Nearly All Transgender Children Who Socially Transition Stay with That Gender, Study Finds

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The vast majority of transgender children who socially transition between the ages of 3 and 12 years old will remain that gender, a new study found.

Socially transitioning is often the first step for transgender people, and means that they have adopted a name, pronouns and a general appearance that matches their gender identity.

And in a study of more than 300 transgender kids who socially transitioned between the ages of 3 to 12 years old, researchers found that just 7.3% chose to retransition — meaning they returned to identifying with the sex they were assigned at birth or to a different gender identity — in the next five years.

And of those who retransitioned, the majority — 3.5% — did not return to their assigned sex, instead identifying as nonbinary. Most kids — 92.7% — were consistent in their social transition.

"These results suggest that retransitions are infrequent," the researchers, from Princeton University, the University of Washington and Canada's University of Victoria, wrote. "More commonly, transgender youth who socially transitioned at early ages continued to identify that way."

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The researchers, led by Kristina Olson, a professor of psychology at Princeton, corresponded with 317 transgender youth over several years to better understand the effects of socially transitioning, amid concerns that "these youth may later change their gender identification, a process that could be distressing."

"There's a lot of discussion about early childhood social transitioning, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing," Olson told CNN. "Despite there being a lot of talk about it, there is surprisingly little data."

Their research showed, though, that very few children retransition.

"Only a small number will socially transition to another gender. Only a small number of that small number will change their minds — and most who retransition will do so before they have made any permanent changes," Aaron Devor, professor of sociology and chair in transgender studies at the University of Victoria in Canada and a co-author of the study, told CNN.

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The researchers focused their study on children who socially transitioned, and not those who began physical transitions using medications like hormones and puberty blockers. Those medications — which are only temporary and are sometimes used in older kids to delay unwanted physical changes that do not match their gender identity — have been the target of anti-trans legislation in states like Texas, Arkansas and Alabama, which have restricted access for trans kids.

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Major medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have said that gender-affirming medical care is a medically-necessary service for transgender kids. And multiple studies have shown that allowing access to puberty blockers improved the mental health of trans kids and lowered their risk of suicide.

Olson, Devor and their fellow researchers plan to do further studies on transitioning, and found that having a supportive family make a major difference in kids going through this period.

"The children in this study had parental support for social transition at a young age. Not all Trans+ children are so lucky," Devor said.

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