Concepts that transcend the binary norms our society places on gender have been around for centuries, but have only recently been considered for scientific exploration; the truth is that the gray area which today is transsexualism, existed way before it had an actual name. Historically societies all around the world made sense of this internal conflict that affects approximately 1 in 10,000 of the male population and 1/3 of the female population1. In societies dubbed, "primitive," people who experienced these kinds of gender complexities within their own lives had significant roles in their communities as shamans or as other types of leaders who inherently had a different sense of the world and were as a result thought to be gifted because of their abilities to exist as two selves simultaneously. Historically the Greek Gods Hermes and Aphrodite were beings that when in regards to sex and gender also had an ambiguous gender identity. We could go through history and pick out countless accounts which describe men and women who because of their ambiguity were and were not part of their respective societies; considered holy individuals in some cases and in other cases, depending on time period and cultural practices, considered threats to society. Today because of advancement of technology transsexualism today has taken on a new meaning but in many ways it is still confined within some social stigmas of the past.
The question of nature versus nurture is constantly debated when considering the construction of gender identity and its effect on transsexualism. Some scholars argue the cause of this state of being solely deals with nature and the surrounding environment of the individual. Yet there are others who argue that Transexuality is directly linked to the brain and the effects that hormones have on it during the stages of prenatal development. Data has been collected in support of the belief that sex hormones play a key role in the development of the child and his or her sex, and therefore, in his or her gender identity. Sex hormones also impact the child's tendencies, attitudes, and learning which can in many ways explain the feelings shared by transsexuals. According to Pfaffin, "girls exposed prenatally to unusually high levels of androgens have more masculine and less feminine interests..." (P. 12)
This prenatal hormonal environment has also been thought to affect the actual physical structure of the lower brain. Parts such as the hypothalamus, and according to some researchers, the organization of the cortex1 in transsexuals is structurally different than the brains of people with whom they share the same sex. In 1995 a team of researchers in the Netherlands headed by, Dick Swaab studied the differences in the brains of homosexual men, heterosexual men and women, and six male to female transsexuals. Their findings gave evidence in support of the idea that the brain structures found in the male to female transsexuals were exactly like the ones found in the women studied, despite the fact that physically these male to female transsexuals resembled males in all other physical ways. "They found that a tiny region known as the central region of the bed nucleus of the stria terininalis (BSTc) was larger in men than in women. The BSTc of the six transsexuals was as small as that of women, thus the brains of the transsexuals seem to coincide with their conviction that they are women". The result supports the hypothesis that gender identity stems from an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones which leaves us with an interesting question when in regards to the environment and its role in this type of gender expression. If the actual brain structures of these people are of the wrong sex then the environment can only play a very minimal role in the type of behavior that is exemplified through these people's actions and choices. In the end the brain structures are different regardless of environmental factors that affect the person after they are born. I think that in this case nature weighs a bit heavier than nurture.
The Brain=Behavior model fits in this case. In essence the structure of the brain has been altered as a result of hormonal changes and these changes allow for a radical and noticeable change in behavior. The reality is that many times these behaviors are internalized by the people who are experiencing them unfortunately because many of our societies continue to shun this ambiguous gender expression of gender. It is acknowledged however, that there is still a lot more research that needs to happen so as to determine better ways to understand the transsexual community.

1) Transsexuality: An Introduction
2) Hormones & Behaviour, Lecture 6: Hormones & Brain Structure/Function
3) The transexual brain
4) Cohens-Kettenis, Peggy T. Friedman Pfafflin
2003 Transgenderism and Intersexuality in Childhood and Adolescence:
Making Choices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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