Crossing Wires: Neurological Theories of Transgenderism

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At the heart of the debate regarding how to classify transgenderism is the question, “What causes transgenderism?” Is transgenderism a perfectly natural and inborn condition? Is it a consequence of social conditioning? Is it a psychological disorder? Or is it something else?

Until recently, many of those who denied that transgenderism is rooted in a psychological disorder or a hormonal imbalance adhered to behaviorist psychological theories, which assumed that an infant’s mind is a blank slate whose social conditioning produces all aspects of personality, including gender.[1] However, recent studies, combined with the discrediting of former studies, have given rise to neurological theories of transgenderism.

Despite the fact that the human brain remains so complex that scientists are still trying to understand it, these studies have indicated that the brains of transgendered people may be constructed similarly to the gender with which they identify instead of their biological gender. These studies have garnered much media support, but none of these studies have been replicated, and within these studies, the authors often discuss the problems with their own research and the fact that their findings cannot prove anything until the findings are replicated.[2] Furthermore, a study from the Stockholm Brain Institute concludes that present data does not support the theory that male-to-female (MtF) transgender brains are feminized. Walt Heyer reports:

The scientists compared the sizes of various areas of brains belonging to MtF transsexuals to brains of heterosexual men and women. The findings: 1) all the males differed in the same ways from the females (no feminization of the transsexuals) and 2) the MtF transsexuals differed from both heterosexual men and women in the area of the brain that processes body perception.[3]

Additionally, neurological theories of transgenderism ignore the fact that the human brain is continually reorganizing itself according to our daily activities. Dr. Norman Doidge observes, “Now we know the brain is ‘neuroplastic’, and not only can it change, but that it works by changing its structure in response to repeated mental experience.”[4] Any similarities in brain structure between a transgender person and the gender with which they associate does not preclude the possibility that the transgender person’s brain was conditionally restructured based upon personal habits. Even so, brain structure does not determine reality. Carlos Flores writes:

For example, we may suppose that, through habitually behaving as a sixteen-year-old, the brain activity of the seventy-year-old mentioned above “resembles” that of a sixteen-year-old’s. Does it follow, then, that the seventy-year-old really is sixteen years old? Or that he is really a sixteen-year-old trapped inside a seventy-year-old’s body? Of course not. The most rational conclusion is that such an individual has some sort of cognitive or psychological defect associated with identity and self-perception. The same can be said for the transgender individual.[5]

Wisdom cautions against placing too much weight at this time upon any scientific study because there simply is an insufficient degree of reliable data. Popular as the neurological theories of transgenderism may be, the available data simply fails to support them as adequate explanations for the cause of transgenderism. Indeed, it appears that these neurological theories may be premised upon a faulty assumption that there is such a thing as a typical male-brain thinking pattern and a typical female-brain thinking pattern.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Conway, Lynn. “What Causes Transsexualism?” IEEE Solid State Circuits 4, no. 7 (2003). Accessed June 2, 2016.

2. Family Research Council. “The Scientific Objectivity and Universality of Gender Difference.” YouTube video, (accessed May 30, 2016).

3. Heyer, Walt. “Data Shows Male to Female Transgender Brains Are Not Feminized.” Sex Change Info Blog, October 24, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2016.

4. Doidge, Norman. “Brain Scans of Porn Addicts: What’s Wrong with This Picture?” Opinion. Guardian (US edition), September 26, 2013, 1:29 p.m., EDT. Accessed May 25, 2016.

5. Flores, Carlos. “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique.” Public Discourse, February 6, 2015. Accessed May 17, 2016.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.