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Sunday, June 18, 2023

Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth Is Neither New nor Experimental: A Timeline and Compilation of Studies

Julia Serano
Originally posted 16 May 23

Trans and gender-diverse people are a pancultural and transhistorical phenomenon. It is widely understood that we, like LGBTQ+ people more generally, arise due to natural variation rather than the result of pathology, modernity, or the latest conspiracy theory.

Gender-affirming healthcare has a long history. The first trans-related surgeries were carried out in the 1910s–1930s (Meyerowitz, 2002, pp. 16–21). While some doctors were supportive early on, most were wary. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, these skeptical doctors subjected trans people to all sorts of alternate treatments — from perpetual psychoanalysis, to aversion and electroshock therapies, to administering assigned-sex-consistent hormones (e.g., testosterone for trans female/feminine people), and so on — but none of them worked. The only treatment that reliably allowed trans people to live happy and healthy lives was allowing them to transition. While doctors were initially worried that many would eventually come to regret that decision, study after study has shown that gender-affirming care has a far lower regret rate (typically around 1 or 2 percent) than virtually any other medical procedure. Given all this, plus the fact that there is no test for being trans (medical, psychological, or otherwise), around the turn of the century, doctors began moving away from strict gatekeeping and toward an informed consent model for trans adults to attain gender-affirming care.

Trans children have always existed — indeed most trans adults can tell you about their trans childhoods. During the twentieth century, while some trans kids did socially transition (Gill-Peterson, 2018), most had their gender identities disaffirmed, either by parents who disbelieved them or by doctors who subjected them to “gender reparative” or “conversion” therapies. The rationale behind the latter was a belief at that time that gender identity was flexible and subject to change during early childhood, but we now know that this is not true (see e.g., Diamond & Sigmundson, 1997; Reiner & Gearhart, 2004). Over the years, it became clear that these conversion efforts were not only ineffective, but they caused real harm — this is why most health professional organizations oppose them today.

Given the harm caused by gender-disaffirming approaches, around the turn of the century, doctors and gender clinics began moving toward what has come to be known as the gender affirmative model — here’s how I briefly described this approach in my 2016 essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates:

Rather than being shamed by their families and coerced into gender conformity, these children are given the space to explore their genders. If they consistently, persistently, and insistently identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, then their identity is respected, and they are given the opportunity to live as a member of that gender. If they remain happy in their identified gender, then they may later be placed on puberty blockers to stave off unwanted bodily changes until they are old enough (often at age sixteen) to make an informed decision about whether or not to hormonally transition. If they change their minds at any point along the way, then they are free to make the appropriate life changes and/or seek out other identities.