Trans brains RE: Riley Dennis


So obviously I’m one of the people who buys into this theory and the evidence behind it so when I saw Riley drop this video and make some comments you betcha I had to respond. I think what’s important to remember when we’re discussing this is that Riley doesn’t see “trans” as just meaning transsexual – she extends it to transgender and the whole umbrella. Which of course most of them do not suffer dysphoria and aren’t transsexual – so they would not present as such neurologically.

But also it means that her priorities in terms of trans rights vary massively from mine. For me, trans rights is about securing legal, medical and social support for gender dysphoria, whereas for Riley it seems more to be about social acceptance of being trans. This has a huge effect on our perspectives which you’ll see throughout the post.

Anyway, here’s a link to the vid. Enjoy.

0:00
Riley: Do trans women have female brains, do trans men have male brains?

Depends on which theory you take. There’s many as I’m hoping you’ll discuss in the remainder of your video. Though the argument isn’t that the brain is wholly male or wholly female. The most compelling studies I’ve seen indicate that it’s a demasculinised brain with feminised regions in trans women and vice versa in trans men. This study is compelling as its a review of all the neuroscience studies out there put together and criticised.

So yeah, your opening statement is false and misleading, its a total strawman.

0:10
Riley: [on why we talk about neuroscience to explain trans] I think its largely because of the main trans narrative of being born in the wrong body.

Again. Misleading. I don’t think I was born into the wrong body, I think my brain developed wrong for my body. However I can’t change my brain, I can’t just will away dysphoria any more than someone with cerebral palsy can will away that. There’s no pill I can take to cure this problem. I can only treat it and adapt my self around it so that I can live a pretty functional life.

So I work with what I’ve got, I minimise the problems dysphoria causes me and make it less hard to live with. For many of us, transition is the only way to achieve this. Neuroscience is employed because this problem does come with a lot of downsides, not least being the enormous suicide rates and psychopathology rates amongst trans people. Neuroscience needs to study the cause before it can even fathom trying to create a cure – and I do think there should be a cure. Hands down.

I’ve mentioned before about how it gets a bit weird philosophically for an adult to consider a cure – but for a child? Heck yeah I’d rather spare them years of dysphoria and discomfort. Nobody should have to experience what myself and other trans people experience.

0:33
Riley: For a lot of people who hate trans people, finding a biological cause would give them something to point to and say that’s where something went wrong, that’s the neurological disorder in trans people that needs to be fixed.

And it does. Dysphoria sucks. Wanting to fix a disorder isn’t about hating the person with it, or hating that trans people exists – any more than wanting to cure depression is about hating depressed people. There are transphobes out there who will just shout “ugh you’re mentally ill reeee” sure – but most of the people I’ve spoken to online are’t that way. This is kinda like saying people are hating on cancer sufferers because they hate cancer.

Even when they are, so what? Regardless of if they’re transphobic or not, we both agree on the core points. We need to cure this thing. We just disagree on the methodology. I think you’ll find if you talk the problem out with a lot of these people that they’ll realise that you’re just doing the best you can with a bad situation. Though really, their main concern isn’t the fact that transitioned individuals exist, its with the fact that these transitioned individuals often act very authoritarian about the subject.

You are part of that problem, Riley.

1:04
Riley: First of all to prove you have a female brain, you first have to prove there is such thing as a female brain.

There is. Here’s but one example of sexual dimorphism of the brain. Sexual dimorphism is a thing that happens in many species – and in pretty much every single mammal. We respect that there is sexual dimorphism of the body and of it’s organs, yet for some reason you want to draw the line at sexual dimorphism of the brain? Why?

1:16
Riley: You have to prove there is significant sexual dimorphism with out overlap

Sexual dimorphism has never implied no overlap. It’s taken from an average, Theryn Meyer explains this really well in a recent video she made.

2:37
Riley:  The human brain mosaic….

Which if you’d taken the time to research you’d realise has its criticisms too. To the point where you can, in fact, sex a brain with 93% accuracy.

To quote the study “the human brain may be a mosaic, but it is one with predictable patterns.”

3:10
Riley: Human beings simply aren’t that sexually dimorphic.

