Gender identity and sexual orientation: is there a 'scientific' consensus?

(43 Posts)
bathsh3ba Fri 12-Mar-21 11:22:23

Whenever I hear anything about gender identity or sexual orientation at the moment, I feel a bit like I'm falling down a rabbit hole into Wonderland where nothing makes any sense. I'm in academia and I work with feminists who are very pro trans rights and who say that LGBT rights in general are going down the pan at the moment. Having always been straight and never really known anyone who was either gay or trans, I tend to keep out of discussions out of fear I'll say something wrong. I should add here I've never studied feminism/gender theory or anything like that.

So I'm going to admit to my own stupidity and ask if people can enlighten me or direct me towards books that might enlighten me.

From what I can remember (I'm in my late 30s), when I was growing up, sexual orientation was very much presented as being the way you were born. However now I hear some people saying it's a choice and I read a Guardian article saying that this was a deliberate campaigning choice when campaigning for gay rights because if it was a choice, you could be told to change your mind. What's the current consensus, particularly when there seem to be so many more sexual orientations than I've ever heard of (e.g. pansexual, sapiosexual, asexual).

In a similar trajectory, I knew that some people had gender dysphoria but the idea of non-binary seems a new one on me. Is there a consensus that trans people are born in a different body to the way their brain thinks they are, or is that also seen as a choice?

Sorry if these are really basic questions but I feel like I need to know the answers to form a measured opinion!

OP’s posts: |
Shizuku Fri 12-Mar-21 11:41:19

The broad consensus in the scientific community is that gender identity is biological in origin. Have a look at this link from the Endocrine Society - it gives you a pretty good starting point for further research. All the claims are linked to peer-reviewed science.

www.endocrine.org/advocacy/position-statements/transgender-health

The medical consensus in the late 20th century was that transgender and gender incongruent individuals suffered a mental health disorder termed “gender identity disorder.” Gender identity was considered malleable and subject to external influences. Today, however, this attitude is no longer considered valid. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.1, 2 Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.

WarriorN Fri 12-Mar-21 11:51:21

The problem is that the concept of gender identity only exists in societies where there are very clearly defined roles and stereotypes for the sexes.

So to me it's a non question. An imaginary question.

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 11:54:06

Biological does not mean innate or born with

biological must be anything human at some level as we are biological . We can't think or feel or do anything without it being fundamentally biological

Aha85 Fri 12-Mar-21 11:57:18

To be honest, I don't think it really matters whether it's innate/biological or a choice - what matters to me are rights.

With gay/lesbian rights, there are limited areas of conflict with others rights. The only ones that spring to mind concern religious people in certain jobs - eg the "gay cake" case and the registrar who did not want to carry out same sex services.

The conflicts of rights involving trans people are more difficult to resolve and in my view there is currently inadequate protection given to women. For example, there was a judicial review the other week concerning the placement of transwomen in female prisons. IIRC part of the evidence was that it was beneficial for transwomen to be around women, but given that it resulted in rapes and sexual assaults occurring (not to mention any fear on the part of the female prisoners which is probably hard to measure and is ignored), clearly the wrong balance is being struck. Transwomen's feelings are being placed above women's feelings AND PHYSICAL SAFETY. It is so clearly wrong.

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 12:01:45

I think there is inadequate protection given to trans people who are steered towards hormonal and surgical courses of action , thus suggesting that there is something wrong with them

TheRabbitOfCaerbannog Fri 12-Mar-21 12:05:48

I am not biologically predisposed towards wearing dresses Shizuku - barely ever do -
seems to be a key plank of the gender identity of many mtf transpeople. If you can demonstrate how gender identity isn't dependent on regressive and restrictive stereotypes of masculine and feminine behaviours I'd be interested to read...

Advertisement

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 12:10:05

I think it is interesting to reflect that sexual orientation is strongly linked to transgender in extremely homophobic societies like Iran

bourbonne Fri 12-Mar-21 12:14:01

Ah, the Endocrine Society of America who are hoping to stick their oar into Keira Bell's case and get her victory overturned? It was established on a thread about the Bell case that this venerable Society is basically an industry club operating in America's for-profit healthcare market, hoping to cash in on selling hormones in this fast-growing market. Not exactly an unbiased source.

BlueBrush Fri 12-Mar-21 13:43:44

To be honest, I don't think it really matters whether it's innate/biological or a choice - what matters to me are rights.

