When individuals do not conform to stereotypes associated with “male” or “female,” they are often ridiculed, bullied, and rejected, which leads to depression, psychological problems, and even suicide. The number of individuals who identify themselves as transgender, gender queer, or who do not conform to societal norms with respect to gender appears to be increasing. Despite this apparent increase, clinicians and health care facilities are ill-prepared to meet the needs of these individuals in a professional and appropriate manner. Unfortunately, there is an inherit distrust of the medical community by individuals who do not conform to societal norms with respect to gender because of a perception that the medical community does not understand the unique challenges of these individuals. Therefore, reducing the social stigma associated with gender nonconforming individuals is one way to begin to break down barriers of distrust and enhance communication within and outside the medical community. In this review, we discuss the scant amount of scientific data on the biological origins of gender identity. We highlight the fact that the biological definition of gender remains elusive in part because molecular and biological techniques have not been available to accurately probe the development of gender identity. We therefore advocate for the importance of enhancing our knowledge of the origins of gender identity with advanced scientific tools. Enhancing scientific understanding of the biological origins of gender identity may reduce stigma and barriers to care.
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