I know that you know they are because you’ve already covered biological sex and tried to fudge the lines there too. So you already know the massive differences between men and women on average.

Remember that. On average. Its pretty damn important.

3:30
Riley: People often say that men are taller than women, but its really easy to find a woman that’s taller than a man.

Women who are above 6’2″ are fairly rare. Nobody is saying she isn’t a woman, just that she’s atypical compared to the average. The same way someone with dwarfism isn’t typical too.

Nobody is saying that *all men ever* are taller than *all women ever* – that was never implied. This is a terrible criticism to make – because no duh people talk about averages. Even a cursory glance at average heights worldwide confirms this, I didn’t see a single example of females being taller than males on average.

4:11
Riley: [on “A sex difference in the brain and its relation to transsexuality”] all of the trans women in the study had either had an orchiectomy, or had taken anti-androgens as hormone replacement therapy.

Either way their bodies would have stopped being exposed to high levels of testosterone and all 6 of the trans women had taken oestrogen as a part of hormone replacement therapy.

Now you just hold on a cotton picking minute. Lets analyse what the study actually says, vs what you’re saying it said.

The study does state that they had been treated with oestrogen – though some had stopped taking it prior to their deaths for many months yet still retained the feminised BSTc range. What it also states is that:

“a 31-year-old man who suffered from a feminizing adrenal tumour which induced high blood levels of oestrogen, nevertheless had a very large BSTc (Fig. 3: S2).”

As you can see, they attempted ruled out the idea that oestrogen had that big of an effect on BSTC ranges, otherwise why would this man still have retained his large BSTc?

How about orchiectomies? Does that have a big effect? In the study it states:

“Our results might also be explained if the female-sized BSTc in the transsexual group was due to the lack of androgens, because they had all been orchidectomized except for T4”

So clearly they thought about it… lets see what they said?

“We therefore studied two other men who had been orchidectomized because of cancer of the prostate (one and three months before death: S4 and S3, respectively), and found that their BSTc sizes were at the high end of the normal male range. The BSTc size of the single transsexual who had not been orchidectomized (T4) ranged in the middle of the transsexual scores (Fig. 3).”

Oh maybe its because they were taking anti-androgens and that had an affect? I wonder if they covered this point in the study?

“Not only were five of the transsexuals orchidectomized, they all used the antiandrogen cyproterone acetate (CPA). A CPA effect on the BSTc does not seem likely, because T6 had not taken CPA for the past 10 years, and T3 took no CPA during the two years before death and still had a female-sized BSTc”

By no means do I think that the study is totally conclusive, its one of many out there which suggests something and means we should keep digging to find the truth. But what you’re saying it said Riley, is just totally not what it actually says.

And of course, as I showed with the mosaic idea above – its not just one or two parts of the brain. It’s a pattern of sexually dimorphic brain structures across the brain – of which you can use to sex a brain accurately 93% of the time.

6:25
Riley: So based on this study there’s no way to look at the brains of someone who was assigned male at birth and determine they are cis or trans

Again, brain mosaic. You even argue for the brain mosaic earlier in the video, then you go on to look at one tile and be like “look this study doesnt mean thing!” All while forgetting that its just one tile of many, of which we know show patterns and allow us to sex brains with 93% accuracy.

6:45
Riley: Plus as far as tests go, measuring the BSTc isn’t a great one. Because like I said, you can only really test it in dead people, so you can’t really go to your doctor to ask them to test your BSTc region and see if you’re trans or not.

That doesn’t make it not useful. It’s useful because it shows that trans people’s brains are a certain way – and if you actually pay attention to the results of the study, seems to suggest we can’t change that. As the study showed other males who identified as men and had orchiectomies etc and did not reduce their BSTc size.

This is the basis on which we build our claim to medical support and treatment. Also its also used to justify insurance claims in places like America where that stuff actually matters. Without this body of knowledge that suggests, but not proves conclusively, that trans women have feminised brains and can do nothing to change that (and vice versa for trans men) we have no justifiable claim for these things.

Your argument would leave thousands of trans women with severe dysphoria with no real support unless they could pay for it privately as a lifestyle choice or something. Is being trans a lifestyle choice? Because I, as a dysphoric person, hugely disagree.