Agreed. Most people think that every adult has the right to form sexual and romantic relationships with a consenting adult of whichever sex they choose. And if people agree on that, then the discussion about why people have the sexual orientation they do isn't particularly relevant to the discussion around rights.

I like wearing cardigans. If you can prove that it's just a "choice", it doesn't make it ok for someone to insist I go through cardigan-wearing conversion therapy to stop me. I have a right to wear cardigans, and I am going to exercise my right to do that, regardless of whether it is culturally determined, or I have a cardigan-wearing gene.

Likewise, be careful of anyone arguing that something is ok because it is biologically determined / genetic. If hypothetically we found a gene for "likes murdering women", it wouldn't make it acceptable. It would just be part of the explanation as to why some people behave the way they do.

bathsh3ba Fri 12-Mar-21 13:44:05

It seems to me though (and perhaps I'm naive) that people of any sexual or gender identity have 'rights' and protections enshrined in law - but that doesn't necessarily mean they are treated equally. I mean we have sex discrimination laws but it doesn't change the fact that women still do more childcare than men and it impacts on their career progression...

To me, whether it's biological (how you are born), social (how society constructs you) or a conscious choice does matter in terms of how you define the problem you want policy to solve. Because asserting 'rights' doesn't seem to have got women or disabled people very far, so why would it help any other group seeking emancipation?

OP’s posts: |
Aha85 Fri 12-Mar-21 14:26:51

To put it another way then (without reference to "rights"), I don't think that what many transwomen are seeking is fair to women even if they could show that there was a biological/innate cause. That is why this does not matter to me. If being trans is a choice then maybe that weakens their arguments a little further, but even at their strongest they don't make sense to me.

Even if you could prove to me that there were female brains and male brains and transwomen exist because a female brain accidentally gets put in a male body, I do not think that it would be right for transwomen to have access to women's sports, women's prisons where they have access to women, women's safe spaces etc. Provision of third gender-neutral spaces and mixed sex sports in addition to the existing ones is a better, fairer and safer option.

Did you ever watch Quantum Leap? What if you were suddenly in a man's body? It would be weird, but what would you do? Would you go into the women's changing rooms knowing that it would make some uncomfortable? I wouldn't. I would suck it up and go into the men's even if I felt a bit weird (a private third spaces would be ideal). Now that you have all the benefits that come with a male body, would you decide to become an elite sports athlete and use that advantage to dominate the women's category? I wouldn't.

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 14:30:45

Rights and demanding them have got women lots over the years. Yes there is still a long way to go, but at least you can vote, get your own mortgage, progress unfair dismissal cases....

9toenails Fri 12-Mar-21 14:42:18

There is no scientific (experimentally falsifiable) set of criteria for the presence or absence of gender identity in any particular person other than that person's say-so. That is, to spell it out, there is no scientific evidence of any sort for there being any such thing as gender identity.

This is very similar to the case of, say, guardian angels.

Believe in gender identity or not. Believe in guardian angels or not. But please, be aware your belief has no scientific basis, in either case.

[And, yes, some scientists believe in guardian angels.]

DisappearingGirl Fri 12-Mar-21 14:52:46

I think that two things that get mixed up are:
a) how masculine / feminine you feel
b) whether or not you are trans (or non-binary)

I think a) probably has a large innate component, as I think is probably true for being gay/straight for most people.

However I think b) is more of a choice - but linked to a) - so for example some very masculine-presenting women may still identify as women, whereas others may identify as trans men or non-binary. However I appreciate that for some very feminine men or very masculine women they may feel like they are definitely trans and it is not a choice.

I think there is massive confusion in the terminology around these things and I think it clouds the discussions.

I also think it links to the issue of conversion therapy. I think telling a feminine boy/man that they shouldn't be feminine is a kind of conversion therapy, a bit like telling someone they shouldn't be gay. Whereas I think suggesting a feminine boy/man explores all avenues before defining themselves as trans, especially if this involves medical/surgical transition, is sensible and should not be considered conversion therapy.

jj1968 Fri 12-Mar-21 14:57:05

However now I hear some people saying it's a choice and I read a Guardian article saying that this was a deliberate campaigning choice when campaigning for gay rights because if it was a choice, you could be told to change your mind.

There's been lots of scientific research looking for a gay gene, or some kind of biological basis for sexuality with mixed results. There's also now quite a large body of research that demonstrates that at the very least there is something different about trans people's brains, in that there are tendencies for them to appear more similar to the brains of those of the opposite sex to which they were born, as well as possible genetic components. Equally work with intersex children has shown that something resembling gender identity appears to exist which is why in the rare cases physical sex is very ambiguous sometimes clinicians wait until gender identity emerges before assigning a sex.

