Evidence-based medicine: What do we mean by ‘low quality’ evidence in Trans Healthcare?

In 2021 the NHS (NICE) reviewed the evidence for the use of puberty blockers within trans adolescent healthcare. They concluded that the evidence was of “very low certainty”, a finding that was then repeated across national media, with the headline “Evidence for puberty blockers use very low, says NICE”. This unsurprisingly prompted increased demands, including from politicians, for withdrawal of trans adolescent healthcare.

Several people have written about the flaws in the NICE review, including this excellent article by AJ Eckert. I’ve examined parents of trans children’s concerns with the NICE approach to evidence in a recent peer reviewed article in which parents of trans children described puberty blocker Randomised Control Trials as “conversion therapy” or akin to “eugenics”.

A recent expert report from the US indirectly challenges the NICE approach, and merits further reading.

Background

In 2022 the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration published a biased and ideologically driven report claiming that medical care for gender dysphoria does not meet generally accepted medical standards. A group of experts linked to Yale University responded with an analysis and critique of the poor science underpinning Florida’s report. Their full report is here.

Evidence Quality

One section of the Expert report from Yale University focuses on evidence quality. Their analysis has relevance for conversations on trans adolescent healthcare happening in the UK (including the Cass review), so this blog will shine a spotlight onto this section of the report.

*Note: In the below quoted sections, BPW refers to sources cited in the original (and misleading) Florida report. The June 2 report refers to the original, and flawed Florida report.

The following italicised text is taken directly from the Yale report. Please take time to read this section through:

…the BPW analysis reaches the conclusion that there is little or no evidence for the benefits of medical care for gender dysphoria.

The BPW analysis is highly deceptive, because it dismisses nearly all existing studies of medical treatment for gender dysphoria as “low quality,” without explaining that this is a highly technical term and not a natural-language condemnation of the studies. By contrast, the GRADE system, which the authors purport to use, is quite clear about its quality rating systems and its limitations.

In general, only randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are coded as “high” quality evidence in the GRADE system. A randomized controlled trial is a study that divides patients randomly into a control group (no treatment) and a treatment group. In contrast, an observational study records information about patients in a real-world setting that is more reliably generalizable, e.g., a cohort of patients seen at a clinic. Under the GRADE guidelines, observational studies are coded as “low” in quality.

The key point is that “low quality” in this context is a technical term and not a condemnation of the evidence, because “low quality” studies regularly guide important aspects of clinical practice. Indeed, the GRADE system, which the BPW document claims to use, specifically notes that GRADE should not be used to dismiss observational studies or to give absolute priority to RCTs: Although higher quality evidence is more likely to be associated with strong recommendations than lower quality evidence, a particular level of quality does not imply a particular strength of recommendation. Sometimes, low or very low quality evidence can lead to a strong recommendation.

The methodology adopted by the BPW document will thus, predictably, conclude that any body of scientific literature that does not contain RCTs is “low” in quality. Had BPW begun, as they should have, with a literature review of the evidence on puberty blockers and hormones, they would have seen that the evidence consists primarily of observational studies (for the good reasons discussed below). Thus, the 30 pages that it takes the authors to lay out their methodology is misleading: a knowledgeable reader would know that if there are few or no RCTs in the literature, then the BPW technical conclusion is foregone and, as importantly, is not a sound guide for clinical recommendations.

Put in simpler terms, if we coded apples as “high quality fruit” and bananas as “low quality fruit,” then any fruit bowl that has only bananas would predictably be technically coded as “low quality.” But that technical conclusion conveys very little information without context. For example, if no apples exist, then bananas may be a nutritious choice.

The drafters of the GRADE system emphasize that technically “low quality” evidence can support a strong clinical treatment recommendation. For example, pediatricians now agree that children should not be given aspirin for fevers. This recommendation is based on observational studies that showed an association between aspirin treatment during viral illnesses and the development of Reyes syndrome (a rapid and progressive disease of neurological dysfunction that can be fatal). Based on those studies, it would be unethical to conduct an RCT giving some children aspirin, and so the strong, consensus treatment recommendation is based entirely on “low quality” studies.

The critical fact is that RCTs are not, and cannot be, the gold standard for medical research on gender dysphoria. In the context of treatments for gender dysphoria, randomized controlled trials would often be inappropriate for ethical reasons. Medical care has long been shown, by reliable scientific methods, to address gender dysphoria and improve mental health: as we have repeatedly noted, these treatments have been recommended by rigorous clinical practice guidelines issued by WPATH and the Endocrine Society and endorsed by every major medical organization. Given this medical consensus, which is based on solid scientific evidence, it would be unethical to conduct an RCT that involved denying standard medical care to a control group of individuals.

Similar ethical issues, along with practical barriers, leave many areas of consensus medicine supported by observational studies and not RCTs. Many surgical procedures, for example, are not supported by RCTs. Nor are standard protocols for lowering cholesterol using statins, one of the most widely-prescribed drugs in the United States.

It is thus simply a mistake – and a mischaracterization of medical research across fields of medicine – to conclude that the absence of RCTs means that there is “no evidence” for the efficacy of medical treatment for gender dysphoria. Medical research requires, instead, that researchers evaluate the design and conduct of specific observational studies and do so with an awareness of clinical context.

In sharp contrast to BPW, this is precisely what the authors of the Endocrine Society did in their 2017 clinical guidelines, which use the GRADE system but, in addition, carefully discuss the characteristics of the studies supporting each treatment guideline. The Endocrine Society discloses the GRADE rankings for each treatment recommendation in order to be transparent about the evidence base for each of its recommendations. Then, following National Academy of Medicine (formerly, Institute of Medicine) standards for clinical practice guidelines, they proceed to a qualitative review of the evidence, place the evidence in clinical context, and discuss openly the values at stake in making a clinical practice recommendation.

The June 2 Report repeatedly and erroneously dismisses solid studies as “low quality.” If Florida’s Medicaid program applied the June 2 Report’s approach to all medical procedures equally, it would have to deny coverage for widely-used medications like statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs taken by millions of older Americans) and common medical procedures like mammograms and routine surgeries.

In its opening words, the June 2 Report makes an error that is repeated throughout the document: “Studies presenting the benefits to mental health, including those claiming that the services prevent suicide, are either low or very low quality and rely on unreliable methods such as surveys and retrospective analyses, both of which are cross-sectional and highly biased.” As we document in Section II.B., above, it is an outright mistake to conclude that a study in the technical category of “low quality” is unreliable or poor evidence for clinical practice. Thus, it is frank error for the June 2 Report to dismiss well-done, scientifically important studies because they rank as “low quality” using specialized, technical terms.

Like the BPW document, the June 2 Report thus relies on a deceptive use of technical terminology that is at odds with the standards used in medical research. It simply is not – and cannot be – the case that all clinical recommendations must be based on RCTs. Many areas of medicine do not lend themselves to ethical and practical RCTs. It is unethical to conduct an RCT when randomizing a patient to a control group would cause harm by denying treatments of known efficacy. For example, it would be unethical to conduct an RCT on the treatment of juvenile diabetes by randomizing some participants to receive insulin and others to receive no treatment.

It is quite common for the medical community to adopt important, consensus clinical practices supported by observational studies alone. For example, observational studies, notably the famous Framingham Heart Study, provided the framework for clinical practice guidelines in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association issued updated clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of cholesterol to reduce heart disease risk in adults (the “Cholesterol Guidelines”). These authoritative guidelines have been widely used in clinical practice but are based not only on RCTs but on a great deal of observational evidence, including studies technically ranked as “low quality.” Concretely, many of the original treatment recommendations regarding statins are based on observational studies, not RCTs. The authors of the Cholesterol Guidelines, very much like the Endocrine Society authors, are quite careful to grade their evidence. But they do not rest their treatment guidelines on a mechanical assessment of technical quality. Instead, they (like the Endocrine Society) carefully explain why particular bodies of evidence should be given weight in clinical decision-making.

The cholesterol example shows that the June 2 Report rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of medical research and clinical practice. If the Florida Medicaid program actually adopted the standard of evidence urged by the June 2 report, the program would not cover statins (drugs to lower cholesterol) for many patients, which are prescribed to 28% of adults over the age of 40 and are one of the most effective ways to prevent cardiovascular death. Other common practices that would have to be reconsidered under this logic include: post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (which reduces lifetime risk of heart attacks and stroke) and mammography screening for breast cancer.

The same point is true of the technically “low quality” evidence base for many surgical procedures, including minimally invasive gall bladder surgery, which have long since had a foundational grounding in observational studies. We think it unlikely that Florida’s Medicaid program will begin to refuse to pay for statins, mammograms, and routine surgeries. If not, then the June 2 Report reflects an untenable and discriminatory double standard.

(I’ll emphasise in case of confusion – all the above text in italics is not my work, but a direct quote from the Yale report – the authors of which are listed here)

Relevance for the NHS

The text above prompts several important questions for the NHS:

  1. Does the NHS (NICE report and Cass review) reflect a similar “discriminatory double standard” in its characterisation of the evidence base as ‘low quality’? Does NICE use the same approach across other areas of healthcare (including e.g. abortion)?
  2. Should the NHS (NICE and the Cass review) be more careful when using technical terms like “low quality evidence” in an already polarised and politicised area of healthcare, knowing how such terms are reported in the media and knowing how such terms inflame and undermine support for healthcare?
  3. Why has the NHS (NICE and the Cass review) failed to grapple with the very well established reasons why “high quality evidence” like RCTs are infeasible and unethical? Given the known ethical and practical impossibility of RCTs, why on earth did the NICE review recommend collection of such “high quality evidence”?

I’m also left with some bigger questions for the UK:

4. The above intervention from an esteemed team of establishment professors across different disciplines is likely to hold some weight in challenging and holding to account poor healthcare sector practices. Here in the UK we do not have paediatricians, law professors, experts in effective approaches to experience-informed healthcare speaking up on the clear flaws in the NHS approach to trans adolescent healthcare. Why not?

5. Are there lessons we can learn from experts in other areas of healthcare who have challenged commitment a narrow definition of ‘evidence’ within healthcare policy?

(post-script: I’d normally include a link to the NICE report, but it appears to have disappeared from the NICE website – if someone has a functioning link please let me know so I can update it).

Ten Easy Tips for Trans Inclusive Education on Puberty and Bodies

Schools have a duty of care to trans pupils, with a requirement to provide LGBTQI+ inclusive PSHE. However, many schools still struggle to provide trans inclusive primary and early secondary school education on puberty and bodies, with schools often drawing upon outdated and exclusionary curricula.

Research has shown that trans children can experience exclusionary curricula, especially on bodies and puberty, as upsetting, delegitimising and harmful. Schools providing trans exclusionary education are associated with high levels of minority stress for trans pupils, with minority stress leading to poor levels of mental health and increased chances of trans pupils dropping out from education.

The good news is that trans inclusive education should not be difficult, once educators become confident in a slightly different and more inclusive way of approaching the subject.

In this blog I will share 10 recommendations for trans-inclusive puberty education, with quotes from educational resources that are trans inclusive. Importantly, this blog and the content highlighted herein focuses on how to ensure mainstream education on puberty and bodies is trans inclusive (it is aimed at ensuring the education every child receives is trans-inclusive, rather than aiming to specifically cater to trans children’s unique needs). (I’d also be interested in any additional advice on ensuring trans inclusive materials like these are intersex inclusive as well as disability inclusive).

This blog will primarily focus on a new educational resource called You-ology. It is produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics (the world’s biggest organisation of paediatricians), and aims to provide puberty education tailored for EVERY body. It is available in e-book form for £8.

You-ology: A puberty guide for EVERY body

This book does a couple of important things well:

1. It acknowledges, and frames puberty according to, the important role played by hormones.

On hormones:

“During puberty there are hormones that tell your body to grow faster, hormones that tell your breasts or testes (also known as testicles or balls) to start growing, hormones that tell your hair to sprout in new places, and hormones that cause new smells to creep out of your armpits”.

Growing bigger:

“Growing is one of the first signs of puberty. A hormone called growth hormone increases a ton during puberty to make you grow fast. Your hands and feet start to grow! So when you find yourself outgrowing your trainers faster than normal, you can smile to yourself and know puberty is starting!”

Testosterone and oestrogen:

“There are hormones called oestrogen and testosterone that cause most of the changes. A tiny, pea-sized gland in the brain, called the pituitary gland, sends a chemical messenger (yep, another hormones) to the testes or ovaries to tell them to start making hormones. Testes make a lot of testosterone. Ovaries make a lot of oestrogen and a little testosterone. Throughout this book, we will tell you more about what each of these hormones does.”

2. It considers the changes that happen to a majority of bodies. It emphasises shared experiences in puberty, rather than suggesting humans have two completely distinct and separate puberties. Rather than presenting ‘girl puberty’ in one lesson and ‘boy puberty’ in another, it instead divides up pubertal changes into the different types of changes. It provides one chapter on hair changes, one chapter on body odour changes, one on emotions. The similarities are emphasised as well as the differences, emphasising within the section on hair that in puberty most bodies develop increased hair on the legs and under the arms, while some bodies, especially bodies with a lot of testosterone, also develop hair in other places. Below is a quote from the You-ology chapter on hair.

On hair:

“where you sprout hair depends on – you guessed it – hormones. EVERY body begins to make the hormone testosterone early in puberty. Testicles make a lot. Ovaries make a little. Even a little testosterone will cause EVERY body to grow darker, thicker hair on their legs, in their armpits, around their private parts; around their nipples or on their face. The amount of testosterone you have determines how much and where the hair shows up. If you have a lot of testosterone, you will grow more hair on your face. You might also (later in puberty) grow hair on your chest, abdomen (belly) and back”.

3. Where changes are significantly gendered, with most girls having a different experience to most boys, it divides the content according to the specific type of change, rather than dividing into girls vs boys. It provides one chapter on breasts and chests, one chapter on periods, one on testosterone driven changes. It manages to talk about these changes without excluding, shaming or delegitimising trans children.

On vaginas:

“If you have a vagina. So let’s get back to body parts and start with outside private parts that most girls, and some nonbinary and trans kids have. If you have these parts, you know some of the names for them. If you don’t have these parts, it’s a great time to learn more about them!

On penises:

“Let’s shift to talking about the genitals that most boys and some trans and non-binary kids have. If you were born with a penis, you’ve been looking at and touching it since you were a baby, right? And at some point (hopefully a long time ago!), you learned to hold your penis to aim it into the toilet when you pee. So if you’re like most kids with a penis, you have been pretty familiar with your genitals for a long time, and you know the names too, but let’s go through them just to be sure. If you don’t have a penis, it’s still important to learn about these parts to understand how EVERY body works!”

On uterus and ovaries:

“Most girls and some trans/non-binary kids have some pretty cool inside parts that work together. First, remember how we talked about the opening of the vagina? The vagina is actually a soft tunnel that starts at the vulva and goes inside the body to connect the inside parts to the outside world…”

On sperm & testes:

“Most boys and some trans/non-binary kids have bodies that can make sperm, and the penis is involved. Do you wonder how? We already mentioned that urine travels in the urethra as it passes through the penis and out of the body. But guess what also comes out through the uretha? Sperm. The cool thing is that urine and sperm comes from very different places inside the body. Urine is made by the kidneys and then sent into the bladder to be stored. Sperm …etc ”

On breasts:

“If you are like most girls, or some nonbinary or transgender kids, you have ovaries, which also help puberty start by making oestrogen. The very first thing oestrogen usually does is telling the breasts that it’s time to start growing”.

Where diagrams are used to show specific body parts, there is no reductive label provided of ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ bodies. This kind of title is not needed and alienates and invalidates trans pupils in front of their peers. Below is an example of a diagram of body part that does not need to have a ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ heading.

