One of the key discoveries of neuroscience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is the extraordinary malleability of the human brain throughout the life span. Neuroplasticity—the ability of even an adult brain to change firing patterns and regenerate neurons in response to experience—is yet another aspect of settled human knowledge that is being ignored in the rush to diagnose children and adolescents as transgender and in need of medical intervention.
But you don’t even need the latest findings in neuroscience to poke a giant hole in transactivist logic. Long before scientists established that adult brains are so malleable, it has been known that kids’ brains are far more neuroplastic than those of adults. It’s why a child can recover near total function after a brain injury or stroke in a way an adult cannot. It’s why kids become fluent in multiple languages with no “foreign” accent. Their brains have to be plastic–how else could they learn and change throughout childhood?
Those involved in transgender activism and pediatric treatment—who say they have science on their side—have a standard line about puberty blockers, the use of “preferred pronouns,” and all the rest of the childhood gender dysphoria dogma: “It won’t harm the child. Only the truly transgendered will choose medical transition after puberty. The rest (the majority) will choose their natal sex.” (Of course there are no published studies on this, although there is plenty of data showing that most gender dysphoric kids grow up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual if simply left alone by “gender specialists” and scared parents.)
But the assertion that pediatric gender therapists and MDs are doing no harm (like the rest of the flimsy rationalizations they use) flies in the face of basic, settled neuroscience.
Because of neuroplasticity, those kids who have been “identified as” transgender and treated as the opposite sex throughout childhood will be influenced and molded by that experience (as they are molded by all the other experiences they have). In effect, they will learn the idea that their bodies “don’t match” their gender via their childhood experiences. Unlike any other transient childhood fantasy (e.g., that they are actually Batman), they will be repeatedly validated in the idea that biological reality–their actual bodies–is mistaken, and must eventually be changed to match their subjective feelings. What they think, even how their brains are wired, will be influenced by what they are told, and how they are treated by everyone around them. What would happen if a child with body integrity identity disorder (BIID) was repeatedly validated in the idea that (say) their left leg was “wrong” and should eventually be amputated?
Every other field of science has taken neuroplasticity into account in decisions about best treatment. For the current treatments for gender dysphoric kids to make any sense at all, you have to believe that the brain is fixed, unchangeable from birth, completely impervious to life experience. In other words—the exact opposite of what reams of brain research and clinical experience have taught us in the last several decades.
This antiquated notion of a static brain creates such a huge logical hole in the pediatric transgender rationale, the entire flimsy edifice should eventually collapse if scientists and clinicians ever get the courage to base their treatments and recommendations on actual evidence and science.
Postscript: Think I’m wrong? I’d love to see some researchers step up to do a longitudinal study comparing two groups of adults who were: (1.) Dysphoric kids who were sent to gender therapists and called by their preferred pronouns, given puberty blockers, and otherwise validated in their idea that they are “trapped in the wrong body” and (2.) Dysphoric kids who were supported for just being themselves, regardless of gender stereotypes, as the sex and in the bodies they were born with, with no messaging or validation from “specialists” or parents that they are the opposite sex. How many remain dysphoric as adults and move on to medical transition after childhood?
Who’s recruiting? (Hint: no one.) Time to get started!
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you might want to work on your research a bit. Neurpplasticity is the brain rewiring connections to other brain cells. Not changing the physical structure of the brain, that is mostly fixed during fetal development. There are apt of scientific publications showing differences between transgender brains and the gender they were assigned at birth.
Nice try though, I’ll give an A for effort in coming up with line of reasoning. Oh, and I working at a neuroscience department at a university.
I think you’re the one who needs to do some brushing up. The few studies purporting innate brain differences between the sexes have been debunked. Start here for easy reading:
And neuroplasticity is all about changing brain structure. Since you claim to work in neuroscience, surely you have seen the studies of London cab drivers, whose brain structures reflect their navigational prowess? Or how about the brains of deaf people who have received cochlear implants? All of this, and much more, is easily Googled. And you don’t even need access to university research literature. Neuroplasticity findings are available to anyone who bothers to actually look…
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Have you read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, after having a major stroke. An 8 yr journey with her mother help..back to her neuroscientist profession…as a PhD. I had heard of neuroplasicity before her nook & later starting research in how the brain changes. And it does. This article is accurate.
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First I will admit not in the medical/scientific community. I do also agree that people under a certain age are more elastic I thinking and should be protected by trying to change their thoughts in a gentle manner and given a certain time period to see if that works. However if it fails to work then what??? I bring an example of neuroplasticity not related to gender and ask one simple question of how it could be? During WWII Germany used propaganda to alter the thinking of its population right. So the question I have to ask then is why did some people not conform to the propaganda which would change their thoughts?
