catching it early

Excuse Me, Your Kid’s Transgender Brain Is Showing

If scientists won’t show us this gene that can tell parents whether or not they’re having a gayby, how about we start putting pre-pubescent children through a brain scan so we can tell whether they’re going to end up trans? Researchers at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid say they’ve discovered the brains of trans people happen to look like the gender they identify with, not born with.

Antonio Guillamon’s team at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, think they have found a better way to spot a transsexual brain. In a study due to be published next month, the team ran MRI scans on the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexual people who’d had no treatment and compared them with those of 24 males and 19 females.

They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male transsexual people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain. “It’s the first time it has been shown that the brains of female-to-male transsexual people are masculinised,” Guillamon says.

In a separate study, the team used the same technique to compare white matter in 18 male-to-female transsexual people with that in 19 males and 19 females. Surprisingly, in each transsexual person’s brain the structure of the white matter in the four regions was halfway between that of the males and females (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.11.007). “Their brains are not completely masculinised and not completely feminised, but they still feel female,” says Guillamon.

The development is big news, since prior to this research these types of brain scans could only be performed on the deceased. And while such research might trigger an initial reaction of fear — Are they eventually going to scan kids’ brains and get rid of all the trans ones? — there is a practical application: If doctors can identify trans brains in kids before puberty, there can be a better informed decision about medically delaying puberty as to help a gender reassignment procedure years down the road. That is, a FTM trans boy could be identified as such before he starts growing breasts, and doctors could halt the process entirely so he wouldn’t have to undergo a double mastectomy later on.

Of course we’re talking about kids and psychology and biology here, so there’s a big grey area. If only things were as clear as all the white matter.

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