No, trans teens are not detransitioning later in life
By Sassafras Lowrey
In recent months, the transgender community- and in particular transgender youth- have been under attack in states across the country with bills moving through state legislatures. These bills restrict what can be discussed in schools, force teachers to out transgender students to their parents, and in some cases limit or deny transgender youth access to gender affirming healthcare. These bills can even remove transgender youth from their parents if they are allowed to access gender-affirming care. These bills claim to be about “protecting children’’ but are causing real harm to LGBTQ+ youth, especially nonbinary and transgender young people.
Healthcare is a human right
Despite the messages being shouted from some mainstream news networks, in reality, most respected medical experts agree that providing trans youth with gender-affirming care is the right thing to do. Not only does accessing gender-affirming care improve the quality of life for trans youth, but denying affirming care is harmful. Many healthcare organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that transgender youth experience health disparities and fully support providing youth with gender-affirming care.
Most of us who have been nonbinary or transgender youth ourselves, and/or have worked with and known transgender and nonbinary youth know that when youth have access to affirming care, their quality of life and mental health improves. Studies have shown that nonbinary and transgender youth have a 60% lower chance of moderate to severe depression. In addition, when youth had access to gender-affirming healthcare, they had 73% lower odds of experiencing thoughts of suicide. Denying nonbinary and transgender youth of affirming care is cruel and inhumane.
But what If Youth Change Their Mind:
Some of the hesitation around providing transgender youth with affirming care is the idea that youth will change their minds. The idea of “detransition” or transgender people, especially youth changing their mind about their gender identity has become a bit of a boogeyman when it comes to any conversations about transgender people and having regret about any physical transition steps they may have taken. An academic article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics academic journal Pediatrics in 2022 looked at a 5-year study of transgender youth. The research found that the anti-trans advocacy’s hate-fueled idea that youth who are provided with gender-affirming care will be distressed, and “detransition.” This new study showed that after five years only 2.5% identified as cisgender, 94% identified as trans and 3.5% identified as nonbinary. The study also showed that youth who identified as cisgender after five years were likely to have socially transitioned before age six, not pre-teens and teens.
Not Erasing Gender Fluidity:
In response to the violent anti-transgender rhetoric and legislation, it can be easy to fall into a very binary narrative of who transgender people are that can erase the experiences of nonbinary and genderqueer teens and adults. As we advocate for everyone to have access to life-saving gender-affirming care it’s important to remember that gender is a spectrum and not every trans person will have a binary gender and linear journey. It’s ok to experiment with gender, and that includes working with your healthcare provider to access hormones, even if you don’t remain on hormones forever. On a personal level, when I was eighteen years old, I sought out gender-affirming healthcare and started taking testosterone. I would ultimately take testosterone for two years before deciding it wasn’t something I wanted to keep utilizing as part of my genderqueer identity. I knew when I started hormones that some of the changes would be permanent, and I have never once over the last nearly twenty years regretted taking testosterone even when I eventually decided it wasn’t something I wanted to continue. Over the years I’ve known many other nonbinary/genderqueer/transgender people who have made similar decisions to try hormones some permanently some for a short period of time without regrets. The “detransition” fearmongering is coming from transphobic politicians shouldn’t lead us to stop talking about the fluidity of gender. As we culturally face and push back on what feels like a tidal wave of anti-trans hate and legislation as a community, may we continue to celebrate and make a welcoming space for people of all gender identities including those whose identities may be outside the binary.
The Real Harm:
Although conservative politicians are loudly arguing that providing healthcare to transgender youth is somehow causing harm. However, the real harm is these laws and the impact that they are having on the mental health of youth. The Trevor Project conducted a poll of LGBTQ+ youth aged 13–24 and found that 2/3 of the youth polled state laws targeting transgender people, and the associated debates have negatively impacted their mental health. For transgender and nonbinary youth, 85% report that news of these laws has a negative impact on their mental health. These laws are not about protecting children- they are about trying to erase and cause harm to nonbinary and transgender people. Transgender and nonbinary youth are always the experts on their own experiences and identities. It is our job and responsibility to listen to what transgender youth are saying and let them make the decisions about when they come out, who they come out to, how they access public spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and of course how and when they access gender-affirming healthcare.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. You can find more of Sassafaras’ written works, including an edited collection exploring LGBTQ+ youth homelessness entitled Kicked Out, at www.SassafrasLowrey.com.