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"Brain Sex" Theory and the Common Sense

"nature versus nurture" is a false dichotomy

Forum: Intersexe-Androgynous list
Date: 04/12/2004

Patty wrote:

what about the issue of "Brain Sex?" Is there such a thing or not?

Depends on what you are asking.

If you are asking whether or not male brains and female brains differ significantly from each other physiologically, then it certainly seems that way. But what *caused* these differences is not completely understood yet. Also not yet understood fully is the relationship between gender identity and brain structure.

It's likely that biology influences how one identifies, but I think it's too simplistic to call it "brain sex." What we know now is that there are statistical differences between males and females--and *not* definitive marker that can be used to identify "male brain" from "female brain." In fact, I think it's accurate to say that there is no such thing as "male brain" and "female brain," despite the fact that their structures *on average* may be different.

Confused? Then think about this: on average, adult men are taller than adult women; however, you can't determine someone's biological sex simply by measuring their height. And even if the study were to show that the average height of FTM transsexual people were closer to the male average than female average, so what? Well, lucky for them--but it won't be accurate to say that transsexual men have "male height"; they may, *on average*, may have the height close to the male average, but that's just that. I tend to think such finding is pretty irrelevant. (Remember, this is not a real finding; I made it up to make the discussion simpler.)

Hannah wrote:

Anything like "Brain Sex" is simply the consequence of infant humans adapting to culture.

That's a bit extreme. Do you also think that all other physical differences between women and men can be attributed to societal roles? Or just the brain? Isn't brain also part of the body?

Clearly, cultural context affects how one identifies and expresses her or his gender. But doesn't biology also play a part? It's true that the scientific evidence for the definitive "brain sex" is weak at best; however, the lack of conclusive evidence for "brain sex" does not imply that biology has no role in people's experienes of gender.

Dyna wrote:

Hannah, clearly you've spent too long in women's studies... Nice try, but you'll need some evidence to keep the "tabla rosa" feminist theory of gender identity alive in the face of science.

Hey, if she spent more time in Women's Studies, she would be saying that nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy, as is the concept of "sex = body / gender = mind." It's not either biology or society, but the division between the biological and the social is itself a social construction.

Emi Koyama
Intersex Initiative

Forum: Intersex-Androgynous list
Date: 04/12/2004

Hannah wrote:

Emi has expressed my position best.

That's strange--I didn't think I was in agreement with you.

Feminist scholars like Sandra Harding have been showing for years the amount of sexism and heterosexism permeating through so-called "natural science."

Sure, but Harding is not rejecting science or scientific objectivity; instead, by pointing out prejudices that operate within the field of science, she is calling for a *more* objective science. To suggest that "nurture" accounts for all gender differences, including physiological differences in the brain, is absurd and not based on scientific merit.

Patty wrote:

I guess the essence of my question was along the lines of what causes Gender Dysphoria?

It doesn't have to be one thing. There might be a biological predisposition as to how one might identify within a certain cultural context, but the culture must provide the context in which this predisposition can find an expression.

For example, I like tea. I drink 1-3 cups every day. It's possible that I might have been predisposed to liking tea. However, if tea never existed, would I be craving for somehting that I've never even heard of? Probably not: most likely, I'd be drinking coffee, or maybe hot cocoa. The predisposition may be there, but it could be manifested in many different ways; it is the culture that provides a particular expression for and understanding of the predisposition.

Also, what do you think about Hannha's statement that Gender Identity Dysphoria is a "Psychosomatic Illness."

It's unclear what she means by it, so I'd like a clarification. In general, a psychosomatic illness is a somatic condition that does not have any identifiable physical cause, and are considered to be psychological in nature. It seems absurd to say that GID is a psychosomatic illness because it's not even a somatic condition in the first place. She can't possibly be saying it is, so she must be trying to say something different.

I realize that some people consider GID to be a problem of the body (i.e. primary and secondary sex characteristics) and not the mind, so they might think it's reasonable to consider it a somatic condition. Even then, the "errors" of your sex characteristics are not caused by your psyche, so obviously it should not be considered a psychosomatic illness.

Emi Koyama
Intersex Initiative