8:05
Riley: [on this study] This test doesnt give you a good measure for trans women either, but it still shows the range for trans women is closer to the range for cis women than cis men.

Which is the point. Feminised brains and all that. Its evidence of a neurological difference not typically found in males.

8:17
Riley: [on this study] This study shows that the BSTc sizes in cis men and cis women wasn’t prominent until adulthood. In fact,in infants and adolescents cis women had a larger BSTc region than men on average.

That’s a big deal because trans people often experience their feelings of being a different gender long before adulthood. So the BSTc regions couldn’t be the cause of why people are trans because its differentiation doesnt even appear until adulthood.

Its not argued as a cause. It’s argued as evidence that our brains aren’t typical brains. Which if they’re showing a pattern of brain features congruent with the opposite sex then yes, our brains aren’t typical. This is again, just one tile of that much bigger mosaic you talked about earlier.

This absolutely doesn’t discount early onset GD at all. It just means that this specific difference isn’t one of them until adulthood.

9:07
Riley:[on this study] Just like with the BSTc studies found that on average cis males had a larger INAH3 region and its neurons tended to be more dense…

…and yes, once again trans women had a range that was similar to cis women’s. But you still couldn’t test whether a person is a man or a woman by testing the INAH3 region.

BRAIN. MOSAIC. PATTERNS. ADD. UP. TO. MAKE. POSSIBLE. 93%. ACCURACY.

9:35
Riley: In 2006 a study on 6 trans men found that the brains and hypothalamus’ of cis women tended to have less volume than those of cis men. They then found that trans women taking hormone therapy had lower brain volume after 4 months, leaving the researchers to conclude that the hormones feminised the brain to some degree. Likewise for trans men [but vice versa].

Just like with all the other studies all of these things overlap so you can’t measure brain volume and determine whether someone is a man or a woman.

This is kinda like saying “but men and women’s toes can look the same as each other, there’s over lap between toes! So therefore men and women are the same, there’s no sexual dimorphism.”

You’re looking at each part one by one and dismissing the whole. Rather than, like the study I posted way back up at the start – looking at the whole of the knowledge we have and discussing it all in context. Of course you’re going to be able to dismiss it like that. No duh.

10:06
Riley: In 2009 a study of 24 trans women found that they had grey matter about the same size as cis men in most parts of their brain. Except in the Putamen. Where they were even more female than cis women.

Of course all the ranges were still overlapping.

See above.

10:17
Riley: In 2011, a study of 18 trans men found that some parts of the brain had different amounts of white matter for cis women and cis men, on average. They found that trans men tended to have white matter that was in between the average for cis men and cis women. Unfortunately, they didn’t list their ranges, so we can’t know if their ranges were overlapping, but given how common overlapping ranges seem to be in the sexual dimorphism of humans, I think it’s safe to assume that their ranges were overlapping as well.

sighs heavily.

10:40
Riley: In 2014, a study examined the effects of having trans people smell androstadienone — which I am definitely mispronouncing. It’s a steroid that when smelled provokes a pheromone-like response in people’s brains that tends to evoke a different biological response in cis females than it does in cis males. The study had some pre-puberty trans kids and some adolescent trans kids.
The adolescent trans girls reacted liked adolescent cis girls, and the adolescent trans boys reacted like adolescent cis boys. However, the pre-puberty trans boys didn’t react like either the pre-puberty cis boys or the pre-puberty cis girls. And the pre-puberty trans girls reacted like pre-puberty cis boys. I know that’s a lot to take in, but basically they found that trans people only reacted to the pheromone in a way that matched their experienced gender after puberty.
This makes it not useful as a trans test because many trans people report strong feelings of being trans long before puberty.

I don’t really believe much in human pheremone science, I’ve heard a lot of debunking of it. In the words of Sci Show’s Hank Green; “nobody has definitively identified a single human pheremone.” However for the sake of the argument lets assume its a real thing and these results are accurate.

