Early transgender identity tends to endure, study finds

Children who begin to identify as transgender at a young age tend to retain that identity for at least several years, according to a study released Wednesday.

The research involved 317 young people 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 either puberty-blocking drugs or sex hormones to transition medically.

Most of the children in the study came from high-income white families who were supportive of their transitions. On average, children began to identify as transgender around age 6.

It is unclear whether similar results would be found among young people from less advantaged backgrounds or among 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 to suggest that many children change their minds or “retransition”.

Some doctors say this is why transgender drugs or surgery should not be offered until affected children reach adulthood, but rigorous research into the numbers is lacking. The pediatric study is one of the largest to look at the issue, although not all children started treatment and none underwent transgender surgery.

The study is “incredibly timely … and absolutely necessary,” said Coleen Williams, a psychologist who works with the multi-specialty gender service at Boston Children’s Hospital, 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, that’s what we see,” said Williams, who was not involved in the study. “The majority of transgender youth and children who transition socially continue to live in their affirmed gender. »

Families were recruited to participate in the study from social media groups for trans kids, camps, conferences, and word of mouth in about 40 states.

Kristina Olson, a Princeton University psychologist who led the study, said a few of the children briefly returned during the study, but by the end most returned to an identity. transgender.

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

She noted that when the study began in 2013, “non-binary” was not a common term and the children studied used either masculine or feminine pronouns. This may change as researchers follow them through their teenage years. The young people were around 12 years old on average at the end of the study.

The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, a nonprofit group of medical professionals concerned about medical transition risks for minors, said other evidence shows high numbers of children outgrow identities. transgender people at puberty or adulthood. Some researchers point to flaws in this data.

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


Follow AP Medical Editor Lindsey Tanner on @LindseyTanner.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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