3 and 12 when first socially transitioning.
Though Olson’s focus was on social transitioning, she notes that some of the children had embarked on a medical transition as well, though she emphasized that was only the case among the oldest kids, given that “youth are not eligible for medical transition until after the onset of puberty.”
Specifically, nearly 12% had begun taking puberty blockers during the study period. (After the study period ended, however, 190 kids ultimately began taking blockers; nearly 100 of those children also started taking gender-affirming hormones, Olson notes.)
Solely on the social transition front, Olson notes that over five years only about 7% of the children transitioned back at least once.
By the end of the study period, 94% of the kids continued to identify as the gender they had embraced when first socially transitioning. (That figure includes the just over 1% who had at one point re-transitioned back to their birth gender, before then returning back again to the gender to which they had initially transitioned.)
Of the 6% who did not stick with their initial transition, a little more than 3% described themselves as non-binary by the end of the study period, while just under 3% said they identified with their birth gender. (Identifying with one’s birth gender was notably more common among kids who had socially transitioned before the age of 6.)
Supportive environments help
“Interestingly, we are not finding that the youth who re-transitioned in our study are experiencing that as traumatic,” Olson shares. “We’ve been finding that when youth are in supportive environments — supportive in the sense of being OK with the exploration of gender — both the initial transition and a later re-transition are fine.”
Meanwhile, a couple of experts not involved in the study hailed the effort to date.
The findings are already “important,” says Dr. Jack Turban, chief fellow of child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, in Palo Alto, Calif.
“The main takeaway here is that gender identity, for binary transgender children, appears to be quite stable,” he adds.
And Turban — whose research focus is on the mental health of transgender youth — stresses that “social transition has value, regardless of the ultimate gender trajectory.”
That, he says, is because “prohibiting a social transition can send the message to a child that their identity is wrong or invalid. And this can drive shame and damaged relationships within a family.”
Indeed, “socially transitioning youth are [simply] making the same ‘decisions’ that cisgender children are making, in that they are seeking clothes, hairstyles, names, accessories, activities and playmates that reflect their gender identity and the resources in their community,” says Matt Goldenberg, a psychologist in adolescent medicine with the Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic.
And empowering children to explore their gender identity in an environment that “honors their authenticity and wisdom” is all a “healthy and normative aspect of human development,” Goldenberg adds.
For more information on the process of transitioning, visit Planned Parenthood.