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Is Nature or Nurture Responsible for Gender Identity?

A short essay by Dave © 2007

I'm of the strong opinion (as are most researchers) that nature, rather than nurture, is almost certainly responsible for gender identity. This certainty is due to multiple studies of genetic boys whose parents attempted to raise them as girls, and direct investigations into genetics and neonatal development.

The boys who were raised as girls were mostly boys whose genitalia were ambiguous at birth or badly damaged as the result of a botched circumcision. Based on what was surgically possible in the way of repair, doctors and parents  decided how to "fix" them. Most cases resulted in the babies being surgically changed into girls, since that surgery was possible even with the most extreme damage. I’ve yet to hear of any genetic girls being “made into” boys.

To a one, they rebelled against their assigned gender almost from the day they could speak. Researchers now know that kids can't simply be assigned the other gender without serious negative consequences, and practice has largely ended in most major hospitals. For kids with ambiguous genetalia, modern genetic testing allows doctors and parents to make more accurate gender choices than in the past.

This is good news for the transgendered, since it refutes the arguments of those who claim it is “personal choice” or the result of environment and thus can be "fixed" with therapy or coercion. Such attempts have almost always failed, much like those of the "ex-gay" religious movement, despite their claims and a few questionable positive anecdotes.

If one subscribes to the “continuum” theory of gender identity and sexual orientation (as I do), this information also strongly supports the official position that bi- and homo-sexuality are the result of nature, not nurture. I’d go so far as to suggest that the same causes are responsible, and that the various outcomes are the result of degree.

As to the cause or causes themselves, more research is needed, but significant research indicates that genetics and the hormonal environment during early pregnancy has a great deal to do with it. We may be several years away from knowing all the details, but the general evidence is strong, both empiracally and statistically.

"When you work with these kids, you see that they're not making a decision. They have always known. The sense of who one is--[boy or girl]--is a crucial existential aspect of humanity. It is powerful and inborn. The absence or presence of a penis is incidental. The most important sex organ is the brain."   William Reiner, MD – Johns Hopkins University



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