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Brain Sex. Is it all in the mind?

Jed Bland.

Presented at The Northern Gender Dysphoria Conference, Gateshead, England, 1997



It is argued that the present enthusiasm for genetic determinism, engendered in part by the human genome project, is naive. Transsexuals are seeking respectability through biological theories that are intrinsically suspect and politically biassed. Increasing knowledge is, in fact, emphasising the important part the environment, including socialisation, plays in the biological development of the brain.

One view is that biology is destiny, the other that humans have total free will. The question of how choice is constrained by an individual's personal history falls into a political void. However, while scientists argue, historical evidence shows that transgendered people have existed for thousands of years, and have played and still play, an important role in many human cultures.

There is much research to be done, but rather than try to excuse ourselves with suspect science, we should take pride in our history and our heritage.


Company Magazine, date unknown:

"Many experts believe cross-dressers are born with their compulsion. In the womb, we all start out with basically female chromosomes and one theory is that male cross-dressers may retain an extra set before being born."

Where Company magazine got this from, I can't imagine. You'd have thought they would have checked it. But it's typical of the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo that the TG community keeps trotting out in wild attempt to achieve some form of respectability.

There are no female chromosomes. Most of us are familiar with the picture from school biology of the chromosome pairs neatly laid out in rows.

Twenty three of them, the autosomes, are common to both sexes. In fact, the genetic difference between men and women is minimal. Most of the genes concerned with sexually dimorphic features, including testes or ovaries, occur on the autosomes of both sexes. It is during development that different combinations of genes are active or inactive, due to factors both internal and external to the organism. For instance, taking estrogen pills can encourage the gynecomastia that occurs naturally in some teenage boys and middle aged men.

But what about the so-called sex-linked chromosomes, the X and the Y? It turns out that most of the X chromosome appears to be concerned with features that are not to with sexual dimorphism per se. Common conditions due to errors of the X chromosome, for instance, are colour blindness and hemophilia. The Y chromosome contains, it would appear, mostly inactive material, with one important exception.

Biologists define a female as a creature that produces eggs, a male as one that produces sperm. It takes two X's to make a female, an X and a Y to make a male. Our present understanding is that there is just one gene that could be said to be specifically sexual. It is the SRY gene on the Y chromosome. It very small, only a few hundred base pairs.

For the first eight weeks after conception, the fetus is not, I repeat not, female - it is neuter, or better, undifferentiated. If it has two X chromosomes, the gonads develop as female, if a Y they develop as male.

Not much appears to be known about female development. Feminist pressures have largely hindered research into the biology of women, all across the board. You are not going to get funding for research if the fundholders are not in sympathy with your aims. And your results are not going to be widely discussed especially in the Press, if they conflict with social preconceptions - what people want to hear. An obvious example is testosterone in women. So there may be studies that I don't know about that have quietly disappeared into the archives.

On the other hand, in an androcentric culture, where men are expected to be perfect, any variation is labelled a pathology, and its origin hunted down with zeal.

The genome is not a blueprint, with a one to one mapping to individual features, nor is it completely a linear code that you read off like a string of beads.

It would be better to think of it as a product specification. A motor car needs wheels and they ought to be round. It needs steering and a way of stopping. Other things like lights and seat belts are prescribed by law. It doesn't matter too much what it looks like, though one would want it to look nice. If you took your product specification to Ford, Rover, and Vauxhall, however, what you'd get is three different cars.

Every human being that is conceived has a slightly different product specification, which may be read in different ways. In a very real sense, then each of us is a new design. There has been much in the news about cloning. What if Saddam Hussein cloned himself? As someone pointed out "So what? All you'd get is two babies."

The chance of finding a gene for transsexuality is vanishingly small.

It doesn't stop there. As I said, the gene is not altogether a linear code. The picture of it that I talked about at the beginning is when it is about to split and replicate itself. Normally the DNA is coiled up in the nucleus of a cell like an untidy ball of string. Not so untidy though - the way it is coiled up is precisely defined in ways we do not yet fully understand, and it appears to be crucial to the way the gene operates.

