Curing dysphoria part 2: braaaains
So in my last post I laid out the very basics for how the future of medicine will approach the subject of transsexuals. Today I want to go a little more into detail about the ethics and philosophy that might be employed for the “changing the brain” side of things. Next post I will cover the “changing the body” side of things. Hope you enjoy, as always, hit me up in the comments to chat. :)
So what do we actually mean when we discuss transsexualism in the brain? The best study I’ve found on this indicates that trans women have demasculinised brains with feminised regions, and trans men have defeminised brains with masculinised regions. Ultimately what this comes down to can sort of be defined as an intersex condition of the brain, especially in early onset transsexualism.
From the above study we can see that the trans brain is fairly complex and spans across multiple brain regions. The brain regions we have been able to test and find differences in may not be the only brain regions where differences exist. However, we also know that brains follow fairly specific patterns depending on whether you’re a man or a woman, and can be sexed with 93% accuracy — even without head measurements. All of this is to give a little background on the depth of the problem we’re discussing.
To fully erase transsexualism from someone’s brain, first we would need to identify all regions in which the differences show up, then, manipulate them into new forms, sizes and shapes. Is this possible now? Absolutely not. Neuroscience has only really just begun understanding the complexity of the human brain and has a very very very long way to go before we have the same level of control over it as we do the body. This is not to say it would be impossible to do ever, its not unreasonable to assume that in a thousand years we will be able to do this. The question at this point becomes should we do this?
This is where the conversation becomes a little more philosophical and ethical. Its all well and good talking about how to do this physically, but its implications and effects will be huge. Because what we’re talking about is a fundamental change to someone’s sense of self. A lot of people underestimate the brain and I think that’s silly, its a far more important organ than almost all of your others. Your heart can be replaced and you will still be you — this is not the case for if your brain is replaced though.
There are lots of philosophers who have spoken about the brain in the vat theory — that which The Matrix films are somewhat based off of. It’s also a theory which Elon Musk supports stating that the chances we aren’t in a computer simulation is in the billions. Spooky right? The brain in a vat theory, in essence, poses that your body, whether it’s a simulated construct generated by computers or whether its an actual real physical thing is just a vehicle which your brain drives around. You are not your body, but you are your brain. So when we talk about changing it, what we’re really doing is changing your very essence. Altering what makes you who you are. You could probably go far as likening this to killing you to replace you with someone else.
Obviously this, to me as a person alive today with this condition, seems super unethical. I don’t want to have me killed to be replaced with someone who looks like me, is sort of like me, but ultimately isn’t exactly me. Because yes, although I’ve gotten rid of dysphoria, I’ve also gotten rid of who I actually am as a person. This seems kinda silly right? But you can watch videos, or read interviews or whatever about people who have had serious brain injuries. I highly recommend Louis Theroux’s “A different brain” (its on Netflix UK). You can see the strain it puts on the families of people whose children go out as one person, and then come back basically a whole new person. It isn’t actually as silly as it first sounds and is really heartbreaking. Warning, you will cry at that documentary, I did.
Obviously this only affects adults who have clearly carved out their identity and place in the world, and although I guess the option would be great for those who want it. We can rule it out as being the best & only option we should seek out for trans adults in our sci-fi future. However, We know from some fairly weak studies that gender identity does appear to be an innate force in children. We could reasonably assume that before a certain age, kids who would have a transsexual brain type, would not have had that impact their lives or identity very much. I would probably advocate this kind of intervention if it were the only possible option — though again, in our future of science magic it likely won’t be.
Realistically this doesn’t seem to be like a good option in my opinion, I think that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice who someone is for the sake of “fixing” the problem of transsexuals. To me? Personally? My problem is not having a female body, it isn’t having a transsexual brain, it isn’t being the person I am. This for me is why I choose to medicate my body into a state that is more comfortable for me to live with, if a bit imperfect. The body is and always has been my problem, not my brain.
How about you? What do you think? Hit me up in the comments and check out my own blog where I talk about trans stuff more often oh and also my Twitter where I mostly just send bitchy tweets at people who annoy me. Sorry for how long it took me to get part 2 up. Thanks for the read, and look out for part 3 where I’ll be discussing my preferred option; changing the body.