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Thread: Our favorite "Why" questions

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    Transgender Person Pat's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Our favorite "Why" questions

    This is looong. Sorry.

    I recently read an interesting book ("The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism: A New View Based on Scientific Evidence" by Thomas Bevan. Great book if you're comfortable reading scientific summaries. (A bit expensive - you'd be wise to get it from your local library.) The book is a survey of recent (book was published in 2015) research on transgender topics. I had considered writing a "book report" style post but, honestly the book covers too wide a range of information to squeeze into a single post and have it make any sense. So I just want to write about my take on a couple of "why" topics that we see come up on this forum over and over again. (1) Why do transgender people exist? (2) Why do we do what we do?

    tl;dr: The answers to 1 & 2 according to Bevan:
    (1) Gender is biological. Scientific opinion is closing in on a two-factor explanation: genetics and epigenetics
    (2) Biological 'gender preference' drives our choice of culturally-defined gender role.
    Disclaimer: I've galloped through the information and simplified a lot of things based on my (probably iffy) understanding of what I read. I know we have real genetics professionals who come to this site who can feel free to correct me where I went off track. Please do.

    Also note up front - this post is specifically NOT for meta-discussion about the pointlessness of knowledge or labels or kids-these-days or whatever. Do feel free to start your own thread, but please do not attempt to derail this one. (Moderators, please take note.)

    In terms of nomenclature, anywhere you see me use the term "transgenderism" you can be pretty sure he used the term TSTG (transsexual/transgender.) It's apparently the norm in his field. Since people on this site get cranky about new acronyms, I just replaced it with a more common word. He also uses the term HT where we use HRT. He explains that HRT is Replacing hormones that have gone missing, while Hormone Therapy is a treatment used in transgenderism. I agree with his reasoning and may start to use it in my own life, but I'm not going to try to convert the transgender community single-handedly.

    1. Why do we exist?
    We see a lot of origin stories on this forum with ideas from "exposure to environmental agents" to "because my Mom dressed me in my sister's clothes when I was young," to "I think it happened as I got older and my testosterone dropped." All of which get a polite "no" from the research reported in this book.

    The current thinking is that children are aware of "basic gender concepts" at 18 months and understand gender stereotypes by 2 or 3 years. If they are cisgender, they have a grip on their expected gender behavior by 3. Transgender children have the same learning milestones, but if they are not accepted as transgender, they learn to conform to the gender behavior that their parents expect of them to avoid rejection. (They become role-players.) If they understand their gender situation enough to verbalize it, they may voice it between 3 and 8 years (a common narrative of TS folks and the transgender kids we're seeing in the news these days.)

    Because children's awareness of transgenderism seems to occur around 3 or 4, there are a limited number of things that could cause it. DNA, epigenetics and early childhood interaction are the factors that get the most focus.

    Early Childhood Interaction
    Early childhood interaction is basically dismissed as a cause of transgenderism. Scenarios that have specifically been ruled out: Emotional relationships with parents, prenatal sex preference of the mother, parental separation, parents/siblings dressing a child in wrong-gender clothing, parental abuse and violence (though it's noted that TG children do get abused more, it appears the abuse is because they're TG; they don't become TG because of the abuse.) Studies are cited for all of these situations, if your favorite explanation of why you're transgender shows up in this list, please refer to the book for details.

    Genetics
    There is a lengthy section summarizing results from twins studies from around the world and the upshot seems to be that transgenderism is "heritable" (i.e. can be passed along family lines,) and biological in nature with DNA as "a" (but not "the") causal factor. The correlation is considered "strong."

    Finger length ratio between the index and ring finger ("2D:4D ratio,") shows a high correlation to transgenderism in both MtF and FtM individuals. This ratio was already known to have a strong basis in genetics. The ratio is higher in MtF people relative to cis-males and lower in FtM people relative to cis-females. He says this with some confidence, however, the individual studies summarized in the book seemed to have conflicting results.