The only logical conclusion I can think of is that to some degree their thoughts of morality saw that the propaganda was wrong. Why did I bring this up well its definitely a well know event that happened and we all know that not every german was an evil follower of the propaganda. Yet it does indicate that while the human brain is plastic it is also resistant to change in varying degrees.
In relation to gender being plastic or malleable perhaps it is to a degree but then again maybe not totally. There is for sure societal influence but there is also internal influence to different degrees for each person. So in conclusion is it not then possible to have a gender that does not match your biological sex? The hard part about all this is its varying degrees so nothing is black and white as we would like. Oddly in a way it is evolution of humanity in a sense if we never question we then never learn and change but there are some things that will sadly never change. What I mean by that is humans will always have some stupid excuse for war but when also have a mentality to look for change to progress. At least I hope we have hope on the latter or should I get the bone club out of the closet and begin to use grunting as communication? Fear of change also an influence. If there was no fear and a big if then progress would be more efficient but some overcome the fear to learn and evolve or adapt.
Personally I am open minded and perhaps that is a flaw or a strength its a matter of circumstances and perceptions. If we cant truly learn and try to see whole picture we miss the pictures reality.
Lastly apologize for the wall I merely wanted to come off as intelligent not some short comment of o its right or wrong and that’s it. Considering it sure seems as it is not so simple as it seems given if this was purely a mental illness then why are so many apparently afflicted with it as comparison to other mental illnesses for starters? And why have previous attempts at psychiatry, drugs, electrotherapy and who knows what have all failed?
I’m not sure what you mean by so many people afflicted with it. There are far more people who suffer with depression or anorexia, but we don’t hear as much about it lately. And while the claim is that attempts at psychiatry, drugs, etc have failed, the only reports I’ve seen on that are on homosexuality, not transgenderism. Certainly the level of it that we’re seeing now is quite new, but in the past there were always men who cross-dressed secretly. Most of them never took what used to be understood as a fetish to a full-time hobby, and transexualism was incredibly rare.
Anecdotally, some people have reported dysphoria(which is the only part of this that is a mental illness, gender non-conformity is not) resolves to varying degrees after seeking counseling, or taking drugs designed to alleviate stress and anxiety. If it’s a condition similar to anorexia(which it appears to be) then that would explain the difficulty in “curing” it completely. Most mental illnesses can only be managed, not cured.
Jen, part of the criticism on the transitioning of children is the fact that often, there is NOT any attempt at all with other possible remedies — there is no treatment or exploration of possible underlying psychiatric problems, there is no wait-and-see approach to see if it a phase, there is no exploration of possible sexual abuse, there is no telling the child, “you are in fact a girl but that doesn’t mean you have to like princess dresses and Barbies; it is perfectly fine for girls to like Legos, cowboy boots and football” or “boys can wear whatever clothes they like — of course you can wear a princess dress and nail polish if you want to.”
Instead, the child is put on track for transition at the first mention of wishing to be the opposite sex, with clothing and toy preferences often used as “proof” the child is transgender. Alternative attempts are not made with these kids. Instead, they are told “yes you are a boy but were born with the wrong body,” and “the doctors can fix your body to make you into a boy.” Because these kids are so young and adult authority figures are giving them these messages, the kids do believe what they are told. So a child who might have changed his or her mind at some point between, say age 5 and 14, or done well with psychotherapy or anti-anxiety medication, instead has these ideas cemented in because the ideas are repeatedly validated by adult authority figures, again and again over many years.
Because the child becomes so firm in their belief that their body is “wrong” and needs to be “fixed,” these kids who have for years been told they absolutely are the opposite sex, often jump at the chance to take hormones or have transition surgery as soon as they are the age at which these treatments are allowed. If, as an independent adult, they come to see the matter differently, or perhaps come to realize the truth that surgery or magical thinking/declaration did not actually make them into the opposite sex, their medical transition is already complete and their bodies have already been forever changed.
It is difficult for kids to change their minds when they are told at every turn that they really are the opposite sex. It is difficult to take a wait-and-see approach or give psychoanalysis or psychiatric medication a chance when doctors are told their professional reputations will be smeared for advocating “transphobic conversion therapy.” Yes, this is where we are now — allowing a child to grow out of a possible phase, or helping a child realize that girls and boys can play any sort of games or wear any sort of clothes is considered “conversion therapy” and can ruin a doctor’s career.
