Trans youth may express the same drive for romantic attachment as their adolescent peers, but their path to connection is far more fraught than their cisgender colleagues. So says new research originating right here in Ohio.
Researchers at Akron Children’s Hospital interviewed 30 transgender, gender diverse, and gender nonconforming (TGNC) adolescents who were receiving care in their Center for Gender-Affirming Medicine for transgender and LGBTQ+ youth. Respondents–age 15 and older–revealed that both parents’ heightened caution for their safety as well as transphobia in society changes how they pursue dating.
“We know that many people start exploring romantic relationships in adolescence, and transgender and gender nonconforming youth are no different,” Dr. Adrian C. Araya, a pediatric endocrinologist told Healio. “Our participants told us that they experience some challenges in romantic relationships that are different from their cisgender peers.”
Respondents told the researchers that they experience relationships as early as 13-years-old and that most of these romantic relationships were physically nonsexual. Some of these relationships were unsurprisingly online, given that respondents shared that they encountered a limited dating pool in their geographic area. Some participants who were not using dating applications to find partners expressed the desire to use them in the future but with hesitancy due to concerns about unsolicited nude photographs and being stood up.
Further, respondents revealed that transphobia plays a role in their dating, revealing that they perceive or have experienced transphobia within the LGBTQ+ community. This transphobia impacts the approach that transgender adolescents take toward romance and influences decisions of identity disclosure. When reaching the decision point to disclose their identity to their romantic partner, respondents shared that timing of the disclosure was felt to be appropriate either early in the relationship or later after a high likelihood of a relationship was established.
The research also pointed to the benefits of gender-affirming hormone therapy:
Participants described an overall positive effect of gender-affirming hormone therapy on romantic health. Transmasculine participants largely described an increase in confidence and assertiveness after starting testosterone therapy that had positively affected their health and relationships. Transmasculine participants also described undesired feelings of difficulty controlling anger and feeling emotionally closed off. Transfeminine participants described feelings of comfort within a relationship or with themselves after having started estrogen therapy.
“Being in a relationship is developmentally normal for any young person, and the same is true for TGNC youth,” Araya said. “We know that being in a healthy relationship as a young person can lead to healthy relationships in adulthood as well as improved mental and physical health. For TGNC youth specifically, romantic partners can be an important source of love and support when going through transition.”
- Straight from the research: “Providers should be cognizant of this to provide individualized care and avoid making assumptions potentially detrimental to the patient-provider relationship. Providers should also be screening for the safety of these teenagers because abusive relationships can occur at an early age.”