Trans kids massively benefit from being allowed to socially transition

A new study shows allowing trans kids to transition virtually eliminates higher rates of depression and low self-worth.

Jenn Brewer, 13, is one trans kid benefiting from a Pentagon policy introduced last year to provide health insurance coverage for the trans kids of military personnel. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Jenn Brewer, 13, is one trans kid benefiting from a Pentagon policy introduced last year to provide health insurance coverage for the trans kids of military personnel. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has good news for trans kids who just want to be themselves.

With young children increasingly expressing a gender identity that does not match their sex assigned at birth, both parents and doctors have had questions about whether to affirm such a gender identity. Before puberty, transition requires no medical interventions, but generally involves changes to appearance, name, and pronouns.

Previous studies about gender nonconforming kids who were not allowed to transition found they experienced high levels of depression anxiety. The new study shows, in “striking contrast,” that allowing this social transition can be greatly beneficial to these young people’s mental health.

When it came to self-reported depressive symptoms or anxiety, researchers found there was no difference between transgender kids who were allowed to transition and their peers and siblings — nor did they differ from national averages. Likewise, transgender children scored just as developmentally normal as their peers on measures of self-worth.

The study also debunked a myth that parents of trans kids may underreport how their children might be struggling. In this case, they actually reported having higher levels of anxiety about their children than the children actually reported for themselves.

Jack Turban, of the Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut wrote in a response to the study that when children are not allowed to transition, it can damage their relationships with their parents and therapists, “because these children feel judged for being transgender.” That perceived inner conflict and sense of stigma “can be dangerous and may lead to the high rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicidality that we see in these children.”

Lead researcher Lily Durwood, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, Seattle, cautioned that there is still a lot more research necessary before definitive conclusions can be drawn about young people transitioning. Nevertheless, she said that “the take-home message of this study is that it is possible for a child to socially transition before puberty and have normative mental health.”

The results jibe with a variety of other studies that have found that:

  • When kids are allowed to transition, including the use of puberty blockers, it improves their mental health.
  • When parents affirm their kids’ gender identities, they have normative rates of depression and anxiety.
  • When families reject their kids’ gender identities, it increases the likelihood of their suicidality and substance abuse.
  • Transgender kids identify as completely with their gender identity as their cisgender peers.

The Trump administration has already indicated that it is backing away from providing support and legal protection for transgender students at schools.