Too young to transition?

Too young to transition?

By Jessica Gilligan

When 13-year-old Zoey entered puberty, her doctor prescribed medication to slow down her development–because she didn’t identify with the gender she was born as. This fairly new treatment has caused controversy in the medical community, as critics argue that blocking puberty is harmful to a child’s growth, no matter the circumstances.

Zoey is one of the many children who identify as transgender, meaning the gender she identifies with does not match the sex she was assigned at birth. Her pediatrician, Dr. Johannah Olsen, treated Zoey with a hormone blocker that is FDA-approved and reversible.

While the drugs have been applauded for giving children time to figure out their gender identity, some argue that young patients should be instead treated with psychotherapy to help them accept the body in which they were born.

The latter is ideal to many conservative therapists and parents of transgender youth. Logically speaking, these treatments save money as there are no surgeries or hormone adjustments involved. Parents in support of this therapy take comfort in the fact that the “biological originality” of their child is kept intact.

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a gender identity specialist at the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health, conducted one study that found that 80 percent of children that visited the clinic and were not treated with hormone blockers were content with their assigned gender by the time they were 22.

Each patient is given an in-depth mental health screening before being prescribed medication. Although the hormone-blockers are reversible, both Dr. Olsen and Dr. Zucker have had very few reports of regret.”

However, time is of the essence for transgender children, as 41 percent of transgender Americans have attempted suicide and nearly 80 percent report harassment in school. Leaving a child untreated may result in gender dysphoria, clinical depression, anxiety, and damaged self-esteem.

Considering that the transgender population has a higher rate of suicide than any other group, delaying medical treatment because the child is “too young” could be deadly. If not treated, children may illegally buy drugs or otherwise modify their bodies in order to “pass” and avoid discrimination in school.

Even the skeptical Dr. Zucker has used hormone-blocking medication on children as young as ten, as the drugs’ effectiveness depends on when the child starts puberty. Each patient is given an in-depth mental health screening before being prescribed medication. The hormone-blockers are reversible, but both Dr. Olsen and Dr. Zucker have had very few reports of regret.

Children who transition early are more likely to develop seamlessly into their desired gender, as opposed to adults that come to terms with their identity later in life.

The opposition asserts that more liberal views on hormone therapy will push minors to make decisions they aren’t ready for. Due to the intensive screening process, however, misdiagnosis and hasty decisions are unlikely. Not all children questioning their gender experience dysphoria or desire to have their bodies changed. The medication is reserved for those who feel trapped in the wrong body.

When asked his thoughts about children receiving hormone blockers, Catalina Foothills sophomore Luke Maxwell responded, “I don’t know a lot about the issue, but if the kids want it, then its okay.”

Despite the medication controversy, listening to children who question their identity is always the most vital action a parent or doctor can take. The recent suicide of Leelah Alcorn proves that.

Alcorn was a 16-year-old transgender girl whose parents had denied her identity and her request to undergo transition treatment. Instead, they sent her to conversion therapy and enrolled her in online school. She committed suicide on December 28, 2014. Anguish over one’s body can indeed kill, and this should be considered by parents who wish to bar their child from such a life-improving treatment.

Early medical intervention may be controversial, but it is proven to be safe. For some transgender children, hormone blockers are the only way to keep them from developing into a body they feel like they don’t belong in.