4. It recognises and is not afraid of acknowledging diversity, explicitly recognising the existence of trans people, intersex people, and the reality that not every person experiences puberty in the same way. Key to this inclusive approach is bringing in the word ‘Most’. When talking about gendered changes, this resource talks about, for example, periods being something that happens during puberty for ‘most girls, and some trans and non-binary kids’. Addition of the word ‘most’ is really important for trans, non-binary and intersex kids, making space for the reality that all bodies are different. Addition of the word ‘most’ is also important for cis girls who may not have periods for a variety of reasons.

5. I also like the way that this resource talks about puberty as inherently about moving from a child’s body towards having an adult’s body, in comparison to other puberty resources that describe puberty as building bodies ready for reproduction. De-centring fertility and reproduction during education on puberty is helpful, especially for individuals who are likely to have a non-traditional route to building (chosen) families, a category that is likely to include a significant proportion of LGBT youth.

6. Hormone driven changes. The resource is clear that the changes of puberty are driven by hormones. It finds a way to talk about hormones explicitly, talking about the changes that are caused by oestrogen, and the changes caused by testosterone. It talks about breast development being a pubertal changes that occurs in bodies with a large amount of oestrogen. It acknowledges that a majority of all bodies have some testosterone. It talks about the types of changes that are typical for bodies that have a large amount of testosterone.

7. Clear and upfront on body parts. Where body parts are integral to a particular pubertal change, this resource again is clear and upfront. When talking about periods, it talks about the changes that happen to people with a uterus, which includes most girls. Most girls, and anyone else with a uterus, when they have a large amount of oestrogen during puberty, are likely to start having periods.

8. It avoiding ruse of the reductive term ‘biological sex’. Within any trans inclusive puberty education it is important to avoid simplistic and reductive definitions of sex or ‘biological sex’. Where biological characteristics are relevant, it is important to refer to them in the plural, as ‘biological sex characteristics’. The Endocrine Society (global experts on hormones or endocrinology) advises against using the term biological sex noting that “the terms ‘biological sex’ and ‘biological male’ or ‘biological female’ are imprecise and should be avoided”. There are multiple sex characteristics (chromosomes, gonads, hormone levels etc), and humans do not fall into only two binary divisions in terms of sex characteristics. This recognition is critical to including trans and intersex people, as well as to including people who may not have a specific sex characteristic for a variety of reasons (eg cis women who have had a hysterectomy).

9. Likewise, it is important to avoid using gendered language like ‘male’ or ‘female’ to define body parts. Within this specific You-ology resource, there are a couple of references to ‘male bodies’. This type of reductive language goes against the ethos of the wider book and is rather frustrating. Let’s be clear here – using the word male to describe bodily features is just as exclusionary and harmful as talking about a ‘boy’s body’. There is no way to respectfully (or even accurately) describe a trans girl as having a ‘male body’. This type of language is delegitimising, inaccurate and disrespectful. If we care for the well-being of trans pupils, non-binary pupils or intersex pupils, we need to evolve away from inaccurate and binary language that excludes, delegitimises and stigmatises. (the image below comes from work by Sophie Labelle)

10. Being up front about the diversity amongst humans is easy to do, it simply requires educators who are themselves educated, and unafraid of talking about diversity. In the UK however, we have a generation of teachers who have themselves grown up under section 28, who have not have the opportunity to themselves receive diversity informed education. This is why inclusive educational resources like this one are so very important.

Further resources

I’ll include here a few other recommended resource, but please send me other ideas to add in.

What makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth provides visually appealing information on babies, reproduction, fertility and families, suitable for any age. It is designed to be trans inclusive, and inclusive of all ways of building a family, including IVF, adoption, chosen families.

A guide for adults to help children engage with the book is also available here

A new resource (You know, sex) by the same team aims at a slightly older audience, covering bodies, puberty, and sex ed. with the same visually engaging and inclusive style.

The above resources are all paid-for US resources, not included in the curricula of major UK providers of PHSE education. The limited UK PHSE materials that I have seen have had woeful trans inclusivity, and would require adaptation by individual teachers to avoid harming trans pupils. This is obviously poor, and more is needed to pull up the standard of generic and off-the shelf PSHE materials, especially from PSHE specialist providers.

A downside of these resources shared above is that they do not include practical class materials or worksheets. (Mainstream UK puberty worksheets can often be trans-exclusionary and harmful, requiring individual adaptation by any teachers who care for their trans pupils). If any educators have produced free to access class worksheets or other materials that are trans inclusive, please email me (c.horton@gold.ac.uk) with links to any trans inclusive educational materials or worksheets.

Trans inclusive education is not difficult to do. It is time to make sure education is fit for every pupil.

The Failure of the Cass Review

This morning people who care about trans kids were reacting in utter dismay to hearing the Secretary of State for Health use the Cass interim review to justify the need to exclude trans people from a ban on conversion therapy.

I’ll link the lovely Olly Alexander linking to a clip of our Health Secretary using Cass to call for conversion therapy for trans kids – see here

Despite evidence that conversion therapy on trans children is particularly harmful, with research showing “For transgender adults who recalled gender identity conversion efforts before age 10 years, exposure was significantly associated with an increase in the lifetime odds of suicide attempts”.

For days now, MPs and commentators have cited the Cass review, in justification of the need for conversion therapy specifically for trans kids.

Of course they do not say conversion therapy for trans kids. They talk of ‘children suffering from gender confusion or gender distress’, they talk of ‘exploratory therapy. They talk of ‘unintended consequences, by which some clearly mean, they fear the law would stop them conducting conversion therapy on trans kids.

Those who want to conduct conversion therapy on trans kids hide behind a new favourite term of ‘exploratory therapy’. It is a friendly sounding rebrand of conversion therapy. It is focused on probing, delaying, questioning and at its heart, problematising trans identities. There is nothing wrong with being trans. Some kids are trans – get over it.

The same people who actually want conversion therapy for trans kids, are trying to create confusion on the meaning of affirmative therapy. They are trying to paint affirmation as a bad thing, as something forced. They are wrong and they know it. Affirmation is about meeting a person where they are, about listening to what they need. It has space for as much talk therapy on identity as a person wants. Without coercion. Without compulsion. Without considering trans or cis as a bad outcome.

Parents of trans kids are today VERY upset. People had put their faith in Cass to help our kids.

Personally, I feel something else other than upset. I feel cross at myself for not speaking up earlier.

Back when the Cass review was first announced, I had serious concerns. Concerns that have continued to mount.

There was Cass’ personal twitter following of a load of highly transphobic groups & no trans people.

There was the Cass review’s initial refusal to even say the word trans kids, in a review aimed primarily at helping trans kids.

There was the lack of any trans people on the Cass team, and the fact that the Cass team explicitly asked for people with no knowledge or experience of trans-ness, as though that was a preferable.

The fact there was no oversight group consisting of respected trans health experts and trans community leaders.

Back at the start I felt deep in my gut that this would go badly and would not serve the needs of trans kids. I seriously considered trying to get parents of trans kids together to stage a boycott until there was some proper trans representation. I didn’t for four major reasons. For one, the biggest reason, I was so tired & out of time and energy. For two, I wanted to give optimism a go – just cos everything else always fails trans kids in the UK, why couldn’t this be different – here we had a paediatrician reviewing trans kids healthcare, something I’d been asking for for years, maybe this time would be different. For three, I hoped having formal peer reviewed publications to feed into the process would make a difference (spoiler – it didn’t – the Cass team had my peer reviewed research article on the UK service from the highly respected international journal International Trans Health and didn’t even bother citing it). For four, I didn’t think things could really get much worse for trans kids in the UK, so I didn’t see how much real harm it could do.

Obviously I was very wrong. I noted my initial reaction to the pathologisation embedded in the Cass report.

The Cass interim report is now being cited everywhere to justify the need for conversion therapy for trans kids. It is being cited to deny inclusion of trans people of any age from a ban on conversion therapy.

The red flags about the Cass process meanwhile continue to grow.

I’ve been interviewed, found Cass on the face of it an empathetic listener who keeps her cards close to her chest.

Other parents of trans kids have been interviewed, again felt Cass had listened with kindness.

Many are deeply upset about the Cass interim report and the way it has encouraged further bigotry.

The Cass interim report couldn’t even take a decision on whether being trans is pathological. It couldn’t even take a decision on whether trans kids are better off being loved and supported or put through conversion torture. It is not acceptable.

I won’t dig into the details of the Cass report itself, but the references and evidence base are deeply biased and flawed. It is yet another total failure for trans kids in the UK.

There are still no trans experts involved in a senior role in the Cass review. There is no trans power at all.

The Cass process seem to think the exclusion of trans people is acceptable, because they have told themselves they are not dealing with trans people at all. They have told themselves they are dealing with healthcare for ‘children suffering from gender distress’. This phrasing has become standard.

Worryingly there are also trans-antagonistic people involved in the research for Cass.

This week, the world respected paediatrician with over a decade of practical hands on experience HELPING trans kids in Australia published a response to the Cass review in the British Medical Journal. That response is not open access to the public, but this is of incredible important to those who are directly affected (and now even threatened) by the Cass outputs, so I will put its text here:

Gender identity services for children and young people in England

Landmark review should interrogate existing international evidence and consensus

Ken C Pang, 1, 3 Jeremy Wiggins, 2 Michelle M Telfer1, 3

1 Royal Children’s Hospital; 2 Transcend Australia; 3 Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

The long awaited interim report of the Cass review was finally published in March this year.1 Commissioned in September 2020, the independent review led by paediatrician Hillary Cass examined NHS gender identity services for children and young people in England. These services are currently provided by a single specialist clinic known as the Gender Identity Development Service. After consulting people with gender diversity, health professionals, and support and advocacy groups, Cass expressed various concerns within her interim report, such as increasingly long waiting lists, the “unsustainable workload” being carried by the service, and the “considerable risk” this presented to children and young people.

Recognising that “one service is not going to be able to respond to the growing demand in a timely way,” Cass used her interim report to recommend creation of a “fundamentally different service model.” Under this model, the care of gender diverse children and young people becomes “everyone’s business” by expanding the number of providers to create a series of regional centres that have strong links to local services and a remit to provide training for clinicians at all levels.1 Although it remains to be seen how and when this key recommendation will be implemented, the proposal will be largely welcomed by gender diverse children and adolescents and their families in England. The shift away from centralised, tertiary, and quaternary centres is already occurring internationally, including in Australia,2 where local services are being enhanced to meet growing demand and provide more equitable and timely care.

Hormonal treatment
In what was likely a disappointment to many, the interim report did not provide definitive advice on the use of puberty blockers and feminising or masculinising hormones. Instead, Cass advised that recommendations will be developed as the review’s research programme progresses. In particular, the report expresses the need for more long term data to assuage safety concerns regarding these hormonal interventions. Although additional data in this area are undoubtedly needed, the decision to delay recommendations pending more information on potential unknown side effects is problematic for several reasons.

Firstly, it ignores more than two decades of clinical experience in this area as well as existing evidence showing the benefits of these hormonal interventions on the mental health and quality of life of gender diverse young people.3 -9 Secondly, it will take many years to obtain these long term data. Finally, Cass acknowledges that when there is no realistic prospect of filling evidence gaps in a timely way, professional consensus should be developed on the correct way to proceed.” Such consensus already exists outside the UK. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, and the World rofessional Association for Transgender Health have all endorsed the use of these hormonal treatments in gender diverse young people,10 -12 but curiously these consensus based clinical guidelines and position statements receive little or no mention in the interim report.

Indeed, there is no evidence, as yet, that the Cass review has consulted beyond the UK. This inward looking focus may be a reflection of how England’s gender identity service has come to chart its own path in this field. For example, its current use of puberty blockers diverges considerably from international best practice. In particular, NHS England mandates that any gender diverse person under the age of 18 years who wishes to access oestrogen or testosterone must first receive at least 12 months of puberty suppression.13 However, many young people in this situation will already be in late puberty or have finished their pubertal development, by which time the main potential benefits of puberty suppression have been lost.11 Moreover, using puberty blockers in such individuals is more likely to induce unwanted menopausal symptoms such as fatigue and disturbed mood.14 For these reasons, puberty suppression outside the UK is typically reserved for gender diverse young people who are in early or middle puberty, when there is a physiological reason for prescribing blockers.

Another possible reason exists for the Cass review appearing to have neglected international consensus around hormone prescribing. While the interim report often mentions the need to “build consensus,” Cass seems keen to find a way forward that ensures “conceptual agreement” and “shared understanding” across all interested parties, including those who view gender diversity as inherently pathological. Compromise can be productive in many situations, but the assumption that the middle ground serves the best interests of gender diverse children and young people is a fallacy. Where polarised opinions exist in medicine—as is true in this case—it can be harmful to give equal credence to all viewpoints, particularly the more extreme or outlying views on either side. Hopefully Cass will keep this in mind when preparing her final report.

The above is available on the BMJ here

(Back to me typing) The authors of the above include some of the most respected paediatricians with decade long expertise in working with trans kids in Australia. The Cass team should have been queuing up to learn from Australian experts. The fact they have totally ignored expertise from outside of the UK and its partner system in the Netherlands, strikes as amazing arrogance. The fact the Australian experts felt the need to write a submission to the BMJ to raise their concerns with the Cass report is again astonishing, and in another less transphobic country would set off alarm bells.

I don’t know where we go from here.

I do know the cards are now on the table. I have zero faith in the Cass process. It has already done more harm than good.

My number one hope for Cass was it would take significant strides in depathologising approaches to trans kids. It has done the exact opposite. 18 months in and they won’t even say the word trans.

I had hoped Cass would educate the public that being trans is not a problem or a pathology. It has done the opposite, and legitimised some incredibly problematising media pieces this week alone.

I had hoped it would move us from psychoanalysis to modern healthcare – instead people are using Cass to justify the need for exploratory therapy, conversion therapy by a different name.

I had hoped it would move trans kids’ healthcare away from a monopoly mental health trust to modern secondary or primary care. Instead, the focus appears to be on talk therapy to problematise trans-ness, without tackling the hostile climate that makes life so hard for trans kids, and perhaps with even less route to medical intervention where needed.

Cass has done nothing to highlight the biggest problem for many trans kids. The climate of societal transphobia. Just this week we have had headlines stating trans people can be humiliated and segregated as the UK tries to bring in a bathroom bill by the back door. Trans kids and adolescents have been in crisis again this week, many are really struggling with mental health. Not because there’s something inherently wrong with being trans, but because the UK is a hostile terrifying place to be trans as our rights are continually debated or taken away. Cass has done absolutely nothing to highlight the crisis in mental health caused by the terrible way our country treats trans people.

Cass has failed us on every level.

The whole process is cis-supremacism in full dominance.

Why do a bunch of cis people continue to debate and dictate whether or not trans kids should be put under conversion therapy.

Why do cis people continue to have all the power, and continue to use it to harm trans kids.

Trans liberation now. Trans kids deserve so much better than this.