LGBT activism generally has not focussed on this research and moved away from the born this way narrative because of the implication that same sex attraction or trans identities need to be justified by some kind of biological fact to be socially accepted. They don't, there is nothing wrong with same sex attraction, or being trans, and whilst the science is interesting,we shouldn't be fighting for acceptance on the basis that we can't help it because we were 'born this way'. Also given growing advances in genetics, if a genetic basis was found it might pave the way for people choosing to end pregnancies if a test reveals their child is likely to be LGBT.

Aha85 Fri 12-Mar-21 15:12:13

There's also now quite a large body of research that demonstrates that at the very least there is something different about trans people's brains, in that there are tendencies for them to appear more similar to the brains of those of the opposite sex to which they were born

I don't think this is true given that there are no discernible differences between men and women's brains once size is accounted for.

academictimes.com/decades-of-research-reveals-very-little-difference-between-male-and-female-brains/?T=AU

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 16:12:19

No there was a study that showed that a part of the brain that shows changes after certain types of trauma was more likely in both women and post surgical transwomen to show evidence of this trauma

It doesn't show that you can tell a female brain from a male brain. It does show that you can tell if someone has experienced a certain type of trauma .

It can not be used as a predictor of woman or many women would no longer be women !

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Fri 12-Mar-21 16:23:51

there is something different about trans people's brains, in that there are tendencies for them to appear more similar to the brains of those of the opposite sex to which they were born"

The most recent meta-analysis I saw showed no real differences between male and female brains, so not sure how this could be?

All those newspaper articles you see about "man brains do x, lady brains do y" are usually based on some pretty dodgy science if you look closely. Even (especially?) the ones with the pretty colours over the brain image.

BlueBrush Fri 12-Mar-21 16:26:57

To me, whether it's biological (how you are born), social (how society constructs you) or a conscious choice does matter in terms of how you define the problem you want policy to solve.

@bathsh3ba Can you give an example of the kind of problem you mean?

jj1968 Fri 12-Mar-21 16:36:34

Aha85

*There's also now quite a large body of research that demonstrates that at the very least there is something different about trans people's brains, in that there are tendencies for them to appear more similar to the brains of those of the opposite sex to which they were born*

I don't think this is true given that there are no discernible differences between men and women's brains once size is accounted for.

academictimes.com/decades-of-research-reveals-very-little-difference-between-male-and-female-brains/?T=AU

There are differences in tendencies but they are very small I agree, and maybe a result of socialisation. We don't actually really understand brains much, least of all what creates our sense of self. I think the genetic evidence is more persuasive though: www.newsweek.com/transgender-people-gender-dysphoria-gene-variants-study-1486270

AdHominemNonSequitur Fri 12-Mar-21 16:37:44

Shizuku

The broad consensus in the scientific community is that gender identity is biological in origin. Have a look at this link from the Endocrine Society - it gives you a pretty good starting point for further research. All the claims are linked to peer-reviewed science.

www.endocrine.org/advocacy/position-statements/transgender-health

^The medical consensus in the late 20th century was that transgender and gender incongruent individuals suffered a mental health disorder termed “gender identity disorder.” Gender identity was considered malleable and subject to external influences. Today, however, this attitude is no longer considered valid. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.1, 2 Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.^

@bathsh3ba

The Endocrine Society are unlikely to be an unbiased source.
twitter.com/MForstater/status/1354050011856822273

The endocrine society are not the same as the society for endocrinology.
Endocrinologists are essentially hormone specialists. They are the correct people to assist you with hormonal transition, they are no more specialists in gender or gender identity than are the surgeons who craft new genitals.
They have no specialist knowledge about genetics, neuro biology, neurodevelopmental biology, neuro anatomy, foetal development or in fact gender psychology.

midgedude Fri 12-Mar-21 16:44:53

If you want to believe it's genetic not nurture then you will probably have to accept that most women would actually be transgender

Which makes sod all difference when it comes to the types of discrimination people face

bourbonne Fri 12-Mar-21 16:45:04

But they do stand to make a lot of money from it, in America...

jj1968 Fri 12-Mar-21 16:45:56

The Endocrine Society are unlikely to be an unbiased source.

How about criticising the evidence they present rather than just the organisation's supposed politics.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in