What if gender dysphoria isn’t b/c someone is born in the wrong body?

Total Posts:  291
Joined  14-10-2007
20 February 2013 09:16

So many transgender folks are diagnosed with this disorder known as Gender Dysphoria (a discontent with their biological sex and/or their assigned gender). One transgender person I know years ago proposed the idea—an idea not really original to her I should add—that a person with this condition had a “brain sex” (which she defined as “the area of the brain believed to be responsible for gender identity, the sex the mind ‘considers itself to be’”) different than their body, but the studies used to support the assertion had persons who had already undergone hormone “treatment” which has been shown to alter the brain.

Then I stumbled onto this wiki article on Species Dysphoria (i.e., people experiencing dysphoria because they feel their bodies are of the wrong species). Unfortunately the literature is very scant, it seems, as this is something that appears to have been recently investigated, at least from what I gathered. Nonetheless, the article also talks about supernumenary phantom limbs (i.e., a person thinking they have limbs they actually don’t, presumably animal ones in this case) and it reminded me of a TEDTalk I saw a long time ago made by neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran who talked about regular phantom limbs (i.e., people who’ve lost a limb but still feel as though it’s there, sometimes causing discomfort if, say, the limb was last clenched for example, give a type of learned paralysis).

Then I stumbled onto this study. It’s about people who have a desire to amputate their own limbs so as to “correct” their perceived self image. Curiously enough, the author could not find a category in the DSM-IV-TR (the U.S.‘s mental disorder handbook so to speak) that remotely fit this…except GID (i.e., Gender Identity Disorder—what will now be called Gender Dysphoria in the upcoming DSM V). A lot of the phenomenology fit.

So why do I bring this up? Well, there are brain phenomena that cause people to feel discomfort but not because it’s actually detecting something wrong with them, such as being in the wrong body or having limbs they shouldn’t have. Rather, it’s a discomfort stemming from some brain quirk, for lack of a better word. If this explains gender dysphoria, maybe the solutions to help transgender folks isn’t to take hormones or mutilate (or “reassign” if that’s too mean) their genitals after all.

Could there be something here? Does anyone know more information on this? Has this been explored thoroughly? Based on the sources available to me I really couldn’t find much. I’d be interest to see what many of you think of this.

Also relevant here, the song Dude Looks Like a Lady.

Total Posts:  6366
Joined  15-05-2009
20 February 2013 22:38

Well, I really don’t know anything about the brain function related to gender dysphoria.  But I don’t see why your theory wouldn’t merit research.

Unfortunately, it’s probably impossible, or nearly impossible to change someone’s brain to allow them accept their gender if there is an organic basis for this dysphoria.  The underlying cause it most likely not an easy fix.  I base this on my understanding of mental illnesses, which also have physical causes.  Currently bipolar or schizophrenic people can be medicated to dampen their symptoms, but they cannot be cured, and there are major negative side negative effects to every medication.  So they live the best they can, dealing with a modified illness and the side effects.  This leads me to believe that some continuing struggle would be part of treatment of gender dysphoria as well.

However, the current surgical/hormonal sex change process is not a cure either.  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that sex change surgery results in fully functional parts.  The transgender person will appear to be the desired sex in general.  But their sexual function will still be a matter of improvisation, so to speak, with an understanding partner needed.  So this is not a perfect solution either.

Brick Bungalow
Brick Bungalow
Total Posts:  4669
Joined  28-05-2009
20 February 2013 22:54

My suspicion is that careful examination will reveal that such conditions are culturally derived. Or else a soup of various factors, none of which necessarily hard wires any particular gender role. I’m happy to entertain evidence to the contrary but haven’t seen any to date.

Gender in modern cultures seems to be two distinct things. The arrangement of ones body on the one hand. And the orientation of the mind on the other. Naturally occurring hermaphrodites notwithstanding. The latter seems rather amorphous and suggestible. Especially considering the large number of people who experience it as a passing phase. It could be that people who successfully petition for reassignment have a physical condition. But its also possible, I think, that they are simply very persistent.

I don’t call this a sickness or anything. Nor do I malign such folks in any way. I think the possibility to alter ones gender is an exciting marker of real liberty. And I salute people with such resolve. Whatever their reasons might be.

What I’m really interested is the dynamic relationship between personality and deliberate changes to body chemistry. How much of a different person is it really possible to become? Sexual hormones are significant part of brain function. Altering them alters the brain and, presumably, the mind. Just as altering the body alters body image. Also altering the mind. Most interviews with transgender persons I’ve seen were not very articulate. I’d be keen to hear from someone who has both undergone this process and is also competent to speak upon it.