The Question of Compassion

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

Are there any aspects of policies related to gender dysphoric students upon which everyone should be able to agree? Of course. No fair and decent person would disagree that gender dysphoric students

  • should not be bullied, harassed, or mistreated at school.

  • have a right to the same high-quality education as all other students.

  • have the freedom to express themselves in any way that is not detrimental to another’s freedom to express him/herself.

One of the most common criticisms made of people who voice concerns about any of the HRC’s & GLSEN’s policy mandates related to gender dysphoric students is that dissenters lack compassion.

But can a case be made that unquestioning cross-gender affirmation is always compassionate treatment of children?

An examination of the research around this topic offers some insight:

  • According to The World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care guidelines, “Gender dysphoria does not inevitably continue into adulthood.” In fact, only 6-23% persist into adulthood. 77-94% accept their biological sex after passing naturally through puberty.

  • Studies cited by HRC & GLSEN in support of cross-gender affirmation, such as Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults (subjects were ages 21-25) and Attempted Suicide Among Transgender Persons: the Influence of Gender-Based Discrimination and Victimization (subjects were 18 years of age or older) were conducted on adults. In the latter study subjects were asked if they had ever 1) been fired from a job, 2) experienced problems getting a job, 3) been denied or evicted from housing, or 4) experienced problems obtaining health or medical services due to their gender orientation or expression. None of these four measures relate in any way to children in educational settings.

  • In the 2009 Report of the APA Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance, a team of doctors outlined the vast and varied recommendations and research from clinicians working in this field and concluded that “psychologists who work with clients with gender identity issues are not of one mind on this issue,” including about what sort of treatments, both medical and psychological, are most effective for bringing about the best physical and psychological outcomes for patients.

Life as a gender dysphoric person is undeniably more difficult than life for non-gender-dysphoric persons. While we may wish this were not so and hope to create a world where it isn’t so, the reality of living as member of any minority group shows us time and again that it is unfortunately so.

But if the majority of children and youth who experience gender identity confusion or dysphoria eventually accept their biological sex, is it really compassionate to assist them in medically altering their bodies away from that biological sex?

If compassionate mental health care and “watchful waiting,”—as recommended by Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychiatrist and researcher with more than thirty years of experience in the field of sexuality and gender—brings about psychological alignment with one’s biological sex more often than not, is that not a more compassionate path?

There exists much room for further research and discussion on this topic. No one can argue that the path is not fraught with complexities and grave consequences for children if we get it wrong. That’s why we should all be able to agree that it’s imperative we get it right, for the sake of all our children.