Transgeneration: Transgender Toddlers to Teens

transgender kids

The rise of transgender issues in America has been a hot topic throughout the past election cycle and in to our current political climate. It is an issue that people are very passionate about and the discussion is penetrating the mainstream more and more.  One of the most controversial and difficult topics to approach in the sphere of transgender issues is how to handle transgender children.  As a journalist, I say in full transparency that I am myself; a member of the LGBTQ community but my outlook may surprise you.

Overall, I find myself conflicted because children muddy a topic that is already complex. Most Americans fall in to one of two camps, the view that there are only two genders stemming from your assigned sex at birth and the other side that believes that gender is socially constructed and there are no elements of gender that are innately inside a person and attached to their biological sex.  The left has constructed such a complex gender schism that most mainstream people who identify with the sex/gender they were born at birth known as “cisgender,” are unable or unwilling to accommodate or understand all of the choices and pronouns. The more complex things become the more difficult integration has become for those in the transgender community. While absolutely self-identification of gender, choosing your own pro-nouns is and should be your right as a free person, however forcing or expecting those outside the community to understand or accommodate them is not. You may view it as immoral, rude or reprehensible but ultimately it isn’t a personal right to have your pro-nouns, or identity validated. Respect isn’t a right unfortunately, even though it should be given in a civilized society.

In order to discuss transgender children further, its important to know the root cause of the issue which is ‘gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria is a form of distress that people who feel their gender does not match their assigned sex at birth experience. This distress most often manifests itself in hate or dislike of physical body characteristics and having to act out the traditional gender roles associated with the male or female sex. It is this dysphoria that leads transgender people to ultimately make the choice to change their biological sex to the degree medically possible in order to live their lives in a way where they feel most comfortable and healthy.

Recently in an article for “The Daily Signal,” Doctor Michelle Cretella who is the President of The American College of Pediatricians recently released an article discussing the large increase in referrals of cases of transgender children and the vast array of issues unique to treating kids with gender dysphoria. It is these unique risks that lead me to believe children should not be allowed to transition except under highly unusual circumstances. In 2014 for example there were 24 gender clinics that dealt with children, now in 2017 there are approximately 215 pediatric programs training doctors in the same criteria to operate in or open additional gender clinics that can handle gender dysphoria in children. That’s a 796% increase in pediatric specific gender dsyphoria programs in just three years. The question is, has societies greater acceptance of gender non-conforming, or transgender individuals lead to simply more kids who would have always been transgender actively and openly seeking help or are parents quick to jump to the conclusion a child is transgender at a young age now unlike before?

The Williams Institute at the University of California, School of Law  recently released statistics stating that they project the population of transgender teens to be approximately, 7% of the United States Population based on self identification surveys from schools in 2014, 2015. The high estimate of transgender adults in America is currently widely accepted at a rate of about 3%. Why then, do we see 4% more teenagers identifying as trans than the entire adult trans population? Does this indicate that more children are coming up transgender due to acceptance or is this 4% differential suggesting that between the teen and adult years 4% of gender dsyphoric teens grow out of, or change their mind about being transgender? This is important to consider because the risk factors of allowing children under 18 to transition means that 4% who ultimately discover they are not transgender may live the rest of their lives with the consequence of pursing transition at a young age.

One of the first issues with allowing children to transition is their mental and emotional development, children as young as 3 are now being encouraged to pursue the early stages of transitioning and if parents and doctors reaffirm this diagnosis by the age of 11 or 12, the average rate of puberty in children, they often begin to take puberty blockers. Puberty blockers are medications that stop the onset of puberty in transgender children so they do not develop as normal gaining breasts, voice changes and other markers of sex specific physical changes. This allows trans teens to decide whether they feel they are trans or not. Puberty blockers are a net benefit in some ways because it allows the child to grow feeling more comfortable without being irreversible. Should a child decide they no longer wish to pursue their transition puberty blockers can cease and they will continue on through puberty as normal.

Following puberty blockers transgender children may continue to the next step of the transition process which is hormones, specifically hormone therapy consisting of the hormones of the desired, opposite sex, either estrogen or testosterone. This is where a series of irreversible steps begins to take place. Once a child begins hormone therapy typically at the age of around 16, they will become in the majority of cases, permanently sterilized. Children are not mature enough and their brains are not fully developed nor are they able to make a decision at such a young age without comprehending their future desire to have their own biological children. Some doctors are even recommending and prescribing hormones as early as 13 or 14.  Think back to when you were 13 or 14 and consider whether you feel you would have been mature enough to make the decision to never be able to have biological children as an adult. I suspect most of us would feel we would not have been mature enough to make that decision.  This is why I submit children should not be allowed to go on hormones until they are adults.

I fully understand and sympathize that there are many people who genuinely are transgender and struggle with it on a daily basis and that includes children. In my own experience in the LGBTQ community, I know many transgender friends and acquaintance’s felt they were trans already from a young age and have transitioned as an adult and gone on to have happy and healthy lives. The problem is it’s a gamble, we don’t know which children will grow to truly be trans and which children may decide that is not their path. While, certainly I think we can look at things on a case-by-case basis, whether successful or choosing not to ultimately transition the ability to have kids is lost. Can we take the risk that those who do not transition are sterilized via a blanket policy in order to help those who do transition as a child? Hormones will also cause other irreversible changes in the transition to the other gender that can be irreversible as well, such as breast growth, or changes in sex organs.

Finally, the largest factor to consider is the physical and final transition of the physical body to match the gender the child identifies with. While some physician’s advocate for children to began their physical transition as early as 16 we know that this is a huge risk based on data available to us about the amount of people who ultimately decide not to transition. If you are under 18 and not allowed to get a tattoo, smoke, or drink alcohol because we don’t feel as a society that teenagers and children have the mental reasoning capacity to make those types of decisions why would we allow a child to make a decision to permanently remove or alter their sex organs, to remove their breasts, shave an Adams apple etc. What happens if they grow up and decide they shouldn’t have transitioned or they aren’t transgender?

Speaking to this, this week the U.K.’s Mirror released an article about how Britain’s youngest transgender patient to have surgery, Ria Cooper is transitioning for the third time. At the age of 15 Ria was allowed to fully transition from male to female via surgery and ultimately reverted back at the age of 18 to being male and has now decided to again and finally become a woman once again. Imagine if Ria had waited until 18 or older and hadn’t ended up making three transitions because she hadn’t found herself yet? This is a prime example of what happens if children are allowed to make life-altering decisions when they are unable to totally comprehend the weight of it and their own feelings around the topic. I believe in the best interest of our children we should not allow them to transition under the age of 18 unless under very extreme cases as considered on a case by case basis after excessive consultation.

Our children have the right to the life they want to live. They have the right to be free, happy and healthy but we must protect them from making decisions that could impact them potentially negatively in the future at such a young age just as we do with all other major decisions where children are concerned. We want the best for all kids but we must also not be too quick to jump in the deep end either or risk or kids drowning.