A new study by bioethicist Florence Ashley says that the academically much criticised and debunked suggestion that ‘80% of trans and gender creative children will grow up cisgender’ is misconceived and irrelevant in determining models of care for trans and gender diverse young people.
“transition for “desisters” is not comparably harmful to delays for trans youth, and that the wait-and-see and corrective models of care are harmful to youth who will grow up cis”
– Florence Ashley
What is desistance research?
Desistance research is a body of research that seeks to measure the percentage of youth that are referred to gender identity clinics who will or could grow up to be cisgender.
The research is born out of a highly politicised desire to claim that a majority of trans and gender diverse young people will grow up to cisgender and not transgender – a view that is most often promoted by those seeking to limit or ban gender affirming medical treatment plans.
Within some circles, including a small number of healthcare professionals, desistance research promotes the view that gender affirming treatments and social transition must be delayed until adulthood, or banned for those under 18-years-old or pre-pubescent youth, in case they ‘change their mind’.
An underlying feature of desistance research is an understanding that cisgender people who have socially or medically transitioned whilst young, suffer significant distress which is comparable to the distress trans people experience when their transition is delayed. This has led to a call for a conservative approach to gender affirming support and that professionals should delay or discourage social and medical transitions.
What does this latest study say about desistance research?
The study focuses on the role of desistance research in debates and discussion about models of care. It draws the conclusion that as a body of research it’s not relevant when deciding between models of care.
The main conclusions are as follows:
- desistance research is of very limited relevance in debates surrounding clinical models of care for transgender and gender diverse youth
- there are good reasons to doubt the accuracy of reported persistence rates
- the distress associated with social and/or medical transition among youth who grow up to be cisgender is not meaningfully comparable to the distress associated with delaying or discouraging transition
- social and medical transition may be appreciated by many youths who grow up to be cisgender because of the opportunity for exploration that they provide
- ‘corrective’ and ‘wait and see’ models of care have harmful effects on young people who grow up to be cisgender, as well as transgender and gender diverse youth, and that these harmful effects outweigh the distress associated with retransitioning or detransitioning
- young people’s trajectories are diverse and retransition does not necessarily indicate a harmful, regretted, or regrettable outcome
- Psychologists should adopt a gender-affirmative model that views being trans as a matter of human diversity that should not be discouraged or curtailed
- Rather than focusing on predicting clients’ future gender identity, psychologists should strive to best support them in the here-and-now, respecting the young persons expressed gender identity