Making the decision to transition
Before transitioning, transgender individuals typically experience strong feelings of gender dysphoria, which can cause significant psychological distress. Mental health professionals believe that transitioning can help to alleviate the feelings of gender dysphoria and distress suffered by transgender individuals. Crystal Raypole (2016), editor at GoodTherapy.org explains:
“The goal of many is for their gender to be perceived correctly by others, which is referred to as ‘passing.’ Typically, people transition to align their physical appearance and characteristics with their gender identity. Many people begin the process after years of dysphoria and distress, and transitioning may help them feel as if they are finally able to be their true selves.” (Why Do People Transition? para. 3)
Individual circumstances affect decisions about when and how to transition. For instance, parents of transgender children face a challenging dilemma—at what age is a child ready to make such a life-changing decision? Medical professionals differ in their opinions. But according to a recent report by NBC News, many physicians who specialize in working with transgender children think it's right for certain kids — “those who show a rock-solid and enduring belief in their gender identity”—to socially transition, even at a young age.
Dr. Michelle Forcier, an associate professor of pediatrics at Brown University School of Medicine cited in the NBC report, believes children who have consistently maintained a cross-gender identity are unlikely to change their minds as they get older:
“When kids are consistent, persistent, and insistent in a cross-gender identity — and wanting to be the other gender and wanting the other gender's body parts or being very unhappy with the body parts they're given — we consider those children very likely to go on and continue a transgender identity.” (Jacob's Journey, para. 8)
While some children begin to socially transition at a young age, doctors typically do not recommend other forms of transitioning, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, until during or after adolescence, although some health care providers do prescribe puberty blockers for transgender youth who are not yet old enough to begin taking hormones.
Adults who transition make personal choices about what kinds of changes to make. For a variety of reasons, some individuals might choose to limit their transition to making social and/or legal changes. For others, the feeling that they are in the wrong body is so strong that they undergo costly hormonal treatments and surgery to bring their physical being into alignment with their identity.
Cornell University's Center for the Study of Inequality recently completed a review of all scholarly research concerning transitioning. Their 2017 published review of 73 studies found "robust international consensus in the peer-reviewed literature that gender transition, including medical treatments such as hormone therapy and surgeries, improves the overall well-being of transgender individuals." (What does the scholarly research say? para. 2)
Contrary to popular belief, not all transgender persons undergo a transition. Many factors can influence a transgender person’s decision not to transition (or to selectively transition, that is, living openly only in contexts that are safe and supportive). These include a lack of money or other resources, a non-supportive family and/or social environment, state laws and policies that make transitioning difficult, fear of job loss, and worries about discrimination, harassment, or abuse.
Visit the Cornell University's "What We Know" project to read their findings from a review of 73 scholarly research articles.
Cornell University. (n.d.). What does the scholarly research say about the effect of gender transition on transgender well-being? What We Know, The Public Policy Portal. https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-...
Raypole, C. (2016, June 29). What does it mean for a transgender person to transition? Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/what-does-it-mean-for-transgender-person-to-transition-0629167
Snow, K. (2015, April 23).Jacob’s journey: Life as a transgender 5-year old. NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/transgender-kids/jacob-s-journey-life-transgender-5-year-old-n34513...