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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Brain scans show differences in trans youth?

52 replies

BlessThisMess · 15/03/2019 17:04

My ROGD 14yo DD has told me that being transgender has been scientifically proven. When questioned, she sent me the following link:

Any thoughts about this? Critical analysis? All I'd heard before were claims that male and female brains are the same. I'd like to be able to gently critique this article with my DD as I am trying to get her to question her thoughts and beliefs about being trans.

OP posts:
Katvonfelttipeyebrows · 15/03/2019 17:10

I'm fascinated as we learn more about brains. We certainly know that they are "plastic" in they reflect what they are taught, or learn. So it doesn't surprise me for a second if the brain of a transboy reflected more masculine sexual stereotypes. I'm sure my brain would too.

Katvonfelttipeyebrows · 15/03/2019 17:10

(I'm a really normal mum, who just doesn't do girly stuff)

AssassinatedBeauty · 15/03/2019 17:13

This is an interesting article.

Particularly the graph at the end which illustrates how totally non useful this is as a diagnostic tool.

Characteristics of male and female brains massively overlap. And socialisation can not be removed from the equation.

I'd like to see the same experiment done with "gender non conforming" children who don't identify as transgender. I wonder if the same or similar results would be seen.

BadPennyNoBiscuit · 15/03/2019 17:13

Scientists cannot tell a male brain from a female brain by any means other than checking the DNA.
If gender were innate, then all cultures would display gender in the same way, and they would have done from the earliest times. For example, men would all have a preference for short hair or long hair, or skirts instead of trousers, or blue instead of pink.

donquixotedelamancha · 15/03/2019 17:24
  1. There are no defining overall differences in brain activation patterns between men and women. If you looked at an MRI of a male and female brain, the only clue you'd have about sex would be the size.

2. There are some specific patterns in between the sexes but they are small compared to the range, ie there is huge variety and commonality between the sexes.

3. This study looked at activation patterns in a specific area when exposed to a specific chemical. No info is given about number of participants, use of a control group or about how strongly this pattern correlates with sex in non-trans people of this age.

4. At best this study might, one day, give insight into a biological mechanism for gender dysphoria. There almost certainly are biological factors at play, but social factors are likely very important too.

5. Identifying the mechanism of GD would not in any way mean that having GD makes you a member of the opposite sex. Having stereotypically feminine personality traits is not the definition of a woman.
RockyFlintstone · 15/03/2019 17:33

The problem with the brain scan thing is, if it even was a thing (which it's not) , what if someone who claimed to be transgender had a brain scan and it turned out their brain was just whatever sex they were?

Like, if your daughter had a brain scan and it showed that she wasn't transgender, would she just accept that and stop transitioning?

Katvonfelttipeyebrows · 15/03/2019 17:34

^ boom, science stuff. Love it!

VickyEadie · 15/03/2019 17:36

Brain scans won't 'prove' that a person is 'in the wrong body', no matter how much they'd like that.

Our brains are plastic and what emerges when they're scanned is nothing to do with notions of what 'should' or 'shouldn't be'.

PleaseSpeak · 15/03/2019 17:40

I think that there are individuals, like me, who naturally pick up on sex stereotype brainwashing less than others. They/we would display less sex stereotype activated areas typical for our sex. It doesn't make me not female if my brain displays patterns more seen in males, it makes me a variant female. It's all a matter of framing.

Sex stereotyping affects your brain
The brain is very adaptive, it's called neuroplasticity. The more convinced somebody becomes that they are male or female, the more they will pick up on the messages given to them by society for the sex they believe themselves to be. Of course, society might continue to treat them as the sex they are. This conveys male woman more material power and some sex stereotypes behaviour regardless of how their brain is being shaped by their view of themselves. It is very complicated.

But yes all of us, trans or not, will be shaped by how the world treats us when they see our sex and how we think of ourselves in realation to that treatment. The brain adapts to survive its social environment. Or it doesn't... I think that the cross over between autistic people and trans people is important here. If your brain is not wired to fit in socially to survive (autistic) then you won't engage with society's shaping of you emotional and mental world in gendered terms. You might then feel different. Some people call that trans. I call it not conforming or being a possible hope for humanity in breaking out of this brain altering treatment of males and females.

I would be interested to see scans of gender non-conforming people who do not ID as trans. I bet you they'd find similar things. It's all about how you frame it. Whether trans/"cis" or gender non-conforming/conforming.

BettyDuMonde · 15/03/2019 17:57

I would love to see the results if this was repeated on autistic teenagers.

But yeah, tell your teen, ‘fantastic, as soon as you’ve had your scan and a dr has confirmed yours is a boy brain, then you can transition’.

There are NO diagnostic tests for GD. That’s the problem!
(Scroll down for how people are assessed for it)

rightreckoner · 15/03/2019 18:01

It’s nonsense and also irrelevant. What I’m concerned about is male bodies in female spaces.

And actually the lovely lady trans brain doesn’t seem to have any impact on male pattern criminality. As Karen White et al demonstrate.

ItsAllGoingToBeFine · 15/03/2019 18:02

My immediate question is about

"the typical activation patterns of their desired gender"

Because to me that sounds awfully like saying girls brains light up when they see pink and boys when they see blue.

rightreckoner · 15/03/2019 18:07

Yes and then the response is that you should feel free to be a boy whose brain lights up when they see a pink unicorn. I am a woman and mine doesn’t light up but I should feel free to be a woman.

