Trans Youths Who Socially Transition Are Unlikely to ‘Detransition’ Later, Study Finds

An overwhelming majority of youths who socially transitioned still identified as transgender five years later, according to the study.

Transgender children are unlikely to “detransition,” or come to identify with their birth sex, five years after their social transition, a new study found.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, come from a larger project called the Trans Youth Project. Researchers at Princeton University began in 2013 to track 317 kids between ages 3 and 12 who socially transitioned — the first and largest sample of its kind, according to Kristina Olsen, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychology at Princeton. 

The results showed that five years after their initial social transition, 94 percent of the study participants were living as either trans girls or trans boys. The remaining youth had “retransitioned,” as the study called it, and no longer identified as binary transgender. Of that group, 2.5 percent came to identify with their birth sex. 

The findings come as Republican lawmakers in more than two dozen states have tried, over the last two years, to restrict access to gender-affirming care for transgender minors. 

Social transitions can include wearing different clothing and using a different name and pronouns, but the study defined a complete social transition as changing one’s pronouns “to the binary gender pronouns that differed from those used at their births.”

Olsen said the study’s long-term scope has enabled researchers to see how gender identity language has evolved.

“When we started, we had no families contacting us who had kids who use they/them pronouns, and almost no one was using the term nonbinary amongst the community of families we were working with,” she said. “This is one of the interesting things about a prospective study, of tracking a cohort over time — not only are they developing and getting older and having a sense of maybe changes or not of their identity, but also culture is changing. Our words are changing, our understanding of gender is changing.”

The study’s findings are relevant to recent legislative efforts to limit gender-affirming care for minors, which includes puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries. The number of proposed bills that aim to restrict such care for transgender youth has grown from one in 2018 to 36 this year, according to an analysis by NBC News. 

Three states — Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama — have passed laws restricting or banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. Alabama last month became the first state to make it a felony for doctors to provide such care.

In guidance issued last month, Florida’s surgeon general recommended against medical transition for minors due to “the potential for long-term, irreversible effects” and condemned social transition for children. 

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