It wouldn’t be useless as a trans test because its not unexpected that children wouldn’t process pheremones – largely linked with sex and mating – pre puberty. Because well… they’re pre puberty, ie, not ready for sex yet. There’s no good reason for them to have developed the “pheremone decyphering” parts of their brains yet. Depending on whether or not the adolescent trans kids were on hormones or not is a big deal here. If they were we can probably safely say these parts of the brain, should they actually exist, develop in response to hormones in puberty.

However if they weren’t on cross sex hormones then it becomes a little more indicative of potential hardwiring of trans in the brain. That’s the significance of this study.  So what does the study actually say?

The adolescent groups consisted of 21 control girls (M = 16.3, SD = 0.9), 20 control boys (M = 15.0, SD = 0.6), 21 girls with GD (M = 16.1, SD = 0.8), and 17 boys with GD (M = 15.3, SD = 1.2). The adolescent participants, diagnosed with GD, had been treated monthly with 3.75 mg of Triptorelin (Decapeptyl-CR®, Ferring, Hoofddorp, the Netherlands) by injection for on average 24 months (range 2-48 months), resulting in complete suppression of gonadal hormone production. Female adolescent controls were tested randomly according to their menstrual cycle and 11 out of 21 control girls reported using hormonal contraception.

So no, they weren’t on hormones but they were on blockers. Blockers pause puberty and you can find out a little more about them here. Short story being that in the Dutch method – the method that clinics in the UK and US now use and the one being used in this study, the idea is to wait for some natural puberty to happen as sometimes GD goes away. This is evidenced in the study as two boys with GD were discounted from the study as their GD went into “remission”. Spack and Carmichael of the US and UK respectively recommend tanner stage 2 is reached before prescribing treatment.

This implies that the adolescents in this study had typically female ranges despite having their own natural puberty to a small degree before blocking. This is the hardwiring and its being very clearly suggested to be true. Obviously not 100% conclusively, this test only included 17 trans girls and 21 trans boys, with 21 control girls and 20 control boys. And deals with human pheremone science which isn’t really a great field filled with conclusive evidence for anything.

11:25
Riley:Also in 2014, a group of researchers found that cis males and cis females have different biological responses to click stimuli. These responses are called “Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions” or CEOAEs for short — because we all know that the one true test for gender is how sounds reverberates off your inner ear.
Anyway, they tested children and adolescents and found that trans girls had CEOAEs that were a little more similar to the CEOAEs of cis girls than cis boys, but trans boys had CEOAEs that were similar to the CEOAEs of cis girls. So basically, they kind of found something when it comes to trans girls, but they didn’t find anything when it comes to trans boys.
So CEOAEs aren’t a great trans test either.
Kinda missing the point of what this study actually showed. Here’s a quote:
This sex difference, however, was not present in the GID groups. Boys with GID showed stronger, more female-typical CEOAEs whereas girls with GID did not differ in emission strength compared to control girls. Based on the assumption that CEOAE amplitude can be seen as an index of relative androgen exposure, our results provide some evidence for the idea that boys with GID may have been exposed to lower amounts of androgen during early development in comparison to control boys.

 

12:00
Riley: A study from 2013 found that if one twin is trans, the other twin is more likely to be trans as well. This means that it’s likely that being trans is genetic to some degree.
In 20% of cases. Which, in the case of identical or monozygotic twins which the study tested, would imply trans is not genetic at all. If it were, they would be both be trans much closer to 100% of the time. However it could be developed in utero all the same. Through one of the twins developing differently to the other due to exposure of hormones in the womb. Like the above test suggests, “lower amounts of androgen during early development” is suggested as part of the cause for why trans women exist.
12:08
Riley: And lastly, in 2016, there was actually a large review done of a lot of different studies that looked at different aspects of transgender people’s brains, from their white matter to their gray matter to their cortical thickness, and basically what it found is that trans women and trans men overall had a mixture of both “male” and “female” features in their brains.
This led the researchers to hypothesize that trans women and trans men who had early-onset gender dysphoria and were attracted to men and women respectively each have a certain “type” of brain that is unique from cis women or cis men.

They didn’t draw any conclusions about trans women or trans men who have late-onset gender dysphoria, or trans women who are attracted to women, or trans men who are attracted to men. And while those are interesting findings, they still don’t give us a test to know if someone is trans or not because there are so many possible variables in the brain with overlapping ranges.

