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Gender genes regenerate debate -

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Gender genes regenerate debate

The World Today - Monday, 27 October , 2008 12:51:00

Reporter: Rachael Brown

ELEANOR HALL: A group of genetic scientists in Melbourne has made a discovery which could help
explain why some people feel that they were born the wrong sex.

The scientists say they have discovered a gene for transexuality.

As Rachael Brown reports this challenges the theory that transexuality is a lifestyle choice rather
than a biological predisposition.

RACHAEL BROWN: Sally Goldner has known for most of her life that her male body is the wrong fit for

SALLY GOLDNER: My earliest memory of anything to do with gender was at the age of six when a
friend's mother said with eyebrows like that, you should have been a girl. By the age of nine I was
clearly having images of myself living as female, being female. I didn't know what to make of it. I
mean we are talking 1974.

RACHAEL BROWN: Did you try to suppress those feelings?

SALLY GOLDNER: Well, I suppose I did but not, let's say, with any negativity because I just thought
maybe I've got a vivid imagination or something like that because I didn't know what to make of it.
I mean I don't think anyone would have but obviously you can't keep pushing them down forever
because that is a part of who you are.

RACHAEL BROWN: Sally Goldner has now been living as a woman for ten years and is a spokesperson for
Transgender Victoria.

She says when she turned 29 she decided to be honest with herself because living as a cross dresser
wasn't working.

SALLY GOLDNER: It wasn't me and people who actually met both sides noticed that. They saw Sally as
this extroverted, outgoing, happy peaceful sort of person and then they met the male side and just
met, well I could laugh now but a friend of mine used to have the phrase a "nothing burger" because
that was what I was. I just didn't have any personality at all.

RACHAEL BROWN: Ms Goldner takes hormones but is one of the 75 per cent of transwomen who've decided
not to have surgery.

She's believed all along that transsexualism is a biological predisposition rather than a conscious

SALLY GOLDNER: You can't fight it. You can't get rid of it through silly ideas like conversion
therapy and to know that obviously it is something that is part of our hardwiring, so to speak.

RACHAEL BROWN: And she's heartened by Australian and US research that's found a genetic abnormality
believed to be responsible.

The lead researcher is Associate Professor Vincent Harley, the head of molecular genetics at the
Prince Henry's Institute in Melbourne.

He explains his team studied 112 male to female transsexuals, and says it was a large sample group
considering transsexualism is quite rare; affecting between one in 20,000 to one in 100,000 people.

Associate Professor Harley says compared to males, transsexuals have a longer androgen receptor
gene - the gene known to modify the actions of the sex hormone - testosterone.

VINCENT HARLEY: In crude terms the longer it is the less active it is. So we could imagine and we
speculate that perhaps when androgen is required for male gender identity which it probably is
during the development of the foetus, somewhere in brain, in a region we still don't know where the
gender identity centre is, then perhaps the signal is not as strong in male to female transsexuals.

The testosterone signal to the androgen receptor, the way it is processed by the androgen receptor
is not quite as strong and that could result in an under-masculinisation of this gender identity

RACHAEL BROWN: And how important is this research socially?

VINCENT HARLEY: Well, I think it sort of provides a clue that there is some biological basis to
transsexualism. Very likely a number of genes play a role. We don't know how many yet and that the
interaction of these genes with the environment, the hormonal environment in utero and the
environment of the individually socially after birth, could all play roles.

RACHAEL BROWN: It may at present be a weak link, but for transsexuals like Sally Goldner it's a
very significant one.

SALLY GOLDNER: It gives us a lot of ammunition to say that we need you know, social legislative

RACHAEL BROWN: How far do you think it will go to combating that social stigma that transsexualism
is simply a lifestyle choice?

SALLY GOLDNER: I think it's pretty solid evidence and the fact that the percentage of people who
have come up this way is very high, I think that is very, very hard to ignore.

Once you say, well if we exist and we need to live the way we need to live then we are entitled to
relevant legal protection. So, I think it is a significant muscle to flex.

ELEANOR HALL: That was Sally Goldner speaking to Rachael Brown.