The mother of a 17-year-old boy in Minnesota is suing her child’s school district and the county health board. It seems that the teen, who suffers from gender dysphoria, has been receiving (without his parents’ consent or even knowledge) hormonal treatments to change his secondary sex characteristics to those of a woman. The suit even refers to “life-changing surgery,” which for a boy would mean amputating his genitals and cosmetic reconstruction.
The child’s mother is challenging a Minnesota law that allows a minor who is living alone to make his own health-care decisions. She calls it a violation of her rights as a parent that major and permanent hormonal and surgical interventions should be performed on her minor child without her consent or even informing her. She believes these treatments may not be in her son’s best interests, and she ought to have a say in the momentous decision.
Transgender activists commenting on the case have a completely different view of the matter. They believe the treatment for gender dysphoria, the clinical term for feeling uncomfortable with one’s biological sex, is always “gender affirming,” followed by “transition” to the desired sex. The depression, suicidal ideation, and tendency to self-harm that gender-dysphoric youths experience will improve when the youth is treated by others as the sex the youth prefers. Any brooking of the child’s desire is a kind of violence, even using the “wrong” or undesired pronoun.
Is Immediate ‘Transition’ the Right Treatment?
Laying aside important questions of parental notification and consent, the medical issue that confronts our society is whether “transition” with hormones and surgery ought to be used as the default therapy for children with gender dysphoria. Does this treatment ameliorate their psychiatric pain? Is the improvement in mental health for these young people so vast as to justify the radical nature of the treatment, its invasiveness, permanence, and side effects? Could there be other, better therapy? If nothing were done, would the child grow out of it naturally?
These are the usual questions the medical community asks whenever new therapies are proposed for any illness. The answer lies, of course, in scientific studies, such as an excellent new comprehensive study, published in the journal New Atlantis, taking a look at sexuality and gender from the social, biological, and psychological perspectives. The lead authors are peerless in their fields, the study is methodologically sound, and their findings have profound implications.
To summarize, scientific research shows that the “hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property…independent of biological sex…is not supported by scientific evidence.” In other words, the fact that a young girl feels she ought to have been born a boy does not “make” her in any scientific way a boy.
Most important when considering dramatic hormonal transformations of children, only a minority of children “who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.” This means that gender dysphoria in children is, in most cases, a passing phase.
Do the hormonal treatments work? Does the children’s distress abate when their bodies start to change? No. Studies have found “little scientific evidence of the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents.” This means the psychic pain the children experience is generally of the same intensity, or even worse, after “transition.” The study says there is no scientific basis to encourage all children who experience gender dysphoria to become transgender.
In Fact, Transitioning Can Make Things Worse
Going down the transgendered path is not only not a sure “cure” for gender dysphoria, it is actually very risky to mental health. Research has shown that those who live as the opposite sex into adulthood are especially affected by the high rate of mental health problems that affect non-heterosexuals. Transgendered people have a lifetime suicide rate more than eight times higher than the general population. For adults who have had sex-reassignment surgery, the figure jumps to a staggering 19 times.
The lack of social acceptance of those living as the opposite sex and rejection from their families (social stress) are often cited as the reason transgender people suffer so disproportionately from mental health problems and suicide. Scientific research, however, does not show that stigma and prejudice can account for these disparities.
The mother suing in Minnesota may not have all this research at her fingertips. But she may know some of the risks her child is running by choosing the hormones and surgery to treat his gender dysphoria. Her son will have to take high-dose estrogen for life to develop breasts, a high voice, and other secondary female characteristics. This drug significantly increases the risk of blood clots, stroke, dementia, invasive breast cancer, and heart attack. Genital amputation, of course, is not reversible, and cosmetic repairs are just that: repairs. Infertility, which to a 17-year-old boy may not seem like a big deal, is irreversible.
This Is Science Versus Ideology
It is vastly important, for the good of children experiencing gender dysphoria, that science triumph over ideology. Gender ideology is heavily charged, both socially and politically. For transgender activists, the question is one of sexual expression and self-actualization. It’s about “choosing” one’s identity, or “discovering” one’s hidden but immutable self and having society conform to this choice or discovery. In this worldview, natural and biological realities that have always informed and shaped cultures are only barriers on the way to self-realization.
For parents confronted with a son or daughter suffering the pain of gender dysphoria, the most important thing is the medical and psychiatric health of their children. The preferred outcome for all loving mothers and fathers is to see their child reach a healthy adulthood, safe from the kind of psychic pain that drives the sky-high suicide rates of these troubled youngsters. If this can be achieved without amputating surgeries, intense life-long hormone treatments, and infertility, so much the better. If these therapies can’t be counted on to cure gender dysphoria, and even result in higher suicide rates, parents need to know it.
In cases like the one in Minnesota, the rights of mothers and fathers to choose the most effective and least-dangerous treatment for their children’s illnesses must be paramount. Certainly they should supersede the goals of transgender activists to remake society along the lines of their preferred ideology.