    Another oddity present for both MtF and FtM is tooth diameter. In a cisgender population, male tooth diameters are larger, female tooth diameters are smaller. Amongst TS people tooth diameters follow the pattern for the person's gender, not their sex. Again, tooth diameter has previously been linked to genetics.

    A favorite meme of MtF transgenderism is that MtF people tend to have more male siblings. It turns out that result didn't hold up to scrutiny. Male siblings hold for sexual orientation, but not for transgenderism. What did hold up was MtF people seem to have more maternal Aunts than Uncles. No theories on why.

    A search for DNA markers is ongoing and some appear to have been found. It's worth noting that most study is on transsexual (TS) individuals since they are considered the "most" transgender of all the people under the umbrella, but some/few also include folks who identify as TG, though what that means is vague (given that we can't come up with a definition among ourselves, it's not surprising.)

    Bevan notes that markers have been found near the androgen receptor gene (AR) in male-to-female transgender folks and "a hormone metabolism gene" for female-to-male transgender folks. He cautions that a full genome scan has not yet been done and there probably are other genes involved. The multiple gene scenario has precedent -- eye color in humans is the result of at least five genes at work, he says (despite what you may have learned in middle-school.)

    There are two very interesting things about MtF transgenderism being associated with the Androgen Receptor gene -- the first is that's where an anomaly that causes Androgen Insesitivity Syndrome is located -- AIS causes an intersex condition where female external genitals develop in people with XY (male) DNA. The author notes that if AIS only effected formation of genitals, then we'd expect the people to have a gender preference of male to match their DNA but in general they don't -- they're very happy living as female. The other interesting thing is that anomalies on that gene also are associated with "non-right-handedness" -- that is, the person is not necessarily left-handed, but tends to do some things with their left hand that a right-hander would normally do with their right. That particular trait has a strong correlation to MtF transgenderism. (There used to be an oft-retold story that there was a corelation between transgenderism and being left-handed. Now it may be that there's a stronger corelation to being non-right-handed.)

    He notes that the politics of research funding skews the research to MtF transgenderism because if the anomaly is related to the anomaly that causes AIS, then researchers can get money to study AIS, classified a disease, more easily than they can find money to study transgenderism (which is no longer considered a disease. It turns out *that* battle was a double-edged sword.)

    It is not known yet if the DNA anomalies are strictly inherited (germ line,) are a mutation that happens spontaneously at conception (de novo mutations,) or occur because people have multiple DNA in a single body (mosaics.) But since a number of traits that are affected cannot be affected by purely psychological issues, there is strong evidence that transgenderism has a biological/genetic component. But it seems like there is another factor in play...

    Epigenetics
    Epigenetics are external factors that can change DNA or may change the way DNA expresses without changing the DNA itself. Different factors have been identified for study, but none have convincing results yet.

    One popular epigenetic theory (which up to now had been my favorite) about MtF transgenderism is that it might be a response to an anomolous amount of estrogen (or failure to get sufficient amount of testosterone) at week 10 of gestation when neural pathways in the brain are being formed. The idea was that if there wasn't sufficient testosterone to enable construction of the male neural pathways, female pathways would be created "by default." However, research doesn't bear this out: not only does neurological formation of sex-specific structures start before gonads are mature enough to produce sufficient testosterone, but a naturally-occurring condition, Kallman's Syndrome, results in low testosterone, which should mean males who have it should largely be transgender, but they're not. And further research on neural development has shown that the mechanism for creating the neural pathways is actually fueled by estrogen which is converted on site to testosterone as needed. So my favorite theory is on the floor.

    The presence of DNA markers for transgenderism makes it less likely that epigenetics is the sole cause. However, there still might be an epigenetic factor...

    Two-factor model
    It could be that you need both an epigenetic event AND the specific DNA that makes you respond to it to create a transgender outcome. This is a "two-factor" model which seems to be leading the pack as an explanation at the moment. It would mean that without the DNA, the epigenetic event would not produce a transgender result. And without the epigenetic effect, DNA alone would not produce a transgender result. You'd expect a trait that requires both things to be true at the same time to be very rare, and it is.

    So, no capital-A answers, but interesting advances in knowledge.

