Tag Archives: trans teens

Long-term follow-up of individuals undergoing sex reassignment surgery: Psychiatric morbidity and mortality – Review of Abstract

The authors of the study suggest that gender reassignment surgery may increase psychiatric problems for some people and decrease them for other people.

The study looked at the medical records of 104 people who had sex reassignment surgery in Denmark between 1978 and 2000.

They found that there was no statistically significant difference between the number of psychiatric diagnoses before surgery and after surgery.

In addition, the people who had diagnoses before surgery were different from the people who had diagnoses after surgery. Only 6.7% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis both before and after surgery while 27.9% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis before surgery and 22.1% had one afterwards.

According to the authors “this suggests that generally SRS may reduce psychological morbidity for some individuals while increasing it for others.”

The study also found that:

Psychiatric diagnoses were over-represented both before and after surgery (i.e. the group had more psychiatric issues than the general population).

Trans men (born female) had a significantly higher number of psychiatric diagnoses overall; there were no other statistically significant differences between trans men and trans women.

At the same time “significantly more psychiatric diagnoses were found before SRS for those assigned as female at birth.”

10 people had died at an average age of 53.5 years.

Questions for the Future

The most important question is, of course, how can we make sure that SRS does not increase psychiatric problems in the future?

Is it a question of better screening to identify gender dysphoria?

Do people need more support and counseling after surgery?

Should some people transition without getting surgery?

Were poor surgical outcomes linked to psychiatric problems?

Could low hormone levels after surgery cause problems for some people?

Were people’s problems caused by the surgery or some other aspect of transition that happened after surgery?

Or to put it another way, how do we identify which people might benefit from surgery and which might be hurt by it? or do we need to make other changes to prevent new psychiatric diagnoses after surgery?

It would also be helpful to know more about the specific psychiatric diagnoses before and after surgery. Are we seeing increases in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or what?

How did the patients whose mental health improved compare to those whose mental health got worse? Were they older or younger? What were their life circumstances?

What does it mean that trans men had more psychiatric diagnoses before surgery? Was surgery more beneficial for them than for trans women or did trans men just have more psychiatric problems overall?

How long after surgery did people get the new psychiatric diagnoses?

More about the study:

Only the abstract of the study is available online, so it is hard to interpret some of their results.

The abstract gives few further details on their methodology, but a similar study of physical illnesses and death looked at the records of 56 trans women (born male) and 48 trans men (born female). The follow-up period began when people received permission for surgery. The group used in the other study represented 98% of all people who officially had SRS in Denmark from 1978 to 2000.

Original source:

Long-term follow-up of individuals undergoing sex reassignment surgery: Psychiatric morbidity and mortality by Simonsen RK, Giraldi A, Kristensen E, Hald GM in Nord J Psychiatry. 2016;70(4):241-7.

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Where to Call if you Need Help

This is not a political blog, but I think we all need a reminder to take care of ourselves right now. Reach out for help – there are people who want to help you.

And to parents who read my blog, please tell your kids you love them and will fight for them.

Sources of Help:

Trans Lifeline for trans people:

  • US number: 1-877-565-8860
  • Canadian number: 1-877-330-6366
  • and their website.

The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth (US) – 1-866-488-7386 and their website.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and their website.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention – their website has an interactive map with phone numbers and locations of crisis centers.

From Maria Shriver’s blog, Powered by Inspiration.

Two Years After My Suicide Attempt, I’m Still Living and Sharing

“Waking up two years ago gave me opportunities, some of which seem obvious but some of which I’m still discovering. I have the opportunity to continue the life I began and do the things I want to do. I have the opportunity to offer help to people who would have helped me if only I had shared what was going on.”

Read more here.

Finally, some helpful tips from the website Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide:

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or
    having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or
    in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden
    to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What to Do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Review of Evaluation of surgical procedures for sex reassignment: a systematic review

This is a 2007 review of research on gender reassignment surgery. It shows clearly that we need more research in this area.

The research is not strong enough to evaluate the efficacy of gender reassignment surgery in general. In addition, we do not have a way to evaluate particular surgeries.

From the abstract:

“The evidence concerning gender reassignment surgery in both MTF and FTM transsexism has several limitations in terms of: (a) lack of controlled studies, (b) evidence has not collected data prospectively, (c) high loss to follow up and (d) lack of validated assessment measures. Some satisfactory outcomes were reported, but the magnitude of benefit and harm for individual surgical procedures cannot be estimated accurately using the current available evidence.”

