The answer to that question is that a majority of children don’t express gender confusion as they age.
That’s according to Dr. James Cantor, the Director of the Toronto Sexuality Centre.
“There are 12 such studies in all, and they all came to the very same conclusion: The majority of kids cease to feel transgender when they get older,” Cantor said.
One such study that Dr. Cantor cites is ‘Factors associated with desistence and persistence of childhood gender dysphoria’ (Steensma et al.,2013), which followed up on 127 transgender kids in the Netherlands.
“Of the 127, 47 said they were still transgender while 56 said they were no longer transgender,” he said.
“Steensma reported that 63% of the cases desisted.”
Critics of this study however, point to 24 people who did not participate in the study and therefore, could not be found to properly represent as a desister.
“Regardless of whether one agrees with that, when one excludes these 24, one simply finds a desistance rate 54% instead of 63%. Although numerically lower, it nonetheless supports the very same conclusion as before,” said Cantor.
Cantor says he is disappointed in activists who dismiss scientific evidence.
“Ultimately, these extremists are those who represent one third of trans children who do live happy lives after fully transitioning. They seek to use other children for their own political gain, which is wrong.”
What happens to children who do transition at a young age?
In may of 2017, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit published a story about an international team of doctors working to rewrite the clinical guidelines for how and when to medically treat transgender children.
Dr. Steve Rosenthal was one of those doctors. According to Rosenthal, offering medical intervention at younger ages allows transgender children to physically transform more seamlessly and limit the number of costly and complicated surgeries later in life.
The article points to the case of 12-year old Jack, a transgender boy who began socially transitioning a year prior.
Jack underwent a medical procedure to have a tiny device implanted in his left arm that pumps medications through the body to stop the effects of puberty.
Rosenthal believes halting puberty can lead to an easier and more successful physical transformation for transgender people long term.
But doctors, including Rosenthal, recommend kids get off the puberty blocker by the time they turn 14 for fear of potential side-effects, including the weakening of bones.
“Extreme measures, such as hormonal therapy or transitional surgery, could cause serious side affects and can’t be easily reversed,” said Cantor.
“A lot of people are resorting to these measures first because they feel they are doing the right thing. We should consider these dramatic changes last, and resort to less harmful procedures, such as social transition.”
As for the psychological effects, well they have not yet been tested.
“There aren’t enough scientific studies that have looked into the psyche of a child who ceases to feel confused as they age. I do wonder what happens to children who transition but find they want to reverse it later in life,” said Cantor.
While transitioning does work for some children, Cantor believes more cautionary measures should be in place until children come to fully understand their body.
“The problem is that we can’t treat every case as if they are a member of that one third,” he said.
“A very substantial proportion do indeed want to transition as they get older, and we need to ensure they receive the support they will need. Despite loud, confident protestations of extremists, the science shows very clearly and very consistently that we cannot take either outcome for granted.”