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New Study Reveals Biological Basis for Gender Dysphoria in Transgender Individuals

New evidence has shown that the brain activity of transgender individuals closely resembles the brain activity of their identified gender.

In a study of 160 participants, biological males who experience gender dysphoria were shown to have neurological patterns similar to those in biological females. The Belgian study, conducted by Julie Bakker of the University of Liege, used MRIs to scan the brains of children and teenagers who had been previously diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The results demonstrated that the transgender boys’ brain activity resembled that of cisgender boys and transgender girls’ brains resembled cisgender girls.


The MRI tests were designed to examine brain activation upon exposure to specific steroids, as well as measuring gray matter and white matter microstructure using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging.

The results of the study indicate that this kind of research could be used to identify transgender individuals at a younger age.

“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. We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously,” said Bakker.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is defined a conflict between a person’s assigned gender at birth and the gender with which they identify. This discrepancy in identity can lead to feelings of discomfort with their bodies and expected gender roles, causing a notable effect on a person's self-image.

The new research could likely spark the development of new coping techniques.  Scientists currently believe that gender dysphoria is typically caused by fetal insensitivity to specific hormones during pregnancy. Currently, children and adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria receive psychotherapy. The scientific scans would also allow medical professionals to give better, more medically sound advice, in addition to therapy, at a younger age.

Transgender issues have continued to gain mainstream attention in recent years. In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, announcing her transition in a forum that increased public awareness of transgender individuals. Along with Laverne Cox, the transgender actress from Orange Is The New Black, Jenner has become the de facto face for the marginalized population — a status that has received notable backlash.

More recently, public awareness continues to swell with President Trump’s discriminatory announcement that new limitations would be placed on transgender individuals who serve in the military. Most recently Pose debuted to rave critical acclaim. The show possesses the largest transgender cast in television history.

Support for the transgender community continues to grow but continues to attract discriminatory opinions and backlash. On June 8th, ABC News reported that an Indiana teacher claimed that he was forced to resign for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred named. 

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The backlash on Twitter was notable:

As science continues to support the idea that gender dysphoria is rooted in brain chemistry, and not mental illness, we hope that transgender individuals will begin to receive the support and awareness they deserve.