The authors reviewed all the articles they could find on gender reassignment surgeries from 1980 onwards. The review took place in October and November 2005.

The great strength of this review is that they looked at individual surgical procedures. Too often studies lump together all gender reassignment surgeries and then evaluate whether or not they were effective. It is possible that some surgeries are more helpful for people’s mental well-being than others. In addition, some surgeries may have better physical outcomes or fewer risks than others. The physical outcomes could certainly affect people’s mental well being as well.

They did not find enough good studies looking at individual surgeries; there is a great need for more such studies. We need to know what are the complications and problems with various surgeries. Are some techniques better than others? Do some medical centers have better physical outcomes than others?

Only a few of the studies reported on patients’ well-being, mental health, or satisfaction; these studies had the same methodological weaknesses as the others.

This is the main finding of the review – we don’t have great data and we need further research. You can read more about some of the specific surgical procedures here.

The authors discuss the quality of research and directions for future research; I have included their discussion below.

Discussion

In the first section concerning MTF surgical procedures, 38 published papers met the inclusion criteria (23 case series and 15 case studies) with an additional 13 papers excluded (four case series, three case studies, four reviews, one prospective non-randomized controlled study, one expert opinion). The level of included evidence was of poor quality. There was a clear lack of randomized controlled evidence and only one excluded study included a control group comparison. No studies met the inclusion criteria for labiaplasty, orchidectomy or penectomy procedures. A large amount of evidence is available reporting vaginoplasty and clitoroplasty procedures. Some complications have been reported. All the studies report, to various degrees, satisfactory outcomes in terms of being able to have penetrative sexual intercourse and achieving sexual fulfilment.

In the second section concerning FTM surgical procedures, 44 published papers met the inclusion criteria (26 case series, 17 case studies, one cohort study) with an additional 19 papers being excluded (seven reviews, five expert opinions, four case series, three case studies). The majority of included evidence was of poor quality. Many of the studies reported good satisfactory outcomes with few complications for each of the individual procedures. The main outcomes reported were the ability to perform penetrative sexual intercourse and achieve orgasm. Another key factor requested by many FTM patients was the ability to void whilst standing. Whilst successful results were reported by many studies for phalloplasty procedures, an inability to perform sexual penetration due to the construction of a small phallus was a common problem reported following the metoidioplasty procedure. Some of the FTM core surgical procedures are frequently completed along with other surgery, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of each procedure alone. Furthermore, the assessment of effectiveness is also confounded by the lack of controlled evidence, unclear outcome measures, and a reliance on case series and case studies.

Six previous reviews have reported the clinical effectiveness of GRS. Six reviewed evidence in MTF patients and three of these also reviewed evidence in FTM patients. Of these, three were systematic reviews. These earlier reviews provide a summary of approximately 172 individual studies. Two recent unpublished reports provided a brief summary of some of the reviews. Several key points were raised in these previous reviews. The first related to the quality of the evidence and study design. Concerns were raised about the lack of randomized controlled evidence, the majority of evidence involved case studies and case series, with few studies using group comparisons, standardized measures or the follow up of participants. A second concern related to the validity of findings. Many studies involved a combination of different surgical procedures. Thirdly, there was concern about the validity of outcome measures. Despite many reports of positive outcomes of patients, there was little consensus of how to measure effectiveness. The large range of outcomes reported across studies makes it difficult to accurately evaluate the overall outcomes of individual surgical procedures.

Several previous reviews reported a controlled study which compared 20 patients having immediate surgery with 20 patients awaiting surgery for penectomy, orchidectomy and the construction of a neovagina. The remaining studies reflect lower grades of evidence, and had further problems in their design such as selected patient groups, retrospective analysis and losses to follow up. Conclusions from the reviews are understandably tentative, but highlight improvements in patients across most studies, although 10–15% of patients with transsexism who undergo GRS have poor outcomes.