It seems that the way a gene works is dependent on the proximity or otherwise of other genes, ones that may be nowhere near them in line along the DNA. For instance, the protein produced by the SRY gene that we mentioned earlier binds to the molecule in specific places, and causes it to bend sharply. It is believed that this change in the three dimensional geometric structure alters the action of a range of other genes. For instance, there are many factors affecting rate of growth, both genetic and environmental, but it is believed that it accounts for the average larger size of men compared to women.

The press are printing wild statements from geneticists anxious to make a name for themselves, and we are seeing the worst kind of biological determinism. Some of the books for the popular market are no better. I have seen the remarkable statement that some genes do quite different jobs in the two sexes. The example quoted is a gene that is implicated in premature balding in men, and polycystic ovaries in women. A little thought shows that it may be part of both processes in both sexes. Men, though, are unlikely to suffer from polycystic ovaries, while in women premature balding may be masked by other factors.

The Human Genome Project has involved laboratories all over the world, and millions of pounds, for a decade or more. Yet, even when it is complete, we will have only laid the foundations of understanding the gene. What we will have is a Collins road map that tells us where each gene is and what it does, but it will say nothing about the interactions between them. In other words, it can tell us where Newcastle and Sunderland are, for instance, but nothing about the traditional rivalry between Tynesiders and Wearsiders.

Biology and Personality.

The gene, then, is not the simple affair some people would have us believe and, from the moment of conception it grows in an environment that is quite individual, depending on the individual mother. There may, for instance, be a second embryo growing with which it has to compete and, though the placenta is an extremely efficient filter, it cannot completely screen out external effects.

Much has been made of the effects of the so-called sex hormones on development. Whether studies of unrelated species or of dramatically overdosed individuals can actually tell us much is a matter for discussion. I would suggest that what such studies do, in fact, is to focus unnecessary attention on a single mechanism and obscure the host of other factors involved.

Far less well-known, but probably more carefully constructed, are studies of personality traits, principally by Eysenck.(1) Following this, some work indicated that there is some relationship between the basis of an individual's personality and certain inherent characteristics of his, or her, nervous system.

Another study that hit the headlines last year was that by Zhou(2) and colleagues, who claimed that an area in the brain called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST-C) was of a similar size in male-to-female transsexuals as it was in women, smaller than in both homosexual and heterosexual men.

Eyeballing the data, it can be seen that, certainly the transsexuals were within the size range of the women, while the homosexual men were in the upper range of the heterosexual men. However two of the heterosexual men were well within the female range.

Transsexuals have seized on the study as medical proof that it gives them a 'male' or 'female' brain. Breedlove, in the same issue of Nature, comments on the complexity of a condition like transsexuality. He points out that it is becoming clear in neuroscience that experience can alter brain structures. We cannot be sure whether the small BST-C caused the people to be transsexual, or whether it was a result of the complexity of the transsexual life. It might be helpful if the study said whether, within the nucleus concerned, there were more neurons or bigger neurons.

All one can say is that, in a small sample, sizes were comparable - there is a correlation. But the idea that it is a cause of, or an effect of, transsexuality is, in any case, pure speculation. If Bill Smith has been seen in the vicinity of a number of fires, there is correlation. To take him to court on a charge of multiple arson, you have prove causation - that he actually started the fires and how he did it. Not surprisingly, the use of the BST as evidence in a court of law recently received little sympathy. The results in themselves are, of course, perfectly valid, but much more work would needs to be done. Let us play with an idea. Homosexual men have the reputation of being promiscuous, transsexuals of being virtually asexual. Whether these stereotypes are true is, of course, another question. If we must speculate, however, it is no more outrageous to suggest that the effect might be linked to sexual activity rather than gender identity per se, with the atypical heterosexual male subjects being relatively celibate.

Biology and the Brain.

Environmental factors affect those parts of the fetus that are developing most rapidly. In the case of the brain this begins at the third to the fifth week, and continues long after birth.

Nerves - including brain cells - do not develop as though following some genetic knitting pattern. The nerve cell, or neuron, has a central body, from which extend various processes called axons and dendrites, by which it communicates with other neurons.

