Tag Archives: lesbian

Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders – a Review

Three more case reports, three different stories. In each case gender dysphoria is related to the eating disorder, but in each case the relationship is different.

In the first case a trans woman (born male) had an eating disorder in adolescence. After sex reassignment surgery, her eating disorder returned.

In the second case, a trans woman developed an eating disorder when she decided to come out and live as a woman. At the time of the case report, she was on hormones and awaiting surgery.

In the third case, a trans man (born female) who had been living as a man had had long periods of being underweight and not menstruating. He denied dieting or caring about his weight, but he was very dissatisfied with his body. He was purging. Unfortunately, he also had alcoholism and had developed liver disease; he was therefore unable to take hormones.

There is no clear relationship here between transition and eating disorders. In one case, transition made the eating disorder worse. In another deciding to transition was linked to the eating disorder, but taking hormones did not cure the eating disorder.

These are, of course, case studies of only three individuals, so we can not draw any conclusions from them. As with other case studies, it seems that each individual is different.

However, for one of the patients, her eating disorder seems to have started when she decided to live as a woman, like the patients in this studythis study and this one. For some trans women, at least eating disorders are linked to gender dysphoria.

In the case of the trans man, his eating disorder went untreated for many years, like the trans man in this case study.

These cases are from a Swiss hospital program for gender identity disorder.

Case 1 – Trans Woman’s Eating Disorder Returns After Surgery

In early childhood, the patient was gender non-conforming and felt that she was a girl. As a teenager, she felt a deep aversion to her genitals and the development of secondary sex characteristics. She avoided swimming because she was ashamed of her body.

In adolescence, the patient was dissatisfied with her body and dieted until she was underweight (BMI=16.9 kg/m²). She held the weight for several months.

She cross-dressed “moderately” starting at age 20. She was distressed during her compulsory military service. She lived with a woman and later married, but was not very interested in sex. Her marriage only lasted 1½ years and after the divorce she decided to transition.

At age 36 she began taking hormones. Sixteen months later she had sex reassignment surgery and her eating disorder returned:

After the operation she again showed an increasing preoccupation with her body weight and shape. Her eating behavior was again restrictive. She still avoids highly caloric food and warm meals. Although her actual BMI is 20.0 kg/m²she feels too fat and seeks an ‘ideal’ body shape. After the first operation there were some complications and she had to undergo several re-operations. She herself wanted an augmentation of her breasts and is considering further cosmetic operations, which can be interpreted as persistent body dissatisfaction. She engages in excessive sporting activity and has repeatedly had minor injuries partly provoked by taking higher risks.

It is not clear why the eating disorder would return after she had surgery. By the time she had surgery, she had been living as a woman for a few years and taking hormones for over a year.*

Did the change in hormones after surgery affect her eating disorder? After surgery, her testosterone levels would have been lower than most cis women’s and low testosterone is linked to eating disorders in both men and women. In addition, for some women, higher levels of estrogen are linked to eating disorders.

Alternatively, did the complications of her surgery trigger a desire to control her body? Or had she been focused on changing her body with hormones and surgery and then when she was done, she focused on her weight? Or was her eating disorder a sign of persistent body dissatisfaction no matter what she did?

Case 2 – Trans Woman Develops Eating Disorder When She Transitions

The second patient had identified as a girl and felt like an outcast since early childhood. Her teachers did not allow her to play with girls’ toys. She started secretly cross-dressing in elementary school. She was suicidal at age 10 and said she wanted to live as a girl.

The physical changes of puberty were very distressing to the patient. She was attracted to men, but did not have any sexual relationships because she was afraid and because she did not want people to think that she was gay.

The patient attempted suicide at age 20 because of her gender dysphoria. After the suicide attempt, she got psychiatric therapy and decided to come out as a woman. She started to dress as a woman in public.

This is when the eating disorder began:

“Before his** coming-out, his body weight was 120 kg and his height was 1.97 m (BMI30.9 kg/m²). After the suicide attempt he started dieting and lost 40 kg of weight within 2 years. The minimal weight was 80 kg (BMI: 20.6 kg/m²). The eating behavior at the beginning was dietary restriction, followed by purging, binge-eating, and self-inducevomiting. He consumed anorectic medication and engaged in excessive sporting activities. The decision to come-out went hand-in-hand with the ambition to attain a more feminine shape by losing weight. He is convinced that his acceptance as a female would depend greatly on an ideal body shape. The patient is currently under hormonal treatment and the surgical reassignment will soon take place.”

Deciding to transition caused this patient to develop an eating disorder as she tried to change her shape. Socially transitioning and taking hormones did not cure her eating disorder.

Case 3 – Trans Man with a Long-standing Eating Disorder

This is a very depressing case.

The patient preferred boys’ games growing up and felt he belonged with the boys. At age 6 he was sent to the school counselor because he refused to play with girls. His breasts caused him distress, but he did not bind them or self-mutilate. He got his period at age 14, but had secondary amenorrhea (no period for six months or more) for many years.

He was attracted to females and had had only female partners. His partners accepted him as male.

He had been living “in the male role” for over 20 years, but had never had any medical treatments for his gender dysphoria. He had refused to take estrogen for his amenorrhea, however.

The patient was underweight when he came to the gender identity clinic and he had been very underweight in the past.

Her** minimal weight at the age of 40 was 33 kg (BMI: 13.5 kg/m²).*** She reported longlasting periods of underweight accompanied by amenorrhea. She denied ever having intended to diet deliberately. She reported no binge-eating or self-induced vomiting, but she was purging. She denied preoccupation with her weight but reported a strong body dissatisfaction.

The authors could not treat her with hormones, however, because of “severe liver disease and the psychic instability and alcohol dependence.”

Although the patient denied it, it might be that he was keeping his weight down in order to avoid having periods.

Social transition did not help this patient with his eating disorder. We can’t know whether or not hormones would have helped him since he was medically unable to take them.

Gender dysphoria is clearly linked to the eating disorders of the two trans women and possibly linked to the trans man’s eating disorder. Transitioning did not cure the trans women’s eating disorders, however. In one case surgery led to the symptoms returning after many years.