Plus, the authors of this study continually cited Ray Blanchard’s theories, and his
outdated theories have been widely criticized and basically are not relevant anymore, so it was weird seeing researchers in 2016 referencing his ideas.
But the biggest problem with pretty much all of the studies you will find on this subject is the sample size.
And here’s what the study actually said.
Cortical thickness and diffusion tensor imaging studies suggest that the brain of MtFs presents complex mixtures of masculine, feminine, and demasculinized regions, while FtMs show feminine, masculine, and defeminized regions. Consequently, the specific brain phenotypes proposed for MtFs and FtMs differ from those of both heterosexual males and females. These phenotypes have theoretical implications for brain intersexuality, asymmetry, and body perception in transsexuals as well as for Blanchard’s hypothesis on sexual orientation in homosexual MtFs.
Which is great news if you’re trans. I’ve been over the studies before and I’ll probably go over them in detail for a blog post in the future. In short though, they make a decent case for early onset transsexuality being possibly an intersex condition. Which is super in my opinion, I know validation isn’t necessary – but it is helpful in getting medical and legal supports. We’re not just a lifestyle choice, we’re like any other person born with a medical malfunction.
As for the Blanchard stuff – I’m not sure whether the authors of this study actually believe the Blanchard stuff or whether they’re just trying to include all of the theory and science. Of which, the Blanchard stuff would count. It is one theory – though it has no strong evidence for it and heck, whereas I massively disagree with it, and I’ll criticise it, it could still be proven true. That’s the nature of this field in particular. There’s just so much we don’t know yet.

I doubt it will get proven true, but I won’t be calling this study out for including Blanchard’s typology in this. It’s just one of many lenses to look at trans stuff through. Would Riley have the same objections about looking at things through say… an intersectional feminist lens? I doubt it.

click here if you don’t know what the blanchard stuff is.

13:21
Riley: But the reality is that there is no such thing as a male or female brain, and because of that, we have no way of determining if a trans person has a male or a female brain. And really, I don’t think we need to prove that. It’s tempting to want to find a biological answer so that you can prove to people it’s not a choice — but that’s probably never going to happen.

A study you cited literally says otherwise. In fact, all of the studies so far in this thing say otherwise, they presuppose – based on previous neuroscience – that there is a male and female range of brains. Overlap doesn’t discount this.

Transsexual women and drag queens have overlap, in that they’re both biologically male. Does this mean trans women and drag queens are the same thing and there’s no difference? Of course not. That would be stupid. But that’s exactly what you’re doing, you’re taking one part and saying “Oh wow look at this overlap here, it must mean everything else being suggested is false! oh boy!”

Oh and its definitely not going to happen if people like yourself keep misrepresenting scientific studies, not including certain information and campaigning against the very idea of researching this field to find a cause. Please. Stop. This.
13:35
Riley: Humans are extremely complex, and our brains are so complicated that there’s still a lot about them we don’t understand. It’s extremely unlikely that there’s one gene or one section of the brain that controls gender identity. It’s more likely that your internal sense of gender is affected by a variety of factors that we’ll never be able to fully comprehend. And that’s okay.

Maybe there’s like… a mosaic of brain sections or something…?

And no. Understanding what’s causing the symptoms can help us understand how to stop the problem existing for other people. Gender dysphoria, especially the physical aspects of it, are no fun at all. Its part of the reason why the suicide rate is so high, because there’s no way to reverse the changes of puberty and those effects while trying to live as your actual gender are obstacles. They make you visible, they make you a target for all the negative social factors that come along with trans.

