“Intellectual no-platforming”: Ken Zucker pushes back on the latest attempt to discredit desistance-persistence research

by Marie Verite and Brie Jontry

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, recognized as one of the world’s top experts in childhood gender dysphoria, penned the following paper (released today).

Zucker, K. J. (2018). The myth of persistence: Response to “A Critical Commentary on Follow-Up Studies and “Desistance” Theories about Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Children” by Temple Newhook et al. (2018). International Journal of Transgenderism. https://doi.org/10.1080/15532739.2018.1468293

Dr. Zucker has offered to provide a PDF of the full-text article if readers contact him via email.


Multiple trans-activist journalists and “affirmative” gender clinicians have (rather successfully) propagated the meme that desistance from a trans identity is a “myth”; that Zucker (former director of the Toronto clinic), Thomas Steensma, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis (of the Amsterdam team which pioneered the use of puberty blockers for gender-dysphoric children), and others have wrongly conflated merely gender nonconforming children with “true trans” kids. Therefore, their entire body of research is essentially worthless. These critics have gone further, accusing some clinicians (like Zucker) of forcing harmful reparative therapy on “trans kids.”

Dr. Zucker’s detailed rebuttal to the Temple-Newhook et al article is well worth reading in its entirety.  Be forewarned: The paper is densely argued and referenced, such that understanding it requires a decent working knowledge of the clinical literature on childhood gender dysphoria, the nuances/changes in the DSM diagnostic classifications (e.g., DSM-IV “gender identity disorder” vs. DSM-V “gender dysphoria”), as well as the trans-activist reactions to all of the above.

In a series of tweets today, Dr. Zucker emphasized one of the key points in his paper.

 “…that pre-pubertal gender social transition is itself a psychosocial treatment, which Temple-Newhook et al ignore.”

The context for this tweet can be found on page 7 of Dr. Zucker’s article:

Thus, I would hypothesize that when more follow-up data of children who socially transition prior to puberty become available, the persistence rate will be extremely high. This is not a value judgment – it is simply an empirical prediction. Just like Temple Newhook et al. (2018) argue that some of the children in the four follow-up studies included those who may have received treatment “to lower the odds” of persistence, I would argue that parents who support, implement, or encourage a gender social transition (and clinicians who recommend one) are implementing a psychosocial treatment that will increase the odds of long-term persistence.

And later, on page 10:

Temple Newhook et al. (2018) go on to state that “It is important to acknowledge that discouraging social transition [with reference to the Dutch team’s putative therapeutic approach] is itself an intervention with the potential to impact research findings…” Fair enough. But Temple Newhook et al. (2018) curiously suppress the inverse: encouraging social transition is itself an intervention with the potential to impact findings. I find this omission astonishing.

An astonishing omission, indeed.

As regular readers of this website will know, most parents in the 4thWaveNow community are particularly concerned about the recent increase in teens (particularly females) presenting to gender clinics, with a sudden onset of gender dysphoria around the age of puberty.

Although the characteristics and clinical course of early-onset gender dysphoria (the primary population discussed in Zucker’s paper) are different from that of adolescent-onset, an underlying question pertains to both: Does “affirmative” treatment increase the likelihood that a cross-sex identification will persist?

We must point out here that trans activists consider it “transphobic” for anyone to believe that a child’s desistance from trans-identification would be preferable to persistence. (In fact, this accusation is leveled by Temple Newhook et al in their paper, in so many words. This helps to explain why so many trans activists object to the very idea of studying persistence vs. desistance in the first place.)  Yet, we find it mystifying that a preference for desistance is even controversial.  Surely, if a child can find peace in his or her unaltered body–and happily avoid becoming a sterilized medical patient dependent for life on drugs and surgeries–that is a positive outcome. To leverage an analogy popular with trans activists, many say that “gender affirming” medical treatment is analogous to treatment for children with life-threatening cancers. Yet who would not feel happy for the cancer patient who goes into remission, thus avoiding the ravages of chemo and radiation?

Furthermore, is it not possible to support young people in their gender atypicality,  while at the same time encouraging bodily acceptance?

Central to this discussion is the trans-activist conflation of psychotherapeutic methods with conversion therapy.  Zucker addresses this problem head-on on page 9:

Now, of course, it would not come as a surprise if Temple Newhook et al. (2018) took umbrage at the mere idea of a treatment arm designed to reduce a child’s gender dysphoria via psychotherapeutic methods. They might, for example, offer up the following from the seventh edition of the Standards of Care:

Treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity…to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success (Gelder & Marks, 1969; Greenson, 1964)….Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.” (Coleman et al., 2011, p. 175)

Yet, on the very same page of the Standards, one finds the following: “Psychotherapy should focus on reducing a child’s…distress related to the gender dysphoria…” (p. 175) or “Mental health professionals…. should give ample room for clients to explore different options for gender expression” (p. 175). The lack of internal consistency between the first statement and the second and third statements is rather astonishing.