Original Source (full text):

Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders by U. Hepp, G. Milos in International Journal of Eating Disorders,12/2002; 32(4):473-8.

 

*In Switzerland at the time of these case studies, trans people had to live as their preferred gender for at least a year before they could get hormones. After at least 6 to 12 months on hormones, they were eligible for surgery.

** The authors of this study refer to the patients by their birth sex unless they have fully and legally transitioned.

*** A BMI under 16 is dangerous, a BMI of 13 is a serious problem.

Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria – Review

This is a highly significant study showing that the population of teenagers referred for gender dysphoria is changing. It is noteworthy that this is happening in two different countries.

The sex ratio is changing:

The sex ratio of teenagers seeking help for gender dysphoria has changed at two clinics, one in Canada and one in the Netherlands.

Before 2006, more male than female teenagers sought transition at these clinics. Since 2006, they have seen more female teenagers than male teenagers.

Sex ratio for teenage patients at the Canadian Gender Identity Service:

  • 1999-2005 – 68% male, 32% female
  • 2006-2013 – 36% male, 64% female

Sex ratio for teenage patients at the Dutch Center for Expertise on Gender Dysphoria:

  • 1989-2005 – 59% male, 41% female
  • 2006-2013 – 37% male, 63% female

At the Canadian clinic, there was no change in the sex ratio of teenagers referred for psychiatric issues.* In both time periods, roughly two-thirds of their other patients were male.

According to the authors, “In adult samples [of transitioners], in almost all cases, the number of natal males either exceeds the number of natal females or the sex ratio is near parity.” Poland and Japan are exceptions; in those countries more females transition than males.

In addition, clinics for children with gender dysphoria have found that the number of males exceeds the number of females.

More teenagers are transitioning:

The number of teens of both sexes has increased over time, although the increase is larger for the female teenagers.

Increases at the Canadian clinic:

Female teenagers

  • 46 in 30 years (1976-2005)
  • 129 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Male teenagers

  • 80 in 30 years (1976-2005)
  • 73 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Increases at the Dutch clinic:

Female teenagers

  • 77 in 17 years (1989-2005)
  • 148 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Male teenagers

  • 109 in 17 years (1989-2005)
  • 86 in 8 years (2006-2013)

In other words, the Canadian clinic saw nearly nearly three times as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous thirty. The Dutch clinic saw nearly twice as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous seventeen.

Furthermore, “For many years in the Toronto clinic, the number of adolescent referrals was quite low. Between 1976 and 2003, for example, no more than five adolescents of one biological sex were assessed in a calendar year and, during this period, the number of males exceeded the number of females. Beginning in 2004, however, the number of adolescent referrals began to rise quite dramatically, which appears to be consistent with the observations of clinicians and researchers from other gender identity clinics.”

For earlier data on the increase in Canada, see this article.

Sexual orientation percentages have changed:

The Canadian clinic also looked at sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation of females:

  • 1976-2005 – 89% primarily attracted to females; 11% other
  • 2006-2013 – 64% primarily attracted to females; 36% other

Other could mean primarily attracted to males, bisexual, or asexual.

Sexual orientation of males:

  • 1976-2005 – 67% primarily attracted to males, 33% other
  • 2006-2013 – 44% primarily attracted to males, 56% other

Other could mean primarily attracted to females, bisexual, or asexual.

To put it another way, in the past most of the teenagers would have been gay if they weren’t transgender. If they transitioned, they would live their lives as straight people.

In 2006-2013 most of the male teenagers would have been straight, bisexual, or asexual if they weren’t transgender. If they transition, some of them will live their lives as lesbians.

One-third of the female teenagers in 2006-2013 would have been straight, bisexual, or asexual if they weren’t transgender. If they transition, some of them will live their lives as gay men.

What’s going on?

Why are we seeing more teenagers seeking help for gender dysphoria?

Why is the increase greater among female teens than males?

And why are we seeing a shift in the sexual orientation of these teens? Was it harder in the past to come out as transgender if you were seen as straight? Or is this a group of people who were less likely to have gender dysphoria in the past?

Has something changed in our environment that increases the number of people with gender dysphoria? What would affect more females than males? Why would it affect teenagers more than children (see this earlier article)? How would it fit with the changing percentages related to sexual orientation?

Is it just that there were always this many teenagers with gender dysphoria and now they are able to get care at an earlier age? How does that theory fit with the change in the sex ratio of teens applying to the clinic? with changes in their sexual orientation?

Clearly, we need more research to sort out these questions.

The authors speculate about possible explanations for the change in the sex ratio at their clinics.

They suggest that the general increase in patients might be due to a combination of destigmatization and more awareness of the biomedical treatments available to teens. However, they point out that this does not explain why more females would apply for treatment.

I don’t think we can know why the number of patients has increased without further research – research which is desperately needed.

The increase in the number of female patients at the Toronto clinic was not caused by a change in the severity of cases; they found that there was no significant relationship between severity of dysphoria and year assessed.

However, for male teens in Toronto, there was a weak correlation between severity of dysphoria and year assessed. “More recently assessed cases had moderately higher GD severity.” This only explained 6.7% of the variance. Therefore “it is unlikely that the recent inversion in the sex ratio can be accounted for by a substantive change in severity variation.”

On the other hand, they only have data on the severity of dysphoria starting in 2001 and the number of cases began increasing in 2004.

The change in the sex ratio was not due to females entering puberty at an earlier age; both clinics found no significant difference for the mean ages when females and males came to the clinic.

The sex ratio did not change due to the shift in sexual orientation. A logistical regression analysis did not find evidence for a sex x sexual orientation interaction.**

The authors suggest that perhaps the explanation for the change in the sex ratio is that it is harder for males to transition to a female role than for females to transition to a male one.

I find this unconvincing as this would have been true in the past when more male teenagers than females applied to their clinic. Nor would this hypothesis explain the shift in sexual orientation.

