This is fascinating. We've had plenty of conversations on the site about gender identity disorder. While sexual orientation was considered a mental condition a few decades ago, that hasn't changed for transgender folks. As with sexual orientation, scientists have been searching for clues to the age old question of "Is it a choice?"
There's been a lot of arguments presented on whether or not this is a good way to frame trans issues (access to medical care, etc), but one of the things I've not heard much about is the why scientists and doctors consider it a mental condition. Which makes this article about a woman who feels she becomes a man during epileptic seizures all the more interesting.
UPDATE: After a very nicely e-mail from Dr. Burkhard Kasper, I've changed the headline from "Woman transforms gender after epileptic seizure" to "Woman transforms gender during epileptic seizure" to more accurately reflect the situation. Thanks for e-mailing Dr. Kasper.
In a paper in press at Epilepsy & Behavior, Burkhard Kasper and colleagues at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany report that the 37-year-old woman's momentary gender transformations include the sense that her voice is deeper and her arms have become hairier. On one occasion, she told the researchers, a female friend was in the room as a seizure came on, and she had the sense that her friend had become a male as well.
Other than some symptoms of depression and anxiety, which responded well to treatment, the woman had no history of psychiatric illness, and she never experienced the transformation in the absence of seizures. Delusional feelings of gender transformation have been previously reported in people with schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses, the authors write, but not to their knowledge in a person with epilepsy.
The authors wisely avoid the conclusion that there's a sexual identity center in the right amygdala, says Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University. If that were the case, one might expect that patients who've undergone surgical removal of the amygdala to treat intractable epilepsy would experience similar symptoms. But there have been no such reports, Devinsky says.
Read the whole article for the in-depth explanation the scientists posit.