Born This Way: Transgender Brains Show Similarity To Those Of Their Desired Gender From A Young Age

A study subject is seen in the MRI machine while inhaling either pure air or air mixed with a male pheromone. Burke et al./Front Neuroendocrinol, 2014

A small European study adds to the growing body of evidence that brain structure and activity patterns in adolescent transgender individuals more closely resembles that typical of their desired gender than the gender assigned at birth.

"Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD," lead author Dr Julie Bakker commented about her team’s findings, set to be presented today at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona.

"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."

Following decades of research into genetic and epigenetic factors, medical providers and mental health experts in most western nations have, thankfully, embraced the leading theory that sexual orientation and gender identity are hardwired into the brain during fetal development.

These breakthroughs are particularly relevant for individuals with transgenderism – an identification with the opposite gender than the one assigned at birth. Before the wider scientific community accepted the fact that gender identity is innate, the anxiety and distress experienced by transgender people from a very young age because they don’t feel at home in their body – gender dysphoria (GD) – used to be considered a psychiatric disorder.

Now, GD is officially recognized as a condition that requires care to prevent serious psychological repercussions later in life. Given the emotional challenges of growing up transgender, plus the need for hormone therapy to either delay puberty or develop one’s desired gender’s physical characteristics, experts agree that early diagnosis of transgenderism is crucial to giving such individuals the best start in life.

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