As a neuron develops in the fetus, it begins to put out numerous branching processes in various directions, very much like an amoeba does. These are the axons and they each seek out specific target cells on specific organs, guided by the chemicals of various cells along the way. When one branch finds a correct target, the other branches shrink back into the neuron.

No two people's eyes are the same size, nor the same distance apart. Developing in this way, the optic nerve is precisely optimised by its environment, or in other words, to the person of which it is a part.

It means that even your optic nerve is totally individual to you. How much more so, nerves that are associated with your cognitive functioning, steeped, as they develop, in a complex learning environment?

We are learning a great deal about eyesight, hearing, language, the peripheral processes of the brain. We still know little about central processes, how we handle emotions, process ideas, develop attitudes.

A fundamental flaw in most psychology, especially Freudian psychoanalysis, is to view the child as a passive victim of its environment. It is not. It is an active explorer, its individual biology interacting with its individual environment. It is said that a child influences its parents as much as they influence it. There are also grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends of the family, people on television and in the street, and, most important of all, siblings.

My eldest grandson spent many weeks trying to weigh me up. One evening he was, several times, deliberately naughty, but only when I was alone in the room with him. It was a period when he was in the habit of sprinkling his drink on the floor and furniture - and being told off by his parents. At length he came up to me and deliberately upended his drinking cup on the knee of my jeans. Gently, but firmly, I removed the cup from his grasp and placed it on the bookcase next to me. He said nothing, but went off to play in the other room. Some minutes later, he returned and climbed on my knee, reaching for the cup. I set him on the floor and gave it to him. He took one swallow, then handed it back upright, with an expression that was plainly calling a truce.

Like any good scientist, he had generated a hypothesis, carried out an experiment, drawn his conclusions and now his study was complete.

Children are so different that it is virtually impossible to untangle what is inherent in an individual and what is the result of their individual interpretation of their experiences from birth.

The $64,000 Question.

So we come to the $64,000 question - Can we help it? Do we really have free choice? Can we be cured of being transsexual? In short, can we be cured of being who we are?

The boundary between learning and biological development, between nature and nurture, becomes ever more diffuse. And the diffusion becomes ever more pervasive, from conception to the grave, to the discomfort of both biological and social determinists.

With a few exceptions, neurons do not divide or replicate after birth and, if they die, are not replaced. The brain cells one is born with are all one will have throughout life. The same is not necessarily true of axons and dendrites, collectively known as neurites. Investigation of the human brain was generally through post-mortem tissue samples, using light or electron microscopes, electroencephalograms, or ad hoc investigations during brain surgery. Even though the modern PET and MRI scanners have extended our knowledge enormously, their resolving power is too low to distinguish individual neurons, let alone axons. There have been hints of growth and decay of neurites throughout life, especially in some of the brain diseases, the dementias. One study has also tracked the cyclic growth and decay of neurites in the brain of female rats through their reproductive cycle.

Such studies are not possible with humans. We cannot see the neurites in a living human, let alone trace out their intricate network, and we know virtually nothing of the day-to-day dynamics of the nervous system.

When nerves, in the limbs for instance, mature, they acquire a fatty sheath called myelin, which makes them more efficient. However, the feeling is that there is a trade-off in that further neurite development is restricted. There is something of a consensus that humans are human because their brains remain immature to a greater age than other species, so-called neoteny.

There is much speculation about why Homo sapiens sapiens survived while Homo sapiens neanderthalis disappeared. There is one site where the two co-existed, apparently peacefully, for a period. It seems that, while the humans were able to take advantage of whatever food was available, the Neanderthals were relatively restricted in their diet, and made no attempt to extend it as their food supply dwindled. The Neanderthals' brain size, relative to their bodies, was the same as for humans. More importantly, endocasts of their skulls showed an equivalent complexity. Why did they not survive in the face of human competition? Was it because they did not share human flexibility and an ability to learn new things? All this is speculation - we simply don't have enough evidence.

A little thought will show how complex is the network of ideas, attitudes, feelings that grow, even in the first few years. To change their fundamental basis would throw the whole structure into chaos. Perhaps there is a biological mechanism that permanises these fundamental thought processes. As Duke Ellington said "You can take the boy out of the jungle. You can't take the jungle out of the boy."

