trannies eat small children after dark or something.) There was nothing else in our prior e-mail except some basic contact information question, so it was definitely about the trans.

Fortunately, our second choice (which we actually only still had a hold of because we’d forgotten to tell them we’d found another opportunity) didn’t mind that we were trans. So we’re going to be working there in a couple weeks.

If you want more details, I can e-mail you.

–Rogan

17 08 2008
Jillian

I’m glad to hear that the second choice is working out. Too bad about the first, but it’s their loss in more ways than one.

Best of luck.

Jill

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