There is no such thing as a male or female brain

I frequently am asked for sources that refute the born-in-the-wrong-body meme. The whole transgender edifice is built on the premise that there is such a thing as a male or female brain. It has to be. Otherwise, what would be the point of marinating prepubescent brains in puberty blockers? Of binding breasts attached to the “wrong body”? Of going under the surgeon’s scalpel to eradicate all those faulty parts that don’t “match” the “transgender” brain that is so certain of itself? Without the nigh-religious conviction that gendered brains are innate and frozen at birth, it would be obvious to everyone that psychological treatment is the answer to gender dysphoria. 

This December 2013 Guardian piece by science editor Robin McKie does an excellent job debunking the meme. The few studies that exist touting differences between male and female brains are built on such flimsy evidence they have largely been dismissed (as the professionals cited by McKie do quite handily here). And the study most often cited by transactivists to prove that transsexuals have innately different brains looked at the postmortem brains of 6 adult male-to-female transsexuals who had been on hormone treatment for years; the study is thus fatally flawed due to not controlling for the influence of cross-sex hormones on the brain (not to mention the influence of those MTF adults living a lifestyle that conformed to gender stereotypes). In point of fact, since human brains are molded over a lifetime by experience, even the most careful researcher could not control for the changes wrought on the neuroplastic human brain. 

Some excerpts from the Guardian article:

“As hardy perennials go, there is little to beat that science hacks’ favourite: the hard-wiring of male and female brains. For more than 30 years, I have seen a stream of tales about gender differences in brain structure under headlines that assure me that from birth men are innately more rational and better at map-reading than women, who are emotional, empathetic multi-taskers, useless at telling jokes. I am from Mars, apparently, while the ladies in my life are from Venus…

”…when gender differences are uncovered by researchers they are frequently found to be trivial, a point made by Robert Plomin, a professor of behavioural genetics at London’s Institute of Psychiatry, whose studies have found that a mere 3% of the variation in young children’s verbal development is due to their gender. “If you map the distribution of scores for verbal skills of boys and of girls, you get two graphs that overlap so much you would need a very fine pencil indeed to show the difference between them. Yet people ignore this huge similarity between boys and girls and instead exaggerate wildly the tiny difference between them. It drives me wild.”

“…Even more critical is Marco Catani, of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “The study’s main conclusions about possible cognitive differences between males and females are not supported by the findings of the study. A link between anatomical differences and cognitive functions should be demonstrated and the authors have not done so. They simply have no idea of how these differences in anatomy translate into cognitive attitudes. So the main conclusion of the study is purely speculative.”

“…In fact, Verma’s results showed that the neuronal connectivity differences between the sexes increased with the age of her subjects. Such a finding is entirely consistent with the idea that cultural factors are driving changes in the brain’s wiring. The longer we live, the more our intellectual biases are exaggerated and intensified by our culture, with cumulative effects on our neurons. In other words, the intellectual differences we observe between the sexes are not the result of different genetic birthrights but are a consequence of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.

“Why so many people should be so desperate to ignore or obscure this fact is a very different issue. In the end, I suspect it depends on whether you believe our fates are sealed at birth or if you think that it is a key part of human nature to be able to display a plasticity in behaviour and in ways of thinking in the face of altered circumstance. My money is very much on the latter.”


3 thoughts on “There is no such thing as a male or female brain

  1. If there were male and female brains, wouldn’t you need XY chromosomes for a male brain and XX chromosomes for a female brain? It still wouldn’t make sense to have an opposite-sex brain in the wrong body. We already know that nearly people claiming to have the wrong body aren’t intersex. (And that’s really “progressive”, appropriating an oppressed group of people who often have serious medical issues just so your identity looks more legitimate. There seems to be a pattern…)

    Plus, what everyone confuses with brain differences is societal expectations of gender/sex roles, which are designed to oppress females. It’s a choice; you can choose not to conform.

    Gender roles change over time too and pink used to be considered a good color for boys, not girls.

    Liked by 1 person

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