Tag Archives: sexual orientation

Gender Identity Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa in Male Monozygotic Twins – Review

This is a fascinating study of identical twins; one had gender dysphoria and one did not. Both twins developed anorexia.

Both twins were feminine in behavior from a young age and both were sexually attracted to men. Both had a difficult childhood with an abusive father.

Both twins were underweight at birth and needed intensive care. Both had developmental delays.

However, one twin considered himself to be a gay man while one identified as a straight woman.

In this case study, gender dysphoria did not cause the eating disorder.

This case highlights the importance of other factors in eating disorders, including genes, hormones, and trauma.

It raises the question; how important is gender identity as a cause of eating disorders?

This case is different from other case studies where gender dysphoria seems to be intimately linked to the eating disorder.

We can’t look at these two patients and conclude that gender dysphoria never contributes to eating disorders. However, this case is a good reminder to be cautious about drawing conclusions from other case studies. Perhaps there are just some people with eating disorders who also have gender dysphoria. Or perhaps there is some other factor which causes both eating disorders and gender dysphoria.

As always, we need more studies.

More about the Patients:

Eating Disorders

Twin A was diagnosed with AN-purging subtype and Twin B was diagnosed with AN-restricting subtype.

Twin B developed an eating disorder at an earlier age, but Twin A was more underweight and had a more disturbed perception of his body. Furthermore, Twin A was hospitalized for his eating disorder and Twin B was not.

Neither twin seems to have been able to maintain a healthy weight.

At age 16 Twin A “was admitted to a children’s hospital because of AN. Later, he was hospitalized in the psychiatric inpatient unit for adolescents. At first, his eating behavior was restrictive. Then he reported intermittent vomiting (AN binge-purge). His weight decreased to 46 kg/1.79 m (body mass index [BMI] ¼ 14.3 kg/m²). His ideal weight was 44 kg according to a BMI of 13.7 kg/m² , which shows his severe disturbance in body perception. During hospitalization, his behavior was sometimes aggressive. He was emotionally unstable, depressed, and was rarely able to engage in stable relationships. Despite strict dietary rules, he achieved a maximal weight of 55 kg (BMI ¼ 17.2 kg/m²). Soon after being discharged, his weight decreased again.”

Twin B’s eating disorder began at a younger age. “In puberty, he developed severe underweight. At the age of 13, he was 42 kg/1.58 m (BMI ¼ 16.8 kg/m² ). When he was referred to our outpatient unit at the age of 18½ years [for gender dysphoria], his weight was 48 kg and his height was 1.76 m (BMI ¼ 15.5 kg/m² ). He denied deliberate dieting, binging, or purging. Although he regarded himself as too slim, he did not manage to gain weight. Further medical checkups revealed no somatic cause for his underweight. An osteodensitometry yielded an osteopenia of the spine.”

Gender Identity

Twin A was a gender non-conforming gay male:

In childhood, he preferred girls’ games and toys (Barbie dolls) and was very close to his twin brother. His sexual feelings were always for males. Although he started cross-dressing at the age of about 16 years, his gender identification was always male. He considered himself to be a homosexual.”

Twin B was a trans woman:

“As far as he could remember, he had felt he was a girl, preferring girls as playmates and had started cross-dressing at nursery school. In gymnastic lessons, he refused to change with the other boys because he was ashamed of his body. Eventually, he refused to attend sports lessons at all. When he was 9 years old, he started to grow his hair. His class mates seemed to accept him as a girl. When he started to work as a hairdresser, he tried to correspond to the male gender role and did not cross-dress. However, at his professional school and in his free time, he continued to cross-dress. His employer, who realized he was transsexual, permitted and encouraged him to cross-dress at work, which consequently allowed him to live as a young woman. Sexually, he was always attracted to men. However, in contrast to his brother, he never considered himself to be homosexual and viewed this attraction as ‘‘heterosexual.’’ Until this point, he had not engaged in sexual relationships either with men or with women.”

Twin B requested hormonal and surgical sex reassignment.

Childhood

The twins grew up together in a small Swiss city without any other siblings. Their childhood was not easy:

“[Their father] was very authoritarian. He could not accept the sexual orientation and the cross-dressing of his sons and threatened them with assault and even with death.

…In family conflicts, [their mother] took a position between her husband and her sons. At a family consultation, she appeared emotionally unstable.”

Birth 

The birth was a difficult one. Both twins were underweight and spent time in intensive care.

“the mother had been admitted to a hospital with hypertension, edema, and proteinuria at 38 weeks of gestation. The vaginal delivery was induced because of maternal preeclampsia. Twin A weighed 2.17 kg at delivery and his Apgar score was 9/9/9. Because of perinatal acidosis and hypotonia, he was kept in the incubator for 3 days. He was diagnosed with a subependymal hemorrhage with ventricular invasion. Twin B’s birth weight at delivery was 1.95 kg and his Apgar score was 7/9/9. Both twins were admitted immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit.”

Developmental Delays

They both had developmental delays:

“In early childhood, Twin A showed a developmental delay in language and motor skills and had deficits in cognitive and verbal skills. He was socially isolated and his behavior was often aggressive.”