The quality of evidence included in this review has been poor due to the lack of concealment of allocation, completeness of follow up and blinding. As well as the fundamental limitation in study design, several other issues regarding the interpretation of the evidence are worth consideration. Firstly, all the reviews, and many of the individual studies within them, examine different types of GRS. The Mate-Kole study, for example, is essentially an evaluation of three surgical techniques. Clearly, trying to reach a robust conclusion about GRS as a whole is not possible when the combination of techniques varies across studies. Secondly, the patient populations within, and across studies, are heterogeneous and we have little idea about the referral, diagnosis, assessment and selection processes that precede inclusion within the studies. Consequently, Brown concludes that a lengthy differential diagnosis and a specialized approach to interviewing gender dysphoric patients are needed. Thirdly, the choice of outcome measures varies across studies, with very little use of validated health-related quality of life (QOL) measures. This complicates further our ability to draw conclusions, and also limits the commissioners’ ability to identify studies that use outcomes that are relevant to their role. Finally this review has focused on a subset of surgical procedures that are used within this field. Whilst these are considered to be the most routine, it is recognized that other procedures are currently used and these too need to be critically appraised in future reviews.

No published evidence on cost-effectiveness was found. Best and Stein speculate that some cost offsets are possible following surgery due to the reduced need for psychiatric and hormonal treatment, but no evidence is available for this. The lack of generic QOL measures means that measures of cost-effectiveness that can be used to assess value for money relative to other healthcare interventions are not possible.

When trying to consider all of the evidence together, there is a dilemma regarding its interpretation. Reviews of heterogeneous patient groups and interventions clearly give the greatest depth of evidence, but give little in the way of specific information that is of use to purchasers. In contrast, studies of individual techniques have a more limited evidence base but allow us to focus on specific clinical questions with more consistent reporting. But these provide information on purchasing decisions that are less realistic, as some procedures are unlikely to be purchased in isolation. In between these extremes, are sets of studies that investigate various combinations of multiple procedures, but matching these studies to the activity of different providers and patients, is extremely complex.

Taking this reasoning further, some would argue that assessment of GRS in isolation is difficult to interpret, as it is the final step in a longer treatment process. This is more contentious, as many patients do not reach the point of referral for surgery and many do not wish to undergo any surgery. Also, taking this argument to its extreme would require studies of the effectiveness of treatment from initial diagnosis to the end of post-surgical follow up; such studies do not exist.

Despite these difficulties in interpretation of review evidence the conclusion about the strength of evidence regarding GRS appears clear: little robust evidence exists.

Future research

There is a need for good quality controlled trials based on clearly defined diagnosis and assessment criteria.

An important consideration for future studies is how best to evaluate the effectiveness of a surgical procedure. One possibility is assessment of patient satisfaction and regret following surgery. More importantly is the need for standardised measures to assess the outcome of surgery. One suitable method, which has received limited research, is the use of QOL measures in samples before and after GRS. Rakic et al. investigated several aspects of QOL after GRS in 32 patients with transsexism (22 MTF, 10 FTM). Four aspects of QOL were examined: sexual activity; attitude towards the patients’ own body; relationships with other people; and occupational functioning. For the majority of persons with transsexism, QOL improved after surgery in terms of these aspects. All patients (100%) were satisfied with their GRS. However, only 20 patients (62%) were satisfied with how their bodies looked. In a study by Barrett, they used the General Health Questionnaire and assessments of depression inpatient groups. More controlled studies using this type of experimental design are needed to provide a better measure of surgical effectiveness.

For many patients undergoing GRS, their desire is to look ‘normal’ and be capable of having a normal sexual relationship. The results presented in this review have provided little evidence on how successful individual surgical procedures are in achieving these goals. Further research is needed to investigate these specific outcome measures of satisfaction and function.

In conclusion, we have confirmed the findings from previous reviews that the evidence to support GRS has several limitations in terms of: (a) lack of controlled studies; (b) evidence has not collected data prospectively; (c) high loss to follow up; and (d) lack of validated assessment measures. We have extended these findings from previous reviews by providing a summary of the evidence available for each of the ‘core’ procedures for MTF and FTM transsexism. In the majority of studies a large number of persons with transsexism experience a successful outcome in terms of subjective well being, cosmesis, and sexual function. We conclude that the magnitude of benefit and harm cannot be estimated accurately using the current available evidence.

Original Source:

Evaluation of surgical procedures for sex reassignment: a systematic review by Sutcliffe PA, Dixon S, Akehurst RL, Wilkinson A, Shippam A, White S, Richards R, Caddy CM in J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2009 Mar;62(3):294-306.

Evaluation of surgical procedures for sex reassignment: a systematic review – information on specific surgeries

This is a 2007 review of research on gender reassignment surgery. The authors found that there was not enough strong research to evaluate gender reassignment surgery; you can read more about the study as a whole here. This article looks more at specific surgical procedures.

