Methodological Questions in Childhood Gender Identity ‘Desistence’ Research
February 25, 2014 1 Comment
Kelley Winters, Ph.D.
GID Reform Advocates
An expanded presentation to the 23rd World Professional Association for Transgender Health Biennial Symposium, Feb. 16, 2014, Bangkok, Thailand. (Presented remotely, from Loveland, Colorado, USA)
It is frequently repeated in mental health literature and popular media that the vast majority of children whose gender identity differs from their assigned birth-sex, or who are severly distressed by their birth-sex, will “desist” in their gender identities and gender dysphoria by adolescence. As a consequence, gender dysphoric children are pressed to remain in their birth-assigned roles throughout the world. But are gender dysphoria and diverse gender identities just a phase?
This presentation reexamines research in Canada and The Netherlands that underlies the “desistence” axiom, with respect to methodological rigor and validity of claims.
(1) Evidence from these studies suggests that the majority of gender nonconforming children are not gender dysphoric adolescents or adults.
(2) It does not support the stereotype that most children who are actually gender dysphoric will “desist” in their gender identities before adolescence.
(3) These studies do acknowledge that intense anatomic dysphoria in childhood may be associated with persistent gender dysphoria and persistent gender identity through adolescence.
(4) Speculation that allowing childhood social transition traps cisgender youth in roles that are incongruent with their identities is not supported by evidence.
(5) These studies fail to examine the diagnostic value of Real Life Experience in congruent gender roles for gender dysphoric children.
American Psychiatric Association (2014). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
Byne, W., Bradley, S.J., Coleman, E., Eyler, A.E., Green, R., Menvielle, E.J., Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L., Pleak, R.R. & Tompkins, D.A. (2012). Report of the American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(4):759-796.
Drescher, J. (2013) “Sunday Dialogue: Our Notions of Gender,” New York Times, June 29, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-our-notions-of-gender.html
Drummond, Kelley D.; Bradley, Susan J.; Peterson-Badali, Michele; Zucker, Kenneth J. (2008), “A follow-up study of girls with gender identity disorder,” Developmental Psychology. Vol 44(1), Jan 2008, 34-45.
Kennedy, N. (2012) “Transgender children: more than a theoretical challenge,” Goldsmiths College, University of London, http://academia.edu/2760086/
Reed, B., Rhodes, S., Schofield, P., Wylie, K., (2009) “Gender variance in the UK. Prevalence, incidence, growth and geographic distribution,” GIRES – the Gender Identity Research and Education Society, http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/GenderVarianceUK-report.pdf
Steensma, T.D., Biemond, R., de Boer, F. & Cohen-Kettenis, P.T. (2011). Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study. Clinical Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 16(4):499-516.
Wallien, M.S.C. & Cohen-Kettenis, P.T. (2008). Psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children. J American Academy Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 47:1413-1423.
Winters, K. (2013) Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition, GID Reform Weblog, July 5, http://gidreform.wordpress.com/category/childhood-social-transition/
World Professional Association for Transgender Health (2011), Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People: Author. http://www.wpath.org