Psychologists, and especially counsellors, insist that all we are is what we have learnt, and, moreover, that we have total free will to change ourselves as we wish, though what they usually mean is to change to conform with society. Biologists insist that what we are is determined absolutely by our genes and our hormones. This is the nature/nurture debate, which is particularly salient in the study of gender, and supported by some pretty awful science.

There are a few studies, like the cross species one by Gibson(3) but, generally, the idea that our personal histories, the interaction of our individual biologies and our individual experiences, are important and cannot be rewritten, falls neatly into the political void. One more gripe: Science, whether biology or psychology, either studies individuals in terms of some hypothetical average person, or studies groups in which individual identity becomes submerged in the group behaviour - and it then tries to coerce everyone into being the same. As Eysenck and Keene(4) put it: "One of the most obvious weaknesses of . . . . psychology is the reluctance to take individual differences seriously." Though Eysenck and Keene are writing about cognitive psychology, it is a weakness of all the human sciences. They suggest that, even though there is an analysis of variance, individual differences are discarded as error.


Let us leave our scientists to their politics and move on. After all, a person can only have "faulty genes" or "the wrong mix of hormones" if he, or she, cannot develop and prosper - and that is something decided by society. Natural selection dictates that an organism is successful if it not only survives, but produces offspring that can themselves breed. Human as a communal social species modify this rule. While being aware of the dangers of group selectionism, the principles of altruism suggest that, under certain circumstances, breeding is not strictly necessary, as we shall see.

Few people doubt that men and women are different, whether it is because of biology or socialisation, but in the end, masculinity and femininity are cultural definitions. And, for whatever reason, we observe general differences in men and women, and those who behaviour is proscribed because it makes us uncomfortable. The fact is, that transgendered people have been around for thousands of years, maybe even before the appearance of Homo Sapiens.

Among all the long term studies of jungle chimpanzees, there is an account of a particular female. Generally male chimpanzees have a fairly tight hierarchical group organisation. While there is also a dominance hierarchy among females, they tend to be more solitary. This particular female showed no interest in sex or producing a family. She might submit to a male, but she would walk away halfway through the male's climax. This frustrating behaviour is not uncommon among female chimps, but with her it was invariable. Moreover, she liked to join the males in their regular patrols of the group's territorial boundaries.

Could she be called a transgendered chimp? Gay writers might label her a lesbian, but there is no record of her having sex with other females. What is important is that there is no report that the other chimps seemed bothered by her behaviour. They seemed to have no concept of gender - prescribing set roles dependent on a sexual label.

Transgender History.

While science would seem to prove nothing, history certainly can. Yet in researching our history we have a problem in that all writers have their own distorting lens, whether as androcentric and often homophobic anthropologists, gay writers who confuse transgender with homosexuality, or feminist women with a strong, often androphobic, political bias. More than that, they all assume that gender is something that exists as a tangible physical characteristic.

As Ochshorn(5) points out: "Finally when we examine the data about gender roles from the past through the lenses of the present - as indeed we must and should - how can we be sure that we are doing more than imposing our own familiar assumptions and stereotypes about gender on another time and place."

Bem(6) offers the metaphor of "the fish that is unaware that its environment is wet. After all, what else could it be?" This is the trap that is so difficult to get out of. To move to the position that there were social roles first and sexual imperatives second. That men and women just happened to fill them. The question then is: "How and when and why did social, as opposed to reproductive, roles become rigidly associated with one or the other sex?"

In fact, our history is a proud one, and we should grab it back, as Leslie Feinberg has begun to do in Transgender Warriors.(7)

The earliest known civilisation is that of the Sumerians, which disappeared around the end of the third millennium BCE. It was rediscovered by archaeologists only about a hundred years ago, and it has become apparent that it has had a profound influence on the cultures that defeated it, and on civilisation to the present day.(8)

There is a record of a pantheon of gods, with a hierarchy of power, but not one that was specifically the preserve of male or female gods. Moreover, each was portrayed variously of both vegetation or destruction, of famine or fertility, of war, or of the annual rains. That an individual god happened to be male or female seems to have been incidental. Ochshorn argues forcefully that "ideologies of gender were not based on masculine-feminine(9)

This is what Herdt(10) refers to as "gender liminality" - "a psychological threshold at which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced."(11)

Much early gender crossing is associated with religious ritual, but to say that ignores the fact that there was a religious aspect to everything in early human's lives. There was no separation between the spiritual and the secular such as we have now. Their Gods were not put away in a cupboard to be brought out and dusted down every Sunday.

