Opinion

No, it isn't 'undermining science' to say gender identity is influenced by culture

To the editor: As a trained neuroscientist like Debra W. Soh, I was disappointed to read her “nature only” argument regarding gender that she spins as “science.” (“Are gender feminists and transgender activists undermining science?” Opinion, Feb. 10)

Soh argues that it is gender feminists who don’t acknowledge the role of evolution. The idea that gender is fixed by biology fails to recognize a key feature of the human brain produced by evolution: experience-dependent brain plasticity, or malleability, which allows one to learn information presented in the environment, including social norms. In that vein, an evolutionary approach requires consideration of how genetic factors interact with environment. 

Furthermore, the vast majority of neuroscientists hold the view that this interaction exists in domains as varied as personality and sexual orientation. Gender, while somewhat influenced by biology, is strongly rooted in cultural expectations, as evidenced by the shifting of gender-normative behaviors throughout history and across cultures.

Meera Paleja, Toronto

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To the editor: Soh dangerously misleads readers regarding the treatment of transgender youth. 

She suggests that some transgender youth may undergo “needless medical interventions” because they change their minds about being transgender. Clinics offering hormonal intervention for transgender youth follow Endocrine Society Guidelines, which recommend interventions only for youth who have reached puberty. As Soh notes in her article, gender identity is fixed at this time. 

Furthermore, in the only study to date on this protocol, 100% of youth continued to identify as transgender in adulthood. Participants in the study had improved depression and anxiety after the hormonal protocol.

Soh also suggests that social transition for transgender youth in dangerous. New research suggests that young children who are allowed to socially transition have better mental health and self- worth than children who were not allowed to do so.

Jack Turban, New Haven, Conn.

The writer is a fellow at the Yale Child Study Center and Yale School of Medicine, where he researches the treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

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