On the Science of Changing Sex

Transkids Really Are Alright

Posted in Transgender Youth by Kay Brown on December 14, 2019

female_scientistWith pre-adolescent gender atypical and gender dysphoric children we have seen dramatic changes in attitudes during the past fifty years.  We have gone from extremely negative, indeed, punitive treatments to extinquish gender atypicality and demand gender typical behaviors, under the misguided belief that doing so will preclude youth from becoming transsexual and/or homosexual to accepting natural gendered behavior.  Recently, some parents and clinicians have become affirming, rather than denying, that the most gender dysphoric of these youth may benefit from early social transitions, knowing as we now do, that some of these youth will persist being gender dysphoric and will demand to social transition as teens or adults regardless of how they are treated as pre-adolescents.

This change has not gone unchallenged.  There is still a current of homophobic and transphobic feelings found in both the public and in some medical circles that cling to the old model of demanding that these youth should be “encouraged to accept their natal sex” / “encouraged to be more gender conforming”.  The question of how one goes about “encouraging” youth who are overwhelmingly both gender atypical and gender dysphoric without adding to their distress is almost never addressed.  If history is our guide, concern for that distress is largely absent, indeed, the goal of such “encouragement” is often to increase that distress in an effort to make the social cost of being gender atypical sufficiently high that the child’s natural expressions will be suppressed.  We have seen the resulting psychic damage such treatment, clinical or simply social (by family, neighbors, teachers, and bullying peers) has wrought on millions of LGBT people.

When making clinical decisions and recommendations, nothing is more important than scientific evidence.   So it is a happy day when researchers step up to examine transkids experiencing this new, kinder, gentler, and yes, affirming, approach to easing childhood gender dysphoria.  One such group is led by Professor Kristina Olson at the University of Washington Social Cognitive Development Lab and their TransYouth Project.

graphsIn their studies they are following a large number of transkids, now in the hundreds, many of whom have socially transitioned before puberty.  One recent study allowed them to compare transkids to age matched non-transkid controls.  The results did NOT surprise me personally, but may either surprise or dismay virulent transphobes and religious bigots, in that these kids are doing quite well.  Further, the findings show that as a population, one would be hard put to find any differences in psychological make-up, views, attitudes and self-concepts with non-transkids of the opposite natal sex as shown in the histograms shown here. (Note that “Transgender Girl”= MTF Transkids, etc.)  However, transkids and their siblings were more open minded about gender atypical people in general, as one would expect.

Another important finding is that this similarity does NOT change with time post-social-transition, neither increasing nor decreasing with age.  This should put to rest those concerns (if indeed they were genuine concerns and not merely ‘concern trolling’) that social transition either causes persistence or makes it more difficult for desistors to detransition.  The data shows that for pre-adolescent gender dysphoric youth, social transitions occur only in the persisting population, either because desisters abandon the social transition experiment (“Real Life Test”) or simply never even try.

If I have any complaint about this work, it is that the authors of these papers use the term ‘gender typical’ for non-trans-controls but ‘gender non-conforming’ instead of ‘gender atypical’, as though they could be conforming if they just chose to, instead of being naturally gender atypical (and actually quite typical when being compared to the opposite natal sex).  That is say, they didn’t describe the controls as “gender conforming” because that would silly.  Old habits and biased thinking die hard.

Further Reading:

Transkids Transition Because They Are Transsexual !

Child’s Play; Essay on Transkids Self-Concept

Because Boys Must Be Boys; Essay on why “Gender Non-Conforming” label is problematic

Further External Reading:

TransYouth Project

References:

Gülgöz, S., Glazier, J. J., Enright, E. A., Alonso, D. J., Durwood, L. J., Fast, A. A., Lowe, R., Ji, C., Heer, J., Martin, C. M., & Olson, K. R. (2019). Similarity in Transgender and Cisgender Children’s Gender Development. PNAS. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1909367116  Link to pdf

Olson, K.R., & Gülgöz, S. (2018). Early Findings from the TransYouth Project: Gender Development in Transgender Children. Child Development Perspectives, 12(2), 93-97.  Link to pdf

 

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