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New Research on Gender Non-Conforming and Transgender Children’s Health

Posted on February 22, 2012

Image by ParaDox, used with Creative Commons license.

Two new studies published online this month in Pediatrics focus on health issues for gender nonconforming children. A study from Harvard School of Public Health found that gender noncomformity before the age of 11 is associated with childhood sexual, physical, and psychological abuse and a higher lifetime risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers examined data from nearly 9000 young adults enrolled in the the Growing Up Today study since 1996. Although the study did not ask about gender identity, they ranked children in the top 10th percentile for gender nonconformity as gender nonconforming. Children who were gender noncoforming during childhood had nearly twice as high rates of PTSD than those who were not. Interestingly, around 85% of children who were gender nonconforming during childhood were heterosexual in adulthood, further establishing the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

A second study from authors at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School explores treatment options for transgender-identifying children, based on data from 97 patients diagnosed with gender identity disorder. Children’s Hospital Boston has the first multidisciplinary gender-identity clinic in North America. The authors treated these children with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a reversible mechanism for suppressing puberty in children. The use of GnRH allows patients and their families time to decide whether irreversible hormone therapy to allow the patient to develop the adult characteristics of another sex is appropriate. The authors highlight the importance of educating pediatricians about gender identity disorder, so that pediatricians might provide referrals to gender-variant children and their families.

According to the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), around nine in ten transgender high school students report verbal harassment and half report physical harassment or assault for their sexual orientation gender expression. GLSEN provides materials on teaching respect in the classroom and supporting LGBT students for teachers from elementary through high school. Transgender-identifying children are at a higher risk of depression, attempted suicide and self-injury than cisgender children. The authors of the study on treatment options note that many of their patients’ psychiatric symptoms improved after receiving treatment that allowed them to appear their desired gender.

Read a press release from Harvard on their study.

Read a Cleveland.com article on the rise in children receiving sex-changing hormones.

Page last modified: March 24, 2014