Why many gay readers remain curious about a so-called “gay gene” to provide a biological explanation for homosexuality, researchers at Augusta University recently examined the DNA of 30 trans people — 14 female-to-male and 16 male-to-female trans people — in order to identify any unique genetic variants particular to trans people (or a transgender gene, as it were). Their findings could prove particularly important to establishing transgender rights around the world.
The researchers discovered 30 genetic variations that occur in fewer than one in 10,000 people, including nine genetic variations directly associated with brain growth and the production of estrogen and testosterone, the hormones responsible for the development of sex organs and other “secondary sex traits,” like the development of breasts and body hair during puberty.
Although researchers would need a larger sample size and peer review in order to confirm their initial findings, their findings hint at a possible transgender gene, a genetic underpinning for trans identity. And here’s why that’s important:
Like homosexuals, trans people have been vilified as social deviants who “choose” to live outside of the gender binary. Just as anti-sodomy laws target gay people, “cross-dressing” laws punish trans people for publicly expressing their self-identified gender. New York had a law forbidding “impersonating a female” as recently as 2011 and some countries around the world continue to punish women for wearing slacks or men for wearing makeup.
Scientific studies, both psychological and biological, helped legitimize gay identity throughout the 20th century by suggesting that gay people were “born this way.” That is, that homosexuality was an inborn characteristic that one couldn’t change, anymore than, say, their skin color.
If homosexuals couldn’t help being gay, the courts began to think, than denying them rights was no better than denying someone civil rights based on their race or gender. And slowly, the judicial system and public at large recognized that anti-gay laws served no public interest outside of preserving homophobic outlooks, pure and simple.
Many trans activists agree that the trans rights movement is 20 to 30 years behind the gay rights movement. But the scientific community is helping the movement make progress. In 2013, the U.S. Psychiatric Association dropped “gender identity disorder” as a mental illness and began treating trans people for “gender dysphoria,” anguish over the mismatch between their identities and their bodies, instead.
In 2016, the World Health Organization did the same thing. Trans activists consider these changes as monumental as when homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in the U.S. in the early 1970s.
If scientists can prove a genetic cause for trans identity, then healthcare professionals and insurance companies will gradually accept transitioning as a medical necessity. In fact, a recently published study shows that more and more trans people are medically transitioning even now because of this very phenomenon.
Increasing the number of publicly visible trans people helps sway public and political attitudes towards their favor. So research like the Augusta study isn’t only interesting, it’s life-saving and necessary for the continued progress of trans rights around the world.
What do you think about the possible discovery of a transgender gene? Sound off in the comments.
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