Early Transgender Identity Tends to Endure, Study Suggests

CAccording to Wednesday’s study, transgender children identify themselves as children at an early age and tend to maintain that identity for many years.

It involved 317 young people aged between 3 and 12 when they were recruited for the study. Five years later, at the study’s end, 94% were living as transgender and almost two-thirds were using either puberty-blocking medication or sex hormones to medically transition.

Many of the children who participated in the study were raised by wealthy white parents, which supported them during their transitions. The average age at which transgender children identified themselves was 6.

It’s unknown whether similar results would be found among youngsters from less advantaged backgrounds or those who begin identifying as transgender as teenagers. Pediatrics published this study online.

Politicians seeking to outlaw or criminalize medical treatment for transgender youth have cited evidence suggesting many change children their minds or “retransition.”

Some doctors say that’s why transgender medication or surgery shouldn’t be offered until affected kids reach adulthood, but rigorous research on the numbers is lacking. Pediatrics is the largest study to examine the problem. However, not all of the children in the Pediatrics study had begun treatment. No one had had any transgender surgery.

The study is “incredibly timely … and sorely needed,’’ said Coleen Williams, a psychologist who works with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Gender Multispecialty Service, a clinic that treats transgender kids.

“If you’re in the trenches doing this work day-in and day-out with trans kiddos and their families, this is what we see,’’ said Williams, who was not involved in the study. “A majority of transgender youth and kids who make a social transition remain living in their affirmed gender.”

Social media forums for trans kids, camps conferences and word-of mouth were used to recruit families.

Kristina Olson from Princeton University, who was the psychologist in charge of the study, stated that while some children did transition back during the course of the study, many had returned to their transgender identities by the time the study ended.

“It suggests that our model of thinking about people as they’re either X or Y, they’re either cisgender or transgender … is kind of an antiquated way of thinking about gender,” Olson said.

She noted that when the study began, in 2013, “nonbinary” wasn’t a common term and the children studied used male or female pronouns. As the teens grow up, this may shift. They were 12 years old on average at the end of the study.

Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine is a non-profit group that represents health professionals concerned about the medical risks of minors undergoing gender transition. They said there was evidence to support this assertion. Some experts point out flaws in this data.

Dr. William Malone, an advisor to the group, said the new study appears to reinforce concerns “that early social gender transition may cement a young person’s transgender identity, and lead minors on the path to eventual medicalization, with all its inherent risks and uncertainties.’’

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