Another problem in researching these texts is that they do not distinguish between role play and role identification; between the symbolic acting out of a gender crossing ritual, and the adoption of a particular lifestyle on a permanent basis - identifying with and identifying as.

Perhaps that is the actual difference between modern-day transvestism and transsexualism. It is certainly the focus of Ekins and King's book, Blending Genders,(12) where the introduction immediately distinguishes between "performance" and "identity" and Farrer's In Female Attire is followed immediately by Rees' Becoming a Man.

One thing certain is that the transsexual operation is not a new phenomenon. Modern technology allows us to turn transgender people into 'real' men or 'real' women, or a simulacrum thereof, but the beginning of human culture, as we know it, might have been marked by the first time a man took a stone knife to his testicles, or a woman to her breasts.

The disappearance of Sumeria led on to increasing tension and conflict across the eastern end of the Mediterranean, culminating in the Assyrian War, unparalleled in its ferocity.

Out of the desert came a ragtag mob of nomads. They wanted to found a kingdom and they had to fight to do so. As more recently in World War II, men were to be soldiers, women's place was to produce more soldiers. Thus we come to the infamous passage in Deuteronomy. Hirschfeld(13) suggests that the original Archaic Hebrew word meant "something complete, manufactured, a tool, weapon, instrument, not just clothing." He quotes Martin Luther: "it is simply to be understood as a woman minds her own business, and a man his own."

How the later translations of the Bible came to refer specifically to cross-dressing is subject to conjecture. At various times, in various places since, transgendered people, specifically androgynously-behaving men have been condemned. As far as the King James Edition is concerned, Garber(14) suggests that there was a reaction against the gender-crossing and cross-dressing of the Elizabethan period. She further suggests that the King was "phobic about powerful women."

Displaced by the spreading aversion to gender liminality, what happened to transgendered people? If parallels can be drawn with modern cultures, they may have been respected for their spirituality and, as tribal ritual was formalised into religion, they may have evolved into the priesthood - not as some feminists declare, as men attempting to displace women. They may, however, have been displaced, along with women, as rulers discovered the power inherent in religion.

Others may have been the keepers of the tribal histories, and may have become the wandering story tellers, the aoidoi, who were later made redundant by the invention of writing.

Before we leave science completely, we might mention a certain sociobiological speculation. It is common among a number of species, in times of high population and limited resources, for an individual to give up its urge to procreate and instead nurture its siblings. The genetic relatedness is the same, one half, and the improved care of the siblings would mean that they had a better chance of success than offspring might have.

Various writers have suggested this 'helper at the nest' phenomenon as an explanation of homosexuality. In so doing they have confused male homosexuality with transgender.

A much better hypothesis, it seems to me, for male homosexuality, may be observed not only in the jungle, but in the average school playground, where a subordinate male may provide services for, and gain the protection of, a male higher in the hierarchy.

Even a cursory look at the gay community will reveal a dichotomy which mirrors heterosexual society, just as cross-dressers are men and transsexuals are women. It may be that gay men who identify, or would like to, as or with women, are even more closeted than heterosexual transvestites. Those who can make a joke of their feelings become drag queens, but not all queens are drag queens.

If we set aside sexual orientation as an issue, we may see transvestites and queens as sisters under the skin. This was in my mind when I entitled my GENDYS talk "The Colonel's Lady and Judy O'Grady," but my thoughts were still too inchoate to find expression. As Lee Brewster points out, let us not allow anyone to forget that it was the queens, our sisters, that started the Stonewall Riot, and jump-started the present Gay Pride movement.(15)

The quotation is the title of a poem by Kipling, which, in turn, reminds me that, until the beginning of this century, homosexuality was not considered particularly remarkable. In common with many of his class and background, he thought of it as a natural urge that, nevertheless, should be resisted. When, therefore, we read Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis and other writers, using the term 'effeminate homosexual', we may feel that it was not homosexuality per se that bothered them, but effeminacy.

