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Can evolutionary thinking shed light on gender diversity?

  • Bernadette Wren (a1), John Launer (a2), Michael J. Reiss (a3), Annie Swanepoel (a4) and Graham Music (a5)...

Summary

Issues of sexual reproduction lie at the core of evolutionary thinking, which often places an emphasis on how individuals attempt to maximise the number of successful offspring that they can produce. At first sight, it may therefore appear that individuals who opt for gender-affirming medical interventions are acting in ways that are evolutionarily disadvantageous. However, there are persuasive hypotheses that might make sense of such choices in evolutionary terms and we explore these here. It is premature to claim knowledge of the extent to which evolutionary arguments can usefully be applied to issues of gender identity, although worth reflecting on the extent to which nature tends towards diversity in matters of sex and gender. The importance of acknowledging and respecting different views in this domain, as well as recognising both the uncertainty and likely multiplicity of causal pathways, has implications for clinicians. We make some suggestions about how clinicians might best respond when faced with requests from patients in this area.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • understand evolutionary arguments about diversity in human gender identity
  • identify strengths and weaknesses in evolutionary arguments applied to transgender issues
  • appreciate the range and diversity of gender experience and gender expression among people who present to specialist gender services, as well as the likely complexities of their reasons for requesting medical intervention.

DECLARATION OF INTEREST

The authors are members of the evo-psychotherapy study group at the Tavistock Clinic, London. The aim of the group is to promote evolutionary thinking in psychotherapy and psychiatry.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence Dr Bernadette Wren, Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5B, UK. Email: bwren@tavi-port.nhs.uk

References

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Can evolutionary thinking shed light on gender diversity?

  • Bernadette Wren (a1), John Launer (a2), Michael J. Reiss (a3), Annie Swanepoel (a4) and Graham Music (a5)...
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