80% of children studied in the U.S. and Canada grow out of the trans gender feelings and resume normal behavior related to their sex. [Dr. Paul McHugh Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, New Atlantis Sexuality and Gender: Findings from Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences]
Bathroom signs are temporary, but hormones are forever.
That seems to be the implication of a new paper called “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria,” published in the journal The New Atlantis this week.
Paul Hruz of the Washington University Medical School and Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins Medical School looked at the recent use of hormones to treat children who feel that they should be members of the opposite sex and concluded that this experimental treatment, which is becoming commonplace in medicine, could have serious long-term effects on children.
According to an analysis by UCLA last year, about 1.4 million people in the United States identify as transgender, a growing number of whom are children. And there’s no doubt the number of children diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” — described by clinicians as “incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender” — has been on the rise.
A gender identity clinic for children in the United Kingdom, for instance, received 94 referrals in 2009-10 and 1,986 referrals in 2016-17 — a 2,000 percent increase. Referrals for children under the age of 6 went from six to 32 in the same time period.
According to the authors, the reasons for the rise aren’t clear. It could be that increased awareness has led more parents to have their children treated. Or it could be that “gender affirming” treatments “may drive some children to persist in identifying as transgender when they might otherwise have, as they grow older, found their gender to be aligned with their sex.”
In fact, as the authors note, the vast majority of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it. But for parents whose children are experiencing symptoms right now, things can be very difficult for them and for the kids, who are more prone to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Well-meaning parents who want to alleviate this burden as their children approach puberty (and their bodies seem to comport even less with their gender identity) have been increasingly trying hormone suppression. This will not only mean, though, that sex organs won’t develop in boys and girls in the usual way. Puberty, as the authors note, affects all parts of the body. It changes the development of the brain, muscle mass, bone growth and a variety of other systems.
While parents might see hormones as a way of allowing their children to postpone decisions about actual sex-reassignment surgery — the removal of testicles, the creation of breasts, etc. — the truth is that this therapy may have real and long-term effects on children’s physical and psychological development. “Whether blocking puberty is the best way to treat gender dysphoria remains far from settled,” Hruz, Mayer and McHugh write, “and it should be considered . . . a drastic and experimental measure.”
Proponents of such treatments like to tout the fact that they’re “reversible,” but once the process of puberty is disrupted or stopped because of a medical intervention, it’s not at all clear that if the treatment is stopped, things will proceed as they would have otherwise, according to the report: “There are virtually no published reports, even case studies, of adolescents withdrawing from puberty-suppressing drugs and then resuming the normal pubertal development typical for their sex.”
And the fact that few withdraw from this treatment may simply indicate that “these treatments increase the likelihood that the patients’ cross-gender identification will persist.”
Indeed, the use of these drugs to treat gender dysphoria is entirely “off label,” meaning parents who would never feed their children food that wasn’t tested by the FDA or give them toys that weren’t approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission are signing their kids up to receive drugs that are purely experimental at this stage.
Children can’t consent to this. How can parents agree to this on their behalf?
As a society, we can continue to debate policies for locker rooms and restrooms. We can talk about the extent to which religious institutions should be forced to hire transgender employees. If we make a mistake on those, it can be fixed. But when it comes to ensuring that children are able to be healthy and happy, adopting radical and experimental medical treatments will be awfully hard to undo.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.