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Brain Structure Of Transgender Adolescents Resembles Gender They Identify With

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Experts on gender dysphoria perform MRI scans of transgender adolescents and found that transgender brains have similar neurophysiological functions to that of their desired gender.

Essentially, the brain structure and activities of a boy who identify as a girl resembled the processes of a female brain and vice versa.

The findings of Dr. Julie Bakker of the University of Liège in Belgium and her colleagues suggested that transgender brain functions evolve simultaneously as the brains develop when children come of age.

Bakker said their study is significant for adults to be better equipped in supporting young people who are experiencing gender dysphoria instead of merely sending them to a psychiatrist with hopes of their distress simply disappearing.

Gender Dysphoria And MRI Scans

Gender dysphoria is the distress experienced by transgender people when they feel the emotions and the identity of a gender opposite to their assigned biological attributes or physical appearance.

To conduct their study, Bakker and her colleagues from the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands performed MRI scans of about 160 young transgender people. They analyzed the brain activation patterns of these youth in response to a pheromone known to produce gender-specific functions.

"The pattern of brain activation in both transgender adolescent boys and girls more closely resembled that of non-transgender boys and girls of their desired gender," the group said in their study presented at the 20th European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting being held from May 19 to 22. The experts clarified that brain structural changes in transgender brains are similar but not identical to those of the biological males and females.

Their analysis also found that transgender adolescent girls who were asked to participate in a visual and spatial memory exercise showed a brain activation pattern seen in the brains of biological males.

Addressing Gender Dysphoria Among Young People

Bakker noted that gender dysphoria is being currently addressed by psychotherapy and hormone treatments that delay puberty. While both genetics and hormones are greatly attributed to sex differences in brain development and function, little is known about how early in life and to what extent transgenderism become established.

Bakker's next step, therefore, would be an investigation of the role of hormones during puberty of young transgender people.

The study was peer-reviewed by other experts in the study of gender identity. One of them was Dr. James Barrett, lead clinician at the Gender Identity Clinic and president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists.

Barrett said that the current finding became the latest proof that transgenderism is not merely psychological, a lifestyle choice, or an effect of the environment where transgender people were raised.

"[O]ver the years the pendulum of 'Is it nature or nurture?' has swung rather more toward the nature side of it, with increasing peculiar pieces of biological evidence suggesting there may be something innate in the pre-uterine environment," Barrett asserted

Transgender Children In The United States

A 2017 study released by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that 0.7 percent of youth ages 13 to 17 or 150,000 youth in the United States identify as transgender. The youngest age group, 13 to 17, has the highest estimated percentage of individuals who identify as transgender.

The study is the first to provide the estimates based on the survey conducted in each of the states, including the District of Columbia. 

The study concluded that thousands of American youth could be negatively impacted by laws that would limit their access to school facilities and that would neglect to protect them from discrimination.

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