    2. Why do we do what we do?
    So if there's a biological reason for transgenderism, how does that work? Isn't gender a social construct? Here it gets complex. But actually it's another two-factor model: Societies define gender roles, or what Bevan describes as "gender behavior categories." We understand those categories at a very young age and in evaluating those, we are drawn to the one that best fits our biological "gender preference." The idea is, that you are most comfortable/happy when doing the activities identified with the gender behavior category most closely aligned to your gender preference. You are less happy doing the activities of a gender behavior category that is not aligned with your preference (but the activities themsevles are, in fact, genderless. Girls can play with trucks, boys can play with dolls and nothing explodes.) So when the question is "why do I feel so right when I put on women's clothes?" The answer is that doing that has nothing to do with the cloth or how it's sewn together and everything to do with your recognition that this is a thing appropriate to your gender preference.

    Long ago, I asked in a post if people would rather wear jeans bought in the women's section of the store than the same jeans from the men's section. And most of the answers (as I recall) were, yes, they would prefer them from the women's section, though few knew why. Maybe now we do.

    An interesting thing is that gender behavior categories are defined by cultures. In our culture, there are two (male and female.) In other cultures there are three, four or five. Cultures have created these categories throughout history and all over the planet. Asia and Africa have cultures to this day that have more than two roles. Tribes in the Pre-Columbian New World also had them. There is evidence of European cultures that once had such categories but somehow they (the categories) got lost.

    Now, this is me speculating here, this is not in the book -- those cultures that recognize the need for more than two categories certainly wouldn't have developed them if there were no folks who fit into them, which I think could explain why we have the non-binary category of transgenderism in our community today. Our preferred category doesn't exist, and so, like on a standardized exam, some people (TS) see a clearly correct answer. Some (non-binary/stable) pick the one that is most-nearly-correct. And, some (non-binary/fluid) oscillate back-and-forth between answers.

    Anyway -- the point is that science is marching on and we're discovering new information that may or may not be welcome news. I know many people who hope for a day when you can take a "trans test" and settle the issue unambiguously. And I know folks who dread that day. And, of course, if new, verifyable evidence comes along that shows we're just a biologically sound human variation, that has big implications in law, religion and sociology. No matter how you feel about it, it's probably good to know where things stand and where they're trending.

    Again -- keep in mind -- this is my opinion of Bevan's opinion of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. If you're interested look up the book. You might read the book and get an entirely different take-away. In which case, please come tell us about it.
    Last edited by Pat; 11-02-2017 at 02:15 PM. Reason: Can't spell; OR put words in the right order
    I am not a woman; I don't want to be a woman; I don't want to be mistaken for a woman.
    I am not a man; I don't want to be a man; I don't want to be mistaken for a man.
    I am a transgender person. And I'm still figuring out what that means.

  2. #2
    Gold Member Lana Mae's Avatar
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    Pat, thanks for sharing! I found that interesting, especially since I am non-right handed! I am right handed with almost anything but if I have to aim I do it left handed! Like shooting pool or a gun! I do not understand the finger ratio thing but my ring finger is about a quarter inch longer than my index finger! I also had more maternal aunts than uncles! I did not know about the multiple genes thing! I do not remember why but there was a time in my life that I thought I might be Mosaic! This is interesting! Good to hear there is some research going on about us! Hugs Lana Mae
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    Aspiring Member aprilgirl's Avatar
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    Hi Pat,

    Thanks for sharing. Like you favored, the theory of the hormonal wash at week ten of gestation was mine, at least it made the most sense to me. Now what? Pass me the Excedrin. I may have to wait for the Reader's Digest version!

    Seriously, thank you for bringing this research to the forum, and providing your valued takes. I concur that further research dedicated to transgenderism is only a positive.

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    Stop that, it's silly.... DIANEF's Avatar
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    Pat, I read that post right through and a few things did jump out at me. Left hand right hand, I can do anything with both except write neatly with my left. More male siblings, raised by my mother and lots of aunts (real and just family friends). Drawn to more creative pursuits as a child (reading, drawing especially). Looking at my index and ring fingers, they are almost exactly the same length.
    Was I born this way?, maybe, but what I do know is that I didn't choose this thing, it chose me.
    Last edited by DIANEF; 11-05-2017 at 09:43 AM. Reason: Additional info
    Here today, gone tomorrow....

