Dispelling the “desistance” myth of youth gender non-conformity

The world of Montmartre 1899 is a topsy turvy Bohemian village where the wild and the wonderful are appreciated. Time to let loose. Source: https://twitter.com/secretcinema/status/835066858411868160

Those of us familiar with this debate have heard the critics use discredited research which claims an 80% (or more) rate of “desistance” in gender non-conforming (GNC) youth, sometime during puberty. The question though is what are the real numbers. As health practitioners continue to work with GNC youth I am sure that more and more studies will give us a better picture of reality. However, a recent court case in Australia has given us an advanced view of one such study ongoing at Royal Children’s Hospital. The testimony of Associate Professor Michelle Telfer MBBS (Hons.) FRACP was in support of a case brought to the court by the father of a Transgender youth (Kelvin).

From the court decision, Family Court of Australia on 30 November 2017:

“Senior counsel continued: In addition, we have evidence from Dr Telfer which has made its way into the case… the case stated records as a fact that 96 per cent of patients treated for gender dysphoria at the Royal Children’s Hospital continue to identify as transgender into late adolescence and so one sees some evidence there about persistence of gender dysphoria.”

226. We therefore answer the questions in the case stated by Watts J as follows: 
Question 1: Does the Full Court confirm its decision in Re Jamie (2013) FLC 93–547 to the effect that Stage 2 treatment of a child for the condition of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Adults in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) DSM-5 (the treatment), requires the court’s authorisation pursuant to s 67ZC of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“the Act”), unless the child was Gillick competent to give informed consent?

Answer: No.

Question 2: Where: 
2.1 Stage 2 treatment of a child for Gender Dysphoria is proposed; 
2.2. The child consents to the treatment; 
2.3. The treating medical practitioners agree that the child is Gillick competent to give that consent; and 
2.4. The parents of the child do not object to the treatment is it mandatory to apply to the Family Court for a determination whether the child is Gillick competent (Bryant CJ at [136–137, 140(e)]; Finn J at [186] and Strickland J at [196] Re Jamie)?

Answer: No

The court confirmed with this ruling that the decision to proceed, or not, with medical intervention for Gender Dysphoria rests with the parent, the medical practitioner and the patient and not the court.

Dr Telfer’s expert testimony in this case was by no means the only evidence in support of the father’s action before the court however, there is no doubt this was a significant factor in the court’s decision. While this decision only affects Australians we do have this preliminary research from a respected hospital that supports what Trans people have always suspected, that the “desistence” rate of trans youth claimed by some researchers was as high as 85%.

Now in clinical research there is always assumed to be a margin for error because errors are made and there is always assumed to be some bias on the part of those conducting the study, however, in the case of CAMH studies released, we are talking about a large gap between the findings of the RCH (4%) and the CAMH (80%). Will the RCH study be replicated elsewhere with similar results? I sure hope so because it will inform courts and law-makers to make better decisions, protect Trans-rights, and allow people to express their gender earlier in life. I look forward to a day when people start living as their real gender as soon as they want to. Thanks to Dr Telfer and the RCH we have some numbers to counter the destructive narrative of “desistance.”

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