What's the underlying cause?

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The other day I read an article on the American Psychology Association's website that outlined the new rules that feds have put in place for trans inmates. To my understanding, the revision is designed to get all trans inmates the appropriate care they need. Previously, only federal inmates with a preexisting diagnosis were eligible for transgender-related care. However, this amendment expands the system so that all inmates suffering from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) are now applicable for this care.
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This novelty got me to thinking about what causes GID through a nature vs. nurture lens. Is the disorder more likely to be caused by genetic abnormalities or life experiences such as defects in normal human bonding? The anecdotal evidence presented in the APA's article may suggest that nurture is a more important contributor to this disorder than nature because it implies that a significant part of the trans prison population develops GID while incarcerated: many prisoners weren't covered by the old feds rules. Do you think that the stressful, and many times unhealthy, prison environment is responsible for this disorder or that some other factor is to blame?

Link to original article:
http://www.apa.org/news/psycport/PsycPORTArticle.aspx?id=ap_2011_10_03_ap.online.all_D9Q52F401_news_ap_org.anpa.xml

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In light of both empirical studies on differences in brain physiology and personal accounts from trans individuals (identifying as the opposite gender from the youngest conscious memories), I am inclined to hypothesize that it is not exactly the nurture you seem to be describing that influences gender identity.

It's a very complicated subject, and unsurprisingly very difficult to articulate theories. So much depends on how one defines gender, so let's start with a crucial distinction: sex is not gender.
Sex is biological: “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male." Male/Female.
Gender is subjective: “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex” Masculine/Feminine. Gender expresses itself uniquely depending on the culture. Sex is sex, and expresses itself pretty much invariably.

A transgender individual is not necessarily transsexual (unless a reconstructive surgery has taken place).

Obviously, biology is one level of analysis for psychological realities. This can't be denied. But biology is more than genitalia; it's brain structure, neurons, hormones. Genitalia most often correlate with a respective gender, as do other areas of biology. It's my understanding that when a person's brain structure and chemistry manifest themselves as a gender that is not typically associated with their sex that dysphoria occurs. Sexual reassignment would align a person's experience with typical expectations.

If dysphoria arises when a person's reality is being compromised, it is reasonable to assume that dysphoria would increase when an individual is subjected to an environment bent on subjugating erasing anomalous experience.

Maybe gender identity disorder is only considered a disorder at all when in context of a culture whose gender roles are largely and unforgivingly incongruous to trans experience. Such context is enormously powerful; we are social creatures.

One would have to really study prison environments to make a very educated guess, but I hypothesize that if there is a heightened experience of gender dysphoria among trans individuals in prison as opposed to outside of prison, it is because gender roles are magnified in the prison environment. Males are kept with males, females with females. Hierarchies of gender-related power might form. Who knows how hostile the environment can become when one is perceived as a gender-anomaly. This social context would create or underscore dysphoria, and maybe those who could not admit a difference in gender identity before are forced to face it when in prison.

This hypothesis, of course, leaves much to be investigated as to why "tomboys" and "tomgirls" do not necessarily identify with an atypical gender. Some operational definitions still need to be developed.

Very interesting and well put. It's a question that could raise much debate

It would be interesting research. It would take many years to try and figure out the root cause. I mean prison life has over 100's if not 100's variables alone, without even touching on the GID issue. But it could be done. It would be interesting to see the data on this.

Very tough question Pete. Eva provides much insight in her comments above and I thik she is right on. To really test this you would need a rather larger population of trans gender folks in and out of a prison situation.. This could be tough to assemble and there likely isn't enough interest, at least politically to get the necessary funding.

I think positive insights about the subjective nature of gender identity can move us forward in this area and help us have more compassion for those whose sexuality and gender identity do not fall into traditional categories.

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This page contains a single entry by PETE! published on October 8, 2011 12:13 PM.

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