“…Twin B had delays in language and motor development during early childhood. He showed the typical symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. The parents refused further assessment and treatment.”

Other

Twin A was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and subnormal verbal intelligence.

Twin B was diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

There is no obvious pattern to any of this. Twin A was larger at birth, but had more problems right after birth. Both had developmental delays, and Twin B may have had ADHD as well. Both were feminine in their behavior, but only Twin B developed gender dysphoria. Both were sexually attracted to men. Twin B developed an eating disorder earlier, but Twin A’s eating disorder seems more severe. Twin A has borderline personality disorder and Twin B does not.

Discussion

The authors offer two possible hypotheses about the twins’ gender identity.

Perhaps the twins are on a continuum of gender non-conformity where gender dysphoria is at the extreme end.

Alternatively, perhaps gender dysphoria* in childhood is inherited, but the later development of gender identity is determined by environmental factors and psychiatric comorbidity.

“In childhood, both Twin A and Twin B showed gender atypical behavior and stereotypical feminine traits and interests. In adolescence, their sexual orientation was revealed to be homosexual. Twin A developed effeminate homosexuality with male gender identity, whereas Twin B stabilized his cross-gender identity. Although Twins A and B are concordant for GID in childhood and sexual orientation on a categorical level, they are now discordant for TS. On a more dimensional level, one could argue that Twins A and B show an opposite sex-dimorphic behavior and that they arrived at different points of a continuum. The fact that GID in childhood is a predictor for later homosexuality and TS could support the dimensional view. It could be hypothesized that GID in childhood is mainly hereditary, whereas the development of the later phenotype of the gender identification is determined by environmental factors and psychiatric comorbidity, as any difference between MZ twins provides strong evidence for the role of environmental influences.”

The authors also discuss the relationship between gender and eating disorders. However, they don’t address the fact that the two twins had different gender identities, but both had eating disorders.

Perhaps both gay men and trans women are vulnerable to eating disorders for different reasons, but perhaps genes, hormones, and environment matter more than gender identity.

“Homosexual men seem to have an increased vulnerability to eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction (Williamson & Hartley, 1998), are more dissatisfied with their weight (French, Story, Remafedi, Resnick, & Blum, 1996), and are more concerned about their attractiveness (Siever, 1994). Male AN is associated with disturbed psychosexual and gender identity development, which supports the hypothesis that males with atypical gender role behavior have an increased risk of developing an ED (Fichter & Daser, 1987). Furthermore, feminine gender traits are discussed as a specific risk factor for ED in men and women (Meyer, Blissett, & Oldfield, 2001). Although the role of sexual orientation as a risk factor for ED is well documented, there is hardly any literature about GID and ED. For men with disturbance of gender identity in addition to the aforementioned factors concerning sexual orientation, underweight could be a way to suppress their libido and the expression of their secondary sexual characteristics and, at the same time, correspond to a female ideal of attractiveness (Hepp & Milos, 2002).”

We need more research!

“Further research in eating behavior and body dissatisfaction in patients with GID could provide more insight into the role of gender identity in the development of ED and lead to a better understanding of ED as well as GID.”

 

* In this case, gender non-conformity might be a more fitting phrase. Twin A does not seem to have ever wanted to be a girl.

 

Original Source:

Gender Identity Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa in Male Monozygotic Twins by Urs Hepp, Gabriella Milos, and Hellmuth Braun-Scharm in Int J Eat Disord. 2004 Mar;35(2):239-43.

 

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Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders – a Review

Three more case reports, three different stories. In each case gender dysphoria is related to the eating disorder, but in each case the relationship is different.

In the first case a trans woman (born male) had an eating disorder in adolescence. After sex reassignment surgery, her eating disorder returned.

In the second case, a trans woman developed an eating disorder when she decided to come out and live as a woman. At the time of the case report, she was on hormones and awaiting surgery.

In the third case, a trans man (born female) who had been living as a man had had long periods of being underweight and not menstruating. He denied dieting or caring about his weight, but he was very dissatisfied with his body. He was purging. Unfortunately, he also had alcoholism and had developed liver disease; he was therefore unable to take hormones.

There is no clear relationship here between transition and eating disorders. In one case, transition made the eating disorder worse. In another deciding to transition was linked to the eating disorder, but taking hormones did not cure the eating disorder.

These are, of course, case studies of only three individuals, so we can not draw any conclusions from them. As with other case studies, it seems that each individual is different.

However, for one of the patients, her eating disorder seems to have started when she decided to live as a woman, like the patients in this studythis study and this one. For some trans women, at least eating disorders are linked to gender dysphoria.

In the case of the trans man, his eating disorder went untreated for many years, like the trans man in this case study.

These cases are from a Swiss hospital program for gender identity disorder.

Case 1 – Trans Woman’s Eating Disorder Returns After Surgery

In early childhood, the patient was gender non-conforming and felt that she was a girl. As a teenager, she felt a deep aversion to her genitals and the development of secondary sex characteristics. She avoided swimming because she was ashamed of her body.

In adolescence, the patient was dissatisfied with her body and dieted until she was underweight (BMI=16.9 kg/m²). She held the weight for several months.

