GIRES Research Prize 2020

The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) is pleased to announce that the  GIRES Research Prize has been awarded this year to the authors of ‘A Critical Commentary on Follow-Up Studies and “Desistance” Theories about Transgender and Gender- Nonconforming Children’ 

International Journal of Transgenderism 19_2_212-224 (30 KB)

When children and young people show determined efforts to live their lives using clothing, names, and pronouns which conflict with the sex assigned to them at birth – a process known as ‘transition’ – it can be disruptive and surprising for their families and even incomprehensible to many. The World Health Organisation has taken the important step of reclassifying these experiences, as not being a mental illness, whether in children or adults, and using the terminology Gender Incongruence. Nonetheless, public figures, lawmakers, families and society generally often wonder aloud whether gender diverse young people can make informed decisions about their gender identities. Despite the fact that transgender identities are not mental illnesses, the cicumstances surrounding the identity can give rise to a strain on their mental health.  A significant contributor to this strain is the unwanted development of pubertal changes to their bodies, in conflict with their gender identities, which often terrify and even disgust them.

These initial responses to pubertal development are helpful for children in their decision-making process, and informative for their healthcare providers. So, before any medical interventions are permitted, children are obliged to experience the early stages of puberty that include the influx of sex hormones and the resultant physical changes to their bodies.  At this point, gender diverse children, many of whom may have already transitioned socially for several years, become desperate to stop their pubertal development.  In these circumstances reversible medical interventions to pause their puberty may be safely undertaken. Not all children will continue down this path; a few “desist” (decide not to). This confirms that the ‘affirmative’ approach to treating them, which includes supporting them socially by respecting their identities, enables thoughtful decision making, without the pressure of uncontrolled physical development.

GIRES has awarded this prize to a paper that drew attention to serious and systematic methodological flaws in previous papers that purported to show that a large percentage of trans youth “desisted” – an argument that has been used – inappropriately – to suggest that the above treatment protocol is wrong, and no children should be given puberty blocking medication. The winning article demonstrates that the “desistance” figures were subject to systematic methodological flaws and the numbers of “desisters” were significantly less than previous publications claimed. The article draws attention to the significant evidence that trans-identified children do indeed understand their own genders. Furthermore, it points, crucially, to the substantial evidence that health outcomes in trans youth whose care is affirmative and supports a social transition are far better than those who are discouraged from this self-exploration and self-expression.

The article argues that even in cases where a child does return to an identity congruent with their assigned sex, the best interests of the child were still served by allowing them to explore and express their gender identities freely.

Note that, despite what many in politics and the media claim in the U.K., nobody is providing or advocating for the provision of surgical interventions before adulthood.

Reubs Walsh, GIRES’ Research Chair, commented “I was delighted that we had the opportunity to award this prize to Julia and her fantastic collaborators and colleagues. This article demonstrates the academic and scientific rigour we expect from medical research, and of which the critiqued papers fell short. This is a fantastic piece of scholarship which, if given the attention it is most certainly due (particularly by practitioners and policy-makers), has the capacity to improve radically the way transgender and gender nonconforming children and young people are treated, both in paediatric gender-specialist services and by society in general.”

The article concludes: “As we progress towards a fuller understanding of children’s gender in all its complexity, it will be important to move beyond longitudinal studies of identity that seek to predict children’s futures, and instead prioritize respect for children’s autonomy in the present. For all the resources devoted to studying these children, we have much more to learn by listening to them.”

Congratulations to Julia Temple Newhook Ph.D, Jake Pyne Ph.D, Kelley Winters Ph.D, Stephen H. Feder MDCM, MPH, CCFP, Cindy Holmes Ph.D, Jemma Tosh Ph.D, Mari-Lynne Sinnott MD, CCFP, Ally Jamieson MSW, and Sarah Pickett PsyD.

Dr Julia Temple Newhook Award

Dr Julia Temple Newhook proudly displays an image of the certificate that awaits her when the University post room reopens post-COVID 19

GIRES Research Award 2020 Authors: GIRES Award 2020  (1247 KB )

GIRES Research Award 2020 Press Release: Press Release GIRES Award 2020 (205 KB)