On the Genetics of Transsexualism

Transsexuals don’t need scientists to tell them the news: they are quite convinced that the clash between their sex chromosomes and their gender is very real. But for those people out there who just don’t understand why, these findings can provide a basis to try and accept that sex and gender are much more fluid that what they may have learned in bible class.

In mid-2008, scientists at the Medical University of Vienna discovered a gene which is involved in the metabolism of sex hormones. This gene is common in Female to Male transsexuals, but the same gene cannot be seen significantly more often in Male to Female transsexuals.

This finding did not show that Female to Male (F2M) transsexualism is solely linked to their genetics. We know that transsexualism is a very complex psychological state which will not be translated into behaviour such as making a transition or just merely acknowledging “queerness” on any level; it involves many enabling cultural conditions and a somewhat nurturing environment.

Later in 2008, another team of scientists at Monash University in Australia found that the other side of the coin is also true: Male to Female (M2F) transsexualism is also backed by biology, at least partially. This time, the relationship between a specific gene and M2F transsexualism is weaker than the F2M gene, discovered a few months previously, but it is nevertheless significant. This means that F2M transsexualism is better explained by genetics than M2F transsexualism. Of course, this area of genetics is very young and will need a lot more study before we will know exactly how influential biology is in dictating gender and sexual orientation.

At the end of the day, the information gleaned from genetic studies, especially when the genetics provides only a fraction of the answer, does not have any real therapeutic point. It is most useful in terms of understanding the somewhat rare phenomenon and even seeking legitimacy. Again, the transsexual community may disagree. They don’t need science to justify their very deeply held knowledge of themselves. What they need is a bit of respect based on their human right to define themselves.

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