This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.
Brain imaging technologies aid in systematic evaluation of biological, behavioral, and environmental systems. The methods used to conduct this research attempt to gather data representing structures, function, or activity. The visual monitor shows structures and activation based on how the brain interacts with the environment. Such observations illuminate how certain parts of the brain function contingently upon specific stimuli. The ethical stakes of studies into sexual dimorphism and gender identity in particular are quite high in the context of state policy informed by such research (see Fleck 1979; Fine 2010; Fausto-Sterling 1985a, 1985b).
To date, no consistent evidence of brain-based sexual dimorphism exists, in part because there are no stable criteria that distinguish sexes reliably or concretely (Fausto-Sterling 1985a). Despite this fact, the theory of sexual dimorphism remains entrenched within Western culture. Experiments are designed around brain organization theory, which posits that the brain is a sexually dimorphic structure prior to birth and lends itself to the sexual differences people experience in their lives — which is not supported by existing data (Jordan-Young 2010: 21). Rebecca Jordan-Young's pivotal book on brain and sex-hormone–based gender research, “Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences” (2010), aptly describes various design and methodological problems in the studies discussed. The book explains the language barrier across fields for defining terms of gender, sex, and sexual orientation and critically evaluates brain organization theory as a widely used framework to conduct research (12–18). Jordan-Young calls for a departure from brain organization theory, with its poor experiment design, and for a genuine exploration of the complex nature of sex, gender, and sexuality (3, 9).
The studies reviewed for this introduction to transgender phenomena utilize brain imaging in conjunction with sex-hormone measurements to explore multiple questions: to determine if transsexuals are “born this way,” to ascertain which brain structures are markers of gender identity, and to evaluate how hormones influence specific brain structures. Underlying these overarching questions is a renewed discussion of sexuality with regard to gender identity and biological sex.
Unsurprisingly, the transsexual is identified as a set of unidirectional pathologies as described in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), displaying neuropsychological abnormalities and existing in the wrong body. There is no serious consideration given to the experiences of these individuals, rather than their inherent transsexualism, in shaping their brains. The brain structures in transsexuals are scrutinized prior to and during hormonal transition, mediated through structural and functional imaging methods that may illustrate that the deviance in transsexual activation patterns and/or microstructures examined is distinct from those of individuals of their biological sex and much closer to those of individuals who share their gender identity. After extensive statistical analysis and a complex process of meaning making (see Alač and Hutchins 2004; Dumit 2004) out of the images on the visual monitor, most studies determine that there are similarities in brain structures and activation patterns between transsexuals prior to hormone therapy (HT) and subjects who share their gender identity. Changes after HT are usually found not to be attributable to the differences in brains prior to HT (see Luders et al. 2009; Rametti et al. 2011; Zhou et al. 1995; Van Goozen et al. 2002; Swaab 2004; Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab 2008; Miles, Green, and Hines 2006; La Torre, Grossman, and Piper 1976; Haraldsen et al. 2003; Prince 2005; and Sullivan 2008). The results and conclusion of inherent transsexuality, sans the hormonal transition aspect, mirror Simon LeVay's (1993: 120–24) earlier work in which he located structural and functional differences between self-identified gay men's brains and those of heterosexual men, noting that the structures were similar to those of presumably heterosexual women.
Currently the trajectory of this research is a retelling of the same predominant concepts with different subjects and still lacks proper scientific acumen. What is needed is not new data to support current theories but, rather, new theories that support the data gathered. Critically utilized for understanding sexual dimorphism, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the brain imaging of transgender phenomena is a fertile site for reimagining concepts of embodiment (Salamon 2010).
This article is based on my thesis, written under the direction of Lisa Cartwright. Gratitude for support from Lisa Cartwright, PhD; Cristina Visperas; Kaya DeBarbaro, PhD; Ang[e] Moore; friends, lovers, family, especially Cathy.