Across the world medical practices are starting to adapt to an increase in social acceptance and awareness of the gender spectrum. An understanding of this spectrum explains the existence of transgender people and the internal battle they face when born into a body that has the physical characteristics of the wrong sex. In particular, transgender men may experience dysphoria which has them convinced that their bodies are incorrect and don’t match the way they understand themselves. They are men, yet their appearance is different because they produce estrogen rather than testosterone. Professionals who help these men transition are constantly updating their practices and recommendations to correspond to the current studies done such as the one that will be examined in this article.
Transgender men are the focus of this paper. Dysphoria plagues these individuals and severely impacts their mental health and if they decide to go on testosterone they will be presented with a number of options such as a shot, a gel, or a patch (Unger 2016). They then consult with a doctor to make the best choice for their mental and physical health after being presented with all the potential side effects. When a human takes hormones that are normally produced in the opposite sex, a second puberty may occur, their body will begin to grow more hair, and their sex drive can increase. Reasons to avoid taking testosterone would include prostate diseases or a desire to become pregnant, among other health concerns (Moravek et al 2018). This does not stop many of these patients from going through this process, and leads to more opportunities for conducting studies on the long and short-term effects of the treatment.
A study done by Swedish researchers to be published in Cerebral Cortex volume 28, observed twenty-two transgender men and nineteen cisgender men and women (Burke et al 2017). To start, each person had to undergo an MRI scan after a certain amount of time. The transgender subjects were given these scans before and a few months after undergoing testosterone for the first time while the cisgender subjects were scanned at the start of the experiment and again after a few months where the scientists did not intervene in their hormone balance. During the experiment the researchers presented altered photos of themselves to each participant and they had to describe how close to their own understanding of their appearance the photo was. Then their initial hormone balance was tested, and a model of their brain was created to observe throughout the study. Using this methodology, researchers expanded on previous studies into gender dysphoria and tried to add on to brain image projects so they could include models of a transgender person’s brain in the future. Multiple studies were mentioned throughout their published article that looked into which sex the brain of a transgender man aligned with most and they each came up with a different conclusion. Essentially the goal of these researchers is to see what actual changes occur to a brain with dysphoria from being on testosterone instead of producing a majority of estrogen.
To summarize their findings, they discovered that changes did occur in the brain. The brain itself was not changing to become more in tune with what a man’s would be, but rather it changed because the body was adapting to match the gender the participant already aligned with. The most interesting detail is that there were connections made in the pathways of their brains which were not there before (Burke at al 2017). This proved that the experimental group’s comfort within their own body led to an objectively positive physical change within their own brains which can be observed and seen throughout the results of this study.
The main issue of the study is the amount of participants they used, as well as the differences between the control group and the experimental group of the study. These sets of volunteers were not given the same testing throughout and there should have been more people involved in the first place. The researchers themselves also admit to not taking blood from the cisgender participants which means they did not test their hormone levels, and they tested the cis women during the second week of menstruation but did not observe the trans men during their cycles. In addition to this, they used well below thirty people for each group which is too small of a sample size. Their findings also only match partly with another study, but they claim that the methodology of the other study may not have used a control group. Some of the other issues they bring up are that the people they got for the study are different from each other, because they vary in ages, sexual orientation, and intelligence.
This topic is particularly interesting because there is an ever-increasing number of openly transgender men who decide to undergo hormone therapy (Unger 2016). It is a fairly new area of research that does not have many clear conclusions yet, but this article gives a lot of potential answers or even just a place to start. The way it builds off previous studies and leaves plenty of room for other scientists to build on the subject makes it a solid base for future experiments and articles. One experiment that was previously conducted on this subject focused on the physical changes that took place in the test subjects rather than the alterations of the mind. In that case the researchers concluded, by testing on mice, that the fertility of people who take testosterone will likely be drastically altered (Moravek et al 2018). Overall, these kinds of tests provide important insight to society because anyone reading them may meet people who are experiencing gender dysphoria, or if they are in the medical field, they could encounter a patient who wants to undergo hormone therapy. Their findings imply that the hormones we have in our own bodies could have some connection to our brains and the way we are connected to our bodies. The study leaves much to be desired in the way of a clear conclusion, but it helps give an idea for which areas of the brain are to be investigated and observed in the future when conducting new studies on this topic.
Burke S., Manzouri A., Dhejne C., Bergström K., Arver S., Feusner, J. Savic-Berglund I. 2017.
Testosterone effects on the brain in transgender men. Cerebral Cortex. 28(5): 1582–1596. [accessed August 19, 2020]. https://academic-oup-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/cercor/article/28/5/1582/3064956/cercor/article/28/5/1582/3064956
Moravek M., Kinnear H., Constance E., David A., Marsh E., Padmanabhan V., Shikanov A.
- Development of a mouse model to investigate the reproductive effects of testosterone (t) administration in transgender men. Fertility and Sterility. 110(4): 21. [accessed August 19, 2020]. https://www-sciencedirect-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/science/article/pii/S001502821830668X?via%3Dihub
Unger C. 2016. Hormone therapy for transgender patients. Transl Androl Urol. 5(6): 877-884.[accessed August 19, 2020]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5182227/
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