NEWS

6 Science-Backed Reasons Why Trans Youth Need Gender-Affirming Care

A young transgender person without a shirt sitting in a dark room by a window.

Shane/Unsplash

Oklahoma is the latest state to push forward anti-transgender legislation, this time by preventing transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

As of March 2022, at least 137 anti-transgender bills were moving through legislatures across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign, More have been introduced since then.

However, the science does not support what many of the legislators behind the anti-trans bills are claiming. In fact, research has shown that transgender youth benefit from receiving gender-affirming care in both medical and social applications.

Anjali Ferguson, PhD

Research says that gender-diverse kiddos know their gender identity just as well as gender non-diverse/gender-conforming kiddos.

— Anjali Ferguson, PhD

Ley David Elliette Cray, PhD, the director of LGBTQIA+ Programming at Charlie Health, told Verywell that gender-affirming care is “care that follows the current medical standards to recognize that the vast majority of struggles for LGBTQ+ persons are either caused or exacerbated by minority stress influenced by social-political factors.”

Here’s how experts say gender-affirming care benefits trans youth.

Combats Minority Stress 

According to Cray, "minority stress is itself a product of social-political factors—invalidation from family or other mentors, school systems, the media, and through cultural narratives that we perpetuate.”

Transgender youth have been experiencing minority stress as a result of not being able to access care in states that have passed anti-transgender legislation.

Gender-affirming care specifically combats the expectation of medical discrimination and helps transgender children see that they can get support for their gender identity.

Gives Trans Youth Agency

Anjali Ferguson, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of Parenting Culture, told Verywell about how important it is for gender non-conforming kids to feel like they have a say in who they are and how they express themselves.

Gender exploration is a normal part of development,” said Ferguson. “Kids start to learn by trying to think of an experience and explore different things. That’s how they figure out what their individual gender identity is.”

According to Ferguson, the role of adults is “making sure that we’re not placing judgment on that process for kids, allowing exploration, and not being critical if a little boy wants to try on mommy’s shoes.”

Anjali Ferguson, PhD

Gender exploration is a normal part of development.

— Anjali Ferguson, PhD

When it comes to treating transgender youth, all minors must have parental consent to receive any kind of medical care. If youth have parents that support them and want to learn about their options, it can help youth feel like they have more control over their gender expression

“For some kids, conversations about hormones, binders, and all of those things might happen earlier in development than [for] the next kiddo,” said Ferguson. That means “being fluid and open in collaborating with the family and the child through that process and talking about what transition could look like, what medical things might come up, and making sure they’re informed.”

Some parents might be worried that exposing their kids to gender-diverse content will force them to become a different gender. However, Ferguson says that’s far from the case.

“There’s no research that says exposing kids to gender diverse content makes them more likely to go any direction in terms of identity, right? There isn’t. It doesn’t. It actually makes them more empathic,” said Ferguson. “Research says that gender-diverse kiddos know their gender identity just as well as gender non-diverse/gender-conforming kiddos.”

Improves Mental Health

When any child feels supported in their lives, they are more likely to have positive mental health outcomes. For trans youth navigating threats to their wellbeing, the need for security and a support network is even greater.

“What we know is that when youth receive affirming care, it improves mental health along every measurable aspect,” said Cray.

Additionally, a research brief from The Trevor Project notes that gender non-conforming children who socially transition (and are supported in that transition) have similar levels of self-worth and depression as their gender-conforming peers.

Strengthens Social Resiliency

“Anxiety and depression are pretty high in LGBTQ youth,” said Ferguson. “Trauma symptoms sometimes depend on the traumatic stressors that they experience. There are a lot of stressors—whether it’s family rejection or bullying, cyberbullying, [and] social rejections. You can see trauma symptoms are usually pretty high.”

Anjali Ferguson, PhD

Kids start to learn by trying to think of an experience and explore different things. That’s how they figure out what their individual gender identity is.

— Anjali Ferguson, PhD

Despite the amount and types of bullying many gender non-conforming youth experience, most have an inner understanding of their own gender identity from a young age—even if they don’t have the words to explain it.  

“We think kids start to notice gender differences by the time they’re two,” said Ferguson “And they can kind of define their gender, by the time they’re three.”

According to Ferguson, kids “start to develop their gender identity by the time they’re four, five, or six—which is really early in development. And I don’t think people realize that.”

Ensures Time for Decisions About Medical Transition

Gender-affirming care for youth can include puberty blockers. The biggest benefit that comes from taking puberty blockers is that it gives transgender youth more time to figure out how they want to proceed with their transition.

Another benefit of puberty blockers is that once a patient stops taking them, they will go through the puberty of the sex they were assigned at birth. The treatment does not create lasting changes in the same way as undergoing hormone replacement therapy or receiving gender-affirming surgery.

Reduces Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts

According to a survey conducted by The Trevor Project, 54% of gender non-conforming youth seriously consider suicide each year.

Ley David Elliot Cray, PhD

When youth receive affirming care, it improves mental health along every measurable aspect.

— Ley David Elliot Cray, PhD

However, Cray said that “kids who get gender-affirming care [have] rates of suicidality drop.”

Thoughts of suicide aren’t the only psychological concerns that can occur from the chronic discrimination many transgender youths face.

“Sometimes, things like eating disorders and body dysmorphia can also go hand in hand,” said Ferguson. “Especially if they aren’t getting access to resources through transition” and other parts of the process.

How Adults Can Help

With all the anti-trans legislation and messaging that youth are confronted with daily, it’s more necessary now than ever before to remember what the science says about the importance of providing them gender-affirming care and resources.

The adults in a trans youth’s life may feel helpless to help, but being there for a young person and being an advocate for them is a good place to start.

Ferguson said that adults can help transgender youth by supporting them as they explore their gender identity and correcting other adults who may cause harm through their words and actions—intentional or not.

For a child or teen who feels like they have no one to believe in them, having just one adult in their life who sees them for who they are. who truly cares about them, and who will stand up for them can make all the difference.

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2 Sources
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  1. The Trevor Project. Gender-affirming care for youth.

  2. St Louis Children's. Puberty blockers.