Sunday, July 15, 2007

Princess Amygdala

How do we know with transness that there isn’t just something in the brain that’s mistaken? I don’t mean that in a bad way. I say that from the position of someone whose body was gender variant due to a hormone imbalance. When I see people’s before/after photos, I see FTMs who are physically quite feminine (i.e., normatively physically gendered), with no excess body hair, few large jaws or big hands, who get regular periods, etc. Likewise with MTFs: pre transition can be quite masculine, with very male skeletal structures, musculatures, a lot of body hair. I see such externally “gender normative” bodies I’m even jealous, though of course there are trans people whose bodies are gender variant, in various ways, too, who have ovaries or testicles that don’t function right, or make too much of the “wrong” hormone, etc.

It’d certainly be simpler if trans people all had physical evidence of their gender variance but obviously that’s not the case. All people who have physically gender variant bodies due to hormone imbalance are not trans, either, of course. But when I read that a lot of FTMs have PCOS like me, that makes perfect sense. Or when MTFs have gynecomastia or no body hair.

Here’s what got me wondering: I was diagnosed with PTSD, which is when this one part of your brain, the amygdala, keeps telling you you’re in danger when you’re not. It sends the adrenaline rushing through your body but because you’re not actually in a ‘fight or flight’ situation it just backs up, becomes an anxiety disorder. It’s not fun to have, & there’s no quick “fix” for it at all. But basically your brain - this one speedy part of it, the amygdala - is really just mistaken. It’s wrong. Somehow it goes on hyperdrive, & messages that should be sent to your rational brain go instead to this part that’s about having an immediate response (not necessarily a rational one).

So I’ve been thinking that maybe whatever it is in the brain that tells a person their gender is just wrong. For whatever reason. & I’m not positing a reason, or insanity, or mental illness, or anything like that: maybe just one part of the brain got an insufficient hormone wash or something. It could very well still be biological or genetic as far as I’m concerned.

With PTSD, some people get it when they experience trauma & some people don’t. Even in the same situation, the same risk to life & limb. & They don’t know why some amygdalas are quick to go into hyperdrive & others keep functioning normally. So in some ways there’s a genetic or chemical predisposition that can be “triggered” by trauma. Basically, no one who doesn’t have PTSD knows that they’re predisposed to it until they’re exposed to trauma & then they find out. There is no cure for it, except anti-anxiety meds and deep breathing and yoga and things like that - something more like maintenance than a cure, per se.

So maybe transness is something like that? Something like a predisposition that’s triggered by something environmental?

& Of course I’m not positing that transness should be “treated” any differently than it is now. Not being able to locate the “cause” of something doesn’t mean it’s not real. I’m also not trying to imply that transness is a kind of trauma; I’m just letting you all know what things I’m thinking about caused me to wonder this way.

(you may write all this off as the ramblings of a post-traumatic in an empty apt for the first night my lovely betty is away, & who is cursing being one of those people who has a fucked up amygdala. i’m not going to get any goddamn sleep tonight, i don’t think.)


Liza said...

The reactions you are labeling as being caused by ptsd can also be caused by neurotransmitter problems. this can be caused by mercury poisoning among other things. In children it's often labeled sensory integration disorder, which is considered part of the autism spectrum. Mercury is in the preservative themerisol which until very recently used in children's vaccines.

Occupational therapy actually helps alot, more so if it is detected at a young age.

I know this wasn't exactly the point of your post, but it's worth checking out if you are having fight or flight reactions to things which actually pose no threat, like bunchy socks or itchy lables.

nexy said...

why do all trans self-analysis always look inward to find the "cause"? why can't transess be a problem with our society, that we are simply a normal part of the diversity of human life, that our messed-up culture has arbitrarily labeled as freakish?

nhakimi said...

transness is not "a problem with our society", silly! the hating on transes is the problem!! haha there is definitely a way to trace it to a cause we just don't know how yet. and helen, i think your idea is interesting but probably not *quite* right, to trace gender identification to a simple "brain signal" is oversimplifying. It's probably a multitude of things, and seems to be one of the more difficult and mysterious problems, calling into question all kinds of issues about what "who we are". It's very interesting and i encourage you to read up on it! Google scholar "transsexuality" and you'll definitely find something interesting.