Transsexuality and sex-differences

2008/03/01 § Leave a comment

In my quest to understand the biological reasons for the difference of the sexes, and in an attempt to isolate them from the possible sociological influences, I am most amazed about the wealth of information retrieved by studies on transsexuals (TS). (you may be surprised to learn that some feminists want to forbid TS to perform sex reassignments [6]).Especially female to male TS receiving testosterone are of interest in my mind. However, two of the most interesting cases are male to female transitions which were not carried out of free will though.

In short, one was David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after an OP went wrong when he was an infant due to which he lost his penis. He reported always feeling like a boy identifying with boys’ games and actions more than with females. He decided to live as a man when he grew to be an adult, but tragically took his own life shortly after.

The other is a more recent but similar example of an individual who in accordance to the authors (Susan J. Bradley, Gillian D. Oliver et al 1998)[1] is a success story. She seems to accept her reassignment and dresses female. However, the interesting bits for me were less the choice of clothing but rather the report of tomb-boyish behavior and a sexual interest in females (though she had an earlier experience with men she changed interest- I personally can totally understand that ;)).

These examples are so precious because the individuals were too young to be subjected to any substantive amount of socialization. Yet, they exhibit clear signs of behaving not as “mainstream” or “orderly” females as one might expect. Now one might correctly state that two individuals are hardly enough to make a clear cut scientific case of it. However, I find it startling that the only two examples we have so far are not at all success stories if the question is whether sexual orientation is heritable for instance. Or if aggressive behavior has something to do with the exposure of the brain with testosterone before birth.

Personally I found it intriguing that both individuals had jobs that would be associated to be “typical male” blue collar jobs.

In this context I found an incredibly interesting blog by an adult female to male TS. Read his blog to learn how testosterone can also alter behavior in adults. From decreased patience over possible changes in faculties like language abilities (though not in the case describe in the blog) to a heightened sexual desire and even altered sexual interests… [2, 3]

Examples like these underscore how difficult it is for psychologists and sociologists to attribute all sex differences to differences in education and social exposure. But to be fair, hardly any reasonable person does that anymore. However the question remains: what is unavoidable in terms of differences?

This question is important, because the differences in faculties like mathematical abilities, or verbal abilities for instance might- and in my mind certainly do- influence for example which hobbies we are drawn to, what our world view is like and ultimately what choices we make in life including job choices.

Eagerly to achieve what I would call numerical equality some want to go to extreme lengths like introducing quota at universities to achieve an equal distribution of male and female in all subjects. The underlying assumption being that for example men are drawn to engineering due to the way they brought up.

Certainly in some cases society has had an influence on the choice of subjects depending on gender. At karolinska institutet where I performed my phd studies the number of females studying medicine was by far lower than that of the males in the 70s. in the mid to end 80s the picture changed and today 60% of future doctors are female. Then again, in the 70s the total number of females at universities was lower anyway…

Not so, however in subjects like engineering. Numbers are almost as if they were cut in stone and unalterable. Might there be biological reasons to it in this case?

The strongest sex difference is indeed the logical and especial the spatial abilities. Amazingly this can even be found in animals like rats and mice. Why wouldn’t it influence a young man in his career choice if he notices that he is good in mathematics and technical thinking? Why would not something that we are good at have a greater satisfactory value for us than something we have to force ourselves to do in order to improve at it?

However, we have to be cautious with the differences in abilities. Again and again the mainstream media does prove to be quite a bad advisor when it comes to negotiate the scientific findings regarding this topic. Frequently they report differences based on pre-mature findings or speculation alone.

One of my favorite examples is the claim of female “multitasking abilities”. Who has not at one point heard someone claim that women are better at multitasking? (I even remember a commercial for female hygiene products claiming this as fact- don’t ask me what that has to do with menstruation, but anyway…). Yet I was unable to find any evidence. There are studies supporting the assumption that there are no differences, or if, then only in the way the male and female brain performs the multi tasking, not in the overall outcome (for more see my webpage’s “myths” section).

When looking at mathematical differences it is very important what we are looking at. What tasks were subjects asked to perform and in which age group. There might be an age difference (with increasing age males seem to outperform women in logic and mathematics). Yet, girls get the better results in school. Interestingly it seems that there is no difference in mathematics when we merely mean “calculations” of mostly practical problems.

However, when looking at more complex mathematics and university studies it is clear that men perform better. And yet, when motivated and encouraged girls are able to acquire similar capabilities as their male college peers.

What am I saying here? So it is in the end a matter of socialization? When women are paid special attention it seems to equalize for “sociological discrimination”?

Not quite. Many studies have shown that practice can equalize for sex differences in abilities. Other studies also have shown that girls are not as interested in mathematics, despite attempts to motivate them. But also, many studies show that already as toddlers’ girls and boys have varying abilities and interests, that seems to deepen and intensify with age.

I do think that we are born with a difference in interests. Our brains are flexible though and we can be trained when forced to acquire all kinds of abilities and faculties. The question I would raise is: does equality require that we force people to do anything? Do we need to pressure boys and girls into egalitarian behavior? Does feminism ultimately require us to restrict individual freedom? A freedom that would allow us to live as ever we desire (may this desire stem from biological or sociological influences)?

I think I have been sufficiently suggestive in my way of asking for you to figure out what my answer is going to be… 😉

Finally, just in case you think I am exaggerating, here are my recent favorites of feminists suggesting to interfere with individual choices and freedom:

Reason and logic are patriarchal. (Nye 1990); Logic is a weapon of oppression. (Nye in PK:152). These are ideas of anti patriarchal feminists. [4]

Every marriage is a replication of the basic unit of patriarchy. [5]

In the interest of this blog: TRANSSEXUALS SHOULD BE OUTCASTED
I disagree with the fundamental tenets of the transgender movement, and I think it is doing damage to the feminist movement. [6]

And on a humorous note: this one (in Swedish sorry) is not so much a problem as it is just hilariously stupid; men should lactate their babies! [7] 😉


Freedom to the people. Let people choose. Not on the basis of a feministic ideology that claims to know what equality is and what people need, but on the basis of how people feel they want to live their lives’. Only if we really turn blind for what sex someone has who chooses to study engineering to stick with the example, will we achieve equality. In my mind; if we force quotas upon people and restrict their freedom of choice we put more emphasize on sex and gender than can be in the interest of equality. Was the idea of feminism not from the start to become “blind” to the notion of sex? I feel recent developments achieve the opposite…

[1] Susan J. Bradley, Gillian D. Oliver et al 1998


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