New Study Indicates DNA Plays Role in Gender Identity
Published: Mar 19, 2018 By Alex Keown
In the world of politics and civil rights, the ideas of gender and transgender have been a hot-button issue. But a new study suggests that transgender people may have a genetic disposition that influences their identity.
First reported in The Times, the study, which was led by Augusta, Georgia-based doctor John Theisen, discovered a panel of genes that may provide a biological basis for gender dysphoria, which is the term used to describe those who believe their gender is opposite of their biological sex. That panel of genes includes DNA involved with the development of nerve cells and the manufacture of sex hormones, The Times reported. Researchers believe the findings add weight to the idea that transgender people have “fundamental differences in their brains and biochemistry” that leads to gender dysphoria. In other words, the researchers believe that the study lends legitimacy to the idea that transgender is not a choice, as some argue, but “a way of being.”
Study data was presented last week at the Society for Reproductive Investigation meeting in San Diego. The study examined DNA sequences for of 14 female-to-male and 16 male-to-female transgender people. Researchers looked for common genetic variants in the groups but turned up in fewer than one in 10,000 people in the wider population, according to the report. During the course of the study the researchers found 30 such variants, “nine of which were in genes known to be implicated in the growth of brain cells or the production of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone,” The Times said.
According to a 2017 study by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, there are approximately 1.4 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender. That’s about .6 percent of the population and double what the estimates were about a decade ago, according to the report. As such, there has been an increase in gender reassignment surgeries in the United States. In May 2017 Time Magazine reported that there were 3,200 gender confirmation surgeries in 2016, a 20 percent increase over 2015 numbers.
Theisen, The Times noted, stressed that the research was still in an early phase and only a small patient population has so far been explored. Because of that, there is no proof that any of the individual variants revealed in the sample is involved in gender dysphoria. Additionally, the small study has yet to be peer-reviewed. Some of the findings in the study may be the result of “pure chance,” The Times reported.