She cross-dressed “moderately” starting at age 20. She was distressed during her compulsory military service. She lived with a woman and later married, but was not very interested in sex. Her marriage only lasted 1½ years and after the divorce she decided to transition.

At age 36 she began taking hormones. Sixteen months later she had sex reassignment surgery and her eating disorder returned:

After the operation she again showed an increasing preoccupation with her body weight and shape. Her eating behavior was again restrictive. She still avoids highly caloric food and warm meals. Although her actual BMI is 20.0 kg/m²she feels too fat and seeks an ‘ideal’ body shape. After the first operation there were some complications and she had to undergo several re-operations. She herself wanted an augmentation of her breasts and is considering further cosmetic operations, which can be interpreted as persistent body dissatisfaction. She engages in excessive sporting activity and has repeatedly had minor injuries partly provoked by taking higher risks.

It is not clear why the eating disorder would return after she had surgery. By the time she had surgery, she had been living as a woman for a few years and taking hormones for over a year.*

Did the change in hormones after surgery affect her eating disorder? After surgery, her testosterone levels would have been lower than most cis women’s and low testosterone is linked to eating disorders in both men and women. In addition, for some women, higher levels of estrogen are linked to eating disorders.

Alternatively, did the complications of her surgery trigger a desire to control her body? Or had she been focused on changing her body with hormones and surgery and then when she was done, she focused on her weight? Or was her eating disorder a sign of persistent body dissatisfaction no matter what she did?

Case 2 – Trans Woman Develops Eating Disorder When She Transitions

The second patient had identified as a girl and felt like an outcast since early childhood. Her teachers did not allow her to play with girls’ toys. She started secretly cross-dressing in elementary school. She was suicidal at age 10 and said she wanted to live as a girl.

The physical changes of puberty were very distressing to the patient. She was attracted to men, but did not have any sexual relationships because she was afraid and because she did not want people to think that she was gay.

The patient attempted suicide at age 20 because of her gender dysphoria. After the suicide attempt, she got psychiatric therapy and decided to come out as a woman. She started to dress as a woman in public.

This is when the eating disorder began:

“Before his** coming-out, his body weight was 120 kg and his height was 1.97 m (BMI30.9 kg/m²). After the suicide attempt he started dieting and lost 40 kg of weight within 2 years. The minimal weight was 80 kg (BMI: 20.6 kg/m²). The eating behavior at the beginning was dietary restriction, followed by purging, binge-eating, and self-inducevomiting. He consumed anorectic medication and engaged in excessive sporting activities. The decision to come-out went hand-in-hand with the ambition to attain a more feminine shape by losing weight. He is convinced that his acceptance as a female would depend greatly on an ideal body shape. The patient is currently under hormonal treatment and the surgical reassignment will soon take place.”

Deciding to transition caused this patient to develop an eating disorder as she tried to change her shape. Socially transitioning and taking hormones did not cure her eating disorder.

Case 3 – Trans Man with a Long-standing Eating Disorder

This is a very depressing case.

The patient preferred boys’ games growing up and felt he belonged with the boys. At age 6 he was sent to the school counselor because he refused to play with girls. His breasts caused him distress, but he did not bind them or self-mutilate. He got his period at age 14, but had secondary amenorrhea (no period for six months or more) for many years.

He was attracted to females and had had only female partners. His partners accepted him as male.

He had been living “in the male role” for over 20 years, but had never had any medical treatments for his gender dysphoria. He had refused to take estrogen for his amenorrhea, however.

The patient was underweight when he came to the gender identity clinic and he had been very underweight in the past.

Her** minimal weight at the age of 40 was 33 kg (BMI: 13.5 kg/m²).*** She reported longlasting periods of underweight accompanied by amenorrhea. She denied ever having intended to diet deliberately. She reported no binge-eating or self-induced vomiting, but she was purging. She denied preoccupation with her weight but reported a strong body dissatisfaction.

The authors could not treat her with hormones, however, because of “severe liver disease and the psychic instability and alcohol dependence.”

Although the patient denied it, it might be that he was keeping his weight down in order to avoid having periods.

Social transition did not help this patient with his eating disorder. We can’t know whether or not hormones would have helped him since he was medically unable to take them.

Gender dysphoria is clearly linked to the eating disorders of the two trans women and possibly linked to the trans man’s eating disorder. Transitioning did not cure the trans women’s eating disorders, however. In one case surgery led to the symptoms returning after many years.

Original Source (full text):

Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders by U. Hepp, G. Milos in International Journal of Eating Disorders,12/2002; 32(4):473-8.

 

*In Switzerland at the time of these case studies, trans people had to live as their preferred gender for at least a year before they could get hormones. After at least 6 to 12 months on hormones, they were eligible for surgery.

** The authors of this study refer to the patients by their birth sex unless they have fully and legally transitioned.

*** A BMI under 16 is dangerous, a BMI of 13 is a serious problem.

Review – Anorexia Nervosa in a Young Boy with Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood : a Case Report

This is the earliest (1997) case study of someone with both gender dysphoria and an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are rare in children and in males, so an eating disorder in a boy is very unusual.