The authors of the review evaluated individual surgical procedures rather than just looking at the outcome of all gender reassignment surgeries together. This allows a better understanding of which procedures are the most effective. It also means excluding some studies that looked at more than one procedure.

The authors reviewed all the articles they could find on specific gender reassignment surgeries from 1980 onwards. The review took place in October and November 2005.

The following are some of the results they found for specific surgeries. There is not enough data to definitively evaluate particular procedures and techniques, but there is useful information on possible complications. Clearly, however, we need more research.

Surgeries for Trans Women (born male)

Clitoroplasty/neoclitoris construction – The authors reviewed three studies that used a range of surgical techniques. The results were generally good but in one study 2 out of 10 patients had necrosis of the neoclitoris; in another study three out of nine patients did not report sexual satisfaction.

“All three included papers reported successful results in terms of function and cosmetic appearance with few or no complications (e.g. urine leakage). Rehman and Melman reported that the neoclitoris had remained intact postoperatively in eight out of 10 patients and the functional and cosmetic appearance was comparable to a normal clitoris. In two patients, however, the results were not satisfactory because of necrosis of the neoclitoris.

Using the dorsal portion of the glans penis with the dorsal neurovascular pedicle for clitoroplasty, the neoclitorides in nine patients survived well, and six patients reported sexual satisfaction. However, the transpositioning of glans on the long dorsal neurovascular pedicle appears to be a procedure with high risks. Overall, several studies have reported that the neoclitoris construction can result in good preservation of light touch and sexual sensation.

Vaginoplasty/neovagina construction – The authors reviewed 32 studies. Satisfactory cosmetic and functional results were reported in many of the studies, although one found that “vaginoplasty combining inversion of the penile and scrotal skin flaps produced poor functional outcomes.” 

One study reported some severe complications.

A 2001 study from Germany reported that “major complications during, immediately and after surgery occurred in nine of the 66 patients (14%), including necrosis of the distal urethra (n = 1), necrosis of the glans (n = 3), a rectal lesion (n = 3), and severe wound infections (n = 6).”  

In addition, according to the abstract of the 2001 study, “Minor complications, e.g. meatal stenosis in seven patients, occurred in 24 (36%) of patients. Ten patients with insufficient penile skin had the phallic cylinder augmented with a free-skin mesh graft, but in three of these patients an ileal augmentation was finally constructed because scarring occurred at the suture line between the penile skin and the augmented graft.”

At the same time, 47% of the patients in the 2001 study completed a follow-up questionnaire and almost all of them reported that they were “satisfied with the cosmetic result and capacity for orgasm.” Over half of the people who answered the follow-up questionnaire had had sexual intercourse. It is not clear if the satisfied group included the people who had had complications.

It would be good to have more information to compare to the German results. Are these rates of complications normal?

The reviewers did not find studies that met their criteria for labiaplasty, orchidectomy, or penectomy.

Surgeries for Trans Men (born female)

Hysterectomy – The authors only reviewed one study that met their criteria; it reported successful operations for two trans men. The study also reported that “a laparoscopic hysterectomy using the McCartney tube for FTM GRS was a useful procedure in overcoming difficulties encountered due to restricted vaginal access.”

Mastectomy – The authors reviewed three studies: “Colic and Colic found the use of a circumareolar approach for subcutaneous mastectomy produced flatter masculine breasts, leaving sufficient dermal vascularization for the nipple-areola complex. Of the 12 FTM patients all were very satisfied with the outcomes of surgery mainly because of the periareolar scar. It was reported, however, that two areolar necroses occurred due to perforation of the thin vascular dermal pedicle.”

Metoidioplasty – The authors reviewed two studies.

In the first, the procedure was successful for 32 patients with an average hospital stay of 11 days. One patient had a severe haematoma (solid swelling of clotted blood), but there were no other complications.

In the second study, 17 patients were satisfied with the size and appearance of their penis, but 5 people required additional augmentation phalloplasty. In two cases, the trans men developed urethral stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and in three cases they developed fistula. The complications were related to the urethroplasty.

The reviewers add: “The metoidioplasty procedure produces a very small phallus (e.g. mean = 5.7 cm, range = 4–10 cm), hardly capable of sexual penetration, if at all. Only 10 of the 32 patients were able to void whilst standing. It should be noted that in the study by Hage et al, 18 patients combined the metoidioplasty procedure with the construction of a bifid scrotum in which testicular prostheses were implanted. Overall these two studies found metoidioplasty was an appropriate method where the clitoris seems large enough to provide a phallus and satisfies the patient.”

