Kids who feel their true gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were given at birth are sometimes given the chance to adopt the lifestyle and characteristics of the opposite gender, in a process known as “social transitioning.”
It involves no treatments or surgery, yet some people question whether kids who socially transition at a very young age might end up regretting the decision, raising the risk for a traumatic re-transition. But new research finds that’s rarely the case: Among children under age 12, investigators found that more than nine in 10 stuck with their initial transition decision as much as five years out. And the few who re-transitioned back did not typically find the process traumatic.
What is social transitioning?
“Social transitioning refers to a change in pronouns, first name, hairstyles and clothing,” explains study author Kristina Olson, a psychology professor at Princeton University, in New Jersey. It’s “the ‘social’ part of gender.”
Such transitions may be the first step families take in tackling the distress often experienced by children who feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their assigned gender.
There are two different types of transition, or ways to affirm your gender: social transition and medical transition, according to Planned Parenthood:
Social transitioning may include:
- coming out to your friends and family as transgender
- asking people to use pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them) that match your gender identity
- going by a different name
- dressing/grooming in ways that match your gender identity
Social transitions are distinct from medical transitions “that can involve the use of gender-affirming hormones or surgeries,” Olson explains.
Olson says only one other small study — involving just four children — had explored long-term re-transition risk. That study found none of the kids had returned to their birth-assigned gender.
But to dig deeper, Olson and her team focused on more than 300 children who had undergone a social transition.
About two-thirds were transgender boys, meaning boys who had been assigned a female gender at birth; about one-third were transgender girls.
All were enrolled in the TransYouth Project between 2013 and 2017. The project tracked transition experiences over a five-year period, with children being between the ages of