Spanish translation

I’m getting my infographic on trans inclusive education translated. Please let me know if any changes are needed to the Spanish here before I finalise (I’ll credit the awesome volunteers who translated once it is finalised) 

                                                APOYO A NIÑES TRANS EN LAS ESCUELAS

Recomendaciones de un artículo de Frontiers of Sociology (2020) sobre educación inclusiva a la comunidad LGBTTTIQA+

¿Prosperando o existiendo? Elevando el estándar para la experiencia primaria y secundaria plena de la infancia trans

  1. Les estudiantes trans frecuentemente se enfrentan al estigma, discriminación y acoso en el ambiente escolar.
  • Lenguaje afirmativo, respeto y una actitud trans-positiva son fundamentales.
  • Les estudiantes trans experimentan estrés persistente debido a que el sistema los deslegitimiza y excluye. Un acercamiento anti-bullying disminuye el impacto emocional y psicológico que la cisnormatividad tiene en elles.
  • Las escuelas deben buscar mejorar las prácticas y actividades cisnormativas que resultan una amenaza para les estudiantes transgénero.
  • Las escuelas son reacias a aceptar cambiar sus prácticas por casos aislados o individuales, lo que hace más pesada la carga para les alumnes que deben negociar su propia inclusión.
  • Las escuelas deben de cambiar su acercamiento individualizado a la adaptación proactiva y sostenida.
  • Hay una cultura de silencio que rodea las vidas trans en la escuela. La representación trans, aunque sea mínima, puede ser percibida como excesiva. Así que las escuelas no lo hacen y les alumnes se ven obligados a educar a sus compañeres.
  • La representación y visibilidad trans debe de volverse común para darles a les alumnes un sentido de pertenencia que les permita desarrollarse sanamente.

Cisnormatividad: cuando los sistemas, las políticas y las personas asumen que todo el mundo es (o debería ser) cis (no trans). Las escuelas cisnormativas colocan a les alumnes trans en desventaja, exigiéndoles que naveguen por sistemas diseñados para excluirlos.

  • Les alumnes trans pueden experimentar ignorancia y hostilidad del personal docente, lo que les causa un daño importante, incluso une profesore que les apoye y en el que confíen puede tener un profundo impacto positivo y aumentar su autoestima considerablemente.
  1. La escuela debe reconocer y abordar el impacto que tienen las acciones del personal docente y administrativo. Es esencial un liderazgo claro que puede ser impulsado por la dirección de la escuela.
  1. Las escuelas carecen de planes para les alumnes trans, no cuentan con protección contra el acoso y el abuso. Les alumnes trans necesitan igualdad de oportunidades en la escuela donde pueden sobresalir y prosperar.
  1. Les alumnes trans deben ser bienvenidos, reafirmados, representados, validados, apreciados y respetados como todos los demás.
  1. La educación y la formación del profesorado y personal administrativo deben ir más allá de solo hablar de bullying. Debe haber una sensibilización constante para ayudar al personal a entender las formas en que la cisnormatividad privilegia a los individuos cisgénero y hace la vida más difícil para las personas trans.
  1. Les alumnes trans necesitan al menos un adulto de confianza que les defienda, les ayude a entender sus derechos y a desenvolverse en las culturas cisnormativas. Les profesores aliados deben entender y desafiar los sistemas y enfoques que deslegitiman y marginan a los alumnos trans.
  1. Les alumnes tienen derecho a una experiencia académica segura, inclusiva y reafirmante.
  1. Las escuelas deben escuchar a les alumnes trans y centrarse en los derechos de les niñes, también deben considerar sus responsabilidades institucionales, asegurándose de que cumplen con su deber de atención a les alumnes trans.

Trans: El término trans se utiliza para incluir a las personas transgénero, no binarias y/o con diversidad de género.

German translation

I’m translating my infographic on trans inclusive education into German (and will credit the volunteer translator when it’s finalised). Please let me know if you have any suggested changes to the translation below.

Erkenntnisse und Empfehlungen sind entnommen aus dem folgenden Artikel in “Frontiers of Sociology” 2020 (open acess) zum Thema LGBT+ – inklusive Bildung: “Thriving or surviving? Raising our ambition for trans children in primary and secondary schools” Cal Horton, Goldsmiths, University of London

trans Schüler_innen erfahren Stigmatisierung und Entwertung in der Schule, oftmals begleitet von Diskriminierung und Belästigung

Affirmativer Sprachgebrauch, Respekt und transpositives Verhalten sind entscheidend

Trans Schüler_innen sind anhaltendem Stress ausgesetzt, während sie sich in Systemen bewegen, die sie delegitimisieren und ausschließen. Ein reiner Anti-Mobbing-Ansatz unterschätzt möglicherweise, welche emontionalen und psychologischen Auswirkungen Cisnormativität(1) auf trans Schüler_innen hat.

Schulen müssen sich mit den cisnormativen Gewohnheiten, die sich negativ auf des Wohlergehen und die Psyche von trans Schüler_innen auswirken, auseinandersetzen.

Schulen reagieren meist auf fallbezogene Anfragen. Hierdurch wird trans Schüler_innen die Bürde auferlegt, ihre eigene Inklusion verhandeln zu müssen.

Schulen müssen von einer fallbezogenen Lösungsfindung hin zu einer proaktiven und nachhaltigen Einbindung der Schüler_innen.

Es herrscht eine Kultur des Schweigens im Hinblick auf trans in Schulen – minimale Repräsentation von trans Personen kann bereits als exessiv wahrgenommen werden. Trans Schüler_innen, denen angemessene Repräsentation an der Schule verwehrt wird, erfahren Gefühle von Scham und niedrigem Selbstwertgefühl. Sie sind beispielsweise häufig dazu gezwungen, ihre Mitschüler_innen selbt über transbezogene Themen zu informieren.

Die Repräsentation und Sichtbarkeit von trans Personen muss normal und unspektakulär werden, so dass trans Schüler_innen mit einem Gefühl von Zugehörigkeit und Selbstwert aufwachsen können.

Trans Schüler_innen erfahren durch pädagogische Fachkräfte oft Ingnoranz und Feindseligkeit, was zu großem Schaden führt. Schon eine einzige unterstützende und vertraute pädagogische Fachkraft kann wesentlichen Einfluss auf die schulischen Erfahrungen von trans Schüler_innen haben. Eine transpositve Einstellung des Kollegiums korreliert signifikant mit dem Wohlergehen der betroffenen Schüler_innen.

Schulen müssen den Druck und die vorhandenen Barrieren anerkennen und sich damit auseinandersetzen. Eine klare Positionierung ist hier ausschlaggebend. Diese kann von Ministerien, Schulämtern, Schulleitungen sowie einzelnen Lehrkräften oder anderen pädagogischen Fachkräften ausgehen.

Schulen mangelt es an Ambitionen, trans Schüler_innen zu helfen. Es wird lediglich das Mindestmaß geleistet, um Schikanierung und Misbrauch zu verhindern. Trans Schüler_innen benötigen Chancengleichheit, so dass sie schulischen Anforderungen erfolgreich gerecht werden und ausgezeichete Leistungen erbringen können.

Trans Schüler_innen sollten sich in Schulen willkommen und bestätigt fühlen. Sie sollten sich selbst in dem sie umgebenden System wiederfinden und als gleichwertig respektiert werden.

Die Qualifizierung der pädagogischen Fachkräfte muss über Basisinformationen zu transfeindlichem Mobbing hinausgehen. Pädagogische Fachkräfte müssen ein Verständnis dafür entwickeln, wie ein cisnormatives Umfeld cis Personen privilegiert den Alltag von trans Schüler_innen erschwert.

Trans Schüler_innen brauchen mindestens einen Erwachsenen, der sich für sie einsetzt, ihnen hilft, ihre Rechte zu verstehen und sie bei der Navigation in einer cisnormativen Kultur unterstützt. Verbündete pädagogische Fachkräfte müssen die Systeme und Ansätze, die trans Schüler_innen delegitimisieren und marginalisieren, verstehen und hinterfragen.

Trans Kinder haben das Recht auf eine sichere, bejahende und sie einbeziehende Bildungserfahrung.

Schulen sollten trans Schüler_innen zuhören und Kinderrechte in den Mittelpunkt stellen. Ebenso müssen die Einrichtungen ihren institutionellen Verpflichtungen nachkommen und sicherstellen, dass sie ihre Fürsorgepflicht gegenüber trans Schüler_innen erfüllen.


(1) Cisnormativität: wenn Systeme, Richtlinien und Menschen annehmen, dass jede_r cis (nicht trans) ist (oder sein sollte) Cisnormative Schulen benachteiligen trans Schüler_innen, indem sie sie zwingen, sich in einem System zu bewegen, das sie ausschließt
trans: der Begriff trans bezeichnet hier Menschen die transgender, nicht binär und/oder genderdivers sind.

French translation

I’m getting my infographic on trans inclusive education translated. Please let me know if any changes are needed to the French here before I finalise (I’ll credit the awesome volunteers who translated once it is finalised)

French here and original English text below.

Soutenir les Enfants Trans dans les Écoles

Observations et recommandations sur l’éducation inclusive et les problématiques LGBT, tirées d’un article paru en 2020 sur Frontiers of Sociology (en libre accès).

S’épanouir ou survivre ? Élever notre ambition pour les enfants trans de la primaire au lycée

Cal Horton, Goldsmiths, Université de Londres

Les élèves trans sont confronté·e·s à la stigmatisation et la négation de leur identité à l’école, ainsi qu’à de la discrimination et du harcèlement.

La validation, le respect et un soutien actif sont particulièrement nécessaires.

Les élèves trans subissent un stress permanent, causé par une ostracisation et une délégitimisation systémique. Les méthodes anti-harcèlement peuvent sous-estimer l’impact émotionnel et psychologique de la cisnormativité* sur les élèves trans.

Les écoles doivent changer leurs pratiques cisnormées qui ont un impact négatif sur le bien-être et la santé mentale des élèves trans.

Les établissements n’agissent qu’en réaction à des réclamations individuelles, ce qui impose aux élèves trans le fardeau de négocier leur inclusion.

Les écoles doivent passer d’aménagements individuels à une adaptation préventive et suivie.

La culture du silence entoure la transidentité à l’école : la visibilité même minime peut être perçue comme excessive. Les élèves trans, invisibilisé·e·s, développent un sentiment de honte et une faible estime d’elleux-même et se retrouvent forcé·e·s à éduquer leurs pairs.

La représentation et la visibilité trans doivent devenir communes et banales, pour que les élèves trans puissent grandir en se sentant intégré·e·s et en confiance.

Les élèves trans subissent l’ignorance et l’hostilité du personnel éducatif, provoquant des dommages irréparables. Ne serait-ce qu’un.e seul.e enseignant.e de confiance peut avoir un impact profondément positif sur la scolarité d’un.e élève trans. Le soutien actif des enseignant·e·s a un impact direct sur le bien-être des élèves.

Les établissements doivent permettre aux enseignant·e·s d’agir sans encombre. La coordination de ces actions par le personnel de direction et l’ensemble de l’équipe pédagogique est essentielle.

Les établissements manquent d’ambition pour la protection de leurs élèves trans et se contentent d’essayer de leur éviter le harcèlement et les abus. Ces élèves ont besoin d’un traitement équitable à l’école, où iels peuvent briller et s’épanouir.

Les élèves trans devraient se sentir validé·e·s et encouragé·e·s à l’école et être représenté·e·s, considéré·e·s et respecté·e·s comme des égaux.

La formation des enseignant·e·s doit aller au-delà d’une simple sensibilisation à la transphobie, pour comprendre les mécanismes cisnormatifs qui privilégient les individus cisgenres au dépend des élèves trans.

Les élèves trans ont besoin qu’au moins un adulte prenne leur parti, les aident à comprendre leurs droits et à affronter la cisnormativité. Les enseignant·e·s allié·e·s doivent comprendre et remettre en question les systèmes et les méthodes qui ostracisent et discriminent les élèves trans.

Les élèves trans ont le droit à une scolarité inclusive et respectueuse de leur identité.

Les établissements devraient écouter les élèves trans et les organismes de protection de l’enfance. Les établissements doivent assumer leurs responsabilités institutionnelles et remplir leur devoir à l’égard du bien-être des élèves trans. 

Cisnormativité* : quand les systèmes, les institutions et les individus partent du principe que tout le monde est (ou devrait être) cisgenre (l’inverse de trans). A l’école cela désavantage les élèves trans qui doivent affronter un système prévu pour les exclure.
Trans : terme utilisé ici pour inclure les individus transgenre, non-binaires et/ou qui ne sont pas (ou pas totalement) du genre assigné à leur naissance.

English original

Supporting Trans Children in Schools

Findings and recommendations from a 2020 Frontiers of Sociology article on LGBT inclusive education (open access).

Thriving or surviving? Raising our ambition for trans children in primary and secondary schoolsCal Horton, Goldsmiths, University of London

Trans pupils face stigma and invalidation at school, often alongside discrimination and harassment.

Affirmative language, respect and trans-positivity are critical.

Trans pupils experience persistent stress, navigating systems that delegitimise and exclude them. An anti-bullying approach may underestimate the emotional and psychological impact on trans pupils of cisnormativity*.

Schools need to address the cisnormative practices that negatively impact on the wellbeing and mental health of trans pupils.

Schools respond to individual requests reactively, with trans pupils shouldering the burden of negotiating their own inclusion.

Schools need to move from individualized accommodation to proactive and sustained adaptation.

A culture of silence surrounds trans lives at school – minimal trans representation can be perceived as excessive. Trans pupils denied representation in school experience shame and low self-esteem, and are forced to educate their own peers.

Trans representation and visibility needs to become common and unremarkable, enabling trans pupils to grow up with a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Trans pupils may experience ignorance and hostility from school staff, causing significant harm. Even one supportive and trusted teacher can make a profound positive impact on a trans pupil’s experience of school. Teacher trans-positivity is significantly correlated with pupil wellbeing.

Schools need to recognize and address the pressures and barriers to teacher action. Clear leadership is essential, and can be driven by governors, head teachers and individual members of staff.

Schools lack ambition for trans pupils, aiming for the low bar of protection from harassment and abuse. Trans pupils need equality of opportunity, in schools where they can excel and thrive.

Trans pupils should be affirmed and welcomed, in schools where they are represented, validated and respected as equals.

Teacher education and training needs to move beyond basic education on transphobic bullying, to helping staff understand the ways in which cisnormativity privileges cisgender individuals and makes life harder for trans pupils.

Trans pupils need at least one adult who can advocate for them, help them understand their rights, and help them navigate cisnormative cultures. Teacher allies need to understand and challenge the systems and approaches that delegitimise and marginalise trans pupils.

Trans children have a right to an educational experience that is safe, inclusive and affirming.

Schools should listen to trans pupils and centre child rights. Schools also need to consider their institutional responsibilities, ensuring schools are fulfilling their duty of care to trans pupils. 

Cisnormativity*: When systems, policies and people assume that everyone is (or should be) cis (not trans). Cisnormative schools place trans pupils at a disadvantage, requiring them to navigate systems designed to exclude them.
Trans: The term trans is used here to include people who are transgender, non-binary and/or gender diverse.

Puberty Blockers – Overview of the research

Nicola Sturgeon Opens Glasgow Pride

The UK media is full of scaremongering about puberty blockers (GnRHa) and the evidence or supposed lack thereof in support of their use for trans adolescents. Opinions abound, but few, however, have the opportunity or access to read the academic literature. In this article, a comprehensive overview of the studies and academic literature on puberty blockers are presented, providing improved access to this evidence. Links to the papers are provided throughout, supported by a full bibliography.

Puberty blockers are a recommended intervention for trans youth at the start of puberty (when such interventions are requested), endorsed by the global Endocrine Society and WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Within medical and clinical service provider communities, strong consensus in support of puberty blockers has grown, with endorsement from the world’s largest paediatric health body the American Academy of Pediatrics, providing access to blockers throughout the USA, and national health services around the world including centres in Spain, Australia & New Zealand. Authors from the conservative UK NHS children’s gender service (GIDS), wrote a position paper in 2016 (Costa) stating that “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”, with a more recent 2019 UK paediatric endocrinologist authored piece (Joseph) affirming that puberty suppression “is now a recommended treatment option”.

