Some people believe God created men, and women; that men should be men, and women should be women; and everything else is wrong (including using “incorrect” bathrooms).
Reading Amy Ellis Nutt’s book, Becoming Nicole, enhanced my understanding of the transgender phenomenon. Many seem to think it’s people trying to be the opposite sex for perverted or deranged reasons, a form of mental illness.
Not so. The book chronicles Nicole’s early life. Born male, genetically and anatomically, she always identified as a girl. The biological explanation is illuminating.
True, the basic human blueprint envisions two distinct sexes. But if this was “intelligent design,” it sure uses a Rube Goldberg scheme for realizing it – so complicated and tricky that it sometimes goes awry. Of course, this actually came about through evolution; and its complexity is wondrous.
An embryo begins sexless, able to turn either male or female. Either path entails a lengthy to-do list of things that have to happen for the baby to conform to the blueprint, all regulated by elaborately choreographed chemical signaling (via hormones).
Gender entails three elements. It begins with genetics: females have two “X” chromosomes, males an “X” and a “Y.” (One chromosome comes from each parent.) Each genetic ensemble triggers its own sequence of chemical signals to govern development of the other two elements of gender: the hardware and the software. The hardware is the anatomy (what’s between your legs, etc.). The software tells you how the anatomy is to be used, and is installed in your brain.
In mine, that software makes me conscious of being male, and sexually attracted to females. The latter is normally so powerful that we’re all quite cognizant of it. But the other aspect – feeling male – is so second nature we don’t even think about it. It’s just part of our operating system, humming along in the background.
But what if there’s a signaling glitch and incorrect software gets installed? Obviously, some males have software telling them to mate with males instead of females. But, more rarely, some get entirely the wrong package – telling them they are female.
This is where the book helped me understand transgender people better. It’s not some psychological hang-up, confusion about gender, or wishing one’s gender were different. Male and female brains are different, not just in how they work, but even physiologically. And it’s possible to be genetically male, and anatomically male, but to have a mismatched female brain.
Again, most of us, with all three systems matching, don’t even think about this. Our gender identity is simply taken for granted; it’s hard to imagine what it would be like otherwise. But that’s the transgender situation. A basic incompatibility with one’s own body.
Someone born with male anatomy but a female brain can’t make themselves simply adjust to it, or not obsess about it. It’s something fundamental to who he/she is. There’s no way to correct the brain. But we can alter the body. A woman I know did it at seventy. She said, “I didn’t want to be a chick with a dick.”
A remarkable fact about Nicole, the transgender girl in the book, is that she’s an identical twin. Her brother is normal. How can that be? This shows just how sensitive are the processes molding gender in a fetus. Identical twins have the same genes, of course, yet are positioned differently in the womb, causing slight variances in the hormonal contents of their surrounding amniotic fluid. That was enough – just a few molecules in the wrong place at the wrong time – to send one of the twins on a path toward developing a female brain.
Nicole ultimately had sex reassignment surgery. It’s a wonderful sign of progress that people can now do this, instead of being stuck for life in what must be a very difficult situation, going to the heart of one’s identity as a person.
A world in which men are men and women are women would be simpler. But if people believe that’s how God intended things, they might ask him why he screws it up so often. And why we shouldn’t fix his mistakes.