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    Junior Member Samantha uk's Avatar
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    Absolutely fascinating, thank you for taking the time to post. I too fit the 2d 4d finger ratio and I always wondered why I brush my teeth, do the ironing, brush my hair etc with my left hand when I'm right handed! anecdotal evidence is interesting to a point but to hear that it might well be DNA is great for my self acceptance
    Last edited by Samantha uk; 01-06-2018 at 11:43 AM.

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    ttfe
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    Great info, thanks for taking the time to post it.

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    Gold Member Dana44's Avatar
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    Nice research Pat. So I wonder that the DES kids synthetic estrogen was came to us in the womb . I sure wonder what that did to us. It really messed the girls up also. Far more knowledge is known about the girls than the boys. I think that is why both sides of my brain is open. and it switches back and forth on who is boss.
    Part Time Girl

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    Gold Member Rachael Leigh's Avatar
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    Ok I donít normally read these long threads but being that Iím beginning to transistion I wanted to see what was said
    As you said a lot of scientific talk but the thing about left handed ness got my attention. I am for the most part right handed
    however I can do certain things left handed and I was told by my parents that my grandmother said I was going to be left
    handed.
    I suspect I may have been. So this part of the study was most interesting for sure

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    Hellion on Heels Kayliedaskope's Avatar
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    Pat, a number of years ago (like 20), a TS friend of mine participated in a brain scan study. In the test group were ten men, ten women, and ten transsexuals (both FtM and MtF, five each - Kristi is a MtF). When the results came back, the scans were given to a group of neurologists who did not know anything about the test subjects, and were asked to identify the male and female brains. Apparently, the MtF's brains were smaller and more like the actual GG's brains (no jokes about small-minded women, please), while the FtM's of the group compared more to the male brains. In fact, all of the neurologists agreed that Kristi was a genetically-born woman.

    Kristi was able to keep copies of her scans, but was (gently) teased for weeks afterwards about "people reading her mind" or "having her head scanned and finding nothing."
    Last edited by Kayliedaskope; 11-02-2017 at 04:18 PM.

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    Aspiring Member Rayleen's Avatar
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    Thanks Pat, very interesting reading...was born left handed but in school it did not work that way, was slammed by the teachers until I used the right. most of the stuff I also do with the left and in my head a battle between whoever wins.

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    I accept myself as is Gillian Gigs's Avatar
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    Thanks for the post! I'm very ambidextrous with almost everything, but write only with my left hand. It has been obvious through out my life that I thought differently than most people. I get along best with other left handers though. It is only when real research gets done that the truth about this subject will come out.
    I like myself, regardless of the packaging that I may come in! It's what is on the inside of the package that counts!

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    Platinum Blonde member Ressie's Avatar
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    I don't see any mention of crossdressers. Wouldn't this belong in a different forum?
    "You're the only one to see the changes you take yourself through", Stevie Wonder

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    Senior Member NancySue's Avatar
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    Interesting thread...but, Ressie is right. No mention of CDing. From my research, while there are some similarities, cding, transgenderism and transsexualism are three totally different conditions.

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    Possibly correct. But all of the above do spring from the same basic roots.

    Ineke

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    Wow. Interesting. Fingers, ambidextrous, but write and eat left handed. The more I read here the more I was reading about myself. I would like to know WHY Iíve always been this way. Though I donít dwell on it anymore and accepted this a long time ago, I could at least have some reasoning. Thanks!!

  16. #16
    Transgender Person Pat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ressie View Post
    I don't see any mention of crossdressers. Wouldn't this belong in a different forum?
    I don't believe so, but you can use the little, triangular icon in the lower left at the bottom of the OP to raise an objection to the site staff. I really can't rule on it since it's my thread. My thinking is that crossdressing is the intersection of the transgender community. No matter where we may end up, most of us start here. And many CDs view themselves as transgender, though admittedly there are some who say they're not. So I think crossdressers are discussed and I think the section on why we do what we do certainly applies to at least those crossdressers who accept being transgender. But report the post if you're unconvinced.

