UK GIDS Failing Publicly

The heads of the UK Children’s Gender Identity Service (GIDS) have just published a new journal article, featured in the British Medical Journal ‘Archives of Disease in Childhood’:

“Assessment and support of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria” Gary Butler (Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist), Nastasja De Graaf (GIDS researcher), Bernadette Wren (Head of Psychology at GIDS), Polly Carmichael (GIDS Director).

This latest article from the heads of the UK children’s gender service (GIDS) sets out the UK service’s position and deserves close scrutiny. Here goes:

Introduction

The article is intended for “professionals” who:

“may be unsure how best to provide supportive care, how to access the national Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children and adolescents, or how to deal with a transgender young person presenting with another clinical problem unrelated to their gender transition”

Referencing fringe figures

The first reference they have chosen to include is co-authored by Ray Blanchard and Kenneth Zucker, two controversial figures, the former whose theories have been rejected by mainstream practitioners and who is known for speaking about trans people with disrespect, and the latter who was sacked from his clinic in Canada for work that could not be distinguished from conversion therapy and who has compared trans children to animals.

Conflating behaviour with identity

For a guide intended for non-specialists, the publication from the very start confuses and conflates behaviour, expression and identity:

Gender atypical behaviour is common among young children and can be part of general development”.

They omit any publications (e.g. Hidalgo et al 2013Olson et al 2015, Ehrensaft 2016Fast & Olson 2017)  that evidence the existence of trans children at a young age – with an insistent, consistent, persistent gender identity different from the one assigned at birth. They also omit to mention that trans children may or may not have non-traditional behaviour or expression. Gender identity and behaviour/expression are different things, and any publication intending to educate, should be clear on this. This omission is a fundamental failing.

Focus on exponential rate of rise, not on actual numbers compared to population prevalence

The first paragraph focuses on the ‘exponential’ rise in referrals since 2011. The language is alarmist, with the focus only on the rate of increase, with no discussion of the actual numbers. The actual numbers are extremely low and as with all low numbers, can easily show exponential growth.

The section on prevalence contains no discussion on how these low actual numbers compare to estimates of prevalence across the population. There is an alarmist focus on the growth rate without mentioning the numbers for 2011 were only 200 children a year (from the UK population of 60 million) and in 2016 were only 2,000 children a year. 2,000 children a year from a under 18 population of about 14 million children in the UK is still a very small percentage. So yes from 200 to 2000 is an exponential rise, but it is still only a tiny fraction of the under 18s in the UK.

This section does not mention that recent population prevalence surveys have put the trans population at around 1%, which would mean up to 140,000 of those currently under 18 might identify as trans. Referral numbers rising from 200 a year to 2,000 a year should not be a surprise in this context.

There is also zero discussion of the wider context, not only the rise in visibility and awareness of trans people in general, but the specific context in the UK – GIDS mentions a rise in referrals since 2011 with no mention of the arrival of the Equality Act in 2010, legislation that protected trans children and enabled families like mine to feel safe enough to get support at school and in other areas – protection that allowed families to be more open, protection that enabled families to support their child.

Australian gender specialists describe a rise in referrals in a completely different manner:

“Spurred on by increasing acceptance of transgender individuals in society (and normalisation of the right for anyone to question their gender identity), the number of young people seeking support is likely to increase further”

UK GIDS cannot seriously claim the rise in referrals is unexpected – a rise in referrals was predicted by GIRES back in 2009.

Focus on rise in ‘birth registered females’ 

GIDS continue:

“A striking feature of this increase is the large proportion of birth-registered females from 2011 onwards. This increase and the change in sex ratio is also seen in other countries. 

Let’s break this down. Again the focus on rise in referrals. From 57% assigned female in 2011 to 69% assigned female in 2016. From about 100 assigned females in 2011 to about 1,400 in 2016, from a population of 64 million people in the UK. Any analysis of trans prevalence would acknowledge that the 100 referrals of assigned females under 18 years old in 2011 was a gross under-representation. A rise in assigned female referrals was predicted by GIRES in 2011. A less transphobic service would celebrate the fact that more assigned females are getting listened to, getting referrals and getting support.

The Fig for the accompanying graph states “referrals by birth-registered gender”. In the UK birth certificates state ‘sex’ not ‘gender’. GIDS should be aware of this.

Here appears the second academic reference in their paper. The first was co-authored by Zucker and Blanchard. Who is their chosen second reference? Oh, of course, it is another paper co-authored by Zucker.

Inclusion of unsubstantiated speculation

“The reasons (for rise in assigned females) are not fully explicable and a number of questions arise. Is this increase due mostly to the greater tolerance of gender-diverse expression in westernised society? Is male status still regarded as preferable?

We are still in the paper’s first proper paragraph, in a paper intended to educate professionals, who are not gender specialists, in evidence based medical consensus. At this point in the paper, GIDS decides it is appropriate to engage in unevidenced speculation about the reason for a rise in assigned females. It chooses to include unevidenced speculation that matches a fringe theory proffered by transphobic lobby groups: “Is male status still regarded as preferable?”.

This unqualified speculation implies that children and adolescents are choosing to be trans. That trans boys choose to be trans to benefit from the enhanced status that comes with being seen as a trans boy. This suggestion woefully minimises the very real challenges facing trans boys and trans masculine children in a transphobic UK. But most importantly it is not supported by evidence. This is a GIDS publication in a medical journal. Do NHS professionals in medical journals routinely apply speculation on medical care eg. for reasons for a rise in asthma? Why are professional standards for trans children’s medical professionals so dire?

And more:

“What are the benefits, as well as the possible harms, in supporting and helping these young people at different stages of development?”

GIDS are not talking about the nuances of different treatment pathways here – they are saying that ‘supporting and helping’ young people has the potential to cause harm. Implying that there are circumstances when it is better to not ‘support’ and not ‘help’ young people.

Noticeably, despite extensive evidence of the harms of withholding care to trans adolescents (See Giordano and here ), they choose not to include any reference to the known harms associated with not helping young people. The then Chair of the NHS Clinical Reference Group for Gender stated that “not treating people is not a neutral act. IT WILL DO HARM”.

“Not treating people is not a neutral act. It will do harm: there are a number of studies that report evidence of suicide and self-harm among trans people who are unable to access care.”
John Dean, MBBS, FRCGP, Chair, National Clinical Reference Group for Gender
Identity Services, England

Here is the 2017 Australian Standards of Care for trans children (now also published in the Lancet) on withholding treatment:

“Avoiding harm is an important ethical consideration for health professionals when
considering different options for medical and surgical intervention. Withholding of
gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate
distress in a number of ways including increasing depression, anxiety and suicidality,
social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally
accessing medications”.

GIDS omits any reference to evidence that withholding care causes harm.

Criteria for the diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria

GIDS describe the diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (from the 2013 DSM-5) and focus on descriptions of behaviour.

There are many problems with the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria that GIDS are either unaware of, or choose not to discuss.

Contrast this with the astute approach Johanna Olson-Kennedy takes to DSM-5 gender dysphoria diagnostic criteria.

Dr. Olson-Kennedy critiques the adult Gender Dyspohria diagnosis that requires a trans person to have “a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender”.  Olson-Kennedy ridicules this describing her “big book of typical feelings and reactions, the blue pages are male and the pink female”.

The DSM-5 gender dysphoria diagnostic criteria for children is even more absurd. In order for a child to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, they HAVE to say yes to at least one of these three outdated, stereotyped criteria:

  • A strong preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender.

  • A strong preference for playmates of the other gender.

  • A strong rejection of toys, games and activities typical of one’s assigned gender.

If a trans child such as mine, likes a wide variety of toys and plays with all children (and how can that possibly be a bad thing?) then that child CANNOT be diagnosed as gender dysphoric according to DSM-5. The diagnosis is obviously nonsensical.

It is a stereotyped and confused mess of a diagnostic tool, yet the GIDS paper presents this without critique, qualification, or apology, instead accepting and endorsing its focus on behaviour rather than identity. Perhaps this endorsement is because GIDS are content with a confusion between gender identity and behaviour – confusion that is consistently used by vocal transphobic lobbyists to argue against support for trans children.

The GIDS article states: “for children, cross-gender behaviours may start between the ages 2 and 4, the same age at which most typically developing children begin showing gendered behaviours and interests”.

Why are they focusing on behaviour and interests? If the authors had any understanding of gender, they would examine how and why behaviour and interest do not equal identity. This omission is astonishing.

Again, no mention of Olson 2015 or Fast 2017 that found: “Transgender children do indeed exist and their identity is a deeply held one” providing evidence that “early in development, transgender youth are statistically indistinguishable from cisgender children of the same gender identity.” This research literature from the US is completely omitted from the GIDS paper.

Do GIDS feel it is appropriate to disregard academic literature that challenges their (unevidenced) beliefs?

The language contrasting trans children with ‘typically developing children’ is also cisnormative and pathologizing. My child is developing typically. She just happens to be trans.

Cisnormative and outdated terminology

GIDS include a glossary of ‘useful terminology’. The definitions they have chosen to use, and those that are missing, evidence their cisnormativity and lack of sensitivity or awareness of trans inclusive language and risk alienating their service users.

“Transgender: Transgender refers to the broad spectrum of individuals who identify with a gender other than that associated with their birth sex”.

The phrase ‘birth sex’ is outdated – ‘assigned sex’ is used for a reason. Especially given the 2017 Endocrine Society guidelines has a whole section on the substantial evidence of a biological underpinning to gender identity (something GIDS do not reference in their paper).

Here’s a better definition, from the Australian Standards of Care: “Trans/Transgender: A term for someone whose gender identity is not congruent with their sex assigned at birth”

“Non-binary: Non-binary is a lack of identification with conventional maleness or femaleness. Non-binary people may express features of both genders or neither.”

This muddled definition places more emphasis on gender expression than on identity. It is also ironic, in a definition of non-binary, to use the phrase ‘both genders’. A better definition would focus on identity not expression: “Non-binary: A term to describe someone who doesn’t identify exclusively as male or female”.

“Transman/transboy: A person born phenotypically female (natal female), registered (assigned) female at birth, who identifies as male. Also known as female to male.”

Many trans people consider the lack of space between trans and man or boy offensive. Trans is an adjective. ‘Transman’ is a term frequently used by those who wish to other trans people. It is used by those who argue that trans men are not men. The definition is also cisnormative – the phrase ‘identifies as‘ would never be used for a cis man.

The GIDS definition of a ‘transman’ states ‘a …female….female….female who identifies as male’. The term ‘female’ appears three times in their definition before the word male.

Further, the term ‘natal female’ is widely considered outdated and offensive by trans people. The Endocrine Society states there is clear evidence of a biological underpinning to gender identity. Trans boys are not ‘natal females’. Many medical professionals already use gender affirming terminology, with even the Endocrine Society using the term transgender male to refer to trans men – there is simply no justifiable reason to use the term ‘natal female’ when talking about trans men.

“Transwoman/transgirl: A person born phenotypically male (natal male), registered (assigned) male at birth, who identifies as female. Also known as male to female.”

As above – where is the space between trans and woman or ‘girl’?  ‘Transwoman’ is a term used by those with deep seated hostility to trans women to attack and discriminate. It is considered by many to be deeply offensive. Are the authors so unaware that this language is deprecated?

Again, in their definition of a trans woman (transwoman), they repeat the word male three times before saying ‘who identifies as female’.

The text suggests that the term ‘male to female’ is a noun and a synonym for trans girl. Not helpful.

Cisgender

GIDS do not include a definition of the word cis or cisgender. The words cis or cisgender are not used ONCE in their paper. Through these definitions and omission GIDS erase and ‘other’ trans people and their service users.

Appropriate assessments prior to referral

“The GIDS is an unusual multidisciplinary service in that the initial assessment … is aimed at understanding the young person’s development and gender identification in the context of their family background and life experiences It takes account of how they feel about their gender and their body now and in the past, the context in which the gender dysphoric feelings arose and intensified, how these feelings are being managed in everyday life, and what hopes are held for proceeding in the future”.

GIDS focus is on ‘the context in which the gender dysphoric feelings arose’. They place causation at the centre (a later section of the paper discusses their quest for a diagnostic test for ‘transness’ – asking a child their identity apparently didn’t occur to them.

There is no discussion of the 2016 Lancet publication which states that parenting has no impact on gender identity. There is no mention that gender identity is resilient to external influence, and no mention that past attempts to externally change a gender identity are considered unethical and ineffective. These omissions are damning.

Compare the Australian standards of care which  explicitly covers those issues which are ignored by GIDS:

 “In the past, psychological practices attempting to change a person’s gender identity to be more aligned with their sex assigned at birth were used. Such practices, typically known as conversion or reparative therapies, lack efficacy, are considered unethical and may cause lasting damage to a child or adolescent’s social and emotional health and wellbeing”.

Autism

“Around 35% of referred young people present with moderate to severe autistic traits”.

GIDS provide no published detail, nothing of their methodology and no discussion of the number of children who have ‘moderate’ versus ‘severe’.

This sentence also smacks of ableism. The statistic about autism is given without any discussion of how their service supports and cares for neuro-diverse trans children. For a brief summary of current literature on the intersections of gender diversity and autism see this 2017 review by Gender Analysis.

Assessment

“The assessment period usually takes 6 months or more over a minimum of four to six sessions”.

Earlier in this paper GIDS have already confirmed that they follow the NHS service specification. Their own service specification clearly states on page 13:

“an initial assessment process which will be specific to the person in terms of duration and will typically be over three to six meetings depending on the individual”.

GIDS’ own service specification commits to individualised care, yet here they are stating a minimum of four sessions regardless of circumstance. In a service where waiting lists for a first appointment (once a family manage to secure a referral from a GP) have risen to 18 months!

These illegal and unethical waiting periods have a direct negative impact on young people and their families.  There are reports of families re-mortgaging homes to afford private care outside of the UK. There is a growing practice of (dangerous) self-medication. These problems are entirely avoidable and are a direct consequence of a lack of individualised care and the appalling waiting lists created as a result.

Trans teens are a highly vulnerable group – making a highly distressed trans teen entering puberty wait 18 months for a first appointment and then inflict an inflexible protocol requiring a minimum 4 sessions, spread months apart, before any consideration of a referral (with further assessment and delay) to the endocrine service, for fully reversible, safe, puberty blockers, is both unnecessarily CRUEL, and a gross dereliction of duty of care.

“At the end of the assessment, it may be possible to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of GD”.

Note the arrogance and where the power lies. The clinician can ‘exclude’ a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria. There is no practical recourse, no appeal, and no power to challenge the monopoly service authority over trans children.

Rates of referral to pediatric endocrine clinic

For several years GIDS have been talking about rates of continuation to medical intervention, without ever providing any published data.

Head of service Polly Carmichael spoke on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on the 7th August 2017:

Polly was asked by the presenter Victoria Derbyshire:

“How often might you see a child at a young age, 3 or 4 or 5 who as they grow or mature eventually change their mind?”

Polly answered:

“Those that are referred to the service at 5 years old it will only be 6% of those who ultimately go on to seek physical interventions to change their body”

Following this national media appearance parents asked GIDS to SHOW US THE DATA.

Radio silence. GIDS confidently, publicly, state a statistic about a specific group (only 6% of 5 year olds will go on..) on national television, ignoring the negative impacts this may have on families with trans children, and then fail to publish anything to support their claim.

This is a gross abuse of their power.

For years parents have been asking GIDS to publish data to support claims that they have been stating on national television morning breakfast shows, in newspapers, at medical conferences. These claims that are interpreted by viewers and readers as exceedingly high rates of children ‘changing their minds’.

Finally, in this paper, GIDS have included data, and within the respected British Medical Journal. How exciting! Let’s take a look!

What does their data actually show?

“Following psychosocial assessment at the GIDS, on average 38%–40% of all clients attend the joint endocrine clinics, although this varies across the age range.”

That seems a clear statistic. It appears that 38% of children go to endocrine. It is strange that they have chosen to provide an average percentage across all age ranges, when they are only taking data over a 4-7 year time window. They acknowledge, straight up, that the 38% figure is an underestimate as the older cohort (who are more numerous) proceed to adult services for endocrinology. They do not however, acknowledge that the youngest cohort are too young to be eligible for endocrinology making the 38% figure even more of an underestimate. It is strange then for them to have chosen to lead with this largely meaningless average percentage number.

GIDS do not provide all the data, but do provide a graph which will assist with testing this 38% figure.

figure 2 Butler paper

The blue bars track the age at initial referral. The mean age of referral to GIDS was age 14.4 years (the mode would be a more useful statistic in this graph).

The orange line tracks the proportion who had been referred to endocrinology by 2017.

While the underpinning evidence is unfortunately missing, we can use the data visually presented in the graph in order to test the accuracy of the 38% figure for different age groups.

In the graph we are given a single combined data set for the period 2010-2013. For the sake of a simple calculation, we’ll take a single yaer within this (2012) and assume that everyone has been referred in 2012 (rather than 2010-2013 – taking the latter of the mode numbers, as referrals have risen each year).

4 year olds (age of referral) in this data set

4 year olds referred in 2012 are 9 years old in 2017. Unsurprisingly zero out of approximately 10 of these children have been referred by 2017 (they are too young to be at tanner stage two, especially as those children referred at age 4 were more likely to be assigned males who typically start puberty later than assigned females).

6 year olds in this data set

For 6 years olds referred in 2012, who are age 11 in 2017, roughly 3 out of 20 have been referred to endocrinology. Again, this is not surprising. The majority of referrals at 6 are assigned males and most assigned males have not started tanner 2 at age 11.

9 year olds in this data set

For 9 year olds in 2012, who are 14 years old in 2017, we can see around 50% have been referred (20 out of 40 children).

12 year olds in this data set

Children referred at age 12 are age 17 in 2017, and we can estimate about 80% of them have had a referral. Similar for those referred at 13 and 14 years old,

15 year olds in this data set

For children referred at 15 years old, 50% have had a referral to endocrinology a drop compared to 14 year olds at referral.

For 16 and 17 year olds  the referral rate drops further. As GIDS explains in their paper, many 15, 16, 17 year olds will have limited benefit from blockers, and many prefer to wait until adult services (transfer at 17) where they are allowed to go on to HRT without the children’s service mandatory year on just blockers.

Some assigned females presenting to gender services at age 16 choose to go on the pill through GP rather than blockers through GIDs and go direct to adult services as they know those being referred at 16 will not get referred for Testosterone in the children’s services. Adolescents presenting in late puberty have less benefit from blockers and service users reports indicate a greater reluctance of GIDs to prescribe for those entering the service at ages 15-17.

Wait just one moment here!

Let’s look again at exactly what head of service Polly Carmichael, co-author of this paper, said on national media on the 7th July 2017 [10:20 am]:

When asked by the presenter Victoria Derbyshire

“How often might you see a child at a young age, 3 or 4 or 5 who as they grow or mature eventually change their mind?”

Polly responded:

“Those that are referred to the service at 5 years old it will only be 6% of those who ultimately go on to seek physical interventions to change their body”

We are now able to check Dr Carmichael’s statement against this newly published data:

For 5 year olds referred in 2010-2013, we are not given the number who have received referral to endocrinology by 2017, but from looking at this graph it is a very low number, it may  well be as low as the 6% stated by Dr Carmichael. What does this 6% mean? Let’s dig deeper into this exact issue, using both the above graph and GIDS own referral statistics from their website:

Year  Number of 5 year olds referred

 Age in 2017

2010 3 12
2011 3 11
2012 8 10
2013 10 9
Total: 24
Average age: 9.95

The entire data set for 5 year olds is 24 children. The average age of their sample in 2017 is age 9.95 years old.

If we were to make the assumption that 100% of these children would wish to access puberty blockers, how many of those 9.95 year olds would reasonably be expected to have accessed puberty blockers in 2017?

GIDs own figures suggest younger children (including 5 year olds) are by far more likely to be assigned males – with 4 times as many assigned males as assigned females at this age.

What then, is a common age for assigned males to start puberty? This 1980 publication states that puberty for assigned males begins at age ranges 9.7 to 14.1 years.

We would therefore expect a very small number of our 24 children to have started puberty. So we would expect a very small number of our children to have reached the stage of being eligible for puberty blockers. The figure of 6% having been referred to endocrinology after the start of puberty sounds a reasonable figure given most will not yet have reached tanner stage 2 of puberty.

This data TELLS US NOTHING about how many 5 year olds referred in 2010-2013 will end up needing medical interventions.

This data DOES NOT justify the Head of GIDS going on national television and, in response to a question on whether young children ‘change their minds’ answering that ‘only 6%’ of 5 year old continue. It is dismissive and damaging.

This dismissive and damaging rhetoric from GIDS directly feeds into (and is a contributor to) the moral panic that we are facing in the UK today around trans children.

This dismissal and erasure of trans children feeds into the situation in the UK where transphobic groups hold meetings stating on camera ‘trans children do not exist’. Where transphobic groups write damaging schools guidance that has been compared to conversion therapy.

GIDS and their anti-fact media messaging is complicit in the harm that is being caused to trans children across the UK.

Misleading manipulation of data 

A person who reads this article quickly, glancing at the headline statistic and taking a cursory look at the graph will likely take away two things 1) that only 38% of children go on to endocrine treatment, and 2) that those most likely to go on to endocrine are those referred at age 15 (due to the authors decision to present a graph appearing to show a peak at age 15). These two conclusions would both be wrong. GIDS either lack basic competence at data communication, or are actively intending to misrepresent the data.

On a similar note, they are using their Fig 2 graph to discuss the percentage of children who have been referred to endocrinology. Why then are they showing us a bar chart of numbers entering the service and a line graph of numbers referred, and expecting the reader to guess the percentage. It would be far easier to simply provide a graph of the percentages. The apparent hump on their graph at age 15, fits their mantra that ‘almost all trans children desist at puberty’, whereas a graph showing percentages would have a peak at about age 11. This is manipulation of data to fit a misleading narrative.

‘Desistance’ during early puberty

Head of service Polly Carmichael has talked about the Dutch ‘evidence’ that nearly all trans children will change their mind and not go down a medical intervention path. This ‘evidence’ has been shown to be false multiple times and is now even rejected by the Dutch authors themselves who claim to have been wrongly interpreted. Polly Carmichael claims that GIDS’ own data corroborates the (now withdrawn) findings of the Dutch. She describes a ‘paradox’ that the vast majority of trans children stop being trans at puberty, whereas the vast majority of children referred after puberty do continue being trans. She has a ‘hypothesis’ that early puberty natal hormones are responsible for a change of heart in those referred pre puberty. On the basis of this ‘hypothesis’, the hypothesis that the majority of trans children ‘desist’ during early natal puberty, GIDS delays provision of hormones blockers, and tells service users that prompt provision of hormone blockers may ‘change the outcome’ and solidify a trans outcome.

We can now test this hypothesis using this new GIDS data. How can we test it? We focus on children who were referred before the start of puberty, selecting the older pre-pubescents for maximum age at time of sampling. We therefore focus on children referred at age 9. The majority of 9 year olds have not yet started puberty.

If the GIDS hypothesis is correct, and the vast majority of pre-pubertal children do not go on to medical intervention, we should spot this trend in those referred at age 9. We should see less than 20% of those referred at age 9 going on to referral to endocrinology.

Let’s look at the data. Children aged 9 in 2010 are 16 in 2017. Children aged 9 in 2013 are aged 13 in 2017. Looking at their referrals data, the average age of this group in 2017 is 14.2 What percent of 9 year olds (at referral) in this data set have been referred to endocrinology by 2017? 50%. Fifty percent.

THEIR OWN DATA CONTRADICTS THEIR HYPOTHESIS!

Their own data contradicts their hypothesis that the vast majority of children referred pre-puberty do not go on to endocrinology. Their own data shows that 50% have gone on to endocrinology by the time they are (on average) aged 14.

We know that 50% (20 out of 40 – estimate from looking at graph – actual data is not provided) have had a referral to endocrinology by 2017. Of the other 50% (20) GIDS tell us nothing (despite proposing their percentage as a noteworthy finding). Many questions are left unanswered. How many of those 20 who have not been referred to NHS endocrinology have skipped GIDS gatekeeping and gone to private healthcare services in the UK? How many of those 20 have gone to the USA? We do not know. How many of those not (yet) referred will go on to a referral to endocrinology but have not yet reached tanner stage 2 of puberty (remember, nearly half of this sample are aged 13 or under in 2017). How many are wanting a referral but have not been approved by GIDS, having not yet jumped through the right hoops in their answers or cooperation. How many are denied  due to co-existing challenges or circumstances that allows GIDS to deny or delay referral (eg being out of school, being neuro diverse, being too depressed or suicidal, being insufficiently binary, or having a presentation that doesn’t match with GIDS expectation of what a child who is trans will look or act like). How many are wanting a referral but have not had the support of their parents for referral to endocrinology? We must remember that the majority of parents of children at the GIDS are unsupportive, and unsupportive parents can block (and certainly delay) a referral to endocrinology. How many are of these ‘desisters’ are *still trans* but have decided against taking puberty blockers at this point in time due to other life factors, such as exams, travel, other medication. None of this is explored in this paper.