Puberty blockers have been used since the 1970s for children with precocious puberty, with extensive studies for this cohort (Eun Young Kim provides an overview of the literature), on their long-term use “considering evidence of impact on height, reproductive function, obesity and metabolic syndrome, bone mineral density and bone markers, polycystic ovary syndrome, psychosocial problems”. “Long–term studies on the recovery of reproductive function in precocious puberty patients of more than 6–20 years are being reported”. “Puberty was recovered within 1 year after GnRHa treatment discontinuation, and there were no abnormalities in reproductive function”. “Bone mineral density decreases during GnRHa treatment but recovers to normal afterwards, and peak bone mass formation through bone mineral accretion during puberty is not affected”. “Some studies have reported decreases in psychosocial problems after GnRHa treatment. Overall, GnRHa seems effective and safe for CPP patients, based on long-term follow-up studies.”

In trans youth, blockers have been studied since the late 1980s. An early paper published in 1998 (Cohen Kettenis) reported on the protocols followed for a 13 year old trans boy who was treated with puberty blockers, with HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and surgery after turning 18. This was the first longitudinal case study, which documented a successful outcome from using early puberty blockers. As an adult, the subject was happy and satisfied with the outcomes, (though noted the delays between blockers and HRT were overly long).

The longest follow-up study is of a Dutch trans man who started on puberty blockers at age 13 in 1988. His health and well being was monitored\ regularly for over 22 years, when he was last followed up, aged 35 (in 2010) he was well-functioning with no clinical signs of a negative impact of earlier puberty suppression on brain development, metabolic and endocrine parameters, or bone mineral density (Cohen Kettenis, 2011).

Their use in trans adolescents has been well studied in the Netherlands. In 2011 (Kreukels) the then world leaders in what became known as “the Dutch Approach” wrote that they “believe that offering this medical intervention minimizes the harm to the youth while maximizing the opportunity for a good quality of life including social and sexual relationships, and that it respects the wishes of the person involved”. “Because the effects are reversible, this treatment phase could be considered an extended diagnostic phase. Knowing that the treatment will put a halt to the physical puberty development often results in a vast reduction of the distress that the physical feminization or masculinization was producing.”

Another 2011 study (De Vries) collected data from 2000-2008 of 70 trans youth (33 trans feminine, 37 trans masculine) capturing the time period when they were only receiving puberty blockers. Puberty blockers were started at an average age of 14.75 (youngest was 11.3). Youth received puberty blockers alone before starting HRT alongside for an average of 1.88 years (the shortest period on just puberty blockers was 0.42 years, the longest was 5.06 years). Whilst on puberty blockers there were improvements in behavioural and emotional problems, and reduced symptoms of depression, enabling healthy psychological development. There were not improvements in body image and gender dysphoria. “As expected, puberty suppression did not result in an amelioration of gender dysphoria. Previous studies have shown that only gender reassignment consisting of CSH (cross sex hormone) treatment and surgery may end the actual gender dysphoria”. All youths later went onto HRT (which did lead to improvements in body image and gender dysphoria as well as wider improvements to wellbeing (see 2014 study for follow up). In a clinic with a clear route to HRT (all youth in the study were later prescribed HRT) the authors speculate that improvements in wellbeing whilst on puberty blockers may be due to the youths on puberty blockers having confidence that a route to HRT is available.

A summary position statement from Amsterdam in 2011 (Kreukals) outlined their view: “In our opinion, to deny these youngsters GnRHa treatment is unreasonable. Although the physical effects of puberty suppression are reversible, it has been argued that the effects on psychosexual develop ment are not reversible: the adolescents will miss puberty that is a result of their own natal sex hormones. However, in this sense, denying GnRHa treatment is equally irreversible: the adolescents will never know how puberty in accordance with their gender identity will be, because that is made impossible by the effects of their own sex hormones. Transsexual adolescents often consider not experiencing the puberty of their desired sex more harmful than missing their natal puberty. As puberty suppression therapy generally results in a physical appearance that makes it possible to live unobtrusively in the desired gender role, withholding GnRHa treatment is also harmful because of the potential life-long social consequence s (such as stigmatization).”

Hembree (2011) reviewed other studies noting increased suicidal ideation where blockers were not given.

A 2012 paper (Edwards Leeper) from a major paediatric treatment centre in the USA, emphasised a key reason for puberty blockers – “44% of transgender youth presenting for medical intervention had been previously diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, the most common being depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Thirty-six percent of these patients had been prescribed psychotropic medications and 9% had been hospitalized psychiatrically in the past. These psychological problems often intensify when transgender children reach puberty”. They also note that “it is not uncommon for these symptoms to decrease and even disappear once the adolescent begins a social and physical transition. The previous diagnoses of major psychiatric disorders, especially mood disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder) in these patients are often secondary to their gender identity issue and many patients are “cured” of these disorders through medical intervention for the gender issue.” The authors emphasise multiple psychological benefits of pubertal suppression, especially through avoiding needless emotional and psychological suffering, which can be severe for some adolescents (e.g., self-harming behaviors and suicidality). Delamarre , in an earlier 2006 paper, highlights that once trans adolescents are on puberty blockers, their anxiety at physical changes is taken away, enabling them to concentrate on other issues, enabling them to better develop and socially connect with peers.

A 2014 study (De Vries) of 55 trans youth (22 trans feminine and 33 trans masculine) followed them over an 8 year period from before starting blockers (mean aged 13.6 years), through to start of blockers (average age 14.8, youngest 11.5) through to HRT (mean age 16.7, youngest 13.9) and at least one year after gender reassignment surgery for those who wanted surgery (mean age 20.7). This monitored not only psychological functioning (gender dysphoria, body image, global functioning, depression, anxiety, emotional and behavioural problems) but also tracked wellbeing (social and educational/professional functioning; quality of life, satisfaction with life and happiness). Psychological functioning steadily improved. Well-being improved to similar or better than same age young adults from the general population. “GD (gender dysphoria) and body image difficulties persisted through puberty suppression and remitted after the administration of CSH and GRS (at T2) (significant linear effects in 3 of 4 indicators, and significant quadratic effects in all indicators)“ “None of the participants reported regret during puberty suppression, CSH, treatment, or after GRS. Satisfaction with appearance in the new gender was high, and at T2 no one reported being treated by others as someone of their assigned gender”. “All young adults in this study were generally satisfied with their physical appearance and none regretted treatment. Puberty suppression had caused their bodies to not (further) develop contrary to their experienced gender”. “Psychological functioning improved steadily over time, resulting in rates of clinical problems that are indistinguishable from general population samples (eg, percent in the clinical range dropped from 30% to 7% on the YSR/ASR30) and quality of life, satisfaction with life, and subjective happiness comparable to same-age peers. They note that this support gave “these formerly gender dysphoric youth the opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults. These individuals, of whom an even higher percentage than the general population were pursuing higher education, seem different from the transgender youth in community samples with high rates of mental health disorders, suicidality and self-harming behaviour”.

Paediatric endocrinologist Rosenthal outlined key endocrine considerations in 2014, highlighting the potential negative impact on bone health of extended pubertal suppression and arguing for earlier introduction of HRT, stating that delaying HRT until age 16 can be “detrimental to bone health”. In addition he stated the negative impacts on emotional well-being of denying trans youth the opportunity to progress through puberty at the same time as their peers, and thereby isolating them. For this reason, gender centres are “studying the impact of cross-sex hormone treatment initiation at 14 years of age (which approximates the upper end of the age range for normal pubertal onset in natal males and 1 year beyond the upper end of the age range in natal females”).

A 2014 paper (Khatchadourian) summarising treatment in a Canadian clinic emphasises the high rates of suicidal ideation before treatment, in a cohort not treated until an average age 16. “Importantly, 10 of the 84 patients (12%) had attempted suicide with a resultant visit to an emergency department before being seen in our clinic”. “The older age of our cohort of patients compared with the Dutch cohort (mean age 16.6 vs 14.6 years, respectively) may also explain differences in frequency of psychiatric comorbidity, as our patients had more time to develop these comorbidities.” They note a decrease in suicide attempts or visits to emergency departments for suicidal ideation once engaged with the clinic (from 10 incidents before treatments, to 4 after). “Although our numbers are quite small, this finding suggests a lessening of emotional problems and suicidality when puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones are started. This is further corroborated by findings in the Dutch cohort, where an improvement in psychological functioning in areas such as depressive symptoms was demonstrated in adolescents with gender dysphoria treated with GnRHa for nearly 2 years.” This study also emphasises youth who do not need to undergo interventions like painful electrolysis or chest surgery, as early treatment prevented unwanted pubertal development. The authors conclude that “most experts in transgender care would agree that initiation of GnRHa therapy at an earlier stage ofpuberty is preferred, because preventing the development of unwanted secondary sexual characteristics can alleviate distress.”.

A 2014 paper (Fisher) outlines the negative consequences in Italy where puberty blockers were not offered – 23 youth, (14 trans feminine, 9 trans masculine, average age 16.3 years old), who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria but who had not been granted any medical intervention, had low levels of wellbeing, and high levels of emotional and behavioural problems. They also noted that a high proportion, 42%, had dropped out of school early. The authors from Italian clinical services consider ethical implications of prescribing or denying blockers. They discuss fertility, referring to wider studies and concluding “several studies report that fertility potential is not impaired by long-term treatment with GnRHa even when used in younger subjects, before age 7, to treat precocious puberty. In addition, GnRHa treatment seems to have a protective effect on the reproductive outcomes, as fertility problems were more prevalent in subjects with precocious puberty that were not treated when compared with those treated. Professionals should inform patients that sperm production can be satisfactory after cessation of GnRHa or with gonadotropin treatment (both associated with body virilisation. FtM individuals have to be informed that no adverse effects are expected in relation to their fertility when treated with GnRHa” They argue that the current (2014) clinical evidence as well as international clinical guidelines suggests that prompt prescription of puberty blockers provides the best outcome for trans adolescents. They note experience from Italy that later pubertal changes can be unbearable, changes that “are usually profoundly humiliating for transgender youth”. They add that unwanted pubertal changes “often perceived as devastating, may seriously interfere with healthy psychological functioning and well-being”, being associated with worsening gender dysphoria, distress, depression, self-harming behaviour, anxiety, low self-esteem, social isolation and suicidal ideation. They emphasise that “although there are cases of comorbid psychiatric disorders, these psychological symptoms are often a result of the discomfort that Gender dysphoric individuals feel in their own bodies and of the social rejection they experience”. They go on to outline eight reasons to endorse blockers including 1) immediately reducing suffering 2) enable better decision making on further medical intervention 3) the physical effects are fully reversible 4) outcomes for physical transition are enhanced if unwanted secondary sex characteristics are not developed 5) Future surgeries are less likely to be needed 6) Can prevent emotional and psychological suffering that can have short term and longer term risks for well-being 7) provide better psychosocial functioning 8) avoids unsupported youth turning to illicit un-prescribed medication. They conclude that the “current inadequacy of Italian services offering specialized support for GD youth may lead to negative consequences. Omitting or delaying treatment is not a neutral option. In fact, some GD adolescents may develop psychiatric problems, suicidality, and social marginalization. With access to specialized GD services, emotional problems, as well as self-harming behaviour, may decrease and general functioning may significantly improve. In particular, puberty suppression seems to be beneficial for GD adolescents by relieving their acute suffering and distress and thus improving their quality of life.”

A 2015 UK study (Costa) compared adolescents supported with puberty blockers to those denied access to blockers. 201 Adolescents with gender dysphoria aged 12-17 (average age 15) were assessed for psychosocial functioning, using an assessment called CGAS. All the youth in the study registered low levels of psychosocial functioning at baseline (CGAS = 57). One group of 61 youth were not granted puberty blockers, instead having 18 months of just psychological support. Their psychosocial functioning improved after 6 months of psychological support (to CGAS = 60) but then plateaued and stayed significantly below the levels of children without psychological symptoms (staying at CGAS = 62). Another group of 60 youth were allocated blockers after 6 months of just psychological support. Like the untreated group, their psychosocial functioning improved when just receiving psychological support (to CGAS = 60). Their psychosocial functioning then improved more significantly at each six monthly check up whilst on puberty blockers. The psychosocial functioning of youth after 12 months of puberty blockers had improved to match that of children without psychological symptoms (CGAS = 67). Trans youth with puberty blockers were able to reach levels of psychosocial functioning the same as their peers.

Another 2015 study (Staphorsius) looked at the impact of puberty suppression on executive functioning in trans adolescents, using a well-established task called ‘Tower of London’ and comparing trans adolescents on blockers to trans adolescents not on blockers. They found no significant effect of blockers on performance scores (reaction times and accuracy) when comparing trans girls on blockers (8) to those not on blockers (10), or when comparing trans boys on blockers (12) with those not on blockers (10). “In conclusion, our results suggest that there are no detrimental effects of GnRHa on Executive Function.

A 2015 study (Klink) followed 34 trans youth through adolescence and into adulthood. 15 trans girls/women and 19 trans boys/men were followed from starting blockers at an average age of 15.0, through to starting HRT at an average age of 16.5, through to final follow up at an average age of 22.0. The paper analyses data on bone mineral density.
A 2017 study (Vlot) looked at the impact of puberty blockers and HRT on bone health. 34 trans boys and 22 trans girls were studied, providing data on impacts on different bone health related measures. These studies are followed up by a 2019 study (Joseph) below.

Very few studies focus on asking what trans youth themselves think about puberty blockers. One exception is a 2016 study (Vrouenraets) of 13 adolescents (5 trans girls and 8 trans boys), 12 of whom received puberty blockers, at an age range between 13 and 18, with median age 17. Asked about a lack of data on the long-term effects of puberty suppression the majority said that being happy in life was more important for them than any possible negative long-term consequence of puberty suppression “The possible long-term consequences are incomparable with the unhappy feeling that you have and will keep having if you don’t receive treatment with puberty suppression” (trans youth age 18)”. “It isn’t a choice, even though a lot of people think that. Well, actually it is a choice: living a happy life or living an unhappy life. (trans girl, age 14). Interviewed youth also understood that treatment has to be given in order to obtain long-term data, and were more than willing to be the person to test it.

A 2016 study (Schagen) aimed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of GnRHa treatment in trans adolescents, evaluating the extent to which (early) pubertal physical changes can be reversed, the need for monitoring of gonadotropins and sex steroid levels, and the need for screening of liver and renal function. Forty-nine trans feminine adolescents (average age 13.6, range 11.6-17.9) and 67 trans masculine adolescents (average age 14.2, range 11.1 – 18.6, 77% had started menarche) treated between 1998 and 2009 were included in the analysis. “None of the adolescents discontinued GnRHa treatment because of side effects. This is in agreement with the finding that GnRHa treatment is well tolerated by children and adolescents”. “Gonadotropins and sex steroid levels were suppressed within 3 months. Treatment did not have to be adjusted because of insufficient suppression in any subject”. “We did not identify any renal or hepatic complications of the treatment, and previous studies on GnRHa treatment in children with precocious puberty did not find such adverse effects. Therefore, it does not seem necessary to routinely monitor these parameters”.

A 2017 paper (Schneider) provided a case study of the brain of a single trans youth during pubertal suppression. “Brain white matter fractional anisotropy remained unchanged in a GD girl during pubertal suppression with GnRHa treatment for 28 months, which may be related to reduced serum testosterone levels. The global performance in the Weschler scale was slightly lower during pubertal suppression compared with baseline, predominantly due to the reduction in operational memory. Either a baseline of a low average cognition or the hormonal status could play a role in cognitive performance during pubertal suppression”. A major limitation is a sample size of one, and comparing white matter in a trans girl to post pubertal cis boys. Also, the adolescent in the case study suffered conversion therapy and associated depression at a young age, and studies show the link between memory and childhood trauma. A 2020 paper (Chen) conducted a brain study on a larger sample of 18 girls with precocious puberty – the study did not provide any clear recommendations, but simple concluded that this is adding to the body of research on the effects of GnRHa on brain function.

A 2018 paper (Wiepjes) summarised overall data on all people treated in Amsterdam up to 2015. Out of those referred to the clinic in before the age of 18 and treated with puberty blockers, they found that 4 out of 207 trans girls (2%) stopped puberty suppression without proceeding to HRT and 2 out of 370 trans boys (less than 1%) stopped puberty suppression without proceeding to HRT. Reasons for discontinuation of GnRHa were not reported. In addition to these youth, a further 112 trans girls and 148 trans boys referred in adolescence went straight to CSH without taking blockers.

A 2019 study (Joseph) of the impact of puberty suppression on bone mass  followed 70 adolescents, referred to the UK GIDS between 2011-2016. The sample included 31 trans girls and 39 trans boys aged 12-14 years, and all but two of the trans boys (95%) were postmenarchal. Two analyses were performed, a complete longitudinal analysis (n = 31) where patients had scans over a 2-year treatment period, and a larger cohort over the first treatment year (n = 70). All youth were required to stay without addition of HRT until age 16. At baseline trans boys had lower bone mineral density (BMD) measures than trans girls. There was no significant change in the absolute values of hip or spine BMD or lumbar spine BMAD after 1 year on GnRHa. BMD-Z scores were low, but the authors highlight the debatable utility of measuring and contrasting Z scores (which compares BMD to same age youth who are not on puberty blockers). Bone mineral density rises due to sex hormones at puberty, so those with delayed puberty will automatically not gain this rise at the same age as un-suppressed cis adolescents of the gender they were assigned at birth, and will automatically score low when compared to such Z scores. The authors highlight that their observations mirror the observations in studies by Klink 2015 and Vlot 2016 which also demonstrate no significant change in absolute BMD under pubertal suppression. They “propose that it may be clinically inappropriate to compare these subjects’ BMD with that of contemporaries who have not had pubertal blockade as the bone development in the GD subjects has been halted in comparison to those of their age group”. They suggest developing expected-BMD charts for pubertally suppressed adolescents, as a more useful way of tracking BMD. The authors note that there are no international guidelines for the surveillance of bone health in young people with gender dysphoria, that reference ranges may need to be redefined for this patient cohort, and that there needs to be clarity on treatment options where an adolescent is found to have low bone mineral density (BMD). More important than tracking bone health whilst on blockers, is understanding the long term impact on BMD once sex hormones are added. They conclude that absolute BMD and BMAD scores do not change substantially over a 3 year period in trans adolescents on GnRHa treatment and recommend that yearly bone scans while on puberty blockers may be unnecessary.

In a 2019 letter to the BMJ (Ferguson) Australian clinicians reviewed existing datasets of impact of puberty suppression on bone health. They outlined heterogeneity in the outcomes, and recommended identifying and tracking individuals who are more significantly affected in terms of bone mineral density, rather than reporting on the average. They note that regardless of the positive impacts of puberty blockers, clinicians have a duty to maximise bone health of trans youth on puberty blockers.

A 2020 study (Achille) tracked 50 youth (mean age 16.2) over one year of endocrine intervention (data captured between 2013 and 2018). 4 trans masculine youth were just on blockers, 8 trans feminine youth were just on blockers, 24 trans masculine youth were just on testosterone, 7 trans feminine youth were on oestrogen and blockers, and 4 trans masculine youth were on testosterone and blockers. Four different measures of wellbeing (depression, quality of life, suicidal ideation) were tracked, controlling for engagement in counselling, and all measures of wellbeing showed improvements with treatment. A key measure of depression showed a reduction from levels indicating clinical depression to below the threshold for clinical depression. (Mean baseline CESD-R score was 21.4 and decreased to 13.9 – A score less than 16 implies no clinical depression)”. The study concludes that endocrine intervention may improve mental health in transgender youth.

A 2020 cross-sectional survey (Turban) of 20,619 trans adults (aged 18-36) used multivariable logistic regression to examine associations between access to pubertal suppression and adult mental health outcomes, including multiple measures of suicidality. 3,494 adults (16.9%) reported that they had wanted pubertal suppression, but only 89 (2.5%) had received it. After controlling for other variables, pubertal suppression was associated with decreased odds of lifetime suicidal ideation – 90% of those who had not received blockers had experienced suicidal ideation, compared to 75% in those who had had blockers at an average age of 15. The study adds to evidence on the relationship between pubertal suppression and positive mental health outcomes. It avoids the physical changes known to cause significant distress, and when provided in affirmative care may also protect against minority stress.

A 2020 study (Miesen) compared three groups for emotional and behavioural problems (internalizing, externalizing, peer relations, and suicidality), assessed by youth self-report. They compared 272 adolescents (mean age 14.5 years) who had been referred to a specialised gender identity clinic and were undergoing assessment but had not yet received puberty blockers, with 178 transgender adolescents (mean age 16.8 years) who were on puberty blockers and about to receive HRT – the two trans groups did not differ in scores at baseline (when first assessed in the gender clinic). These two groups were compared with a comparison sample of 651 Dutch high school cisgender adolescents from the general population (mean age 15.4 years). Results: Before medical treatment, clinic-referred adolescents showed more internalising problems and reported increased self-harm/suicidality and poorer peer relations compared with their age-equivalent peers. Transgender adolescents receiving puberty suppression had fewer emotional and behavioural problems than the group that had just been referred to transgender care and had similar or fewer problems than their same-age cisgender peers. Before treatment 31.3% of trans youth had clinical levels of internalising problems, whereas amongst trans youth receiving puberty blocker treatment and about to start HRT only 16.3 % had clinical levels of internalising problems, lower than in the cisgender sample (22.9%). Before treatment 17.3% of trans youth had clinical levels of externalising problems, whereas amongst trans youth receiving puberty blockers and about to start HRT 14% had clinical levels of externalising problems, similar to the cisgender sample (13.8%). In suicidality, this was reported by 27.2% of trans youth before treatment, whereas in the sample of trans youth receiving puberty blockers and about to start HRT it was 12.4% – similar to the cisgender sample (11.9%). Conclusions: Transgender adolescents show poorer psychological well-being before treatment but show similar or better psychological functioning compared with cisgender peers from the general population after the start of specialized transgender care involving puberty suppression. The study provides further evidence that trans youth could benefit from gender affirmative care. “A clinical implication of these findings is the need for worldwide availability of gender-affirmative care, including puberty suppression for transgender adolescents to alleviate mental health problems of transgender adolescents”. “This first study comparing a group of transgender adolescents just referred for gender-affirmative care, a group of transgender adolescents receiving treatment with puberty suppression, and a group of cisgender adolescents, from the general population showed that when affirmative care involving puberty suppression is provided, transgender adolescents may have comparable mental health levels to their cisgender peers. This type of gender-affirmative care seems thus extremely important for this group”.

A 2020 study from the Netherland (Brik) examined the trajectories of trans and gender questioning adolescents after initiation of blockers. Prior to 2016 the clinic protocol required adolescents to be 16, and on blockers for at least 6 months, before they could start HRT. From 2016 youth could progress to HRT at age 15 if they had been on blockers for 3 years, and from 2017 the protocol shifted again to allow progression to HRT at age 15 if they had been on blockers for 2 years. The study looked at 143 adolescents who were deemed eligible for puberty blockers, all of whom started blocker treatment between November 2010 and January 2018. This included 38 trans girls, median age for starting blockers was age 15 (range 11.1-18.6) and 105 trans boys, median age for starting blockers 16.1 years (range, 10.1–17.9). Treatment status as of July 2019 was reviewed.

From the sample of 143 adolescents, 11 were too young to be eligible for HRT at the point of the study (having been on blockers for a maximum of 2.8 years). One of these 11 had stopped blockers as his parents were unable to regularly take him to collect medication and get it injected and had instead switched to other medication to stop periods, being too young to be eligible for HRT).

132 adolescents were old enough to be eligible for HRT. 123/132 (93%) had gone from just blockers onto HRT. Median age at the start of gender-affirming hormones was 16.2 years (range, 14.5–18.6 years) in trans girls and 17.1 years (range, 14.9–18.8 years) in trans boys. The majority of these (103/132) had proceeded to HRT as soon as they were eligible. 19/132 had what the clinic called an extended amount of time on just blockers before going on to HRT. This extended time on blockers ranged from 0.8 years to a maximum of 2.4 years, with a median duration of 1 year. Reasons for spending an extended time on just blockers included i) lack of family support (n=6) ii) lack of safe home/school absenteeism n=5) iii) what the authors call a ‘comorbidity’ like autism or depression (n = 8) or iv) logistical issues (n=8). One adolescent was kept on blockers for an extended period for additional assessment due to being non-binary. Only one adolescent had additional time on blockers to allow the adolescent more time for decision-making about gender-affirming hormone treatment. Those delayed because of mental health or psycho-social issues had monthly mental health appointments during the extended period on just blockers. 1 youth had moved clinic and at age 17 had decided to stay on just blockers for a while longer, delaying initiation of testosterone until after exams, having been on blockers for 2.5 years.

From the 132 adolescents old enough to be eligible for HRT, 3 (2%) stopped taking blockers but later went on to HRT. 1 of these, a trans boy, experienced hot flushes, an increase in migraine and fear of injections in addition to problems and school and unrelated medical issues and wished to temporarily discontinue blockers. He restarted blockers after 5 months and later proceeded on to HRT.  One of these, a trans boy, interviewed at age 19, reported an increase in mood problems and suicidal thoughts and confusion attributed to GnRHa treatment and stated: “I was already fully matured when I started GnRHa, menstruations were already suppressed by contraceptives. For me, it had no added value”. The third case, a transboy, experienced mood swings starting 4 months after he had begun GnRHa treatment. A year later, he started to frequently feel unwell and miss school. After 2.2 years, he developed severe nausea and rapid weight loss for which no cause was identified. Because of this deterioration of his general condition, he wished to discontinue GnRHa treatment after 2.4 years. He gradually recovered over the next 2 years and subsequently started HRT.

From the 132 adolescents old enough to be eligible for HRT, 5 (4%) stopped blockers and reported no wish for gender affirming treatment at this time. Their identities and stories were individual. Two described non-binary identities. One had psycho-social problems. One found the period on blockers helpful in understanding a cisgender identity. One described falling in love and questioning his gender identity before identifying with his assigned gender.

In conclusion: Out of the 132 adolescents old enough for HRT, 126 (95%) were on HRT at the time of the study, 1 had chosen to extend their time on blockers before HRT, and 5 (4%) had decided not to have gender affirming treatment. The adolescents and parents were asked their views on GnRHa. All felt free to stop GnRHa.  Some stated it gave them time to think and feel who they were and what they wanted in the future and felt that without GnRHa treatment they would not have been able to make these decisions. Others stated that GnRHa should not be routinely offered before the start of gender-affirming hormones when adolescents are already fully matured, because of the lack of physical benefits. Instead, a consideration time of 6 months with psychological follow-up was suggested.

Continued questions

Despite the decades of studies, critics of blockers continue to claim they are new and experimental, a claim refuted by  Giordano and Holm in a 2020 paper. Critics also point to low quality evidence, especially lack of randomised control trials. However, a wide number of studies comment on the impossibility of conducting randomised control trials on this cohort. A 2011 paper (De Vries) by the leading practitioners at the time from the Netherlands states “Finally, this study was a longitudinal observational descriptive cohort study. Ideally, a blinded randomized controlled trial design should have been performed. However, it is highly unlikely that adolescents would be motivated to participate. Also, disallowing puberty suppression, resulting in irreversible development of secondary sex characteristics, may be considered unethical.” Giordano and Holm (2020) are stronger, being clear this “particular use cannot be investigated by a RCT ”. Rosenthal (2014) agrees “Furthermore, randomized controlled trials for hormonal interventions in gender-dysphoric youth have not been considered feasible or ethical ”.

The latest 2020 paper (Brik) similarly states: “A randomized controlled trial in adolescents presenting with gender dysphoria, comparing groups with and without GnRHa treatment, could theoretically shed light on the effect of GnRHa treatment on gender identity development. However, many would consider a trial where the control group is withheld treatment unethical, as the treatment has been used since the nineties and outcome studies although limited have been positive. In addition, it is likely that adolescents will not want to participate in such a trial if this means they will not receive treatment that is available at other centers. Mul et al. (2001) experienced this problem and were unable to include a control group in their study on GnRHa treatment in adopted girls with early puberty because all that were randomized to the control group refused further participation“.

Although global consensus for puberty blockers is strong, a variety of different views remain. A 2015 study (Vrouenraets) interviewed psychiatrists, psychologists and endocrinologists from 17 treatment teams worldwide, gaining insights into the views underpinning different attitudes towards treatment. Those opposed to treatment diverged from those who supported treatment in their view on whether gender dysphoria is natural variation or mental illness; the potential role of puberty in developing identity; the role of comorbidity; and the physical or psychological effects of enabling or denying intervention.

Ethics are discussed in a number of articles. Giordano reviewed the ethics for and against puberty blockers over a decade ago, in 2007 and 2008, noting the high risk outcomes in trans children who could not access medical intervention. They concluded that “suspension of puberty is not only not unethical: if it is likely to improve the child’s quality of life and even save his or her life, then it is indeed unethical to defer treatment”. Giordano and Holm followed up in 2020 with a review of the latest studies, highlighting the evidence of benefits and reinforcing the earlier conclusion on the ethical prerogative to provide treatment.

A 2017 article (Giovanardi) on ethics from a fly-by-night unrated journal is discredited for misrepresenting key literature (as discussed here, the researcher whose research is misrepresented made a complaint but the journal had folded before the paper could be retracted or corrected).

Lopez (2018) examines data on puberty blocker implants for precocious puberty as compared to trans adolescents. In a 2016 dataset blockers were used in 512 cases for precocious puberty at average age 8.9 years olds, whereas they were only used in 62 cases for trans adolescents at an average age of 14 years old. The age-based arguments against trans adolescents accessing blockers do not seem to apply for the much younger cohort in precocious puberty, suggesting it is not the medication or the age of use that people have a problem with, but rather its use for gender dysphoric adolescents.

A 2020 article (Pang) examines the ethics of extended puberty blocker treatment for an agender teen – a teen who started blockers at 12, is now 15 and wants to continue on just blockers till 18. One commentator contrasts the two main risks; impaired fertility in the future and low bone density, with the one key benefit: continued alleviation of gender dysphoria and anxiety. They quantify the bone density related risks: with a bone density in the lowest 2.5 percentile a person “has a 0.2% to 0.3% risk of sustaining a hip fracture and a 1% to 2% risk of other fractures in the next 5 to 10 years compared with a control with normal bone density (0% risk of hip fracture and 0.7%–1% risk of other fractures in the next 5–10 years).” They highlight that the adolescent and/or their parents may still decide that these risks are outweighed by the potential psychosocial benefits from relieved gender dysphoria. Another commentator, whilst recognising the clear benefits of puberty blocker usage, highlights that with shorter term use (2 years), bone density increases significantly once sex hormones are introduced, and recommends a shorter time on blockers to promote optimal bone density.

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Oliphant, J., Veale, J., Macdonald, J., Carroll, R., Johnson, R., Harte, M., et al. (2018). Guidelines for gender affirming healthcare for gender diverse and transgender children, young people and adults in Aotearoa New Zealand. Available at: https://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/handle/10289/12160 [Accessed October 3, 2019].

Pang, K. C., Notini, L., McDougall, R., Gillam, L., Savulescu, J., Wilkinson, D., et al. (2020). Long-term Puberty Suppression for a Nonbinary Teenager. Pediatrics 145. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-1606.

Rosenthal, S. M. (2014). Approach to the patient: transgender youth: endocrine considerations. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 99, 4379–4389. doi:10.1210/jc.2014-1919.

