Thursday, October 23, 2008

Does Transgenderism Have a Biological Basis?

Yesterday, I mentioned a discussion of transgenderism in the Methoblogosphere. Zoe Brain left a lengthy comment arguing that there is solid scientific evidence for transgenderism as a biological reality. I do not necessarily endorse this view, but the comment does make for interesting reading. Even if true, it doesn't change my view that transgenderism is an illness, and not a lifestyle choice. After all, schizophrenia has a biological basis, but that does not make it any less of an illness.


larry b said...

One would first have to define biological basis. Biology as defined would be the study of living things. Hence all features of living things would come under the purview of biology.

I think you are getting at whether transgenderism is a conscious decision that overrides biological systems that would otherwise function in a different manner. For that we have to assume that biology and consciousness are necessarily separated and I don't think they are, so I would lean towards the idea that it can be biologically based.

The fact that it is biologically based however doesn't impart any moral status to transgenderism. The moral status has to be determined by a social entity.

Antony Hebblethwaite said...

There is a Jewish saying, "Slavery of the imagination is where oppression really is." Your comments about Transgender people simply show that you're enslaved by your rigid gender stereotypes and can't see the beauty of God's full creation. Instead you oppress those around you who are not exactly like you. Are you even aware of how cruel your entries about Transgender people are? Are you aware that these kinds of comments make Transgender people vulnerable to hate crime and employment discrimination? Honestly, is this how Jesus ever talked about anyone?

John said...

How do I oppress those not like me, Antony?

Zoe Brain said...

I'm still going to leave aside the moral and theological implications for now.

I will discuss - without drawing conclusions - the difference between "illness" and "natural variation".

What about colour blindness? There are obvious disadvantages here, and most would call it a disorder. But in a primitive society, having one or two hunters - who tend to be male - who are colour-blind helps the group defeat camouflaged predators and prey. They're still useful now in photo-recon interpretation, for the same reason. So maybe it's a useful natural variation - possibly disadvantageous to the individual, but good (in small doses) for the group.

Transsexuality - well, there are obvious disadvantages regarding fertility when surgically or hormonally treated. But the same could be said about homosexuality, that without medical help, gays and lesbians are effectively sterile, unless they engage in behaviour which they find repugnant.

We haven't regarded homosexuality as a mental illness like schizophrenia for some time now. The basic problem with calling homosexuality a mental illness is that, after taking into account the misery caused by social sanction and persecution, they show no signs of being, well, mentally ill. No dysfunction, no cognitive problems (unlike schizophrenia etc etc), no actual illness.

With severe transsexuality, there are such signs. Except... they can't be cured by psychiatric treatment (just as with schizophrenia). They can however be cured with surgical and hormonal treatment, and moreover, the success rate is a spectacular 89-98%, rather better than heart surgery or even appendectomy.

There's anecdotal, and increasingly solid, evidence that TS people's unusual neurology has distinct advantages to the individual, and to the group. They tend to be able to access both the linear thinking that is stereotypically masculine, and the intuitive thinking that is stereotypically feminine. Logic and creativity. A remarkable number of them end up in information technology or in engineering, science, academe, or are game designers or musicians.

See this gallery, and count up how many are in these areas.

Such peculiar neurology is also very useful in the military too, and some 60% of TS women have either served in uniform, or in support roles.

As for me... I'm just a standard Rocket Scientist and Naval Combat System architect, doing a PhD in Computer Science.

Transsexuality is not a mixed blessing, but it is a mixed curse. And although technically speaking I'm intersexed rather than transsexual, I see no essential difference in a desired change triggered by natural circumstances, and one triggered by medical intervention.

Zoe Brain said...

Oops - Correct Link - Gallery 1
Gallery 2
Gallery 3
Gallery 4
Gallery 5 (the boys... mainly lawyers...)

John said...

Zoe, how would you distinguish between the transgendered and the intersexed? Are the two terms synonymous?