Understanding our brain

Transgender identity is complex and unlikely ever to be attributed to one set of causes. Research into the science of transgender identity is relatively new, but existing studies point toward some biological basis. One promising area of research has been in the field of neuroscience. Researchers are exploring ways in which the brain structure and function of transgender persons seems to align more with their gender identities than with sex assigned at birth.

The image below shows the findings of some of the research on brain structure and gender identity. Notice how the part in purple shows that an area of the brain in a transgender woman looks like that of a cisgender woman—and nothing like that of a cisgender man.

Image: Understanding our brain
“Between the (Gender) Lines: The Science of Transgender Identity” (Figure 1)

This interesting finding has been replicated in other studies. However, this part of the brain can only be studied in brain tissues obtained via autopsies, making research difficult. As scientists continue to explore these and other clinical data, the science of gender identity will be better understood.

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This Harvard University blog article by Katherine Wu provides the perspectives behind the current scientific research on gender identity.

Between the (Gender) Lines: the Science of Transgender Identity

Read more about the breakthrough research linking gender identity to brain structure and neurological patterns.

Transgender brain scans promised as study shows structural differences


Bakker, J. (2018) Brain structure and function in gender dysphoria. Presented at the 20th European Congress of Endocrinology. Endocrine Abstracts, 56(S 30.3). https://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0056/ea0056s30.3.htm

Bodkin, H. (2018, May 22). Transgender brain scans promised as study shows structural differences in people with gender dysphoria. Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/22/transgender-brain-scans-promised-study-shows-structural-differences/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_fb

Garcia-Falgueras, A. & Swaab, D.F. (2008). A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 131(12), 3132-3146. https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/131/12/3132/295849/A-sex-difference-in-the-hypothalamic-uncin...

Wu, K.J. (2016, October 25). Between the (gender) lines: The science of transgender identity. Science in the News. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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Read this detailed academic paper to understand the neuroscientists' research of the brain of transgender and cisgender people.

“A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity.”

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Curious to learn more about the research on brain structure and neurological patterns, as it relates to transgender identity? Read a summary of a forthcoming article by the scientists conducting this cutting-edge research.

Brain structure and function in gender dysphoria

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