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Sunday, September 2, 2018

A neuro-hormonal approach to gender - back to basics

I'm not a biologist nor a neurologist but do see myself as coming from a background in cognitive psychology with a constructivist bent. 
Additionally would place myself as one of many seeking to study what consciousness is, from perspectives of altered consciousness.
Given that my gendered consciousness has altered considerably with the felicitous change in my liver to produce estrogens, my overall perspective of gender centres on the neuro-hormonal aspects. This isn't to deny that the gendered world isn't also iterative/performative but it is to assert that part of that performance is biased by hormonal soups that seem to alter us internally and externally in some major ways. And not to look at what congruities one finds, in terms of hormones affecting personality, cognition and much else, as the bars of a cage, but more see them in terms of the gymnastic variety.
For most trans people the administration of hormones is part of a process of completion. It sets off what often amounts to second adolescences, and brings on an endless variety of the deepest emotional changes and others that complete our various gender journeys, insofar as any end point is ever possible. For some, whose neuro-hormonal development was already great, they have little effect and are a small part of transition, whilst for those like me at the opposite end of such development, the effects can be overwhelming. Reactions can be immediate or span years. One point that should be made is that reaction to hormones should never be seen as marking being 'really' trans or male or female in some way. It's extremely sad to see how many of those who take on truscum attitudes or go intensely for autogynephilia diagnoses or even hang out with terfs, are those who have mentioned how little they react to hormones and pour scorn on any major or indeed minor changes . Transitioning is one of the hardest of things a human can do and getting through it whilst lacking the sense of authenticity that hormone effects sooner or later normally bring, if simply from the commonality with your gender and communication systems, must be extraordinarily problematic.I do believe that a better understanding of the relation of hormones to cognition and emotion may help such. Also find that too often those in transition with HRT are apt to look at doses and such to explain variations in their process instead of proceeding from an understanding of how the overall changes work.
I've encountered many trans people talking about the effects of  HRT , apart from the purely body feminising kind. Generally people seem to agree that the most important things are changes in adrenal systems, changes in attraction and changes in emotional being. There's a sexual side too but bearing in mind the example of Tiresias have tended to avoid any judgement as to that.  They may also mention spatial awareness - I've heard the lament 'I can't parallel park anymore !' many times - or say something about the vibrancy and colour of the world increasing*. On forums these things tend to be greeted with 'welcome to the club' responses. Possibly because of the nature of my change am aware of a couple of other things that aren't so common but are definitely a thing for some trans people. Main one is probably the alteration in cognitive structures in terms of what processes are easily consciously accessible and those which are firmly unconscious, a bit of an upside down sort of change. In general, as a man, found that reaching re ideas into the unconscious and I'd likely come up with reframings, new associations and the like. Those are now more conscious whilst reaching back and I have a sheaf of long logical arguments to throw into discussion, things more typical, in prior times, of my conscious activity.
Generally  people are concerned more about the emotional changes rather than the sensory ones. Personally find this much mistaken and deeply believe that it's in these minor alterations that the others are firmly rooted and derive their form. The underlying process that affects these and so much else on a gendered basis is, I believe, the arousal system, whose role in 'setting' consciousness is vastly underated.
But that's more than basic.
A general point that I don't believe in extensive wiring creating male and female brains. A useful analogy might be seeing the brain as a large house, lots of rooms windows and functional systems. To be male or female would translate as occupying distinct spaces and altering them with a light of consciousness. Within those rooms illuminated theres a degree of conscious development possible than isn't quite the case with dark rooms, conscious and unconscious. Otherwise the house itself is broadly the same and alters gradually along with internal and external experiences mediated by consciousness. Each house contains a number of spaces which can be occupied and retain slightly different modes of functionality, a limited spectrum. Would hypothesise that gay, lesbian and various non-neurotypical may be usefully viewed as occupying such too. In binary male female terms hormones can alter those spaces and importantly too the window glass possible to see by that determines major aspects of internal and external identities.
A last point which is possibly a little obvious but...the world does experiments. When self identified trans people take hormones a large number of them have significant and partially similar cognitive effects. When people come down with my sort of medical condition - which essentially converts testosterone to estrogen in most males with it - a few hundred thousand in all, the rate of such responses is about 0.0000001%. Brains that work well with estrogen nearly always identify as female.
Brains that work well with testosterone nearly always identify as male.
And, thankfully for trans people, mostly the reverse also obtains.
I guess this is really mainly another redux post but it rounds things up a bit.
Next time on this subject, testosterone and arousal systems I think.

*Personal disclosure - the first moment I was aware of my changes I was looking across at a set of bookshelves. They changed in hallucinatory style, my impressions of the quality of shape receding whilst colour moved to dominate the foreground, all this by reference to my former senses's balancing of these qualities. To this day, there are still the very occasional times I feel that perhaps this whole transition is all some silly illusion, usually when finding yet another place in memory I can't easily match with my present life. Then I habitually look over at a set of bookshelves and no, the world is very different now at the bottom of the rabbit hole. This may perhaps bias me in seeing the sensation/perception borders as somewhat more important than otherwise. Life combining being an experimental subject and an external observer at the same time isn't the easiest of things, even with practice.

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