The boy’s mother had “abnormal eating habits and attitudes” and had been diagnosed with anorexia while she was pregnant with him. The boy had always been small for his age and did not get enough calories due to “extreme faddiness [picky eating] and the failure of the family to eat regular meals.” He was diagnosed with gender identity disorder when he was ten.

The boy developed a severe eating disorder at age 12 after a doctor suggested that he be given hormones to induce puberty.

In his case it looks like his gender dypshoria triggered his eating disorder, but he probably had a predisposition to problems with eating.

Treatment focused on three things: building up his weight, therapy with his family, and therapy with the patient around gender issues. In addition, a teacher was involved to prevent bullying at school. The boy refused the hormone treatments to induce puberty.

The patient’s weight improved steadily until his size was normal for his age and height, but the therapists thought he might relapse in the future due to family conflict and social prejudice.

In this case what worked was a combination of therapy for both the eating disorder and the gender dysphoria, along with family issues.

As always, it is important to remember that this is a case study of just one person. So far, the main conclusion I can draw from cases studies is that each person’s story is different.

More details on the case:

The boy had been gender non-conforming since he was three and had stated that he wished to be a girl. At age 10 his weight dropped and he was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with gender identity disorder. He was being bullied at school for being gender non-conforming and developed depression, abdominal pain, and headaches.* He was also dealing with severe conflicts between his parents and an older brother with behavior problems.

At that time, therapists helped him develop coping strategies to deal with the bullying and counseled his parents. His eating, weight, and mood improved quickly.

At age 12, his weight dropped rapidly and he had cold extremities and no signs of puberty. He was living on water biscuits and low calorie orange squash (sweet fruit juice) while exercising up to five hours a day.

He was diagnosed with anorexia “in a context of long-standing eating problems and marital disharmony,” with the doctor’s recommendation of hormones to induce puberty as a “significant precipitant.”

“… he admitted feeling uncertain about hormone treatment. He wanted the comfort of acceptance by his social peer group, but felt happiest and most at ease in a feminine role. After the issue of hormone treatment was raised, B. briefly attempted to control and even deny cross-gender behaviors as if forcing himself to conform to male sex stereotypes. His behaviour soon returned to being highly effeminate. He dressed in female clothing and jewellery whenever he could, wore make-up and stylized his hair into a long pony-tail. His interests were hairdressing, fashion magazines, and knitting. At school he associated only with girls and was physically nauseated at the idea of having to play contact sports like rugby with other boys.”

Treatment included individual therapy related to his gender dysphoria:

“Individual work with B. was difficult because of his high level of denial. Over a period of time he began to focus on his dilemma between social conformity which would allow acceptance by others and his acknowledgement of his own revulsion at the idea of his developing male sexuality. In therapy he recognized that he had attempted to delay puberty by restricting his calorie intake. His anxiety about puberty related to his fear of the development of male secondary sex characteristics, the acquisition of a male sex drive, and potential loss of slimness. He was troubled and confused by homosexual and heterosexual fantasies. Exploration of these themes allowed some gradual resolution. Over a period of several months, he began to see some positive benefits from the eventual development of secondary male sex characteristics and to recognize that these changes did not necessarily preclude the continuance of cross-gender behaviour which was an undeniable part of his identity.”

A teacher at his school was also involved to “provide a contact in school who could help B. with teasing and tactfully educate other staff members about his special needs.”

His weight improved steadily and stabilized at 95 percent expected weight for his age and height.

Original Source:

Anorexia Nervosa in a Young Boy with Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood : a Case Report by E. Waters and L. Whitehead in Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry July 1997 vol. 2 no. 3 463-467.

 

*The narrative is a little confusing, but this seems to have happened before the resurgence of his eating problems at age 12.

Review – Diverging Eating Psychopathology in Transgendered Eating Disorder Patients: A Report of Two Cases

These are two somewhat unusual case studies from Singapore. Once again, there is a connection between eating disorders and gender identity. Once again, the connection is different from other case studies.

Case 1 – A Fluid Gender Identity and an Eating Disorder

In the first case, the patient had a fluid gender identity; sometimes he identified as a man and sometimes as a woman.

When he identified as a woman, he restricted his food and exercised excessively. He wanted to be thin and felt a kinship with emaciated women because they were infertile like him.

When he identified as a man, he tried to gain weight and muscles, but his exercise and eating habits were still pathological.

The patient was always distressed and dissatisfied with his body.

In other words, his gender identity affected the form his eating disorder took, but it was probably not the cause of it.

Case 2 – Changing Gender Identity, Changing Eating Patterns

In the second case, the patient identified as a woman when he first sought treatment for his eating disorder. However, after a year of treatment, the patient came out to his friends as gay. They were accepting of his sexual orientation and he became more comfortable with a male gender identity.

Similarly to the first case, when the patient wanted to be a woman, he tried to become thin, using restricted eating, excessive exercise, and purging. However, when he began to identify as a male, he tried to build up his muscles and he ate more.

The authors do not comment on whether or not this patient still disliked his body.

