“80 percent change back”


The statistic that everyone quoted to me…that is actually bunk!

“80 percent change back,” she says.

M.’s dad and I are sitting in the office of the local go-to psychologist for transgender kids.

I sigh, relieved. Our 3-year-old child probably isn’t transgender. It probably is just a phase: The insistence on wearing only pink, the passion for dolls, and the recent announcement that took my breath away: “Mama, I’m a girl.” Despite all of this, the psychologist tells us, our child is still more likely to continue being the boy we thought he was.

I heard that same statistic a lot over the next couple of years: 80 percent. 80 percent of young children who tell their parents they are transgender change their minds.

Frankly, it’s a statistic I wanted to hear. But it didn’t turn out to be the case for my child. And apparently it’s bunk.

At last year’s Gender Odyssey conference, where families with kids like mine gather from all corners of the country, I attended a talk given by Dr. Johanna Olson. She works with transgender kids in Los Angeles. She’s a smart and outspoken advocate for these children, and she’s been featured on national TV talking about her work.

shrinkHere’s what she said: “The ‘80 percent’ statistic is based on a flawed 2008 study done in the Netherlands.” She then described the study, explaining that the researchers looked at young children who were initially identified as transgender. It then checked back on them after a year or so. But it lost track of a bunch of those kids. For some reason, these kids didn’t come back for the follow-up research. So the researchers made the assumption that these kids had reverted back to their original gender. These kids were simply assumed to be not transgender, and these kids created the “80 percent.”

Hmmm, I’m no scientist, but that just doesn’t sound like a very sound research model to me. (Or, as M. would say: “Seriously, that is just so ridiculous.”)

Dr. Olson said she hadn’t seen anything like 80 percent in her practice. In fact, with kids like mine, who persistently and insistently and consistently identify as another gender over a number of years, the number was closer to 0 percent. Zero percent deciding that they aren’t transgender after all. (And who would expect a non-transgender child who seemed very happy with their gender to change their mind about this after age 6 or 7 or 8 – or later? Most kids do know their gender by this age, whether they’re trans or not.)

We need good research on kids like mine, and it just hasn’t been done yet. But there are some studies in progress. I recently heard from a woman conducting research on transgender youth at Case Western University. She’s looking for participants. It’s an online study that you can complete on your computer from anywhere. If you have a gender-nonconforming child between the ages of 10 and 17, check it out:


And the Trans Youth Project is seeking participants as young as age three (my daughter is in this one).

If you know of other studies looking for participants, please add links in a comment below. There’s been enough misinformation, speculation, and bad science about transgender people. Let’s get some facts!

You can also watch this cartoon I made about all this bullshit:


27 thoughts on ““80 percent change back”

  1. All the demented bible-bashers out there who see transgender as yet another abomination would be jumping on the results of a survey showing 80% of children change their minds. After all this proves it’s just a phase there kids are going through. Beat it out of them.
    Real statistics are needed to show how small (if any) the number of children who change their mind is, and I’m tempted to believe the few that do, actually do so through either peer pressure, bullying or a total lack of understanding and acceptance from parents.
    Your little girl is lucky to have you as parents and other parents and their transgender children are lucky to have your blog to show them they’re not alone.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Bashing a basher is simply “pendulum swing.” In what way is your attitude different?

      With one grand stroke, you’ve painted many with one color: black. Have your opinion. Make room for the issue to speak for itself.

      I am listening as well and my heart is moved as much as yours is.

      • I painted only those who sought to treat transgenders as an abomination, an affliction that can be cured , or a phase they’re going through that can be beaten out of them. Those who don’t believe in the message of tolerance from their own bibles.
        I suspect my way is different because I do practise tolerance where it’s possible and only bash these people in writing and verbally rather than in the more direct sense that many of them promulgate.
        I’m glad to hear your heart is moved which suggests to me you don’t fall into the camp of the ‘demented bible bashers’ who don’t recognise this condition as natural.

  2. Your call for data is certainly what is needed and I would also add that it is important to look at historical data, where available. World society has been so thorough in tamping down any understanding/acceptance of transgender/transsexual individuals for centuries that it is nearly impossible to get a true bearing. My point is that being transgender is not a 21st Century phenomenon. It is apparently as old as man/womankind. We definitely need to know about this gender identity situation and provide what help and aid we can. Wow, so much to do!

  3. Thanks Mom!! I was one who didn’t change her mind!! It just that I wasn’t allowed to be my true self until I was an adult!! I have been me for 16 years and couldn’t be happier!! Thanks for your ongoing sharing of M’s story!! Pamela

  4. Hi there gendermom. I just discovered your blog yesterday and promptly binge-read (is that a thing?) every post you’ve written so far. It probably goes without saying that I love love LOVE your writing. You bring up so many issues about gender and sexuality that I have been privileged enough to never have to think about as a straight, cisgender female. (I hesitate to say “issues” because I don’t mean to imply that the quirks and challenges unique to raising a trans child are in any way things that need to be “fixed” or “handled.”) Obviously I have friends all across the gender spectrum, friends who are trans, friends who are genderqueer. I have been so lucky to listen and learn from them over the years. But I am young and most of my friends don’t have children; your blog makes me realize that I have never given much thought to what PARENTING a transgender child might be like on a daily basis. For opening my eyes to a new side of the LGBTQA* world, I thank you sincerely.

    I love the way you’ve chosen to raise M. I love your complete acceptance of the person that she is now and the person she may grow to be in the future. And most of all I love how both your voice and hers shine through so clearly in your writing. Keep doing what you’re doing – I can’t even imagine the positive changes that would happen if we had a world full of parents like you.

