What We Know About Gender Identity According to Science


How would you describe yourself in a few words? I’m a cis-man and I like fun shirts. Our gender plays a big role in how we define
ourselves and others, but it’s not something science fully understands. And, funnily enough, we don’t really know
why I like fun shirts, either, but no one questions that so let’s just move on. A lot of us may never really think twice about
defining ourselves as a man or a woman, but there are many who do think about it. A lot. In reality a lot of biological, sociological,
and psychological factors went into the definitions of “man” or “woman,” or neither. For example, when babies are born at a hospital,
they’re assigned a sex based on primary sex characteristics like genitalia. Someone literally looks at the baby and makes
a decision. They’re mainly going by visual inspection. And though hormones like testosterone play
a big role in developing the primary sex organs you have at birth. Sexual differentiation continues beyond birth,
with a lot of outwardly visible changes (and awkwardness) peaking at puberty. And these processes rely on a whole host of
hormones, receptors, and other factors that come from at LEAST 70 different genes on different
chromosomes. So really, biological sex is not black or
white because there are so many variables going into it that are not necessarily correlated
with one another. Which is why there’s good evidence to say
there are more than 2 biological sexes. For example testosterone is important for
developing the internal genitalia, but it needs to be converted by an enzyme for the
external genitalia to be made. So someone could have testosterone, plus all
the effects that leads to during development through puberty, and be “male” in a lot
of ways internally… …but because they’re missing one enzyme,
things might look a little different on the outside. The thing is, most people don’t know their
genetics or what’s inside their abdomen … so how come we so confidently proclaim
— well anything! When I say I’m a woman, I’m actually referring
to my gender identity. This might be related to or influenced by
primary or secondary sex characteristics, but knowing our gender identity comes from
our brains. The fascinating thing is we don’t really
know a ton about what influences this identity… just like how I might say: I am a confident
or anxious person, but don’t really know what EXACTLY in MY brain makes me like that. There are a few regions in the brain that
are different between sexes, including the interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus
– and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, which is part of the limbic system. In men, these areas are both larger and have
more neurons in them. And studies to date, albeit small, show the
sizes of these areas correlate with the gender identities of transgender men and women. Other studies have found differences in white
matter microstructures between men and women. Transgender men who have not yet received
hormone treatments had patterns more similar to those sharing their gender identity, not
what they were assigned at birth. In other words, the sex they were assigned
at birth didn’t accurately predict their white matter patterns. While there are so many different areas of
the brain that seem different between men and women, some researchers argue there are
more similarities than differences and there isn’t really a typical “male” or “female”
brain. But given that, ALL of us have incomplete
information on our true biological sex, and that we don’t fully understand the neuroscience
behind gender — or honestly a lot of complex things like
why we like fun shirts — …it doesn’t make sense to burden individuals
with proving how they feel. Because scientifically, NONE of us can explain
why we feel like a man, woman *indicate to each other* And as none of us can say that, by making
a minority of people TRY to provide a burden of proof, we’re causing a LOT of health
problems. For example, the suicide ATTEMPT rate among
transgender people ranges from 32-50% in a number of different countries, whereas the
overall population average in the US is estimated around point-zero-four to one-point-one percent%. Both of these numbers are too high, but the
stats for transgender people particularly so, especially when recent studies show these
numbers decrease when transgender people are socially accepted. While there are, of course, a lot more scientific
questions to ask, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives by removing social stigma. We know science will catch up eventually,
but in the meantime… we should all recognize this is more complicated than man, woman,
trans or non-binary. And as is the norm in science, the more we
learn, the more nuanced it gets. And that diversity in people and ideas is
what makes the world so cool. If you want to learn more about what your
DNA says about your sexuality — different than identity — click here. Thank you for watching, I am sure you’ll
have a comment on this video, so make sure you leave it below, and share this video.

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