The authors suggest that gender identity influences the form of body psychopathology; constructing your gender identity is linked to constructing your body. However, they do not suggest that gender dysphoria caused the eating disorders or that treating the gender dysphoria will cure them.

These two cases support their theory, but it is important to remember that this is a case study of two people. So far, the main conclusion I can draw from various cases studies is that each person’s story is different.

From the Discussion:

“The present case series describes two transgendered biological males seeking treatment for eating disorders, whose intermittent periods of endorsing both masculine and feminine gender identities impacted significantly upon their experience of eating disorder psychopathology. The two patients indicated that during periods of endorsing a feminine gender identity, they experienced an elevated definite drive for thinness, such that their body image psychopathology was oriented towards weight loss, reporting dietary restriction and cardiovascular exercise to lose weight. Furthermore, both patients reported that during periods of masculine gender identity endorsement, their body image psychopathology was oriented towards weight gain with an emphasis on “buff muscularity,” reporting increased food intake and muscle building exercise regimens.

This case series draws attention to the potential role of masculinity and femininity in body image psychopathology amongst males. Both patients depicted reported that the variation in their eating disorder psychopathology was concordant with their preferred gender identity, suggesting that the construction of one’s gender identity and the construction of one’s body may be interrelated.”

More details on the gender shift in the second case study:

At the beginning of treatment,

“…he reported homosexual sexual orientation and described privately wondering whether he was born into the wrong gender from approximately age 6. He reported periodically ‘trying to like girls’ due to the cultural and legal ramifications of homosexuality in his country of origin [probably China], and further stated that on many occasions his sexual orientation resulted in him feeling victimized and bullied. Patient Z reported significant discomfort with his sexual orientation, although he did report a female gender identity, which allowed him to experience his secretive same sex relationships as heterosexual given his assumed female identity.”

Before treatment, when he was restricting his food and purging,

“Patient Z reported immense discomfort surrounding his emerging sexual orientation, and reported strongly endorsing a female identity which enabled Patient Z to experience his same-sex attraction as heterosexual, alleviating the subjective distress and internal conflict he experienced in his homosexual urges. Patient Z described his role models to be female supermodels, stating that he aspired to their thin and feminine frames, adding that his gaunt appearance brought about by dietary restriction ‘accentuated his cheekbones’ and helped him identify with his female role models. Patient Z reported egosynotonicity of eating disorder symptomatology, allowing him to feel ‘small and more like a woman’ which he demonstrated in a collection of drawings depicting emaciated women, which he described as his ideal body.”

But then,

“Approximately 12 months into treatment Patent Z revealed his sexuality to his friends, whose acceptance and support reportedly alleviated the internal conflict he experienced around his same-sex attraction. As a result Patient Z reported reduced ambiguity surrounding his gender identity, describing more comfort in identifying with a male gender identity. During this same period, Patient Z developed a desire for muscular development as opposed to emaciation, and started a muscle building training regimen. Furthermore, this period was also characterized by Patient Z consuming greater quantities of food in support of his desire for greater muscularity.”

Original Source:

Diverging Eating Psychopathology in Transgendered Eating Disorder Patients: A Report of Two Cases by Murray SB, Boon E, Touyz SW in Eat Disord. 2013;21(1):70-4.

Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria – Review

This is a highly significant study showing that the population of teenagers referred for gender dysphoria is changing. It is noteworthy that this is happening in two different countries.

The sex ratio is changing:

The sex ratio of teenagers seeking help for gender dysphoria has changed at two clinics, one in Canada and one in the Netherlands.

Before 2006, more male than female teenagers sought transition at these clinics. Since 2006, they have seen more female teenagers than male teenagers.

Sex ratio for teenage patients at the Canadian Gender Identity Service:

  • 1999-2005 – 68% male, 32% female
  • 2006-2013 – 36% male, 64% female

Sex ratio for teenage patients at the Dutch Center for Expertise on Gender Dysphoria:

  • 1989-2005 – 59% male, 41% female
  • 2006-2013 – 37% male, 63% female

At the Canadian clinic, there was no change in the sex ratio of teenagers referred for psychiatric issues.* In both time periods, roughly two-thirds of their other patients were male.

According to the authors, “In adult samples [of transitioners], in almost all cases, the number of natal males either exceeds the number of natal females or the sex ratio is near parity.” Poland and Japan are exceptions; in those countries more females transition than males.

In addition, clinics for children with gender dysphoria have found that the number of males exceeds the number of females.

More teenagers are transitioning:

The number of teens of both sexes has increased over time, although the increase is larger for the female teenagers.

Increases at the Canadian clinic:

Female teenagers

  • 46 in 30 years (1976-2005)
  • 129 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Male teenagers

  • 80 in 30 years (1976-2005)
  • 73 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Increases at the Dutch clinic:

Female teenagers

  • 77 in 17 years (1989-2005)
  • 148 in 8 years (2006-2013)

Male teenagers

  • 109 in 17 years (1989-2005)
  • 86 in 8 years (2006-2013)

In other words, the Canadian clinic saw nearly nearly three times as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous thirty. The Dutch clinic saw nearly twice as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous seventeen.

