Jack Turban is a research fellow at the Yale School of Medicine. BA in neurobiology from Harvard magna cum laude. MD, Yale. He is also a resident child and adolescent psychiatrist at The Massachusetts General Hospital & McLean Hospital in conjunction with Harvard Medical School. His research and writing are focused on child and adolescent psychiatry, with a concentration on pediatric gender identity.
Turban wrote at The Times: “Hannah Is a Girl. Doctors Finally Treat Her Like One.” Hannah is 14, a straight-A student and apparently from a conservative Jewish family. She seems to be a perfectly normal teen girl — with boyfriends who know that she is trans.
“I’m tired of being the only girl in my grade who looks like a little kid,” she says. [She has been taking puberty blockers]
She has a point. A review of recent studies suggests we could start cross-sex hormones as early as 14, so that transgender kids don’t suffer the stigma of starting puberty years after their classmates.
[Ten years ago] The hope was that early treatment would “diminish the risk of a continuation of gender identity disorder into adulthood” — in other words, make children stop being transgender. Transgender youth during this time suffered high rates of depression and anxiety. By young adulthood, nearly half had attempted suicide.
At this point, data on the benefits of early social transition is scarce. But this year researchers at the University of Washington published a study based on 63 transgender youth who were allowed to socially transition. They found that their levels of anxiety and depression were just about indistinguishable from their non-transgender peers.
Critics point to flawed studies that suggest that roughly 80 percent of prepubescent children ultimately change their minds about being transgender. Even if this were true, would it have been worth forcing Hannah to live as a boy, putting her at risk for depression and perhaps suicide? Though going back to a boy’s name and boys’ clothes would probably be hard, even a small risk of suicide is scarier.
Once transgender youth hit puberty, their gender identity is unlikely to change.
n a Dutch study of 55 transgender people who were given puberty blockers during adolescence, however, none changed their minds and none regretted treatment. All went onto cross-sex hormones around age 16 and later gender-affirming surgery. Psychological functioning improved steadily over the treatment period, and by the end, metrics of happiness and quality of life were on a par with those of the general population.