Our attention was drawn today to a new research programme being run by the UK Government’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (aka POST), investigating the causes of gender dysphoria, and analysing “trends”, announced on the 13th of February 2023.
We are deeply concerned by the way this piece of research is framed — situating the “distress” trans people experience as being an inherent part of the experience of gender incongruence, to the point of failing to distinguish between distress trans people can experience, and the condition of gender incongruence itself (despite the trend in expert medical bodies such as the WHO depathologising and moving towards understanding gender incongruence as a sexual health issue relating to the full diversity of experiences with gender identity, rather than an inherently distressing condition).
We are worried that this imitates previous histories of “gay gene” research, intended to facilitate the development of cures for homosexuality on the assumption that it is inherently disordered. Even if unintentionally the framing inherent in the starting assumptions of this sort of research can foster potential for eugenics, as well as providing fodder to conversion therapists attempting to eliminate minority variations in gender identity on the assumption that these are themselves at the root of gender related distress.
As a result, we have written to the POST team, the following letter, and we call on other organisations to take care when engaging with this programme of research.
Dear POST team,
I'm writing to ask if you are able to give me some further information about the scope for this piece of research you are undertaking and to ask how you came to decide on this framing.
I note that you focus on distress resulting "from incongruence between someone’s sex registered at birth and their perceived gender identity. There are a range of possible contributory factors from biological influences and social factors."
Given the widespread evidence of trans people existing throughout history over many different cultures as a natural part of human diversity and the growing recognition of this as trans historians uncover more evidence for this, I'm curious if you could give me more information about how you came to shape this research question?
In particular, I'm concerned that this avenue seems to equate "distress" with the condition that is now called "gender incongruence" by the WHO, when there is considerable evidence that distress experienced by trans people is not necessarily caused by gender incongruence itself, but is severely impacted by issues such as access to parental support in the case of trans youth, discrimination and social stigma and other social harms experienced because people are trans which seem to have been ruled out by the equation of trans "distress" with gender incongruence.
It appears that your research is starting from a basis of needing to find a cause for transgender identity and using the (socially driven) distress trans people experience as a motivation while excluding consideration for the possibility that the causes of that distress and trans people's identities are not caused by the same thing. In approaching this as an investigation of "recent trends", this appears to be problematising the growth in visible trans people (at a time when access to information and support for trans people is at an all time high in the UK) on the basis of an assumption that more people are now "gender incongruent" than before - something which has no evidence basis. Compare and contrast, the way that when homosexuality was widely punished, fewer people knew a gay person, but since the growth in rights for same sex partnerships and destigmatisation, far fewer people are keeping their homosexuality secret and there has been an "increase", measurable in UK government ONS data, in the visible number of gay people. Given knowledge of this, why is POST focused on approaching this research from the basis of an unfounded assumption that the increase in identifiable trans people is a question of "trends" in people "developing gender-based distress and gender dysphoria"?
Surely these sorts of oversights are a considerable gap in hypothesis generation for a scientific research body?
I have to also ask, given this lack of curiosity and awareness, were there any trans people involved in generating this research programme? Will there be any trans people involved in carrying it out? And if not, why not?
Director, Trans Safety Network
 WHO - gender incongruence and transgender health in the ICD
 The impact of discrimination on the mental health of trans*female youth and the protective effect of parental support, doi: 10.1007/s10461-016-1409-7
 The Guardian: Trans People at Mental Health Crisis Point in the UK warn experts
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash