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Do We Risk Re-transition When We Allow Young Children to Undergo Social Transition?

July 13, 2022

The transition for those who identify as transgender is generally gradual. For most, there is first a social transition (which generally involves changing one’s pronouns, first name, hairstyle, and/or clothing), and the desire to undergo social transition can occur as early as grade-school age or earlier.

There is often concern that the child may change their mind about being transgender at an earlier age, and that they may need to “retransition,” which could be difficult and distressing. But how often does this happen?

Professor Kristina Olson and colleagues at Princeton University, University of Washington, and University of Victoria, looked at this very question and have published their results in an article, entitled “Gender Identity 5 Years After Social Transition,” which is being early released by Pediatrics this week (10.1542/peds.2021-056082).

They followed 317 children who had socially transitioned for 5 years after their transition. Children were 3-12 years old when they entered the study, with a mean age of 8 years, and 12% had started puberty-blocking medications before beginning the study.

At 5 years, 94% of the children continued to identify as transgender, and 3.5% were living as nonbinary (identifying as neither male nor female).

Did age of social transition make a difference? The authors found that 5.6% of those who socially transitioned before the age of 6 years had retransitioned, compared with 0.5% of those who socially transitioned at age 6 years or later.

In an invited commentary, Dr. Christina Marie Roberts at Children’s Mercy Kansas City notes that the results from Professor Olson’s paper should reassure parents and health care providers who may be concerned about retransition (10.1542/peds.2022-057693). The results also help to negate claims used to justify laws that prohibit gender-affirming treatment for youth.

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