Science of Transgender Identity

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Sixty-seven years ago, Christine Jorgenson, one of the first documented transgender individuals in the world at the time, began gender reassignment surgery. One might have predicted this extraordinary event to facilitate a process of societal acceptance and validation for future transgenders living in the United States over the next half century. Instead, the ensuing decades have been marked by political tension, social isolation, and marginalization that still affect the 1.4 million transgender identities that exist in the United States today. Additionally, the intersection of science and politics has emerged as a propaganda-driven tool, utilized by both major political parties in determining the legitimacy of gender in the United States.

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Society now more than ever needs to establish standards to differentiate real science from pseudoscience in order to reveal the truth behind the scientific nature of transgender identity. In an examination of the historical context that has led to transgender politics today, an analysis of political pseudoscience is evaluated, revealing biases that are challenged by nonpartisan research, unconvering the truth behind the legitimacy of transgender identity in the United States. 1 The current climate of the United States drives varying interpretations of what it means to be transgender. Julia Serano, a feminist scholar, author, and biologist, offers a cultured view of transgender terminology through her professional experience. In an analysis of transgenderism, she defines transgender individuals as people who transgress gender norms or defy traditional gender categories in some way (Serano 2018). Further confusing the dynamics of the U.S. political landscape, the meaning of identity has become complicated in its definition, spurring a debate of identity politics.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines identity as the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. The broad, vague, and inconclusive nature of this definition has unleashed a surge of quarreling translations regarding identity, particularly relating to transgenders, embodied by historical and political context throughout American society. Historical Context Ex-GI becomes blonde beauty read a headline plastered across the front page of The New York Daily News in 1952. On this day, George Jorgenson metamorphosed to Christine Jorgenson, challenging both gender boundaries and the norms of society. As a national conversation sparked regarding unique identities, Americans were forced to ponder the question, what is identity, and how this new perception of identity fit into existing gender roles. A timeline of transgender history began with this milestone, both outlined and shaped by the perpetuity of teetering American politics. 2 In 1987, The American Psychiatric Association formally classified gender identity disorder to be associated with those who identify as transgender. The influence of this decision propelled transgender attitudes into a negative light, forcing transgender individuals into further isolation and discrimination by opposing groups.

The United States became a dangerous climate for transgender individuals, as exemplified in 1993 by Brian Teena, a 21-year-old transgender man who was beaten and murdered in Nebraska. His story was told in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, gaining widespread empathy and support among the public for the transgender community and the dangers that threaten them. Marches and protests followed in the years to come in hopes of expanding the rights and protections of transgender individuals. Political strides were made in 2012 as transgender rights expanded through Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination based on sex, therefore protecting the transgender employee. The American Psychiatric Association demonstrated social progress relating to the perception of the transgender community in 2013 as its manual replaced the term gender identity disorder with gender dysphoria. Even further, a plan to reverse the prohibition of transgender individuals in the military was announced in 2015 by the Pentagon. A social uproar and debate sparked in 2015 regarding bathrooms after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was passed, eliminating discrimination against minority groups relating to gender identity in public accommodations. Opponents of the act pushed for a referendum, skewing public opinion by speculating that HERO’s protection of transgender individuals would create danger in public bathrooms.

Conservative sources highlighted the potential for men to disguise themselves as women and assault women in public restrooms, which was soon implemented in a law by Republican governor Pat McCrory that banned all 3 non-discrimination ordinances in North Carolina soon after. Many celebrities and politicians took to social media in voicing their opinion on this debate, driving a sharp divide in public opinion regarding transgender rights in the United States. The result was a politicization of transgender rights with each major party taking a separate side, a driving force that has caused transgender rights to become a bipartisan issue today. In President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address, he advocated, That is why we defend free speech and advocate for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender ( Understanding Transgender Access Laws 2017). Obama’s reference to transgender people in his speech was a presidential first for State of The Union Addresses. Obama’s support for transgender rights further politicized the topic, rallying support among a large share of the Democratic party and driving opposition from the Republican party. Transgender Politics Today Today, transgender rights have become a bipartisan issue. According to Pew Research Center, there are substantial partisan gaps in views on transgender issues in America, with 80% of Republicans believing that gender is decided at birth, while 64% of Democrats believing that an individual’s gender can differ from the sex that they were assigned at birth (Brown 2017).

As the topic of transgender rights becomes more and more politicized, this divide in opinion further dismisses transgender rights as a human rights issue and instead shifts the fate of transgender rights to the agenda of the most powerful political party. The Trump Administration has taken a hard stance on the issue, which could arguably be part of the blame for the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans regarding 4 transgender rights. The Department of Health and Human Services has led an effort to legally redefine gender and sex within Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance. The proposal, backed by president Trump, is to define gender as a biological condition determined by genitalia at birth, which would eliminate federal recognition of those who identify as transgender. Roughly 1.4 million Americans who recognize themselves as a different gender than they were assigned at birth would be affected by this new definition of sex ( Chappell 2016) . The identities of those affected would be erased, forcing them to be defined by a gender that they do not feel comfortable with as their own.

