New draft guidance from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) is raising serious concerns among professionals caring for people with gender dysphoria, prompting claims that WPATH is an organization “captured by activists.”
Experts in adolescent and child psychology, as well as pediatric health, have expressed dismay that the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) 8 appear to miss some of the most urgent issues in the field of transgender medicine and are considered to express a radical and unreserved leaning towards “gender-affirmation.”
The WPATH SOC 8 document is available for view and comment until Dec. 16 until 11.59 PM EST, after which time revisions will be made and the final version published.
Despite repeated attempts by this news organization to seek clarification on certain aspects of the guidance from members of the WPATH SOC 8 committee, requests were declined “until the guidance is finalized.”
According to the WPATH website, the SOC 8 aims to provide “clinical guidance for health professionals to assist transgender and gender diverse people with safe and effective pathways” to manage their gender dysphoria and potentially transition.
Such pathways may relate to primary care, gynecologic and urologic care, reproductive options, voice and communication therapy, mental health services, and hormonal or surgical treatments, among others.
WPATH adds that it was felt necessary to revise the existing SOC 7 (published in 2012) because of recent “globally unprecedented increase and visibility of transgender and gender-diverse people seeking support and gender-affirming medical treatment.”
Gender-affirming medical treatment means different things at different ages. In the case of kids with gender dysphoria who have not yet entered puberty associated with their birth sex, this might include prescribing so-called “puberty blockers” to delay natural puberty – gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogs that are licensed for use in precocious puberty in children. Such agents have not been licensed for use in children with gender dysphoria, however, so any use for this purpose is off-label.
Following puberty blockade – or in cases where adolescents have already undergone natural puberty – the next step is to begin cross-sex hormones. So, for a female patient who wants to transition to male (FTM), that would be lifelong testosterone, and for a male who wants to be female (MTF), it involves lifelong estrogen. Again, use of such hormones in transgender individuals is entirely off-label.
Just last month, two of America’s leading experts on transgender medicine, both psychologists – including one who is transgender – told this news organization they were concerned that the quality of the evaluations of youth with gender dysphoria are being stifled by activists who are worried that open discussions will further stigmatize trans individuals.
They subsequently wrote an op-ed on the topic entitled, “The mental health establishment is failing trans kids,” which was finally published in the Washington Post on Nov. 24, after numerous other mainstream U.S. media outlets had rejected it.
New SOC 8 ‘is not evidence based,’ should not be new ‘gold standard’
One expert says the draft SOC 8 lacks balance and does not address certain issues, while paying undue attention to others that detract from real questions facing the field of transgender medicine, both in the United States and around the world.
Julia Mason, MD, is a pediatrician based in Gresham, Oregon, with a special interest in children and adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria. “The SOC 8 shows us that WPATH remains captured by activists,” she asserts.
Dr. Mason questions the integrity of WPATH based on what she has read in the draft SOC 8.
“We need a serious organization to take a sober look at the evidence, and that is why we have established the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine [SEGM],” she noted. “This is what we do – we are looking at all of the evidence.”
Dr. Mason is a clinical advisor to SEGM, an organization set-up to evaluate current interventions and evidence on gender dysphoria.
The pediatrician has particular concerns regarding the child and adolescent chapters in the draft SOC 8. The adolescent chapter states: “Guidelines are meant to provide a gold standard based on the available evidence at this moment of time.”
Dr. Mason disputes this assertion. “This document should not be the new gold standard going forward, primarily because it is not evidence based.”
In an interview, Dr. Mason explained that WPATH say they used the “Delphi consensus process” to determine their recommendations, but “this process is designed for use with a panel of experts when evidence is lacking. I would say they didn’t have a panel of experts. They largely had a panel of activists, with a few experts.”
There is no mention, for example, of England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) evidence reviews on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones from earlier this year. These reviews determined that no studies have compared cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers with a control group and all follow-up periods for cross-sex hormones were relatively short.
This disappoints Dr. Mason: “These are significant; they are important documents.”
And much of the evidence quoted comes from the well-known and often-quoted “Dutch-protocol” study of 2011, in which the children studied were much younger at the time of their gender dysphoria, compared with the many adolescents who make up the current surge in presentation at gender clinics worldwide, she adds.
Rapid-onset GD: adolescents presenting late with little history
Dr. Mason also stresses that the SOC 8 does not address the most urgent issues in transgender medicine today, mainly because it does not address rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD): “This is the dilemma of the 21st century; it’s new.”
ROGD – a term first coined in 2018 by researcher Lisa Littman, MD, MPH, now president of the Institute for Comprehensive Gender Dysphoria Research (ICGDR) – refers to the phenomena of adolescents expressing a desire to transition from their birth sex after little or no apparent previous indication.
However, the SOC 8 does make reference to aspects of adolescent development that might impact their decision-making processes around gender identity during teen years. The chapter on adolescents reads: “... adolescence is also often associated with increased risk-taking behaviors. Along with these notable changes ... individuation from parents ... [there is] often a heightened focus on peer relationships, which can be both positive and detrimental.”
The guidance goes on to point out that “it is critical to understand how all of these aspects of development may impact the decision-making for a given young person within their specific cultural context.”