Gender-affirming care for youth—separating evidence from controversy

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 64, No. 7, September 2022, Pages 314-316,319 Premise

A summary of available evidence in favor of providing gender-affirming care. Part 1 looks at the evidence for our current model of gender-affirming care, and Part 2 covers specific interventions and outcomes.

Part 1: Gender-affirming care: Model and evidence

Understanding the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) youth begins with an understanding of transgender identities. Transgender describes a multitude of ways of living, expressing, and experiencing one’s gender outside of the binary Eurocentric model of “man” and “woman.” While a history of transgender youth is beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that within medicine there is a long-standing history of using colonial and racialized ideas that privilege normative forms of gender to pathologize TGNC youth, leading to harmful interventions, including conversion therapy.[1]

Transition for TGNC youth and adults is often considered in three domains: medical, social, and legal. Medical care in BC is delivered according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care Version 7 (SOC 7). Standards of Care Version 8 is being developed using an evidence-based approach and is set to be released this year.[2] This is in contrast to the SOC 7, published in 2012, which was “based on the best available science and expert professional consensus.”[3]

When discussing evidence for the SOC 7 in her Letter to the Editor,[4] Dr Joanne Sinai referenced a systematic review by Dahlen and colleagues[5] evaluating the quality of evidence of clinical practice guidelines for the care of TGNC people. The quote she included from this review was not a critique of the quality of the SOC 7 as her letter implies, but a comment that it may not have been intended as a clinical practice guideline as defined in the review and thus was difficult to analyze as per their protocol. The review concluded that “WPATH SOCv7 is due for updating and this study should be used positively to accelerate improvement.”[5]

Since the development of the SOC 7, there have been 16 quantitative studies[6-21] published to date about TGNC youth care and outcomes, summarized by Turban[22], which, taken together, include thousands of participants. Early studies in 2011–2014 were often criticized due to small sample size and high risk of bias, though as the literature has expanded, so too has the strength of the evidence. These studies have shown statistically significant associations between gender-affirming care and increased general functioning[6,7] and well-being,[9] as well as decreased body dissatisfaction,[14,15] anxiety,[10,11,14,17] depression,[6,10,11,13,14,17,19,21] and suicidality.[9,10,15,19-21] A Canadian perspective is highlighted in the works of Pullen Sansfaçon and colleagues,[23 with youth reporting an improvement in well-being, mental health, happiness, and school functioning since accessing gender-affirming care. Furthermore, adults who accessed gender-affirming care in adolescence have been found to have significantly lower rates of depression and suicidality than those who did not access it until adulthood.[20] No randomized controlled trials have been performed to date as the current evidence indicates a risk of adverse mental health outcomes when gender-affirming care is denied, and thus randomizing youth into a control group would go against the ethical principle of equipoise.[22]

When considering gender-affirming care, it is important to note that the SOC 7 advises a thorough assessment of a youth’s gender identity, developmental history, supports, and comorbid mental health. Dr Sinai cited a Washington Post article[24] by psychologists Drs Laura Edwards-Leeper and Erica Anderson who expressed concern that youth are receiving gender-affirming medical interventions without adequate assessment or provision of informed consent. They raise concerns that medical providers are “affirming” patients by prescribing puberty blockers or hormones as a panacea for all mental health issues. In their recent Letter to the Editor,[25] Drs Sinai and Leonora Regenstreif further state that affirming care excludes treatment of underlying psychiatric conditions. This is not the approach advocated by the SOC 7 or in BC’s gender-affirming care model, with the SOC 7 explicitly stating, “before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken.”[3] The SOC 7 requires that co-existing medical, psychological, or social problems are addressed and stabilized prior to accessing medical interventions. Affirmation is not a one-size-fits-all model, and all interventions should be carefully considered in the context of a youth’s physical, psychological, and social milieu as advocated for in our current treatment guidelines.

Part 2: Gender-affirming care: Interventions and outcomes

The outcomes of gender-affirming medical interventions are not determined solely by the physiologic effects of treatments but are also influenced by a youth’s developmental stage and social milieu, including parental support. Multiple studies indicate that parental support is one of the most significant protective factors for TGNC youth,[26-29] with qualitative studies showing that emotional support such as parental acceptance of identity and instrumental support such as access to medical, social, and legal interventions for affirmation are particularly important.[30,31] Drs Sinai and Regenstreif write, “If parents who support their child’s gender dysphoria but question medicalization are deemed ‘unsupportive,’ distressed youth can become alienated from their families.”[25] I am unsure as to what support of a child’s dysphoria would entail; however, qualitative studies highlight that if parental support lacks acceptance of a child’s identity, this may lead youth to distance themselves from parents and contribute to alienation.[30]

Drs Sinai and Regenstreif’s letter cites statistics regarding desistance. In doing so, however, they fail to differentiate between children and adolescents. This is of crucial importance as medical interventions are not offered prior to the onset of puberty. Studies of gender-diverse children have shown that the majority will “desist” and will identify as cisgender in adulthood,[32] though the methodology and relevancy of these studies has been questioned.[33,34] This research is taken into account in the SOC 7, which suggests that children can further explore their identity through social transition and that psychotherapy may be used to target a reduction in distress and dysphoria. Ages 10–13 are considered a key time for consolidation of gender identity.[35] After this, only 1.9% to 3.5% of youth receiving gender-affirming medications at specialized gender clinics discontinue treatment.[36] Furthermore, studies have found that adults who stop treatment often do so for reasons related to social discrimination and not a change in identity and that, for those reporting a change in identity, some do not express regret for their earlier transition.[37-39] Though Drs Sinai and Regenstreif discuss “increasing numbers of detransitioners,” the citation they provided is a study by Littman[40] that surveyed patients who detransitioned to assess reasons for this decision. This study did not measure numbers, rates, or prevalence of detransition.

Gender-affirming medical care for adolescents includes fully reversible interventions such as puberty blockers, partially reversible interventions including hormone therapy, and irreversible surgical interventions. The main adverse effects of puberty blocking medications are decreased bone mineral density and decreased growth velocity.[41] Though their safety and efficacy have been well established in the treatment of precocious puberty, the long-term effect in treatment of gender dysphoria remains an area of active study, including possible effects on future fertility. As these medications do impact gonadal growth, their use may impact bottom surgery outcomes in the future for patients desiring vaginoplasty. This risk is listed on the Trans Care BC website for puberty blockers[42] and should be included in informed consent discussions, though alternative surgical techniques using intestinal tissue may have similar outcomes.[43] Drs Sinai and Regenstreif state that “these treatments are known to cause permanent damage to sex organs and future sexual and reproductive capacity.”[25] They do not provide a citation to support this, and the only source I could identify for this claim was an opinion expressed by Dr Marci Bowers, which Dr Sinai mentioned in her first letter.[44] Conversely, early studies have shown improved sexual functioning and ability to achieve orgasm after both hormonal[45] and surgical[46,47] interventions, though this is an area of ongoing research.

Dr Sinai referred to “gender exploratory therapy” as an alternative to affirmation. I was unable to find any definition of what “gender exploratory therapy” entails, or any evidence that this approach benefits TGNC youth.

Dr Sinai also expressed concern that therapists may be dissuaded from treating people with gender dysphoria, as “gender exploratory therapy” may be misconstrued as conversion therapy. Bill C-4, an Act to amend the Criminal Code to prohibit conversion therapy, defined conversion therapy as “a practice, treatment or service designed to: change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual; change a person’s gender identity to cisgender; change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth; repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour; repress a person’s non-cisgender identity; or repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.”[48] It also explicitly states that “conversion therapy does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity—such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition—and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.”[48] If a therapeutic approach cannot be clearly distinguished from conversion therapy as defined in the Criminal Code, it seems doubtful that this would be a beneficial or even nonmaleficent intervention to offer our patients.


Correction: This article has been revised. The author provided a new citation from Turban[22] postpublication, which provides a chronological summary of the research on gender-affirming medical care and mental health outcomes. The author apologizes for the oversight; the Turban article was used as part of the search to identify relevant primary literature.

This article has been peer reviewed.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


1.    Gill-Peterson J. Histories of the transgender child. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press; 2018.

2.    World Professional Association for Transgender Health. History and purpose. In: Standards of care version 8. Accessed 23 April 2022.

3.    Coleman E, Bockting W, Botzer M, et al. Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people, version 7. Int J Transgenderism 2012;13:165-232.

4.    Sinai J. The current gender-affirming care model in BC is unvalidated and outdated. BCMJ 2022;64:106.

5.    Dahlen S, Connolly D, Arif I, et al. International clinical practice guidelines for gender minority/trans people: Systematic review and quality assessment. BMJ Open 2021;11:e048943.

