The Myth of the Gendered Brain

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Neurological theories of transgenderism 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. According to an NBC News article titled “Can You Tell Which Brains Are Male? Neither Can These Scientists:”

Scientists who tried very hard to find differences between male and female brains said they couldn’t do it — not with brain scans and not even by asking seemingly obvious questions such as whether someone likes boxing or worries about his or her mother.

They couldn’t find any single pattern that distinguishes between a male brain and a female brain, and say only a very small percentage of people fall under clear all-male or all female [sic] brain patterns.

“Our study demonstrates that although there are sex/gender differences in brain structure, brains do not fall into two classes, one typical of males and the other typical of females, nor are they aligned along a ‘male brain-female brain’ continuum,” Daphna Joel of Tel Aviv University and colleagues wrote. … “In other words, even when considering highly stereotypical gender behaviors, there are very few individuals who are consistently at the ‘female-end’ or at the ‘male-end’, but there are many individuals who have both ‘female-end’ and ‘male-end’ characteristics,” they wrote.[[1]]

Similarly, an article in the Scientist titled “Sex Differences in the Brain” notes:

While both the popular and scientific presses make reference to “male” and “female” brains, the brain is in reality not a unitary organ like the liver or the kidney. It is a compilation of multiple independent yet interacting groups of cells that are subject to both external and internal factors. This is abundantly true for hormonal modulation, with many and varied signal transduction pathways invoked. As a result, it is quite literally impossible for the brain to take on a uniform “maleness” or “femaleness.” Instead, the brain is a mix of relative degrees of masculinization in some areas and feminization in others.[2]

Theories abound, but at this point, we simply do not have enough objective data to conclusively determine a cause for transgenderism. This is the conclusion of Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who was part of the American Psychiatric Association’s work group on gender identity. Dr. Drescher admits, “‘The truth is we actually don’t know what it is. Is it a mental disorder or does the cause of gender dysphoria lie somewhere else? We don’t know what causes it.’”[3] Theories abound, but we should continually keep in mind that these are merely theories. In the meantime, we are compelled to rely upon the only objective data that we have. As Jazz Shaw comments:

Falling back on the unfathomable intricacies of something as unbelievably complicated as the human brain isn’t going to make some scientific case that you were born in the wrong type of body. The fact is, we still only have a few obvious things to go on when determining your gender: an examination of your private parts and a chromosome analysis.[4]

We need something more reliable than assumptions about the human brain when evaluating transgenderism. What then does the Bible have to say about the matter?

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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. Fox, Maggie. “Can You Tell Which Brains Are Male? Neither Can These Scientists.” Health. NBC News, November 30, 2015, 11:59 p.m., EST. Last updated December 1, 2015, 12:25 a.m., EST. Accessed June 2, 2016.

2. McCarthy, Margaret. “Sex Differences in the Brain.” Scientist, October 1, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2016.

3. Jayson, Sharon. “What ‘Transgender’ Means, and How Society Views It.” USA Today, September 5, 2013, 7:26 p.m., ET. Last updated September 5, 2013, 7:27 a.m. ET. Accessed June 18, 2016.

4. Shaw, Jazz. “Don’t Expect a Brain Scan to Tell You If You’re ‘Transgender’ or Not.” Hot Air Blog, December 1, 2015, 8:41 p.m. Accessed June 2, 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.