  5. I just read this but I agree the stats are quite unreliable.They have no idea the long term affect. Does their cohort commit suicide because they are so unhappy? Do they transition in their 40s? They have no idea. OTOH, kids genders are a bit more fluid than adults. I “came out” as a boy when I was 7. My parents weren’t open to this idea in the 60s. I didn’t really change my mind. I think the happiest people can be in life is if they are accepted for who they are. I love all these young kids and their sharp moms (and dads)!

    • Leaving child to decide what sex they want to be at such a young age is mental abuse.

      The next fad is to be proud of who u are. Must be approaching the end times

  6. My daughter is three-years-old next week. For well over a year, she’s been saying, “Mommy, I’m a girl!” I’ve never thought, “Is she sure? Maybe she’s transgender and isn’t old enough to realize it.” If my child knows she’s a girl at two-years-old, I would think most kids the same age know what their gender is. It’s like when I told my mom my friend Ian in fifth grade told me he was gay and she said “He’s too young to know that for sure.” Really? Because I was the same age, and I knew who I wanted to hug, kiss, and hold hands with (sadly, it was Ian).

  7. Hey– I’m a Master’s student in cultural anthropology at Purdue University and I’m actually doing (IRB approved) pilot research right now with gender variant kids and their families. I’m taking a cultural approach to my research and am interested in thinking about gender more broadly through day to day life and how we learn about gender and identity. There’s a lot of clinical research out there, and I haven’t seen much research that isn’t based on treatment, though there are a few published papers and I would be happy to pass that along.

    I’m looking to do some interviews (via phone, skype, email, in person if feasible) that would involve talking about family experiences and thoughts on gender identity in addition to what kinds of resources families look for and access. I’d love to talk with anyone who is a parent or guardian of a gender variant kid (ages 5-12, though might expand depending on responses). Please give me a shout (mwhitma@purdue.edu) for more info or questions.

  8. Whatever the statistics, please do not sterilise your child because he likes pink and dresses. I was ‘all boy’ all my childhood, wanted to know when my penis would grow, refused to have anything to do with other girls. This was the late 80s so rather than take me to a therapist my parents just bought me another train set and a pair of dungarees. I grew up, grew out of the bad attitude and the biological fantasies, but not the boys’ clothes. Many others among my gay adult friends have similar stories. Maybe take the time to consider that you just have a dashing and fabulous gay son before you and his doctors put him on life-threatening “puberty blocker” drugs.

      • My niece insisted she was a boy for about 8 years (from 12-18). My sister called her the male pronoun, and her chosen male name. If she could have, she would have gotten her the surgery and all the hormones money could buy. Then, my niece changed her mind and wanted to be a girl again. What is scary about this? If she’d have gotten hormones, she would have been sterile, unable to have babies the rest of her life. Surgery would have affected the rest of her life, obviously. Hormones aren’t life threatening, but they are not harmless. If you stop puberty, guess what? it doesn’t come back. Ever. Meaning you are sterile, the rest of your life. Which means if your child changes their mind, which most do, they are sterile. That is a bell that can not be unrung.
        Support your child by all means. Love them. Be there for them. But don’t do something irreversible that could possibly change their life for the worse.

      • @Charlotte says: “If you stop puberty, guess what? it doesn’t come back. Ever. Meaning you are sterile, the rest of your life.”

        Charlotte, this is simply a lie. Please better inform yourself before spouting misinformation on the internet. When puberty-blocking drugs are discontinued (or run out from the implant), puberty resumes as normal. In fact, these drugs (GnRh analogs) have been used to delay puberty in children with precocious puberty for years.


  9. I’m a so called MtF woman who later found out that I am XXY non-klinefelter. I am very happy as a woman, it suits me. The only reason I would change back is the hatred of my family. As it is, owing to loneliness, resulting from their unkindness, I will likely suicide.


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  11. Thanks for writing this, it seemed like a dodgy claim based on my experience with trans people.
    But I take issue with this part: “And who would expect a non-transgender child who seemed very happy with their gender to change their mind about this after age 6 or 7 or 8 – or later?”
    Many transgender people I know/ trans friends of mine would have been seen to take no issue with their gender until after puberty. I am trans and did not understand gender identity until after 17. It’s actually pretty reasonable to expect a cis kid to ‘change their mind’ later in life because we don’t have any education about gender identity and most won’t question what they’re given despite potentially being unhappy with it.

  12. and where is the age range on this? because this sounds like it could be from 3-5. also, please show proof to help support your information.

  13. Well for all those who choose to follow Dr. Olsen’s advice of ridiculously following a child’s lead to the point that a child can’t even imagine turning back or what that would entail, of course the rate of resistance will be lower, Duh. Because it’s better to have your child “appear right” to the outside world than to be obviously gender non-conforming. And it all seems so swell until life is complicated by deeper, sexual relationships and years of hormones and surgeries. Hey but whatever. Eventually every child has to learn that they need to learn to love themselves regardless of their penis or vagina or cancer or spina bifida (oh wait, i threw in some real illnesses).

    I would agree that it is correct to assume that gender -condused children who dropped out of the Netherlands study outgrew their dysphoria. Considering the anxiety and persistence of the diagnosis, they would either outgrow and move on or persist and transition. Perhaps the difference between the two apparent results is how the dysphoria was handled. The first one either ignored or confirmed birth sex but allowed and encouraged free imaginative play. The second one makes the child the leader in a destiny they don’t understand and neither do the parents and neither do the doctors. They know how to get there, but your kids are the lab mice of medications and psychology! Hey, what warriors!

    But that’s the benefit of having children, you can screw them up any way you want and you have the added benefit of blaming Dr. O, your hero.

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