Here is their full explanation:

“Given that there is at least some overlap in the gender-variant developmental histories of early-onset individuals with GD and some gay men and lesbians, it might, therefore, be asked whether or not degree of stigmatization for gender-variant behavior might account for the recent inversion in the sex ratio of GD adolescents. It is well-known that cross-gender behavior in children is subject to more social stigma (e.g., peer rejection and peer teasing) in males than in females, in both clinic-referred adolescents with GD and in the general population[26–30]. Thus, it could be argued that it is easier for adolescent females to “come out” as transgendered than it is for adolescent males to come out as transgendered because masculine behavior is subject to less social sanction than feminine behavior. Some support for this was found in Shiffman’s [31] study of peer relations in adolescents with GD, in which adolescent males with GD reported more “social bullying” than adolescent females with GD. Given that a transgendered identity as an “identity option” has become much more visible over the past decade, it is conceivable, therefore, that such an identity option is easier for females to declare than it is for males because it does not elicit as much of a negative response. Thus, it could be argued that it is this sex difference in degree of stigmatization that accounts for the inversion in the sex ratio that we have identified in the two studies reported here. In other words, there are greater costs for a male to adopt a female gender identity in adolescence than it is for a female to adopt a male gender identity.”

A few more details about this study:

The first study looked at 328 teens (13-19) who were referred to the Toronto clinic between 1976 and 2013. The mean age at the time of referral was 16.66 years with no difference between the ages of males and females.

All of the teens met criteria for Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. They were diagnosed using criteria in the relevant version of the DSM – this changed over time. The assessment of severity of dysphoria began in 2001.

The control group was 6,592 teens referred to their general clinic for psychiatric issues between 1999-2013. Eleven teens originally referred for psychiatric issues who were later referred to the Gender Identity Service were not included in this group.

The teens’ sexual orientation was determined by either clinical chart data or measurements on the Erotic Response and Orientation Scale and the Sexual History Questionnaire. This data was not available for five probands (aka people in this study).

The numbers for the sexual orientation of the teens at the Canadian clinic were:

1976-2005 (30 years)

  • 52 males primarily attracted to males
  • 26 males in the “other” category
  • 39 females primarily attracted to females
  • 5 in the “other” category

2006-2013 (8 years)

  • 32 males primarily attracted to males
  • 41 males in the “other” category
  • 82 females primarily attracted to females
  • 46 females in the “other” category

The clinic did not have data on the sexual orientation of five of the teenagers.

The second study looked at data on 420 teenagers (13 and up) referred to the Dutch clinic between 1989-2013.  Their mean age at the time of assessment was 16.14 and there was no significant age difference between males and females.

The second study did not include data on sexual orientation or a control group for comparison.

“The percentage of female adolescents from Amsterdam in the first time period did not differ significantly from the percentage of female adolescents from the Toronto clinic, and the percentage of female adolescents from Amsterdam in the second time period also did not differ from the percentage of female adolescents from the Toronto clinic, both χ2(1) < 1.”

This study is a follow-up to two earlier letters to the editor about changes in the teenage population at the clinic in Toronto: Is Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents Coming out of the Closet? and Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation.

The first letter discussed a rise in teenagers referred to the Canadian clinic between 2004-2007. The second letter discussed the continued increase in referrals from 2008-2011 and raises the question of a possible change in the sex ratio in 2008-2011.

Original Article:

Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria by Aitken M1, Steensma TD, Blanchard R, VanderLaan DP, Wood H, Fuentes A, Spegg C, Wasserman L, Ames M, Fitzsimmons CL, Leef JH, Lishak V, Reim E, Takagi A, Vinik J, Wreford J, Cohen-Kettenis PT, de Vries AL, Kreukels BP, Zucker KJ in J Sex Med. 2015 Mar;12(3):756-63. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12817. Epub 2015 Jan 22.

* The Canadian clinic is the Gender Identity Service, within the Child, Youth, and Family Services (CYFS) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The clinic in the Netherlands is the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. This may explain why we have a comparison group for the Canadian patients with gender dysphoria, but not the Dutch ones.

**  “In the cohort examined in Study 1, perhaps it could be argued that, in the first time period, the greater number of biological males than biological females was an artifact of there being two prominent subtypes of GD (androphilic and nonandrophilic) in the former, whereas the latter were predominantly of only one subtype (gynephilic), but that this shifted in the second time period, with a greater number of females with a nongynephilic sexual orientation. However, the logistic regression analysis shown in Table 4 did not provide evidence for a sex × sexual orientation interaction. It only showed that a nonandrophilic or nongynephilic sexual orientation increased the odds that a proband presented in the second time period, but sexual orientation did not interact with probands’ biological sex.”

Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation – Review

This is a follow-up to an earlier letter to the editor calling for research and discussion on the subject of teenagers with gender dysphoria. The authors had seen a sharp increase in the number of teenagers referred to their Toronto clinic between 2004 and 2007.

You can read about some new, related data here.

In this letter, the authors report that:

Cases of teens with gender dysphoria are still increasing.

Between 2008-2011 the number of teenagers referred to their clinic increased even further.

Based on their graph, before 2000, they saw fewer than 20 teenagers in a four year period. From 2004-2007 they saw about 55 teens and from 2008-2011, they saw about 95. In other words, the number of teen patients they saw more than quadrupled.

usmt_a_675022_o_f0001g (1)

By my calculations, about two-thirds of their teenage patients in the last 36 years came to the clinic between 2000 and 2011; over half came to the clinic in the last 8 years between 2004 and 2011.

In contrast, the number of cases of children with gender dysphoria increased sharply in 1988-1991, but has been reasonably stable since then.

Looking at their graph again, between 1988 and 2011 they saw 75 to 90 children in a four year period. The children who came to the clinic between 2004 and 2011 only make up 29% of the child patients they’ve seen in the past 36 years.

In 2008-2011, the number of teenagers at their clinic was larger than the number of children for the first time ever.

From 1976-2004, the number of children at their clinic was much higher than the number of teens. The number of teens increased greatly after 2004, but was still lower than the number of children at their clinic.

The sex ratio of their teenage patients may be changing.

