New study finds that top surgery improves quality of life in trans youth

The study comes at a time when trans healthcare is increasingly under fire in political and social arenas

In the midst of a storm of anti-trans rhetoric this week, a new study was published confirming the benefits of top surgery for young transmasculine people. Researchers found the procedure is associated with great improvements in chest dysphoria, gender congruence and body image in transmasculine and non-binary youth.

The study, published Monday by Northwestern Medicine researchers in peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics, compared two groups of patients aged 14 to 24: one group of 36 patients received top surgery, while a control group of 34 patients received gender-affirming care without top surgery. The researchers found that three months after surgery, the patients who had the procedure experienced much less chest dysphoria than before, while the others’ levels of chest dysphoria remained at around the same levels as at the start of their care.

“When we compared the outcomes of patients who received gender-affirming top surgery to those who did not, we recognized that surgery significantly improved the quality of life for patients,” said Dr. Sumanas Jordan, the director of the Gender Pathways Program at Northwestern Medicine, and lead author of the study, to CBS News

This is not the first study about chest dysphoria in trans and gender non-conforming young people. Previous studies have shown that chest dysphoria is a pervasive issue—one that is almost completely resolved after top surgery. But despite its proven benefits, gender-affirming care and top surgery have increasingly come under fire in recent years. In 2022 alone, around 60 percent of all proposed LGBTQ2S+ health-related bills aimed to ban or limit trans-related healthcare, according to Bloomberg Law

Gender-affirming care has come under fire in public discourse, as well as political and legal arenas. On Monday, the New York Times published an article about the rise of gender-affirming surgeries for young trans people, emphasizing the risk of regretting such procedures. Advocates quickly denounced the piece as transphobic and dangerous for trans people’s well-being, with the ACLU’s Chase Strangio using the incident to sound the alarm about anti-trans legislation and sharing his own experience with top surgery on Twitter. “I also had orthopedic knee surgery at 14 and often regret it. But no NYTs pieces about orthopedic regret I see,” he tweeted.

Access to gender-affirming surgical care for trans and non-binary youth can be a matter of life or death. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that just over half of transmasculine teenagers, along with nearly 42 percent of nonbinary teenagers and nearly 30 percent of transfeminine teenagers, had attempted suicide. 

In the face of these mental health challenges, access to gender-affirming care can greatly improve their quality of life. An analysis by What We Know Project found that 93 percent of studies on gender transition concluded that the process improved the overall well-being of trans respondents. Other researchers found that teens who sought and received treatment with puberty blockers had lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation than those who wanted the treatment but didn’t receive it. And a poll from The Trevor Project earlier this year found that exposure to anti-trans legislation also negatively affects the mental health of trans teens. 

“Patients who choose gender-affirming top surgery feel better about their bodies, and it enhances their quality of life,” said Dr. Jordan to CBS News. “Our hope is that this study will now be used as a resource for teens, young adults and for families who want to learn more about surgical transition options.”

Diamond Yao is an independent writer and journalist who focuses on contemporary social and environmental issues. Based in Montreal/Tio’tia:ke, her work focuses largely on marginalized voices, intersectionality, diaspora, sustainability and social justice. Her work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Autostraddle, La Converse and the CBC.

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Health, Power, Trans Health, Politics, News, Trans

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