“Reducing a child’s…distress related to the gender dysphoria” should be the primary goal of all treatment methods. Quite a few 4thWaveNow parents have observed that upon social transition, their children’s dysphoria actually increased. This is another aspect related to the different populations (early-onset vs. adolescent rapid-onset) that needs to be clarified but still remains unknown. Dr. Zucker explains that he “prefers the following summary statements about therapeutics with regard to children with gender dysphoria”:

Different clinical approaches have been advocated for childhood gender discordance….There have been no randomized controlled trials of any treatment….the proposed benefits of treatment to eliminate gender discordance…must be carefully weighed against… possible deleterious effects. (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012, pp. 968–969)

Very few studies have systematically researched any given mode of intervention with respect to an outcome variable in GID and no studies have systematically com- pared results of different interventions….In light of the limited empirical evidence and disagreements…among experts in the field…recommendations supported by the available literature are largely limited to the areas [reviewed] and would be in the form of general suggestions and cautions… (Byne et al., 2012, p. 772)

…because no approach to working with [transgender and gender nonconforming] children has been adequately, empirically validated, consensus does not exist regarding best practice with pre-pubertal children. Lack of consensus about the preferred approach to treatment may be due, in part, to divergent ideas regarding what constitutes optimal treatment outcomes… (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 842)

Here at 4thWaveNow, we have repeatedly stated that we seek to support—not “eliminate”–our children’s “gender discordance” although we resist the idea that gender atypicality is a sign of bodily incongruence. More than anything, 4thWaveNow parents seek to help our children minimize the discomfort that accompanies their nonconformity to gender norms. Since many of our children only experienced dysphoria upon reaching puberty, we call for (much) more evidence that social and medical transition are better at alleviating dysphoria than psychotherapeutic methods.

And as Dr. Zucker has made clear via his life’s work (and in this paper), the jury is still very much out on that question–despite the many attempts by trans activists to deplatform those who study the matter of persistence and desistance.

zucker intellectual no platforming

 

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Could social transition increase persistence rates in “trans” kids?

The trend of “socially transitioning” children as young as 2 or 3 years old to endorse the notion they are “born in the wrong body” is a very new phenomenon. But to read about it in the press, you’d think this was a settled area of clinical practice, with proven results and few doubts about its efficacy.

It is no such thing.

In a 2011 journal article,  Dutch clinician-researchers who first pioneered the use of puberty blockers cautioned that early social transitions can be difficult to reverse:

 As for the clinical management in children before the age of 10, we suggest a cautious attitude towards the moment of transitioning. Given our findings that some girls, who were almost (but not even entirely) living as boys in their childhood years, experienced great trouble when they wanted to return to the female gender role, we believe that parents and caregivers should fully realize the unpredictability of their child’s psychosexual outcome. They may help the child to handle their gender variance in a supportive way, but without taking social steps long before puberty, which are hard to reverse.

Even the Endocrine Society, which actively promotes puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for pubescent children, counseled against social transition in its practice guideline:

endocrine-society

As recently as last year, a 17-clinic qualitative study reported on doubts some clinicans have about aspects of “affirmative” treatments for children:

As long as debate remains … and only limited long-term data are available, there will be no consensus on treatment. Therefore, more systematic interdisciplinary and (worldwide) multicenter research is required.

But among many clinicians and activists, social transition (which usually leads to puberty blocking and then to cross sex hormones) is now being actively promoted as completely harmless and “fully reversible.” Not only that: it is being shamelessly peddled as the only way to prevent suicide amongst children and teenagers.

What evidence do we have for these assertions? There is no historical record of desperately dysphoric “trans children” who demanded sex change lest they commit suicide.  The constant media and activist drumbeat that very young children must be socially transitioned ASAP; must be called by the correct pronouns; must have their “wrong bodies” fixed prior to the “wrong puberty”– or they will kill themselves–is the most irresponsible thing the mass media and medical profession could possibly do. It is a form of emotional blackmail which has terrorized countless parents into handing their kids over to gender clinics and activist-run “charities” for transition to the opposite sex. And the media, by running breathless stories implying that the only way to support gender-defiant and gender dysphoric children is to  “transition” them, may be contributing to suicide contagion, a phenomenon that has been well known for decades.

As far as evidence that social transition is “reversible,” which of these children is actually “reversing”? Certainly, the ones who have continued on to puberty blockers are not:

spack-100-persist

Imagine the pressures on any of the myriad trans-kid YouTube stars, or the children who are the subjects of the too-many-to-count fawning media portrayals we see in every major newspaper and magazine. Can a Jazz Jennings really change course?

None of the children who have been identified as “truly transgender” by clinicians like Norman Spack and Johanna Olson are going to get the chance to find out if they would have been just as happy not being socially transitioned. We won’t learn in any systematic way whether social transition and media validation could be creating persistence in children who might otherwise have grown up without medical and psychiatric tampering.  We can’t know, because researchers aren’t studying them; they don’t have control groups of children who claim to be the opposite sex but who are not socially transitioned and subsequently puberty blocked.

