Young patients at VU University Medical Centre who feel strongly that they want to change their gender can choose to take drugs to stop them entering puberty. The children first have to meet strict selection criteria.
People with gender identity disorder usually have to wait until they’re older before doctors will let them think about having a sex change. But the trouble is that by then puberty has done its work – the girls have breasts and broad hips, the boys have square jaws and deep voices.
So the gender identity clinic came up with an approach that’s unique in the world: they put their patients' puberty on pause until they reach 16. Then if they’re still sure about their feelings, they can start taking hormones to switch their gender. And from 18 they can have a sex change operation.
The idea is to stop young people who feel like they’re in the wrong body from panicking as puberty sets in. The treatment gives them breathing space while they come to a decision. And if they later opt to go ahead with a sex change, the results look much better.
The gender identity centre’s unique approach has been slammed by many doctors around the world. Critics say it’s ridiculous to let young adolescents make such radical decisions about their bodies.
But child psychiatrist Annelou de Vries found the people who’ve had the treatment were much happier for it. For her PhD study she followed the progress of 70 kids who took the puberty-stopping drugs. She also talked to 27 young adults who’d been through the treatment and finally had a sex change operation.
The teenagers felt less stressed and had fewer behavioural and emotional problems. And none of the young people she spoke to had the slightest regret about their choice.
Person in the picture is a model.