This Is What Happens To Transgender Kids Who Delay Puberty

Transgender student Nicole Maines sued when her school wouldn’t let her use the girls’ bathroom; the Maine Supreme Court ruled in her favor earlier this year. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROBERT F. BUKATY

As transgender visibility and acceptance has increased, young people have been identifying themselves by a different gender than they were assigned at birth sometimes as young as their pre-school years. Some of those young people have been using a hormone treatment to delay the onset of puberty, giving them a unique opportunity to mature before committing to a gender transition, and a new study finds that the results of such treatments are very positive.

Dutch scientists closely monitored 55 young adults who had been previously diagnosed with “gender dysphoria,” which meant that they identified as transgender and were experiencing mental health consequences as a result, such as anxiety, emotional distress, and body image concerns. At an average age of about 14, they each used hormones to block puberty and prevent the development of sex characteristics. The study found that this gave them “the opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults.”

Lead Author Dr. Annelou de Vries explained to CBS News that puberty suppression is a “fully reversible medical intervention” and the extra time allows the young people to work out their struggles related to gender dysphoria before taking permanent steps toward a transition. As a result, they “have the lifelong advantage of a body that matches their gender identities without the irreversible body changes of a low voice or beard growth or breasts, for example.”

The participants in the study underwent transition-related surgeries on average around the age of 21. At that time, they were no longer experiencing mental health consequences related to gender dysphoria, their quality of life and happiness levels were on par with their non-transgender peers, and none expressed any regret about delaying puberty or transitioning.

Though further studies must be done to confirm the results, the study provides promising reinforcement for transgender young people who are considering puberty suppression. It also counters detractors who have attacked families for allowing their children to undergo such treatments.

Back in 2011, CNN profiled a same-sex couple in California who were allowing their transgender daughter Tammy to undergo puberty suppression. The family was attacked by conservative groups like the Ruth Institute, who accused them of “human experimentation,” and Fox News’ Dr. Keith Ablow, who diagnosed Tammy’s parents as needing “psychological evaluations” for subjecting their child to such treatments. Last year, the Washington Post profiled a similar youth named Tyler, prompting the Liberty Counsel to accuse his parents of “nothing short of child abuse.”

Transgender young people may experience confusion related to their gender identity, but their mental health complications are also directly impacted by anti-transgender stigma, which has escalated in recent years as a backlash to supportive families and inclusive schools.