For teenage patients, the sex ratio was close to even, ranging from 1.03:1 boys to girls in 2004-2007 to 3:1 in 1976-1979. There were two time periods when they saw more female teenagers than males: 1988-1991 and the most recent group in 2008-2011.

***Spoiler alert – a 2015 study found that the sex ratio has indeed changed from more boys to more girls. This was true for both this clinic and a Dutch one. More later.***

It is important to remember that the numbers of both male and female teenage patients increased starting in 2004.

The increase in female teenagers is much more striking. Based on the graph below they went from fewer than 10 patients every four years prior to 2000 to nearly 60 patients from 2008-2011.

However, male teenage patients also increased. They went from about 5-15 patients every four years prior to 2000 to about 35 patients from 2008-2011. In 2004-2007 the number of male and female teenage patients was nearly equal.

usmt_a_675022_o_f0002g

The authors also discuss the pattern of sex ratio by age. Putting the data from different time periods together, from ages 12-16, there were slightly more boys than girls. However, at age 17-18, there were more females than males, and at age 19-20, the sex ratio shifted again to 2.4 boys to 1 girl.

Sexual orientation

The authors had data on sexual orientation for 98% of the teenagers they saw.* Of these 76% of their female teenage patients were sexually attracted to females while 56.7% of their male teenage patients were sexually attracted to males.**

The sex ratio for child patients is different than for teenage patients.

The overall sex ratio for children was 4.49 boys to 1 girl. For 3 year olds, the sex ratio was 33 boys for every girl.***

From 1976-1996, over 75% of their child patients were boys, from 2001-2011 the percentage hovered around 75%.

What does this mean?

We don’t know why more teenagers are seeking help at this clinic. Are there more teenagers with gender dysphoria than in the past? If so, why? What would make gender dysphoria increase among teenagers and not among children? Are people with gender dysphoria simply able to get help at an earlier age?

As always, we need more research!

The authors provide some interesting insights:

“Regarding the increase in adolescent referrals, it is, of course, not clear if it reflects a true increase in prevalence (which can only be established via epidemiological studies) or if it simply reflects a greater willingness on the part of youth to come out as transgendered, perhaps because of the influence of social media in which there are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites and blogs that assist youth in understanding their own identity and its concomitant struggles. We have been impressed, for example, in recent years with youth describing to us that they never realized that their feelings could be named in a formal way (gender identity disorder, transgender, trans). One might infer that the Internet has made much more visible terminology used in technical journals. 

Another parameter that has struck us as clinically important is that a number of youth comment that, in some ways, it is easier to be trans than to be gay or lesbian. One adolescent girl, for example, remarked, “If I walk down the street with my girlfriend and I am perceived to be a girl, then people call us all kinds of names, like lezzies or faggots, but if I am perceived to be a guy, then they leave us alone.” To what extent societal and internalized homonegativity pushes such youth to adopt a transgendered identity remains unclear and requires further empirical study. Along similar lines, we have also wondered whether, in some ways, identifying as trans has come to occupy a more valued social status than identifying as gay or lesbian in some youth subcultures. Perhaps, for example, this social force explains the particularly dramatic increase in female adolescent cases in the 2008–2011 cohort.

Another factor that has impressed us in accounting for the increase in adolescent referrals pertains to youth with gender identity disorder who also have an autism spectrum disorder. As noted by others (de Vries, Noens, Cohen-Kettenis, van Berckelaer-Onnes, & Doreleijers, 2010), many clinicians are now reporting a co-occurrence of these two conditions.

More than 10 years or so ago, it was rare in our clinic to see an adolescent with gender identity disorder who also appeared to have an autism spectrum disorder. It is possible, therefore, that the apparent increase in the number of adolescents who present with a co-occurring autism spectrum disorder is contributing to the increase in the number of referrals. Over the past decade, a great deal of media attention has been given to the use of hormonal therapy to treat gender dysphoria in adolescents, including the use of “blockers” to either delay or suppress somatic puberty (Cohen-Kettenis, Steensma, & de Vries, 2011; Zucker et al., 2011). In the province of Ontario, its health care system relisted sex reassignment surgery as an insured medical treatment in 2008 after having been delisted in 1998 (Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Processing Sites, 2008; Radio Canada, 2008). Perhaps the availability again of insurance coverage has led to more adolescents seeking treatment. Whatever the explanation for the increase in adolescent referrals, it appears that gender identity disorder in adolescents has come out of the closet, although there may be different closets from which to come out.”

A few more details about the data:

The children were significantly more likely to be living in two-parent homes than the teens (66% versus 46%).

Most of the patients were white; 80% of the children and 76% of the teens.****

The study included 577 children (3-12 years old) and 253 teens (13-20 years old).

The study excluded “26 boys referred for fetishistic cross-dressing and referred adolescents who were diagnosed with transvestic fetishism (without co-occurring gender dysphoria), gay youth, and youth who were ‘undifferentiated'”.

Original Source:

Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation by Wood H, Sasaki S, Bradley SJ, Singh D, Fantus S, Owen-Anderson A, Di Giacomo A, Bain J, Zucker KJ. in J Sex Marital Ther. 2013;39(1):1-6.

* 248 teenagers out of 253 total.

** The authors classified the teenagers as homosexual or nonhomosexual in relation to birth sex.

***It may be that parents are more worried about boys who are gender non-conforming than girls so more boys are referred to the clinic. By adolescence the teenagers might play more of a role in coming to the clinic.

**** Yup, we need more research on people with gender dysphoria who aren’t white.

You can read more in the follow-up study, Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria.

The Science Behind Suicide Contagion – New York Times Article

Reposting this for the holidays. There have been more trans teenagers and adults who committed suicide since I wrote this article. We need to do anything we can to stop this.

“When Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, with the cause listed as probable suicide, the nation reacted. In the months afterward, there was extensive news coverage, widespread sorrow and a spate of suicides. According to one study, the suicide rate in the United States jumped by 12 percent compared with the same months in the previous year.

Mental illness is not a communicable disease, but there’s a strong body of evidence that suicide is still contagious. Publicity surrounding a suicide has been repeatedly and definitively linked to a subsequent increase in suicide, especially among young people. Analysis suggests that at least 5 percent of youth suicides are influenced by contagion.”

