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Desistance

Updated: SEPTEMBER 23, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on September 14, 2021

Desistance is the process of realigning with the gender assigned at birth experienced by some transgender children.

Studies suggest desistance is experienced by between 65 and 94 percent of children that identify as transgender at some point in their young lives. Young children, especially boys, are most likely to experience desistance.

More About Desistance

When children go through desistance, they stop the behaviors that marked their social transition. They usually start dressing in a way that is more typical for their gender assigned at birth. If they adopted a new name and pronouns, they will usually revert back to their birth name and original pronouns. If they were taking steps to modify their body, like binding their breasts or stuffing their shorts or bras, these behaviors will also cease.

While some young people do realize that they identify as cisgender many other are simply understanding that they can be trans and show up in the world in any way that is most comfortable for them at that chapter of their lives.

The concept of desistance and regularly cited statistics about its commonality have been questioned. Some argue that by promoting desistance and its commonality, people are suggesting that being transgender is merely a phase that children will likely grow out of. This kind of thinking invalidates the experiences of transgender children. They also argue that tests are not stringent enough to identify which children really have gender dysphoria. Without sufficient testing, some children are labelled transgender when they are really just experimenting with different forms of self-expression.

Supporters of academics who write about desistance believe it shows we should consider more how early children should be allowed to transition. They suggest gender experts often promote transition when learning to accept gender identity is in each child’s best interest.

Some trans youth may think that to be affirmed in their gender identity they need to cross from one part of the gender expression spectrum to the other. As they grow they may realize that their gender identity is valid no matter how they present and appear to be reversing their transition.

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