Gender:  Nature or Nurture?

Foetal Gonad Development
Foetal Gonad Development

What is the definition of sex and gender? How do they compare?

What is the definition of nature and nurture? How do they compare?

Why would Kaitlin Jenner decide now, after years of marriage to become transgender?

Transgender operations are extremely painful. Why would someone undergo that amount of pain?

What determines gender? 

What would you do if at age 14, your parents told you that you were actually born the opposite sex but raised as the other (gender)?

Why do some quite masculine males who are clearly not at that extreme end of the feminine scale – tall, strong, aggressive and excelling in fields like engineering or the military – seek to undergo genital surgery and change their sex roles?

Why do some extremely feminine men and masculine women not seek to make the change?

 

 

Let’s talk about sex! Sex is a biological term. It refers to the physical differences between men and women and their reproductive abilities. You are born either a male or female based on chromosomes, genes and hormones. If you believe that your gender identity is caused by nature, you believe you are predisposed to certain traits based on genetics.

Let’s talk about gender! Gender is a psychological term for defining masculine and feminine qualities. Your gender is determined by biological (your awareness of what your sex is and how you react to this), psychological and social influences. The way you act is because of the external influences you have had on your life.

Let’s look at two stories: The first is a sad one about David Reimer who committed suicide after sever ongoing depression, a troubled marriage and financial issues.

After experiencing suicidal thoughts and never truly feeling like a girl, whilst out having an ice-cream Brenda was told by her father that she was actually born a boy Bruce… 14 years earlier, Brenda was born in Canade with a twin brother, Brain. At 6 months of age Bruce’s penis was burned beyond surgical repair after an unconventional circumcision went wrong. After returning home, his parents were lost for what to do. One night they were watching TV and happened to see Dr Money on the TV talking about his theory of gender neutrality. He was a pioneer in the field of gender identity and sexual development. As a reputable psychologist, Bruce’s parents went to see Dr Money. Dr John Money convinced them that it would be possible to raise Bruce as a girl and Brenda was ‘born’. He was dressed like a girl, treated like a girl and even had his testes removed and an artificial ‘flap’ constructed. During his teenage years he was even given oestrogen to induce breast development.

As you could imagine however, after being told he underwent gender reassignment reassuming a masculine identity calling himself David. David later spoke about how he always felt like he didn’t belong, with either the boys or girls. Even though he played with dolls he preferred playing with his brother’s toys and was reported to have been the more aggressive of the twins.

Would you say this story is evidence of nature or nurture influencing our gender identity?

Let’s briefly look at genetics. We are all born with 23 pairs of chromosomes, one of which is responsible for our sex assignment. By default all babies will become girls unless they are born with the Y chromosomes. The Y chromosome is key as it contains the SRY gene. At 6 weeks of age this gene causes the foetal gonads (who are gender neutral until this point) to develop into testes. The testes then produces androgens such as testosterone and MIS (Mullerian (Female internal reproductive ducts) Inhibiting Substance). MIS prevents the male from developing oviducts and the uterus etc. and the other hormones cause the penis to grow. In addition, testosterone has been shown to show that males are more unilateral on the right hemisphere which is responsible for visuo-spatial ability and creativity. At puberty males release more testosterone to develop secondary sexual characteristics e.g. breaking of the voice, muscles, pubic hair etc.

Females do not have the SRY gene which is why they by default develop into a female. The foetal gonads become ovaries and they produces hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. They do not release testosterone to such a high level as they only produce it in the pituitary gland which is why they are said to be bi-lateral and can use both parts of their brain.

Imagine however you were born with Klinterfelter syndrome were you were born with XXY as a ‘chromosome pair’. You would still have masculine primary sexual organs but they wouldn’t be as developed as someone with only a Y chromosome and you would be more femine because of the presence of the second X chromosome.

Imagine you were born with only one X chromosome, X0. You would still have female primary and secondary sexual develop, however it would be substantially less than a female who developes ‘normally’.

The second story is one that many say is one of courage. “You wonder if you are making all the right decisions,” “I wish I were kind of normal. It would be so much more simple”. “I’m not doing this to be interesting. I’m doing this to live.”  Bruce Jenner

After the breakup of his marriage of 23 years he thought he could finally live freely as a women because up till now he had only done a few gender assignment procedures like electrolysis and was wearing pantyhose and bras under his suits. However, this was not enough for him to feel his true identity. Tracheal shave, taking hormones, hair on body removed, facial-feminization surgery (where they make a hairline correction, recontour the forehead, jaw and chin, augment breasts. Yet undergoing excruciating pain still went along with his gender reassignment after living as a man for 65 years.

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life,’ ” Kaitlin Jenner told a reporter at a Vanity Fair interview. “ ‘You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”

Dick Swaab in his book called “We are our brains” talks about how males who are happy being male have a different size to the tip of their lateral ventricle (the bed nucleus of stria terminalis) then men who want to be female and equally so to women who are happy being women and women who want to be male.

Is it something more than nature that determines our identity other than nurture? Or could we say that it is just nature or nurture?

 Bibliography

 

  1. Brain, C. and Collis, D. (2008). Edexcel AS psychology. Harlow: Pearson Education.
  2. Oocities.org, (2015). Transsexual Analysis: 11. Overview and summary. [online] Available at: http://www.oocities.org/transsexual_analysis/transsexual11.html [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015]. Bissinger, B., Leibovitz, A. and Diehl, J. (2015). Caitlyn Jenner: The Full Story. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/06/caitlyn-jenner-bruce-cover-annie-leibovitz [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015].
  3. Swaab, D. (2014). WE ARE OUR BRAINS : A NEUROBIOGRAPHY OF THE BRAIN, FROM THE WOMB TO ALZHEIMER’S; TRANS. BY JANE HEDL. NEW YORK: SPIEGEL & GRAU.

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