Causes of transgenderism: Plastics, Ben?

By Jillian Page
LGBT Perspectives editor

QUEBEC — I’ve asked Brettany Renée Blatchley, who wrote the excellent When Does She Become He article here, to consider doing another piece for LGBT Perspectives on current medical theories for transgenderism.

Meeanwhile, given the increased interest in the causes of transsexualism and transgenderism, I thought I would post something I wrote — with tongue in cheek — back in July 2008 for my newspaper blog. The link to a Wikipedia entry is still good, but the quote at the end about diethylstilbestrol (DES) is no longer in their article.


My Generation

“Hello darkness, my old friend,
“I’ve come to talk with you again,
“Because a vision softly creeping,
“Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
“And the vision that was planted in my brain
“Still remains
“Within the sound of silence.”
– Simon and Garfunkel

“There’s a great future in plastics,’” Mr. Maguire told Ben in The Graduate back in 1967.

I doubt very much the script writers were thinking in terms of plastics turning men into women when they wrote that classic line. But that’s one of the theories about what causes transsexuality and, I suppose, transgenderism in general. Plastics, among other things, produce estrogenic effects, the theory/fear goes. Environmental estrogens are oozing into the food chain and feminizing the world!

Other theories abound, of course. Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on The Etiology of Transsexuality, and there are numerous other articles to be found on the Web. In short, “there is no scientifically proven cause,” Wikipedia and many others say. Indeed, as Wikipedia points out, many scholars and transfolks “contest the very rationale of searching for a cause of transsexualism.” The “cure” for transsexuality is increasingly to enable the transperson to fulfill themselves, and to help facilitate the transition process. It is “an awakening,” to quote  Jennifer’s comment in the preceding blog entry — a celebration, not a disease.

Still, inquiring minds want to know. Personally, I think there is something everyone is overlooking: pop music, as typified by the Bee Gees and others like them. I can’t take full credit for this idea. It comes from the observation of an elderly lady I knew who told me, back in the ’70s, that “the boy singers sound like girls, and look like girls, too!”

She had a point. By the time The Graduate was produced, many of the guys in my generation looked like girls, and sang like them, too. Our generation connected with the anima, and “flower power” was our motto for awhile.

But what brought on “Bee Gees syndrome,” as a friend calls it? Plastics had been in use since the ’50s, but that doesn’t seem long enough to have produced the “girlie” bands of the 1960s and ’70s. Perhaps the answer lies in the following excerpt from Wikipedia (see update at top of this post):

“There is also evidence from transsexual people born between the 1930s and 1970s that exposure to a synthetic estrogen known as diethylstilbestrol (DES), routinely used at the time to prevent miscarriage and treat morning sickness, may have contributed to disrupting the hormonal balance within the womb. Evidence suggests that an unusually high percentage of physical males whose mothers were known to have taken this medication present as transgender or transsexual, either in childhood or in later life.”


2 thoughts on “Causes of transgenderism: Plastics, Ben?”

  1. I’ll always be fascinated as to why I am me. I read somewhere years ago about compounds used in plastics manufacture, although when I was born in ’52 Bakelite was everywhere in day-to-day objects. Another theory suggests mental and/or physical trauma within the first trimester of pregnancy could be also a major contributor, ..which would have been the case in my parents relationship. My dad was 64 when I was born, he used Benzedrine inhalers (an amphetamine) to cope with my mother’s borderline schizophrenia. But outside influences in my strange childhood also contributed greatly, this I am certain of.
    …But how does this explain trans-gender or ‘Twin Spirit People’ recorded since the beginning of time in all races ?


    1. In answer to your question about early trans people (“beginning of time”), I suspect that so-called hormonal misfirings in the womb have been happening all along for various reasons. We know there can be myriad chromosomal variations in people, which is why I always shake my head when people make statements about the chromosomes of others they don’t even know. I am no scientist, but I think it is highly likely that some neurobiological occurrence happens sometimes to the fetus that leaves its brain female while making its body male.

      Whatever the case, we do know today that many species are being affected by industrial pollution and by the estrogens getting into the environment. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that it is altering the genetic makeup of mankind. One can only wonder where it is all leading us.


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