Monday, 4 January 2016

Gender dysphoria in children and Kenneth Zucker

Heya everybody,

To start off the new year with some good news, here is a link to Brynn Tannehill’s article The End of the Desistance Myth in the Huffington Post.

In her usual concise and hard-hitting style, she addresses two topics, which are separate, but linked together.

The first one is the question of persistance versus desistance when it comes to gender-queer children, i. e. the question of whether a gender-non-conforming child will grow up to be transsexual, or become content living in the gender role assigned at birth.
This is a vital question, of course – if it was known for sure that gender-queer children turn out to be transsexual later in life, therapy and transition could start as soon as possible, minimising the upset to the life of the child and increasing the quality of life.

However, one should err on the side of caution when it comes to irreversible procedures, and that’s why transsexual children are typically not medically treated. Only in adolescence, transsexual teenagers receive puberty blockers (with reversible effects) and later on, if the diagnosis persists, permanent treatment in terms of hormone therapy and surgery.

Unfortunately, the longer treatment is delayed, the less effective it becomes, and the waiting time robs people of living vital years in harmony with their body and gender role. In addition, transition later in life typically causes more distress. Early treatment has the potential to cure transsexualism, i.e. to allow people to live a normal life not negatively affected their by gender dysphoria.

Transphobes are still trying to deny treatment to transsexuals outright, or to at least delay it as much as possible. To cover their real motivations, they had a number of studies to point to which show that a large number of gender-queer children will not turn out to be transsexual later in life (the desistors). Studies do show that a large share of gender-queer children becomes homosexual, with only a minority suffering from gender dysphoria in adolescence and adulthood. So, does this mean that gender is fluid at a young age and that gender identity felt by children is not a reliable marker for gender identity later in life?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. As is usually the problem with transgender studies, definitions of what transgender or genderqueer means are varied, and that affects the decisions on who to include in a study. When looking more closely, either by using a more stringent definition of transsexual or by arranging study subjects on a continous spectrum from cisgender to transgender, the picture changes. The "more" transsexual a child is, or the more strongly gender identity is expressed, the more likely is the gender dysphoria to persist.

Transsexual children actually know who they are, and they feel their gender identity in the same way cisgender children do.

Of course, one should err on the side of caution – and we do have to weigh the potential negative impact of treatment on desistors versus the positive impact of treatment of persistent transsexuals. However, the chance that a child who strongly identifies with the other gender will remain transsexual is very high, and this knowledge should be taken into account when considering what’s best for an individual.

The second topic Brynn Tannehill is covering is the firing of the controversial psychologist Kenneth J. Zucker and the closing of his infamous clinic in Toronto. Kenneth Zucker was one of the last public figures promoting “reparative” therapy for gender-queer children, meaning he tried to enforce gender conformity and “convert” his patients to become cisgender and heterosexual.

I think Kenneth Zucker is of retirement age, so his life presumably will not be hugely negatively affected by this development. I hope the same is true for the impact of his treatments on his former patients!

It would be great if an attempt was made in the future to statistically evaluate the success of his treatments, to at least derive something good from this situation.

Let’s hope the year continues with positive news!