Phalloplasty – There is only limited data on the outcomes of phalloplasty, although two studies reported good outcomes in terms of size and stiffness and one reported good psychological outcomes.

However, there are a range of procedures and they have mixed results.

Serious complications have been reported and phalloplasty leaves a scar somewhere on the body.

One study found that creating the neourethra in two stages could reduce complications.

Another study using a suprapubic abdominal wall flap produced a good cosmetic appearance for 68% of the people; presumably 32% of the trans men had phalluses that did not look as good. A small study of using a lateral arm free flap reported good results.

“There appear to be limited data on outcome measures, including social integration, patient satisfaction and physiological function. Good operative results have been reported in terms of appropriate size and stiffness without vascular compromise and in terms of psychological outcomes. In addition to an aesthetically appealing look either while being nude (81%) or wearing a tight swim suit (91%), to void whilst standing appears to be an important goal for many FTM patients. It is important to recognize that there are a range of phalloplasty procedures available with mixed findings being reported in terms of effectiveness. Hage et al. reported several serious complications such as vesicovaginal, urethrovaginal fistulas and urinary incontinence. Furthermore, unlike the metoidioplasty procedure, free flap phalloplasty techniques produce extensive scarring to the donor site, unless techniques such as tissue expansion are used. Of the 85 FTM patients who had a phalloplasty fashioned from suprapubic abdominal wall flap that was tubed to form the phallus, Bettocchi et al. reported the cosmetic appearance of the phallus was considered good in 68% of the patients. Major complications (n = 60) were associated with the neourethra (75%), stricture formation (64%) and/or fistulae (55%). It should be noted that the complication rates found by Bettocchi et al. were significantly less (P < 0.001) when the neourethra was created in two stages. In contrast, Khouri et al. concluded by using a prefabricated lateral arm free flap technique it is possible to achieve a fully functional penis with stable long-term results and excellent patient satisfaction.”

Scrotoplasty/scrotum construction/testicular prosthesis – The authors reviewed two studies that met their criteria. “This procedure is generally accomplished by hollowing out the labia majora, inserting silicone implants, and attaching the labia to develop a single scrotal sac. Implant expulsion, rupture or dislocation is encountered in a small number of patients.”

Urethroplasty – The authors did not find any studies that met their criteria, but they reported that “A one-stage total phalloplasty and urethroplasty was associated with a significant rate of fistulas and strictures.”

The authors did not find studies that met their criteria for Salpingo-oophorectomy or vaginectomy/vaginal closure.

The authors conclude that “There is a need for good quality controlled trials based on clearly defined diagnosis and assessment criteria.”

And, “we have confirmed the findings from previous reviews that the evidence to support GRS has several limitations in terms of: (a) lack of controlled studies; (b) evidence has not collected data prospectively; (c) high loss to follow up; and (d) lack of validated assessment measures. We have extended these findings from previous reviews by providing a summary of the evidence available for each of the ‘core’ procedures for MTF and FTM transsexism. In the majority of studies a large number of persons with transsexism experience a successful outcome in terms of subjective well being, cosmesis, and sexual function. We conclude that the magnitude of benefit and harm cannot be estimated accurately using the current available evidence.”

I have included more of their discussion in my review  here.

Original Source:

Evaluation of surgical procedures for sex reassignment: a systematic review by Sutcliffe PA, Dixon S, Akehurst RL, Wilkinson A, Shippam A, White S, Richards R, Caddy CM in J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2009 Mar;62(3):294-306.

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.

 

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: Treatment of anorexia nervosa in the context of transsexuality: A case report

This is a depressing study. The main conclusion I get from it is that we need a better health care system.

The patient in this case is a 19 year-old American trans woman (born male) who developed a severe eating disorder when she decided to dress and live as a woman.

She became malnourished and ill and was hospitalized. During her treatment, she became upset as she gained weight and was afraid she would look masculine. She said she would be willing to gain a healthy amount if it would be on her hips and breasts.

When her testosterone levels returned to normal, hair began growing on her face and legs again. The patient began to exercise secretly and stopped gaining weight.

The hospital discussed gender transition with her, including the risks of treatment. She agreed to try hormone blockers and was given a three month dose of leuprolide. She was also given the androgen blocker spironolactone. After this, the patient progressed well and gained enough weight to leave the hospital.

