November 4, 2015

Nope, transitioning does not actually lead to suicide

This is story about "The Science Proves What I Believe Complex", and how a Swedish study of post-op trans people  is misrepresented in order to "prove" that gender reassignment surgery is harmful.

I have now been blogging on trans and crossdreamer issues for seven years, and there is one game that never cease to amaze me. I call it the "Science Proves What I believe" complex. And it does not matter what people believe; they always seem to find a report or a paper somewhere that seem to support their position.
Anti-trans activists often lie about research to
"prove" that transitioning is harmful.
Photo by SIphotography.
If they cannot find such a paper, they often start misrepresenting reports, probably hoping that no one will bother to check.

The Internet is vast, though, and with a lot of clever people. There are always some people out there who take the time to check and double-check dubious statements. Cristan Williams over at Transadvocate is one of them.

Like me, she will go directly to the researcher and ask, if needed.

"The Swedish Study"

Recently we have seen a lot of anti-transgender activity where people are trying to prove that trans people who undergo gender reassignment surgery are not helped by such therapy.

Indeed, the argument now is that transitioning in this way is harmful for the ones involved, and that the alleged failure of the treatment  proves that they were delusional in the first place.

People fighting against transgender rights (TERFs, Fox News and religious fundamentalists included) make a lot out of a Swedish study on transgender people, claiming that it proves that gender reassignment leads to suicide.


Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief who closed down the gender reassignment surgery programme over at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has repeatedly said that  transitioning is “biologically impossible,” and that people who promote gender reassignment surgery are collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder. He is using the Swedish study to "prove" this.

Suicide among those undergoing gender reassignment surgery

This is what the study actually says about suicide among post-op transsexual people:
“The overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons was higher during follow-up  than for controls of the same birth sex, particularly death from suicide.”
The sentence is not saying that transgender people who has had gender reassignment are more likely to commit suicide than  transgender people who have not done so. The researchers are, for instance, comparing post-op transgender women with non-op non-transgender men. What the paper says is that those who have had such surgery are more likely to commit suicide that non-transgender people assigned the same sex as them at birth.

The researchers behind the study explicitly say that research suggests that gender reassignment of transsexual persons improves their quality of life and reduces their gender dysphoria. Given the social harassment and ostracism experienced by trans people,  a higher suicide rate among them is to be expected.

Cristan asked the main researcher behind the study, Cecilia Dehjne, about this. She puts it this way:
“Medical transition alone won’t resolve the effects of crushing social oppression: social anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress.”
"Male patterns of criminality"

As for a claim made by transphobic "radical feminists" -- that the study shows that trans women show “male patterns of criminality” -- Dehjne points out that this only applies to the older data. For the period between 1989 to 2003, you will find no such pattern.

Dehjne explains:
“What the data tells us is that things are getting measurably better and the issues we found affecting the 1973 to 1988 cohort group likely reflects a time when trans health and psychological care was less effective and social stigma was far worse.”
Science tells a different story

I know that a lot of crossdreamers struggle with gender dysphoria. Many of these also have to fight both internal and external demons when it comes to deciding whether they should transition or not, and whether they should undergo "bottom surgery".

There isn't always a simple to solution to these dilemmas, given the complexity of life and the diversity of  life journeys. Those who have followed this blog for a while, know that I am one of those who -- for various reasons -- have decided not to go down that road.

At the same time we also see an increasing acceptance of the idea that you might transition socially without undergoing genital reconstruction.  But that does not change the fact that many need and are helped by such surgery.

I know that the general consensus among researchers in this field is such surgery most often does help, and that the regret rates are very low indeed (from one to four present). This tells me that the current  attempts to rewrite research in order to prove the opposite, very often are based on a desire to push trans people back into the closet.

If you, whether you are trans or a trans ally, come across people who misrepresent the Swedish study in any way, refer them to this post and/or the following:
This is an extended version of a blog post originally published over at tumblr.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!