Author Alan Shlemon
Published on 01/09/2017
Sexuality and Gender

Does Brain Mapping Prove That Transgender People’s Brains Match Their Perceived Gender?

Alan discusses the difference between correlation and causation regarding brain patterns and transgenderism.


How can I respond to the claim that brain mapping proves that transgender people’s brains match their perceived gender? So therefore, it supposedly provides evidence that they are transgender. Right right well, I’m always a little skeptical when people cite examples or studies where people are connecting or making a correlation between certain brain states and certain ways of thinking or behaviors or perceptions or beliefs. And part of the reason why I’m skeptical about that is because we might be able to show correlation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean causation. In fact, it could be the case that what’s going on is actually working in the opposite direction. In other words, you know, you could have beliefs, thoughts, and patterns of thinking that ultimately affect brain states or our brain chemistry and brain perhaps even morphology.

So for example, if I’m recalling correctly, think there’s some studies done of people who are blind who use their fingers to read Braille more often and as a result of this kind of behavior and and processing eventually you could see changes in the way their brains work. In fact even myself when I was a physical therapist, many years ago, I’d work with stroke patients and when a stroke patient had a stroke, it was because a certain portion of the brain died. And it was that portion of the brain that was responsible for controlling a certain muscular behavior. Well through retraining, we were able to have them have other parts of the brain control the same parts of the body that were once controlled by these original parts.

And so in other words, you know, you can have a correlation existing between brain and behavior and thoughts. But it doesn’t mean it goes in one direction not the other. So the assumption here seems to be that there’s physical evidence in the brain mapping that this is a of an actual physical condition: transgender. But you’re saying that that’s not necessarily the case because it could be that the brain states are the way they are because the mental states have affected them.

Exactly. And there’s lots lots of other kinds of examples of where the mental states affect the brain states. Yeah, exactly. It could just be that is based upon the way they’re thinking and behaving in the psychological states this is affecting the brain and so they’re not looking and seeing the brain in a particular state and saying I’ll see look it’s different in the case of people who are transgender. But again there can be a lot of things that contribute to brain changes. Not just in other words, it doesn’t just necessarily go the other way.

Well so let’s say, it is in the mind. The mind is affecting the brain. Well isn’t that still evidence that the that this is a real condition? Well, there’s no doubt that it’s a real condition. I don’t doubt that people who are transgender truly believe they are. For example, if they have a physically male body and they believe themselves to be female, there’s no question that they are transgender. In the sense that there is a disconnect between their perceived gender identity and their biological sex.

But that there’s some sort of a biological brain cause for that, doesn’t seem to follow as a result of the fact that there is a reality of people who are transgender. And I guess people would assume if there are brain states that are mapped that are causing this that that’s probably not changeable. But as you’re pointing out that it could just as well be the mental states affecting the brain and we know very well we can change our mind. We can affect the patterns of our thinking and our perceptions because we do it all the time.