Some decades later, Terman, notorious for his use of intelligence testing, attempted a psychometric test to measure an individual's masculinity or femininity. By this time, male homosexuals were well hidden. If you wear a smart suit and tie, nobody knows you're gay and, in fact, gender misbehaving people were an acute embarrassment to them. So effeminacy and homosexuality became conflated in the public mind, and, as Bem(6) points out, his test had the secondary purpose of locating "the population of inverts from which 'homosexuals are chiefly recruited'."

Ancient Greece, of course, marked the apogee of androcentrism and male homosexuality, at least, among the upper classes, such that one writer calls it a one-gendered culture. However a great deal of care was taken to stress equality of status. An older man becoming the mentor of a younger man, Boswell(16) suggests, was a conceptual trick to cover the fact that no real relationship can actually be of equal status.

While classical writers have stressed their 'Platonic' nature, Boswell suggests that no relationship of such intensity and duration could be other than erotic. I take no sides on this. These were the days before Fleet Street, and what people did in private was considered to be their own affair.

In Grecian history, transgender seems to disappear. Written language was by men, for men, and the upper class at that. If women didn't figure in it, certainly "men who were not men" would not.

Herodotus, however, wrote of it in other cultures, and was particularly fascinated by the Scythians, where women fought in battles and wrote: "No maiden may marry until she has killed a man of the enemy." While he wrote in admiration of these women, he seemed less than enthusiastic about men who took on a female role. It was a common practice for these nomads to drink their horses' urine. In a healthy animal, urine is sterile and, if you fear that a waterhole has been poisoned by an enemy, it is prudent to filter it first. However, at the conference, Fay Presto drew my attention to the fact that among these tribes, some men favoured the urine of pregnant mares. Herodotus found it impossible to conceal his disgust.

Transgender Today.

Let us move forward and look at some modern-day traditional cultures, about which there is an ever-increasing literature. However most of it seems preoccupied with the role taken in sex, and one has to tease out hints about social roles. In most cases the cultures concerned see the homosexual role as an optional consequence of the social position of being transgendered, not an intrinsic part of it.

The other option is celibacy or asceticism as with hjras of India. Their rite of passage is castration, done in secret since it has been proscribed by the British rulers and their successors.

There is both a social and a spiritual role in being hjras, whether 'born', that is hermaphroditic, or 'made'. Hinduism is a lifetime search for 'personhood' and an important part of this is being male or female and, through marriage, producing progeny, particularly sons. Those who cannot, or do not wish to, do this can transcend it by being renouncers.(17)

However, there is also a social role, performing at a house where a male child has been born, and also at marriages. There is an ambivalent attitude to hjras in India. Perhaps in the past, they had a stronger religious significance. Before British socialisation, they may have had a wider role, but in modern India they are having to adapt to new ways of living. They have always been associated with homosexual prostitution in varying degrees, but they also see this as contrary to the central importance of asceticism.

An article in Society, date unknown,(18) describes the fa'afafine: "In the South Pacific islands of Samoa, as many as one family in five has a son who lives as a woman. They are totally accepted by society, are usually highly educated and hold many key jobs" Yet the subtitle betrayed the author's fundamental misunderstanding of the situation: "Samoa: Where Men Think They are Women." They don't, of course, think they are women - or men. They know they are fa'afafine. They are usually brought up in the role from early childhood, sometimes encouraged by their mothers, but usually demonstrating a wish to adopt the role from as young as five years old. They are an intrinsic part of a society with complex bonds and obligations. A high proportion of them have University degrees, and they have important and responsible jobs, often in teaching and nursing.

