Puberty Blockers: Cruelty or Kindness?

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Judy Virago imagines a trans-childhood where puberty blockers prevent torturous teen years and concludes New Zealand is on the right path.

In my second year of primary school, I made a new friend. His name was Gabriel, like the angel, and he had long beautiful blonde hair. He told me that he was actually a girl, and at home he had a girls uniform that he would change into. I was dead jealous. We would gather our My Little Ponies, and play “butterflies” together, magically transforming ourselves into girls through song and dance. Gabrielle moved schools after a few months. I saw how the other kids treated the boy who played with barbies, and I buried that My Little Pony in the garden.

I had an array of close friends of different genders after that. As we got older, puberty didn’t turn out to be great for many of us. Like a lot of my peers, I was horrified by the changes happening on my body, and the social changes happening around me, but my particular challenges felt less universal. I asked mum to put my hair in pigtails for high school one day. My loving mother obliged, though with some concern for my safety. I ended up in the guidance counsellors office that afternoon – the other kids weren’t ready. 

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How many of us wished we had a magical switch (or song and dance routine) that could have made it stop for just a minute? At least 1.2%, that’s a conservative estimate of New Zealand’s transgender youth population (via the youth ‘12 survey). The good news is that that switch exists today and Kiwi kids have access to it (with informed permission from parents). It’s called a puberty blocker and while the long term physical impacts are unclear, their effects are reversible. Puberty blockers are available to young people to provide them with more time to explore their identity and prevent the necessity of invasive procedures later in life.

Insistent, consistent and persistent – this is how gender identity in trans children is described by the Ministry of Health. This consistency is carefully considered in a thorough assessment before young people can access blockers; not all kids who colour outside the lines of gender are trans and not all trans folk need or want medical interventions. For many others, gender identity may alter or evolve over time. The trans experience is not one universal narrative. I’m not sure if Gabriel or I would have met this test – Gabriel grew up to be a gay man and I took a long and winding path.

Protecting trans kids requires us to assess risks and actively work to prevent them.

Transgender youth are at a higher risk for poor psychosocial health than their non-transgender peers and research has found that puberty blockers can actually improve mental health outcomes for them. I don’t know who I would have turned out to be if I hadn’t been through the journey that landed me in who I am today, but I do know that with access to puberty blockers the path would have been less distressing. We don’t need to go through trauma to be certain of who we are.  No trans kid suffering the discomfort of gender dysphoria should be denied the right to push pause on puberty. Going through puberty once is hard enough, forcing them to go through it twice is cruel. 

I am proud that in a world where accessing gender-affirming healthcare is sometimes considered controversial, our country has moved towards an informed and supportive approach to harm prevention. I just wish I could dig up My Little Pony.

Judy Virago.

Article | Judy Virago.

Judy is a Wellington-based showgirl, educator, and community consultant.

Photo | MandesEvilKingdom.

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