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!!!!!!!! Search error!  If the URL ends something like .htm/  or .htm# delete the character(s) after .htm and hit return.

Transgenderism, transsexualism,
gender dysphoria, & gender identity

Using medication to delay
puberty in transgender teens

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Background:

As noted elsewhere in this section a transgender individual is frequently defined as a person who experiences Gender Identity Disorder (a.k.a. Gender Dysphoria), Their genetic gender -- as evidenced by their sex chromosomes and generally by their genitals -- is different from their perceived gender. Some describe themselves as a woman trapped in a man's body, or vice versa. Others view themselves as having a male brain in a female body, or vice versa. Still others describe their feelings with other explinations.

Proposed guidelines:

The International Endocrine Society (IES) 1 issued a draft set of guidelines in early 2008-DEC. 2 They are co-sponsored by the European Society of Endocrinology (ESE), The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society (LWPES).

The guidelines recommend that some transgender children as young as 12 years-of-age should be given medication to suppress puberty. This would greatly simplify gender reassignment surgery if they decide to undergo it later in life when they have sufficient maturity to decide this.

The main benefit from such puberty blockers would be the avoidance of the inevitable body changes caused by puberty. For example, a male-to-female (MTF) transexual could avoid having her voice deepen, a masculine bone structure appear, her Adam's Apple enlarge, and hair growth on her face. A female-to-male (FTM) could avoid developing breasts, feminine shaped hips, and female bone structure elsewhere. Without these bodily changes, there would be less to change during gender reassignment surgery (GRS).

Another benefit of putting off puberty would be that the individual would be more mature and capable of making a settled decision in their mid-teens rather than their pre-teens. If, at the age of 16 or so, they decide to not proceed with gender reassignment surgery, they can simply stop the puberty blocker medication and go through puberty.

Changes at puberty are normal, natural, and anticipated to the over 99% of youths who are cisgendered -- i.e. whose genetic gender matches their perceived gender. But they can be terrifying and repulsive to a transgender person. The latter are prone to depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, and, sadly, completed suicide. There is a phrase -- the 50% Rule -- used by many transgender and transexual individuals. It refers to the common belief that 50% of all untreated transsexuals die before the age of 30, usually by suicide.

By preventing puberty from occurring naturally, various physical changes would not have to be corrected by surgery and other procedures. Gender reassignment surgery (GRS) would probably result in body contours and other features that more accurate resemble that of the desired sex.

The IES recommendations are largely based on the experience of a clinic in the Netherlands which has prescribed puberty blockers to over 70 teens under the age of 16. Henriette Delemarre-van de Waal of Leiden University Medical Center has been involved in the testing. She said:

"Until now, we don t have any patient who has regretted their decision on the treatment. ... [Without treatment] they self-harm, they develop an enormous aversion against their bodies, they isolate themselves, and their school performance suffers." 6

The mother of one MTF transsexual in London UK described her daughter's experience. She started to question her male body at the age of 4. She found the pubertal changes that started at age 12 to be intolerable. She started to harm herself and threatened several times to cut off her penis. She is now 15 and wants to start her sexual reassignment when she is 16. Her mother expects her daughter to still have problems ahead, but said that they would be "increased by 600 percent" if she had gone through normal puberty. The daughter has stated that "I would rather die than be a man." 6

Peggy Cohen-Kettenis of the Free University of Amsterdam Medical Center said:

"People are always afraid that if will be harmful for the children. But what they never take into account is that it is also harmful to not give them this treatment." 6

Some clinics in Australia, Canada, Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere have started to offer treatment to transgender teens in order to suppress the onset of puberty. The medication is prohibited by law in the UK.

Text of the draft guidelines:

Section 2 of the draft guidelines deals with the treatment of transgender adolescents. It states:

bullet2.1. We recommend that adolescents who fulfill eligibility and readiness criteria for gender reassignment initially undergo treatment to suppress pubertal development.

bullet2.2. We recommend that suppression of pubertal hormones start no earlier than Tanner stages 2-3  3,4 and when girls and boys exhibit pubertal levels of estradiol and testosterone, respectively.

bullet2.3. We recommend GnRH analogues be used to achieve suppression of pubertal hormones.

bullet2.4. We suggest that pubertal development of the desired, opposite sex be initiated at about the age of 16 years, using a gradually increasing dose schedule of cross-sex steroids.

bullet2.5. We recommend referring hormone-treated adolescents for surgery when:
  1. The real life experience 5 has resulted in a satisfactory social role change,

  2. The individual is satisfied about the hormonal effects, and

  3. The individual desires definitive surgical changes.

bullet2.6 We suggest deferring surgery until the individual is at least 18 years old. 2

Potential problems with puberty blockers:

Linda Geddes' article in New Scientist list some concerns with this medication:

bullet

Some children with transgender feelings appear to grow out of them by adulthood.


bullet

"...few trials have explored the long-term effects of delaying puberty in this age group." 6


bullet

Some teens may not be sufficiently mature to make a responsible decision concerning puberty blockers when they are about 11 or 12 years of age.


bullet

Puberty blockers would prevent transgender teens who are genetic males from freezing their sperm in order to father children later in life, should they wish to do this. 6


An editorial in the same magazine noted:
bullet

The age of puberty onset is dropping. Some girls aged 9 are starting the process. An editorial in New Scientist asks: "Does, say, a 9 year-old have the emotional maturity to make a decision of this magnitude?" 7

These, and perhaps other concerned need to be weighed against the horrendous loss of life through suicide among transsexuals in their teens and 20s.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Endocrine Society's home page is at: http://www.endo-society.org/
  2. Wylie C. Hembree, et al., "Endocrine Treatment of Transsexual Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline," Draft version, at:  http://www.endo-society.org/ This is a PDF file.
  3. The Tanner Stages of puberty are numbered from 1 to 5. In girls, they are qualitative values related to the extent of breast development and pubic hair growth. In boys, they are values related to early penile and scrotum enlargement. Stage 2 is reached at about 11 or 12 years-of-age.
  4. "Puberty and Tanner Stages," Estronaut, (1999), at: http://www.estronaut.com/
  5. The Real Life Experience (RLE) referred to in section 2.5.2 is a generally accepted prerequisite for gender reassignment surgery. A patient must live in their perceived gender role either as a student, in a volunteer position, or at work. They must "out" themselves to friends and family and change their name to reflect their perceived gender.
  6. Linda Geddes, "Delay puberty in transsexual teens," New Scientist, 2008-DEC-13, Page 8 & 9.
  7. "Sex, drugs and surgery," New Scientist, 2008-DEC-13, Page 5.

Copyright © 2009 & 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-JAN-08
Latest update: 2011-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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