Schagen, S. E. E., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Delemarre-van de Waal, H. A., and Hannema, S. E. (2016). Efficacy and Safety of Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Agonist Treatment to Suppress Puberty in Gender Dysphoric Adolescents. J Sex Med 13, 1125–1132. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.05.004.

Schneider, M. A., Spritzer, P. M., Soll, B. M. B., Fontanari, A. M. V., Carneiro, M., Tovar-Moll, F., et al. (2017). Brain Maturation, Cognition and Voice Pattern in a Gender Dysphoria Case under Pubertal Suppression. Front Hum Neurosci 11, 528. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00528.

Staphorsius, A. S., Kreukels, B. P. C., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Veltman, D. J., Burke, S. M., Schagen, S. E. E., et al. (2015). Puberty suppression and executive functioning: An fMRI-study in adolescents with gender dysphoria. Psychoneuroendocrinology 56, 190–199. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.03.007.

Telfer, M.M., Tollit, M.A., Pace, C.C., & Pang, K.C. (2018). Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for Trans and Gender Diverse Chil-dren and Adolescents. Melbourne: The Royal Children’s Hospital Available at: https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/australian-standards-of-care-and-treatment-guidelines-for-trans-and-gender-diverse-children-and-adolescents.pdf [Accessed October 4, 2019].

Turban, J. L., King, D., Carswell, J. M., and Keuroghlian, A. S. (2020). Pubertal Suppression for Transgender Youth and Risk of Suicidal Ideation. Pediatrics 145. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-1725.

Vlot, M. C., Klink, D. T., den Heijer, M., Blankenstein, M. A., Rotteveel, J., and Heijboer, A. C. (2017). Effect of pubertal suppression and cross-sex hormone therapy on bone turnover markers and bone mineral apparent density (BMAD) in transgender adolescents. Bone 95, 11–19. doi:10.1016/j.bone.2016.11.008.

Vries, A. L. C. de, McGuire, J. K., Steensma, T. D., Wagenaar, E. C. F., Doreleijers, T. A. H., and Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2014). Young Adult Psychological Outcome After Puberty Suppression and Gender Reassignment. Pediatrics 134, 696–704. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-2958.

Vrouenraets, L. J. J. J., Fredriks, A. M., Hannema, S. E., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., and de Vries, M. C. (2015). Early Medical Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Gender Dysphoria: An Empirical Ethical Study. J Adolesc Health 57, 367–373. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.04.004.

Vrouenraets, L. J. J. J., Fredriks, A. M., Hannema, S. E., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., and de Vries, M. C. (2016). Perceptions of Sex, Gender, and Puberty Suppression: A Qualitative Analysis of Transgender Youth. Arch Sex Behav 45, 1697–1703. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0764-9.

Wiepjes, C. M., Nota, N. M., de Blok, C. J. M., Klaver, M., de Vries, A. L. C., Wensing-Kruger, S. A., et al. (2018). The Amsterdam Cohort of Gender Dysphoria Study (1972-2015): Trends in Prevalence, Treatment, and Regrets. J Sex Med 15, 582–590. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.01.016.

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). (2011). Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people, 7th version.

Australia Supports Trans Children

Evie-Macdonald

Following months of Australian (Murdoch) media scaremongering about trans children, and anti-trans lobbying by right wing groups, Australian politicians asked a leading  Australian medical body (RACP). to review the Australian healthcare approach to supporting transgender youth.

Today brought two important announcements, from the RACP and from AusPATH.

The RACP is the Royal College of Australian Physicians, representing 25,000 Australian medical professionals. The RACP today provided the following announcement:

The RACP has recommended against a national inquiry into gender dysphoria and made suggestions to improve care to young trans people.

In August 2019, the Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt wrote to the College seeking advice on the treatment of gender dysphoria in children and adolescents. The RACP has now provided that advice to the Minister. The full advice is linked below.

The RACP strongly supports expert clinical care that is non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming for children, adolescents and their families experiencing gender dysphoria. Children and adolescents with gender dysphoria are a very vulnerable population, experiencing stigma and extremely high rates of depression, self-harm, attempted suicide and suicide.

Ensuring children and adolescents with gender dysphoria can access appropriate care and treatment regardless of where they live, should be a national priority. Withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people. 

The RACP notes that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention.

Today, the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health released the following response:

The Australian Professional Association for Trans Health (AusPATH), established in 2009 as the Australian and New Zealand Professional Association for Transgender Health, is Australia’s peak body for professionals involved in the health, rights and wellbeing of trans people, including those who are gender diverse and non-binary (TGDNB). The AusPATH membership comprises approximately 300 experienced professionals working across Australia.

AusPATH welcomes the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) advice to Minister Greg Hunt, Federal Minister for Health, regarding the care and treatment of TGDNB children and adolescents, and seeking medical intervention. This advice is based on the available scientific evidence and the expertise of those with relevant clinical experience across sub-speciality areas of medicine and bioethics.

 AusPATH agrees with the RACP that ensuring children and adolescents who are trans, including those who are gender diverse and non-binary “can access appropriate care and treatment regardless of where they live, should be a national priority”, and that “withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people.”

As stated by the RACP, “clinical care needs to be “non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming for children, adolescents and their families”.

AusPATH also supports the RACP recommendation that the Australian Government provide funding for research, especially in relation to the long-term health and wellbeing outcomes for trans, including gender diverse and non-binary young people. Increased investment in research and expansion of the knowledge base, for young people and adults, will be vital in improving the current and disturbing high rates of depression, anxiety, suicide attempts and suicide amongst this cohort.

Improving outcomes can only be achieved by reducing the stigma, discrimination, bullying and harassment that trans people, including those who are gender diverse and non-binary, are subjected to on a daily basis. Negative, hateful media campaigns aimed at invalidating the experiences and strength of this community, and those who provide care for them, is reprehensible, harmful and must stop.

There is much work for us to do to improve the lives of all trans people in Australia. AusPATH looks forward to assisting the clinicians, researchers, educators and advocates across Australia to continue the provision of high quality, patient-centred, human rights-focused and comprehensive gender affirming care and treatment.

Best Practice

The Australian guidelines for healthcare for trans youth represent world best practice. These guidelines are summarised in this blog here

https://growinguptransgender.com/2017/10/01/australian-gold-standard-of-care-for-trans-children/

I want to highlight a couple of things about the approach that the overall Australian health service has taken to the transphobic pressure it has come under.

  1. The Australian healthcare service overall has centred the needs, rights and wellbeing of transgender children, both in their healthcare, in their engagements with the media, and in their response to political and media pressure.
  2. They have emphasised the importance of patient centred, human rights focused and comprehensive gender affirming care.
  3. They clearly and unambiguously state “withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people.” This clarity in messaging is vitally important in a context of media misinformation and transphobic scaremongering.
  4. They acknowledge, highlight and condemn the negative impact that media and societal transphobia has on the wellbeing of trans children.
  5. The RACP “strongly supports expert clinical care that is non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming”. This strong support, combined with positive and non-pathologising language is really important in this media communication.
  6. The RACP takes a clear public position, backing up the needs and wellbeing of vulnerable trans children and their families. They state “the RACP notes that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention”.

I want highlight the absurd contrast between the way the health service in Australia has tackled this and the current UK NHS approach.

The UK NHS service for transgender children (GIDS) is hugely behind global best practices for transgender youth healthcare – see here for a comparison between the GIDS approach and the Australian approach

https://growinguptransgender.com/2017/09/30/australian-standards-of-care-part-2/

The UK is out of touch with gender affirmative best practices as endorsed by Auspath, the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics – and is behind healthcare practices across the US, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Australia. New global guidelines from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) are due out this year, and are expected to endorse an affirmative approach to support for transgender children. The UK GIDS service, with its pathologising approaches, three year wait for first appointments, psychoanalytic approach (without one single paediatrician) and refusal to embrace evidence based gender affirmative healthcare, is a disgrace.

When faced by the same media and right wing funded transphobic pressure that doctors in the US and Australia have faced, the UK NHS has responded very differently.

Here in the UK we have a court case to investigate whether trans teens are somehow uniquely unable to give informed consent to safe and reversible puberty blocker treatment that has been studied in trans youth for 32 years.

There is a NICE evidence review into puberty blockers and hormones (despite the Endocrine Society having released global guidance in 2016 on this, despite no evidence of harm and much evidence of benefits, and despite WPATH global standards of care producing new global guidelines on this that are due out this year (Standards of Care Version 8). The ToR for this review will be critical, as recent reviews by the BMJ and the evidence review informing the GIDS 2016 service specification were both heavily flawed, bringing ideological biases to the evidence review, and omitting key evidence. The team involved in the heavily flawed 2016 service specification review completely ignored submissions from those advocating for the rights and wellbeing of transgender children – how do we ensure this doesn’t happen this time round? There is very little community faith that this NICE review will be effective – we know there is a lack of the type of RCT evidence NICE normally prioritises, the question is, what do we do based on the level of evidence currently in existence. In Australia and the US (and elsewhere) healthcare providers are very clear that affirmative care is the only way to support trans youth. Parents such as myself are very clear on this. Trans adults are very clear on this. Trans youth are very clear on this – but is NICE interested in these perspectives? We know and experience the harm of inadequate care – we see it daily in our families.

There is also an NHS panel being formed to review the NICE evidence and provide NHS recommendations on trans youth healthcare. Will important questions like the NHS’ failure to offer timely non-pathologising affirmative care led by paediatricians rather than psychoanalysts even be on the agenda? Who is shaping the agenda for these reviews and investigations – they certainly don’t match with the issues that matter to those of us supporting transgender children – they seem to match the agenda of those wishing to ban healthcare for transgender children. Why is there no acknowledgement, that publicity about these reviews, in a context of minority stress and transphobia, adds to the harm, adds to discrimination, makes life worse for transgender children and families?

Who on this panel will be speaking up for the rights of transgender children? Families of trans children, trans healthcare experts and trans communities have little faith in this process centring the rights and wellbeing of trans children. A very significant concern is the question of who will be on that panel. There will be no voice representing trans children on that panel. No voice representing trans adults. No voice representing supportive parents of trans children.

We know there are strong transphobic voices in the UK, including in the NHS, who deny the existence of transgender children like my daughter. Voices who, like in Australia and the US, are actively campaigning to withdraw healthcare for transgender children. Some of these voices are clear in their transphobia – others are subtler in crouching their views in descriptions of ‘concern’ and ‘lack of RCTs’. Many of these opponents advocate stopping all trans youth healthcare, increasing the access barriers, and taking us back to reparative and talk therapy based approaches of rejection and stigma. Approaches that are known to cause harm.

If anyone who has publicly condemned healthcare for transgender children, including those who argue against healthcare until the age of 24 (!) is on the panel, this panel will lack all credibility with families of transgender children. There would be no place for anti-vaccine voices on a review of vaccine safety – there would be no place for anti-climate change fringe voices on a review of climate change policy – there absolutely is no place for anyone who has spoken out against the rights and wellbeing of transgender children in a NHS panel reviewing this healthcare.

The biggest concern – There will likely not be one single paediatrician with experience supporting trans children on that NHS review panel. In other countries like Australia, trans youth healthcare is led by paediatricians. Here in the UK there is not one single paediatrician with this experience and specialism. Our NHS service is led by psychoanalysts who are not medically qualified. This is a huge knowledge gap for this NHS review panel. The panel absolutely has to have on it a paediatrician with experience in leading the care of transgender children. If there is not one such experienced and qualified paediatrician in the UK (which there is not), the panel needs to fill this knowledge gap by inviting experienced paediatricians from the US or Australia to join this panel. Someone like Michelle Tefler, the paediatrician in charge of the Australian trans youth healthcare system would be ideal.

And as we wait, families and transgender children are already being harmed by the UK NHS approach – by the media messaging about reviewing the evidence base on puberty blockers. Already children are experiencing additional trauma, scrutiny and disbelief from NHS health professionals like GPs, from school teachers, from social services, from family members, as a direct result of this inquiry. Direct harm due to the NHS’s chosen approach.

Again, I will compare this to the Australian RACP approach which stated today:
“the RACP notes that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention”.

Why does the NHS continue to fail transgender children so badly, in so many different ways?

Why can’t we learn from the Australian healthcare system?

Who is speaking up for trans children’s rights and wellbeing within the decision making circles of the NHS?

 

 

PhD starts here

download

Throughout the past years of trying to secure the rights of my child, I’ve been frustrated at the substantial barriers trans children face.

The many ways in which their rights are infringed.

The systemic obstacles they need to jump over, hoping for equality of opportunity.

Their very existence is challenged.

Lack of data is part of the problem – time and again trans kids are left out of surveys or research – they aren’t even considered.

With these challenges in mind, I’ve applied for, and been accepted onto a PhD at Goldsmiths Education department.

My topic: Cisnormativity and the rights, equality and well-being of socially transitioned transgender children under the age of 12. I’ll be supervised by Dr Anna Carlile.

I’ll have a focus on trans children in education, as well as considering families, healthcare and wider rights.

I’m doing it part-time, and aim to publish as I go. Watch this space.

I’m very interested in connecting with trans positive researchers, as well as with researchers specialising in child rights / child participation.

I can be reached on twitter @fiercemum

Wish me luck!

New Zealand Healthcare Guidelines Affirm & Support Trans Children

nz

New Zealand has produced guidance for trans healthcare: Guidelines for gender affirming healthcare for gender diverse and transgender children, young people and adults in Aotearoa New Zealand

Oliphant J, Veale J, Macdonald J, Carroll R, Johnson R, Harte M, Stephenson C, Bullock J. Guidelines for gender affirming healthcare for gender diverse and transgender children, young people and adults in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Transgender Health Research Lab, University of Waikato, 2018.

This follows similar guidelines produced in the US (by the world’s largest paediatric medical organisation the American Academy of Pediatics), Australian affirmative healthcare guidance for transgender children and adolescents, and similar practices in place for trans children and adolescents across Canada, Spain, Germany

New Zealand’s gender affirmative healthcare guidelines for transgender children, yet again shows the UK GIDS is stuck in the dark ages, the UK NHS is failing transgender children.

Here’s a ten point summary (written by me) for those disinclined to read further:

  1. New Zealand endorses gender affirmative healthcare for trans children and adolescents.
  2. New Zealand acknowledges that some children are trans at a young age, that some adolescents come to understand their gender identity at or after puberty, and that all are valid and in need of affirmation and support.
  3. New Zealand uses modern, trans positive language and does not problematise trans children, being clear that trans children who are supported should be able to thrive and should be able to be as happy as any other child.
  4. New Zealand supports social transition for trans children, emphasising the important benefits and protective aspects for their well-being.
  5. New Zealand recognises the importance of supportive families, and prioritises educating parents/carers to accept and affirm their trans children, providing clear and reassuring guidance to listen to their child.
  6. New Zealand is clear that gender affirmative healthcare is medically necessary, considering a range of aspects of health including support in dealing with minority stress.
  7. New Zealand supports access puberty blockers, which it emphasises are reversible. It emphasises that withholding timely access to blockers causes harm, and emphasises that not using blockers can lead to irreversible unwanted physical changes.
  8. New Zealand supports individualised access to hormone therapy, acknowledging the compelling reasons why access prior to age 16 is appropriate for some individuals. It provides clear information on the changes that are reversible, partially reversible, not reversible and the time on HRT for these changes to emerge.
  9. New Zealand acknowledges the harm caused by the pathologisation of gender diversity, and commits to depathologisation within the health service. New Zealand acknowledges being gender diverse is not a mental health condition and commits to mental health support being optional and not a mandatory part of accessing affirmative healthcare.
  10. New Zealand acknowledges the negative health impacts of discrimination, and acknowledges the importance of health service providers advocating for trans people, advocating for social and public policy change to reduce the negative effects of minority stress.

