CW: gender transition, gender dysphoria, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt.
I’ve had a parent ask me, “My kid is 4 and says they want to be a boy. Can they really
know?” Although everyone’s story is different, the short answer is yes! Additionally, supporting your child from the onset of gender dysphoria could be lifesaving. Don’t take it from me, though; there’s been good research on this.
In a study of patient self-reports, transgender individuals reported their first recollections of experiencing gender dysphoria between the ages of three and seven. Most of them experienced gender dysphoria onset around six years old (Zaliznyak, 2021). Interestingly, in the same study with the same people, it took between 22 and 27 years before starting their gender transition. This suggests that gender dysphoria manifests early in one’s life and persists untreated for many years, sometimes for decades (Zaliznyak, 2021).
Dr. Anne L. Koch echoes this in her book, It Never Goes Away. She recalls wanting to be
a girl around age four or five (Koch, 2019). As she grew older, she mentioned that she regrets
the lack of support she had throughout her transition. She didn’t realize how helpful it could be to find the right support group. Especially because she transitioned at an older age, she
experienced shame for being trans, and never let herself tell anyone the extent of her feelings (Koch, 2019). A lack of support is dangerous, and it isn’t isolated to Dr. Koch’s experience; we see this reflected in The Trevor Project’s LGBTQ research.
“LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support” (The Trevor Project, 2022). 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. 14% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide in the past year (The Trevor Project, 2022). This suggests that high social support alone could cut the percentages of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt in half. This begs the question: what is support for a four-year-old who is experiencing gender dysphoria? I wonder what would happen if you asked them, “What does support look like to you?”
Koch, A., 2019. It never goes away.
Paley, A., 2022. 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
Zaliznyak, M., Yuan, N., Bresee, C., Freedman, A. and Garcia, M., 2021. How Early in Life do
Transgender Adults Begin to Experience Gender Dysphoria? Why This Matters for Patients,
Providers, and for Our Healthcare System. Sexual Medicine, 9(6), p.100448.
Jacob Lundy is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. He began pursuing a Bachelor in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and deeply fell in love with therapy when he finally went to therapy himself in his senior year. He has ten years of teaching experience including music, special education, and ESL. He also has three years of experience working as a personal service worker, showing comfort to autistic individuals. He's now pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University. To request an appointment, click "Schedule Now" at the top of the page or contact us for further assistance and to send questions.