The idea that your likes and dislikes make you the sex that you are not is at the heart of this utterly offensive bullshit.

BollocksToBrexit · 15/03/2019 18:08

There was a programme on the BBC (I think) a while back that showed how male and female brain function could be changed to the other through socialisation. They did it with a class of school kids. Did anyone see it and remember what it was called?

AssassinatedBeauty · 15/03/2019 18:11

I think you might mean this programme:

"No More Boys and Girls"

They showed that with practice the girl's ability in certain typically "boy" tasks improved rapidly.

MeAgainAgain · 15/03/2019 18:17

"The pattern of brain activation in both transgender adolescent boys and girls more closely resembled that of non-transgender boys and girls of their desired gender. In addition, GD adolescent girls showed a male-typical brain activation pattern during a visual/spatial memory exercise."


All men and boys are better at parking and reading maps so if a girls brain looks like it can do that then probs they're a chap.

Is that it?

QuentinWinters · 15/03/2019 18:19

Hi OP, the link is to an abstract of a presentation at a conference. That means the researcher has done the work and presented on their conclusions but the research hasn't been published officially.

When it is published in a peer reviewed journal, at least 2 scientists from the same field will critique the article and try to pull it apart before approving for publication.

The fact it that it's been presented at a conference in 2018 and not published raises two questions for me:

  1. there is no way to find out what methodology was used/sample size etc so the study could well be flawed (for example by using a very small sample)
  2. I'm curious that it hasn't been published because it doesn't stand up to scrutiny

    I understand why your DD is bought into this study but I would be asking why the majority of studies show no reliable differences when there has been a lot of research interest over the years
CharlieParley · 15/03/2019 18:32

The scans were done on teens who identified as trans and who had transitioned (do not know whether just socially or also medically). Because as PP have pointed out our brains are plastic and elastic, it is only to be expected that the brains of children who typically identify with stereotypes of the opposite sex very strongly, should exhibit functional connectivity (FC) patterns typically observed in opposite sex children. It's a bit of a chicken/egg scenario - do their brains light up in that way because they are identifying as trans or are they identifying as trans because their brains light up in that way?

Fact is that earlier studies looking at functional connectivity in pre-pubescent children of both sexes and all genders found zero differences. And as we know, the brain is massively restructured during puberty. Because the researchers did not include other children in the study, we can't for instance even compare these findings with those of GNC but non-dysphoric children or those sharing the same sexuality. It's entirely possible that brain scans in GNC children would find similar patterns.

In any case, such claimed male/female functionality patterns are now understood to be a consequence of rather than a cause for sex stereotyping in our society. The researchers here are certainly at odds with other recent findings that showed that if you gave a million MRI scans of 50/50 men and women to researchers to sort into scans of males or females, it would be an impossible task.

So, the premise of this study is already highly questionable given that it claims to a) have identified typical male or female patterns in the brain (with the accompanying stereotyping at its finest) and b) be able to differentiate those patterns strongly enough to be able to quantify what classifies the brain scan of a male child who identifies as trans as sufficiently female-patterned to posit this is proof of their being trans.

Given no male or female FC patterns were found in younger children this study may provide a jumping off point for further research but delivers nothing of any substance.

LangCleg · 15/03/2019 18:38

They don't control for homosexuality. What they're seeing are baby gays and lesbians.

NeurotrashWarrior · 15/03/2019 18:49

From study:. In addition, GD adolescent girls showed a male-typical brain activation pattern during a visual/spatial memory exercise.

Gina Rippon makes a very strong case for gendered brains becoming so due to the types of activities they're exposed to.

It's well documented that 'boys toys' help boys to become very good at visual spatial tasks (it was in the bbc no more girls or boys documentary and elsewhere), but also, a brain (male or female) that's more naturally attuned to visual spatial tasks will probably seek them out too. In extremely stereotypical environments it's possible the child eventually becomes dysphoric (I've seen this happen to boys). We can't control for the entire life history of experiences that shape that brain.

If children/ teens with severe gender dysphoria were also very conforming to the stereotypes of actual 'gender'/sex and they still showed some sort of brain difference I'd be more inclined to believe it.

I believe this has been shown in that there's areas of the brain in someone with dysphoria that are similar to people with anorexia, but that's a hazy memory from something I read here.

NeurotrashWarrior · 15/03/2019 18:50

"Gendered environments make gendered brains" is how GR puts it.

NeurotrashWarrior · 15/03/2019 18:53

To add to my 3rd para below; I've seen this happen to young boys who favoured girls activities very passionately twice.

Girls have been shown to be falling behind in spatial awareness maths tasks due to lack of toys that foster this; corrected with much more exposure to those toys.

MeAgainAgain · 15/03/2019 18:55

IF I've read the spacial blah thing right this is the old men have better spacial awareness than women thing

Which has never been proven to be nature / nuture / combo.

Plenty of women have excellent spacial awareness -
Plenty of men don't.

If that is one of the things then it is v v v v v v v up in the air as to whether it's inherent or learnt (boys and girls being pointed towards different toys games activities).

All of this frustrates me.

If a brain is in a woman's body it's a woman's brain. BY DEFINITION.

The history of science looking for brain differences in men and women is extremely chequered. It has always seemed to look for support of highly sexist things eg not allowed to vote / work certain jobs / think while pregnant / etc etc. I find it all problematic in modern parlance. No-one is looking for brain differences in the other protected characteristics, are they?

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