Read more: The Science Behind Suicide Contagion, The New York Times, August 2014.

I am posting this link because last Sunday a transgender teenager committed suicide after posting a suicide note on Tumblr.

This came about a month and a half after another widely discussed case of a transgender teenager who committed suicide after posting a suicide note on Tumblr.

Two days ago another transgender teen posted on Instagram that they were going to commit suicide. They made multiple references to the first two teenagers – they wondered what selfie people would use to talk about them and would they get a hash tag? It is not clear what happened to the third teenager, although they posted a suicide note that was later taken down.

I believe some of my readers are parents of teens. Hug them, love them, compliment them. Talk to them about this issue.

Sources of Help and Information:

Trans Lifeline for trans people:

  • US number: 1-877-565-8860
  • Canadian number: 1-877-330-6366
  • and their website.

The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth (US) – 1-866-488-7386 and their website.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and their website.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention – their website has an interactive map with phone numbers and locations of crisis centers.

From Maria Shriver’s blog, Powered by Inspiration.

Two Years After My Suicide Attempt, I’m Still Living and Sharing

“Waking up two years ago gave me opportunities, some of which seem obvious but some of which I’m still discovering. I have the opportunity to continue the life I began and do the things I want to do. I have the opportunity to offer help to people who would have helped me if only I had shared what was going on.”

Read more here.

Finally, some helpful tips from the website Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide:

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or
    having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or
    in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden
    to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What to Do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Study of Gay Brothers Suggests Genetic Basis of Male Homosexuality – Discovery Magazine Article

An interesting and important piece from Discovery magazine.

“Are people born gay or is it a choice? A new study of gay brothers, the largest to date, adds more scientific evidence that there’s a genetic basis for homosexuality.

A genetic analysis of over 409 pairs of gay brothers found that two areas of the human genome, a portion of the X chromosome and a portion of chromosome 8, were associated with the men’s sexual orientation. The findings gel with a smaller study conducted in 1993 that implicated the same area of the X chromosome.”

You can read the rest of the article at Discovery magazine.

So why is this important for research on gender dysphoria?

1) If sexual orientation is influenced by genes, then researchers looking for genes related to gender identity need to control for sexual orientation.

Trans men (born female) are usually attracted to women and about half of trans women (born male) are attracted to men, so they might share genes with cis lesbians or gay men.

Future studies of genes and gender dysphoria need to include cis gay men and lesbians in the control groups.

2) The genes that may be involved in male homosexual orientation were found on the X chromosome and chromosome 8. The researchers looked at the whole genome for 409 pairs of homosexual brothers.

Studies of genes for gender dysphoria have focused on genes known to be related to sex hormones and the X and Y chromosomes (read more in Genes and Gender Dysphoria). This makes sense if you are looking at behavior that is related to sex differences, but perhaps the genes are somewhere else.

So far, researchers have had not luck finding genes related to gender dysphoria in trans women and only some luck finding genes related to gender dysphoria in trans men. Perhaps the genes for gender dysphoria and the mechanism involved are not what we expect.

A whole genome scan for genes related to gender dysphoria would be a great study for someone to do.

Genes and Gender Dysphoria

Twin and family studies suggest that there may be a genetic component to gender dysphoria. Researchers have naturally been trying to find genes linked to gender dysphoria.

Most of the research has focused on genes that are known to be related to sex hormones in some way.

I. Researchers may have found genes related to gender dysphoria in trans men (born female).

A large Spanish study found an association between the gene for Estrogen Receptor β and gender dysphoria, but a medium-sized Japanese study did not.

A small Austrian study found an association between gender dysphoria and a different gene related to converting progesterone into androgens. Nobody else has looked at this gene.

A possible flaw with the Austrian study is that the control females were seeking help with perimenopausal issues; it may be that their genes were different from the general public.

Both of these results need to be replicated.

It is also possible that the genes were related to sexual orientation.

In the Spanish study, all of the trans men were attracted to women; it is likely that 95% of the control women were attracted to men.

The Austrian study does not talk about sexual orientation, but typically most trans men are attracted to women and most women are not.

Many control women also had the genetic variations found in trans men. Some other genes or environmental factors must also be involved.

These results need to be replicated. The Austrian study was relatively small and possibly flawed while the Spanish and Japanese studies contradict each other.

II. Researchers thought they had found genes related to gender dysphoria in trans women (born male), but larger studies did not replicate the results. It is possible, however, that the genes related to gender dysphoria are different in different populations.

Four studies looked at genes related to sex hormones, specifically genes for estrogen receptor β, androgen receptor, and CYP19A1. CYP19A1 encodes aromatase, an enzyme involved in turning androgens into estrogens.

None of the studies found a relationship between gender dysphoria and the gene for CYP19A1.

Three studies found no difference in the gene for estrogen receptor β; the study that found a difference was much smaller than the others.

Three studies found no difference in the gene for androgen receptor, including one study of over 400 trans women.

III. An Italian study that looked at the Y chromosome found no differences between trans women and control males.

IV. An Austrian study that looked at sex chromosomes in trans women and trans men found no significant abnormalities.

V. A Japanese study that looked at genes related to estrogen receptor alpha and progesterone receptor found no differences between the genes of male to female transsexuals and male controls or the genes of female to male transsexuals and female controls. This study also looked at estrogen receptor β, androgen receptor, and CYP19A1 and found no differences for those genes either; this is one of the studies discussed above.

VI. An Austrian study of a gene related to steroid 5-alpha reductase (SRD5A2) found no differences between trans women, trans men, and male and female controls. SRD5A2 is involved in the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.

It is important to remember that there may be some other genetic variations that are linked to gender dysphoria in trans women, something that we haven’t studied yet.

At this point, however, we do not seem to have found genes related to gender dysphoria in trans women.

Recommendations for future research:

Look at genes other than the ones related to sex hormones or sex chromosomes. Perhaps the cause of gender dysphoria is different from what we expect.