A reflection on data reliability: GIDS data doesn’t appear to be reliable. There is a discrepancy between the total referral figures shown on their website, and their assigned-gender disaggregated figures released through a 2017 Freedom of Information Disclosure. For the year 2012-2013 the former states 3 five year olds (the FOI lists 0 five year olds). For the year 2013-2014 the former states 10 five year olds (the FOI lists 6 five year olds). These discrepancies bring into question GIDS data management.

Pubertal status

On the timing of puberty blockers, GIDS states:

“It is a requirement, according to the Endocrine Society and WPATH guidelines and UK service specifications, that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed, as the GD may resolve once puberty commences.

First, Endocrine and WPATH guidelines (SOC7) do of course require puberty to start before prescribing blockers (blockers serve no purpose pre puberty). However, the endocrine society’s position is misrepresented. The Endocrine society says:

“We recommend treating gender-dysphoric/gender-incongruent adolescents who have entered puberty at Tanner Stage 2”.

“At” tanner stage 2. The Australian SOC is even more clear:

“Puberty suppression is most effective in preventing the development of secondary
sexual characteristics when commenced at Tanner stage 2″

“At” Tanner stage 2. The difference between recommending blockers at tanner stage 2 and a requirement that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed may sound inconsequential, but this emphasis has profound implications for UK trans children. GIDS have no urgency about prescribing at tanner 2 – indeed they actively encourage delays, believing that a longer period of ‘natal’ puberty is a good thing.

“It is a requirement, according to the Endocrine Society and WPATH guidelines and UK service specifications, that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed, as the GD may resolve once puberty commences.

The GIDS statement ‘GD may resolve when puberty starts’ does not appear in either the endocrine guidelines or WPATH (SOC7).

GIDS is fraudulently linking their pet theory (GD resolving when puberty starts) with the more respected evidence from the Endocrine Society / WPATH. This is misrepresentation. No evidence is provided for this claim.

This aligns with Polly Carmichael’s pet theory of natal pubertal hormones making trans children turn cis. A theory she has been speculating about for over a decade. A theory she has never provided a shred of evidence for.  Here she is a decade ago saying the same non-evidenced theories she clings to to this day:

“if you halt your own sex hormones so that your brain is not experiencing puberty, are you in some way altering the course of nature?”

A decade ago she was saying the same thing that she says to the media today, that there is not enough long term data on the outcomes of puberty blockers:

“The Dutch data looks promising. But they have not been doing it for so many years that you have long-term follow-up. The data is not over a long enough period of time and that concerns endocrinologists.”

<https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/aug/14/children.youngpeople>

Her position has not changed in one decade. Her position has not changed because she is not listening to trans people, she is not listening to parents of trans children, and she is ignoring medical experts who disagree with her.

In both psychiatry and social work the term “defensive practice” is used to describe a deliberate practice of risk averse decisions, strict adherence to protocols and lack of learning. Defensive practice is also associated with an organisational culture in which leaders are not challenged (Whittikar & Havard 2016).

This term accurately describes how the GIDS leadership have become stuck in defending their (outdated, pathologising, harmful, non evidence-based) ways of working. They have become defensive, and in defending, have failed to evolve, failed to adapt and failed to remember their primary responsibility – ensuring the best possible outcomes for their clients (trans children and families). Alongside defensive practices they bring an inherent cisnormativity and transphobia – in which their model actively aspires towards and prioritises a cis or ‘not trans’ outcome, above the well being and happiness of their service users.

Persistence

The GIDS paper moves on to talk about persistence (the problematic history of this term, and implication that ‘persistence’ is undesirable, is not explored in the paper):

“Fig 2 demonstrates the low absolute numbers and proportion of prepubertal children with persistent GD.”

FIG 2 DOES NOT SHOW THIS.

Fig 2 shows the percent of children referred to GIDS between 2010 and 2013 who by 2017 had been granted by GIDS a referral to the paediatric endocrine service.

It shows about 80% of those referred at 10 years old are granted a referral to endocrine. For the younger children, those aged 5 in 2012 are only aged 9.95 in 2017 and most of them have not yet started puberty. This study tells us nothing about how many of those 5 year olds will receive a referral to endocrine at some point during their adolescence.

Importantly, this study does not tell us anything about how any of these children identify. It tells us nothing about their dysphoria.

FIG 2 does not tell us the proportion of prepubertal children who have ‘persistent’ Gender Dysphoria. THIS IS FALSE.

By conflating a referral rate with a ‘persistence’ rate, it also equates requirement for endocrine interventions with identity – ignoring the diversity of needs amongst trans children, including those who absolutely ‘persist’ in an identity different to the one presumed at birth, but do not need/choose to take hormone blockers/medical transition.

By conflating a referral rate for persistence, it also overlooks (as far as we can tell from the limited information they publish), those who seek private treatment or pursue treatment overseas.

The data completely ignores the issue of gate-keeping. GIDS are extremely conservative about referrals to endocrinology, and known to discriminate against children with mental health issues, those who are neurodiverse, those who present later, those who are non-binary. We do not know how many of those who have not been referred to endocrine desperately want a referral, but have not yet been granted one.

Finally, we know that two thirds of teens in the service are not supported by their parents. Teens who are unsupported are much less likely to get a referral to endocrinology. How many of those counted as not having been referred to endocrinology have had their referral blocked or delayed by unsupportive parents.

None of these factors are acknowledged in the article.

The article overall conjures up the unsubstantiated claim that ‘GD may resolve’, falsely creates an untrue 38% referral rate (which GIDS themselves clarify in the text is an underestimate of the reality), and mis-describes their referral rate as a ‘persistence’ rate. They use this to dismiss the existence of and undermine the rights of trans children.

Pathologising language continues

The next section provides an overview of the many tests they have carried out on trans children to look for reasons for being trans.

“Endocrine assessment of the reproductive axis of the birth-registered phenotypic male….”

The phrase ‘the birth registered phenotypic male’ is extremely pathologizing and othering language for trans girls. The phrase trans girl, trans feminine people, or people assigned male at birth would be a less offensive replacement.

“A search for sources of hyperandrogenism in adolescent birth-registered phenotypic females in an attempt to explain the dysphoria has not elucidated any differences from a control population”

“It therefore appears that GD is not associated with excess androgen production in postpubertal phenotypic female”

“our search for genetic, endocrine and radiological diagnostic markers of a dysphoria-related state has proven negative”.

How many of these children gave informed and voluntary consent to these unrequested, unwanted, pieces of research, with little relation to their care? Why have UK researchers been focused on a quest to find a diagnostic test for transness, and not on the key challenges, how can we help trans children to have good mental health and wellbeing?

GIDS are so detached from seeing trans children as important individuals with hopes and dreams and high potential. They fail our trans children time and time again.

Fertility preservation

“Various medical options are considered in case of a desire to revert to their birth gender in subsequent years after irreversible treatments have occurred, or in case assisted conception techniques might be called on in adult life to assist with starting a family”

This paragraph is strange. There is no information here. No evidence on what they are talking about re ‘revertion’ after irreversible treatment. No information on numbers.

Talking about a desire to revert after irreversible treatment is a subject that needs handling sensitively with careful context. Everyone working in this field is aware that a tiny number of examples of adults with ‘regret’ are used by anti trans lobbyists to undermine and deny care to trans children.

This report is not however, by anti trans lobbyists, but advice to non-specialists focused on working with children.

Partially irreversible treatment in the form of cross sex hormones is only available from around age 16, and GIDS only permits the children with the most straight forward diagnosis and a long history of gender dysphoria, who have already been on blockers for at least a year, to access HRT at age 16. The gatekeeping is extensive. How many children can they really have seen in the youth service who have had a clear enough history and presentation to receive blockers before 15 and HRT at 16, have had HRT long enough for irreversible changes, and have sought to reverse changes by age 17 before leaving children’s services. Knowing their conservative interpretation of the protocols, I do not believe this has happened in any significant numbers, certainly no evidence is presented in this paper or any other publications from GIDS that I am aware of.

If they are talking about data on regret from other services – they need to be providing a published reference for this statement. The fact that they do not provide a reference, suggests to a reader that they are talking from their own experience. They are scaremongering without providing any data.

Blockers

“In those whose GD is clearly established and long-standing and who have participated fully in the multidisciplinary assessment process at the GIDS, GnRHa is the recommended first-stage medical intervention”.

This shows how conservative they are at offering blockers. Adolescents need ‘established and long standing’ GD. These are subjective quantities. How many months or years is enough? How does an adolescent prove this? It seems like only the most straight forward (insistent, consistent, persistent, though they avoid these terms) are eligible. Yet blockers are intended to provide thinking time for those who are distressed about puberty and need thinking time to explore their identity. Children with the longest history and clearest presentation arguably do not have any reason to go onto (just) blockers, with practitioners in the US increasingly bypassing blockers to go straight to HRT for the simplest cases. It is those children who are less sure, who are questioning, who started to question (or vocalise) their gender at the onset of puberty, who need time to think and would most benefit from blockers. This is the very group who are ineligible.

Note also the requirement to have ‘FULLY participated in the multi-disciplinary assessment process’. There is a vast and unacknowledged power dynamic here. This evidences how GIDS wield their power and absolute authority. Adolescents and families are afraid to advocate for their rights, afraid to challenge clinicians who ask inappropriate questions, afraid to not complete pathologising  questionnaires that themselves induce dysphoria and have subsequent negative impacts on the mental health of adolescents. There is no service user autonomy. The powerlessness of children and families adds to stress and feelings of having no control over the future – a powerlessness that greatly harms the mental health of trans and gender questioning children and adolescents.

“The fact that between 73% and 88% of children attending gender identity clinics who present prepubertally, whether they have socially transitioned or not, are likely not to continue with their intention of changing their gender once puberty has started”.

They are listing the 2008 Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study as their reference. We have discussed this at length in a previous blog.

Even if we just accept their data and overlook the methodological flaws in the Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study, from the children initially classified as GD who were later re-assessed,  21/36 were ‘persisters’ and 15/36 were ‘desisters’. So even the data in this study shows a 58% persistence rate not the 27% rate that GIDS have quoted using this very reference.

Those who have been paying attention to the current discourse, will be aware that several articles have been recently published criticising the desistance rate myth (the myth that such enormous percentages of children desist from a trans identity). Ehrensaft published on this topic months before this paper came out (notably omitted from GIDS’s references). Since GIDS’ paper was in print, there have been three consecutive publications by a team including Kelley Winters, making clear that these high desistance statistics are simply false. Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis, the latter, one of the authors of the paper GIDS quotes, have also published a new article stating that their work has been misrepresented and does not support high desistance rates.

Here’s Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis in their recent paper (2018):

“The classification of GD [Gender Dysphoria] in the Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis (2008) was indeed based on diagnostic criteria prior to DSM-5, with the possibility that some children were only gender variant in behaviour. We have clearly described the characteristics of the included children (clinically referred and fulfilling childhood DSM criteria) and did not draw conclusions beyond this group, as has wrongly been done by others”.

Cohen-kettenis is here, the very author of the paper that GIDS quotes, stating clearly that others have been wrongly misrepresenting her own work (she is one of the two co-authors of the 2008 Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study). Cohen-kettenis here, provides final clarity that her 2008 study includes children who are not trans and merely non-conforming.

Yet GIDS have taken this study and wrongly interpret as “The fact that between 73% and 88% of children attending gender identity clinics who present prepubertally, whether they have socially transitioned or not, are likely not to continue with their intention of changing their gender once puberty has started”

The study they use as the reference included children who were just non-conforming and not trans. It did not consider which children were socially transitioned. And it most certainly does not say that children who have socially transitioned (a group much less likely to include children who are just non-conforming ) have the same ‘persistence’ rates as children who have not socially transitioned.

Butler, De Graaf, Wren and Carmichael  HAVE FABRICATED THE STATEMENT ‘whether they have socially transitioned or not’.

They have not provided a single reference for this claim.

This is unprofessional, unethical and OUTRAGEOUS.

The ‘desistance’ myth (the myth that the majority of trans children become cis at puberty) has been propagated by Zucker and by the Dutch school, which includes Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis. The Dutch have now publicly distancing themselves from association with this myth, claiming to have been misunderstood and misquoted. Zucker clings to this myth, but is now disregarded as totally out of touch with modern evidence based practice.

GIDS, meanwhile, are clinging desperately to this myth. They need this myth to justify their pathologizing and cisgenderist approaches. If they acknowledge that they are badly mistaken on the assumption that trans children end up cis at puberty, they would have to start asking what else they have got wrong.

The leadership at GIDS, the authors of this paper, are not capable of this mental step – if they acknowledge how badly they have got this wrong they would also have to acknowledge the harm they have caused their whole career.

“Some may ‘desist’ completely, with their initially perceived dysphoric feelings pointing towards developing homosexuality”.

This statement is drawn from the thoroughly discredited ‘desistance’ literature. Furthermore, there is a lot of confusion (and hysteria) in the UK media about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. Credible clinicians would in this section state that transgender individuals have a variety of sexual orientations and that gender identity and sexuality are different things.

“GnRHa is prescribed in standard doses for a minimum of a year before additional medical interventions can be considered”.

This requirement to have a minimum one year on blockers, regardless of age or stage of puberty, is not supported by WPATH SOC 7, nor by the Endocrine Society, nor is it in the NHS Service Specification which GIDS are committed to work within. Parents who have complained of the health impacts of forcing 17 year olds to spend a year on just blockers before HRT are reassured that minimum one year is not an official policy. Yet here it is again in writing. This one year minimum on blockers without HRT for late puberty adolescents is not evidence based and is not an approach followed in other countries – not even in neighbouring Scotland. GIDS are here applying a rigid protocol, against their own service specification, unsupported by evidence. 18 year olds in adult services would not be required to have any time on blockers before HRT. 17 and a half year olds in GIDS are forced to have a year on just blockers, regardless of side effects, regardless of not wanting to take blockers.

GIDS uses their monopoly to wield absolute power over trans children and adolescents.

Psychological benefits of GnRHa treatment

“Most young people welcome the ‘blocker’ intervention as helping them to feel more comfortable in their bodies while holding future gender options open. However, our psychometric data suggest that although it permits further time for exploration, the impact on reducing psychological difficulties is limited. Further research is needed to determine whether GnRHa treatment is beneficial for young people of all ages, or whether some age groups may benefit more from this particular treatment than others, perhaps younger rather than older adolescents?”

The evidence is clear that medical intervention for distressed trans youth is the best way of securing improved mental health. It is not surprising that blockers alone do not provide an improvement – HRT (or surgery) are the treatments that distressed trans youth (trans youth who seek a medical transition) need – blockers are simply a delaying method, to ‘buy time’. While they mitigate the fear of future changes, blockers are not in themselves a treatment which treats dysphoria. They simply delay a decision.

Eligibility for cross-sex hormone/gender-affirming hormone treatment

“Cross-sex hormone treatment, currently referred to as gender-affirming hormone treatment (namely the induction of the opposite-biological sex puberty using testosterone in a phenotypic female and oestradiol in a phenotypic male)”

There is a reason why the term ‘gender affirming’ hormone treatment is used. There is a reason why ‘opposite biological sex puberty in a phenotopic female’ is not used. Stop pathologizing trans people!

“(HRT) may be considered once full commitment to the preferred gender has been confirmed”

It is not a ‘preferred’ gender. My child would ‘prefer’ to have her gender match her assigned sex.

“At the GIDS there are psychosocial criteria that need to be met, including that the young person shows some evidence of presenting coherently in the gender role with which they identify and that mental health difficulties are not escalating.

Coherent gender role! This sounds like some 1950s housewife stereotyping. It is 2018 GIDS!

“At the GIDS there are psychosocial criteria that need to be met, including that the young person shows some evidence of presenting coherently in the gender role with which they identify and that mental health difficulties are not escalating.”

Trans youth have to demonstrate distress to be eligible for HRT. But not too much distress. Just exactly the right amount of distress.

“The capacity to give informed consent is an absolute requirement prior to commencing sex hormone treatment… It is acknowledged by the Endocrine Society that a young person under the age of 16 may not have sufficient psychological maturity to commit to such a lifelong and life-changing decision”.

Here’s what the Endocrine Society actually says:

“Clinicians may add gender-affirming hormones after a multidisciplinary team has confirmed the persistence of gender dysphoria/gender incongruence and sufficient mental capacity to give informed consent to this partially irreversible treatment. Most adolescents have this capacity by age 16 years old.”

The Endocrine Society states that most adolescents have maturity by the age of 16. GIDS changes this to “the Endocrine Society” says “under 16s may not have sufficient psychological maturity to commit to such a lifelong and life-changing decision”. GIDS has changed the emphasis and padded with additional spin. This introduces a focus on “life-changing” that is not in the Endocrine guidance. This is misleading.

The GIDS paper attributes to the Endocrine Society and to WPATH SOC 7 the statement:

“no evidence is available to understand the effects of giving gender-affirming hormone treatment before 16 years”

They do not include any reference to a key part of the Endocrine Society’s guidance:

“We recognize that there may be compelling reasons to initiate sex hormone treatment prior to age 16 years”

And they have misconstrued what the Endocrine Society has actually said which is:

“there is minimal published experience treating prior to 13.5 to 14 years of age”

GIDS have completely changed the Endocrine Society’s position on age of eligibility for sex hormones and have claimed the Endocrine Society says there is no evidence for under 16s, when in fact the Endocrine Society says there is no evidence under 14.

Further the GIDS paper fails to mention that the WPATH SOC7 states:

“Adolescents may be eligible to begin feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy, preferably with parental consent. In many countries, 16-year-olds are legal adults for medical decision-making and do not require parental consent”

“Refusing timely medical interventions for adolescents might prolong gender dysphoria”

“withholding puberty suppression and subsequent feminizing or masculinizing hormone therapy is not a neutral option for adolescents”

Gender affirming hormones and height

“The dose increase schedule is conducted more slowly in those who have never completed puberty in their birth sex to allow emotional and social maturation, as well as the completion of the adolescent growth spurt in height”.

Some trans girls are dysphoric about their height and fear further height will make their lives harder. They are nevertheless kept on a low HRT dose, and keep gaining height, without being told that an increase to their HRT dose could stop further height.

Over 90% go to adult services

“over 90% of those attending endocrinology clinics request further support from adult gender identity clinics”.

 

Surgery for adults

It is questionable why there is any discussion of surgery in a paper which is focused on children and adolescents, who are, by definition, ineligible for surgical interventions. A critical reflection leads to a conclusion this is included simply to provide further opportunity for scare mongering.

“Male-to-female feminising genitoplasty is a well-established procedure where the penoscrotal skin is refashioned to produce the vagina and labia with preservation of the glans and neurovascular bundle to form a clitoris capable of orgasm. Concern now exists that the early blockade of puberty may result in insufficient genital skin being available for this procedure”.

This statement fails to mention well established alternative surgical techniques being used for those who received early puberty blockers. Puberty blockers have been used since the mid 1990s, and hundreds of young adults around the world who received blockers have gone on to access successful gender confirmation surgeries with extremely high rates of satisfaction and extremely low rates of regret. Stating the concern without mentioning that trans adults who received early puberty blockers have already had successful surgeries, is unnecessary, un-evidenced scaremongering.

“In full male genital reconstruction, a penis can be formed from either abdominal, thigh or forearm skin flaps. A hydraulic implant is inserted in a newly fashioned scrotum to provide controllable erectile function. This approach requires several surgical procedures and leaves extensive scarring”.

The focus on scarring without any mention on levels of satisfaction with surgery, is unhelpful.

There is a brief mention that “the few longitudinal follow-up studies that have been published in the Netherlands have generally shown a high satisfaction outcome, particularly from those who have gone through surgical affirmation of their identified gender. It is useful here to also note a recent Dutch paper from Wiepjes et al (2018)

“6,793 people visited our gender identity clinic from 1972 through 2015 .. Only 0.6% of transwomen and 0.3% of transmen who underwent gonadectomy were identified as experiencing regret” [note the Dutch, like GIDS, offensively use transwoman as a noun]:

Long-term outcomes

“In the UK, as yet there is little evidence of the longitudinal outcome from the GIDS”.

So do some proper research! Focus on topics that will inform clinical decisions. Design research in collaboration with service users and their families. Design research in collaboration with those already undertaking well-funded, large cohort, longitudinal studies in the USA and Canada.

Conclusion

“The UK, along with other developed countries, is seeing an increase in the number of young people who are questioning their gender and taking the decision to pursue social and medical transition in line with their identified gender which may be non-binary. While professionals need to treat young people with respect and to acknowledge the intensity of their gender identification, much is still to be ascertained about the impact of medical intervention. The best practice in this field currently involves close collaborative working in multidisciplinary teams”.

So the key conclusions they want their readers to take away are …. er…No. nope. Nothing clear or useful here.

We need to acknowledge that the vast majority of professionals, raised in a cisnormative and transphobic society, start with negative and sceptical views of trans children. How does this conclusion in any way helping educate and advocate for trans children?

References – hold on, this is interesting

The references are perhaps the worst part.

Some references are core texts that have to be referenced (DSM, Endocrine guidelines, WPATH SOC 7 and the NHS’s service specification)

Several are references from figures with a controversial history of transphobia (eg Blanchard and Zucker).

Most references are from their colleagues in the Netherlands.

There is an interesting article (not referenced by GIDS of course) called ‘Cisgenderism in psychology: pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008′. It talks of an ‘invisible college’ of gender specialists who often collaborate on joint publications, comprising those who worked most closely with Kenneth Zucker, and who until recently held enormous power over trans children worldwide. This collection of clinicians work was reviewed, and it was found that they held significantly more cisgenderist and pathologizing approaches to trans children than other professionals in this field.

I thought it would be interesting to check how many of the references that GIDS have selected include those clinicians know for cisgenderist and pathologising approaches to trans children.

I excluded the references that are core texts (DSM, Endocrine guidelines, WPATH SOC 7 and the NHS’s service specification)– and excluded those publications that are not about trans or gender diverse children).

No of references where one of the authors is from the  ‘invisible college’ ie Zucker or those who have published with Zucker – those who have cisgenderist and pathologizing tendencies 10
No of other references where one of the authors has worked at GIDS (including self-citations 2
No of references from other people in the Netherlands 4
No of references from other sources 2. (Both on fertility)

What references are not included

More interesting than what references are included is what references are excluded:

  • Almost all publications from experts in the US are excluded from this GIDS article.
  • Almost all publications from experts in Canada, Australia, are excluded.
  • Almost all publications from clinicians who support affirmative approaches are excluded

GIDS erase through omission any peer reviewed evidence that they instinctively disagree with.

This is not how science and evidence works. The authors completely omit an entire body of evidence from the USA which supports a gender affirmative approach helps trans children. Further, they omit any of the growing consensus of publications which criticise the UK’s delayed transition approach as harmful.

Peer review

The article was “Commissioned; internally peer reviewed”.

It is not clear who internally peer reviewed this paper. It is shocking that this has been accepted for publication. More shocking still is that this poor article is the ‘best practice’ that our children can expect from the heads of the UK children’s gender service.

This week a far better article was published in the Lancet. The Lancet article criticises as harmful many of the practices that are still core to the systematically transphobic UK children’s service. UK clinicians are well advised to learn from this new Lancet publication.

Instead of reading and learning from credible material published by those who are trying to help trans children to thrive, GIDS are choosing to look inward, reading and citing work by discredited members of their ‘invisible college’.

Caught in a defensive practice model, left behind by their international peers who support a gender affirmative model of care, GIDS are in an increasingly desperate state.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that some GIDS clinicians are emboldened to publicly align themselves to the cause of anti transgender lobbyists who believe that transgender children both do not, and should not exist.  A ‘pay to publish’ book with the central premise of denying the very existence of trans children, recently received a glowing endorsement from a serving GIDS clinician.  The GIDS library later publicly announced the purchase of the same book via its official twitter account.

This book received a scathing review by the Times Educational Supplement who utterly discredited the “masquerade of a scholarly text”. Review quoted at some length below.

The messages of the book are bold. The first is that “transgender children do not exist”. Having dismissed the perspectives of youth, parents, charities, medicine, social policy and the law as “unproven” and “intellectually incoherent”, it suggests that trans youth are a discursive invention. “Transgenderism”, it contends, reinforces traditional gender binaries, propping up the patriarchy. This framework remains undeveloped and the chapters are inconsistent, offering a hotchpotch of pet clichés that sidestep the evidence-base. Trans youth are variously explained by tribal belonging; restrictive femininity; the distressing human condition; childhood trauma; male transvestites’ sexual desires; and really being gay.

Perhaps hopes were pinned on the highest-profile contributor, whose activism is currently aimed at blocking schools from accepting that children may be transgender. But of 57 sources cited in Stephanie Davies-Arai’s chapter, only seven are peer-reviewed research and these are cherry-picked and distort the wider medical and sociological evidence. Meanwhile, editor Michele Moore’s account of transgender theory leans on dated and inaccurate stereotypes of trans identities that make tiresome reappearances throughout. Nowhere is it acknowledged that many trans people experience binary gender norms as tyrannical, or that many (if not all) trans identities actively queer these binaries.

The second message is that children are “transgendered” by adults and that this is “abusive”. The book constructs an artifice of a society teeming with over-eager parents, whereas research consistently shows that trans youth are often rejected by their families and peers. While claiming that they are motivated by children’s well-being, the authors frequently misuse or ignore recent international studies that unequivocally show both high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among trans adolescents and the safeguarding effects of gender-affirming support. Indefensibly, the book is almost silent on widely substantiated hate crime against trans youth.

Masquerading as scholarly text, this is epistemological chicanery, with the contributors adopting an already vocal repositioning as the silenced minority. In labelling “transgenderism” abusive, they don’t listen to the supposedly abused; in claiming to challenge “the seemingly unstoppable celebration of transgender ideology”, they present arguments neatly aligned with much recent media coverage. The irony is complete, the consequences no less serious.

In GIDS’ journal paper, Butler, De Graaf, Wren and Carmichael are guilty of many of the same techniques of misinformation, distortion, and cherry-picking literature.

This detailed analysis of the GIDS paper has revealed intentional or incompetent manipulation of data, entirely false claims, misquotations, use of pathologising language, and significant omissions of swathes of recent literature.

GIDS is a failing service stuck in defensive practice.

Our children deserve so much better.

The Erasure of Trans Children

transgender children erasure

The current Scottish trans Gender Recognition Act consultation refers to ‘evidence that socially transitioned 16 year olds’ exist – but fails to include any acknowledgement of the existence of trans children under 16.

This got me thinking of the erasure of trans children.

All too often trans children are completely erased from discussions.

Without visibility this most vulnerable group of children continue to have their basic rights denied. All too often, trans allies and advocates avoid any reference at all to trans children – it’s too political, too controversial, or too outside of their personal knowledge. Trans children can just wait until they are 18 for fair treatment right? Maybe we can wait until the following generation, after trans adults achieve equality, and then consider trans children. Maybe your trans great grandchildren will be treated well.

Whilst trans advocates and allies pretend trans children don’t exist, the people who are left talking incessantly about children are those opposed to trans equality. Transphobes and trans-antagonists, railing ‘just think of the (cisgender) children’, ‘save them from the trans menace’!

Aside from a couple of notable exceptions (including Paris Lees) who exactly is speaking up for my child? Who cares about trans children?

I decided to do a small piece of simple research into the visibility or erasure of transgender children. I looked at the 208 submissions to the 2015 Women’s and Equalities Committee’s Transgender Equality Inquiry.

For each submission I searched for the use of the term ‘child’ (a search which will also find any references to children, childhood etc).

My results were pretty interesting. More detail is at the bottom of the post, but I’ll summarise the key findings here:

Over half of the submissions (58%) gave zero references to children (trans or cis). This included the vast majority of submissions from transgender adults, the submissions from nearly all government departments, from MPs, from Police forces, from the Royal College of GPs, from Action for Trans Health, from the Albert Kennedy Trust.

A further 16% only used the term children in reference to the (presumed cis) children of trans adults, to intersex children, or in a phrase like ‘looked after children’. This included the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists and the General Medical Council.

Three quarters (74%) of submissions contained zero references to the existence of transgender children

15% had only one or two very brief references to transgender children, some of which avoid acknowledging the existence of trans children. Both NHS England and Stonewall only mention children in reference to the existence of a “Children’s Gender service“. The Equality and Human Rights Commission manages only two references to “gender variant children” or “children whose gender identity is less well-developed or understood than that of an adult”.

89% of submissions to the 2015 Women and Equalities Commissions Transgender Equality Inquiry either didn’t mention children at all, or barely mentioned them.

The remaining 11% of submissions is where I now turn my attention:

 Submissions that referred to children more than twice:

Only 23 submissions (11%) referred to children more than twice.

These can be roughly divided into three categories:

a) 7 submissions (3%) were from anonymous parents of transgender children/transgender children – This included 6 parents of transgender children, and one trans young adult who had been treated in children’s services. These submissions contained credible and relevant real life information on transgender children (but there were only 7 submissions from the families affected). These submissions were all anonymous – a great indication of how voiceless these children are.

b) 7 submissions (3%) were from people or organisations whose submission is supportive or neutral towards trans people, these included:

  • FOCUS: The Identity Trust provides 3 references to transgender children and 2 to gender-variant children
  • GIRES provides 4 references to transgender children, but doesn’t use the term ‘transgender’, simply calling them children (though in the context the references are to trans or gender variant children)
  • Lancashire LGBT provides 16 references to trans children,
  • Mermaids provides 21 references to trans children, children referred to gender services or children with gender dysphoria
  • Peter Dunne provides 5 references to transgender children
  • Polly Carmichael from the Children’s Gender Identity Service provides 21 references to trans or gender variant children, yet fails to use the term transgender children even once, instead referring to a variety of terms including ‘children experiencing difficulties in their gender development’ ‘unconventional children’ ‘children with GID’ ‘Children with gender dysphoria’ ‘children with gender incongruence’
  • The British Psychological Society is rather a mixed bag with one reference to “rare cases it has been thought that the person is seeking better access to females and young children through presenting in an apparently female way”, with 1 reference to transgender children and 1 reference to children with gender dysphoria.

 c) 9 submissions (4%) were from people or organisations whose submission is negative or antagonistic to trans people:

  • A specific person, SJ, refers to children in terms of the threat posed by adults “luring children into women’s toilets in order to assault them”
  • A specific person, AF, provides 16 references about protecting children from psychologically disturbed individuals and gender ideology
  • Evangelical Alliance provides 7 references to the need to protect children
  • Lesbian Rights Group provides 14 references to children including outlining the ‘pressures on young people and small children to transgender’ and highlighting the ‘transgendering of children – a matter of concern’.
  • A specific person, MY, includes 7 references to protecting children including ‘from possible parental or other abuse’ and recommends ‘treating the parents’.
  • The group ‘Parents Campaigning for Sex Equality for Children and Young People’ contains 65 references to children focusing predominantly on gender expression / toy stereotypes as well as on the need to protect against ‘transgendering children’
  • ‘Scottish Women against Pornography’ has 17 references that confuse gender identity with gender stereotypes
  • A specific person, SDA, provides 11 references to children focusing on gender expression/toy stereotypes and arguing the need to stop the ‘powerful trans activist lobby from pathologising normal childhood’ and arguing against ‘trans theory’
  • ‘Women and Girls Equality Network (WAGEN)’, by Dr Julia Long, contains 13 references to children focusing on stereotypical gender expression/roles and arguing against ‘transgendering of children’.

These 9 trans-antagonistic submissions listed above contain 151 references to children. This is nearly more references to children than the other 199 submissions combined.

One qualification to the above research summary: I only searched for use of the word ‘child’ (or ‘children’). It is possible that some submissions focused on children without using the word children. Some submissions may, for example, have used the term transgender youth or adolescent – a more in depth analysis could consider more search terms – but arguably a decision to utilise the word ‘youth’ and avoid the word ‘child’ in a submission is itself a value judgement on the existence or not of trans children and is itself part of a culture of erasure of trans children.

 

Conclusion

Transgender children are almost completely invisible in society. Trans children need allies speaking up for them.

Yet over three quarters of submissions to the Women and Equalities Commission 2015 Transgender Equality Inquiry contained no acknowledgement of the existence of trans children.

The submissions with the most references to children (cis or trans) are those written by individuals and groups opposed to trans rights. Inputs on transgender children are overwhelmingly written by those ideologically opposed to supporting transgender people. Transphobic individuals and groups are being allowed to set the conversation on children, meaning the actual issues of enormous importance to trans children aren’t even on the agenda. The debate is instead being framed as between (trans-antagonistic or trans sceptical) people who care about protecting children versus trans adults. To re-frame this debate, we need trans advocates to talk about trans children.

Stop the erasure of trans children!

There were over 40 submissions from individual trans adults (or adults with a trans history/adults of trans experience). Almost none of these submissions from trans adults mentioned trans children. Parents of trans children are unable to speak openly (all submissions from parents were anonymous). Cisgender parents of trans children are also sometimes unsure about our credibility speaking out on trans issues. Trans children cannot speak for themselves. Someone needs to speak up.

Hardly any trans-supportive organisations mentioned trans children in their submissions. If your organisation only listens to the voices of trans adults, you are excluding the most vulnerable trans group. Organisations like Stonewall (whose 2015 submission ignored trans children) have a trans advisory panel consisting of only trans adults. Yet it is very clear from this review that transgender adults can’t be assumed to speak up for the needs of current transgender children.

Organisations aiming to support trans equality need to either work with parents of trans children (most of whom are cis, some of whom are trans), or, at the very least, make sure that at least one trans adult is designated to represent trans youth (reaching out to older trans adolescents directly) and we need at least one trans adult designated to represent trans children (reaching out to parents supporting trans children, as the stakeholders who best understand the very many challenges facing trans children).

Without proactive effort to engage with parents and families of trans children, trans children will remain voiceless.

The erasure of trans children in the 2015 submissions to the Trans Equality consultation is shocking.

We must do better for trans children.

Let’s start with the current Scottish GRA consultation (open to submissions from anywhere in the world – and we know those opposed to rights and respect for trans children are submitted from all over the world).

Please complete the short questionnaire on a reformed Scottish Gender Recognition Act. At a minimum please include in your submission acknowledgement of the existence of trans children. Better still, refer to the issues and challenges that affect trans children. If you don’t know any trans children – then get in touch with families of trans children, or organisations like Mermaids.

Trans children exist and they desperately need support.

Don’t leave them voiceless and invisible.

#SomeChildrenAreTrans #GetOverIt

Follow us on twitter @FierceMum and @DadTrans

 

Further info on the findings

Methodology

I looked at all 208 submissions to the Women’s and Equalities Committee’s Transgender Equality Inquiry.

For each submission I searched for the term ‘Child’ (a search which also found any reference to children, childhood etc).

Limitations of the research findings:

1) This research was carried out quickly to give an overview of the data. I looked at all 208 submissions, but quickly and without moderation of findings – some level of errors and oversights are likely.

2) The keyword used was ‘child’  (to include children). It is possible that some submissions focused on children without using the word children. Some may for example have used the term youth. Arguably the decision to utilise the word youth and not child is itself a value judgement on the existence or not of trans children and is part of a culture of erasure of trans children. The Gendered Intelligence submission uses the phrase ‘young trans people’ which refers to “people aged 25 and under”

Over half of the submissions (117 = 56%) gave zero references to children (trans or cis).

This included the vast majority of submissions from transgender adults, the submissions from nearly all government departments, from MPs, from Police forces, from the Royal College of GPs, from Action for Trans Health, from the Albert Kennedy Trust.

Another 16% (34), only used the word children when quoting the title of an NHS Department (eg Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS); in reference to the children of transgender adults, in a generic reference to childhood, in reference to intersex children, and in brief references to children in the phrase ‘looked after children’ or ‘children’s homes’. This group included the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, the General Medical Council and Gendered Intelligence.

Organisations that refer once or twice to the existence of trans children

26 organisations (13%) had only one or two very brief references to transgender children, copied in table below:

Some of these avoided the term transgender children, only referring to ‘children in the gender service’ for example the single reference to trans children by Stonewall states “The Tavistock and Portman is the only specialist clinic, providing early intervention treatment for children and young people.” NHS England similarly only describes the ‘Children’s clinic’.

Table: Organisations that refer once or twice to transgender children

Organisation Reference to transgender children
The Albert Kennedy Trust “The right of the parent to support a child through their assignment is important.”
Genderagenda “Typically, 1 child per class will come out to me and another will say I know someone trans/non-binary and ask for help supporting them.
The Government Equalities Office has one reference to trans children, quoting Ofsted “Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework, which takes effect in September 2015 and covers standard inspections of early years, schools and further education and skills providers, requires inspectors to pay particular attention to the outcomes of a number of specific groups, including transgender children and learners.”
A young trans adult makes one reference “I feel that children are discovering what trans means through the internet rather than in a classroom environment, and I fear that as a result, either children would grow up with a slight bias, or children who are trans would not realise this until many years later, when it is more difficult to transition. “
LGBT consortium “Medical interventions for children and adolescents have been inadequate and do not meet international best practice standards”
LGBT Youth Scotland “Further, transgender young people are aware of their gender identity and begin living in their acquired gender far earlier than the age of 16. We recommend implementing provision which would enable parents and carers to give consent for a child or young person to receive a GRC under the age of 16”
National LGB&T Partnership

 

Medical interventions for children and adolescents have been inadequate and do not meet international best practice standards
Outreach Cumbria ‘Fourthly there is no local support for children and adolescents with gender identity difficulties with the nearest (and only) gender clinic being the Tavistock and Portman Clinic in London
A volunteer with the Albert Kennedy Trust “Early access to transitioning and being accepted from a young age is vital to the emotional and mental well being of a trans person and therefore families, social services and the NHS should work with all trans children and trans youths to be able them to decide their future and how they wish to live.”
Support U “Most of the above issues all apply to young trans people, although more education of peer groups of trans children would help”
Terry Reed “Numbers presenting for treatment have grown at ~23% p.a. over the last couple of years. In the children and young people group, the growth is even faster.

inclusion of transgender people: adults, adolescents and children, in sport.”

Trans Media Watch “Louis Theroux’s recent documentary on trans children for the BBC also received much acclaim
UK Trans Info Provide a method for children and teenagers who are below the usual age requirement to obtain gender recognition with the consent of their parents or guardians, or without their consent through the courts where it is in their best interests.
Anonymous “Ensure that those working in proximity with minors are aware how potentially transgender children can and should be helped.
Equalities Officer, on behalf of UNISON Bournemouth Higher & Further Education Branch Ensure the implementation of compulsory, trans-inclusive PHSE curriculum in order that children are made aware of the issues facing trans persons, help trans children access support, and tackle transphobic behaviour before it begins.

Without access to educational information and resources on gender identity, trans children may be placed under undue stress, confusion, and harm. Through the provision of compulsory gender identity education within the PHSE curriculum, work can be done to make trans children aware that they’re not alone, that discriminatory behaviour they may face is not acceptable, and of the support available to them.

University of Leeds Particularly vulnerable groups include intersex bodied people and trans children under 18
Scottish Transgender Alliance With growing social acceptance, the annual number of children and adolescents coming out as transgender has increased five-fold over four years
Anon There is a need for a more robust communication / awareness programme to help parents who believe their children may be gender dysphoric , and how they can help and cope
Anon A close family friend has a trans child who, age 8, told his teachers that he wanted to be a boy and have ‘boy parts’. The school reported his parents to the social services, assuming that the child had been abused, based on no other evidence
Individual Studies indicate that the majority of trans people know they are trans by the age of 7, and many experience distress throughout their childhood. A growing number of children are transitioning, and the lack of any legal recognition until a child is 18 is starting to cause problems, for example with names in school systems and examination certificates.
Individual Inclusion of trans history as a compulsory element of the UK schools national curriculum, linking it to organisational support for trans children, adolescents, their families, and their friends
Individual We need to be intervening sooner, so that trans-children grow up with a chance of fitting in to society and being truly inclusive, and non-trans children will grow up with understanding and tolerance, rather than behaving in a segregatory manner and ostracising trans-people

 

 

Too young to know their Gender? Constancy research in trans children

 

TransGender_Symbol_Color

The perception that trans children are ‘too young’ to know their gender identity is used as a basis for denying them a suite of rights, and has long been a corner stone of arguments against social transition or timely provision of puberty blockers.

Cisgender (not trans) children are generally considered to know if they are a boy or a girl by a young age. But, not so for transgender or gender questioning children, according to the latest paper written by experts from the UK Children’s Gender Service, including the head of service Carmichael.

Costa, R. Carmichael, P.; Colizzi, M. (2016) To treat or not to treat: puberty suppression in childhood-onset gender dysphoria Nature Reviews Urology 13, 456–462 (2016)

UK Children’s Gender Service experts’ view of Gender Constancy

The Costa (2016) paper has a section on gender identity development. It states that “research has shown that around the age of 3 years, children show a basic sense of self as male or female, owing to their inner experience of belonging to one gender”.

It goes on to note:

“Some research suggests that a developmental lag exists in gender constancy acquisition in children with gender variant behaviour” (reference number 16).

According to the paper “achieving gender constancy represents a cognitive-developmental milestone in gender identity development and is due to the understanding that being male or female is a biological characteristic that cannot be changed by altering superficial attributes, such as hairstyle or clothing”

The belief in trans children having a ‘developmental lag’ in gender constancy leads to this statement “treating prepubertal individuals with gender dysphoria is particularly controversial owing to their unstable pattern of gender variance compared with gender-dysphoric adolescents and adults

The belief in trans children having ‘a developmental lag” in gender constancy feeds directly into the Tavistock’s treatment protocols, such as proposing puberty suppression only be prescribed to those aged at least 12 “safely above the gender constancy achievement”.

Only one reference is provided for the claim that transgender children achieve ‘gender constancy’ later than cisgender children, reference 16, which is the source of this key statement:

“Some research suggests that a developmental lag exists in gender constancy acquisition in children with gender variant behaviour (reference 16)

If this single reference underpins the Tavistock’s belief that trans children do not understand their gender at the same age as cisgender children, and if this claim has direct implications on the Tavistock’s approach to treating trans children, then it is vital we review this paper.

The paper in question is:

Zucker, K. J. et al.(1999) Gender constancy judgments in children with gender identity disorder: evidence for a developmental lag. Arch. Sex. Behav. 28, 475–502 (1999).

 

Zucker (1999) 

Gender constancy in the Zucker paper is defined as “the understanding that ‘superficial’ or surface transformations in gender behaviour such as activity preferences or clothing style” do not change a person’s gender. The paper concludes that children referred to a Gender Clinic for ‘problems in identity development‘ have a ‘developmental lag in gender constancy‘. This conclusion merits further scrutiny.

Zucker et al.’s study focuses on a group of children who were referred to the Toronto Gender Clinic between 1978 and 1995.

The majority of the Gender Clinic children in this study were assigned males (207/236 = 88%). There were a small number of assigned females in the sample (12%). In order to simplify this blog post I have decided to focus the examples throughout on assigned males (noting that this editorial simplification perpetuates historical erasure of trans boys / assigned females).

The children registered at the Gender Clinic I will hereafter refer to as the ‘clinical sample’, to contrast with the study’s ‘control sample’ (a sample of children of the same age who were not registered at the gender clinic and were not known to have any gender issues).

It is known (and acknowledged in Zucker’s paper) that some of the clinical sample of assigned males were non-conforming boys rather than trans girls. How many were gender non-conforming (GNC) rather than trans is unknown as historical diagnoses focused on behaviour and interests more than on identity and Zucker did not believe in distinguishing between young gender non-conforming boys and trans girls.

The children in the clinical sample, together with a control group (aged 4-8 – average age 6 and a half) were put through three different types of test, which they either ‘passed’ or ‘failed’.

Zucker 1999, the tests

We will now look at the three tests, and see whether they do provide convincing evidence that transgender children (or children treated in the gender service) have a ‘developmental lag’, and understand their gender identity later than cisgender children.

Zucker 1999: Test 1: Slabey & Frey test

Test 1 Part A focused on Gender Discrimination 

The children were shown dolls and photographs depicting a boy, girl, man, woman and asked to identify them. The children ‘passed’ if they got at least 12 out of 16 ‘correct’. 93% of the clinical sample ‘passed’ this test, compared to 98% of the control group.

Test 1 Part B:  Gender Identity

The children were asked their own gender. The assigned-male-at-birth (amab) children ‘passed’ the test if they answered ‘boy’.

93% of the clinical sample ‘passed’ this test compared to 98% of the control group.

(The very high ‘pass’ rate for the clinical sample at first glance seems high as transgender children like my daughter would certainly ‘fail’ this test.

Perhaps the high ‘pass’ rate may add weight to suggestions that a large proportion of children referred to the Toronto gender clinic in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s were there for gender non-conformity (proto-gay cure….) rather than children with a gender identity different to their assigned sex.

The fact that a trans girl was considered to have ‘failed’ in her understanding of gender identity if she said she was a girl is an indication of the bias of the researchers.

Test 1 Part C: Gender Stability

The children were asked if their gender can change over time, for example if they were a different gender when they were born to their current gender. The children ‘passed’ if they said gender can never change over time.

80% of the clinical group ‘passed’ compared to 92% of the control group

Test 1 Part D: Gender Consistency

The amab children were asked questions like ‘if you wear a dress, are you a girl?’ ‘If you played with a doll would you be a girl?’. (the exact script, and the exact phrasing, is not provided so we cannot be sure exactly how the questions were worded)

66% of the clinical sample ‘failed’ this test, by stating that playing with dolls makes you a girl.

46% of the control group also ‘failed’, also thinking that playing with a doll made you a girl.

The fact that nearly half the control also think playing with a doll makes you a girl seems more an indication of the segregated and gendered restrictions on toys of Canadian children in the 70s, 80s and early 90s than any conclusion about gender identity. Given very few of the clinical group identified as trans in this study, it also brought to mind the limited freedom for boys to be feminine or play with perceived girls toys, and made me wonder how many assigned males had been told to ‘stop being a girl’ when playing with dolls or putting on a dress.

Zucker 1999 Test 1 – Conclusion

The data from test 1 parts A-D, and the fact that the clinical sample had a slightly lower ‘pass’ rate than the control sample, was interpreted by Zucker et al. as evidence that children at the gender clinic were more ‘confused’ about gender.

The researchers then take a further leap of faith, into a conclusion that the lower pass rate of the clinical group compared to the control group implied a ‘developmental lag’ in understanding of gender. However, the clinical sample and the control sample were the same age (ages 4-8, average age 6.5), and the clinical sample were not re-tested at a later point in time. How therefore can they claim a developmental lag? It is simply not possible to claim a ‘developmental lag’ based on this data. The assertion of a ‘developmental lag’ (with the implication that the clinical sample reach a similar level of understanding but at a later age than children not referred to a gender clinic) is pure speculation/fabrication.

Test 1 provides zero evidence that transgender children (those with a consistent, insistent, persistent identity different to their assigned sex) have a delayed understanding of gender.

Zucker 1999: Test 2 Boy-Girl Identity Test

The assigned male children were then shown a drawing of a boy. They were asked to give the child in the drawing a name. If they chose a girl’s name for the drawing they were corrected and given a boy’s name, eg ‘this is Tom’.

Zucker 1999 Test 2 Part 1:

The children were asked ‘If Tom really wants to be a girl, can he be a girl?’.

The children ‘fail’ this test if they say yes Tom can be a girl.

32% of the clinical sample ‘fail’ this task by stating Tom can be a girl vs 21% of the control group

(Interestingly there is not a huge difference between the clinical group and the control group, with 21% of the control group, children with no gender issues, thinking that yes, Tom can be a girl – Canadian 5 year olds from the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s showing more sophisticated understanding of gender than their specialists…)

The children are asked to give a reason for their answer, and are defined as having reached ‘operational constancy’ if they justify their answer ‘No Tom can’t be a girl’ answer with the justification ‘because he was born a boy’.

This unethical line of questioning Zucker et al put trans children through is a form of coercive persuasion, tantamount to brainwashing, where the ‘wrong answer’ is corrected with the ‘right answer’ – ‘BECAUSE TOM WAS BORN A BOY’ until the child submits and agrees.

Zucker 1999 Test 2 Part 2:

A dress and or long hair is added to the picture of ‘Tom’ and the children are asked ‘If Tom puts on a dress, is he a girl?’ The expected ‘correct’ answer is ‘No’ and the expected justification is ‘because he was born a boy’.

71% of the clinical group ‘fail’ this test, as do 64% of the control group.

Again the control group is pretty similar to the clinical group in their openness to the possibility of Tom being a girl.

Zucker 1999 Test 2 Conclusion

Zucker 1999 Test 2 provides no evidence of a ‘developmental lag’ in understanding gender for trans children.

Zucker 1999 – Test 3 looks at ‘sex-typed behaviour’

Zucker 1999 Test 3 Part 1 asks children to draw a person, and then asks them if the person they have drawn is a boy or a girl.

The assigned male at birth children ‘pass’ if they opt to draw a boy and ‘fail’ if they opt to draw a girl.

66% of the clinical sample ‘fail’ by drawing a girl (in case of the assigned males). 54% of the control sample also ‘fail’ this test by drawing a girl (in case of the presumed cis boys).

Again the results of the control are fairly similar to the clinical group.

Again there is no evidence of trans children having a developmental lag in understanding gender.

Zucker 1999 Task 3 Part 2 has the children watched through a 1-way mirror in a room with ‘gender specific’ toys and or clothes and the researchers assess the amount of time the children spend with ‘appropriately gendered toys or clothes’. They are deemed to have ‘failed’ if they play too much with the ‘wrong’ gender toys or clothes.

This task has no place in today’s society in which children are not constrained by outdated gender stereotypes.

Zucker 1999 Task 3 Part 3 assesses what it calls ‘affected confusion’, assessing a child’s ‘desire’ to be a boy or a girl (rather than their identity). It asks assigned males (who have been referred to a gender clinic for non-conforming behaviour) questions like ‘is it better to be a boy or a girl’ and ‘do you ever wish you were a girl’. Assigned males are deemed ‘deviant’ if they state any wish to be a girl (perhaps because they are a trans girl or perhaps because they are a non-conforming boy who wants to be able to play with his dolls in peace without being taken to Dr Zucker every month/week…). Assigned males are also deemed ‘deviant’ if they acknowledge anything positive about girls or think that there are any ways in which it is better to be a girl than a boy.

64% of the clinical group are labelled ‘deviant’ due to their answers in this part, as are 50% of the control group (reminder the control group are ‘random’ children not being seen by the gender clinic and who are not known to have any gender issues and yet half are deemed by this test to be ‘deviant’).

Zucker 1999 Test 3 Conclusion

What on earth is going on, and how the heck is this research still being quoted in a 2016 journal article by the leading experts at the UK’s Children’s Gender Service!

The high ‘failure’ and ‘deviancy’ rate’ not only in the clinical group but also in the control group is perhaps indication that Canadian 5 years olds in the 70s, 80s and early 90s were did not have such ingrained stereotypes of gender, nor sexism, nor misogyny, as the ‘gender specialists’ who subjected them to such awful tests.

The Zucker 1999 article ends with a ‘blame the parents’ conclusion, proposing that parents of gender non-conforming boys or trans girls must have ‘actively’ encouraged ‘cross-dressing’ or appeared to ‘tolerate’ cross-gender behaviour. It highlights a view that “parental reinforcement of same-sex play was positively related to gender constancy in pre-schoolers”. It is pure ‘drop-the-barbie’ Zucker, more focused on installing out-dated gender conformity in non-conforming boys than any concern for how to help children who may be transgender.

Zucker 1999 in summary

To summarise, the Zucker 1999 research is deeply outdated, transphobic, stereotyped, homophobic, normative and unethical.

The clinical sample is known to contain at least some children who are non-conforming rather than trans and no effort is made to focus specifically on trans children.

The difference in answers between the clinical group and the control group are very small (the paper conducts regression analysis on a wide number of variables until it finds some that are considered statistically significant – this is an unsound approach to valid statistical analysis).

The study looks at a range of things that do not relate to gender identity (including toy preferences).

And most critical of all – the paper looks at the children at one moment in time – comparing the clinical group to a control group of children the same age (age range 4-8). There is no follow up at a later age and no comparison of children of different ages. Any claim to transgender children having a developmental lag (which I interpret to mean achieving a similar understanding of gender at a later age) is pure fabrication.

Given the obvious weaknesses of the the Zucker paper – why is it a core reference in the 2016 Costa paper from leading experts of the UK Children’s Gender Service

UK Children’s Gender Service

There are three major problems with the Tavistock’s view of gender constancy as shown in the Costa 2016 paper.

Problem 1 – Quoting fabricated conclusions as though evidence

The Costa 2016 paper states “Some research suggests that a developmental lag exists in gender constancy acquisition in children with gender variant behaviour”, referencing the Zucker 1999 paper.

As we’ve seen above, the Zucker 1999 research does not provide any evidence for this claim.

Problem 2 – Broadening the relevance of those unsound conclusions and applying them to clinical practice

The Zucker paper mentions a ‘developmental lag’, but does not mention any age at which transgender children reach ‘gender constancy’.

The Costa 2016 paper moves beyond even the conclusions claimed in Zucker 1999, taking a series of assumptions to extrapolate wider conclusions (for which no specific reference is provided). They move from the idea of ‘a developmental lag in gender constancy’ to the claim that “children with gender dysphoria are more likely to express an unstable pattern of gender variance”. They move from that unsupported statement to the claim that “treating prepubertal individuals with gender dysphoria is particularly controversial owing to their unstable pattern of gender variance compared with gender-dysphoric adolescents and adults”. And they shift further to arrive at the final statement that puberty suppression is unwise until at least age 12 “safely beyond the age of gender constancy”. It is important to recall that Zucker 1999 provides no information on the age at which trans children ‘achieve gender constancy’ and focuses on children aged 4-8 (where the Costa paper get the age 12 figure from for gender constancy is anyone’s guess).

The Zucker 1999 research bears no relevance to the question of whether trans children understand their gender. Yet Costa et al 2016 use this study as their basis to suggest that transgender children do not know their gender. They use it to support an argument that transgender children have ‘unstable gender variance’ up until puberty, and they extend this to argue against pubertal suppression for those starting puberty under the age of 12.

Problem 3 – Omitting reference to critical recent research

The third, and perhaps the biggest error, is one of omission. The Costa 2016 paper, in its section on gender identity development / gender constancy in transgender children, only mentions the Zucker research, omitting mentioning any other research on transgender children’s gender identity.

The Zucker 1999 research paper is now 19 years old. Surely in the last two decades there has been some other research on the gender identity of transgender children, ideally research that makes an effort to focus on transgender (rather than gender non-conforming) children, and research that focuses on the children’s gender identity rather than toy preference? The answer is a clear yes. There are important studies on this topic that the Costa 2016 paper fails to even mention.

So let’s take a brief review of recent research on this topic which are noticeable by their absence:

New research on transgender children’s gender identity

Olson 2015

Olson, K.; Key, A.; Eaton, N. (2015) Gender Cognition in Transgender Children Psychological Science OnlineFirst, published on March 5, 2015

The introduction to the Olson el al 2015 paper describes historical (and current) scepticism to the idea of transgender children knowing their gender:

“This scepticism takes many forms: concerns that these children are “confused” and that they therefore need therapy, that these children are “delay[ed]” in their understanding of gender in part because of the behaviour of their parents (Zucker et al., 1999: Gender constancy judgments in children with gender identity disorder: evidence for a developmental lag), or that these children are merely saying they are the “opposite” gender, much as they might say on any given day that they are a dinosaur or princess.”

Olson et al.’s research aimed:

“to investigate whether 5- to 12-year-old prepubescent transgender children (N = 32), who were presenting themselves according to their gender identity in everyday life, showed patterns of gender cognition more consistent with their expressed gender or their natal sex, or instead appeared to be confused about their gender identity.”

Results:

“When the transgender children’s responses were considered in light of their natal sex, their responses differed significantly from those of the two control groups on all measures. In contrast, when transgender children’s responses were evaluated in terms of their expressed gender, their response patterns did not differ significantly from those of the two control groups on any measure.”

Conclusion:

“Using implicit and explicit measures, we found that transgender children showed a clear pattern: They viewed themselves in terms of their expressed gender and showed preferences for their expressed gender, with response patterns mirroring those of two cisgender (nontransgender) control groups. These results provide evidence that, early in development, transgender youth are statistically indistinguishable from cisgender children of the same gender identity.

Our findings refute the assumption that transgender children are simply confused by the questions at hand, delayed, pretending, or being oppositional. They instead show responses entirely typical and expected for children with their gender identity.

The data reported here should serve as evidence that transgender children do indeed exist and that their identity is a deeply held one.”

 See here for background and further details

Fast 2017

Fast, A & Olson, K. (2017) Gender Development in Transgender Preschool Children, Child Development

Abstract:

“An increasing number of transgender children—those who express a gender identity that is “opposite” their natal sex—are socially transitioning, or presenting as their gender identity in everyday life. This study asks whether these children differ from gender-typical peers on basic gender development tasks. Three- to 5-year-old socially transitioned transgender children (= 36) did not differ from controls matched on age and expressed gender (= 36), or siblings of transgender and gender nonconforming children (= 24) on gender preference, behavior, and belief measures. However, transgender children were less likely than both control groups to believe that their gender at birth matches their current gender, whereas both transgender children and siblings were less likely than controls to believe that other people’s gender is stable.”

 

Summary

So what do we know about gender constancy/ gender identity in transgender children?

We know that some claims are balderdash (junk science):

  •  The Zucker 1999 study holds no value in informing us about the gender identity development or constancy of transgender children.
  • The statement “a developmental lag exists in gender constancy acquisition in children with gender variant behaviour” is unsubstantiated and shouldn’t be quoted in future articles
  • Conclusions in the Costa (2016) report onchildren with gender dysphoria are more likely to express an unstable pattern of gender variance” and “treating prepubertal individuals with gender dysphoria is particularly controversial owing to their unstable pattern of gender variance compared with gender-dysphoric adolescents and adults” are unsubstantiated and should be disregarded
  • Policy recommendations in the Costa (2016) report on withholding pubertal suppression until “at least the age of 12, safely beyond the age of gender constancy” are unsubstantiated and should be disregarded

 

We know that recent research (Olson 2015 and Fast 2017) shows that:

  • “Transgender children do indeed exist and their identity is a deeply held one.”
  • “Three- to 5-year-old socially transitioned transgender children did not differ from controls or siblings on gender preference, behaviour, and belief measures.”
  • “Transgender children aged 5-12 viewed themselves in terms of their expressed gender and showed preferences for their expressed gender, with response patterns mirroring those of two cisgender control groups.”
  • “These results provide evidence that, early in development, transgender youth are statistically indistinguishable from cisgender children of the same gender identity.”
  • Research “findings refute the assumption that transgender children are simply confused by the questions at hand, delayed, pretending, or being oppositional. They instead show responses entirely typical and expected for children with their gender identity.”

The end of the ‘desistance’ myth?

australia 4

 

Read on for new (as yet unpublished) ‘desistance’ statistics from Australia (Spoiler: it may be as low as 4% ‘desistance’).

The 85% ‘desistance’ myth

Anyone with even a cursory awareness of issues relating to transgender children will have heard the 85% ‘desistance’ myth. Some old and flawed research studies, that lumped together large numbers of gender non-conforming cisgender children with transgender children, claimed astonishingly high levels of supposed ‘desistance’, ie children who held a cisgender (not transgender) identity after puberty. These studies are flawed in many ways, including in their analysis, where they assumed that children who could not be contacted or declined to be interviewed were all so called ‘desisters’. These statistics often relied upon older data from the 1970s and 1980s, a period in which societal acceptance for transgender people in the West was a long way behind where it is today. The 85% ‘desistance’ myth has been widely criticised:

See here from Zac Ford;

See here from our own ‘growinguptransgender’ blog;

See here from Brynn Tannehill;

See here and here from Kelley Winters;

See here from Julia Serano;

See here from Kristina Olsen and Lily Durwood;

Nevertheless, it is difficult to get rid of an old statistic, no matter how discredited, when there is not a better one available. Hence many of us have been eagerly awaiting new figures from the United States, where longitudinal research on a cohort of transgender children is currently underway.

The myth that will not desist

Despite the clear evidence and analysis that the research studies underpinning the 85% ‘desistance’ statistic are deeply flawed and unreliable, academic paper after academic paper on transgender issues continues to repeat this old discredited 85% figure. It is easier to present the mistakes of the past than to engage in this topic, especially where the research is not specifically focused upon gender dysphoria in children, and where the author is required to discuss persistence only as part of a wider survey of the literature. However discredited the 85% ‘desistance’ figure is, it keeps getting published as there is not (until now), a better ‘desistance’ statistic to put in its place.

Endocrine society continues the myth

The 2017 Endocrine Society guidelines still refer to the 85% figure, though they do at least note that  non-conforming children may be included in those older studies and acknowledge that persistence rates may well be different in future studies.

“However, the large majority (about 85%) of prepubertal children with a childhood diagnosis did not remain GD/ gender incongruent in adolescence (Source: Steensma TD, Kreukels BP, de Vries AL, Cohen-Kettenis PT. Gender identity development in adolescence. Horm Behav. 2013; 64(2):288–297.”

“Prospective follow-up studies show that childhood GD/gender incongruence does not invariably persist into adolescence and adulthood (so-called “desisters”). In adolescence, a significant number of these desisters identify as homosexual or bisexual. It may be that children who only showed some gender nonconforming characteristics have been included in the follow-up studies, because the DSM-IV text revision criteria for a diagnosis were rather broad. However, the persistence of GD/gender incongruence into adolescence is more likely if it had been extreme in childhood (41, 42). With the newer, stricter criteria of the DSM-5 (Table 2), persistence rates may well be different in future studies.”

The above paragraph is disappointing from the Endocrine Society. If a statistic is known to be useless then it is better to have no statistic at all than a wrong one.

In the words of Brynn Tannehill:

“the 84 percent desistance figure is meaningless, since both the numerator and denominator are unknown, because you have no idea how many of the kids ended up transitioning (numerator), and no idea how many of them were actually gender dysphoric to begin with (denominator).

Scottish Gender Recognition Act (GRA) Consultation

The newly released Scottish Gender Recognition Act consultation has taken an even more disappointing approach than the Endocrine Society – they do not make it clear that the 85% ‘desistance’ rate is widely discredited and they combine it with other statements about gender changes at around puberty that are based on fundamentally flawed research (see below).

In the section 4 “What research evidence is available” the Scottish GRA consultation document states:

4.1 There is evidence that children can experience incongruence between their assigned gender and their gender identity early in life. One study indicates the average age was 8.

4.2 There is a limited evidence base about whether children will continue to experience these feelings in the longer term. Follow-up studies indicate overall that for 85.2% of the children, their distress discontinued either before or early in puberty.

However, the rates in the individual studies varied widely. For instance, a 2008 study indicated that in 39% of children the feelings did continue beyond the onset of puberty whereas older studies from before 2000 had very much lower rates for children continuing to experience distress after the onset of puberty. It is thought that pre-2000 studies have included children who would not now be considered to be experiencing gender dysphoria. The studies may also be affected by the small clinical population of children with gender dysphoria – studies looking at whether gender dysphoric feelings persisted had a total population of 317 people.

4.3 There is also evidence that the more extreme a child’s gender dysphoria was before puberty, the less likely it was that their feelings will recede with the onset of puberty. For those who have reached puberty and continue to experience distress, evidence indicates that their distress then tends to intensify and that depression or self-harming behaviours are also more common in ages 12 and over. It is understood that physical changes caused by puberty may intensify the levels of distress experienced.

4.4 Available evidence suggests that factors arising around the ages of 10 to 13 may help explain changes in how a child feels about their gender: · the changes in social roles between boys and girls as their gender role become more distinct; · the anticipation or experience of physical changes as a result of puberty; and · their first experience of experiencing falling in love and discovering their sexual identity. “

The references (evidence base) for point 4.2 in the Scottish GRA consultation relies on the two deeply flawed and uncredible studies of Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis (2008) and Ristori and Steensma (2016), two papers whose multiple weaknesses we have previously addressed.

Point 4.4 also refers solely to another Steensma study (2010) that we demonstrate to have multiple flaws. The ‘evidence’ is outrageously weak and fundamentally unreliable, and should not have been quoted in the Scottish GRA consultation document.

This false information forms a key part of the information upon which Scottish stakeholders are to make decisions on the appropriateness of rights to legal identity recognition for under 16s. Stating 85% ‘desistance’ has the risk of influencing Scottish stakeholders away from supporting the rights of transgender children and adolescents.

The UK NHS Children’s Gender Identity Service continues the myth

Dogged adherence to the discredited 85% ‘desistance’ figure on the behalf of the UK Children’s Gender Identity Service continues to have serious and damaging effects on transgender children in the UK. A recent publication (Costa 2016) by two experts at the UK Gender Service, makes it clear that belief in this flawed ‘desistance’ rate is the key factor underpinning their insistence on a ‘watchful waiting’ (also known as delayed transition) approach.

“Treating prepubertal individuals with gender dysphoria is particularly controversial owing to their unstable pattern of gender variance compared with gender-dysphoric adolescents and adults”

“The percentage of children initially diagnosed with gender dysphoria who display persistence of the condition ranges from 12–27%, indicating that the majority of children meeting gender dysphoria criteria do not have persistence of the condition by the time they have entered puberty.”

“Most importantly, this approach is based on the evidence is that only a minority of those with untreated childhood gender dysphoria will identify as transsexual or transgender in adulthood, while the majority will become comfortable with their natal gender over time”

“A second approach considers it crucial not to interfere with the child’s development. ….the basis of this strategy is the absence of clear-cut predictors of gender dysphoria persistence in adulthood and the evidence that a substantial percentage of gender-variant behaviour in childhood will not culminate in adult gender dysphoria”

The service continue to quote this statistic to parents of insistent, consistent and persistent transgender children, telling them that their specific children will almost certainly shift to a cisgender identity at puberty – statements that have the risk of discouraging parents from listening to, accepting and loving their child.

Many of us have been hopefully looking to the United States for some better figures on ‘desistance’. But as we have looked West, some new figures have emerged from Australia.

November 2017 game changer: landmark Australian court case on transgender rights

A recent landmark court case in Australia described as “the greatest advancement in transgender rights for children and adolescents in Australia”, successfully removed a requirement for court approval for the prescription of cross sex hormones for gender dysphoric adolescents.

As part of the multiple court proceedings for that case, a “battery of reports from experts” were commissioned by the court. Dr Michelle Telfer, a world leading specialist in transgender children’s health,  of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne (and one of the authors of the new Australian Guidelines) was one of the key expert witnesses called to produce evidence from the Australian Gender Service. This evidence is summarised in the publicly available court report for the case titled ‘Re: Kelvin’ that was released this week:

FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA RE: KELVIN

“The fifth intervenor, the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service in Victoria is a specialist unit comprising of a team from multiple disciplines including Paediatrics, Psychiatry, Psychology, Endocrinology, Gynaecology, Nursing and Speech Pathology. Since its commencement in 2003, the Gender Service has received 710 patient referrals including 126 between 1 January 2017 and 7 August 2017. 56. 96 per cent of all patients who were assessed and received a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria by the 5th intervenor from 2003 to 2017 continued to identify as transgender or gender diverse into late adolescence. No patient who had commenced stage 2 treatment had sought to transition back to their birth assigned sex. No longitudinal study is yet available.” <page 8 points 55 and 56>

“Senior counsel continued: In addition, we have evidence from Dr Telfer which has made its way into the case stated at paragraph [55] about the experience of the gender service of the Royal Children’s Hospital over a period from 2003 to 2017, which also encompasses, therefore, new medical knowledge and, in particular, at paragraph [56] Dr Telfer’s affidavit – I’m sorry the case stated, picking up from Dr Telfer’s affidavit, the case stated records as a fact that 96 per cent of patients treated for gender dysphoria at the Royal Children’s Hospital continue to identify as transgender into late adolescence and so one sees some evidence there about persistence of gender dysphoria. Again, we would say that data is new. (Transcript, 21 September 2017, p 66, l 37 – 45)” <page 33 point 160>

Let’s focus on the the critical line:

“From 2003 to 2017 96 percent of all patients assessed and diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria continued to identify as transgender or gender diverse into late adolescence”.

This evidence is stating is a 96 percent ‘persistence’ rate into late adolescence. This implies a 4% ‘desistance’ rate. This may mean that only 4 percent of children diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria might shift to a cisgender (not transgender) identity. This represents a wildly divergent statistic than the 85% ‘desistance’ myth, and much closer to the anecdotal findings of those who have experience parenting, working with and supporting transgender children.

Here’s the words of Marlo Mack, a parent of a trans child:

“As the mother of a young trans daughter who has spent the past six years interacting with hundreds of families with kids like mine, the notion that detransition is rare strikes me as a statement of the obvious. In fact, the “80 percent of these kids change their minds” statistic feels a lot like Trump’s inauguration crowd size claims. If 80 percent of these kids are really desisting, where the hell are they? You’re telling me they’re there, but I’m just not seeing them. I’ve actually never met one.”

What would a 4% ‘desistance’ mean in practice? 

The Australia statistic refers to persistence “until late adolescence” (they can’t yet have longer term data – and we will have to wait until this cohort of young people grow into middle age). However, given that even many of the flawed studies on ‘desistance’ acknowledge that those who are transgender at late adolescence will almost all persist through adulthood this provisional 4% ‘desistance’ figure should cautiously be taken as an important data point.

This has potentially huge implications for policy. For how our society listens to, respects and supports transgender children. For how the media portray transgender children. For how specialists, including the UK Children’s GIDS talk to parents about transgender children. Remember the UK NHS website still looks to the outdated, flawed research and says:

“Across all studies approximately 16% continue with their gender identification”

It is time to put the 85% ‘desistance’ myth in the bin where it belongs.

The Australian 4% ‘desistance’ figure has not yet been formally published, and until we have peer reviewed analysis they should be treated cautiously. It is however derived from data collected from the 710 individuals who have been seen from the inception of the Melbourne gender service in 2003 and has been provided as evidence in legal proceedings. It should be treated as the most representative  data point we have to date for likely outcomes of gender dysphoric children.

While we await data from the longitudinal studies being led by Kristina Olsen and others in the United States, let us discard the 85% desistence figure that is known to be junk science. We know how much damage the 85% ‘desistance’ figure causes. Let’s call an end to this harm.

Let’s start with the upcoming UK Gender Recognition Act consultation.

To the Women and Equalities Select Committee, to the Secretary of State for Equality, and to all engaged in planning the UK GRA consultation document: – do not repeat the failings of the Scottish consultation document – do not use the discredited ‘desistance’ figure that is not only unreliable, but is shown by this new Australia data to be grossly inaccurate and misleading.

To stakeholders in Scotland: It is not acceptable that the consultation documents include this junk 85% ‘desistance’ statistic, without fair acknowledgement that it is widely discredited. If the real ‘desistance’ figure in the UK is even remotely close to the 4% ‘desistance’ provisionally found in Australia, the 85% figure is not just junk science, it is grossly misleading and actively harmful. It is not hard to see that ill-informed stakeholders across Scotland are much less likely to support the rights of transgender under 16 if they are told that 85% will shift to a cisgender identity. If those same stakeholders had been told that the latest findings demonstrate only as few as 4% of transgender children may later shift to a cisgender identity, it is feasible the consultation would come up with very different results. It is incumbent upon those in Scotland to make up for this disgraceful error, and make sure the rights of transgender under 16s are respected in the forthcoming revised Scottish GRA.

To Michelle Telfer and colleagues from the Australian Gender Service: thank you for providing this data and for providing evidence based advocacy on behalf of transgender children. The 85% ‘desistance’ myth causes so much damage in so many spheres. Please can you publish your data, even in its raw form, within a peer reviewed journal. Please give more information on the sample size, how many were pre and post adolescence, the ages of your sample group; It is crucial to ensure the 85% ‘desistance’ myth is not repeated in WPATH Standards of Care 8, dooming another generation of transgender children to disbelief, delay and denial of care.

To Gail Knudson and Board Members of WPATH: Please consider how you can ensure WPATH SOC 8 does not continue to perpetuate discredited statistics like the 85% ‘desistance’ myth. This causes real harm. Where evidence is flawed it must be discarded. To include statistics that are unreliable, and that in light of initial findings from Australia, may be wildly incorrect, is unethical and causes extensive harm.

To the UK NHS Tavistock Children GIDS. Please adapt and learn from the example of Australia where a specialist from the Australian children’s gender identity service is advocating, including in court proceedings, for the rights of transgender children.

Please consider publishing the data that has been collected. We need more information and analysis on how the UK figures compare to Australia and other children’s gender identity services worldwide. Publish your data.

To parents of transgender pre-pubertal children who have been repeatedly told that your specific insistent, consistent, persistent transgender child will almost certainly shift to a cisgender identity at puberty, despite the clear lack of examples of this happening with any enormous frequency. Now is the time to listen to your children. Now is the time to demand better from those who are meant to care for and support them.

