Transgender Showed Evolutionary Benefits in Ancestral Societies

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A new paper published in the journal Human Nature finds that transgendered men were often seen as an asset in some societies.

Among hunter-gatherer communities, the social investments that transgender males made to their groups may have helped to sustain the transgender orientation into modern societies, say researchers led by Doug VanderLaan of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada.

VanderLaan and his colleagues studied 146 non-transgendered societies and 46 transgender societies in both current and older hunter-gatherer societies, and found that transgender men were considered useful to their communities as extra help in supporting the family, whether by maintaining households or by contributing to the raising of children. Those benefits provided an evolutionary advantage to the societies in which they belonged, allowing them to survive and remain healthy, and that in turn provided the opportunity for transgender attributes to continue into future generations, despite the fact that many transgender males did not have biological children of their own. Not surprisingly, this effect was strongest in communities in which both male and female contributions to the health of a family — in the form of emotional, social as well as financial and political support — were considered equally important. In these communities, discrimination against homosexual activity was rare, the authors report.

In fact, that condition was critical to the positive societal contributions of the transgender males. In order for the contributions of these men to benefit the community, they had to be accepted by its members. And that remains true today — people who identify as transgender, or with any other sexual orientation for that matter, become most productive if they can contribute their time and energy to a community that accepts and welcomes their support.

22 comments
JohnSweet
JohnSweet

" 46 transgender societies in both current and older hunter-gatherer societies,.." what it the criteria  to be listed as a society accepting of a transgendered in any hunter gather, in our current society ?


patrickq247
patrickq247

Re the political-correctness police: the proper way to refer to one of these individuals is: a male "trans woman" -- because there is no such thing as a woman born with a male body.

patrickq247
patrickq247

This is nothing more than a political puff-piece parading as pseudo-science.

RikkiB
RikkiB

Alexandra dear, I know you mean well, but you aren't using your terms properly.  From the GLAAD Media Reference Guide:

"The Associated Press Stylebook provides guidelines for journalists reporting on transgender people and issues. According to the AP Stylebook, reporters should "use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly" (see AP, New York Times & Washington Post Style).

When describing transgender people, please use the correct term or terms to describe their gender identity. For example, a person who is born male and transitions to become female is a transgender woman, whereas a person who is born female and transitions to become male is a transgender man."

BrettanyRenéeBlatchley
BrettanyRenéeBlatchley

There were many indigenous names for such people, but from what historians know of them, they would not have thought of themselves as "transgender men."

From what we know of history, and what we know of present-day (male-to-female) transgender people, they would have viewed themselves as women or as a third gender. Today, in our culture they are sometimes known as transgender women, transwomen, or in some cases, transsexual women. Most transwomen simply wish to be identified as woman, and especially transsexual women who generally change their bodies, social roles, appearances, manners and legal status to that of women.

Nor were these people homosexual in the sense that we understand this, any more than other transgender women. With transgender people, blurring the lines between male, female and masculine and feminine, it makes more sense to think of us as being sexually attracted to males, females, both or neither, and this attraction is oriented with respect to our gender identity rather than our genitalia.

Please understand that gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of who we are as sexual people. Put another way,  It's not about sex, it's about who we are as people.

I say "we" because I myself an a woman of transsexual experience, and I sometimes give this more detailed description:

I am a transgender woman. For me this means that parts of my body are male, parts are female and the rest of my body is in the overlap between the sexes. My gender identity - who I am as a person - is, as it has always been: essentially female. Once I lived as a special sort of man, and now by God's grace I live as a special sort of woman. I say "lived as a special sort of man" because I have always been a female person, but I had to "drive" my (arguably) male body in (seemingly) masculine ways in order so survive as a child and "get along" as an adult. Now, I am still female, but I drive my body in and into ways typical of other women. I call myself a "special sort of woman" because I am *becoming* along a different path from natal sisters because of my make-up and history. Scientifically, I am a male to female transsexual person, and someday it is likely that I will be shown to be neurologically intersex...