Control for sexual orientation by including some cis lesbians and gay men in the study.

Study trans people with African ancestry – and other groups that have not yet been studied. Studies so far have looked at people from Spain, Italy, Japan, Austria, America and Australia (Caucasian only), and Sweden.

For more details on the studies, see the links and comments below.

STUDIES OF TRANS MEN (Born female)

2014:

The (CA)n Polymorphism of ERβ Gene is Associated with
FtM Transsexualism – This Spanish study compared the genes of 273 female to male transsexuals and 371 control females. As in the study of trans women below, they focused on three variable regions of genes: estrogen receptor β (ERβ), androgen receptor, and CYP19A1 which encodes aromatase, an enzyme involved in turning androgens into estrogens.

They found no connection between the genes related to androgen receptors or aromatase, but they did find an association between the ERβ gene and gender dysphoria in trans men.

“The repeat numbers in ERβ were significantly higher in FtMs than in control group, and the likelihood of developing transsexualism was higher (odds ratio: 2.001 [1.15-3.46]) in the subjects with the genotype homozygous for long alleles.”

Three caveats:

All the trans men participating in the study had gender dysphoria that began before puberty and were attracted to women (i.e. members of their biological sex). The control females were probably 95% straight. It is possible that the genetic difference they found is related to sexual orientation, not gender identity.

This is not an absolute difference, it is a difference in frequency – 69% of the trans men had the long allele for ERβ, but so did 59% of the control women. Some other genes or environmental factors must also be involved in gender dysphoria (or sexual orientation).

The study below found different results; however, this study was larger.

note: All participants in the study were of Spanish origin.

2009:

Association study of gender identity disorder and sex hormone-related genes.

This Japanese study compared 74 male-to-female transsexuals, 168 female-to-male transsexuals, 106 male controls, and 169 female controls. They looked at genes for androgen receptor, estrogen receptors alpha and beta, aromatase, and progesterone receptor.

They found no differences between the genes of male to female transsexuals and male controls or the genes of female to male transsexuals and female controls. 

“The present findings do not provide any evidence that genetic variants of sex hormone-related genes confer individual susceptibility to MTF or FTM transsexualism.”

The abstract does not provide any information on the demographics of the trans women and trans men.

The results of this study for ERβ contradict the results of the Spanish study. The Spanish study looked at 273 trans men while this study only looked at 74, so it is unlikely that the Spanish study is simply wrong.

It may be, however, that this study is still right, at least in Japan. People in different countries have different genes; they may have different genes for gender dysphoria.

It is possible that cultural differences or medical policies may mean that clinics in different countries are looking at groups of people with different problems.

Finally, gender dysphoria might be caused by different factors or combinations of factors in different cultures. Japanese trans men may be different from Spanish trans men in some important way.

2008:

A polymorphism of the CYP17 gene related to sex steroid metabolism is associated with female-to-male but not male-to-female transsexualism.

This Austrian study compared 102 male to female transsexuals to 756 male controls and 49 female to male transsexuals to 915 female controls.

A possible flaw in this study is that the females controls were women seeking help with perimenopausal disorders; they may have had genes that were different from the general population. The male controls, on the other hand, were “participating in a health prevention program.”

Since the results found that the frequency of a particular mutation was different in female controls from all of the other groups, it matters a great deal if the control females are significantly different in some other way from the other participants.

This study looked at a different gene from the other studies, CYP17. CYP17 encodes cytochrome, an enzyme involved in converting progesterone and pregnenolone into androgens.

The authors found that a particular mutation of this gene, CYP17 −34 T>C, was associated with female to male transsexualism, but not male to female transsexualism.

They also found that, “the CYP17 −34 T>C allele distribution was gender-specific among controls. The MtF transsexuals had an allele distribution equivalent to male controls, whereas the FtM transsexuals did not follow the gender-specific allele distribution of female controls but rather had an allele distribution equivalent to MtF transsexuals and male controls.” 

In other words, trans men and trans women were similar to male controls and not female controls.

They point out, however, that there were women without gender dysphoria who had the mutant allele as well as women with gender dysphoria who did not have it. “Thus, carriage of the mutant CYP17 T−34C SNP C allele is neither necessary nor sufficient for developing transsexualism.”

In other words, there must be other genetic or environmental factors involved.

They do not discuss the sexual orientation of the participants in the study. As discussed above, it is possible that most of the trans men were attracted to women and that this genetic mutation is related to sexual orientation, not gender identity.*

Finally, I keep coming back to the female control group. What if converting progesterone to androgens is related in some way to perimenopausal symptoms? What if the mutant gene protects against problems in menopause somehow and so the female control group includes fewer people with this gene?

2007:

A common polymorphism of the SRD5A2 gene and transsexualism. This Austrian study compared 100 trans women, 47 trans men, 755 control men, and 915 control women. They looked at a mutation of the steroid 5-alpha reductase gene (SRD5A2); this gene produces an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.

They found no differences between any of the groups. The mutant allele was not associated with transsexualism and its distribution was not gender specific among controls.

This study has the same flaw as the 2008 study listed above; the control females were all seeking help for problems with perimenopause.

2002:

Sex chromosome aberrations and transsexualism. This Austrian study looked at the chromosomes of 30 trans women and 31 trans men. They did not find significant abnormalities, although they suggested further investigation might be worthwhile.

“We could not detect any chromosomal aberrations with the exception of one balanced translocation 46,XY,t(6;17)(p21.3;q23). Importantly, no sex chromosomal aberrations, which would be detectable on the G-banded chromosome level, have been observed.”

They conclude:

“The data described here provide evidence that genetic aberrations detectable on the chromosome level are not significantly associated with transsexualism. In addition, molecular-cytogenetic FISH analyses did not reveal deletions of the androgen receptor gene locus on chromosome Xq12 or of the SRY locus on chromosome Yp11.3. Multiplex PCR analyses demonstrated one AZF deletion in a male-to-female transsexual.”

but:

“However, the detection of one carrier of a Y chromosome microdeletion out of 30 male-to-female transsexuals could argue for further investigations. This is of special interest in light of the recent discussion of gamete banking before hormonal and sex reassignment surgery of transsexuals.”