I support blockers to avoid this, but I’d much rather not. Blockers and transition aren’t the most ideal way of dealing with the problem. Trouble is we don’t have a better one yet. What I’d really prefer is that no kid ever had to go through transition, no kid ever experienced dysphoria and no kid ever suffered the pain of feeling their body disappear over the horizon of puberty as they spiral out of control mentally.
All of this information is helping to stitch together a giant Puzz3D puzzle of a tranny so that we can learn more about the nature of the condition and help those with it. Whereas you can dismiss each one the way you have done, you shouldn’t, because its dumb as heck. You’re not looking at the much larger picture being painted, just chipping off a few corners cos you don’t like them on their own.
13:52
Riley: 
We can fight for trans rights without having biological proof of a “cause”. We don’t need to know the “cause” of being trans to know that some people are definitely trans. That proof is in people’s lived experiences. And I think it’s harmful to advocate for trans rights by asserting that trans women have female brains. Not only is there no evidence for that claim, but we shouldn’t have to prove our brain biology matches that of cis people to be respected and taken seriously.
We’re worthy of rights regardless of how big the BSTc region of our brains is or how
much white matter we have in our brains. There’s no such thing as a female brain. There’s no such thing as a male brain.
Other people shouldn’t have to pay for your lifestyle choices. If you want to get high I shouldn’t have to pay for your drugs because its your lifestyle choice. If trans is nothing more than just a life style choice that’s shown through “people’s lived experiences” and nothing more. Then it isn’t anything more than being a goth or being a scene kid.
Should we be paying for goth transitions? Start a tax up for black nail polish? Should eyeliner be covered by insurance? Of course not, that’s hilariously absurd and that’s why trans being different to things like this matters. Because for you and people like you who chose not to medically transition and/or appear to be middle-class/wealthy a f – there’s no jeopardy there.However this doesn’t hold true for a lot of other people who are trans and can’t afford medical treatment on their own and without this body of knowledge saying yes, it looks like there’s a possibly biological root for gender dysphoria, its not just a fad. There’s no actual reason why insurance companies, health services et al should treat this condition and the psychopathology that often comes with it at all.

14:34
Riley: 
I really hope that you’re able to cite at least 17 peer-reviewed journal articles to support your claim.Thanks so much for watching this video, I love you all, and I’ll see you next time.
Or I can just show how you misrepresented studies, left out key information and all around came to bad conclusions based on your personal bias rather than through actually listening to what was said. I can use your own 17 peer reviewed studies for that. Kinda poetic no?
I don’t think anyone is arguing that conclusively 100% trans women have female brains. If they are I don’t think they should. Though often this is just a simplification of the actual science behind the idea. I’ve said about as much myself on Twitter and in blog posts.
However I don’t think there’s no use in these studies when looked at as a whole. I think they have some value in that they’re the starting points. They’re little threads that we need to tug on a little harder and look into a little deeper. I get what Riley is saying when she says “we shouldn’t need biological causes to fight for trans rights” and you’re right – we shouldn’t. But it damn well helps don’t you think? Especially in the regards I’ve listed already. Not even to mention that potentially we could cure gender dysphoria altogether which would be amazing. Though yeah, this is kinda a weird grey area ethically and philosophically that I want to dive into more detail in in the future.
Riley does make one really good point about sample sizes. There’s a massive issue here with sample sizes causing problems in the field of neuroscience and in trans related neuroscience studies by extension. The only way to combat this isn’t to naysay the findings though, its to say “wow that’s a neat thread, lets pull on it and see where it goes?” Then you can start gathering funding for new studies, with more people and bigger sample sizes. Dismissing them right off the bat is just as stupid as suggesting they’re 100% conclusive, if not more stupid, because it ends the pursuit of knowledge right there. Rather than seeing how far the tranny rabbit hole goes.
Anyway, thanks for the read. I hope you learned something new today. This took for-heckin-ever. Sorry about that. Take care. ❤
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8 thoughts on “Trans brains RE: Riley Dennis

  1. rika virgo says:

    Liked your article. Didn’t like the use of “Tranny”. Why do you use it? I just can’t ‘own it’. It reminds me of the porn industry and the people who prey on transwomen. It triggers too much trauma.

    Rikateea

    Liked by 1 person

    • cursede says:

      Thanks for the post and well, yeah, thats literally it tbh. I just think it makes more sense to take the power out of the word by normalising and changing its use and meaning.

      Like

  2. ramendik says:

    Question: would you think brain scans should be done as part of the diagnostic workup for GID? I don’t think they currently are, though hormone levels *are* tested (or so my FtM friend told me).

    Liked by 1 person

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