References

Costa, R. Carmichael, P., Colizzi, M. (2016) To treat or not to treat: puberty suppression in childhood-onset gender dysphoria Nature Reviews Urology 13, 456–462

FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA RE: KELVIN (2017)

Ford, Z. (2017) Think Progress: ‘The pernicious junk science stalking trans kids

Growing up Transgender, A plea for better transgender research on the perpetual myth of ‘desistance’ and the ‘harm’ of social transitioning; 2017

Growing up Transgender, Australian Gold Standard of Care for Trans Children; 2017

Growing up Transgender, Diagnostic importance of starting puberty; 2017.

Hembree, W., Peggy T Cohen-Kettenis, Louis Gooren, Sabine E Hannema, Walter J Meyer, M Hassan Murad, Stephen M Rosenthal, Joshua D Safer, Vin Tangpricha, Guy G T’Sjoen; Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice GuidelineThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 102, Issue 11, 1 November 2017, Pages 3869–3903,

Mack, M. (2017) ‘Hit by trans friendly fire

Olsen, K. & Durwood, L. (2016) ‘What alarmist articles about transgender children get wrong

Ristori, J and Steensma T.D (2016) “Gender dysphoria in childhood” in International Review of Psychiatry, Gender dysphoria and gender incongruence, Vol 28, 2016 Issue 1.

Scottish Government (2017) Review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 A Consultation,

Serano, J. (2016) ‘Placing Ken Zucker’s clinic in historical context‘.

Steensma T.D et al (2010) “Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood; A qualitative follow up study”, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry Vol16 issue 4

Tannehill, B. (2016) Huffington post: ‘The end of the desistance myth

UK NHS Gender Identity Service Website, ‘Continuing and not continuing studies; accessed November 2017

Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis (2008) study “Psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 1413–1423 study

Winters, K. (2016) transadvocate.com: ‘The New York Magazine Lies to Parents about trans children

Winters, K. (2017) Australian ’60 Minutes’ report Misrepresents Trans Youth Medical Care

 

 

Post script: Risks of not providing treatment

The Australian court transcripts also include this section on Risks:

Risks of not Providing Treatment

  1. Failure to provide gender affirming hormones results in the development of irreversible physical changes of one’s biological sex during puberty or the development of changes that lead to the need for otherwise avoidable surgical intervention such as chest reconstruction in transgender males or facial feminisation surgery in transgender females.
  2. The prolonged use of puberty blockers (stage 1 treatment) has long term complications for bone density (osteopenia) namely osteoporosis and bone fractures in adulthood. Best practice is to limit the time an adolescent is on puberty blockers and then commence oestrogen or testosterone. Delaying stage 2 treatment for those on puberty blockers also results in psychological and social complications of going through secondary school in a pre-pubertal state which is inconsistent with the child’s peers. [2017] FamCAFC 258 Reasons Page 5
  3. The distress caused by Gender Dysphoria can lead to anxiety, depression, selfharm and attempted suicide.
  4. Individuals with Gender Dysphoria who commence cross sex hormone therapy generally report improvements in psychological wellbeing. An affirmation of their gender identity coupled with improvements in mood and anxiety levels typically results in improved social outcomes in both personal and work lives.
  5. For a transgender male, manifestations of increased body hair and deepening of the voice are generally considered by them as positive.
  6. For transgender females if stage 2 treatment is not administered another risk is linear growth beyond their expected final height.
  7. Some patients receiving treatment for Gender Dysphoria have reported purchasing hormones over the internet or illegally obtaining hormones through prescriptions written for other people. They have also reported that oestrogen and testosterone are cheap and freely available over the internet or through friends or acquaintances. Accessing hormones in this way is dangerous for several reasons including the risks of complications from blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV contractible with shared use of needles and syringes and the taking of inappropriate dosages of hormones which can be life threatening.

 

Puberty Blockers (GnRHa)

sherlock data

Safe and reversible

Puberty Blockers are recognised by credible experts around the world as a safe and reversible intervention that delays puberty for transgender or gender questioning adolescents.

According to the 2017 Endocrine Society Guidelines (Hebree et al, 2017):

“We suggest that adolescents who meet diagnostic criteria for GD/gender incongruence, fulfill criteria for treatment, and are requesting treatment should initially undergo treatment to suppress pubertal development

These recommendations place a high value on avoiding an unsatisfactory physical outcome when secondary sex characteristics have become manifest and irreversible, a higher value on psychological well-being, and a lower value on avoiding potential harm from early pubertal suppression.”

“We recommend treating gender-dysphoric/gender-incongruent adolescents who have entered puberty at Tanner Stage G2/B2 by suppression with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists.”

Adolescents are eligible for GnRH agonist treatment if:

1. A qualified MHP has confirmed that:

  • the adolescent has demonstrated a long-lasting and intense pattern of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria (whether suppressed or expressed),
  • gender dysphoria worsened with the onset of puberty,
  • any coexisting psychological, medical, or social problems that could interfere with treatment (e.g., that may compromise treatment adherence) have been addressed, such that the adolescent’s situation and functioning are stable enough to start treatment,
  • the adolescent has sufficient mental capacity to give informed consent to this (reversible) treatment,

2. And the adolescent:

  • has been informed of the effects and side effects of treatment (including potential loss of fertility if the individual subsequently continues with sex hormone treatment) and options to preserve fertility,
  • has given informed consent and (particularly when the adolescent has not reached the age of legal medical consent, depending on applicable legislation) the parents or other caretakers or guardians have consented to the treatment and are involved in supporting the adolescent throughout the treatment process,

3. And a pediatric endocrinologist or other clinician experienced in pubertal assessment

  • agrees with the indication for GnRH agonist treatment,
  • has confirmed that puberty has started in the adolescent (Tanner stage $G2/B2),
  • has confirmed that there are no medical contraindications to GnRH agonist treatment.

The latest clinical guidelines for treating transgender children are the Australian Guidelines (Telfer et al, 2017). They say the following about puberty blockers:

“Referral of a Child with gender dysphoria to a paediatrician or paediatric endocrinologist experienced in the care of trans and gender diverse adolescents for medical treatment, ideally prior to the onset of puberty”

“puberty suppression typically relives distress for trans adolescents by halting progression of physical changes such as breast growth in trans males and voice deepening in trans females and is reversible in its effects”

“The adolescent is given time to develop emotionally and cognitively prior to making decisions on gender affirming hormone use which may have some irreversible effects”

“Puberty suppression is most effective in preventing the development of secondary sexual characteristics when commenced at Tanner stage 2”.

“puberty suppression medication is reversible”

“The main concern with use of puberty suppression from early puberty is the impact it has on bone mineral density”. Reduction in the duration of use of puberty suppression by earlier commencement of stage 2 treatment must be considered in adolescents with reduced bone density to minimise negative effects.”

 

Criteria for adolescents to commence puberty blockers

1. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria in adolescence

2. Medical assessment including fertility counselling

3. Tanner stage 2 pubertal status has been achieved. This can be confirmed via clinical examination with presence of breast buds or increased testicular volume and elevation of luteinising hormone

4. The treating team should agree that commencement of puberty suppression is in the best interest of the adolescent and assent from the adolescent and informed consent from their legal guardians has been obtained

Australian References:

The Australian evidence base regarding puberty blockers focuses on three main sources:

  1. Puberty suppression in adolescents with gender identity disorder: a prospective follow-up study, de Vries et al (2011)
AIM: To compare psychological functioning and gender dysphoria before and after puberty suppression in gender dysphoric adolescents.

METHOD: Of the first 70 eligible candidates who received puberty suppression between 2000 and 2008, psychological functioning and gender dysphoria were assessed twice: at T0, when attending the gender identity clinic, before the start of GnRHa; and at T1, shortly before the start of cross-sex hormone treatment.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Behavioral and emotional problems (Child Behavior Checklist and the Youth-Self Report), depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory), anxiety and anger (the Spielberger Trait Anxiety and Anger Scales), general functioning (the clinician’s rated Children’s Global Assessment Scale), gender dysphoria (the Utrecht Gender Dysphoria Scale), and body satisfaction (the Body Image Scale) were assessed.

RESULTS: Behavioral and emotional problems and depressive symptoms decreased, while general functioning improved significantly during puberty suppression. Feelings of anxiety and anger did not change between T0 and T1. While changes over time were equal for both sexes, compared with natal males, natal females were older when they started puberty suppression and showed more problem behavior at both T0 and T1. Gender dysphoria and body satisfaction did not change between T0 and T1. No adolescent withdrew from puberty suppression, and all started cross-sex hormone treatment, the first step of actual gender reassignment.

CONCLUSION: Puberty suppression may be considered a valuable contribution in the clinical management of gender dysphoria in adolescents.

 

  1. Young Adult Psychological Outcome After Puberty Suppression and Gender Reassignment, de Vries et al, (2014)
BACKGROUND: In recent years, puberty suppression by means of gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs has become accepted in clinical management of adolescents who have gender dysphoria (GD). The current study is the first longer-term longitudinal evaluation of the effectiveness of this approach.

METHOD: A total of 55 young transgender adults (22 transwomen and 33 transmen) who had received puberty suppression during adolescence were assessed 3 times: before the start of puberty suppression (mean age, 13.6 years), when cross-sex hormones were introduced (mean age, 16.7 years), and at least 1 year after gender reassignment surgery (mean age, 20.7 years). Psychological functioning (GD, body image, global functioning, depression, anxiety, emotional and behavioral problems) and objective (social and educational/professional functioning) and subjective (quality of life, satisfaction with life and happiness) well-being were investigated.

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.

 

  1. Psychological Support, Puberty Suppression, and Psychosocial Functioning in Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria, Costa et al, 2015:

 

AIM: This study aimed to assess GD adolescents’ global functioning after psychological support and puberty suppression.

METHOD: Two hundred one GD adolescents were included in this study. In a longitudinal design we evaluated adolescents’ global functioning every 6 months from the first visit.

RESULTS: At baseline, GD adolescents showed poor functioning with a CGAS mean score of 57.7 ± 12.3. GD adolescents’ global functioning improved significantly after 6 months of psychological support (CGAS mean score: 60.7 ± 12.5; P < 0.001). Moreover, GD adolescents receiving also puberty suppression had significantly better psychosocial functioning after 12 months of GnRHa (67.4 ± 13.9) compared with when they had received only psychological support (60.9 ± 12.2, P = 0.001).

CONCLUSION: Psychological support and puberty suppression were both associated with an improved global psychosocial functioning in GD adolescents. Both these interventions may be considered effective in the clinical management of psychosocial functioning difficulties in GD adolescents.

101 adolescents were deemed ‘immediately available’ to receive blockers. This group was assessed at baseline, after 6 months of just therapy, after 12 months including 6 months blockers, and after 18 months including 12 months blockers. “The immediately eligible group, who at baseline had a higher, but not significantly different psychosocial functioning than the delayed eligible group, did not show any significant improvement after 6 months of psychological support. However, immediately eligible adolescents had a significantly higher psychosocial functioning after 12 months of puberty suppression compared with when they had received only psychological support. Also, their CGAS scores after 12 months of puberty suppression (Time 3) coincided almost perfectly with those found in a sample of children/adolescents without observed psychological/psychiatric symptoms.”

“In conclusion, this study confirms the effectiveness of puberty suppression for GD adolescents. Recently, a long-term follow-up evaluation of puberty suppression among GD adolescents after CSHT and GRS has demonstrated that GD adolescents
are able to maintain a good functioning into their adult years [De Vries 2014 see above]. The present study, together with this previous research [De Vries 2014], indicate
that both psychological support and puberty suppression enable young GD individuals to reach a psychosocial functioning comparable with peers.”

The American guidelines similarly describe blockers as “fully reversible” saying:

To prevent the consequences of going through a puberty that doesn’t match a transgender child’s identity, healthcare providers may use fully reversible medications that put puberty on hold. These medications, known medically as GnRH inhibitors but commonly called “puberty blockers” or simply “blockers,” are used when gender dysphoria increases with the onset of puberty, when a child is still questioning their gender, or when a child who has socially transitioned needs to avoid unwanted pubertal changes.

By delaying puberty, the child and family gain time — typically several years — to explore gender-related feelings and options. During this time, the child can choose to stop taking the puberty-suppressing medication. However, most children who experience significant gender dysphoria in early adolescence (or who have undergone an early social transition) will continue to have a transgender identity throughout life. Puberty-suppressing medication can drastically improve these children’s lives. They can continue with puberty suppression until they are old enough to decide on next steps, which may include hormone therapy to induce puberty consistent with their gender identity.

The UK service specification (citing Costa et al, 2015) agrees:

“In adolescents with GD, psychological support and puberty suppression have both been shown to be associated with an improved global psychosocial functioning. Both interventions may be considered effective in the clinical care of psychosocial functioning difficulties in adolescents with GD”.

As demonstrated by the above, there is a clear consensus amongst gender specialists worldwide that puberty blockers are fully reversible and this is supported by the peer reviewed academic literature.

Recent claims from the UK Gender Identity Service

In spite of the consensus and evidence in support of puberty blockers as safe and reversible, there have been recent reports from families with children in the UK Gender Identity Service that clinicians have advised against them. One clinician is reported as saying “puberty blockers may not be as reversible as we thought” and there have  been reported attempts  to dissuade dysphoric pubertal youth from puberty blockers. More worryingly there are also reports from parents that on occasion clinicians have stated that they will not permit referral to the Endocrinology service (for reversible puberty blockers) “until we are completely sure of things”.

If some clinicians are working in this way, this appears to be both outside of the UK Protocols and not in alignment to  the accepted international  good practice. While it is as yet unclear how widespread this reluctance to prescribe puberty blockers is, the crux seems to centre on a ‘feeling’ by some in the UK children’s gender service that puberty blockers ‘might change outcomes’, making children ‘continue as trans’ who may otherwise have ‘shifted to a cisgender identity’.

This unsubstantiated criticism of hormone blockers has recently started to filter into  mainstream media, for example, in this magazine article which raises concern about the reversibility of blockers:

“Blockers are often described as “fully reversible”, and it is true that if you stop taking them puberty will eventually resume. But it is not known whether they alter the course of adolescent brain development”

The above critique of blocker reversibility isn’t attributed in the article, but the main criticism of the gender affirmative approach in the article is Bernadette Wren, the Head of Psychology at the UK Children’s Gender Service who is described in the article as “nervous” of an approach where “children who begin taking blockers early on in puberty, followed immediately by cross-sex hormones, will never produce mature eggs or sperm of their own”. Wren continues,  “Can a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old imagine how they might feel as a 35-year-old adult, that they have agreed to a treatment that compromises their fertility or is likely to compromise their fertility?”.

It is puzzling that the UK service are dissuading use of blockers for dysphoric transgender adolescents, particularly given the clear consensus amongst respected centres of expertise globally. Perhaps there are further clues from a speech given at WPATH 2016 (the international forum for transgender health) by Polly  Carmichael, the Head of the UK children’s service:

Here’s is a lengthy extract from the last quarter of Polly Carmichael’s speech to WPATH in 2016 including the text from slides:

Slide text:

“Rationale for the blocker: Are all aspects reversible?

The blocker as a diagnostic aid

The blocker as time to explore, understand, consolidate

The blocker as reversible treatment

Experience some puberty? Tanner stage 2

Stage of puberty not age

Transcription of audio  for this slide:

“So to end  I want to raise some points for us to think about

Rationale of the blocker. Are all aspects of the blocker fully reversible? Is anything really fully reversible? If you don’t do something it has an effect. If you do something it has an effect

And also we are working within a developmental trajectory so things are changing all the time

However, I think we had the view of the blocker as a diagnostic aid. It was also a time to try and alleviate stress, unless I’ve got this completely wrong, to explore and understand more and consolidate, support young people to be thinking about their next step. It is a reversible step in terms of if you stop it then your pre-programmed milieu resumes, but I would question whether it is a completely reversible treatment, we also have the idea of young people should experience some puberty, to tanner stage 2. I think that was around the idea the majority of people presenting to services pre puberty not necessarily going forward post puberty and wanting physical interventions and so maybe within that there was some thought that puberty perhaps had a role to play in terms of young people’s development in terms of their sense of their gender identity”

Next slide text:

Balancing evidence and Practice

Behavioural and emotional problems, largely attributed secondary to gender dysphoria, are expected to be relieved by supressing puberty, whilst general functioning has shown to improve after a staged programme starting by blocking puberty  De Vries et al 2010, 2014

Dutch team have published longer term data – but little prospective data available – wide age range

No consensus yet between professionals in the field regarding the use of puberty suppression. Doubts related to lack of psychological and long term physical outcomes such as bone health and cardiovascular risks. Nevertheless, several teams are exploring the possibility of lowering the current age limits for early medical treatment although they acknowledge the lack of long term data Vrouenraets et al 2015 Cohen Kettenis and klinck 2015

Transcription of audio  for this slide:

“I think we all, you know, feel the blocker and physical treatments are crucial and vital and have been the biggest step forward for young people. And certainly their use that was pioneered in Holland has been incredibly successful, but actually the Dutch are the only team really who have published long term prospective studies about this, so there is very little data available and also the data we have is on very wide age ranges. And I guess I was surprised to see but it makes sense that very recently in 2015 an excellent paper giving young people a voice a qualitative study looking at the views of young people, 13 young people between the age of 13 and 18 and really was concluding that there is no consensus so I think around the world we are practicing very differently”

Next slide text:

Number Mean Age Age Range
Mean age young people at EI clinic 162 12.82 8.99-15.1
Natal Males 70 12.89
Natal Females 92 12.97
Mean age at started blockers 119 13.59 10.5-15.5
Natal Males 54 13.64
Natal Females 65 13.54
Mean age at start CSH 25 16.18 16-16.5
Natal Males 10 16.21
Natal Female 15 16.17

2 stopped treatment

Transcription of audio  for this slide:

“In terms of our service we have had 44 young people in our early intervention project, who were part of a research project but we have now had 162 young people go forward for early hypothermic blockers and the age range reflects the fact it is by stage not by their age, but 2, only 2 have stopped treatment. And in both of those cases they have stopped treatment because they are wanting to explore a different gender identity. One is in a very supportive environment and wishes to try living in a different role without treatment for a while.

So I guess there is a question about why, Why none, why none stop if they’ve started on the blocker more or less, so I guess that begs the question that either we are not putting forward enough, that there are some people who would benefit from this who are missing out on this treatment. Or that in some way this treatment in and of itself may have an impact and may put people on a path. I totally support this treatment but I think it is about how we conceptualise it, the framework within which it is offered”

Next slide text:

Summary

T1 Outcomes show

Overall no change in psychological functioning (YSR and CBL)

Natal girls showed an increase in internalising problems from To to T1 as reported by their parents

No change in self-harming thoughts or behaviours

No change in Gender Identity or Gender Dysphoric feelings

No change in perception on primary or secondary bodily characteristics

However a change over time in neutral sex characteristics (feet, face, nose, height, eyebrows, hands, chin, shoulders, calves, adam’s apple).

Transcription of audio  for this slide:

“So in terms of our early intervention I guess the other thing is that our results have been different to the Dutch we are about to publish these and we haven’t seen any change in terms of psychological wellbeing and so on. There was a change over time in neutral sex characteristics, but interestingly this was a change, there was a study done through our service looking at the general population in terms of this where also there was an increase in dissatisfaction and so it seems to reflect that rather than something specific to this group. I think this is to do with the timing at which we took our measures but what is more important in terms of the qualitative data all of the young people have been resoundingly thrilled to be on the blocker and not wanting to stop and found it to be an incredibly positive experience.”

This presentation was in March 2016 but the expected paper on the outcomes for the 162 adolescents on blockers has not (as far as we’re aware) yet come out. It does have some fascinating results mentioned – out of 162 people only 2 did not continue with treatment after blockers. Polly Carmichael considers this a troublingly high rate of continuation, and proposes two theories: either not enough people are getting an opportunity to use blockers, or blockers are changing the outcomes. The tone of the presentation and repeated use of the question ‘is anything reversible?’ gives a clear indication of which way she is inclined.

This is very much the territory of the ‘hunch’. A specialist seeing a certain trend and making a guess, or hypothesis, about causation. The step between hunch and proven theory is having some evidence and data to back this up.

There are several alternative explanations for the low drop out rate after using blockers:

One, Carmichael is mistaken in her starting assuming that a large number of adolescents normally desist from a transgender identity at puberty – after all, this assumption is based on desistance statistics that are very widely discredited. See here and here

Two, Carmichael is overlooking the extreme difficulties for a child to gain access to the service pre-puberty and the extreme delays and gate-keeping once in the service before any approval is given for blockers. These delays and barriers in the UK system mean that only the most clear, insistent and consistent children reach the point of early provision of blockers. Children who are in any way less certain (ironically, the youth who perhaps would most benefit from thinking time), are very much less likely to get listened to by their parents, referred by their GP, accepted by the service, and approved for blockers. If only the children who have a long track record of insistent and clear identities are prescribed blockers, then it is not at all surprising that those are the children who continue to be insistent and clear once ‘on’ blockers.

Importantly, despite having developed a ‘hunch’ about hormone blockers changing the outcomes (making children persist as trans who would otherwise be cis or making children who had expressed a desire for physical intervention continue to have this desire for physical intervention), the UK service is yet to provide any peer reviewed publication (nor any open access to service data), in support of this claim.

Anecdotes and hunches that seem to fit with a perceived data pattern are not evidence. Competent evidence based science needs to be based on data and research shared with the world in peer reviewed research journals. If the UK really has any evidence that blockers are not reversible (beyond the above speculation), they need to present it to the world through peer reviewed publication.

How are GIDS backing up their hunch?

UK families have asked UK GIDS for evidence of this ‘hunch’ of blockers not being reversible. In spite of having a dedicated research centre, the Tavistock GIDS rarely share research literature with families (and the research section of their website is woefully out of date). However  clinicians at Tavistock GIDS have recently been circulating a paper by a former member of staff called Giovanardi. This paper reportedly been distributed both following requests for information on blockers from parents, and also as part of their blocker information sessions:

“Buying time or arresting development? The dilemma of administering hormone blockers in trans children and adolescents – Guido Giovanardi – Porto Biomedical Journal Volume 2, Issue 5, September–October 2017, Pages 153-156

Now at first glance it might seem curious to choose a paper published in a new and not yet ranked journal – anyone with a knowledge of academic journals will be aware that quality and peer review standards vary widely between journals, which is why journal accreditation and ranking is so important, to separate the quality journals from those that will publish flawed or inaccurate material.

This paper provides very little in the way of positive evidence about the effectiveness of blockers. It states that “many professionals remain critical about the puberty-blocking treatment”, ignoring the substantial bodies from Endocrine Society, to American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians and the Executive of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Transgender Health, not to forget the original pioneers from the Netherlands who endorse puberty blockers.

The three sources for the claim that many professionals are critical of blockers include:

i) Cohen‐Kettenis et al (2008) 

ii) A fringe view point (in a letter) from a group from Berlin who believe people can’t be considered trans until after “psychosexual development has been completed” and

iii) Stein (2012) which contrasts the expert opinion and clinical evidence in favour of puberty blockers of experts from US and Netherlands, against the author’s personal un-evidenced concerns.

These sources provide little by way of evidence that respected professionals in 2017 are critical of blockers as Giovanardi suggests.

Giovanardi focuses their paper heavily on potential negatives of blockers, listing nine reasons against blockers:

1. At Tanner stage 2 or 3, the individual is not sufficiently mature or authentically free to take such a decision.

2. It is not possible to make a certain diagnosis of GD in adolescence, because in this phase, gender identity is still fluctuating.

3. Moreover, puberty suppression may inhibit a ‘spontaneous formation of a consistent gender identity, which sometimes develops through the “crisis of gender”’.

4. Considering the high percentage of desisters, early somatic treatment may be premature and inappropriate.

5. Research about the effects of early interventions on the development of bone mass and growth – typical events of hormonal puberty – and on brain development is still limited, so we cannot know the long-term effects on a large number of cases.

6. Although current research suggests that there are no effects on social, emotional and school functioning, ‘potential effects may be too subtle to observe during the follow-up sessions by clinical assessment alone’ (p. 1895).

7. The impact on sexuality has not yet been studied, but the restriction of sexual appetite brought about by blockers may prevent the adolescent from having age-appropriate socio-sexual experiences.

8. In light of this fact, early interventions may interfere with the patient’s development of a free sexuality and may limit her or his exploration of sexual orientation.

9. Finally, for trans girls (natal boys with a female gender identification), the blockage of phallic growth may result in less genital tissue available for an optimal vaginoplasty.

Out of the 9 listed criticisms, 8 have no relevance to the reversibility of blockers.