 

STUDIES OF TRANS WOMEN (Born male)

The Y Chromosome:

2013

Hormone and genetic study in male to female transsexual patients. This Italian study looked at six areas on the Y chromosomes of 30 trans women. They found no abnormalities.

“This gender disorder does not seem to be associated with any molecular mutations of some of the main genes involved in sexual differentiation.”

The trans women were aged 24-39 and had already begun hormone therapy. A little over half of them had already had sex reassignment surgery and the rest were waiting for it.

2002:

Sex chromosome aberrations and transsexualism. This Austrian study looked at the chromosomes of 30 trans women and 31 trans men. They did not find significant abnormalities, although they suggested further investigation might be worthwhile.

For further details, see the description above under trans men.

Genes Related to Sex Hormones:

2007:

A common polymorphism of the SRD5A2 gene and transsexualism. This Austrian study looked at a mutation of the steroid 5-alpha reductase gene (SRD5A2. They found no differences related to gender or gender identity. For more details, see the description above in the section on studies of trans men.

The following studies looked at the same areas of genes related to sex hormones.

Initially, a small Swedish study of trans women (born male) found a difference in the length of the estrogen receptor β repeat polymorphism, but none of the other studies did.

Similarly, an American-Australian study found that trans women had longer repeat lengths for the androgen receptor allele, but none of the other studies did.

It looks like these genes do not affect gender dysphoria in trans women, although it is possible that different genes affect people in different countries.

2014:

Association Study of ERβ, AR, and CYP19A1 Genes and MtF Transsexualism – This Spanish study compared the genes of 442 trans women and 473 control males. They focused on three variable regions of genes: estrogen receptor β, androgen receptor, and CYP19A1 which encodes aromatase, an enzyme involved in turning androgens into estrogens.

They found no connection between these genes and gender dysphoria.

Interestingly, 98% of the trans women had chromosomes that were 46,XY, i.e. normal, but 2% of the group showed aneuploidy, or abnormal chromosomal numbers. This is slightly higher than usual.

The abstract does not go into detail, but presumably the aneuploidies were cases of Klinefelter syndrome; a condition where a person typically has one Y chromosome and two X chromosomes. Most people with Klinefelter’s syndrome identify as male, but there may be a higher than usual occurrence of gender dysphoria among people with Klinefelter’s.

There are no details on the trans women in the abstract; however, the same researchers did a very similar study of trans men (see above). It may be that the participants in the two studies were screened in the same way.

2009:

Association study of gender identity disorder and sex hormone-related genes.

This Japanese study compared 74 male-to-female transsexuals, 168 female-to-male transsexuals, 106 male controls, and 169 female controls. They looked at genes for androgen receptor, estrogen receptors alpha and beta, aromatase, and progesterone receptor.

They found no differences between the genes of male to female transsexuals and male controls or the genes of female to male transsexuals and female controls. 

“The present findings do not provide any evidence that genetic variants of sex hormone-related genes confer individual susceptibility to MTF or FTM transsexualism.”

The abstract does not provide any information on the demographics of the trans women and trans men.

Androgen receptor repeat length polymorphism associated with male-to-female transsexualism.

This Australian and American study compared 112 male to female transsexuals to 258 control males. They looked at genes for androgen receptor, estrogen receptor beta, and aromatase. No differences were found for the estrogen receptor or aromatase, but transsexuals had longer repeat lengths for the androgen receptor allele.

“This study provides evidence that male gender identity might be partly mediated through the androgen receptor.”

This result was not found in the Spanish study or the Japanese study above. The Spanish study was larger than this one. Thus, this result has not been replicated.

However, it is possible that this genetic variation is connected to gender dysphoria for Caucasian trans women in America and Australia, but not in Spain or Sweden and not for Japanese trans women.

It is also possible that the genetic difference found here is related to sexual orientation, not gender identity. The researchers in this study only knew the sexual orientation for about 40% of the participants in the study, but people with gender dysphoria are much more likely to be attracted to people of the same biological sex than people without gender dysphoria.

As in the Spanish, study above, this is not an absolute difference, it is a relative one. There were also cis men who had long AR repeat lengths (Figure 1). Again, some other genes or environmental factors must also be involved in gender dysphoria (or sexual orientation).

The trans women in this study were all Caucasian; 76 of them were from an Australian clinic and 36 of them were from UCLA in America. Almost all of them were on hormones. Some of them had gender dysphoria in childhood. “The sexuality is only known for approximately 40% of patients, because some patients did not wish to discuss or disclose this information or the patient’s sexuality was flexible and not easily classified.”

2005:

Sex steroid-related genes and male-to-female transsexualism.

This Swedish study compared the genes of 24 male to female transsexuals and 229 male controls. They looked at specific areas in the androgen receptor gene, the aromatase gene, and the estrogen receptor β gene.

They did not find a difference between male-to-female transsexuals and men for the first two genes, but they did find a difference related to the gene for estrogen receptor β. “Transsexuals differed from controls with respect to the mean length of the ERβ repeat polymorphism.”

In addition, “binary logistic regression analysis revealed significant partial effects for all three polymorphisms, as well as for the interaction between the AR and aromatase gene polymorphisms, on the risk of developing transsexualism.” 

The study was very small, however, and as the authors said, “results should be interpreted with the utmost caution.”

The three more recent studies above did not replicate the findings of this study. The other studies were much larger than this one, so it is possible that these results were a fluke.

It is also possible, that the genes linked to gender dysphoria in Sweden are different from the genes linked to it in other countries.

The authors of the American-Australian study described above say, “Our sample size was approximately four times larger than that of the Swedish study, so it is possible that the former study was underpowered to detect a false positive. Alternatively, there might be differences between Swedish and non-Swedish populations in this polymorphism. In the Swedish study, the long repeat occurred in 51.8% of control subjects and 67.1% of transsexuals, whereas in the present study the long repeat occurred in 36.5% of control subjects and 44.1% of transsexuals. Thus, although there was a trend in the same direction in both studies, there are major differences in prevalence of these long repeats between the two populations.”

