OPINION: It’s time to lower the age of hormone treatment for transgender teens
Being transgender is difficult in a society that always avoids being different. Although I am not transgender myself, I raised a transgender child, who has now become a young trans man. I find it remarkable that I can say this now, just three months away from his 18th birthday, because there were many times during his teenage years when I didn’t think he would live long enough to become an adult.
The burden of feeling bad about his body, being rejected by his family and friends and feeling out of place was so heavy for my son that he attempted suicide multiple times, self-harmed , abused his body and fell into depression and an anxiety that often made him hard to reach.
Friendships ended, family disappeared, and – once high academically, my son started failing subjects in school and was suspended more than once for behavioral issues.
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I wonder how things would have been different for my son had he been able to start gender-affirming treatment sooner, as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health now recommends. Puberty was the catalyst for the dysphoria he felt, as his body developed breasts and gave him painful monthly periods that made him feel so betrayed by his body.
I wonder how it would have changed my son’s teenage years if he had been able to go through male puberty at the same time as the other boys in the school.
Instead, my son went through puberty twice: once around age 11 when he got his first period, and then a second time at age 16 when he started testosterone. Add to that all the discomfort of menopause he felt in the meantime when he started stalling puberty to stop his body from producing estrogen and his teenage years were a long, hormonal road of despair.
This is exactly why the Global Professional Association for Transgender Health now recommends that the minimum age for hormone therapy (currently 16) be lowered to 14 and that certain surgeries be performed at 15 (removal of breasts) or 17 (removal of uterus or testicles), a year earlier than their previous recommendation.
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With evidence accumulating over the past 10 years on what works and what doesn’t, the group says earlier treatment will allow transgender teens to experience physical changes at puberty around the same time as transgender teens. other adolescents, thereby improving psychological well-being and reducing suicidal behavior.
Who wouldn’t want to improve their psychological well-being and reduce suicidal behavior?
Of course, lowering the age does not mean that irreversible treatments will automatically be handed out like candy to every teenager who raises their hand. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends that each individual be assessed based on their emotional maturity, parental consent, long-standing gender discomfort, and a careful psychological evaluation.
And this is where it gets complicated. I am one of the lucky parents who had a support team that helped us every step of the way. From ages 12 to 16, my son saw a psychologist regularly, and at age 14 he began attending our city government-funded gender clinic, which oversaw his gender-affirming treatment in a careful and measured.
With gender dysphoria becoming more and more common – some statistics suggest that one in five children have questions about gender – the pressure on gender clinics has become immense. Some ask new patients to wait two years or more for their first appointment, which is painful – and sometimes dangerous – for children and their parents. And this is not enough to fill the shortage of services in the regions and rural areas.
It’s time we realized that gender dysphoria is not a fad and it’s not going away. More resources are needed to support children from an early age, so that they can be appropriately supported throughout their gender journey. Not only that, but we need well-funded services in place to ensure that appropriate care is given to every individual who questions their gender so that the right decisions can be made about their care.
Our children deserve care and support as they navigate their teenage years, and sticking their heads in the sand or delaying treatment only makes matters worse..
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