    Quote Originally Posted by aprilgirl View Post
    Like you favored, the theory of the hormonal wash at week ten of gestation was mine, at least it made the most sense to me. Now what?
    I think the hormonal wash and DES (Dana) are not ruled out completely, they're just not the whole story. If they were, then there wouldn't be DNA markers, as I unnderstand it. But they could be the epigenetic event of the two-factor theory.

    Another interesting thing is that the Androgen Receptor gene is located on the Y chromosome, which is contributed by the father. But there's that correlation to having a large number of Aunts on the mother's side. Correlation isn't causation, but it's weird. There has to be a story there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kayliedaskope View Post
    Pat, a number of years ago (like 20), a TS friend of mine participated in a brain scan study.
    The book covers huge swaths of transgender study. Population frequencies, social costs, history and culture, etc. A part of the book discusses brain scan studies, both MRI and fMRI -- fascinating, but as I said, too much for one post. So I went for the two Big Questions that I see come up on this forum (another reason I chose this one) over and over.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lana Mae View Post
    I am right handed with almost anything but if I have to aim I do it left handed!
    Oddly, I am the exact opposite. Anything I have to aim goes to my right hand, everything else (including throwing a ball, signing my name, etc.) goes to my left. I was really surprised (and happy) to see this concept of "Non-right-handedness" because I had always known about the correlation to full on left-handedness but it always seemed weak. There is a diagnostic tool called "Edinburgh handedness inventory" which uses 20 tasks that a user performs under supervision to determine how right-handed they are. The correlation of non-right-handedness seems much stronger than the previous measure.
    Last edited by Pat; 11-02-2017 at 09:15 PM.
    I am not a woman; I don't want to be a woman; I don't want to be mistaken for a woman.
    I am not a man; I don't want to be a man; I don't want to be mistaken for a man.
    I am a transgender person. And I'm still figuring out what that means.

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    Silver Member Meghan4now's Avatar
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    Great post Pat. I always enjoy a good bit if research and analysis. Of course nothing you mentioned really indicates that I would be trans, or whatever. But I think there are so many variables, causes and influences, it's hard saying.

    And as far as crossdressing being part of transgender, at least for me, I believe it to be on the spectrum. Even if one is doing it for kicks, it is clearly not "normal" and had gender nonconforming aspects, so.....
    Last edited by Meghan4now; 11-02-2017 at 10:02 PM.
    Put on a Happy Face.

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    Member GracieRose's Avatar
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    Sounds like an interesting book, but heavy reading. Thanks for the summary.

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    I accept myself as is Gillian Gigs's Avatar
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    This is off topic, but shooting has more to do with the dominant eye, than anything else. I don't know what causes one eye to be more dominant than the other.
    I just did some checking and found that there is no correlation between your eyes and brain sphere dominance. Apparently the eyes are controlled by both spheres of the brain.
    Last edited by Gillian Gigs; 11-02-2017 at 11:52 PM. Reason: added information
    I like myself, regardless of the packaging that I may come in! It's what is on the inside of the package that counts!

  20. #20
    Junior Member Samantha uk's Avatar
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    I think this is the most interesting thread on this site and I think it should be made a sticky. What also seems to be coming out is that some people are seeing crossdressing as something separate to transgender. I am of the opinion that transgender is an umbrella term and that we all fit under it somewhere, I think crossdressing feels a bit different to to other peoples experience of transgenderism because there is a fetish element attached to it.

    I believe that the fetish element comes from our culture and the power that clothes have in expressing ones self as female. Let me explain.

    I'm a heterosexual male and I find feminine women very attractive. Our culture as developed so that femininity is powerfully expressed through clothing and makeup, however at the same time I also happen to be transgendered, which as we all know is nothing to do with sexuality. The most powerful way I can express my feminine side is through wearing the things associated with that gender, which is the very thing I'm attracted to. Pretty confusing eh!

