An important new survey from the US has investigated the effectiveness and risks of puberty blockers in trans teens. The short version: they’re safe, reversible and life-saving.
The study is significant not just because of what it found, but how it found it. Mostly when you read about puberty blocking in the press it’s based on the evidence-free assertions of anti-trans pressure groups who believe they know better than scientists and doctors, something they share with anti-vaccination cranks. This study is based on interviews with pediatricians and over 20,000 trans people.
Transgender youth have a much greater risk of suicide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if they have access to a puberty blocker, their chances of suicide and mental health problems in the immediate term and down the road decline significantly, a new study finds.
It’s important to note, because the press coverage isn’t big on context, that the positive impact of puberty blockers only applies to teens who want to medically transition and who want to pause puberty to give them time to be sure. Not all trans teens do; in fact, most don’t.
One reason anti-trans groups focus on the number of gender non-conforming teens referred to gender clinics but not the number of teens who have been carefully assessed over time and finally prescribed puberty blockers is because the latter number is vanishingly small. While the number of referrals have soared in recent years, the number of prescriptions for puberty blockers has not.
I wrote about this a few months back:
More referrals does not mean more prescriptions. In 2014-2015, the number of under-15s referred to the UK’s only gender clinic for adolescents rose from 46 to 52 – but the number of people prescribed hormone blockers dropped from 41 to 32. Puberty blocking remains exceptionally rare. These drugs aren’t and won’t be handed out like sweets.
The medical model is based on what’s called “affirmative care”. As trans healthcare expert Ruth Pearce explains on Twitter [emphasis mine]:
…an affirmative model of care for trans youth means providing space for those who want to transition and those who don’t, those who want physical interventions and those seeking mental health support. Flexibility, individual care and responsiveness, not imposition.
So yeah, this research (which has an impressively large sample, and aligns with findings from other studies) shows what we already knew – hormone blockers help kids who need hormone blockers. But no-one is pushing them onto young people who aren’t seeking this treatment.
It’s important to view this in the context of the US, where multiple states are attempting to ban puberty blockers altogether (one state would imprison doctors for prescribing them), and in the UK where anti-LGBT+ groups continue to claim that teenagers are being forced to take medicine that they claim will have terrible long-term effects and where newspapers deliberately and maliciously tell their readers that puberty blockers are “cross-sex hormones”. Yet again the medical evidence is being ignored in favour of ideology.
As pediatrician Dr Michelle Forcier told CNN:
“Historically we have known the puberty blockers are safe and effective and this is totally reversible, so the benefits far outweigh any risk.”