Some people who change genders at a young age decide they’ve made a mistake and switch back. Experts say parents play a key role in this decision-making process.
Changing genders can be difficult.
There are lots of unseen challenges along the way, especially in battling stigmas.
In fact, some people who do transition to the opposite sex at a young age may end up thinking they’ve made a mistake when they get older.
So they revert back to their original gender.
Some have labeled this reversal “transgender regret.”
Take Zahra Cooper, a girl in New Zealand who became a boy and then changed back at 21.
Before transitioning, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria — or feeling mismatched to one’s biological sex.
She said she had always struggled with gender identity.
But after transitioning, Cooper felt depressed and angry and tried to kill herself two times.
In the United States, though, gender reversals like Cooper’s are rare, according to experts.
And children who want to transition to another gender usually have checks and balances along the way to guide them, experts add.
Support is crucial. Studies show that kids who are supported in their identities after transitioning to another sex have normative levels of depression.
“Authentic is always better,” Ami Kaplan, a New York City–based psychotherapist who works with transgender people, told Healthline. “For those who are truly transgender, it’s more beneficial for mental health to live in the authentic gender. And the more relational tools, the better.”
Ideally, transitioning while young is better too, she added, since there’s less time spent living in an unauthentic gender.
Making this life-changing decision as a child can be tricky, though, because parents may just see it as another phase of development.
Plenty of signs do help point out gender dysphoria early, say experts.
Research shows that children who have persistent and consistent gender identity issues over time are most likely to change genders, according to an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Nothing could have persuaded them from not transitioning,” said Kaplan. “It relieves certain anxieties and gender dysphoria.”
However, there are no biological markers for gender dysphoria, said Dr. Wylie Hembree, a retired endocrinologist in New York who helped write the first guidelines for transgender treatment.
Some kids end up resolving this dysphoria while others transition to another gender.
With the onset of puberty, things worsen though, said Hembree.
“So there’s no reason these people should be suffering,” he told Healthline.
The first step toward transitioning, added Hembree, is using puberty blockers, which stop body changes in puberty such as a deepening voice for males or breast development in females.
This can be a chance to try out a new gender identity. When medications stop, so do the new hormonal changes.
Around age 16, hormone replacement therapy is the next step.
Surgical changes can’t be made before age 18, Hembree added.
“There’s a marked relief of gender dysphoria when hormones are started,” he said, “and people feel so much better.”
Even some older people who make the transition end up regretting it.
Take Walt Heyer, who runs the website sexchangeregret.com. He became Laura at age 42 and then transitioned back eight years later.
“People think that it’s a ticket to happiness,” Heyer told Healthline. “Everyone is happy for the first five years. But 15 to 20 years after surgery, people may regret it.”
But experts quickly add that transitioning to the opposite sex can be hopeful, too.
“It relives stress and people are happier,” said Kaplan.
Stigmas against transgender people are one of the biggest hurdles, said Kaplan.
And transgender kids are more at risk for bullying and suicide attempts.
There are other wrinkles, too.
A straight male may suddenly be dealing with sexism, she said, or burst out crying after taking female hormones.
Females transitioning to male, she added, may have to learn to handle extra aggression.
So the best way to transition is having strong community, family, therapist, and even church support, she added.
People can even choose trans-friendly colleges that may offer hormone services.
Supportive parents can also greatly reduce a teen’s risk of suicide, according to research.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents look for signs of anxiety, depression, and low-self-esteem.
Other tips include connecting a child with resources, supporting self-expression, and celebrating diversity.
“If you’re doing well before transitioning, you’ll do better after that,” Kaplan said. “As with any psychological stressor, being more together yields better results.”
As for transgender regret, do some soul searching first, she concluded.