Youth transgender study shows persistence in identity after social transition

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 11:41 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - New data shows that 94% of transgender youth who socially transition, will continue identifying as gender diverse.

Experts believe that persistence shows the appropriate decisions, as it pertains to children’s medical care.

Jace Wilder transitioned at the start of college. Now, he is studying for his masters at Vanderbilt University in public health for LGBT health policy.

“I always kind of felt different from the other kids. I never really fully understood where I belonged when it came to gender,” said Wilder. He continued “I finally started honoring it. And in that came a lot of difficulties of bullying, discrimination. But I still found, using my name, using my pronouns, and trying to find support around me was still so much better living that way.”

Jace isn’t alone in his journey to transitioning.

A 5-year study by the American Academy of Pediatrics of more than 300 transgender youth recently found that after initial social transition, which can include changing your pronouns, name, and how you might dress or present yourself, 94% continued to identify as transgender while only 2.5% identified as their sex assigned at birth.

“Once people came out as gender diverse they really ended up persisting in those identities over time. So fewer than 2.5% of children who made that initial social transition ended up identifying as their sex assigned at birth at the conclusion of the five year study. That means that over 97, almost 98% of the children in that study persisted on in their gender diverse identities over time,” said Dr. Melissa Cyperski, Clinical Psychologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Cyperski reviews letters of support for folks seeking to medically transition at VUMC’s Pediatric transgender Health Clinic. That also includes conducting evaluation, support therapy, and getting to know the patients, their needs, and working with families.

“Identifying as gender diverse is something that many kids have thought about for years upon years and then finally found the courage to share who they are with people who are close to them,” she said.

Once a person takes the step to come out as gender diverse, whether that is transgender or non-binary, they may take the first step of making a social transition. Then they can go on further to make a medical transition. That could involve puberty blockers which would prevent development in the puberty they were assigned at birth or going on to receive gender affirming hormones like testosterone or estrogen in their affirmed gender. That is a process that involves a lot of work with a medical team and a mental health professional.

“We’re waiting for them to be in puberty to consider and possibly initiate any type of medical intervention,” said Dr. Cyperski. That means it’s not standard practice to begin a medical transition until puberty has begun.

Cyperski said there is a lot of fear and misconceptions out there about what it means to be transgender. She pointed out, “Tennessee has passed one such bill that codifies the inability to provide hormones to pre-pubertal children. That’s actually not a recommended best practice. We only treat children after they’ve initiated puberty. So that law created a lot of fear, a lot of misconceptions in the Tennessee communities. Because it sends a message of confusion and that we are considering how you may be able to meet your health care needs.”

The law hasn’t changed the state of practice.

The American Academy of Pediatrics study also showed the following numbers for persistence in a transgender identity:

  • 94% youth identified as binary transgender
  • 3.5% youth identified as nonbinary
  • 2.5% youth identified as cisgender
  • 1.3% retransition to another identity before returning to their binary transgender identity

The study also points out that between 2.5% and 8.4% of children and adolescents worldwide identify as transgender or gender-diverse.

Dr. Cyperski said, “For folks who have the awareness and start to learn about who they are and take the step to share that with people they love and other people in the world, when they identify as transgender or gender diverse and they come out to others, that means that we should believe them. And support them because it’s likely that they’re going to persist on in that identity and remain gender diverse or transgender throughout their lifetime.”

She continued, “We know from history and from science that even ancient Egyptians were identifying as gender diverse and were taking steps to socially transition and even medically transition and experimenting in different ways that they can change their bodies and their presentation to match their identities. So we can trace this back generations upon generations. Transgender folks have always been here and will continue to be here.”

Even though Wilder said there a difficulties to living as a trans man each day, he just wants to be treated like anyone else: a human, with respect.

“I think back to how depressed and anxious I was before I started transitioning. And even with all the trouble and discrimination that I face on a daily basis, to me it’s so much more worth it to be addressed as what I would see as me rather than burying myself and be accepted. Because it just wasn’t worth the suffering,” said Wilder.

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