...But if you encountered me casually in public, you would probably not guess this because I am an ordinary woman who blends-in with other women my age.

I hope this helps you all understand us a little better!! :-)

Blessings & Joy!!

JudyVirago
JudyVirago

Is this article about transmen (female to male ) or transwomen (male to female)? Transgender men were assigned female at birth , trangender women were assigned male at birth. This article needs a clean up.

ThomasHarrison
ThomasHarrison

I'm confused by this article, is she referring to transmen or using improper gender pronouns?

polargirl360
polargirl360

Authors gonna try to pass themselves off as research "experts" on this field yet cannot even research proper gender pronouns. Lulzy fail!

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Dr. Dale Archer's book Better Than Normal is an eye-opener for anyone into psychology AND evolution. He talks of 8 different personality areas where we all range from 1-10. If you're a ten, you are having psychological issues with the rest of human society.

However, at the end of each section, he also talks about how having 1 out of 100 or 1 out of 35 people with this trait was useful in a Stone Age tribe or a medieval village.

If you 'believe' in evolution, then all those 'errors' that keep showing up are probably useful in some sense or biologically unavoidable (since there are thousands of systems to be built for any living creature).

OTOH, if you believe in a Creator God of some sort, He created those people so cherish them like you are supposed to cherish all His creatures. 

BryonPavlacka
BryonPavlacka

Hello, Ms. Sifferlin. First, thanks for voicing your support for the transgender community and the gay community as well. Perhaps, you're new to these communities and haven't yet gotten a few of our more important memos. As other people have pointed out, transgender isn't a noun, nor an abstract noun, nor do peopled become "transgendered", nor is there such thing as a "transgendered society". In the future, also do your best to get the male/female distinction correct, it's very important. Even as an ally, you will not be well received unless you get it right. A transgender man is a person currently identifying as a man, who was identified at birth to be "female". I hope you can see why it is considered rude to refer to someone who identifies as male as "a woman", or "a transgender woman". A transgender woman, is a woman, who was identified at birth as "male". Always use female pronouns when referring to a transgender woman. All people deserve to be referred to with language which is respectful of their identity.

I hope all this feedback hasn't been too traumatic. Try to understand that this isn't petty nitpicking. Understand that people are heavily influenced by language which they use, and language which is used around them. As a writer, you have a responsibility to spread language which will not harm this community. I'm sure you will do your best in the future.

Lastly, I'd love to look at this paper,  it's hard to find papers when there isn't a link that is easy to spot and in which the paper is not named. I don't know anything about journalism and the proper protocols, but this seems to be a pretty widespread problem. Sources are really important in academia, and even on Wikipedia for that matter. Why not everywhere?

RachelBellum
RachelBellum

To be fair to the author of this article, the authors of the actual study  (abstract available via PubMed; Male Andropilia in the Ancestral Environment: An Ethnological Analysis) did classify transgendered women as men sexually attracted to men (and also transgendered).

This is a common scientific practice in the study of transgender people and non-heterosexual sexual practices to this day. It promotes misunderstanding and dubious results. Such studies should be halted and corrected at the review level prior to publishing (if not at the pre-study approval level) by peers. But let's face it, most of the peers doing reviews are themselves ignorant of such issues and led by the same prejudices the general community faces.

BonzeAnneRoseBlayk
BonzeAnneRoseBlayk

I sincerely hope you could try a revision of that first sentence to something like "transgendered males, living as women, were often seen as an asset…" or something of that nature?

Trans women can be extraordinarily adaptable, just as women can be — even to the point of living as men? — yet we are not "men", despite being born with "normal" male genitalia: that's the point.

thanks, - bonzie anne

ShaynaAthenaLynnKaiser
ShaynaAthenaLynnKaiser

"Transgender Male"?  I'm pretty sure you mean "Transgender Women".  just saying, coming from a transwoman, calling me a "transgender male" is extremely offensive.

InotowokDances
InotowokDances

You lost me at phrase "transgendered male". Huh? It comes off like like a cis-gender person writing without awareness of the people they are writing about. Gender can be complicated topic, and people are mired in ignorance about it. Please start with Transgender 101 so as not to spread additional confusion.

