CChildren who begin to identify as transgender at a young age tend to retain that identity for at least several years, a study published Wednesday suggests.
The research involved 317 young people who were between the ages of 3 and 12 when they were recruited for the study. Five years later, at the end of the study, 94% were living as transgender and nearly two-thirds were using puberty-blocking drugs or sex hormones for medical transition.
Most of the children in the study were from high-income white families who supported their transitions. On average, children began to identify as transgender around the age of 6.
It is unknown whether similar results would be found among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who begin to identify as transgender in adolescence. The study was published online in Pediatrics.
Politicians seeking to ban or criminalize medical treatment for transgender youth have cited evidence suggesting that many children change their minds or “retransition.”
Some doctors say that’s why transgender drugs or surgeries shouldn’t be offered until affected children reach adulthood, but rigorous research into the numbers is lacking. The Pediatrics study is one of the largest looking at the issue, though not all children had started treatment and none had transgender surgery.
The study is “incredibly timely … and much needed,” said Coleen Williams, a psychologist who works with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Gender Multispecialty Service, a clinic that treats transgender children.
“If you’re in the trenches doing this work day in and day out with trans kids and their families, this is what we see,” said Williams, who was not involved in the study. “The majority of transgender youth and children who make a social transition continue to live in their affirmed gender.”
Families were recruited to participate in the study from trans kids’ social media groups, camps, conferences, and word of mouth in about 40 states.
Kristina Olson, a Princeton University psychologist who led the study, said some of the children reverted briefly during the study, but by the end, most had returned to a transgender identity.
“It suggests that our model of thinking of people as X or Y, cisgender or transgender…is an outdated way of thinking about gender,” Olson said.
He pointed out that when the study began, in 2013, “non-binary” was not a common term and the children studied used either masculine or feminine pronouns. That may change as researchers follow them through their teenage years. The young people were about 12 years old on average when the study ended.
The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, a nonprofit group of health professionals concerned about the risks of medical transition for minors, said other evidence shows that large numbers of children outgrow transgender identities. at puberty or adulthood. Some researchers point to flaws in that data.
Dr. William Malone, an adviser to the group, said the new study appears to reinforce concerns “that early social gender transition can cement a young person’s transgender identity and lead minors down the path of eventual medicalization, with all its inherent risks and uncertainties. .”
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