This blog summarises the main areas of the New Zealand guidance that are relevant for trans children and adolescents, highlighting areas where New Zealand’s healthcare guidance for trans children is ahead of the UK NHS (I use the word ahead rather than different, as there is a clear trajectory for trans children’s healthcare globally – I have no doubt the UK will eventually make a change in this direction – as have already done Australia, much of USA and Canada, Spain, Germany etc – It just remains to be seen how many years the UK will cling on to outdated practices, and how many children will be harmed in the meantime.

 The New Zealand Guidelines: An Overview

*Note: The guide is written with many references to Maori terms and indigenous approaches. This heavily abridged version aimed at a UK and global readership just includes English terms – the guidance is worth reading in full.

Commits to gender affirming healthcare (UK GIDS does not offer this)

Gender affirming healthcare (definition): “Healthcare that is respectful and affirming of a person’s unique sense of gender and provides support to identify and facilitate gender healthcare goals. These goals may include supporting exploration of gender expression, support around social transition, hormone and/or surgical interventions. This may also involve providing support to family, caregivers or other significant supporting people”.

“Children and young people: For the purposes of this guideline: those aged up to 11 years are considered children; those aged from 12 to 24 years are considered to be young people”

Normalises gender diversity, normalises rise in referrals (UK GIDS describes the rise as ‘unexpected’ & speculates negative reasons for the rise)

“Internationally and within New Zealand there has been a substantial increase in the demand for gender affirming healthcare over the past decade. The Youth secondary school survey, estimated that approximately 1.2% of adolescents in New Zealand identify as transgender. It is likely that this level of referrals to health services will continue in the foreseeable future.”

Prioritises autonomy and avoidance of pathologisation (UK GIDS does not)

“Autonomy: Autonomy in the context of transgender healthcare involves transgender people being able to able to make informed choices for themselves regarding gender affirming care and being free from experiencing harmful pathologisation and other barriers to accessing this care.”

Acknowledges the importance of partnering with trans communities (UK GIDS does not)

“To successfully enhance the health and wellbeing of transgender people, providers need to partner with transgender communities to shape these services.”

Acknowledges that gender affirming healthcare is medically necessary (UK GIDS does not)

“The medical necessity of gender affirming healthcare has been acknowledged by WPATH, the Australian and New Zealand Professional Association for Transgender Health (ANZPATH) and many other international organisations.

The Yogyakarta Principles pull together existing international human rights legal standards which state that transgender people have the right to access the highest attainable standard of gender affirming care.

Acknowledges the impact of social stigmatisation including in the healthcare system (UK GIDS does not)

“Social stigmatisation and discrimination, including within the healthcare system, present additional barriers to accessing health services and contributes to adverse health outcomes”.

Prioritises community leadership (UK GIDS does not)

“Community leadership: This guiding principle informs us that for health promotion to be effective it needs to be led by relevant communities. Health professionals have important roles to play but cannot replace the leadership which exists in communities. An example of this is the partnership between transgender communities and the Northern Region health board from 2014 to present. Transgender people have been involved in the steering of the project, including development of services and these guidelines. The importance of trans community leadership in the development of trans healthcare services is paramount.”

Recognises the importance of different areas of health: (UK GIDS does not)

“Transgender health recognises the equal importance of spiritual health, family health, mental health and physical health.”

Acknowledges legacy of pathologisation of gender diversity and clarifies it is not a mental health illness, acknowledging the importance of avoiding stigmatisation (UK GIDS does not)

“Historically transgender healthcare has suffered from the pathologising of gender diversity and the inappropriate labelling of gender/cultural identity and expression as a diagnosed mental health illness. The resulting legacy of this pathologisation is a tension in health services between the need to avoid further stigmatisation while simultaneously acknowledging the importance of the wider concept of mental health as part of holistic healthcare delivery.”

Prioritises informed consent and self determination (UK GIDS does not)

“The practice of informed consent in relation to gender affirming healthcare is important because it reaffirms the self-determination of the transgender person and their knowledge of their needs, identities, and self. Informed consent enables the health provider to work alongside the transgender person in a flexible and responsive way”.

Recommends involving trans people in development and provision of services. (UK GIDS does not)

“Health services enable the involvement of trans and gender diverse people, including Māori trans people, in decisions that affect them with regard to the development and provision of services.”

Commits to improving based on feedback (UK GIDS does not)

“Health services have a process for receiving feedback and evaluating people’s experience that report on outcomes and commit to acting on the feedback/data received to improve services.”

Recognises impact of colonisation in persecuting gender minorities who were accepted and valued in pre-colonial society (UK GIDS does not)

“It is increasingly apparent that, in Aotearoa pre-colonial Māori society, people of diverse genders and sexualities were both accepted and valued within extended families. The colonisation in the 1800s by the British had a huge impact on Māori culture and society. Any expression of gender or sexual fluidity was strongly discouraged by the missionaries. Recorded histories overlooked or erased stories of takatāpui.

Likewise, Pacific cultures also accepted gender diversity as part of the normal range of human expression. The impact of colonisation of many of the Pacific Island nations through faith-based missions and colonial government administrations has had a negative impact on the acceptance of gender diverse people.”

Recognises the minority stress intrinsic to living in a transphobic society (UK GIDs does not)

“Tangata takatāpui moved from a social and cultural situation where minority stress was simply not a factor in the pre-colonial world of Māori, to one where it has become a key force in the negative health outcomes they experience”.

“Minority stress: Minority stress theory suggests that trans and gender diverse people experience stressors as a result of sociocultural sanctions about being transgender and/or gender nonconforming. These include prejudice, discrimination and violence which negatively impact on physical, social, spiritual, and psychological wellbeing. It is important to note that minority stress results from a multitude of everyday events that trans people experience. Daily stressors for trans people can include not being affirmed by health providers, being asked invasive questions in inappropriate settings, or not having access to a safe public bathroom. Minority stress here includes the economic stressors that many trans and gender diverse people also negotiate.”

Recognises that supporting wellbeing of trans people must include addressing these barriers to health (UK GIDS does not)

“Supporting the wellbeing of transgender people includes recognising that barriers to health, housing and employment will have negative health impacts. Improving health services is part of creating health, education, housing, and employment environments that are accessible, respectful, and inclusive of trans and gender diverse people”.

Recognises the importance of trans positive health services (UK GIDS does not)

“Trans positive health services: Primary and secondary health services that are respectful and affirming of people’s gender identities can have a positive impact on trans people’s well-being. There are many important nonmedical supports that can be useful for health services to be aware of when supporting people who are socially transitioning.”

Supports social transition (UK GIDS does not)

“Social transition: Social transition consists of the steps many transgender people choose to take to alter their presentation in the world to better align with their gender identity. Transition looks different for every individual and it is important to note that neither social or medical transition is required in order to be recognised as a trans or gender diverse person.

Transgender people should be supported through these steps of social transition to allow them to have positive experiences in the world as a truer representation of themselves. Social transition can also start out part-time in known safe environments, such as home or school.”

*Note there is nothing negative here about the psychological impact of social transition (GIDS latest scare story). There is no age-based barrier to support. No references to the discredited and harmful ‘watchful waiting approach’ that UK GIDS still clings to. Watchful waiting sounds benign. It depends what you are watching whilst you wait. For many trans kids, rejection causes immense harm. For many trans kids, affirmation and fully love and support allows our children to breathe, allows them to thrive, allows them to enjoy their childhoods. Why should trans children in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Spain (including Canary Islands) have happy childhoods whilst UK trans children are left depressed, rejected, ashamed.

Recognises family health (UK GIDS does not)

“Family Health: There are many forms of family support; a parent looking out for their trans child, an adult supporting their trans partner or parent through transition, a family advocating for respectful care of their trans relative in a resthome. In reality it is not just one person who ‘transitions’ but the whole family”.

Highlights that family support is a HIGHLY protective factor (UK GIDS does not)

“Family and young people: Family support is a highly protective factor for trans young people. Research shows that trans young people reporting strong family connectedness have a greatly reduced likelihood of poor mental health, even when experiencing stigma and discrimination elsewhere. Family support provides a place from which takatāpui rangatahi can draw strength and resilience to help deal with the challenges they face outside the family.”

Prioritises helping parents gain support to understand their loved one (UK GIDS does not)

“Parents report a range of emotions following disclosure from their child that they are transgender, including confusion, the need to have time to process, the need to grieve for the loss of a son/ daughter, fear for the future and acceptance of their child. While the young person is likely to have spent considerable time developing an understanding of who they are, families may perceive the change as being sudden and require time to adjust. Families report that they need information and time to understand their loved one’s journey. It is an important part of the role of health services to support this process. Some families find joining parent support groups helpful.”

Recommends primary and secondary health services provide clear, unambiguous affirmative advice to parents/carers (UK GIDS does not)

“Practice points: Primary and secondary health services need to provide education, promote connection to family and to support family to be able to support gender diverse children and young people through simple advice:

  • Assure your child/young person that they have your unconditional love and support, or at least that you will commit to their journey with them.
  • Encourage exploration of how they express themselves. It is important that young people have spaces in which they feel safe enough to explore their gender.
  • Use the child/young persons preferred gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them etc) and preferred name when they are ready to do so. Support family and friends to do the same, providing it is safe to do so.
  • Provide written/online information for family.”

Is confident and non-pathologising on topic of transgender children (UK GIDS is not)

“Gender diverse children: Many children explore different ways of expressing their gender though play. Most of these children are comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth, although some are not. Some children will assert themselves as a gender different from the sex assigned at birth. These transgender children are usually insistent, consistent and persistent in their gender identity and may exhibit distress or discomfort with their physical body. Some transgender children are aware of their gender identity from a very early age, while others may take some time to figure it out or find a safe way to express it. Children can be very aware of the disapproval of those around them and may try to hide their feelings about their gender. For gender expansive children, including those who may identify as transgender, no medical intervention is needed pre-puberty.”

*Note the way the language is affirming and reassuring about young trans children as well as affirming and reassuring about children who are aware of their identity later. The UK uses language that is unsupportive and un-reassuring about both.

Is clearly supportive of a gender affirmative approach for trans children, including unambiguous support for social transition (UK GIDS is not)

“Supporting trans and gender diverse children requires a developmentally appropriate and gender affirming approach which involves assisting children to create an environment where their gender can be affirmed. This might require providing education and support for families and schools to be able to support the gender diverse child to navigate a social transition and helping children to develop the coping skills to address any negative reactions that they might experience for being gender diverse. Family may want support from their primary care health team, a paediatrician, child and adolescent mental health service or parent support group to work out how best to support their child. This is particularly important if there is associated distress related to gender identity.

*note no fear mongering on social transition, no words of concern and caution, no words about regret or desistance, nothing on need to delay, deny or diagnose.

*note the emphasis on providing assistance externally, to make the world a better place for a trans child. The UK focuses their effort internally, onto the trans child themselves, focusing on psychoanalysis of that child, making their gender diversity the problem.

Non-pathologising about trans adolescents who are aware of their identity at puberty (UK GIDS is not)

“Young people: Trans young people may present to a range of health providers requesting support with their gender identity, so all health teams need to be able to provide an inclusive environment where young people will feel safe talking about their gender. Some young people present with longstanding diverse gender identities since childhood, while others find that adolescence was a crucial time for the development of their gender identity. Identity may emerge during or after the onset of the physical changes brought on by puberty and the changing social and romantic interactions with peers.

*note no scaremongering about social contagion. No scaremongering about adolescents confusing gender for sexuality. No scaremongering about social media and the influence of the internet. No undermining of the validity of trans teens who become aware of their identity at or after puberty (all of these have been talked about in the media by UK GIDS).

Non-pathologising understanding of gender fluidity (UK GIDS is not)

“Similarly, some previously gender expansive children may shift along the gender spectrum to find their gender identity more aligned with the sex assigned at birth. In all of these situations, these young people and their families will benefit from supportive healthcare providers who pay attention to how the young person is expressing their gender.”

*Note the guidance sees no trade-off or tension between supporting trans kids and supporting kids who shift gender modality. It argues that both benefit from supportive healthcare. UK GIDS likes to argue that their known harm to trans kids somehow benefits kids who might shift gender modality (despite no evidence of this).

Focuses on co-existing concerns without using co-existing concerns as a pretext for denying identity or delaying affirmation (UK GIDS does not)

“Trans young people need to be assessed routinely for risks around abuse, bullying, drug and alcohol use, nutrition and unhealthy eating behaviours, sexual health and any mental health concerns“

*It would not be surprising to me if youth with co-existing issues are better able to address other co-existing issues, once their gender is affirmed. In the UK adolescents with co-existing concerns are denied affirmation of their gender, on the pretext that their gender issues may be symptoms of a misguided coping strategy for dealing with other issues. There is no evidence for this approach which is rejected elsewhere and causes harm to some of the most vulnerable youth (eg descriptions of children and teens in UK GIDS having their identity invalidated and being forced to discuss trauma as a potential cause of gender ‘confusion’ if they have suffered abuse or bereavement).

Prioritises peer support (UK GIDS does not adequately encourage peer support and some media engagement has encouraged scaremongering on ‘social contagion’, discouraging wary parents from helping their child connect to peer support)

“Trans young people often benefit from being linked into supportive peer groups, including online groups.”

Understands trans kids may find puberty difficult (UK GIDs recent media engagement seemed to suggest that trans kids were finding puberty difficult because of being too supported and affirmed in their childhood – they suggested childhood rejection was the best way to avoid trans kids worrying about puberty)

“Anticipation of and/or experiencing pubertal body changes can be very distressing.”

Is clear and unambiguous on evidence of benefits of puberty blockers and gender affirming care (UK GIDS is not)

“There is good evidence that puberty blocking and gender affirming care for trans young people significantly improves mental health and wellbeing outcomes.”

When parents are unsupportive, unequivocally prioritises the need of trans adolescents, even under age 16 (GIDS does not)

“Decisions regarding medical interventions are ideally made collaboratively between the trans young person, their family and the health team. However, it is not always possible to involve family. Lack of family support does not preclude trans young people from accessing care. While young people aged 16 years and older are considered to be able to make decisions about their medical care younger people are not prohibited from consenting to medical interventions if the young person is deemed to be competent to make an informed choice. To assist this informed consent process, we recommend that gender affirming healthcare for young people is provided within a multi-disciplinary team”.

Prioritises the importance of trans students being in school (UK GIDS does not. In UK, the number of trans children out of school (often due to mental health problems linked to continued rejection, minority stress, violence, bullying) should be a national scandal)

“Schools: Feeling connected to school is also a significant protective factor for trans young people. Schools have an obligation to provide safe environment for their students. The Youth New Zealand school survey found that while 74% of trans young people thought that school was okay, 54% were afraid that someone at school would hurt or bother them. There are a range of support materials available for schools.”

Clearly is on the side of trans students and unambiguously supports the need for records to correctly reflect gender identity (UK GIDS does not)

“However, many students have reported to us that they still experience barriers to updating school records to correctly reflect their gender identity and experience gender-based exclusion from activities such as joining sports teams, choirs and groups”.

Recommends schools provide information on gender affirming healthcare (UK GIDS does not)

“Practice points for school health teams • Have information on gender affirming healthcare services readily available and on display. • Provide training on working with transgender students for the whole student health team”.

*UK language from GIDS to schools can be the opposite of affirming, referring to complex cases, pathologizing and stigmatising gender diversity and discouraging schools from full support.

Is interested in the general wellbeing of trans students (UK GIDS focuses on gender identity, is not proactive on discrimination)

“School health teams should: “• Have information and support available for transgender students who experience discrimination from students or teachers. • Be connected to local health and social services in your area that specialise in working with transgender young people. • Enable students to establish a diversity group or other support for transgender students (if they desire to do so).”

