Transgender Youth, and the facts on puberty blockers

Transgender Youth puberty blockers

With the recent focus on Transgender youth and puberty blockers and the relentless attempts to create controversy over the issue, we revisit a 2016 article from Dr Fiona Bisshop. The article contains light edits to reflect changes in the years since. Dr Bisshop is currently President of AusPATH (Australian Professional Association for Trans Health).

I recently attended the biannual conference of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. There I met gender doctors from all over the world. I was impressed with the systems in place in many developed countries to manage gender dysphoria in young people. There are many multidisciplinary clinics with short waiting times, set up specifically to manage trans youth entering puberty.

Puberty Blockers

Puberty is a crucial time for trans youth – the physical changes which start to happen can rapidly escalate dysphoria. That leads to depression and even suicide. Obviously, timing is very important here. Getting these kids into a clinic where they can assess puberty blockers is an urgent priority. Especially as some of the changes of puberty are irreversible – things like growing taller, growing breasts, getting a deeper voice, the emergence of facial and body hair. Going onto a puberty blocker can stop these changes temporarily.

The great thing about puberty blockers is that the effects are reversible, so you can put puberty on hold. This can buy the young person time to continue exploring their gender identity. This will enable them time until they are legally able to start cross-gender hormones if they so choose.

The assessment that takes place before prescribing puberty blockers is thorough and holistic. It involves the child’s family and a range of professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists, paediatricians, social workers, endocrinologists and sexual health physicians.

The decision to commence puberty blockers is not a whimsical one. Doctors make the decision based on significant distress during the early stages of puberty.

The main trouble with puberty blockers is that they are very expensive unless prescribed through a hospital clinic, so access to the clinic is important.

Long waiting lists

Unfortunately, Australian clinics have long waiting lists. This is due to a lack of funding and an increase in referrals. It saddens me that in such a wealthy country with so many resources we cannot offer a better service.

Trans adults also face difficulties accessing publicly-funded clinics. This dreadful situation hurts those who need access to psychiatry and psychology but cannot afford the private costs.

We need to identify gender non-conforming youth before they hit puberty. Then, they can get access to the hospital clinic in time to halt physical changes. We can do better!

Unfortunately, many also portray transgender people as suffering from a mental health condition. Gender diversity is not pathological. It is part of the normal human spectrum of existence. Trans kids are not disordered. However, they do suffer distress before transitioning physically to their affirmed gender results.

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