Point one and two are saying adolescents are too young to decide about blockers or too young to be diagnosed as transgender. These are both disputed, neither point is a reason to go through the wrong puberty, especially assuming blockers are reversible (Giordano, 2008; 2010).

Point 4 and 6 refer to Steensma et al (2008) with point 4 discussing the problematic work on desistance. Point 6 is actually positive, in favour of hormone blocking treatment, albeit with some unsubstantiated ‘are there things we don’t know?’ tacked on, without clear rationale.

Point 5 merely mentions there is a lack of rigorous evidence. We know this. This is not however, a reason to do nothing as doing nothing is ‘not a neutral decision’ (Simona, 2008). It is not logical to say do nothing until we have excellent evidence, The Australian guidelines (Telfer et al, 2017) is neatly succinct:

“withholding of gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate distress in a number of ways including depression, anxiety and suicidality, social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally accessing medications”

Giovanardi’s Point 7 and 8 suggest that blockers have some important impact on sexuality. The only reference for point 7 and one of two references for point 8 is an article by a fringe group from Berlin (Korte et al, 2008). They maintain that adolescents should complete all pyscho sexual development before any intervention at all, and wrote a letter arguing against the view of the Endocrine Society (2009 clinical practice guidance) on a variety of areas, including disagreement that there is any biological cause for gender identity. The global Endocrine Society (2017) has recently concluded there is significant and conclusive evidence for a biological underpinning.

Korte et al (2008),  crucially does not contain any new research or data, it instead reviews other people’s data meaning it is not a quality source for a new conclusion. This Berlin group are also firmly in the, now discredited, “blame the mother” camp, see for example, this delightful section in their paper:

“A profound disturbance of the mother-child relationship can often be empirically demonstrated and is postulated to be a causative factor”. ” The desire to belong to the opposite sex is held to be a compensatory pattern of response to trauma. In boys, it is said to represent an attempt to repair the defective relationship with the physically or emotionally absent primary attachment figure through fantasy; the boy tries to imitate his missing mother as the result of confusion between the two concepts of having a mother and being one (e15). In girls, the postulated motivation for gender (role) switching is the child’s need to protect herself and her mother and from violent father by acquiring masculine strength for herself”.

“This explanatory approach ascribes primary importance to a desire on the parent’s part for the child to be of the opposite sex. A high rate of psychological abnormalities in the parents of children with GID has been reported in more than one study. It is essential, therefore, to explore thoroughly the psychopathology of the child’s attachment figures and their “sexual world view,” including any sexually traumatizing experiences they may have undergone, in order to discover any potential “transsexualogenic influences”.

This old fashioned ‘blame the mother’ approach to transgender children has been discredited, see this from Winter et al (2016), in the Lancet:

“to date, research has established no clear correlations between parenting and gender incongruence”

The Berlin group go on to talk about autogynophelia and fetishistic transvestism. This is outdated, utterly discredited, and damaging nonsense. Are the Tavistock GIDS seriously endorsing and suggesting parents read such hurtful, uncredible, and transphobic material?

Point 9 mentions lack of penile tissue for later surgery. This has historically been a concern as a limiting factor on certain surgical techniques for trans women, however, surgeons have now developed, and are continuing to develop alternative techniques, noting that the desire for surgery is far from universal. Giovanardi’s argument here against puberty blockers for trans girls age 12 based on potential impact on surgery prospects as an adult, is deeply perplexing. It would perhaps be worth noting in a discussion of potential surgical interventions, but hardly a reason to not offer hormone blockers.

In summary, not one of the 8 reasons discussed above are related to the question of whether blockers are reversible.

Point 3 alone in Giovanardi’s paper is the critical one for this discussion. It is the only supposed ‘evidence’ presented for the irreversibility of blockers:

“3. Moreover, puberty suppression may inhibit a ‘spontaneous formation of a consistent gender identity, which sometimes develops through the “crisis of gender”’

Giovanardi’s paper provides one single reference for this claim; Simona Giordano (2007).

Giordano is a respected researcher in the field of medical ethics, who has written extensively on the importance of treatment of gender dysphoria. This reference, citing a proposal for new guidelines for treatment of gender dysphoric children and adolescents, seemed so unlikely I immediately re-read her paper to locate the section being referred to by Giovanardi. Here is a more lengthy quotation:

Clinical Benefits and Risks of treatments for AGIO

Puberty delaying hormones. These have the following benefits:

a. The main benefit of early physical treatment is arrest of pubertal development, and, consequently, arrest of the suffering of the patient (CohenKettenis et al., 2003, p. 171).
b. Arresting the progress of puberty gives adolescents more time in which to achieve greater certainty about their innate gender identity.
c. The administration of blockers will prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics of the undesired sex. In turn, future treatment would be less invasive and painful (for example, breast removal in female-to-male patients and painful and expensive treatment for facial hair in male-to female patients will be prevented; the voice will not deepen, and nose jaw and crico-cartilage (Adam’s apple) will be less developed)) (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 2003, p. 171).
d. Successful adaptation is associated with early start of physical treatment (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 2003, p. 171).

The risks are currently under scrutiny. The British Society of Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, composed by the UK team involved in the treatment of gender dysphoric young people, believes that interrupting the development of secondary sexual characteristics may disrupt the fluidity that characterises puberty, and arrest the natural changes that may occur in this period (BSPED). In other words, in theory, blockers may inhibit the spontaneous formation of a consistent gender identity, which sometimes develops through the ‘crisis of gender’.

Although the concern is serious and should always be taken into consideration when administering therapy in early puberty, it is also known, as stated above, that the vast majority of AGIO adolescents (unlike pre-pubertal children) almost invariably become AGIO adults (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 2003, p.172), even where hormone-blockers
have not been administered. This means that there is a clear expected benefit in the vast majority of cases of adolescents requiring treatment

Giordano’s paper outlines several evidence based reasons in favour of puberty blockers. She includes in one lone paragraph a note that some UK specialists involved in the treatment of children ‘believe’, (have a hunch), that puberty blockers could make people continue as trans who could otherwise be ‘saved’ and made ‘cisgender’ (I paraphrase…). This is presented as opinion with no evidence. Giordano clearly concludes the paper arguing in favour of hormone blockers “there is a clear expected benefit in the vast majority of cases of adolescents requiring treatment”.

The only ‘evidence’ of blockers not being reversible in Giordano’s paper is this description of UK specialists having a hunch about potential impact.

“My work has been misrepresented”

I wrote to Dr. Simona Giordano to ask if their work has been misrepresented. Here, with permission, is their reply in full:

“You are right. My work has been misrepresented, because I was only citing one possible concern, to say that this concern is misplaced. As many others.

Likewise other research is misrepresented. Sex typing, for example is usually completed at the age of 6 or 7 and it is not true that during adolescence gender identity fluctuates. It may and it may not.

The BSPED guidelines I referred to in my article at the time were withdrawn very soon after. My paper and all my work is very clear on my stance. Since my first 2007 article I have been consistently analysing the ethical and clinical arguments 1. Against provision of GnRHa to adolescents with GD and 2. For age-based provision, and I have been arguing for over 10 years now that I could not find one individual ethical or clinical argument that could justify a policy of non-intervention.

I have been arguing since then that “waiting” is not necessarily a “precautionary” approach; omission of treatment can have severe psychological, social and physical hideous consequences. Omissions in this area can be much more risky than action. Harm reduction is a legitimate goal of medical care. Moreover, importantly, blockers, in the very literature cited by Giovanardi, are regarded and presented as a diagnostic tool as well as a therapeutic tool. So it is incorrect, in my opinion, to talk about GnRHa just as a medical treatment; it is part of the diagnosis.

Of course, each individual adolescent deserves to receive a treatment plan adapted to his or her individual needs; professionals must retain discretion as to what they believe to be in the best interests of the child. A policy, or clinical guidance, that across the board sets an age, or suggests waiting till Tanner Stage 4 or until advanced phases of pubertal development is extremely risky, and may prevent professionals from making this type of judgement based on individual needs.

We shared our analysis with Dr Giordano and she was kind enough to read and make the following observations,

“There is a passage in your blog:

“Wren continues,  “Can a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old imagine how they might feel as a 35-year-old adult, that they have agreed to a treatment that compromises their fertility or is likely to compromise their fertility?”.”

From this point of view, an adolescent should be refused cancer treatment, because unable to imagine how she or he will feel at the age of 35 having agreed to a treatment that compromises fertility, and therefore be left to die with cancer. No valid response would be that ‘cancer is lethal and gender dysphoria isn’t’ because it is well known that gender dysphoria can be lethal and is often lethal if untreated. The oncologist would say: “She may lament being infertile when she’s 35 but at least she’ll be around to complain!”; the transgender adolescent may say the same: “Even if in the future I will suffer because of my infertility, at least I will be around to suffer!”.

Reversibility. The issue of ‘are blockers reversible?’ is misguided. It would be more precise to say that once the treatment is interrupted, spontaneous development re-occurs with no irreversible changes having taken effect, rather than ‘blockers are reversible’, or ‘treatment is reversible’.

The issue of bone mineral density is not an issue of ‘reversibiity’ but rather an issue of the side effects of the medications. These medications may have this side effect (potentially). There are no firm data as yet, but this has been a concern for a long time. It has not been possible to gather precise data, because peak bone mass is accrued around the age of 26-27, and the population of patients treated with GnRHa is still too young to have a solid evidence base. But even assuming that one day we have the data, and these data show that patients who have been treated with GnRHa are more likely to develop bone mineral density issues than untreated patients, this potential side effect is to be balanced with 1. The benefits and 2. The likelihood of harm and suffering associated with withholding treatment. There may be clinical arguments too to be evaluated (ie what can be done clinically to reduce the risks that may be associated with the medication).

I believe it is misguided to debate about reversibility, because of course nothing is ‘reversible’ in the sense that once we have done something, we can’t reverse (I wrote this in response to Russel Viner in 2008). Here what matters is the side effects, the benefits v harms. So when we discuss whether something is reversible or not we risk losing sight of the relevant issue, which, it seems to me, is rather whether the treatment is overall beneficial, considering the likely benefits and the potential risks.”

The UK service therefore distributed to parents a journal article as ‘evidence’ to back up their belief that blockers are not reversible. The sole evidence within this paper written by a former member of the UK GIDS staff (Giovanardi, 2017) is a reference to another paper (by Giordano, 2007), which was, in turn, quoting the UK service’s un-evidenced belief. An unpublished hunch evidenced by a paper that references another paper that refers to that same hunch. We have found ourselves lost in parody. Simply put, this is not good enough!

In summary

The journal article (Giovanardi, 2017) given out to parents of service users by the Tavistock GIDS misrepresents evidence on the question of reversibility of blockers. It quotes research that is far from mainstream (outdated, pathologising and transphobic).

In a paper that claims to be a summary of evidence, it omits major (positive) studies and, in the discussion on the risks of being on blockers for too long, omits entirely any discussion of the recommendations endorsed by gender affirmative specialists to proceed to cross sex hormones earlier in case impacts on bone mass (Hembree et al. 2017). A quote from Rosenthal, a leading US endocrinologists (and one of the authors of the global Endocrine Society Guidelines) is included in a recent magazine article:

“Rosenthal worries about the few British children who, having begun puberty at age nine, will have to take the blocker for seven years until they have reached the age of consent. “That can be very risky to their bone health and perhaps even for their emotional health, to be so far out of sync with their peers in terms of pubertal development,” he says. At his clinic, he has administered cross-sex hormones to patients aged 14, and sometimes younger.”

(Note, though we twice take expert quotes from a recent magazine article, this article is itself deeply flawed – see Marlo Mack’s compelling essay for further discussion).

It is extremely concerning that some clinicians in the Tavistock GIDS are handing out to parents such a poor article as this Giovanardi paper. We see three options. Either:

1 They believe in the type of positions outlined in the articles referenced in the Giovanardi paper (which means they are potentially deeply transphobic and hold discredited and out-dated views on transgender people). Or;
2 They don’t look at the quality of the research they are reading and take the conclusions as robust evidence without checking the actual evidence base (which would make them incompetent). Or;
3 They have a ‘hunch’ that blockers are bad and are actively looking for any research that confirms their feeling (from which we would assume they were unethical and biased).

There is significant evidence on the benefits of hormone blockers to trans youth. The UK withholding or delaying blockers is extremely damaging. The UK needs to put up peer reviewed data to substantiate any ‘hunch’ they may have, or desist from spreading unsubstantiated rumours. Advice to parents needs to accurately portray current evidence – to do otherwise is both unethical and risks harm.

So what have Tavistock GIDS published on puberty blockers?

It is equally curious that the Tavi are handing out the Giovanardi paper from a new journal, and not referring parents to their own paper on puberty blockers, from the respected Nature, (Costa et al, 2016).

Here are key quotes from this 2016 paper, written by two specialists at the Tavistock GIDS, indicating both the evidence for the timely use of hormone blockers and, in agreement with the wider research consensus, that they are clearly reversible:

“Puberty suppression using gonadotropin-releasing-hormone analogues (GnRHa) has become increasingly accepted as an intervention during the early stages of puberty (Tanner stage 2–3) in individuals with clear signs of childhood-onset gender dysphoria”

“The existing literature supports puberty suppression as an early, sufficiently safe, and preventive treatment for gender dysphoria in childhood and adolescence”

“To date, only one long-term follow-up study has indicated that a treatment protocol including puberty suppression leads to a psychosocial functioning in late adolescence that is comparable to non-gender-dysphoric peers”

“To date, only one study has assessed the effect of GnRHa on cognition in gender dysphoria, reporting no evidence for a deleterious effect of puberty suppression on brain activity and related executive functioning”

“Research has begun to focus on the effects of puberty suppression on quality of life in prepubertal and adolescent individuals with gender dysphoria, indicating that this early intervention could improve their psychosocial functioning and wellbeing”

“A team from the Netherlands has been an influential leader in promoting a protocol — the so-called Dutch protocol — which recommends treatment of minors with gender dysphoria after an extensive psychological and psychiatric evaluation, with puberty suppression at the age of 12 years and after the first stages of puberty (Tanner stage 2–3) have been reached. This team have also provided evidence that no young individual eligible for GnRHa has dropped out of treatment or shown regret during puberty suppression. The cornerstone of this approach is the evidence that, although puberty suppression seems to reduce the gender-dysphoria-related distress and seems to be a relatively safe and reversible procedure, not treating gender dysphoria in childhood cannot be considered a neutral option, as delaying treatment until late adolescence or adulthood might lead to the development of psychiatric concerns, social isolation, and impaired functioning.”

“Our opinion is that the enlightened decision would be to allow puberty suppression when the adverse outcomes of a lack of or delayed intervention outweigh the adverse outcomes of early intervention in terms of long-term risks for the child. In other words, if allowing puberty to progress seems likely to harm the child in terms of psychosocial and mental wellbeing, puberty should be suspended.”

“Since (the 1990s), puberty suppression has become increasingly accepted as an early intervention in young individuals with clear signs of gender dysphoria.”

“Puberty suppression is considered a fully reversible procedure and has been proven to be sufficiently safe. Suppression of puberty in children with gender dysphoria has the fundamental benefit for children of giving them time to reflect on their gender identity, obtain real-life experience living as the non-natal gender in dress and behaviour, and determine whether or not they desire the full transition. In our opinion, as the development of a body contrary to the experienced gender has been associated with several psychosocial distress parameters, puberty suppression can be considered a preventive treatment. The procedure has consistently been linked to an improved transition into the desired gender role, including in terms of physical appearance, and a more satisfactory outcome, even in the long term.”

“Despite a limited number of studies, the existing literature supports puberty suppression as an early, sufficiently safe, and preventive treatment for gender dysphoria in childhood and adolescence.”

This 2016 Tavistock GIDS paper merits further discussion and we will be looking in more detail in our next research evidence review.

 

 

References:

Carmichael, P., Presentation at WPATH 2016; February 2016

Cohen‐Kettenis, P. T., Delemarre‐van de Waal, H. A., & Gooren, L. J. (2008). The treatment of adolescent transsexuals: changing insights. The journal of sexual medicine5(8), 1892-1897.

Costa, R., Dunsford, M., Skagerberg, E., Holt, V., Carmichael, P., & Colizzi, M. (2015). Psychological support, puberty suppression, and psychosocial functioning in adolescents with gender dysphoria. The journal of sexual medicine12(11), 2206-2214.

Costa, R., Carmichael, P., & Colizzi, M. (2016). To treat or not to treat: puberty suppression in childhood-onset gender dysphoria. Nature Reviews Urology13(8), 456-462.

De Vries, A. L., Steensma, T. D., Doreleijers, T. A., & Cohen‐Kettenis, P. T. (2011). Puberty suppression in adolescents with gender identity disorder: A prospective follow‐up study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine8(8), 2276-2283.

De Vries, A. L., McGuire, J. K., Steensma, T. D., Wagenaar, E. C., Doreleijers, T. A., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2014). Young adult psychological outcome after puberty suppression and gender reassignment. Pediatrics134(4), 696-704.

Giordano, Simona. “Gender Aytpical Organisation in Children and Adolescents: Ethico-Legal Issues and a Proposal for New Guidelines.” Int’l J. Child. Rts. 15 (2007): 365

Giovanardi, G. (2017). Buying time or arresting development? The dilemma of administering hormone blockers in trans children and adolescents. Porto Biomedical Journal2(5), 153-156.

Growing up Transgender, A plea for better transgender research on the perpetual myth of ‘desistance’ and the ‘harm’ of social transitioning; 2017. https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/a-plea-for-better-transgender-research-on-the-perpetual-myth-of-desistance-and-the-harm-of-social-transitioning/

Growing up Transgender, Diagnostic importance of starting puberty; 2017. https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/diagnostic-importance-of-starting-puberty/

Growing up Transgender, GIDS.NHS.UK All the support a parent needs….; 2016. https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/gids-nhs-uk-all-the-support-a-parent-needs/

Hembree, W. C., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Gooren, L., Hannema, S. E., Meyer, W. J., Murad, M. H., … & T’Sjoen, G. G. (2017). Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society* Clinical Practice Guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism102(11), 3869-3903. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2017-01658

Korte, A., Goecker, D., Krude, H., Lehmkuhl, U., Grüters-Kieslich, A., & Beier, K. M. (2008). Gender identity disorders in childhood and adolescence: currently debated concepts and treatment strategies. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International105(48), 834.

Mac, Marlo, Hit by trans friendly fire, 2017. https://gendermom.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/hit-by-trans-friendly-fire/

McCann, C. (2017). When girls won’t be girls. 1843. [online] Available at: https://www.1843magazine.com/features/when-girls-wont-be-girls [Accessed 27 Nov. 2017].

Murchison, G. (2016). Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children. Human Rights Campaign11.

Stein, E. (2012). Commentary on the treatment of gender variant and gender dysphoric children and adolescents: Common themes and ethical reflections. Journal of Homosexuality59(3), 480-500.

Telfer, M.M., Tollit, M.A., Pace, C.C., & Pang, K.C. Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for Trans and Gender Diverse Children and Adolescents. Melbourne: the Royal Children’s Hospital; 2017 https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/Australian%20Standards%20of%20Care%20and%20Treatment%20Guidelines%20for%20Trans%20and%20Gender%20Diverse%20Children%20and%20Adolescents.pdf

Winter, S., Diamond, M., Green, J., Karasic, D., Reed, T., Whittle, S., & Wylie, K. (2016). Transgender people: health at the margins of society. The Lancet388(10042), 390-400.

 

Diagnostic importance of starting puberty?

Several documents, including the Endocrine Society Guidelines, refer to the diagnostic importance of adolescents starting puberty. There is a belief that some youth cease to be transgender/dysphoric during the early stages of puberty and that ‘persistence’ can only be assessed after youth have experienced that first stage of natal puberty.

Here’s the Endocrine Guidelines 2017

“At the present time, clinical experience suggests that persistence of GD/gender incongruence can only be reliably assessed after the first signs of puberty.”

“Adolescents with GD/gender incongruence should experience the first changes of their endogenous spontaneous puberty, because their emotional reaction to these first physical changes has diagnostic value in establishing the persistence of GD/gender incongruence.”

The belief in the diagnostic importance of the early stages of puberty, leads in turn to the requirement that adolescents go through the first stage of a natal puberty, and the clinicians only prescribe blockers once they have noted increased distress at those early pubertal changes. The Endocrine Society’s criteria for prescription of blockers includes the requirements:

gender dysphoria worsened with the onset of puberty”.

As mentioned in our earlier blog, the Endocrine Guidelines do not include any reference in support of this recommendation.

However, this quote does appear to correspond to a journal article by Steensma et. al., 2011.

Steensma TD, Biemond R, de Boer F, Cohen-Kettenis PT. Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: a qualitative follow-up study. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2011;16(4):499–516.

We will therefore look at this in detail.

The abstract for this paper makes a wide number of claims:

“Adolescents with persisting gender dysphoria (persisters) and those in whom the gender dysphoria remitted (desisters) indicated that they considered the period between 10 and 13 years of age to be crucial. They reported that in this period they became increasingly aware of the persistence or desistence of their childhood gender dysphoria. Both persisters and desisters stated that the changes in their social environment, the anticipated and actual feminization or masculinization of their bodies, and the first experiences of falling in love and sexual attraction had influenced their gender related interests and behaviour, feelings of gender discomfort and gender identification.”

It offers as a conclusion:

Based on the significance most adolescents attribute to the period between the ages of 10 and 13, we suggest that clinicians should concentrate clearly on what happens in this phase of develop­ment. It is recommended to specifically address the adolescents’ feelings regarding the factors that repeatedly came up as relevant in our interviews (i.e. the effects of the changing social environ­ment, the response to anticipated or actual puberty, and the emerging romantic/sexual feelings and sexual partner choice), before any medical steps are taken (e.g., to suppress further pubertal development).

Steensma et al.’s above conclusion makes some very specific recommendations that have influenced  clinical practice in settings, including the UK Gender Identity Service for Children.

Here is the ‘Evidence‘ section of the UK NHS Children’s Gender Identity Service website:

“Young people indicated that the period from 10 and 13 years to be most crucial in their feelings related to gender dysphoria. For both, the young people who continued having these feelings and for those where the feelings of gender dysphoria became less prominent, three main factors seem to have had an impact on their gender identity development. Firstly, the changes in social environment (gender roles and expectations become more distinct during this period of their life); secondly, the effects of a changing body through puberty; and thirdly the experience of romantic feelings and falling in love (Steensma et al, 2011).”

Other papers by Steensma have been criticised for poor and inaccurate research analysis, for drawing conclusions that are not based on the findings, and for overstating conclusions beyond what the data can support.

Key claims to consider as we look into the actual data in the Steensma paper are:

  1. Is there robust evidence that “emotional reaction to these first physical changes has diagnostic value in establishing the persistence of GD/gender incongruence”.
  2. Is there robust evidence that “the effects of the changing social environ­ment, the response to anticipated or actual puberty, and the emerging romantic/sexual feelings and sexual partner choice create changes in gender identity at this point in time”
  3. Is there robust evidence that “”tanner stage 2 is a diagnostically important period for gender identity?” (Steensma’s conclusion does not mention tanner stage, instead mentioning age 10-13, but clinical guidelines now focus on tanner stage rather than age)
  4. Is there evidence that “a significant number of trans children, previously undistinguishable pre –puberty, desist in the first stage of puberty” (between tanner 1 and 2)?

To the data! (Steensma et. al. 2011)

The study selected a sample of 25 adolescents aged 14-18, all of whom had been registered with the Dutch Gender clinic in childhood, but only 14 of whom had been still registered with the service at age 12-14. The 14 who had been with the service at age 12-14 (and were still with the service) were considered the ‘persisters’ (7 ‘male’ 7 ‘female’ – amab/afab?). The 11 who had left the service some time before the age of 12-14 were considered the ‘desisters’ (6 ‘male’ 5 ‘female’ – amab/afab?). The persisters had applied for puberty blockers. The desisters had not applied for puberty blockers.

The Steensma study interviews this sample at ages 14-18 and asks a wide range of qualitative questions, asking them to reflect upon their earlier views and experiences.

All 25 children had been diagnosed during childhood with Gender Identity Disorder (DSM 4). The diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder is no longer used, and has been heavily criticised for not distinguishing between children who are transgender and those who are simply non-conforming, with no wish to change their gender and no need for medical interventions. The now discredited statistics on desistance, also published by Steensma amongst others, are known to be flawed as they relied upon the DSM 4 diagnosis, counting non-conforming children alongside transgender children.

With a DSM4 diagnosis, we cannot know how many of the original sample of 25 were just gender non-conforming. The possibility that a large number of children in this sample of 25 were non-conforming rather than transgender is given credence by the fact that the paper refers throughout to issues that are not centred on identity – the paper focuses predominantly on descriptions of gendered interests, play preferences and gender expression (as opposed to on identity).