AdamArmstrong
AdamArmstrong

The language in this article is slightly confusing. When you say "transgendered men," are you referring to MTF transsexuals or FTM transsexuals?

Another interesting piece of information that I think the researchers may have overlooked is the role that both types of transsexuals (MTF and FTM) played in the societies they studied.

IanAnderson
IanAnderson

There is such a sad irony in the author's plea for tolerance and acceptance in the last paragraph.  Trans people aren't waiting for other people to get their act together before we start contributing to society- and when "allies" like the author of this piece can't help using woefully misinformed and disrespectful language about us even in the course of making their magnanimous gestures of support, it's a good thing, too.

IanAnderson
IanAnderson

The terminology used in this article is hopelessly confused.  I understand it may reflect underinformed language in the original sources, but that is no excuse.  I also understand that language used for transgender and gender-nonconforming people has varied from culture to culture.  That said, using the term "transgender men" for people who were born with what is generally called "male" anatomy but who live as women or members of a third sex is seriously misleading.  Transgender men, in modern parlance, are people judged to be female at birth but who live as men.  Applying this term to people who identify and live as women is disrespectful to the identities of trans men and women alike!


Also, "transgender" is not a noun, let alone an abstract noun.  I think the term your title is searching for is "transgenderism".


Also, as stated already, trans women who sleep with men are not engaging in "homosexual" activity.  Because trans women aren't men, they're women.

ClaireCramer
ClaireCramer

I think you mean transgender women? That is, people living as women? This is a very elementary concept that a journalist ought to get right. Your error belies a serious lack of the most basic knowledge on the subject of transgender issues.

sonyahayworth
sonyahayworth

A few minor notes - 1. Transgendered is not a sexual orientation 2. To our best scientific understanding, the cause of transgender characteristics in humans is developmental, not genetic. So it could be said that these cultures did benefit from transgendered roles in their culture, but those traits did not have a higher likelyhood of propagating to offspring. If those traits were inherited in those cultures, those cultures would in turn have higher percentages of transgendered people. So you could look at an isolated culture like Somoa, which promotes transgendered members of their culture and see a higher occurrence. Though, since it is a developmentally acquired trait, the percent of transgendered people in the general population tends to be consistent throughout humanity.

CapLex
CapLex

@polargirl360 Agreed. I appreciate what the author was trying to do but she succeeded in spreading more misinformation by referring to male-bodied women as "transgendered men" and conflating trans with homosexuality.  We have enough ignorance to fight out there, we don't need people getting wrong information from "experts".

RachelBellum
RachelBellum

Actually, in much the same way that sexual orientations have been demonstrated to be linked to genetics so has being transgender.

It can be very difficult to get a clear understanding of this, even for people with access to scientific literature, as the practices related to studying transgender people remain poor to this day -much less those used in the past.

An example of this using sexuality is the still common practice of ranking bisexual (or even MSM) men as homosexual in scientific studies. This happens because of the cultural prejudice which says that any man who can enjoy sexual activity with another man is automatically homosexual. Many of even those who chose to research sexuality fail to rid themselves of such unexamined prejudices even for those studies were there is likely a difference between homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual men.

Similar prejudices often play a much greater role in studies of transgender people. For instance, this study equates everyone with a penis (or those judged to be male at birth for intersex people) who is attracted to others with similar physical builds. It also ignores the fact that trans people are just like others in that they can be of any sexual orientation. It would appear to equate all forms of transgender expression. And honestly we could go on.

While I believe most us can agree with the results in this case (it has been something publicly discussed at length for years), the means by which it arrived at those conclusions can actually cause misunderstanding of, or even harm to, the current members of such communities.

EmilyRayFrisbie
EmilyRayFrisbie

This is not entirely correct. There are genetic factors that influence how susceptible a cell is to testosterone. This is a spectrum. From high sensitivity to zero sensitivity. I take issue with the studies implication that all transgender are homosexual. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity!