The Desistance Myth is the debunked idea that 80–85% of youth experiencing gender dysphoria will no longer experience it in adulthood. It is often used in anti-trans arguments, from reducing healthcare access to justifying conversion therapy.
The paradigm of “desistance” was introduced in a series of papers from 2008–2013, especially:
- Drummond et al., 2008
- Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis, 2008
- Steensma et al., 2011
- Steensma et al., 2013
The methodology for all of these papers is flawed.
They Used the Old Definition of “Gender Identity Disorder (GID)”
This definition has several issues, notable that, in children, desire to be another gender is not a diagnostic requirement. This caused youth to be labelled as “desisters” when they weren’t trans in the first place.
Participants With Subclinical GID Were Included
In several papers, participants who didn’t completely meet the criteria for GID were included in the research. These youth didn’t even meet the researchers’ own metric for being trans, so it’s unsurprising when they “desist.”
Medical Transition was Required for “Persistence”
Not all trans people seek out medical supports as part of their transition. However, these papers assume otherwise, labelling those who don’t take hormones or pursue surgery as “desisters.”
Those Who Couldn’t be Reached for Follow-Up Were “Desisters”
In these studies, participants were contacted twice, several years apart. Participants that couldn’t be reached for the second interview were considered “desisters,” despite no effort to investigate this missed interaction.
How Should We Think of Gender Identity in Youth Instead?
- We should trust that trans youth know their identity best and believe them.
- We must understand that gender is fluid and may change over time.
- When considering medical supports, doctors should ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. (And with puberty blockers, there are few risks.)
- Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group. n.d. “Desistance Articles and Critique.” Accessed July 7, 2021. https://www.gdaworkinggroup.com/desistance-articles-and-critique.
- Tannehill, Brynne. 2016. “The End of the Desistance Myth.” The Huffington Post, January 1, 2016. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-end-of-the-desistance_b_8903690.
- Newhook, Julia Temple, Kelly Winters, Jake Pyne, Ally Jamieson, Cindy Holmes, Stephen Feder, Sarah Pickett, Mari-Lynne Sinnott. “Teach your parents and providers well.” Canadian Family Physician 64(5): 332–335.
- American Psychiatric Association. 2000. “Gender Identity Disorder.” In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed, 576–582. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
- American Psychiatric Association. 2013. “Gender Dysphoria.” In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, 452–459. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
The original papers that were behind the desistance myth were also consulted. If you choose to read them yourself, do so cautiously and with a critical mind, as the authors use insensitive language regarding transgender people and their research methods have many flaws.
- Drummond, Kelley, Susan Bradley, Michele Peterson-Badali, Kenneth Zucker. 2008. “A follow up study of girls with gender identity disorder.” Developmental Psychology 44(1): 34–45. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206.
- Wallien, Madeleine, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis. 2008. “Psychosexual Outcome of Gender-Dysphoric Children.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 44(12): 1413–1423. https://doi.org/10.1097/CHI.0b013e31818956b9.
- Steensma, Thomas, Roeline Biemond, Fijgje de Boer, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis. 2011. “Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study.” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 16(4): 499–516. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359104510378303.
- Steensma, Thomas, Jenifer McGuire, Baudewijntje Kreukels, Anneke Beekman, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis. 2013. “Factors Associated With Desistence and Persistence of Childhood Gender Dysphoria: A Quantitative Follow-Up Study.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 52(6): 582–590. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2013.03.016.