It is also interesting to note that none of the 25 children in this sample had socially transitioned before the age of 12.

The paper makes the claim that ‘Adolescents with GD/gender incongruence should experience the first changes of their endogenous spontaneous puberty, because their emotional reaction to these first physical changes has diagnostic value in establishing the persistence of GD/gender incongruence’.

As we will demonstrate, this recommendation is built upon woefully shaky foundations:

Steensma et al (2011) claim to have identified three diagnostic areas:

  1. social divisions
  2. pubertal physical changes and
  3. sexual orientation

all of which they claim are diagnostically critical in distinguishing between ‘persisters’ and ‘desisters’ between the ages of 10-13 years old.

The paper outlines the different ways that ‘persisters’ (those who were in the system at age 12-14 and applied for puberty blockers) and ‘desisters’ (those who had left the system before age 12 and never applied for puberty blockers) remember feeling ‘at around age 10-13’

1. Social Divisions

The ‘persisters’ recall social divisions between boys and girls increasing ‘at around age 10’. As the divisions between boys and girls increased, so did their wish to be grouped with the ‘other’ gender (with the gender matching their identity?) and they increased in their wish to socially transition. The ‘desisters’ did not respond in the same way. At this period of increased social divisions between boys and girls, the ‘desisters’ were not troubled to be grouped with their natal gender, and did not wish to socially transition.

Steensma et al interpret the above as evidence that the period of increased social division at around age 10 is diagnostically important. That we need to wait until social divisions between boys and girls increase at around age 10, and see whether children wish to be grouped with their natal gender without wish for social transition (=desisters) or whether they wish to be grouped with children of the opposite gender to their assumed gender and wish to socially transition (=persisters).

An alternative possibility (which cannot be determined from this data) is that the desisters were always gender non-conforming children, and the persisters were always transgender children. An alternative interpretation of the same research data is that when social divisions increase, the transgender children wish to be grouped with their identified gender, whereas the non-conforming children are untroubled with being grouped with their natal (=identified) gender. With this interpretation, the age of 10 and the responses to increased social division at this age, is not in fact diagnostically important. Instead, to distinguish transgender children from non-conforming children we need to ask them about their identity. Something, from the data presented, this study does not do.

This ‘finding’ focuses on an age, in this case the age of 10 (a time where according to Steensma et al, gender divisions increase in the Netherlands). This ‘finding’ is not linked to any stage of pubertal development or to any tanner stage.

2. View of puberty

The second distinction proposed between the ‘persisters’ and ‘desisters’ relates to their reported ‘view of puberty’. When interviewed several years later (at age 14-18) the ‘persisters’ recall having been very distressed by puberty:

“When I was 13, I started to menstruate and my breasts started to grow. I hated it! If we would have had a train station in our town I would definitely have jumped in front of a train. I didn’t go to school anymore, lost my friends and became totally withdrawn”.

The desisters, being interviewed at ages 14-18, do not recall being distressed about the physical changes of puberty. The desisters were almost by definition not distressed by puberty as they are the group who had left the service before age 12 and had not applied for puberty blockers. As throughout this paper, tanner stage of puberty is not discussed.

Steensma et al interpret this as evidence that experiencing “the first changes of their endogenous spontaneous puberty” was a critical diagnostic stage.

An alternative interpretation of this same research is that children who are distressed about puberty, who are still in the gender service at age 12, and who apply for hormone blockers, can be considered as ‘persisters’ (transgender). Children who are not distressed about puberty, are no longer in the service at age 12, and do not apply for hormone blockers, are ‘desisters’ (not transgender).

There is no evidence in this study that the desisters were distressed about the idea of puberty beforehand and desisted at age 11 (remember they had all left the gender service before age 12). There is no reference to tanner stage 2 in this study, and no evidence at all that desisters were distressed at tanner 1 but un-distressed at tanner stage 2.

The study even makes it explicitly clear that the desisters were not even distressed at the idea of puberty:

“For the desisters the anticipated feminization or masculinization of their bodies was not explicitly reported as particularly distressful”.

The desisters were not even distressed about anticipated puberty.

The most logical interpretation of this data that we can make is that we should not give puberty blockers to youth who have not applied for puberty blockers. And we should not give puberty blockers to youth who have left the gender service before age 12. It is our conclusion from the presented data that assuming the children left the service of their own accord, rather than leaving for other reasons, such as denial or delay in treatment, it seems most likely that children who have left the service before age 12 and have not asked for puberty blockers are probably not in need of puberty blockers.

Significantly, and at odds with the paper’s abstract, recommendations and conclusions, this study provides no evidence that children who are distressed about anticipated puberty desist after undergoing the first stages of puberty.  It also fails to make a single reference to tanner stages.

Yet this is considered evidence that “Adolescents with GD/gender incongruence should experience the first changes of their endogenous spontaneous puberty”. The study provides no evidence to back up that conclusion.

3. Sexual attraction

The third section which Steensma et al. find to have diagnostic importance is that of developing sexual attraction. In the study (interviewing 14-18 year olds), all 14 ‘persisters’ described themselves as attracted to their natal sex, and saw themselves as heterosexual (transgender and heterosexual).

Steensma et al. extrapolate from this a conclusion that the development of sexual orientation is, in and of itself, diagnostic – that youths who are attracted to their natal gender but consider themselves heterosexual are therefore transgender.

This finding is problematic on multiple levels.

Firstly, and inexplicably, Steensma et al. consider it a noteworthy research finding that a transgender person attracted to their natal gender considers themselves heterosexual.

Secondly the sexual orientation of a sample of 14 transgender individuals (all describing themselves as heterosexual) cannot be considered diagnostic as even from a cursory review of the literature it is clear that transgender people can have a range of sexual orientations.

Thirdly, whether all 14 are heterosexual cannot itself be relied on – remember these are interviews with 14 – 18 year olds, adolescents at ages where many cisgender youth may not be open about their sexuality, why then should transgender youth be any different. Moreover these are transgender youths who are reliant upon a service for medical interventions and it can be speculated are attempting to provide the ‘desired answers’ to navigate their way through in a Gender Identity Service ruled by hetero/cis-normative gate keepers.

Also many of the ‘persisters’ seem to emphasise ambivalence or reluctance to start dating “I just don’t want to date now”.

There is a clear hetero cis normative bias, particularly for assigned females.  The Steensma et al (2011) analysis notes that the desisting girls were all cisgender heterosexual and suggests that this is also diagnostic (implicit assumption that cisgender lesbians do not exist). The desisting boys it notes expressed a variety of sexual orientations.

Even within this data set it is unclear how Steensma et al consider sexuality diagnostic. Note again, there is nothing here about tanner stage, nor about at which stage of puberty sexual orientation became clear.

As an aside that I won’t go into here, the study is also methodologically flawed (it describes itself as applying grounded theory, but omits to include key parameters that are critical for a grounded theory approach).

Summary

What the Steensma et al. 2011 study claims to prove:

“Adolescents with persisting gender dysphoria (persisters) and those in whom the gender dysphoria remitted (desisters) indicated that they considered the period between 10 and 13 years of age to be crucial. They reported that in this period they became increasingly aware of the persistence or desistence of their childhood gender dysphoria. Both persisters and desisters stated that the changes in their social environment, the anticipated and actual feminization or masculinization of their bodies, and the first experiences of falling in love and sexual attraction had influenced their gender related interests and behaviour, feelings of gender discomfort and gender identification.”

What the Steensma et al. 2011 study actually proves:

Social divisions: 25 people aged 14-18 reminisced about their experiences at the age of about 10, a time when social divisions between boys and girls increases in the Netherlands. 14 children who were still registered with the gender identity service in adolescence recall at that time of increased social division having wanted to be grouped with the children of the opposite gender to their assigned gender and wanting to socially transition. 11 children who had left the service before the age of 12, recall having wanted to be grouped with their assigned at birth gender and having not wished to socially transition.

View of puberty: 11 children who were in the service in childhood but left the service before the age of 12 and did not apply for puberty blockers, remember not having been distressed by the idea or the reality of pubertal changes. 14 children who were still in the service in adolescence and who applied for blockers remember being distressed at pubertal changes.

Sexual attraction: In a sample of 25 people registered at the gender clinic in childhood, when interviewed in adolesence, 14 transgender people were heterosexual, 5 cisgender girls were heterosexual and 6 cisgender boys had a variety of sexual orientations.

What policy recommendations this study makes:

Based on the significance most adolescents attribute to the period between the ages of 10 and 13, we suggest that clinicians should concentrate clearly on what happens in this phase of develop­ment. It is recommended to specifically address the adolescents’ feelings regarding the factors that repeatedly came up as relevant in our interviews (i.e. the effects of the changing social environ­ment, the response to anticipated or actual puberty, and the emerging romantic/sexual feelings and sexual partner choice), before any medical steps are taken (e.g., to suppress further pubertal development).

What policy recommendations this study can justifiably make:

We should not give puberty blockers to youth who have left the service before the start of puberty, who are not distressed at the idea of puberty and who have not applied for puberty blockers. We should only give puberty blockers to youth who are still in the service, who are distressed at the idea of puberty and who apply for puberty blockers.

Tanner 2?

It is noteworthy that the Steensma study make no reference to tanner stage 2, instead focusing on the age of around 10-13 and the stage of emerging romantic/sexual feelings. Current practice in many countries has moved on from designating a minimum age for puberty blockers (age 12) to a stage based approach (tanner stage 2).

In other countries the approach is reportedly one where a transgender child’s identity is believed in childhood, where children approaching puberty are reassured that puberty blockers will be available at tanner stage 2 if required, where clinicians proactively monitor tanner stage, and where, at tanner stage 2, if a child is distressed at the idea of pubertal changes, puberty blockers are prescribed in a timely fashion.

In the UK flawed evidence like this Steensma study provides the foundation of an approach which is harmful to transgender children and adolescents. The UK approach uses flawed desistance statistics and studies like this one on the diagnostic importance of puberty to argue that transgender children cannot know their identity until puberty. The UK uses this (plus other flawed research again by Steensma) to argue against early social transition even for insistent, persistent, consistent and deeply distressed transgender children. The UK belief that previously trans children will desist at puberty means that pre-pubertal children are given no reassurance at all that puberty blockers will be available, leading to increased stress as puberty approaches. Parents report that the UK service does not seem to see any urgency in prescribing promptly at tanner 2, with parents feeling the need to fight for the service to monitor developing tanner stage and to prescribe in a timely fashion at tanner 2. Parents are confused about what possible reason clinicians could have for delaying prescription of hormone blockers to distressed children at tanner 2. They don’t understand why there is no sense of urgency or timeliness from the UK Children’s Gender Identity Service.

My guess is that this Steensma et al. 2011 study is part of the reason UK Children’s Gender Identity Service clinicians seem so reluctant to prescribe puberty blockers promptly at tanner stage 2. If they accept Steensma et al.’s conclusions and policy recommendations at face value (which they seem to), then they are led to believe that there is an unknown point in natal puberty where previously insistent trans children will suddenly ‘desist’. That there is no way of knowing beforehand which kids will desist. That the longer they can delay blockers the more likely adolescents are going to experience the elusive (and unknown) point in puberty when something as unpredicatable as falling in love could cause them to ‘desist’. Another child will be saved from transdom! And one child saved from transdom is worth inflicting major emotional harm on those who remain trans.

Summary:

This piece of research over states its conclusions and draws policy recommendations that are not in any way supporting by the data. This publication is cited twice in the new Endocrine guidelines. It is included in the references for WPATH Standards of Care 7. It is cited in numerous articles. It is quoted at length on the website of the UK Children’s Gender Identity Service. The claims made in this study are not robust and must be discarded.

 

C of E Anti-Bullying Guidance – Send us your reckons!

church6

Today the Church of England released a much needed update to their guidance on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools:

https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2017-11/Valuing%20All%20God%27s%20Children%27s%20Report_0.pdf

Here’s a quote from the introduction:

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders,self-harm, depression and suicide.

Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God.

Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value. This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without
exception or exclusion.

Church schools must do all they can to ensure that all children, particularly those who may identify as, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are kept safe and can flourish.”

A number of Christian commentators have responded with opinion pieces criticising the Church of England for welcoming and caring for transgender children. Sadly many of these opinion pieces are deeply misinformed of the facts.

There is much misinformation on the subject of transgender children and everyone has a view –  I’m reminded of ‘Send us your reckons’ from Mitchell and Webb.

Sadly this misinformation has led to very real consequences for families with transgender children. We know Christian grandparents who have stopped all contact with transgender grandchildren. We know vulnerable families with transgender children who do not feel welcome in their place of worship.

Positive examples of church acceptance, kindness and inclusion (and thankfully in the UK there are many more good stories than bad) are included at the end of this post.

Any Christians commentating in this area, particularly those with a platform and a following, have a moral responsibility to make themselves familiar with the facts, not simply regurgitate  the propaganda of anti-transgender lobby groups, (unless they are part of those groups which seek to restrict the rights of LGBT youth).

I’ve taken as an example a recent article by Ian Paul, expressing deep concern about a move towards “unthinking and unqualified affirmation of those asking for recognition of their transgender status, even if motivated by kindness”. I chose to focus on this article as Ian apparently is open to learning and hearing additional information on this subject. I am happy to share in good faith information with anyone open minded enough to listen. Here therefore is a detailed response to his post (quoted at length in the blue boxes):

“then what of the far more complex question of gender identity?

The famous obstetrician Robert Winston was drawn into the controversy around this question on Radio 4 last week. He pointed out the serious harm that can arise from medical intervention to effect gender ‘transition’.

Speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, he said that “results are horrendous in such a big proportion of cases”. He said 40 per cent of people who undergo vaginal reconstruction surgery experience complications as a result, and many need further surgery, and 23 per cent of people who have their breasts removed “feel uncomfortable with what they’ve done”.

He added: “What I’ve been seeing in a fertility clinic are the long-term results of often very unhappy people who now feel quite badly damaged. One has to consider when you’re doing any kind of medicine where you’re trying to do good not harm, and looking at the long-term effects of what you might be doing, and for me that is really a very important warning sign.”

The ‘famous obstetrician’. You are quoting the views of someone who has no experience in treating, much less in performing surgery on, transgender people. The statistics he provides do not accord with the evidence based views of specialists who are clear that transgender surgery has one of the best outcomes of all types of surgery:

This is from those with real expertise treating transgender people, the Endocrine Society:

“Medical intervention for transgender individuals (including both hormone therapy and medically indicated surgery) is effective, relatively safe (when appropriately monitored), and has been established as the standard of care.”

https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health

And here’s an overview of the misleading statistics quoted about transition regret:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/myths-about-transition-regrets_b_6160626.html

Winston refers to two references which do not appear to support his assertions:

  1. Complications of the Neovagina in Male-To-Female Transgender Surgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis With Discussion of Management PC Dreher et al. Clin Anat. 2017 Oct 23
  2. Postoperative Complications Following Primary Penile Inversion Vaginoplasty Among 330 Male-To-Female Transgender Patients TW Gaither et al. J Urol. 2017 Oct 11

Here are two quotes from the first paper:

“Wagner et al. (2010) describe that gender reassignment surgery (GRS) has proven to be the best solution for patients with discordant gender and contributes significantly to psychosocial stability in these patients”

“An increasing number of patients appear to be seeking this surgery, likely due in part to increasing acceptance by medical and reimbursement communities, high satisfaction rates and improved quality-of-life reports according to Gooren (2011).”

This first paper (Dreher et al) covers surgery worldwide since 1995 and produces an average of 21% of patients requiring additional procedures. It notes that rates of complication are very significantly lower (nearing 0%) in surgeons who have conducted more than 40 surgeries. This suggests improved surgical guidance and training is key to improved outcomes.

The second paper (Wagner et al) looks at the work of an experienced surgeon, and notes 9% required a follow on procedure, almost all of these were conducted as an outpatient and none were severe complications (none graded IV or V). It concludes it is a relatively safe procedure.

It should be recognised that talking about surgery in relation to children is a common tactic used by transphobic groups to misinform and provoke fear. No children in the UK NHS have surgical interventions (the minimum age for surgery is 18).

“For expressing his informed medical opinion, Winston received a torrent of hate mail from transgender activists.”

There is a climate of fear mongering and misinformation in the media about transgender people and transgender children, fuelled by lobbyists such as Christian Concern. I do not condone any hate mail. I do however, understand people expressing their deep frustration at a respected professor using their voice to spout misinformation on a public platform.

Winston’s Daily Mail article follow up is titled “Trolls call me homophobic” which suggests some really basic misunderstanding of the difference between homophobia and transphobia.

You could read this humorous blog post which provided some light relief for those of us who have seen this all before.

https://sexdrugsmh.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/every-trans-media-piece-ever/

You could read this poem to get a sense of how us parents feel every time someone appears on radio or tv and gets their basic facts wrong:

https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/finding-my-fierce/

“But he was expressing from a medical point of view similar reservations expressed by the feminist Camille Paglia:

Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on),”

Camille here is describing gender expression (what clothing they like) rather than gender identity (who they are). Clothing does not make a person transgender. This is someone who has a history of  appropriating a transgender identity as a rhetorical device with the goal of curtailing the rights of transgender people.

Along with Prof Winston, Camille Paglia also has no known expertise in supporting transgender people

“I am highly sceptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows.”

The phrase ‘transgender wave’ is distorted and dehumanising language. The increase in people seeking support means less people are struggling on their own. Here are the words of experts from the Australian Standards of Care and Treatment:

“with increasing visibility and social acceptance of gender diversity in Australia, more children and adolescents are presenting [….and ] requesting support, advice, and gender affirmative psychological and medical treatment”. They note that with “approximately 1.2% of adolescents identifying as trans […] it is likely that referrals will continue to rise in the future”.

https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/Australian%20Standards%20of%20Care%20and%20Treatment%20Guidelines%20for%20Trans%20and%20Gender%20Diverse%20Children%20and%20Adolescents.pdf

See this thread on twitter which makes a comparison between the current increase in numbers of out transgender people (and referrals to youth gender services) with the rise in prevalence of left handed people last century: https://twitter.com/DadTrans/status/929081990107881472

(In short – in 1900 there was significant social prejudice against left handed people – left handed children were forced to write with their right hand – and only 2% of the population was openly left handed. With increased acceptance of left-handed children, numbers of openly left-handed people rose sharply in the early twentieth century and have remained constant at about 12% of the population since then. Speculators in the 1930s could have expressed concern about the sharp increase in left-handedness. But the phenomenon was clearly related to increasing levels of acceptance leading to left-handed people being more open and not having to pretend to be right-handed. Interestingly, in Japan where there is still stigma and left-handed children are still forced to use their left hand, the prevalence is still 2%).

“Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.”

This is the ideologically based opinion of someone with no qualifications in this topic. Puberty blockers are safe and reversible.  They have been prescribed for precocious puberty since the 1970’s and continue to be prescribed for this purpose (delaying the puberty of children who begin puberty too young).

For a thorough review of the ethics of hormone blockers see the following article: Gender Atypical Organisation in Children and Adolescents: Ethico-legal Issues and a Proposal for New Guidelines, Simona Giordano http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/092755607×262793

“Puberty delaying hormones …have the following benefits:
a. The main benefit of early physical treatment is arrest of pubertal development,
and, consequently, arrest of the suffering of the patient (CohenKettenis
et al., 2003, p. 171).
b. Arresting the progress of puberty gives adolescents more time in which to achieve greater certainty about their innate gender identity.
c. The administration of blockers will prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics of the undesired sex. In turn, future treatment would be less invasive and painful (for example, breast removal in female-to-male patients and painful and expensive treatment for facial hair in male-to female patients will be prevented; the voice will not deepen, and nose jaw and crico-cartilage (Adam’s apple) will be less developed)) (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 2003, p. 171).
d. Successful adaptation is associated with early start of physical treatment (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 2003, p. 171)”.

The safety and reversibility of puberty blockers are looked at in the recent Australian national medical guidance (published September 2017) which states:

“Puberty suppression is most effective in preventing the development of secondary sexual characteristics when commenced at Tanner stage 2”. ”reduction in the duration of use of puberty suppression by earlier commencement of stage 2 treatment must be considered in adolescents with reduced bone density to minimise negative effects.”

Further, this month the Endocrine Society (published new guidance: “Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline,” (published online and  in the November 2017 print issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), a publication of the Endocrine Society).

Recommend puberty blockers

“We suggest that adolescents who meet diagnostic criteria for GD/gender incongruence, fulfil criteria for treatment, and are requesting treatment should initially undergo treatment to suppress pubertal development

These recommendations place a high value on avoiding an unsatisfactory physical outcome when secondary sex characteristics have become manifest and irreversible, a higher value on psychological well-being, and a lower value on avoiding potential harm from early pubertal suppression.”

Start puberty before blockers

“We suggest that clinicians begin pubertal hormone suppression after girls and boys first exhibit physical changes of puberty.

We recommend treating gender-dysphoric/gender-incongruent adolescents who have entered puberty at Tanner Stage G2/B2 by suppression with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists.”

Here’s the criteria for blockers, which are not handed out on a whim:

Criteria for blockers

“Adolescents are eligible for GnRH agonist treatment if:

  1. A qualified MHP has confirmed that:
  • the adolescent has demonstrated a long-lasting and intense pattern of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria (whether suppressed or expressed),
  • gender dysphoria worsened with the onset of puberty,
  • any coexisting psychological, medical, or social problems that could interfere with treatment (e.g., that may compromise treatment adherence) have been addressed, such that the adolescent’s situation and functioning are stable enough to start treatment,
  • the adolescent has sufficient mental capacity to give informed consent to this (reversible) treatment,
  1. And the adolescent:
  • has been informed of the effects and side effects of treatment (including potential loss of fertility if the individual subsequently continues with sex hormone treatment) and options to preserve fertility,
  • has given informed consent and (particularly when the adolescent has not reached the age of legal medical consent, depending on applicable legislation) the parents or other caretakers or guardians have consented to the treatment and are involved in supporting the adolescent throughout the treatment process,
  1. And a paediatric endocrinologist or other clinician experienced in pubertal assessment
  • agrees with the indication for GnRH agonist treatment,
  • has confirmed that puberty has started in the adolescent (Tanner stage $G2/B2),
  • has confirmed that there are no medical contraindications to GnRH agonist treatment.”

“The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.”

Does this author actually believe that transgender people do not exist? This is a deeply transphobic perspective and the fact that the author describes herself as transgender does not undo the clear transphobia here. Camille also clearly does not understand the difference between sex and gender.

Intersex ambiguities are estimated by WHO to be 1% of births which is hardly a tiny proportion.

Futhermore, the findings of the Endocrine Society note conclusive evidence of ‘a biological underpinning for gender identity’ and list the many scientific studies noting a biological underpinning. Below I’ve provided the cold biological truth about transgender people as written by the global experts in endocrinology

In September 2017 the Endocrine Society published a guideline, entitled “Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline,” (published online and will appear in the November 2017 print issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), a publication of the Endocrine Society). This updated guidance was produced by leading endocrinologists specialising in support to transgender adults and adolescents from the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The guidelines are endorsed by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Society of Andrology, the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology, the European Society of Endocrinology, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Accompanying the guideline is a position statement: https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health

Here’s a longer quote

The medical consensus in the late 20th century was that transgender and gender incongruent individuals suffered a mental health disorder termed “gender identity disorder.” Gender identity was considered malleable and subject to external influences. Today, however, this attitude is no longer considered valid. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.

Although the specific mechanisms guiding the biological underpinnings of gender identity are not entirely understood, there is evolving consensus that being transgender is not a mental health disorder. Such evidence stems from scientific studies suggesting that: 1) attempts to change gender identity in intersex patients to match external genitalia or chromosomes are typically unsuccessful; 2) identical twins (who share the exact same genetic background) are more likely to both experience transgender identity as compared to fraternal (non-identical) twins; 3) among individuals with female chromosomes (XX), rates of male gender identity are higher for those exposed to higher levels of androgens in utero relative to those without such exposure, and male (XY)-chromosome individuals with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome typically have female gender identity6; and 4) there are associations of certain brain scan or staining patterns with gender identity rather than external genitalia or chromosomes

In summary, although there is much that is still unknown with respect to gender identity and its expression, compelling studies support the concept that biologic factors, in addition to environmental factors, contribute to this fundamental aspect of human development.”

“Data are strong for a biological underpinning to gender identity”

“All this makes Synod’s passing of a motion on this issue last July look at best naive, at worst very foolish.”

“All of this”. All of what? You have quoted two people with no expertise or experience.