Provides clear affirmative guidance for family members: (UK GIDS does not)

“• Listen first and foremost. Be available to listen to your family member’s experiences. Make an active effort to listen without judgment. Remember that advice isn’t always necessary; sometimes all they need is a kind ear. • Respect trans people’s pronouns  Trust that they are making the right decisions for themselves. • Educate yourself and others”.

Recommends family members listen to and learn from trans people (UK GIDS does not)

“Read and listen to the stories of transgender people. This will give you a better understanding of their experiences and enable you to interact in a positive way with your family member.”

Encourages peer support (UK GIDS does not)

“provide easily accessible information and access to peer support services for trans people of all ages and their family”.

Recommends children receive gender affirming healthcare (UK GIDS does not)

“That gender affirming healthcare services for children and young people are provided by clinicians with expertise in child and youth development.”

*note there is no requirement for psychoanalysis, the foundation of the UK GIDS service.

Non-pathologising approach to mental health of trans people (UK GIDS does not)

“Mental health: Trans and gender diverse people have the same inherent potential to flourish and thrive as other people, but currently experience increased risk of harm because of discrimination, social exclusion, bullying and assault, as well as institutional barriers such as difficulties accessing healthcare, bathrooms, and appropriate legal identification. Trans people from ethnic minority or refugee backgrounds are likely to be at even greater risk of experiencing harm.”

*GIDS does not acknowledge that trans kids have the same inherent potential to flourish and thrive. It does not acknowledge that the mental distress trans kids face is in large part due to cisnormativity and transphobia, including in (and encouraged by) NHS health services.

Acknowledges wider determinants of health (UK GIDS does not)

“It is becoming increasingly accepted that it is the additive effects of minority stress that results in mental health difficulties. It is important that health services acknowledge these wider determinants of health and the potential role they play in leading positive societal change to improve health outcomes”.

*The best things NHS GIDS could do for trans children is to give clear unambiguous affirmative trans positive statements about trans children to schools, to parents, to the UK media. Instead they do the exact opposite, making life so much harder – literally making minority stress and wider determinants of health worse. Where is the commitment to Do No Harm when it comes to the NHS and trans children?

Explicit on benefits of affirmative care on mental health and wellbeing (UK GIDS does not)

Being transgender is often but not always accompanied by gender dysphoria, a person’s discomfort or distress with their body or gender roles associated with their sex assigned at birth. Constant reminders can be experienced when showering or dressing. However, increasing evidence demonstrates that supportive, gender affirming care for trans people significantly improves gender dysphoria and mental health and wellbeing outcomes. International studies consistently show high rates of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression for trans people. In New Zealand the Youth’12 secondary school survey highlighted the mental health disparities experienced by transgender young people compared to their cis gender peers with 41% vs 12% experiencing significant depressive symptoms and 20% vs 4% reporting an attempted suicide, respectively, in the past 12 months. Because of the high prevalence of mental health problems among trans people, health services that are multidisciplinary and include mental health professionals will be more responsive to the on-going needs of trans people accessing gender affirming health care.

Psychotherapy is not mandatory (psychoanalysis is integral to UK GIDS)

The role of mental health professionals: Trans people may seek support from mental health professionals for a range of reasons, including support related to their gender or concerns with their mental health. Mental health professionals should be aware that mental health problems may be related to the effects of minority stress for being transgender or may be due to other causes. While many trans people access psychotherapy for support with living in their affirmed gender, psychotherapy is not a requirement of accessing gender affirming care. Mental health professionals with the appropriate skills and knowledge can assist with the informed consent process for readiness for gender affirming hormones. The WPATH SOC state that it is important for mental health professionals to have open dialogue with prescribing practitioners, and other providers of a trans person’s care and to access regular peer consultation and feedback. These mental health professionals should have the knowledge to provide information to trans people regarding gender affirming care treatment options and community support availability”.

Recognises the duty of health service providers to be an advocate for trans people (UK GIDS absolutely does not)

Finally, an important component of ethical health care provision is for providers to be advocates for the trans people who use their services. This could include educating or working with family members, schools, workplaces, healthcare settings, and other parts of the community on being inclusive and affirming of trans people. Recognising stigma, discrimination, and violence as the source of many issues that trans people face in Aotearoa, New Zealand, all health professionals should work collaboratively with trans people to advocate for social and public policy change to reduce the negative effects of minority stress”.

Mental health issues are not a barrier to gender affirmative care (In UK GIDS they are)

“Practice points • Include mental health issues as part of a holistic psychosocial assessment, for example discussion of anxiety, depression, risk of self-harm, while being clear that having mental health issues is not a barrier to accessing gender affirming services. • With the involvement and consent of the transgender person, plan for provision of on-going support for any mental health issues identified. • Respect the self-determination of each person as being the expert on their experience. This is often referred to as the “informed consent model” of gender affirming healthcare because it counteracts pathologisation and repositions the transgender person as being at the centre of their own life. • Recognise the impact of hostile environments on trans and gender diverse people, (i.e. minority stress) and validate the experiences that people have navigating those environments. • Ensure access to gender affirming health services alongside secondary mental health services: provide clear information about what to expect from secondary mental health services if referrals are appropriate, and work alongside secondary mental health services if they are involved”.

Recognises that trans children/young people may want support with challenges that are not related to gender (UK GIDS forces a prolonged focus on gender as the problem)

“When discussing stressors, follow the transgender person’s lead as to whether their current challenges and health needs are focused on their gender or on something else in their life. • Listen to each transgender person about ways that they would appreciate you advocating for them, which may be on an immediate interpersonal level (for example with family members or other health providers) or on a broader level in relation to other settings such as schools and workplaces”.

Embeds guidance for trans children in guidance for trans people of all ages (UK GIDS keeps trans children separate – using this to maintain a greater degree of pathologisation than would be accepted in adult care). Eg this section on pronouns is written the same for adults or children. Children are not treated worse just because they are young.

“Listen and reflect back the language each person uses about themselves, including gender identity terms, preferred names (even if not legally changed) and correct pronouns”.

Recognises neurodiverse people can also be trans (UK GIDS raises extra barrier to care for neurodiverse children and young people. In the media and to parents UK GIDS emphasises neurodiverse children and young people may be confused about gender identity)

“Neurodiversity and gender diversity It has been increasingly recognised that neurodiversity (autism spectrum) is common among the transgender community. Involving clinicians with the relevant diagnostic skills can be helpful for some people, as being able to identify as being on the autism spectrum can be helpful to understand behaviour and learn strategies to manage any difficulties. It is important to acknowledge that the person presenting is the expert on their own experience. Although some neurodiverse people may have difficulty in articulating their gender identity, this should not create an unnecessary barrier to access any relevant gender affirming services. Some people may express their gender identity non-verbally. The presence of neurodiversity can add complexity and extra time and support may potentially be required to help navigate all stages of the gender health journey including gender exploration, social, medical and surgical transition. Family may need support to understand more about the co-existence of neurodiversity and gender diversity, so that they understand that it is a common overlap and that being on the autism spectrum does not invalidate being transgender or seeking health services as part of transitioning.”

*See how reassuring the language is above. We never hear this from UK GIDS, who encourage allistic parents to reject neurodiverse children’s gender identity (for insistent trans children, the euphemisms that UK GIDS uses to avoid accusations of conversion therapy ie ‘delay’ ‘caution’ ‘watchful waiting’ equals rejection in practice).

“It is recommended that clinicians consider two key questions when working with people on the autism spectrum: • Is the gender identity clear, urgent, pervasive, and persistent over time? • Does the gender dysphoria increase or decrease with interventions?”

Physical Health is dealt with alongside wider health dimensions (UK GIDS focuses on psychoanalysis to test/validate gender identity followed by physical interventions)

“The physical dimension is just one aspect of health and well-being and cannot be separated from the aspect of mind, spirit and family. These guidelines are based on the principle of trans people’s autonomy of their own bodies, represented by healthcare provision based on informed consent.”

Prioritises informed consent (UK GIDS does not)

“Medical treatments such as hormone therapies and surgical interventions may also be an important part of a person’s transition and physical health. While many trans people will benefit from hormone therapies and surgical interventions, some may choose only one of these options and others may decide to have neither. For those who are seeking medical support, access to competent care through an informed consent model is of paramount importance.

In regards to transition goals, it is important to recognize that each person will articulate these differently. It is not helpful to assume that everyone wants to conform to binary gender norms and clinicians need to be aware not to impose a binary view of gender.

The importance of discussing individual transition goals and individualising treatment options is especially true for non-binary people but also applies to those with a more binary gender”.

States unambiguously that withholding gender affirming treatment is not a neutral option (UK GIDS does not)

“Withholding gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option.

Avoiding harm is a fundamental ethical consideration for health professionals when considering healthcare. Withholding gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, as this may cause or exacerbate any gender dysphoria or mental health problems. Conversely, access to gender affirming care may reduce the mental health pressures a trans or gender diverse person is experiencing. This does not discount that clinical decisions can be complex, particularly where there is family opposition for young people, the person is neurodiverse or has complex mental health needs. It is best practice that gender affirming healthcare is provided by well-resourced multidisciplinary teams that include mental health professionals and have good links with peer support groups.

Practice points: Acknowledge that withholding gender affirming healthcare is not considered a neutral option”.

Being trans and wanted to socially transition is not a mental health condition, mental health support should be optional not mandatory (in UK GIDS it is mandatory and indeed at the heart of their approach)

“Social transition can be a stressful time for some people who may benefit from extra mental health support, but it is important to ensure that they consent to having this support and it is not enforced as a requirement for accessing gender affirming care.”

Emphasises that much can be done in primary health care (UK GIDS continually communicates how specialist and complex everything linked to trans children and young people is)

“Accessible gender affirming care involves people being able to access this care as close to home as possible. There are limited numbers of teams that are specialised in gender affirming care in New Zealand and these are receiving increasing demand. Primary health providers should be aware of the barriers and potential harms with requiring people to travel or wait to access care and might consider assessment and provision of gender affirming hormones within the primary care setting.”

Emphasises clearly and confidently the positive impact of puberty blockers on wellbeing (UK GIDS does not talk in the below terms about puberty blockers)

“Puberty suppression using GnRH agonists: Health teams need to be aware of the positive impact of puberty blockers (GnRH agonists) on future well-being. Be mindful of the need to refer promptly and be aware of referral pathways. Puberty blockers can be prescribed from Tanner stage 2 to suppress the development of secondary sex characteristics, although are still beneficial when prescribed later in puberty to prevent ongoing masculinisation/feminisation. Puberty blockers are considered to be fully reversible and allow the adolescent time prior to making a decision on starting hormone therapy. They do not stop growth or weight gain, and monitoring of height is recommended as adult height may potentially be increased if prolonged puberty suppression delays epiphyseal fusing. A bone age may be helpful to assess whether epiphyseal closure has occurred when considering what rate of hormonal induction to use as this may potentially impact on final height. Puberty blockers halt the continuing development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as breast growth or voice deepening, and relieve distress associated with these bodily changes for trans young people. For trans women and transfeminine people, they will prevent further masculinisation of the face and body that typically occurs into early adulthood.

*Note how confidently New Zealand health guidance talks about puberty blockers. GIDS does not talk in such reassuring ways about puberty blockers. GIDS instead speculate on an unevidenced theory about blockers potentially affecting brain development in mysterious and unstated ways. Brain development! This sounds really scary! But actually it is fully unscientific and vague – the kind of speculation you get from psychoanalysis who are not medically qualified. Do you think paediatricians go around speculating (with zero evidence) to parents about the irreversible impact on brain development of a drug that they have just prescribed to a cis 12 year old? They say ‘we don’t fully know the impact of them on adolescent brain development’. They also say things like ‘they are not reversible, as if you have taken them, you won’t know what it is like to have never taken them’. Well no shit sherlock but that isn’t what we are talking about when we talk about whether or not drugs are reversible. They also basically say to parents ‘there’s no evidence’ and ‘we give these blockers out but we don’t know what we are doing or if maybe it is the wrong thing to do’. Some anti-trans clinicians are known to tell parents that they believe blockers are harmful.  Goodness me – no wonder there is so much hysteria in the UK on trans children’s healthcare when the NHS is telling parents and media that it is prescribing drugs it does not have confidence in. The way in which UK GIDS communicates about puberty blockers is an indication of the systemic transphobia in UK GIDS – it causes real harm and negative health outcomes for trans children and families.

Access to gender affirming hormones on an individualised basis (not possible in UK GIDS)

“Gender affirming hormone treatment. In New Zealand young people aged 16 years and older are considered to be able to consent to medical care (Care of Children Act 2004), however it is increasingly recognised that there may be compelling reasons to initiate hormones prior to the age of 16 years for some individuals, although there is as yet little published evidence to support this. Consideration should be given to the individual circumstances including family support, length of time on blockers, concerns around final height, risks of delaying hormones and most importantly the ability to consent”.

Having mental health concerns is not a barrier to affirming care (It is in UK GIDS – being out of education (eg due to schools being able to tackle transphobic bullying, being depressed etc is a barrier to accessing HRT in UK GIDS)

“The WPATH standards emphasise that the having medical or mental health concerns does not mean gender affirming care cannot be commenced, rather that these need to be responded to alongside gender affirming care.  According to the standards, this readiness can be assessed by a prescribing provider or mental health professional who is experienced and competent at working with trans people.”

*Who gets to decide the definition of ‘competent at working with trans people? Would anyone in UK GIDS pass? I have heard of maybe three clinicians out of 60+ who people have regularly positive feedback on.

Clear, reassuring, easy to understand communication on the effects of masculinising hormones or feminising (GIDS does not provide it so clearly for public understanding)

table 5b

table 6a (2)

Fertility

I’ve not much considered the sections on fertility in this blog as a bit off my main focus. But two bits stood out. There is an Annex B on fertility information. I wasn’t clear whether this leaflet is accurate for those who have had blockers at Tanner stage 2 and never progressed beyond Tanner 2 of the puberty associated with their assigned gender?

Consent for form blocking testosterone is very clear, confident and reassuring, and also includes information on the harms of NOT blocking testosterone

“Annex C: A consent form for blocking ‘male’ hormones”.

Includes clear language on common side effects

“• Hot flushes • Mood swings – mostly in the first few weeks of starting • Possible fatigue. Most side effects should settle within a few days to weeks of starting the medications. Allergic reactions can happen but are rare. Please tell your health team if you have any problems. Potential risks of blockers • Increased height (unlikely if already through puberty) • Decrease future bone density”

Also includes:

Risks of withholding blockers: Withholding the use of blockers may cause additional distress leading to anxiety and depression. Not using blockers can also lead to irreversible unwanted physical changes”.

Interesting mention of need for contraception whilst on blocker, is this included in UK guidance?

Consent for form blocking oestrogen is very clear, confident and reassuring, and also includes information on the harms of NOT blocking oestrogen

“Annex D; A consent form for blocking ‘female’ hormone”.

“Blockers are a reversible medication used to stop the physical changes of puberty. It can be started in early puberty (Tanner stage 2–3). If started then blockers will usually stop significant breast development and further pubertal changes such as starting periods and widening of the hips. Blockers can also be started later in puberty where it may cause breast tissue to soften but not usually to reduce significantly in size. Blockers will stop periods but may take up to 3–6 months to do so

Starting a blocker often improves psychological distress associated with having the unwanted female hormone and allows time to think about whether starting testosterone is right for you.

Common side effects

  • Hot flushes • Mood swings – mostly in the first few weeks of starting • Possible fatigue. Most side effects should settle within a few days to weeks of starting the medications. Allergic reactions can happen but are rare. Please tell your health team if you have any problems. Potential risks of blockers • Increased height (unlikely if already through puberty) • Decrease future bone density”.

Also mentions:

Risks of withholding blockers: Withholding the use of blockers may cause additional distress leading to anxiety and depression. Not using blockers can also lead to irreversible unwanted physical changes”.