Tl;dr: adults are training kids to believe that they are the opposite sex, and that surgery and a life of medication is their destiny. Alternative approaches are not even being considered or attempted. Neuroplasticity is being ignored.
LC thank you for the food for thought. I do think the idea why it is more visible then depression as an example is that we don’t see depression but we do see gender variance. Well sort of see gender variance in regard to expression not what the person thinks or feels.
Skepticalmom what you have said makes complete sense and sadly I can see the reality of parents in essence teaching the children their gender even if it is the opposite to birth gender.
What I was trying to say and of course I do understand that the time table is well relatively short in a sense. Time short meaning what to do before puberty when changes are set in. Yet sadly I feel as well that the child should experience natural puberty not an altered one but that is the dilemma. As you mentioned as well the medical approach be it psychiatry/drugs/hormones is too much for a child to fully comprehend to make an educated choice. As you say the sad part no one sits down and figures out what is really going on with the child on a case by case basis or like said a hopefully let the child muddle through it and come to their own conclusion.
What I was mainly trying to convey is yes the mind is plastic especially children but at the same time there I feel is a component of permanent structure. How much of course that part is yet to be measured and even the plasticity with age changes.
I hope this clarifies what I meant.
As I do also strongly agree children should not be manipulated by mental/physical/drug therapy nor the parents themselves doing this manipulation.. Until they are old enough to comprehend for themselves. Perhaps the age maybe 16, An age young enough that puberty is not fully set for most part and yet maybe old enough to make an educated self decision. With counseling would in theory be good of course proper council not telling them what to do.
Sorry for long explanation.
To me it doesn’t even seem conceivable that a parent would want this for their child. But I guess reality can be stranger then fiction:(.
I would like to specifically reply to the comment by rfmahe01. You’re comment that “the physical structure of the brain is mostly fixed during fetal development” is so far from the truth that I’m shocked when you say you work in a neuroscience department. There have been multiple studies done on the brains of young adults who experienced sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse as children, using MRI technology, and they all indicate changes in brain structure that potentially cause psychological and emotional problems.
A good site to verify this, although there are many is:
Quoted from this site:
“There were clear differences in nine brain regions. The most obvious changes were in brain regions that help balance emotions and impulses, as well as self-centered thinking. They have a harder time controlling their urges and making rational decisions due to actual physical changes in their brain development.
Some of these potential effects are:
A decrease in the size of the hippocampus, which is important in learning and memory
A decrease in the size of the corpus callosum, which functions for emotion, impulses and arousal, as well as communicating between the right and left brain hemispheres
A decrease in the size of the cerebellum, which can affect motor skills and coordination
A decrease in the volume of the prefrontal cortex, which affects behavior, balancing emotions and perception
Too much activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions and determining reactions to potentially stressful or dangerous situations
Cortisol levels that are either too high or too low, which has negative effects
The Impact of Childhood Abuse on Behavior, Emotions and Social Function
Because childhood abuse, neglect and trauma changes brain structure and chemical function, maltreatment can also affect the way children behave, regulate emotion and function socially. These potential effects include:
Feeling fearful most or all of the time
Being constantly on alert and unable to relax, no matter the situation
A tendency to develop depression or an anxiety disorder
Not hitting developmental milestones in a timely fashion
A weakened ability to process positive feedback
Finding social situations more challenging”
rfmahe01 You talked about the differences in a transgender’s brain and I wouldn’t disagree with that. However this really means nothing in the long run because there are all kinds of potential reasons for these differences. MRI technology has shown brain differences in individuals with many different mental health problems such as Schizophrenia, Bi-polar, autism, and the list goes on. Furthermore they found that the part that is different in some Transgender’s brain is the part that effects emotions. This does not indicate an opposite sex brain as we all have emotions. In my opinion it merely shows that the changes in the brain of a Transgender may indicate a mental illness. The TG community has been throwing this theory around for years and have actually convinced people that this is proof positive that they have the opposite sex brain. It simply isn’t true and it shows the level of desperation this community has to prove what they are experiencing is physical and not psychological.
To the parents on this site. I do not want to imply that you are bad parents if you are dealing with a child who believes they are TG. I have read de-transition stories, such as Third Way Trans, and the abuse was not caused by family but rather his peers. I’ve also read of other individuals who were sexually abused by a neighbor, friend of family etc and had repressed it to the point that it didn’t come to the surface until they went through therapy. There are others that have been abused that may never recall it because they were just too young to retain the memory on a cognitive level. I know the pain you are experiencing as parents and I don’t want to ad to that.