Furthermore, “For many years in the Toronto clinic, the number of adolescent referrals was quite low. Between 1976 and 2003, for example, no more than five adolescents of one biological sex were assessed in a calendar year and, during this period, the number of males exceeded the number of females. Beginning in 2004, however, the number of adolescent referrals began to rise quite dramatically, which appears to be consistent with the observations of clinicians and researchers from other gender identity clinics.”

For earlier data on the increase in Canada, see this article.

Sexual orientation percentages have changed:

The Canadian clinic also looked at sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation of females:

  • 1976-2005 – 89% primarily attracted to females; 11% other
  • 2006-2013 – 64% primarily attracted to females; 36% other

Other could mean primarily attracted to males, bisexual, or asexual.

Sexual orientation of males:

  • 1976-2005 – 67% primarily attracted to males, 33% other
  • 2006-2013 – 44% primarily attracted to males, 56% other

Other could mean primarily attracted to females, bisexual, or asexual.

To put it another way, in the past most of the teenagers would have been gay if they weren’t transgender. If they transitioned, they would live their lives as straight people.

In 2006-2013 most of the male teenagers would have been straight, bisexual, or asexual if they weren’t transgender. If they transition, some of them will live their lives as lesbians.

One-third of the female teenagers in 2006-2013 would have been straight, bisexual, or asexual if they weren’t transgender. If they transition, some of them will live their lives as gay men.

What’s going on?

Why are we seeing more teenagers seeking help for gender dysphoria?

Why is the increase greater among female teens than males?

And why are we seeing a shift in the sexual orientation of these teens? Was it harder in the past to come out as transgender if you were seen as straight? Or is this a group of people who were less likely to have gender dysphoria in the past?

Has something changed in our environment that increases the number of people with gender dysphoria? What would affect more females than males? Why would it affect teenagers more than children (see this earlier article)? How would it fit with the changing percentages related to sexual orientation?

Is it just that there were always this many teenagers with gender dysphoria and now they are able to get care at an earlier age? How does that theory fit with the change in the sex ratio of teens applying to the clinic? with changes in their sexual orientation?

Clearly, we need more research to sort out these questions.

The authors speculate about possible explanations for the change in the sex ratio at their clinics.

They suggest that the general increase in patients might be due to a combination of destigmatization and more awareness of the biomedical treatments available to teens. However, they point out that this does not explain why more females would apply for treatment.

I don’t think we can know why the number of patients has increased without further research – research which is desperately needed.

The increase in the number of female patients at the Toronto clinic was not caused by a change in the severity of cases; they found that there was no significant relationship between severity of dysphoria and year assessed.

However, for male teens in Toronto, there was a weak correlation between severity of dysphoria and year assessed. “More recently assessed cases had moderately higher GD severity.” This only explained 6.7% of the variance. Therefore “it is unlikely that the recent inversion in the sex ratio can be accounted for by a substantive change in severity variation.”

On the other hand, they only have data on the severity of dysphoria starting in 2001 and the number of cases began increasing in 2004.

The change in the sex ratio was not due to females entering puberty at an earlier age; both clinics found no significant difference for the mean ages when females and males came to the clinic.

The sex ratio did not change due to the shift in sexual orientation. A logistical regression analysis did not find evidence for a sex x sexual orientation interaction.**

The authors suggest that perhaps the explanation for the change in the sex ratio is that it is harder for males to transition to a female role than for females to transition to a male one.

I find this unconvincing as this would have been true in the past when more male teenagers than females applied to their clinic. Nor would this hypothesis explain the shift in sexual orientation.

Here is their full explanation:

“Given that there is at least some overlap in the gender-variant developmental histories of early-onset individuals with GD and some gay men and lesbians, it might, therefore, be asked whether or not degree of stigmatization for gender-variant behavior might account for the recent inversion in the sex ratio of GD adolescents. It is well-known that cross-gender behavior in children is subject to more social stigma (e.g., peer rejection and peer teasing) in males than in females, in both clinic-referred adolescents with GD and in the general population[26–30]. Thus, it could be argued that it is easier for adolescent females to “come out” as transgendered than it is for adolescent males to come out as transgendered because masculine behavior is subject to less social sanction than feminine behavior. Some support for this was found in Shiffman’s [31] study of peer relations in adolescents with GD, in which adolescent males with GD reported more “social bullying” than adolescent females with GD. Given that a transgendered identity as an “identity option” has become much more visible over the past decade, it is conceivable, therefore, that such an identity option is easier for females to declare than it is for males because it does not elicit as much of a negative response. Thus, it could be argued that it is this sex difference in degree of stigmatization that accounts for the inversion in the sex ratio that we have identified in the two studies reported here. In other words, there are greater costs for a male to adopt a female gender identity in adolescence than it is for a female to adopt a male gender identity.”

A few more details about this study:

The first study looked at 328 teens (13-19) who were referred to the Toronto clinic between 1976 and 2013. The mean age at the time of referral was 16.66 years with no difference between the ages of males and females.

All of the teens met criteria for Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. They were diagnosed using criteria in the relevant version of the DSM – this changed over time. The assessment of severity of dysphoria began in 2001.