A clearer interpretation is that the General Synod has moved towards being compassionate to transgender people, in line with recent scientific research and expert endorsed best practice.

“Winston is pointing out the (unintended) consequences of hasty and naive action in this area, just as Jon Kuhrt is pointing out the results of hasty and naive action in response to the homeless. There are the consequences of giving an unthinking and unqualified affirmation of those asking for recognition of their transgender status, even if motived by kindness. It is, in any complex situation, quite possible to harm even when intending to do good, if care and love are not shaped by awareness and wisdom. What is true of those asking for money is true of those asking for recognition. These are the facts that the Church needs to take account of; in fact, these are the things any of us needs to take account of if we are to be wise and compassionate pastors.”

To be wise and compassionate pastors you should follow the guidance provided by those who are best qualified in this topic. The actual experts. Transgender people exist. Transgender people have always existed. There is a “durable biological underpinning to gender identity” (Endocrine society).

Here’s several quotes from Australia’s Standards of Care:

“being trans or gender diverse is now largely viewed as being part of the natural spectrum of human diversity”.

“increasing evidence demonstrates that with supportive, gender affirmative care during childhood and adolescence, harms can be ameliorated and mental health and well being outcomes can be significantly improved”.

Avoid causing harm”. “withholding of gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate distress in a number of ways including depression, anxiety and suicidality, social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally accessing medications”

“for children, family support is associated with more optimal mental health outcomes”

“trans or gender diverse children with good health and wellbeing who are supported and affirmed by their family, community and educational environments may not require any additional psychological support beyond occasional and intermittent contact with relevant professionals in the child’s life such as the family’s general practitioner or school support”.

Australia’s Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service new “Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for Trans and Gender Diverse Children and Adolescents”. These guidelines are compiled by the leading Australian experts, based on the best and most current evidence from around the world. These guidelines are endorsed by ANZPATH (the Australian and New Zealand Professional Association for Transgender Health) and were launched at the recent ANZPATH conference. They are now the official guidelines for all health professionals working with transgender children in Australia.

Transgender trend” are a non-religious group representing parents of children with gender dysphoria who do not agree with the current transgender ideology. They made a presentation to the Government, opposing the planned demedicalisation of the legal process around ‘transition’. I reproduce below some of the facts they set out—facts that the Church of England will need to take into account in anything that it proposes in this area as part of its wider debate on sexuality.”

“Transgender trend” are considered by parents of transgender children like myself as an anti-transgender hate group. Their posts, publications and tweets are deliberately incendiary, malicious and frequently based on an extremely biased review of evidence. They pose as ‘concerned parents’ but constantly attack the rights of transgender people in general and transgender children in particular. Their website is neither neutral, nor concerned for the well-being of transgender children. The key individuals on the site do not have transgender children. The group name “transgender trend” should give you a clue. These are not experts but a small group with the sole agenda of undermining the well being of transgender children. Why not quote from the highly respected charity Mermaids, who has over 1,000 parent members, all parents of transgender children in the UK. Mermaids co-hosted with the NHS the 2017 conference on trans children that you quote in one of your sources. “Transgender trend” meanwhile is a fringe anti-trans lobby group without credibility.

“I also speak to urge caution on behalf of the children of this generation who are caught up in the teaching of a new rigid, anti-science belief system presented to them as fact.”

The Endocrine Society are scientists. Supporting transgender children is evidence based science. Please provide a source that supporting transgender children is anti-science

“If Gender Identity is established in law as a Protected Characteristic, it will apply to children of any age. But a child’s identity is not fixed: it changes over time, and it is shaped by factors like parental approval and societal influences. If all trusted adults are reinforcing daily a little boy’s belief that he is really a girl, this will have an obvious self-fulfilling effect. Puberty blockers supply the ‘answer’ to the created fear of a puberty he now believes to be the ‘wrong’ one.”

You are quoting a transphobic view here that is completely inaccurate. Let me explain:

A) You are suggesting that parents are imposing or reinforcing a child’s gender identity. The Lancet report is clear:

“research has established no clear correlations between parenting and gender incongruence”

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00683-8/fulltext

B) You are suggesting that parental denial of a child’s identity will make them less likely to be trans

Here’s the Endocrine Society:

“The medical consensus in the late 20th century was that transgender and gender incongruent individuals suffered a mental health disorder termed “gender identity disorder.” Gender identity was considered malleable and subject to external influences. Today, however, this attitude is no longer considered valid. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.1,2 Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.”

https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health

3) You are claiming that a trans girl is a boy who is deluded and wrong.

The Endocrine Society concludes:

“a durable biological underpinning to gender identity”

The World Professional Association of Transgender Health and ICD are removing the classification as a mental health disorder, acknowledging that it is natural human variation. Note these bodies are slow moving – ICD only de-classified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1992

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201509/when-homosexuality-stopped-being-mental-disorder

See this from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“While researchers have much to learn about gender-expansive and transgender children, there is evidence that both reparative therapy and delayed transition can have serious negative consequences for children. While some groups promote these strategies in good faith, many use misleading descriptions of research or even outright misinformation.”

https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/solgbt_resource_transgenderchildren.pdf

“Almost all children on blockers progress to cross-sex hormones at age 16. [2] Very few come off this path of increasingly invasive medical treatments once they are on it and so-called ‘social transition’ is the first step. This approach clearly works to prevent normal resolution of childhood gender dysphoria and foster persistence of opposite-sex identity.”

The protocols for receiving blockers in the NHS are exceedingly conservative. Families first need to get a referral from a GP, which many GPs are unwilling to provide. Many are sent on a time-consuming detour via the child mental health service CAHMS (until CAHMS confirm gender identity is not a mental health issue and refer on to the Gender Identity service). Once referred to the Gender Identity Service there is a 12 month wait for first appointment. Then a 6 month assessment process. Then prolonged monthly sessions with psychologists talking about identity. Even then blockers are very far from guaranteed – a young person can only get blockers if referred from the NHS Gender Service, and they are extremely conservative. Only the most persistent children, the ones with the most clear cut and long held identity, the ones who insist session after session and show no doubt, who are supported by their parents, who are usually socially transitioned and accepted as their identified gender in their lives – these are the very small number of children who are referred for blockers. It is not surprising to me that the small number of children who jump through all the medicalised hoops for years and years to get blockers, are likely to continue in their identity.

This quote also refers to two myths that are incorrect. One the myth that the majority of prepubescent children will ‘desist’ from a transgender identity at puberty. Please see: https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/a-plea-for-better-transgender-research-on-the-perpetual-myth-of-desistance-and-the-harm-of-social-transitioning/

This analysis concludes thus:

“Certainly the studies listed in the 2016 paper provide no conclusive evidence that consistent, persistent, insistent transgender children are likely to desist. In fact the best of these bad studies does not support desistance at all, but instead clearly showed a 58% persistence rate”.

To talk about it as a ‘path’ is also extremely misleading. Whilst many transgender adolescents (none before the age of 15 years 10 months on the NHS) end up eventually taking hormones, not all will have further interventions such as surgery (and surgery is never available in the NHS before age 18).

“While trans activists call for the de-medicalisation of ‘transgender,’ in the case of children they campaign aggressively for social transition, blockers and cross-sex hormones at ever earlier ages”

Again, this is couched in unnecessarily incendiary language such as “at ever earlier ages”. Advocates for the rights of transgender children understand that puberty blockers should be prescribed at the start of puberty (otherwise they have no purpose – there really is a clue in the name). Concerned parents are conflicted about the advice on the ideal age for cross-sex hormones, with some experts arguing for this to start at around age 16 (as is the current NHS protocol even though for many children it is late in their pubertal developmental) whereas some experts are arguing for the prescription at a younger age. This debate on appropriate age for cross-sex hormones is ongoing and is outlined in the Endocrine Society’s guidance and it is right that this .This debate is not one between transgender activists and concerned parents, it is a debate between competent medical professionals who are currently divided and who take different value judgements when deriving their approach. Your blog post could have presented this in an informed and sensitive way – instead of repeating the material espoused by the group called “transgender trend” who do not believe in the existence of transgender children.

“The surge in sex hormones at puberty triggers the enormous changes in the teenage brain which don’t complete their job until the mid-twenties. [4] The brain /personality is not fully-formed until then. The effects of blockers on adolescent brain development are unknown [5] although studies on adults, including men taking the drug for prostate cancer, indicate risk of memory loss, depression and cognitive impairment. [6] Recent reports from the US indicate long-term serious health effects for women who were administered blockers for precocious puberty, such as excruciating muscle and bone pain, depression, weakness and fatigue.”

The potential dangers of puberty blockers need to be weighed up against the very real and known impacts of a transgender person going through the wrong puberty. People who recognise the existence of transgender people are very aware of this balance. “Transgender trend” does not acknowledge (or care) about transgender people so only presents potential negatives.

Here’s the take from the Australian specialists in their guidance published this year:

Avoid causing harm”. “withholding of gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate distress in a number of ways including depression, anxiety and suicidality, social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally accessing medications”

“Preventing a child’s sexual development in early puberty, followed at 16 by cross-sex hormones, results in sterility as viable eggs or sperm have not developed”

It is accepted that cross-sex hormones can be a barrier to fertility in many youth, though this is not a reason to withhold necessary treatment. This is a discussion to be had, but it needs to be held much more sensitively based on an understanding of the needs of transgender adolescents and adults. For any individual and any family, difficult discussions around fertility are core to any decision about cross-sex hormones – this is not rushed in to on a whim, and counselling about potential impact on fertility is a requirement before eligibility.

“These children are prevented from ever experiencing puberty: hormones can only superficially feminise or masculinise secondary sex characteristics, they cannot create the puberty of the opposite sex”

This is a non-scientific statement that shows very limited knowledge of endocrinology.

“Risks of cross-sex hormones include cardiac disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes, diabetes and cancers. [9] Some significant effects are irreversible, such as male-pattern baldness and body and facial hair, masculinised voice and compromised fertility.”

All medical treatments have potential side-effects. If I listed the potential side effects of paracetamol without context it would look similarly alarming. This is intentionally inflammatory.

“There have been no clinical research trials into the long-term effects of this treatment on children”

We have over 20 years of data with no ill effects observed in that period. We’d of course like more data and this will come in time. We do conversely have plenty of long term evidence of the poor outcomes (particularly in terms of mental health, depression, wellbeing) for transgender adults who have not been supported and accepted in childhood. Concerned parents are hoping for a better outcome for their own children, and the latest evidence, including from the Netherlands, is very positive.

“this is a non evidence-based practice [10] to treat a non evidence-based diagnosis of being ‘a girl trapped in a boy’s body’ and vice versa [11] and this generation of children are the guinea pigs.”

This is a ‘Straw man argument’. There is no diagnosis of ‘being a girl trapped in a boy’s body’. This is a phrase that some transgender people in the past have used to try to explain in simple terms how they feel. This is not a scientific diagnosis and no one claims this is the situation. What is known is that some children have a clear and consistent gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Experts have found “conclusive evidence that there is a durable biological underpinning for gender identity” – speculated to be due to hormone fluctuations in utero.

As a concerned parent I would much rather be living 40 years in the future when there is better long term data. However, this is not in itself reason for with holding treatment. We have to make the best evidence based decisions we can based on what is currently known. Again here’s a quote from the Australian national health guidelines:

“withholding of gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate distress in a number of ways including depression, anxiety and suicidality, social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally accessing medications”.

“‘Transgender’ is an ideological label distinct from the clinical diagnosis ‘gender dysphoria.’ To call a child ‘transgender’ is to make both a claim that the child’s feelings represent material reality and a prediction about that child’s future: they will not change.”

Unlike the apparent anti transgender ideology of the author quoted, transgender is not an ideology. Transgender is an adjective to describe people whose gender identity is different to the sex they were assigned at birth from a cursory inspection of their genitals.

“An analysis of all published research studies of children with ‘gender dysphoria’ shows that 80% will naturally come to be happy as the sex they were born and this is true of even some of the most severe cases, we can’t know which children will persist and which will desist.

Opposite-sex identity in childhood is overwhelmingly predictive of gay or lesbian sexual orientation in adulthood, not transsexualism.”

This statement is demonstrably false and shows the people at “Transgender Trend” are intentionally conflating the distinction between children who are gender non-conforming (eg boys who like dolls) and children who are transgender (eg children assigned male at birth who have a consistent, insistent and persistent identity that they are a girl). The research that gave rise to the myth of 80% ‘desistance’ has been comprehensively discredited as deeply flawed and unreliable as it lumped together gender non-conforming and transgender children – In fact:

“Certainly the studies listed in the 2016 paper provide no conclusive evidence that consistent, persistent, insistent transgender children are likely to desist. In fact the best of these bad studies does not support desistance at all, but instead clearly showed a 58% persistence rate).

https://growinguptransgender.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/a-plea-for-better-transgender-research-on-the-perpetual-myth-of-desistance-and-the-harm-of-social-transitioning/

“Affirming a child’s ‘gender identity’ can therefore be seen as gay conversion therapy by another name.”

Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things. Some transgender people are homosexual, some are heterosexual, some are bisexual, some are pansexual (attracted to people regardless of gender including non-binary people). The same therapists who attempted ineffectual and harmful conversions of gay people later applied the same techniques to attempt conversion of transgender children.

“There has been an almost 1000% increase in children referred to the Tavistock clinic in London over the past 6 years. [14] These figures are inflated by the unprecedented rise in the number of girls – nearly 70% of the figure overall and over 70% of adolescent referrals last year. [15] By comparison, in the late Sixties 90% of adult transsexuals were male. [16] We are aware that teenagers and young adults are susceptible to indoctrination, brainwashing and social contagion which is why we block online anorexia and self-harm sites. The internet, however, is chock-full of Tumblr bloggers and Youtube vloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers, who are selling vulnerable young people the myth of transformation through cosmetic alteration of their bodies, including amputation of healthy body parts, and a lifetime’s dependency on powerful off label hormones.”

I’ve mentioned prevalence earlier in this response (see above). This increase in numbers referred to the UK Gender Identity Service (GIDS) was not unexpected or unusual but predicted, as was the increase in assigned female referrals (specialists had predicted years ago an increase in assigned female referrals). Yes, it is a fact that there are a few openly trans people on the internet – individuals who are followed by individuals who before the availability of the internet would have been completely on their own. Isn’t it wonderful that now a few trans people are sharing their experiences, offering support to isolated transgender people. The remainder of the quoted section is pure conjecture and hyperbole.

“Recent reports of girls’ mental health indicate that girls and young women in the UK are in crisis. [17] Recently published evidence of the rate of sexual abuse and harassment in schools across the UK is a matter of national shame. [18]

Reports such as the recent Stonewall Schools Report [19] which indicate high suicidal ideation in ‘trans’ youth serve to cover up the fact that the vast majority of these youngsters will be teenage girls, now hidden in the category ‘trans boys.’”

The Stonewall report indeed outlines what a tough time transgender children are having at school. Media hysteria, continual criticism, and trans boys being described as girls is exactly what makes life hard for a trans child or adolescent. The C of E guidance supports acceptance of all people, even those who are different. It encourages schools to be welcoming safe places where transgender children can get an education without harassment or bullying. Who would want more bullying of transgender children? The C of E guidance is extremely sensible and should be welcomed by all who care about children. In the past schools were not welcoming places for children who were different. This did not mean these children didn’t exist– it just left them bullied, depressed, ashamed and needing to hide.

“A PSHE teacher and Head of Year at a large comprehensive told me that in her school the kids who identify as ‘trans’ are, without exception, either lesbian, autism spectrum, have mental health problems or have suffered sexual abuse.”

This kind of rhetorical anecdote is a well worn device familiar to anyone who has watched a political debate. For an easy to digest discussion on this phenomenon see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20956126

About 8% of trans children have autism (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/the-link-between-autism-and-trans-identity/507509/) but this is seen as co-occurring rather than either autism making them transgender or vice versa.

Sexuality and gender identity are different concepts, something this teacher seems confused about.

Many trans children suffer mental health problems such as depression – this is recognised as ‘minority stress’. Depression, stress and anxiety not because of who they are but because of how they are treated.

This important US study evidences that trans children who are accepted and supported at home and at school have normal levels of mental health. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/02/24/peds.2015-3223.full.pdf

Supporting trans children is the best option for those who genuinely care about their wellbeing. I’m glad the Church of England has been informed by experts and those who know trans children.

“Parents are also concerned about the relentless gender identity propaganda their children are subject to today – across the media, [20] the internet and in schools, through organisations such as GIRES, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and Educate and Celebrate. The belief that gender is an innate identity is taught to children as truth, with no alternative views offered, in contravention of the UN Rights of the Child.”

Trans children exist. They have always existed. And the few quiet voices speaking up for them are dwarfed by the powerful anti-trans voices that are platformed daily across tv, newspapers and radio. As  I write this, in the last week, The Times alone has published 7 articles attacking trans children. The reality is that anti transgender rhetoric is prominent and inescapable, much to the distress of transgender children, adults and their friends and families.

“The ‘transition or suicide’ trope is repeated endlessly, against all Samaritans guidelines. There is no evidence that children will commit suicide if their parents fail to support them in taking a medical pathway, but of course the threat terrifies parents into feeling they have to.”

I agree that writing about suicide needs to be handled sensitively and in accordance with the Samaritans guidance. Seeing as you raised this, (as anecdote, and without irony, in the same sentence as saying it shouldn’t be mentioned), here’s a statement of evidence from the Endocrine Society:

Transgender individuals who have been denied care show an increased likelihood of committing suicide and self-harm”

https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health

“There are over 260 trans youth support groups across the UK [21], which provide the ‘tribe’ where our most vulnerable young people will be accepted, maybe for the first time, as long as they identify as trans. All transgender organisations advertise their support for ‘gender non-conforming’ youth, sweeping up all children who are ‘different’ and don’t fit in.

These organisations claim to support ‘diversity’ but of course they do the opposite: a girl who rejects feminine stereotypes is transformed into a ‘boy’ who conforms to masculine stereotypes. Gender non-conformity is erased. Regressive and reactionary sex-stereotyping is being sold to young people as a progressive social justice movement.”

This shows very little knowledge of these organisations and their scope. A girl who rejects feminine stereotypes would not be ‘transformed’ by a youth group into a boy who conforms. My transgender daughter is not a cliché or a stereotype of femininity. She likes football and art, wears jeans more than dresses, and is a normal well rounded child with a variety of interests and likes. The majority of transgender children and adults I know are defiantly breaking down gender stereotypes. It is “Transgender Trend”, who seem set on reducing trans children to the regressive stereotypes they claim to be against. At this point I doubt very much whether they have even met any transgender children.

“To teach children that their ‘authentic self’ is something in their heads, split off from and in opposition to, the body, is to create gender dysphoria. Mind-body disassociation is recognised as a state of mental ill-health: in this case uniquely, it is presented as a normal variation and something to be celebrated. Mental health is based on being equipped to accept reality.

Since children have been taught that it is their ‘gender identity’ which makes them a boy or a girl and not their biological sex, calls to Childline from young people confused about their gender have doubled in a year – eight calls are now received every day from children as young as eleven. [22] The concept of ‘gender identity’ is clearly – and inevitably – causing mental health problems for young people.”

Again the author deliberately and falsely presents transgender people as mentally ill, deluded or confused. Throughout the 20th century, methods were applied to trans people to stop them being trans including electroshock and attempted conversion therapies. These techniques, historically used also on gay people, disabled people, and other marginalised groups, did not work. Instead trans people were harmed with resulting depression and shame. All forms of conversion therapy are now seen as both unethical and ineffective.

http://www.rcgp.org.uk/news/2017/january/uk-organisations-unite-against-conversion-therapy.aspx

“Any child who suffers genuine gender dysphoria must of course be sensitively supported in schools and youth organisations. But teachers, professionals and other children cannot be asked to collude in the reinforcement of a child’s belief which contradicts reality. Recognition of biological facts is not bigotry.

When girls are told that a male classmate is now a girl, their sense of their own reality is shattered. If a biological male is a girl, then it is not female biology which makes you a girl, it is something else. Girls must look to a male classmate to find out the invisible magic quality they need, and the boy is given the power to define what a girl is. We cannot predict the long-term practical or psychological effects on girls taught to deny their own biology, without the right to even define themselves correctly as the female sex.”

This is denial that trans people exist. This is extremely disturbing and appears to be advocating for teachers not to work in accordance with the 2010 Equality Act. This damaging bigotry harms children like mine who just want to live their life without prejudice. This also shows no understanding of the complexities of biology.

“If teenage girls must consent to a male classmate using their toilets and changing-rooms they learn that their boundaries may be violated and their consent is unimportant. Girls learn that they are not always allowed to say ‘no.’ This is grooming; lessons on the importance of consent become meaningless.

Girls who are coached at school into ignoring their own discomfort and intuition may go on to put themselves in risky situations with any man who claims to be a woman, out of fear of being seen as transphobic.

In the case of public swimming pool changing rooms a young girl cannot name a male with a penis as a man: voyeurism and indecent exposure cease to exist as crimes if a man claims to be a woman. Normal child protection protocols effectively become unlawful.”

This rhetoric is now moving beyond bigotry towards hate. It reveals what was clear from the start, there is no care for transgender children, but simply hate rooted in fear. These exact same arguments were put forward against gay people in the 1980s and gave rise to Section 28.

I am deeply concerned that we are not learning from the lessons of the past, and that history may repeat itself, with transgender people the latest in a long history of marginalised groups being attacked, stigmatised and othered.

Trans women are women. Trans girls like my daughter are girls. They are not a threat.

For anyone wanting to sensitively address the stance of organised religion to trans issues then the following must be the foundation for any discussion: Trans people exist; Trans people have always existed; Trans children exist.

If you choose to comment on these issues, you can do as this writer has done whether maliciously or through ignorance, and seek to marginalise trans people, present them as mentally deluded or potentially dangerous, encourage others to fear and reject them.

Or, instead, you can choose to embrace them, tell them you love and accept them as they are. My own grandparents were deeply committed Christians and I know they would have loved and supported my daughter. Please open your eyes and your hearts. Tell transgender children and their families that they are welcome in your schools and even in your churches (temples, mosques etc). Commit to protecting vulnerable transgender children from bullies including uniformed writers who spread misinformation, hate and fear.

To the Church of England. I am grateful that The Church of England have bravely ignored media hysteria and stood up for one of the most misunderstood, marginalised and attacked groups of children.

I commend them for caring for my transgender child.

To conclude here (with permission) are positive stories of Church and Christian community acceptance, inclusion and love:

“Our C of E/Methodist church has been very supportive. We often have talks on inclusivity and the love of God. My daughter also goes to a C of E school and the message we’ve had there is one of acceptance and kindness. In fact the head teacher said that as a Christian school they should be the first to show kindness and acceptance, and zero tolerance to any kind of unkindness.”

“We’re so lucky, our C of E church have been wonderful”

“We were at our previous church when our child socially transitioned. My husband was suddenly asked to stop doing sermons in church. We ended up going to another church. Our new church however have been incredible, from day one they used our child’s pronouns, and when he chose a new name a month after we joined the church absolutely everyone began using it immediately. They’ve been nothing but supportive and accepting.”

“The vicar at our c of e place was just calmly accepting and kind when I told her about my child. It’s a Church that does loads of social justice stuff and has a welcoming, un-judgemental attitude in general.”

“A Sunday School teacher was the first one to tell me that my child was using a different name. We attend the Church of Scotland. If you look at who Jesus was actually hanging out with it’s fairly clear to me that Christians are called to support people who are perhaps a little bit different and not accepted by wider society.”

“So far I have been surprised by our religious relatives (Jehova’s Witnesses and Christians), I was expecting some discomfort from them but they have all been supportive and accepting.”

“The poignant words of my eldest daughter’s blog detailing our family’s sad estrangement from the local CofE church. https://bethmackin.wordpress.com/…/may-2017-faithfully…/ We left said church and now attend a inclusive church that is a URC/Methodist church. I feel much safer, loved and cared for but mourn the loss.”

“Many positive examples to be found at Diverse Church – a UK wide organisation with groups for 18-30 LGBTA+, they also have a parents forum that has a specific hub for Christian Parents of Transgender children http://diversechurch.website/

See also OneBodyOneFaith – Great for engagement with current issues as well as networking to find safe and accepting churches. http://www.onebodyonefaith.org.uk/ and OpenTable which is a collection of LGBT inclusive eucharist services. This Sunday Open Table London will hold a special service for Transgender Day of Remembrance https://www.facebook.com/opentablelondon/”

“Here’s an article on inclusive approaches to baptism http://www.independent.co.uk/…/new-chapel-unitarian…

“@JamesMartinSJ is a very vocal supportive priest on twitter”