The only data we have on the participants in the study are that the trans women were Caucasian and the vast majority of the controls were also Caucasian. Again, it is likely that there was a higher percentage of people attracted to male in the group of trans women than the general population; this might have affected the results.

As the authors point out, “the gene variants investigated in this study are relatively common, none of the studied variants could hence be assumed to be the primary cause of this condition.” Rather, genes might increase or decrease the chance of developing gender dysphoria.

So, if the results of this study are not a fluke, we are still left with the questions of what other factors contribute to developing gender dysphoria and is this a gene related to gender dysphoria or sexual orientation in Sweden?

The end result of all this:

We have a couple of possible candidates for genetic variations related to gender dysphoria in trans men, but we need further studies. We need to replicate the results and to control for sexual orientation. In the case of the CYP 17 gene, we need to compare trans men to healthy control females instead of women with perimenopausal issues.

We don’t have any strong candidates for genetic variations related to gender dysphoria in trans women. Future studies might do well to look for genes that are not related to sex hormones. As always, they should control for sexual identity. (This should be done by adding lesbians and gay men without gender dysphoria, not by excluding trans women who are attracted to women from the studies. See my rants in articles on brain sex.)

 

*A group of trans women would include many more people attracted to men than a group of control males, but typically about half of trans women are attracted to women while most trans men are attracted to women. Thus this could be a comparison of two groups (control males and trans men) where a large majority of the people are sexually attracted to women, one group where half the people are attracted to women (trans women), and a group where about 5% of the people are attracted to women (control females).

Regional Grey Matter Structure Differences between Transsexuals and Healthy Controls—A Voxel Based Morphometry Study – Review

This is a study with intriguing results. The study also has some frustrating flaws.

One of the most interesting things about the study is this:

“The regions found affected in our study are mainly involved in neural networks playing role in body perception, including memory retrieval, self-awareness, visual processing, body and face recognition and sensorimotor functions.”

In other words, gender dysphoria may be linked in some way to body perception.

The study found three types of differences in the brain:

In some areas of the brain trans people had less gray matter than cis people. This suggests that gender dysphoria might be caused in part by differences in body perception – or that gender dysphoria changes areas of the brain related to body perception.

In some areas biological males had more gray matter, in some areas biological females had more gray matter. Males generally have a larger volume of gray matter than females. Other studies have found regions where females have a larger volume of gray matter and regions where males have a larger volume, but there doesn’t seem to be an accepted map of which regions are which yet.

In some areas of the brain the trans people had gray matter volumes that were more like controls of the same sexual orientation and gender identity.

So the biggest flaw of the study is that they don’t control for sexual orientation.

Instead they specifically selected trans people who were attracted to members of their biological sex and then chose controls who shared their age and gender identity.

The authors do not discuss the sexual orientation of the control group, but 95% of the population is attracted to the opposite sex.

Thus, as in a number of other studies,* when the authors compare trans men (born female) to control females, they are comparing a group of people attracted to females to a group of people attracted to males. And when they compare the trans men to control males, they are comparing two groups of people attracted to women.

We know that sexual orientation can affect brain anatomy, so we can’t be sure if we are seeing differences due to gender identity or to sexual orientation.

Studies of gender identity need to start including some gay and lesbian cis people in their control groups.

In addition, if we keep leaving out trans people based on their sexual orientation, we are not properly studying gender dysphoria. About half of all trans women are attracted to females; we can’t just ignore them. We need to understand their brains, too.

A couple of other flaws:

1. The authors never discuss the sex differences they found. What do they mean? Do biological males and females process information about their body differently? How are these differences related to the differences between people with a female or male gender identity?

2. The authors don’t say whether or not they controlled for depression. Depression generally seems to decrease the volume of gray matter in the brain. The control subjects were screened to make sure they had no psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric data was collected on the people with gender dysphoria, but they don’t say if they excluded any trans people with psychiatric disorders like depression.**

People with gender dysphoria are more likely to be depressed than the general population. Since the results of the study involve the volume of gray matter in the brain, it would be important to control for depression – and possibly anxiety, etc.

In short – this study found an intriguing link between gender dysphoria and gray matter volume in areas of the brain that are related to body perception. They found some areas of the brain where trans people and cis people differ. They found some areas of the brain where people with gender dysphoria may be more like people who share their gender identity rather than their biological sex, BUT since they also shared the same sexual orientation, we can’t be sure. In addition, the study found a number of areas where biological sex was more important than gender identity. Finally, it is not clear if they controlled for depression and anxiety which could also have affected their results.

This is part I of my review. I will address specifics of the study in a future article or articles.

Original Article:

Regional Grey Matter Structure Differences between Transsexuals and Healthy Controls – A Voxel Based Morphometry Study by Lajos Simon, Lajos R. Kozák, Viktória Simon mail, Pál Czobor, Zsolt Unoka, Ádám Szabó, Gábor Csukly in PLOS one, December 31, 2013. 

 

*This is not the first study of gender identity and the brain to look only at trans people who were sexually attracted to their birth sex. See also, here and here. I think there are more studies that do this that I haven’t reviewed yet.

This study found that trans women’s brains were more like male controls than females; I think that the people doing these studies are trying to avoid a similar result by only looking at trans people who are attracted to their birth sex.

Except that doing this means they may be studying sexual orientation, not gender identity.

It also means that they don’t know if the brains of trans people attracted to their birth sex actually are different from the brains of trans people who aren’t attracted to their birth sex because, damn it, they aren’t looking!

** The authors say they excluded people with gender dysphoria from the study if they a) were “nonhomosexual,” b) had previously taken hormones, c) had a known chromosomal or hormonal disorder, or d) had a neurological disorder. In addition, when patients were diagnosed with gender dysphoria, they were assessed for psychiatric problems in order to “exclude the presence of other mental disorder behind the symptoms of GID.” (GID=gender identity disorder=the older name for gender dysphoria.) Depression would not rule out gender dysphoria, however. It looks like patients with both gender dysphoria and depression could have been included in this study.