During follow-up, the patient continued to gain weight until she began working. She lost weight while working, but was able to stabilize her weight with the help of a dietitian.

The patient was referred to an endocrinologist and a center for transgender youth for estrogen therapy and gender transition. She lost her health insurance coverage and could not afford to follow-up with transition.

Short-term hormone therapy helped this trans woman to recover from an eating disorder that made her seriously ill, but it’s unclear what will happen to her without health insurance.

It is important to remember that this is just a case study. This is only one individual; the relationship between eating disorders and gender dysphoria is complicated. We can only come to limited conclusions from any one person’s story.

I will be reviewing more case studies of eating disorders and gender dysphoria. At this point, the main conclusion I can draw is that each case is individual.

The hormone treatment in this case was not the standard cross-sex hormone treatment for people with gender dysphoria. We can not, therefore, draw conclusions about the standard hormonal treatment for trans women.

In addition, the hormone treatment the patient received in this case would not work for everyone. Leuprolide can decrease bone density which may be a problem for malnourished patients with eating disorders. In this case the doctors decided that it would be only used for a short time and the benefits outweighed the risks.

The doctors speculate about the possibility that the androgen blockers caused the patient to gain weight under the skin rather than at the belly and that this may have made her look more feminine.

It is also possible that leuprolide itself had an effect on the eating disorder. Leuprolide is a puberty blocker and eating disorders develop at puberty; perhaps when you block puberty, you block something that causes disordered eating. For example, estrogen may play a role in eating disorders and leuprolide blocks estrogen as well as testosterone.

The bottom line is that this trans woman developed a life-threatening eating disorder when she decided to live as a woman. During recovery she was distressed by the idea of looking more masculine as she regained a healthy weight. Puberty blockers and androgen blockers helped her to regain a healthy weight. Her weight was stable at follow-up, but she lost her health insurance and it is unclear what will happen to her.

More from the authors’ discussion of the case:

“Because her identity as TS [transsexual] and desire to appear more feminine were inextricable from her disordered eating, we felt that her recovery from her ED [eating disorder] would be aided by supporting her gender transition. After consulting the Endocrine Society Guidelines on Treatment of Transsexual Persons and discussing treatment possibilities with experts in transsexual youth, medical treatment options included cross-hormone (i.e., estrogen) therapy (which would also suppress testosterone release) and/or suppression of testosterone with GnRH agonists with or without the use of spironolactone as an antiandrogen agent. Treatment with cross-hormone therapy requires close follow-up with an endocrinologist familiar with this treatment; the children’s hospital to which DS was admitted is not a site experienced in cross-hormone therapy for transsexual youth. For this reason, GnRH agonist therapy with spironolactone was chosen to suppress testosterone at the level of the pituitary and delay resurgence of testosterone-related changes until the patient could access appropriate TS medical care and follow-up.

To our knowledge, there are no studies describing the patterns of weight gain in TS patients who receive antiandrogens in comparison to those who do not. However, studies of antiandrogen use for other medical conditions have shown that patients receiving antiandrogens tend to gain subcutaneous adiposity, as opposed to primarily intra-abdominal adiposity gained by patients not on antiandrogens. One could theorize that this subcutaneous pattern of weight gain would be more tolerable to MtF transsexual patients who strive for a more feminine appearance, which would support the use of GnRH agonists in these patients. This is an interesting area for future inquiry.

Possible adverse effects of GnRH agonists include decrease in bone density. This is of particular concern in malnourished patients, as malnutrition alone can adversely affect bone density. This potential drawback of GnRH therapy for DS was discussed at length as a team, and it was determined that the benefits of GnRH use outweighed the risks for two primary reasons: (1) the expected duration of GnRH therapy was brief, as it was being used as a bridge to initiation of cross-hormone therapy; and (2) suppression of DS’s testosterone level would likely facilitate her willingness to achieve weight restoration. In studies of malnourished patients with low bone density, weight restoration is the most important factor in improving bone density. Spironolactone was added to DS’s therapy regimen for additional anti-androgen effects. This medical plan enabled DS to continue to improve her nutritional status while avoiding the unwanted increase in testosterone and consequent physical changes.”

Original Source:

Treatment of anorexia nervosa in the context of transsexuality: A case report by Ewan LA, Middleman AB, Feldmann J. in Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Jan;47(1):112-5.