What is a truly transgender child? According to activists and some clinicians, the key trait (along with being generally “gender nonconforming” and preferring the clothes, activities, and appearance more typical of the opposite sex) is that these children are more “persistent, consistent, and insistent” in saying they are the opposite sex (vs simply wanting to be, or wishing they were).

But what is the meaning of “persistent, consistent, and insistent” with children who have only been on the planet a short time, as are the many toddlers, preschoolers, and grade schoolers now being labeled as “trans kids”?  Especially when a rather large percentage of these children also exhibit traits of autism—a disorder known to be characterized by rigid thinking, gender nonconformity, and obsessive/restricted patterns of behaviors?

Activists don’t seem troubled by any of this, nor by the decades of research showing most dysphoric children desist and grow up to be lesbian or gay adults.

korte

The recent study most often cited by trans activists is one by Kristina Olson at the University of Washington, which essentially proved that children who preferred the activities and appearance of the opposite sex weren’t just pretending; they  really meant what they said! (Why would anyone question that?)

But even Dr. Olson, whose confirmation-bias-riddled study includes no control group of non-socially transitioned children, admits that no one can know the outcome for this new generation of experimental patients. kristina-olson-does-not-know

These kids are, by any measure, guinea pigs being subjected to social engineering and then (in most cases) experimental medical procedures, the results of which won’t be known for decades. Researchers like Kristina Olson are fully aware of this, but they think it’s worth the cost of some regrets, some detransitions. Because hey–it’s science.

kristina-olson-admits-kids-are-guinea-pigs

A commenter on the above article aptly points out the elephant in the room:

comment-on-olson-article-persistence-caused-by-social-transition

Fortunately, there is reliable data from other clinician-researchers which suggest a more cautious approach is still in order. We have a 2012 study by Devita Singh, which demonstrated that a very high proportion of kids—some 88%–happily desisted from a trans identification as adults.  It’s worth noting that several of these children were “persistent, insistent and consistent” in their formerly intense gender dysphoria.

Dr. Singh shared her views about early transition in a recent, unusually balanced article in The Walrus magazine:

Singh is frustrated that, despite the findings of her study and others like it, there’s now more pressure than ever for doctors and families to affirm a young child’s stated gender. She doesn’t recommend immediate affirmation and instead suggests an approach that involves neither affirming nor denying, but starting with an exploration of how very young children are feeling. Affirmation, she argues, should be a last resort.

These days there can be a high price to pay for treating gender affirmation as a last resort. Dr. Ken Zucker, a  renowned gender dysphoria expert, has approved puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for many adolescents. Nevertheless, he recognizes that children often change their minds, and takes a careful approach in his clinical practice. For this heresy, he was hounded from his position at CAMH in Toronto by trans activists hellbent on preventing any kind of therapy for dysphoric kids besides “affirmation.”

But Dr. Zucker is still actively publishing,  having co-authored several scholarly journal articles in 2016 alone, and he continues to work with families and young people in his private practice.

In an age when too many believe that children, no matter how young, should be affirmed in their gender identities with no further investigation, clinicians like Zucker are very much needed. Desistance, despite trans activist protestations to the contrary, is a real thing. It’s just not as newsworthy as the latest trans kindergartener coming out story.

This places a heavy burden on parents who aren’t sure who their children are, or who don’t accept the notion that a 5-year-old, even an insistent and strong-willed one, has a set identity in the same way adults do. The current politics leave them behind, because their stories don’t fit neatly into the binary in which trans identities are either accepted or rejected, full stop. There’s no natural political grouping for parents of desisters, because desisting isn’t an identity-politics lodestone in the way persisting is. “We’re quieter,” said Amanda of parents of kids whose gender dysphoria desists. “There are a bunch of us scattered around, and we’re not acting collectively.” As Merry put it, “I feel like sometimes there’s no middle ground. You’re either trans or you’re not, and you can’t be this kid who is just kind of exploring.”

 

The trans-kid honeymoon is sweet—while it lasts

I recently received comments from two readers (here and here) regarding a 2014 Dutch survey study of 55 young transgender adults (average age 20). The study, which reported overall positive psychological outcomes after medical transition, surveyed youth who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, after which they had received puberty blockers, then cross-sex hormone treatments, and finally SRS surgery. The average length of time from first pre-treatment assessment to post-surgery was 6 years.

RESULTS:
After gender reassignment, in young adulthood, the GD was
alleviated and psychological functioning had steadily improved. Well-
being was similar to or better than same-age young adults from
the general population. Improvements in psychological functioning

were positively correlated with postsurgical subjective well-being.

These findings would likely reassure parents and others who have ushered children down the medical transition road. And frankly, anyone who has watched even a few YouTube teen transition vlogs would not find these results particularly surprising. For these kids, it must be an exhilarating experience, to feel they can escape their dissatisfaction with sex-role stereotypes and/or physical characteristics, and embark upon the long-awaited transformation into the opposite sex.  The speed with which the metamorphosis happens—with many young people “passing” as the opposite sex after only a few months of hormone treatment–is  downright magical.