In response, over 1,600 scientists have condemned the science utilized in the proposal, labeling the tactics as pseudoscience. A joint statement with their signatures expressed that the proposal “is in no way ‘grounded in science’ as the administration claims…the relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood ( Over 1,600 Scientists Condemn Trump Transgender Proposal 2018). Further complicating the matter, about 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 newborns have genitals that are not easily categorized as male or female at birth ( How Common Is Intersex? 2008). The unanswered questions that this proposal poses has created an immediate need for unbiased, nonpartisan research to propel legislative decisions, in addition to debunking pseudoscience that threatens fair policy. Furthering the president’s agenda, The Trump administration is pushing to ban transgender individuals from the United States Military. The proposed policy overturns an Obama-era decision and prevents those with gender dysphoria from serving in the military unless they serve with the sex that they were assigned at birth.

Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project 5 director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, explains that being able to serve in the military is about citizenship, it’s about who counts (Lopez 2017). Excluding transgender individuals from the military sends a message to the American public that transgender people are not respected members of civic life in this country, a blatant propaganda-driven attempt to control the political landscape. Homonationalism is a questionable ideology that plays a part in transgender politics today. Jasbir Puar first introduced the term in her book Terrorist Assemblages, defining homonationalism as the dual movement in which certain homosexual constituencies have embraced U.S. nationalist agendas and in turn have also been embraced by these same nationalist agendas (Puar 2017).

Those who embrace homonationalism believe that particular cultures are inherently homophobic and in turn, leverage their place in the LGBTQ community to justify racist or xenophobic policies. President Trump utilized homonationalism to further his conservative agenda in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign by antagonizing Muslim culture, stating, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of the hateful, foreign ideology, believe me (Villarreall 2017). As demonstrated through President Trump’s proposal to annul transgender identity, homonationalism is an ideology commonly used by those who benefit from its effects; such as politicians furthering political agendas or LGTBQ members safeguarding their insecurities. Homonationalism threatens integrity within the United States by its inherent ability to encourage misconceptions throughout political, social, and ethical constructs.

It undermines the dignity of not only the constituencies that embrace it but also the plausibility of the LGBTQ community itself. Why are LGBTQ members entitled to equal rights if racial minorities do not 6 deserve the same liberties? Every answer to this question is likely groundless, exposing homonationalism as a social construct that skews the claims of those who utilize it. The concept mirrors propaganda-driven ambitions of pseudoscience, further demonstrating the urgency for true scientific reasoning to navigate the bases of such claims. Political Pseudoscience A wave, or in more realistic terms; a tsunami, of pseudoscience has bombarded Washington as politicians and political groups utilize fake evidence to further their different political agendas.

Differentiating the legitimate claims from the illegitimate has become more difficult as political figures develop their craft of duplicity and deceit. In order for scientific research to be impartial, nonpartisan, and therefore valid, it must strictly exclude biases throughout all stages of its course. Simultaneously, in order to accurately evaluate the validity of scientific research, the definition and criteria of bias must be clarified. Research bias is defined as a systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others by Christopher Pannucci and Edwin Wilkins in Identifying and Avoiding Bias In Research (2010). Through an analysis of various evidence-based medical articles, the authors identified criteria to evaluate the validity of research through its three phases: pre-trial, during trial and after trial. Pre-trial biases included flawed study design, selection bias and channeling bias; biases during trial included interviewer bias, chronology bias, recall bias, transfer bias, performance bias, and misclassification of exposure or outcome; and biases after trial included citation bias and variable confounding. In 7 order to credibly debunk propaganda-driven research relating to transgender identity, each study or piece of research referenced in this essay is thoroughly evaluated according to this criteria. Recent research findings relating to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) has sparked interest and support from varying conservative sources, such as The Family Research Council (FRC), a major Republican lobbying group that generated a revenue of 12 million dollars in 2016, as referenced in articles such as Those With Gender Dysphoria Can Find Healing (Sprigg 2017).