6.    de Vries ALC, Steensma TD, Doreleijers TAH, Cohen-Kettenis PT. Puberty suppression in adolescents with gender identity disorder: A prospective follow-up study. J Sex Med 2011;8:2276-2283.

7.    de Vries ALC, McGuire JK, Steensma TD, et al. Young adult psychological outcome after puberty suppression and gender reassignment. Pediatrics 2014;134:696-704.

8.    Costa R, Dunsford M, Skagerberg E, et al. Psychological support, puberty suppression, and psychosocial functioning in adolescents with gender dysphoria. J Sex Med 2015;12:2206-2214.

9.    Allen LR, Watson LB, Egan AM, Moser CN. Well-being and suicidality among transgender youth after gender-affirming hormones. Clin Pract Pediatr Psychol 2019;7:302-311.

10.    Kaltiala R, Heino E, Työläjärvi M, Suomalainen L. Adolescent development and psychosocial functioning after starting cross-sex hormones for gender dysphoria. Nord J Psychiatry 2020;74:213-219.

11.    López de Lara D, Pérez Rodríguez O, Cuellar Flores I, et al. [Psychosocial assessment in transgender adolescents] (Article in Spanish). An Pediatr (Engl Ed) 2020;93:41-48.

12.    van der Miesen AIR, Steensma TD, de Vries ALC, et al. Psychological functioning in transgender adolescents before and after gender-affirmative care compared with cisgender general population peers. J Adolesc Health 2020;66:699-704.

13.    Achille C, Taggart T, Eaton NR, et al. Longitudinal impact of gender-affirming endocrine intervention on the mental health and well-being of transgender youths: Preliminary results. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol 2020;2020:8.

14.    Kuper LE, Stewart S, Preston S, et al. Body dissatisfac­tion and mental health outcomes of youth on gender-affirming hormone therapy. Pediatrics 2020;145:e20193006.

15.    Turban JL, King D, Carswell JM, Keuroghlian AS. Pubertal suppression for transgender youth and risk of suicidal ideation. Pediatrics 2020;145:e20191725.

16.    Carmichael P, Butler G, Masic U, et al. Short-term outcomes of pubertal suppression in a selected cohort of 12 to 15 year old young people with persistent gender dysphoria in the UK. PLoS One 2021;16:e0243894.

17.    Grannis C, Leibowitz SF, Gahn S, et al. Testosterone treatment, internalizing symptoms, and body image dissatisfaction in transgender boys. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2021;132:105358.

18.    Hisle-Gorman E, Schvey NA, Adirim TA, et al. Mental healthcare utilization of transgender youth before and after affirming treatment. J Sex Med 2021;18:1444-1454.

19.    Green AE, DeChants JP, Price MN, Davis CK. Association of gender-affirming hormone therapy with depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempted suicide among transgender and nonbinary youth. J Adolesc Health 2022;70:643-649.

20.    Turban JL, King D, Kobe J, et al. Access to gender-affirming hormones during adolescence and mental health outcomes among transgender adults. PLoS One 2022;17:e0261039.

21.    Tordoff DM, Wanta JW, Collin A, et al. Mental health outcomes in transgender and nonbinary youths receiving gender-affirming care. JAMA Netw Open 2022;5:e220978.

22.    Turban J. The evidence for trans youth gender-affirming medical care. Psychology Today. 24 January 2022. Accessed 23 April 2022.

23.    Pullen Sansfaçon A, Temple-Newhook J, Suerich-Gulick F, et al. The experiences of gender diverse and trans children and youth considering and initiating medical interventions in Canadian gender-affirming speciality clinics. Int J Transgenderism 2019;20:371-387.

24.    Edwards-Leeper L, Anderson E. The mental health establishment is failing trans kids: Gender-exploratory therapy is a key step. Why aren’t therapists providing it? Washington Post. 24 November 2021. Accessed 15 June 2022.

25.    Sinai J, Regenstreif L. Informed consent for gender-questioning youth seeking gender-affirmative care is a complex issue. BCMJ 2022;64:286-287.

26.    Travers R, Bauer G, Pyne J, et al. Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. 2012. Accessed 23 April 2022.’s_Aid_Society_of_Toronto_and_Delisle_Youth_Services.

27.    Pullen Sansfaçon A, Hébert W, Lee EOJ, et al. Digging beneath the surface: Results from stage one of a qualitative analysis of factors influencing the well-being of trans youth in Quebec. Int J Transgenderism 2018;19:184-202.

28.    Olson KR, Durwood L, DeMeules M, McLaughlin KA. Mental health of transgender children who are supported in their identities. Pediatrics 2016;137:e20153223. Erratum in: Pediatrics 2018;142:e20181436.

29.    Taylor AB, Chan A, Hall SL, Saewyc EM, Canadian Trans & Non-binary Youth Health Survey Research Group. Being safe, being me 2019: Results of the Canadian Trans and Non-binary Youth Health Survey. Vancouver: Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre, University of British Columbia, 2020. Accessed 15 June 2022.

30.    Pullen Sansfaçon A, Gelly MA, Faddoul M, Lee EOJ. Parental support and non-support of trans youth: Towards a nuanced understanding of forms of support and trans youth’s expectations. Enfances Fam Gener 2020;36:1-19.

31.    Andrzejewski J, Pampati S, Steiner RJ, et al. Perspectives of transgender youth on parental support: Qualitative findings from the resilience and transgender youth study. Health Educ Behav 2021;48:74-81.

32.    Singh D, Bradley SJ, Zucker KJ. A follow-up study of boys with gender identity disorder. Front Psychiatry 2021;12:632784.

33.    Temple Newhook J, Pyne J, Winters K, et al. A critical commentary on follow-up studies and “desistance” theories about transgender and gender-nonconforming children. Int J Transgenderism 2018;19:212-224.

34.    Ashley F. The clinical irrelevance of “desistance” research for transgender and gender creative youth. Psychol Sex Orientat Gend Divers 2021. doi:10.1037/sgd0000504. Advance online publication.

35.    Steensma TD, Biemond R, de Boer F, Cohen-Kettenis PT. Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry 2011;16:499-516.

36.    Roberts C. Persistence of transgender gender identity among children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2022;150:e2022057693.

37.    Turban JL, Loo SS, Almazan AN, Keuroghlian AS. Factors leading to “detransition” among transgender and gender diverse people in the United States: A mixed-methods analysis. LGBT Health 2021;8:273-280.

38.    Turban JL, Carswell J, Keuroghlian AS. Understanding pediatric patients who discontinue gender-affirming hormonal interventions. JAMA Pediatr 2018;172:903-904.

39.    Turban JL, Keuroghlian AS. Dynamic gender presentations: Understanding transition and “de-transition” among transgender youth. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2018;57:451-453.

40.    Littman L. Individuals treated for gender dysphoria with medical and/or surgical transition who subsequently detransitioned: A survey of 100 detransitioners. Arch Sex Behav 2021;50:3353-3369.

41.    Chew D, Anderson J, Williams K, et al. Hormonal treatment in young people with gender dysphoria: A systematic review. Pediatrics 2018;141:e20173742.

42.    Trans Care BC. Provincial Health Services Authority. Puberty blockers for youth. Accessed 23 April 2022.

43.    Bustos SS, Bustos VP, Mascaro A, et al. Complications and patient-reported outcomes in transfemale vaginoplasty: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open 2021;9:e3510.

44.    Shrier A. Top trans doctors blow the whistle on “sloppy” care. Common Sense. 4 October 2021. Ac­cessed 1 June 2022.

45.    Zaliznyak M, Lauzon M, Stelmar J, et al. A proposed inventory to assess changes in orgasm function of transgender patients following gender affirming treatments: Pilot study. Sex Med 2022;10:100510.

46.    Bouman M-B, van der Sluis WB, van Woudenberg Hamstra LE, et al. Patient-reported esthetic and functional outcomes of primary total laparoscopic intestinal vaginoplasty in transgender women with penoscrotal hypoplasia. J Sex Med 2016;13:1438-1444.

47.    Blasdel G, Kloer C, Parker A, et al. Coming soon: Ability to orgasm after gender affirming vaginoplasty. J Sex Med 2022;19:781-788.

48.    Government of Canada. Bill C-4: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). Accessed 23 April 2022.


Dr Leising is a psychiatrist in Vancouver and a recent graduate of the UBC psychiatry residency program.

Julie Leising, MD, FRCPC. Gender-affirming care for youth—separating evidence from controversy. BCMJ, Vol. 64, No. 7, September, 2022, Page(s) 314-316,319 - Premise.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.

For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit

BCMJ Guidelines for Authors

Leave a Reply