The control group was 6,592 teens referred to their general clinic for psychiatric issues between 1999-2013. Eleven teens originally referred for psychiatric issues who were later referred to the Gender Identity Service were not included in this group.

The teens’ sexual orientation was determined by either clinical chart data or measurements on the Erotic Response and Orientation Scale and the Sexual History Questionnaire. This data was not available for five probands (aka people in this study).

The numbers for the sexual orientation of the teens at the Canadian clinic were:

1976-2005 (30 years)

  • 52 males primarily attracted to males
  • 26 males in the “other” category
  • 39 females primarily attracted to females
  • 5 in the “other” category

2006-2013 (8 years)

  • 32 males primarily attracted to males
  • 41 males in the “other” category
  • 82 females primarily attracted to females
  • 46 females in the “other” category

The clinic did not have data on the sexual orientation of five of the teenagers.

The second study looked at data on 420 teenagers (13 and up) referred to the Dutch clinic between 1989-2013.  Their mean age at the time of assessment was 16.14 and there was no significant age difference between males and females.

The second study did not include data on sexual orientation or a control group for comparison.

“The percentage of female adolescents from Amsterdam in the first time period did not differ significantly from the percentage of female adolescents from the Toronto clinic, and the percentage of female adolescents from Amsterdam in the second time period also did not differ from the percentage of female adolescents from the Toronto clinic, both χ2(1) < 1.”

This study is a follow-up to two earlier letters to the editor about changes in the teenage population at the clinic in Toronto: Is Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents Coming out of the Closet? and Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation.

The first letter discussed a rise in teenagers referred to the Canadian clinic between 2004-2007. The second letter discussed the continued increase in referrals from 2008-2011 and raises the question of a possible change in the sex ratio in 2008-2011.

Original Article:

Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria by Aitken M1, Steensma TD, Blanchard R, VanderLaan DP, Wood H, Fuentes A, Spegg C, Wasserman L, Ames M, Fitzsimmons CL, Leef JH, Lishak V, Reim E, Takagi A, Vinik J, Wreford J, Cohen-Kettenis PT, de Vries AL, Kreukels BP, Zucker KJ in J Sex Med. 2015 Mar;12(3):756-63. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12817. Epub 2015 Jan 22.

* The Canadian clinic is the Gender Identity Service, within the Child, Youth, and Family Services (CYFS) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The clinic in the Netherlands is the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. This may explain why we have a comparison group for the Canadian patients with gender dysphoria, but not the Dutch ones.

**  “In the cohort examined in Study 1, perhaps it could be argued that, in the first time period, the greater number of biological males than biological females was an artifact of there being two prominent subtypes of GD (androphilic and nonandrophilic) in the former, whereas the latter were predominantly of only one subtype (gynephilic), but that this shifted in the second time period, with a greater number of females with a nongynephilic sexual orientation. However, the logistic regression analysis shown in Table 4 did not provide evidence for a sex × sexual orientation interaction. It only showed that a nonandrophilic or nongynephilic sexual orientation increased the odds that a proband presented in the second time period, but sexual orientation did not interact with probands’ biological sex.”

Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation – Review

This is a follow-up to an earlier letter to the editor calling for research and discussion on the subject of teenagers with gender dysphoria. The authors had seen a sharp increase in the number of teenagers referred to their Toronto clinic between 2004 and 2007.

You can read about some new, related data here.

In this letter, the authors report that:

Cases of teens with gender dysphoria are still increasing.

Between 2008-2011 the number of teenagers referred to their clinic increased even further.

Based on their graph, before 2000, they saw fewer than 20 teenagers in a four year period. From 2004-2007 they saw about 55 teens and from 2008-2011, they saw about 95. In other words, the number of teen patients they saw more than quadrupled.

usmt_a_675022_o_f0001g (1)

By my calculations, about two-thirds of their teenage patients in the last 36 years came to the clinic between 2000 and 2011; over half came to the clinic in the last 8 years between 2004 and 2011.

In contrast, the number of cases of children with gender dysphoria increased sharply in 1988-1991, but has been reasonably stable since then.

Looking at their graph again, between 1988 and 2011 they saw 75 to 90 children in a four year period. The children who came to the clinic between 2004 and 2011 only make up 29% of the child patients they’ve seen in the past 36 years.

In 2008-2011, the number of teenagers at their clinic was larger than the number of children for the first time ever.

From 1976-2004, the number of children at their clinic was much higher than the number of teens. The number of teens increased greatly after 2004, but was still lower than the number of children at their clinic.

The sex ratio of their teenage patients may be changing.

For teenage patients, the sex ratio was close to even, ranging from 1.03:1 boys to girls in 2004-2007 to 3:1 in 1976-1979. There were two time periods when they saw more female teenagers than males: 1988-1991 and the most recent group in 2008-2011.

***Spoiler alert – a 2015 study found that the sex ratio has indeed changed from more boys to more girls. This was true for both this clinic and a Dutch one. More later.***

It is important to remember that the numbers of both male and female teenage patients increased starting in 2004.

The increase in female teenagers is much more striking. Based on the graph below they went from fewer than 10 patients every four years prior to 2000 to nearly 60 patients from 2008-2011.