No doubt, at least some of these people will go on to live happy, long lives with no regrets. But it’s likely some will begin to question (at what age? 30? 40? 50? 60?) whether giving up their fertility; permanently altering their bodies; and facing a lifelong regimen of injections and medical monitoring were ultimately worth the price.

Here is one young woman who has begun to raise a few questions. In a recent video entitled “Gender Troubles” (uploaded 6 years after she first decided to “transition,” and after 4 years of videos on her channel that mostly celebrated that choice), she acknowledges what she values about her “transition,” while sharing her realization that things are not quite as simple as they originally seemed to her younger self:

 When I decided to go on hormones…it seemed like the most logical choice for me. I was in a very bad place emotionally…I hated myself a lot. I hated my body. I didn’t identify with it….and I felt very separate from my body. And finding YouTube videos of other people who were transitioning and finding out it was an option to do so kind of deeply affected me. It was very difficult to resist those changes….to resist taking hormones, to see those changes in myself, especially because feeling so disconnected from myself it seemed like the best idea….and you don’t often see other narratives out there, on YouTube, about gender…

…. I struggled with the changes, how I felt about them, how it made me feel and why. At first I accepted them. It was exciting. It was euphoric. It was certainly a ride. And I really liked seeing myself with more muscle, I liked my voice deepening, the hair that was growing…

… My parents were really cool with it. They were not cool with me being a lesbian at all…. [now] they didn’t have to say “I have a lesbian daughter. I have a son who’s straight”….My family was supportive of my transition, so we became a lot closer because of that…

…As time went on, I really felt like…I didn’t identify with the changes I was seeing…I didn’t like the fact that these changes weren’t natural. Part of it felt like I was burying a piece of myself…

…The other night, I cried, because I realized I really want to be able to get pregnant. And I really want to be able to breastfeed. … Maybe it’s me getting older, the internal clock…ultimately I don’t regret getting top surgery…but there are elements where I miss having them….only about 15% of the time. But I can’t deny that this happens…

…There’s a lot more that happens besides achieving a male body or a more masculine body….a lot of things change and you don’t realize it. I don’t think I realized it as much until  …  a year or two off hormones. Things started kind of affecting me…

…When I was transitioning I was really caught up in the thrill of it, the excitement of it, the endorphins that went along with it…[but now]  I’ve been thinking about things I wasn’t before.

Transition regret videos aside, even if we restrict our focus to the 55 subjects in the Dutch research study cited above–young people who (so far) are reporting largely positive benefits from their transition–there is more nuance to this study than first meets the eye. 4thWaveNow contributor fightingunreality delves into some of the study’s unexamined implications in the post below.

As you read fightingunreality’s analysis, consider whether survey studies like this one might be subject to the  “interpersonal expectancy ” of researchers and “supportive” parents. The interpersonal expectancy effect is also known as self-fulfilling prophecy, or the Pygmalian effect, extensively studied by preeminent psychological researcher Robert Rosenthal:

 …the tendency for experimenters to obtain results they expect, not simply because they have correctly anticipated nature’s response, but rather because they have helped to shape that response through their expectations. When behavioral researchers expect certain results from their human or animal subjects, they appear unwittingly to treat them in such a way as to increase the probability that they will respond as expected

In more recent years….research has been extended from experiments, to teachers, employers, and therapists whose expectations for their…patients might also come to serve as interpersonal self-fulfilling prophecies.


Analysis of the 2014 Dutch study (available in full at the link, and introduced above),

by fightingunreality

Any discussion of the “outcomes” for those children chosen for the experimental use of puberty-blocking drugs would be remiss without first addressing the ethics of what has been done.

First, this study is about young people, many of whom initially presented to the clinic as prepubescent children. Children’s understanding of gender is primarily comprised of the simplistic social stereotypes through which they have learned to perceive the meaning of biological sex, and which they lack the certainty of identity to resist. Developmentally unable to fully comprehend abstract concepts, they have little understanding of the social forces which inform and compel both them and the adults to behave in certain manners deemed to be “appropriate” on the basis of sex. The vast majority of these children were socially transitioned by their parents prior to their arrival at the clinic, thereby disrupting the chance that they may have had to experience a typical childhood.

hormone graph 2

Because 85% of the fathers and 95% of the mothers were supportive of their children’s desire to live as the other gender, and since virtually all of the children were living for all intents and purposes as socially transitioned, we can assume, with little doubt, that these parents subscribed to the idea of sex-based gender roles for their children akin to those we have seen in the plethora of news stories of (mostly) moms citing wrong toys and early color preferences as indications that their children were different.

Since none of these child-transition studies (this Dutch study being no exception) report the extent to which parents enforce traditional gender roles, we have no real sense of the degree of their influence on these children or how much they might affect the kids’ willingness to defy them in order to express their non-traditional likes and dislikes– without the expressed belief that they are in fact, a different sex. Is it only a coincidence that 94% of the males in this study were either same-sex attracted or bisexual (87.9% SSA, 6.1% BI) or that 100% of the females (89.2 SSA, 10.8% BI) had same sex attractions? Are we really expected to believe that social and parental attitudes in regards to homosexuality play no part in either the formation of the children’s understandings of what constitutes “feeling like the other sex,” or, more importantly, the acceptability to parents of what, in effect, becomes medicalized gay conversion therapy?

Since the stated protocol by these researchers is to provide a six-months to a year “diagnostic phase,” this means that prior to the first assessment for this particular study, they had already been living as cross-gendered for at least that amount of time, plus the previously acknowledged but unspecified duration of social transition. During the actual diagnostic phase, all of them “officially transitioned” –including name changes. Since the youngest, at the time just prior to the administration of hormone blockers, was 11.1 years old, that means this child had been living cross-gendered since a minimum age of 10.6 years old –in addition to the time prior to arriving at the clinic. What can such a child actually know about what it means to live as his or her own natal sex?

Given the willingness, as noted in the study, of peers and parents to promote and solidify by reinforcement these children’s sense of being wrong-bodied, it is hard to see how such children could establish a basis by which they could reasonably fully comprehend–let alone reevaluate–their child-based understanding of gender and gender roles. As has been noted in previous posts on this blog, identity formation throughout childhood and adolescence is both malleable and fluid. It is impossible to believe that the interventions by both the parents and the clinicians did not directly interfere with these children’s identity development. How does a child who has basically reordered their family’s lives by their insistence that they are actually the other sex back down from such claims? How do they tell their friends? We are not talking about adults, here, after all. By the time these children reached the point of choosing to delay their puberty, they had been living as the other gender for years –in some instances possibly half of their young lives. By the time it came to choose whether or not to imbibe cross-sex hormones, it is no surprise that none of these children chose to revert to living as their own sex: they had been socialized trans.

It’s interesting to note from the information in this paper that during the time between starting hormone blockers and their choice to be put on cross-sex hormones, these kids –especially the girls –actually experienced greater levels of “gender dysphoria.” I think it’s important to ask ourselves why that is. These kids were not facing the risk of further development of secondary sexual characteristics. They were living as their chosen gender. Why wouldn’t they be at least somewhat relieved of their dysphoria? Since levels of such dysphoria consist of self-assessment, this worsening could merely reflect the child’s desire to fully transition along with the knowledge that admitting a decreasing level of dysphoria might threaten the willingness of the clinicians to advance their transitions. That is one possibility. The other more likely possibility is that living as fully socially transitioned children, their awareness of not physically “matching” their chosen gender while assuming that role actually worsens the sense of being wrong-bodied. In other words, telling someone that you are actually a boy or a girl when you clearly are not increases self-awareness of and discomfort with your actual sex.

As was articulated in a BBC documentary by a gay Iranian who was pressured into transition, prior to transitioning he often heard, “He’s so girly. He’s so feminine.” After the surgery, whenever [he] wanted to feel like a woman or behave like a woman, everybody would say “look, she’s like a man. She’s manly.” This phenomenon can readily be applied to children who may have been considered like the other sex prior to living akin to that sex, but become seemingly less like the other sex when attempting to assume that role. The very fact that they are attempting to live as the other gender may very well increase the dysphoria that assuming such a role is meant to lessen. Is it a wonder that 100% of the children that comprised this cohort chose to go on to cross-sex hormones?

The gender specialists promoting these studies want us to believe that the use of hormone blockers provides extra time without the stressful development of secondary sexual characteristics. They’d like us to believe that the children are being given a sort of “time-out” to consider their choices and become more mature before committing to irreversible changes, but is that really the case? The hormones required for adolescent brain reorganization and development are not released when a child has received GnRh agonists. Physical development typical for teenagers is prevented, setting the children even farther apart from their peers, and sexual and romantic involvements –a key factor in desistance –are avoided.

Ultimately, 100% of the children who chose to utilize hormone blockers in this study went on to fully transition. In fact, virtually all children inducted for such therapy demonstrate 100% persistence rates despite that fact that even today, major proponents of this therapy (such as Johanna Olson-Kennedy and Robert Garofalo, in their 2016 paper detailing research priorities on gender identity development and biopsychosocial outcomes) acknowledge that “Clinically useful information for predicting individual psychosexual development pathways is lacking.” They do not have reliable information on who will or will not desist. Are we really expected to believe that these hormone blocker advocates are exceptionally lucky in their selection process when they themselves profess such uncertainty and bemoan the lack of adequate research? Or should such absolute rates of persistence be setting off alarm bells to those of us concerned with the practice of funneling children into a pipeline that flows in only one direction: towards lifelong medicalization with unknown long-term consequences?

Because of the extraordinary persistence rates of children infused with hormone blockers, it’s obvious that hormone blockers do not allow these children extra time. The choice to participate in this protocol becomes the decision to transition, because it prevents the aspects of maturation necessary for desistance from ever occurring. The one thing it does do, however, is to make it seem safer to interfere with the children’s natural course of development. Parents are assured that the effects of blockers are reversible, and the moral burden of placing young children in the position of making adult decisions is put aside.   As a result, even more children are being swept up by this 21st century version of reparative therapy. Altogether, we will never know the number of children who would have desisted had they been allowed to develop without social and medical intervention. This is a travesty.

As far as the “positive outcomes” this study purports, there are numerous problems. First, in order to understand this study, we must consider the selection process detailed in a previous paper by the same authors.  The 70 children chosen for this study were selected from an original cohort of 111 (out of 196 children arriving at the UV hospital seeking treatment for GD) eligible for hormone blockers, after having been “thoroughly screened after a comprehensive psychological evaluation with many sessions over a longer period of time” and found “eligible for puberty suppression and cross-sex hormones.” It was a group chosen on the basis of their likelihood of coping with the transition process. They had “no psychosocial problems interfering with assessment or treatment,” and “adequate” (in the case of this cohort, very high) “family or other support,” and what the researchers described as “good comprehension of the impact of medical interventions.” (We can only guess what that could mean, given the fact that pre-adolescents and adolescents do not have the frontal lobe development to fully project themselves into the future.) Altogether, they seem very unlike the average children and adolescents who are currently being inducted into this process of life-long medicalization either in regard to screening or support and ongoing therapy, which the study notes was provided to them for an average of 6 years “after first presenting at the clinic.”

Fifteen of the cohort of 55 had “some missing data” which we are assured resulted in “no significant differences” on the pre-treatment tests.   I think, too, that when considering the outcomes of these children, it would be remiss to ignore the 15 members of the original cohort of 70 who did not participate in follow up: six had not met the one year gender reassignment surgery anniversary for this study and were, therefore, excluded. Two refused to complete the assessment, and two did not return their questionnaires. (Why?) Three had health problems which prevented them from undergoing gender reassignment surgery, one “dropped out of care” (no clarification) and 1 died from complications from surgery. (How does one weigh such a loss against “positive outcomes?”)

Given the fact that all of these children had what is in essence a “gender obsession” since childhood and had been socially transitioned for years, it comes as no surprise that they experienced relief at finally accomplishing their goals. The kids as a whole did overall demonstrate better functioning than at their initial assessment –possibly from the counselling and special attention they were getting –but “it cannot be ruled out that it relates instead or as well to the benefits that accrue from being validated and accepted for treatment.” They were getting what they wanted, after all. Research has shown that gender non-conforming children and adolescents are at higher risk for PTSD due to abuse and bullying because of being different, and the prospect of “fitting in” provided by merely initiating action towards this goal certainly provides a degree of psychological relief- regardless of the actual physical changes that have yet to take place. This is evidenced by the “significant quadratic effect” that commences immediately upon initiation of cross-sex hormones, well before significant physiological effects of the hormones could possibly have occurred.

Would body image and psychological well-being have improved in these children had they been allowed to experience a natural childhood and identity formation without medical intervention? It is well known in the field of child development that children go through a period of significant peer gender enforcement which corresponds with their concrete thinking and familial socialization which certainly affects the self-image of those who fail to conform. This rigidity begins to relax at around 8 to 10 years –after some of the children in this study have already been socially transitioned due to the discomfort this rigidity has created. Would they have come to a more nuanced understanding of gender roles had they made it past this stage? We –and they –will never know. Logically, children have been shown to be more accepted by members of the sex with which they share interests, rather than those whose similarities are based solely on sex, and gender enforcement prior to adolescence tends to be enacted by members of the same sex. Is it any wonder that children tend to “identify” with those who seemingly accept them and share common interests? Would a more mature understanding of abstract concepts assist them in accepting their own bodies without conforming to artificial gender roles as it did for many of us who matured without the alluring possibility of appearing to actually change sex?

As adolescence progresses, criticism is most likely directed by male peers who are not known for impulse control or empathy. Certainly those of us who have been on the receiving end of such mockery can attest to the resulting social stigma and humiliations we suffered in light of it due to our vulnerability at that age and the fact that we were insecure in our own identities and lacking the self-assurance that maturity brings. It has been demonstrated that peer and social disapproval for gender non-conformity peaks in the adolescent years and gradually decreases throughout young adulthood and adulthood. Not only do we mature, but the peers responsible for the harassment mature, as well. The insults decrease. As gay rights activists in the past often said, in an attempt to help bullied gay and lesbian children, “it really does get better.”

Unfortunately, none of the children in this study will ever know whether this would have been the case for them, because they left behind in childhood the bodies which they very well may have come to accept in the absence of such criticism. In a study in which there is no viable way to create a control group with which to compare these children, there’s no way of knowing how well they would have fared with just the extensive psychotherapy alone, nor of desistance which may have taken place without these prolonged social and medical interventions which prevented the maturation and social and sexual experience that would have occurred otherwise.

As a gender non-conforming adult, I am occasionally harassed by what are typically groups of two or three teen boys out to impress their friends. Because I am an adult with a fully-formed sense of self, my identity is not threatened as are those of the children who have not yet discovered, through experience and physical development, who they really are or can be. Sadly, the ultimate result of medicalized disruption of identity formation –which would have included their whole selves, bodies included –creates an identity which is dependent upon exogenous substances, conscious gendered performance, and the willingness of others to deny their own perception in order to validate it. As such, the identity is not sustainable without significant degrees of external support, and remains more highly vulnerable to what are perceived as being threats to self when it is not validated.   As a result, they may be “at increased risk for the development of narcissistic disorders…as a consequence of the inevitable difficulties they face in having their cross-gender feelings and identities affirmed by others.” (Note: While the linked study is not specifically of children, it seems to me children subjected to early medical transition would also be at some risk of narcissism, given the confluence of factors brought to bear upon them.)

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to accurately critiquing this study is related to the ages and the timing of this so-called “long-term” study: it was completed after only a minimum of one year after gender reassignment surgery. These now young adults had barely any life-experience living as fully transitioned persons. They were still in the honeymoon phase of what had become a fully supported childhood desire. A significant portion of them were still living at home with their supportive parents and attending school. Their lives as fully transitioned adults were just beginning, and the difficulties of navigating sexual relationships and the hardships that entails for those not of their natal sex were in their infancy. They were many years away from the rise in suicidality noted in a Swedish long-term study of adult transgendered persons, which began to rise around 8-10 years after transition.

Because of the failure of the Dutch authors to denote significant variables among these youths (as I’ve outlined in this post), their study inspires more questions than it provides answers.   Have these children been harmed by the parental and medical reification of childhood fantasy and desire? We have primarily their own self-reports to rely on –the reports of young adults who never were given the opportunity to experience childhood or adolescence as one would experience their own actual sex. They have nothing with which they can compare their current experienced “gender.” They will not know what it’s like to have sex in their natural bodies, nor be loved as such. Certainly, as partially formed adults (remember- maturation takes place concurrently with hormonal action and resulting brain development and theirs was delayed), they had not reached fully adult status at the time of their self-assessment. We do not know how the difficulties of living as transgendered people will affect them. We do not know if the long-term effects of injecting artificial cross-sex hormones will damage them physically (or mentally). We will never know whether they might have resolved their gender dysphoria, as others have, and pressed on through life, because they were never given the chance to find out.

Their childhood fantasies were to become a different sex. What they have been given, instead, is the means of promoting that illusion—and the reality of becoming a life-long medical patient.

 

The surgical suite: Modern-day closet for today’s teen lesbian

Despite the fact that trans activists are diligently trying to lower the age of consent for cross sex hormones and surgeries, as a general rule children under 18 in the US cannot access these “treatments” without parental consent (Oregon being a notable exception). I have argued that even 18 is too young to make such permanent decisions, given that executive function skills are not well developed until the early 20s.

But there is another, equally important reason to question medical transition for adolescent girls. According to several peer-reviewed studies (which I will be discussing in detail in this post),

  • 95-100% of girls who “persist” in gender dysphoria at adolescence are same-sex attracted; these girls are typically offered cross-sex hormones by age 16, and  surgeries as young as 18.
  • The typical age that a young lesbian has her first sexual experience and/or claims her sexual orientation is between the ages of 19 and the early 20s.

Let those two statements sink in for a moment.


Here’s the reality of what’s going on in gender clinics around the world right now. An increasing number of adolescent girls diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” are asking for, and receiving, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. The World Professional Organization for Transgender Health (WPATH) officially recommends cross-sex hormone treatment to begin as early as age 16, with SRS surgeries to be offered at age 18.

The vast majority of these girls presenting to clinics admit to being same-sex attracted. Yet data from studies of LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people shows that most young women don’t fully crystallize a lesbian orientation until 19 or older.

To take one of several examples, this 1997 study of 147 lesbians and gay men by Gregory Herek et al, “Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men,” found that

 The mean age for first attraction to a member of the same sex was 11.5 for females and 10.3 for males. Mean age for first orgasm with a person of the same sex was 20.2 for females and 17.7 for males. On average, females first identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual at age 20.2, whereas men did so at age 18.7. Mean age for first disclosure of one’s sexual orientation was 20.5 for females and 21.2 for males.

A 2014 study of 396 LGB people, “Variations in Sexual Identity Milestones Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals” [full article behind paywall] by Alexander Martos and colleagues reported a similar finding for age of first sexual experience:

Women self-identified as nonheterosexual when they were almost 3 years older than the men (age 17.6 vs. 14.8) and reported their first same-sex relationship when they were 1.4 years older than men (19.1 vs.17.7).

And not only do young lesbians take longer to realize and accept their sexual orientation than their gay male counterparts. Coming out to oneself, and to loved ones and the world, takes time. It’s a developmental process that evolves over a number of years, from the first signs of puberty into early adulthood, with several stages, as Martos et al say in their 2014 study:

Coming out is not a single event but a series of realizations and disclosures. The age at which sexual minorities first recognize their identity, tell others about their identity, and have same-sex relationships varies, and people may take different amounts of time between one milestone and the next. Scholars have proposed and tested models of sexual identity development for over 30 years. Cass (1979) developed an influential model, which outlined a six-stage linear psychological path of sexual identity development. Troiden (1989) built upon Cass’s model and reframed it within four stages: (a) sensitization, which may include a person’s first same-sex attraction and their first questioning of their heterosexual socialization, (b) identity confusion, a period during early to mid-adolescence that is marked by inner turmoil and often the initiation of same-sex sexual activity, (c) identity assumption, when a youth self-identifies as LGB and begins to reveal their “true self” to select people and seeks community among other LGBs, and (d) commitment, which is marked by the initiation of a same-sex romantic relationship and disclosure to a wide variety of heterosexual people (Floyd and Stein 2002). These models suggest that healthy and stable sexual identity development necessitates the full permeation of sexual identity into all aspects of a person’s life.

So the process of integration–“full permeation”–of one’s sexual orientation is a process that takes place over a period of years.  It involves “identity confusion” and “inner turmoil” in adolescence. And not to put too fine a point on it, but most lesbians don’t even begin to express and realize their orientation until 19 or 20 years old.

Yet same-sex attracted girls who present to gender clinics–many of them still with the concrete, either-or thinking of a child (e.g., if I like girls, I must be a guy), internalized homophobia, and overall lack of maturity and self reflection typical of their age, have been “socially transitioned” for years; have had their puberty “blocked” (such that they don’t have the opportunity or desire, in most cases, to actually experience a physical relationship with a love interest); and then move on to “transitioning” to….a straight male.

Here they are, girls without sexual experience, conditioned to reject their bodies and begin irreversible medical “treatments” before they’ve had a chance to embark on the years-long process of discovering their own bodies as sexual beings.

In a 2011 Dutch study “Desisting and persisting dysphoria after childhood, Steensma et al note that 100% of the girls who “persisted” in gender dysphoria by age 16 were same-sex attracted. As they indicate, this finding corroborates that of other researchers over many decades. A 2013 study,  also by Steensma et al, revealed the same information, but added more granularity: between 95.7 -100% of the 16-year-old (average age) girls reported exclusively same-sex attraction, fantasy, and behavior (defined as “kissing” because, as the authors note, that was the extent of their sexual experience). Age 16–well before the average age of coming out as lesbian noted in the studies I highlighted earlier.

With regard to sexual attraction, all persisters reported feeling exclusively attracted to persons of the same natal sex, which confirmed their gender identity as they viewed this attraction as a hetero­sexual attraction. They did not consider themselves homosexual or lesbian.

…the majority of adolescents kept their sexual attractions to themselves. Both boys and girls indicated that, as a result of fear of rejection, they did not speak about their sexual feelings to others, and did not try to date someone. Furthermore, most adolescents felt uncomfortable responding to romantic gestures from others.

In summarizing their findings, Steensma et al note that

…. The third factor that seemed to be associated with the persistence or desistence of childhood gender dysphoria was the experience of falling in love and sexual attraction. The persisters, all attracted to same- (natal) sex partners, indicated that the awareness of their sexual attractions func­tioned as a confirmation of their cross-gender identification as they viewed this as typically hetero­sexual.

These adolescents at age 16 regarded their same sex attractions as “typically heterosexual.” It’s fascinating that the study authors make this statement without any examination of exactly why the 100%-same-sex-attracted persisters viewed themselves this way, and whether this might give pause to the practice of medical transition—especially since in the very next paragraph, Steensma et al refer to earlier research findings that LGB people are late to claim their sexual orientations:

 All persisters reported feeling exclusively, and as long as they could remember, sexually attracted to individuals of the same natal sex, although none of the persisters considered themselves ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian,’ but (because of their cross-gender identity) ‘heterosexual.’

As for the desisters, about half of them were sexually attracted in fantasy to individuals of the same natal sex. Yet, all girls and most of the boys identified as heterosexual. The difference between the reported sexual attractions and identities may be related to the timing of the ‘coming-out’. The literature shows that the average age of the first feel­ings of same-sex attraction is generally during puberty and before the age of 18 (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996). However, the moment at which men and women identify and come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual generally lies above the age of 18, at the end of adolescence or in their early twenties (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996).

Steensma et al give us what we need to know, but they don’t connect the dots: these same-sex attracted young adolescent girls undergo “transition” before they have the opportunity to experience themselves as sexual beings in their healthy, original bodies.

Why are we robbing our kids of the right—the basic human right—to discover their sexuality without preemptive tampering by the medical and psychiatric profession?  “Transition” prevents them from learning whether they might be gay/lesbian, freezing them at an immature stage of development when the only possibility they see is that they are heterosexuals trapped in the wrong body.

Trans activists like to say that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. But obviously, it just ain’t so. Study after study, anecdote after anecdote, media story after media story, tells us that most “trans men” start off as same-sex attracted adolescents. But no one outside the blogosphere—no one –is pointing out the obvious: that girls who would naturally mature into lesbian adults are having the process of realizing their sexual orientation short-circuited by medical transition.

Who will step forward to stop this? Who with power in our society—the Congress, the President, the publisher of the New York Times¸ the child and adolescent psychologists–will raise their voices? Where are the lesbian doctors, lawyers, heads of LGBT organizations? Which of you will name this preemptive conversion therapy for what it is?