ROGD is a phenomenon that begins suddenly during or after puberty in an adolescent or young adult who would not have met criteria for gender dysphoria in childhood (Littman 2018). Members of the transgender community believe that ROGD seeks to undermine and discredit the validity of those who identify or seek to identify as transgender, implying a belief of binary sex among those who promote it. Dr. Lisa Littman, a researcher at Brown University, published a study entitled Rapid Onset of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: a Descriptive Study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Littman’s analysis of ROGD has received public scrutiny as her findings infer that teens and young adults, most commonly assigned the female sex at birth, are labeling themselves as transgender due to influences from the internet and social trends, rather than truly being transgender. Upon analyzing Littman’s study, selection bias is evident in the sample group. Littman utilized three websites in distributing her survey when collecting opinions from parents with transgender children. The websites,, and all share a commonality, which is that the parents of the subjects did not support their child’s transition, or failed to recognize their child’s identity to be 8 different from the sex that they were assigned at birth. Littman did not recognize this commonality in her abstract, which demonstrates a clear bias in the entirety of her sample group, and therefore skewing and invalidating the study results. Thus, sources that utilize Littman’s research in furthering political agendas exemplify the dangers of pseudoscience, propelling misconceptions that deceive the American public. Nonpartisan Research Nonpartisan research is essential to credibly explain the science of transgender identity. Utilizing sources that have no political affiliation or agenda are necessary for cultivating research that represents accurate data. In the case of transgender identity, the importance of scientific integrity is often in conflict with politics in driving legislative decisions in the U.S. President Trump’s proposal to redefine gender identity is a prime example of this. New studies suggest that the brains of transgender individuals more closely resemble the brains of the gender they identify with rather than the gender implied by their sex assigned at birth. A study from the University of Liege, Belgium led by colleagues from the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the VU University Medical Center examined sex differences in the brain activation patterns of young transgenders in their developing adolescence. Researchers used independent component analysis to obtain network maps from 172 children and adolescents, both cisgender (identity and gender corresponding with birth assignment) and transgender, through MRI scans, comparing the results across groups. Each scan measured the brain’s microstructures and functional connectivity (FC) patterns with a technique called diffusion tensor imaging. Results of the study revealed that: 9 Within these networks adolescent transgirls showed FC patterns similar to their experienced gender (female). Also adolescent transboys showed a FC pattern similar to their experienced gender (male). Our findings provide evidence for the existence of both gender dysphoria-specific and sex-atypical FC patterns in adolescents with gender dysphoria ( Brain functional connectivity patterns 2 017, 187-195).

The study offers valuable insight to validate the scientific legitimacy of transgender sex and identity. The research was first presented at European Society of Endocrinology’s (ESE) annual meeting in 2018. The ESE is a scientific society that promotes public benefit research and education through conferences, training courses and publications throughout Europe. The fact that the United States was not involved with the conference and study strengthens the case for a nonpartisan derived conclusion. Further examination of the research’s design, controls and performance reveal unbiased methods; for example, the usage of a randomized sample group of cisgender and transgender adolescents.


The debate of transgender identification in America all boils down to one seemingly simple question: what is identity? The narrative of this essay has tested the very fabric of this question through various scopes, perspectives and ideologies. Backtracking to Merriam-Webster’s wistfully vague definition of identity, we notice a failure to account for the history, politics and social dynamics that shape what identity means in the modern era. An 10 analysis of Dr. Littman’s interpretation of identity reveals a dishonest rationale through pseudoscience and biased research. A short glimpse into President Trump’s proposed definition of identity demonstrates a skewed perspective due to the absence of scientific reasoning in its entirety. This principal question intersects with another, not so simple question; how do we decide which definition of identity is legitimate? Establishing criteria to debunk pseudoscience and verify actual science is essential; as demonstrated through Pannucci & Wilkins’ principles.

In an application of these principles, research from the University of Liege, Belgium offers an honest, and credible collection of research in legitimizing the authenticity of transgender identity. This research affirms that sex and identity are variable and multifaceted; and further, that an individual’s identity can align with a sex that differs from the sex they that were assigned at birth, as proven through examination of transgender microstructures and functional connectivity patterns. Although science serves as a serious means in settling the validity of transgenderism, we must not forget that defining transgender identity is largely a social argument as well. 1.4 million Americans identify with a sex that challenges traditional gender norms, constituing the transgender community that exists today. Despite efforts to discredit and undermine their existence, the many voices of transgender individuals also speaks to the validity of transgender identity in American society.

To reiterate Christine Jorgenson’s words, If you understand transgenders, then you understand that gender does not have to do with bed partners, it has to do with identity. The simplicity of this manifesto exhibits the essence of transgenderism, yet has been overshadowed 11 by a half century of misinterpretation and controversy . Simply put, the core of transgenderism does not revolve around sexual intercourse or gender norms as political and social messages may suggest. Instead, transgenderism is defined by an internal discovery of gender identity as opposed to being confined to a biological assignment. The innate nature of transgenderism lies in the freedom of following one’s intuition, which can only be navigated by individuals themselves.

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Science Of Transgender Identity. (2019, Jul 24). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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