    So theres no wonder CD'ing feels different, confusing and a difficult thing to come to terms with and put a label on, but I still believe it should be under the term of transgender. A good thought experiment is to try and imagine what a world would be like if we all wore the same clothes, would we feel any different about the term transgender if we couldn't get the enjoyment of wearing womens clothes and makeup and we only expressed our feminine feelings in our behaviour and body language.

    Its not our fault that CD'ing doesn't fit in our culture very well, its our cultures fault and just goes to show the power that clothes have in feminine expression
    Last edited by Samantha uk; 11-03-2017 at 02:47 AM.

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    Thanks Pat, a very good post and an interesting read. Let me start by saying that I am a cross dresser and I am quite happy to accept that this fits into the transgender spectrum. Actually, it's important to me that it does. When I dress I am expressing the girl within me. I don't want to be a girl, but it's essential that part of me is allowed out. For whatever reason, what I seek to do is specifically girly, and for me, that certainly falls under the transgender side of things. Some of the points raised I find particularly interesting. I have the finger ratio thing and only aunts on my mother's side. I have, also always been a CD as soon as I was aware that there were differences between boys and girls. I did suppress this though to conform to my expected gender. Interestingly I don't have a left hand bias, and those few things I do left handedly (batting in sports for example) are sufficiently explained by the stronger eye scenario. All in all a good read and an entertaining start to a Friday morning. I'm now off to a well know website to see if I can get a copy. Once again, thanks.

    Edit: Just back from the well known website. It looks like I've got to save for a bit before I can get a copy, but these academic books are never cheap.
    Last edited by Charlotte7; 11-03-2017 at 04:47 AM. Reason: addition to end

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    Aspiring Member Fiona123's Avatar
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    Interesting. Great summary. I contracted polio as an infant. My right arm from the shoulder to the fingertips was affected. I use my left hand for everything. Am I naturally non right handed? Who knows. Am I transgender? Yes.

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    Oh, my goodness, Pat. You are such a dear. Thank you so much for your post. Gotta get the book. I spent nearly all of 2013 trying to find as much information from peer reviewed papers as I could and I did pretty well. But two years later someone else really pulled it together.

    I like the two factor or maybe even multi-factor (?) cause idea. Somehow one must account for the wide array of expression of the personal gender sense we have and the fact that this behavior is not exactly common. In ecology, my specialty which can be defined as the sociology of Nature, whenever we come across patterns that are uncommon in a population and have no readily apparent single cause we jump into the deeper water and look for interactions between factors that cause the pattern. Almost always we find that factor interaction is the explanation. I have sensed that in myself with regard to my transgenderism and now this book has apparently implicated that as a possible cause in much the same way I do in my ecological studies. Wow! Amazing. Thank you so much.

    As a side note, I have one blood line uncle and three aunts. The three aunts played a huge roll in raising me and my uncle. Neither of us had a strong father figure, but my uncle fared better in that department than I did. My uncle (5 years younger than me) and I are fairly androgynous but I am the one who exhibits a lot more transgender behaviors and thinking. A really good match to what you pointed out in your post of a correlation in that way. It is exactly what I have been focusing on in my thinking lately. Thanks again. Gotta get the book.

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    I was intrigued by the non righthandedness thing. I am right handed but from childhood have wanted to do certain things as though I was left-handed, specifically sport requiring a bat or club to be grasped with both hands. I never heard of anyone else doing this and had not realised it was a 'thing'. In the end I did not persevere with tennis and when playing golf just adapted to standard right hand clubs and am now more comfortable with this. Thanks for the info.
    Last edited by Rianna Humble; 11-05-2017 at 01:43 AM. Reason: Attempt to derail thread deleted

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    Fascinating! Thanks for posting that, Pat. Iím a DES son, and I quickly embraced the epigenetic factor as the obvious answer when I first heard of it years ago. But I was unaware of the Androgen receptor and its impact on DNA; nor had I heard about this two-factor suggestion. I will see if I can find a copy of the book! It sounds like itís one I will have to read!

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