However, male teenage patients also increased. They went from about 5-15 patients every four years prior to 2000 to about 35 patients from 2008-2011. In 2004-2007 the number of male and female teenage patients was nearly equal.

usmt_a_675022_o_f0002g

The authors also discuss the pattern of sex ratio by age. Putting the data from different time periods together, from ages 12-16, there were slightly more boys than girls. However, at age 17-18, there were more females than males, and at age 19-20, the sex ratio shifted again to 2.4 boys to 1 girl.

Sexual orientation

The authors had data on sexual orientation for 98% of the teenagers they saw.* Of these 76% of their female teenage patients were sexually attracted to females while 56.7% of their male teenage patients were sexually attracted to males.**

The sex ratio for child patients is different than for teenage patients.

The overall sex ratio for children was 4.49 boys to 1 girl. For 3 year olds, the sex ratio was 33 boys for every girl.***

From 1976-1996, over 75% of their child patients were boys, from 2001-2011 the percentage hovered around 75%.

What does this mean?

We don’t know why more teenagers are seeking help at this clinic. Are there more teenagers with gender dysphoria than in the past? If so, why? What would make gender dysphoria increase among teenagers and not among children? Are people with gender dysphoria simply able to get help at an earlier age?

As always, we need more research!

The authors provide some interesting insights:

“Regarding the increase in adolescent referrals, it is, of course, not clear if it reflects a true increase in prevalence (which can only be established via epidemiological studies) or if it simply reflects a greater willingness on the part of youth to come out as transgendered, perhaps because of the influence of social media in which there are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites and blogs that assist youth in understanding their own identity and its concomitant struggles. We have been impressed, for example, in recent years with youth describing to us that they never realized that their feelings could be named in a formal way (gender identity disorder, transgender, trans). One might infer that the Internet has made much more visible terminology used in technical journals. 

Another parameter that has struck us as clinically important is that a number of youth comment that, in some ways, it is easier to be trans than to be gay or lesbian. One adolescent girl, for example, remarked, “If I walk down the street with my girlfriend and I am perceived to be a girl, then people call us all kinds of names, like lezzies or faggots, but if I am perceived to be a guy, then they leave us alone.” To what extent societal and internalized homonegativity pushes such youth to adopt a transgendered identity remains unclear and requires further empirical study. Along similar lines, we have also wondered whether, in some ways, identifying as trans has come to occupy a more valued social status than identifying as gay or lesbian in some youth subcultures. Perhaps, for example, this social force explains the particularly dramatic increase in female adolescent cases in the 2008–2011 cohort.

Another factor that has impressed us in accounting for the increase in adolescent referrals pertains to youth with gender identity disorder who also have an autism spectrum disorder. As noted by others (de Vries, Noens, Cohen-Kettenis, van Berckelaer-Onnes, & Doreleijers, 2010), many clinicians are now reporting a co-occurrence of these two conditions.

More than 10 years or so ago, it was rare in our clinic to see an adolescent with gender identity disorder who also appeared to have an autism spectrum disorder. It is possible, therefore, that the apparent increase in the number of adolescents who present with a co-occurring autism spectrum disorder is contributing to the increase in the number of referrals. Over the past decade, a great deal of media attention has been given to the use of hormonal therapy to treat gender dysphoria in adolescents, including the use of “blockers” to either delay or suppress somatic puberty (Cohen-Kettenis, Steensma, & de Vries, 2011; Zucker et al., 2011). In the province of Ontario, its health care system relisted sex reassignment surgery as an insured medical treatment in 2008 after having been delisted in 1998 (Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Processing Sites, 2008; Radio Canada, 2008). Perhaps the availability again of insurance coverage has led to more adolescents seeking treatment. Whatever the explanation for the increase in adolescent referrals, it appears that gender identity disorder in adolescents has come out of the closet, although there may be different closets from which to come out.”

A few more details about the data:

The children were significantly more likely to be living in two-parent homes than the teens (66% versus 46%).

Most of the patients were white; 80% of the children and 76% of the teens.****

The study included 577 children (3-12 years old) and 253 teens (13-20 years old).

The study excluded “26 boys referred for fetishistic cross-dressing and referred adolescents who were diagnosed with transvestic fetishism (without co-occurring gender dysphoria), gay youth, and youth who were ‘undifferentiated'”.

Original Source:

Patterns of Referral to a Gender Identity Service for Children and Adolescents (1976–2011): Age, Sex Ratio, and Sexual Orientation by Wood H, Sasaki S, Bradley SJ, Singh D, Fantus S, Owen-Anderson A, Di Giacomo A, Bain J, Zucker KJ. in J Sex Marital Ther. 2013;39(1):1-6.

* 248 teenagers out of 253 total.

** The authors classified the teenagers as homosexual or nonhomosexual in relation to birth sex.

***It may be that parents are more worried about boys who are gender non-conforming than girls so more boys are referred to the clinic. By adolescence the teenagers might play more of a role in coming to the clinic.

**** Yup, we need more research on people with gender dysphoria who aren’t white.

You can read more in the follow-up study, Evidence for an Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria.