Gender dysphoria may have a basis in human biology

Published 6:05 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023

By: Kimberly Kennedy

Most of us witnessed with horror the passage of anti-transgender bill SB150 by legislators who ignored overwhelming opposition. After Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed it, legislators overrode that veto.

If you’re dubious, hear me out: We’ve left critical information out of the conversation, namely the growing evidence that gender dysphoria (GD) has a basis in biology. Skeptical that would work? Well, research shows that when people understand this, their support for trans people increases.

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Many in the trans community bristle at the idea of discussing GD as if it were a defect. But I believe we can be sensitive; and I take inspiration from researcher Dr. J. Graham Theisen of Augusta University, who describes it as a “variant,” like blue eyes or brown hair, that doesn’t cause disease but makes us individuals.

Plus, we must meet the opposition where they are, if we hope to bridge the gap. I’ve heard awful comments about trans people; but I look for common threads, like the belief it’s a choice or lifestyle, or that it ignores what God intended. Evidence of a biological basis discounts these arguments and might persuade more legislators to push the pause button on anti-trans legislation.

So here’s a sample: First, research has confirmed that male and female brains are different. Second, during fetal development, hormones influence the gender of the external and internal sex organs during the first trimester; hormones program gender development in the brain, where gender identity is experienced, later in the pregnancy.

Research in the Netherlands from 2014 found that in some cases, physical development in utero was subject to a hormonal mismatch from brain development, “so that the body was masculinized and the brain was feminized, or the other way around.” This corresponds with transgender people’s reported experience of their gender identity, which occurs before age seven for three-fourths of the population.

In 2018, an Australian study comparing transgender women and cisgender men (both born male) found statistically different variations in four genes. In 2020, a U.S. and a U.K. meta-analysis (compilation of multiple studies) found that “people with gender dysphoria have a brain structure more comparable to the gender to which they identify” rather than to the sex assigned at birth. Yet a 2020 German study found that the brain structure of trans women was different from both cisgender males and females. In view of this, researchers suggest that we view gender as a “spectrum” rather than a binary construct.

Theisen clarifies that “once someone has a male or female brain, they have it and you are not going to change it. The goal of treatments like hormone therapy and surgery is to help their body more closely match where their brain already is.”

Proof of transgender biology indicates that SB 150 will invite a civil-rights lawsuit. Thus Kentucky taxpayers will pay to defend legislation that 71% of Kentuckians don’t want — potentially costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars; just ask Floridians about the price tag for defending controversial legislation.

Contact all legislators who voted “yes” in the House and Senate. Write to your own representative or senator, or call the Legislative Research Commission comment line at 1-800-372-7181.

Kimberly Kennedy of Villa Hills is a freelance writer, former educator and parenting-magazine editor, and parent of an LGBTQ+ young adult. Her degrees are a BFA in art education and a BA in art history from the University of Cincinnati. This article was originally published in Forward Kentucky.