New Study Could Improve Healthcare for Trans Teens

new study that shows the brain differences in teenagers with gender dysphoria could help to reshape healthcare for this vulnerable population.

Let’s be clear: everyone should have the right to identify their gender as they see fit, and if that gender identity can be demonstrated to be consistent, it should be given the official recognition it deserves without medical oversight. That’s why laws like those in Argentina and Ireland are so critical. They allow people the right to self-determine their identity, which is a basic principle of free speech and autonomy.

All this should not be open for debate. But, when it comes to helping trans teens to affirm their identity by helping to align their physical appearance with their gender, doctors have faced some ethical problems, because they have to balance the needs of the patient in that moment with the potential for them having second thoughts in the future.

Trans kids actually demonstrate a remarkably consistent gender identity from relatively early on in their lives. Those opposed to trans rights suggest that kids can and often do grow out of gender fluidity, but gender fluidity and an experience of what is known as gender dysphoria — where we feel that our body does not match our gender — are actually two different things.

Nevertheless, prescribing puberty blockers and later hormone treatments and, potentially, surgical care, can be a problem for many doctors, particularly if they are trying to balance the needs of a trans teen while dealing with parents who may not be wholly supportive and may not want to give consent.

That’s why many scientists have been keen to see if they could find concrete biological indicators of gender dysphoria and/or trans identity that might underpin a diagnosis and help clear up this issue. In effect, instead of dealing with feelings of dysphoria, scientists want facts that they can use to make solid treatment decisions.

How the Study Worked

Dr. Julie Bakker of the University of Liège, Belgium, alongside a team from the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands, set about looking at whether teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria showed differences in brain activity compared to their peers.

The researchers put a group of 160 patients, some with gender dysphoria and some identifying as their birth sex designation, through MRI scans while using a pheromone known to activate specific activity in the brain that differs between males and females.

The analysis showed a consistent pattern: brain activation among trans boys more closely resembled that of non-trans boys than it did of non-trans girls. Similarly, trans girls’ brain activity showed greater similarity with non-trans girls than it did with birth-sex designated boys.

Other interesting patterns emerged in the research, including that the young people who had definable gender dysphoria appeared to have structural brain changes that were more like (though not identical to) those that we would usually see in people who had the gender trans participants identified with and not their birth assigned gender.

Dr Bakker is quoted as saying, “Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender.”

This research needs to be corroborated in wider trials, but it does build on existing studies that have shown trans people can demonstrate physical brain differences that affirm their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned sex.

The Takeaway

It’s critical we reiterate that the over-medicalization of trans identity has been a gross infringement of human rights that has led to forced sterilization, forced psychotherapy and being deemed mentally ill, and a loss of freedom to self-determine bodily presentation.

However, while there needs to be the utmost caution in rushing to find biological underpinnings for trans identity because it should not need this kind of intervention in order to be deemed valid, it can help to give doctors a tool to know they are making the right decisions for their trans patient.

That way, they can make an informed decision when they do decide to prescribe puberty blockers to young trans teens, or from there move patients to hormone treatments so that they can start presenting with the gender characteristics that align with their gender identity.

Let’s hope this can help to better educate those against trans rights and show that trans identity is as much a part of the human experience as any other facet of our gender expression.

38 comments

Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thanks.

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Olivia M
Past Member 10 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Karen H
Karen H10 months ago

I'd ask those here who think it's a "sickness" how it negatively affects anybody else. Be who you are. I'm still trying to figure out how same-sex marriage destroys heterosexual marriage.

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Leo C
Leo Custer10 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Tania N
Tania N10 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Tania N
Tania N10 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Tania N
Tania N10 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill10 months ago

Great news.

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Leo C
Leo Custer10 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Winn A
Winn A10 months ago

Good news

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