These are but two of the cultures that embrace gender liminality, a phenomenon that occurs all over the world. It should not be assumed, however that it is universally accepted. In many cultures, a child whose sex is ambivalent is killed at birth. Even if the child is nurtured, it is socialised into one or other role, though, usually, there are limits to the activities in which it may take part. At the other end of the scale, the Chukchi of Siberia recognise seven social categories that may be regarded as gender roles, since they are seen to be intermediate between women and men.

While the modern Samoans described above take on a defined female role, one may wonder whether, before Western influence, whether they were so rigidly organised. It is interesting to note that there is a tendency for the North American Indian transgendered people to identify as either gay or transsexual - both neo-European social classifications.

The North American Indians are notable for the records of female transgendered people, the alyha - women who ride with the warriors. If the 'helper at the nest' theory is correct, one would expect there to be more transgendered males than females.

We have already mentioned the Scythians, though these women usually raised children. However, let us not forget that Boudicca was, by no means, the only notable early British female warrior. In Samoa, too, there are the fa'atama, although almost nothing is known about them.

North American Indian male transgendered people, referred to here as hwame, have probably been more closely studied than any others, and have had more to say themselves. Students of their culture have also been able to rise above the subject of mere sexual function.

Perhaps, because their culture was driven underground by the brutality of neo-European repression, it may be reappearing in a form much closer to what it was in the past. The hwame played an important part in preserving tribal history and rituals and in teaching the young. Often they were expected to adopt orphaned children. As with the fa'afafine, they are often approached with personal and emotional problems, especially marital problems, and are seen as go-betweens between the sexes - the forerunners of present-day counsellors.

"In the Lakota language there are no personal pronouns and a child is simply a child until the age or four or five, when he or she shows that which they are."(19) In Indian terms, they take on the role that the spirits tell them to. More secular Europeans would suggest they adopt an identity in accordance with their personality, an identity which is cherished not reviled. As one of Williams' respondents said "We don't waste people."(20)

There is much to be done in the way of research, but I would submit that transgendered people have a long and proud history. Let us forget finding excuses in politically loaded science of doubtful validity. Let us reclaim our heritage and wear it with pride.


  1. Eysenck, H.J., (1965) The Structure of Human Personality, London: Methuen, reference in Gross, R.D., (1987) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, London: Hodder and Stoughton.
  2. Zhou, J.N., Hofman, M.A., Gooren, L.J.G., Swaab, D., (1995) A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality, Nature 378, 68-70, also comment by Breedlove, M., in the same issue Another Important Organ, pp 15-16.
  3. Gibson, K.R., (1991) Myelinisation and Behavioural Development: A Comparative Perspective on Questions of Neoteny, Altriciality and Intelligence, in Gibson, K.R., Petersen, A.C., (eds) Brain Maturation and Cognitive Development. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
  4. Eysenck.M.W., Keane.M.T., (1990) Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook, p500, Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  5. Ochshorn, J. (1996) Sumer: Gender, gender roles, gender role reversals, in Ramet, S.P. (ed) Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures, London: Routledge.
  6. Bem, S.L., (1993) The Lenses of Gender, London: Yale University Press
  7. Feinberg, L. (1996) Transgender Warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul, Boston: Beacon Press.
  8. Kramer, S.N. (1963) The Sumerians: Their history, culture and character, Chicago University Press.
  9. As 5.
  10. Herdt. G., (ed) (1994) Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, New York: Zone Books
  11. Hanks, P., (ed) (1979) Collins Dictionary of the English Language, Glasgow: Collins
  12. Ekins, R., King, D. (eds) (1996) Blending Genders: Social aspects of Cross-dressing and Sex-changing, London: Routlege.
  13. Hirshfeld. M, (1910 first publ) Transvestites - The Erotic Drive to Cross Dress, (Translated by Michael A. Lombardi Nash Ph.D., 1991), Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books
  14. Garber, M., (1993) Vested Interests: Cross dressing and Cultural Anxiety, London: Penguin.
  15. Saypen, A., (1995) A Little Bit Of Our History: An Interview With Lee Brewster, Tapestry Journal, Issue 70, Winter 95, Massachusetts: International Foundation for Gender Education.
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  18. Reprinted in GEMS News 15
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  20. Williams,W.L., (1992) The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
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