Study finds that transgender youth have typical hormone levels

Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles is trying to move closer to understanding the trans experience.

The gender-neutral bathroom sign at Boston City Hall.
The gender-neutral bathroom sign at Boston City Hall. –Photo by Kristin Toussaint/Boston.com

We’ve seen a lot more acceptance for transgender identity recently, from Caitlyn Jenner to I Am Jazz; from what a person can be called to what bathroom they can use. But while socially, we’ve learned more about what it means to be trans, there’s still a lot to learn on the scientific front.

The LGBTQ community has been adamant that their identities cannot be “cured,’’ despite outdated notions that being gay is a disease that can be treated with conversion therapy. Now, researchers have learned that the tumultuous feelings around transgender identity aren’t a result of misaligned hormones.

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Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the largest care provider for transyouth in the U.S., studied 101 patients to determine the effectiveness and safety of treatment that intends to align a transperson’s body with their gender identity.

Transgender identity is often described as having a gender identity that doesn’t match the physical sex you were assigned at birth, a dissonance called gender dysphoria. This has led some to think that their sex hormones are inconsistent with their physiology, but in the participants studied, their sex hormone levels were consistent with what they were assigned at birth.

“We’ve now put to rest the residual belief that transgender experience is a result of a hormone imbalance,’’ says Dr. Johanna Olson, medical director of the Center for Transyouth Health at the hospital. “It’s not.’’

Just over half of study (51.5 percent) participants were assigned “male’’ at birth but identified as transfeminine, and just under half were assigned “female’’ and identified as transmasculine.

A press release for the study explains why this is important to research:

Participants, who were 12 to 24 years old, identified a discrepancy with their gender of assignment on average at about 8 years of age but disclosed it to their families much later (17.1 years). Living with this “secret’’ for such a long period of time may have a negative impact on mental health. Thirty-five percent of participants experienced depression within clinical ranges. Over half of the youth reported having considered suicide and 30% had made at least one attempt.

With one theory for understanding transgender now ruled out, researchers can move toward finding ways to help comfort those experiencing any distress around their gender identity.

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“My goal is to move kids who are having a gender atypical experience from survive to thrive,’’ said Olson. “With this study we hope to identify the best way to accomplish that.’’

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September 21, 2017 | 6:45 AM