A physician who helped pioneer transgender hormone treatments for children in Europe is now speaking out about the dangers of medicalizing gender-distressed children.
Dr. Riittakerttu Kaltiala, 58, is the chief adolescent psychiatrist at Finland’s Tampere University Hospital. In 2011, she was put in charge of Tampere’s new youth gender clinic, making her one of the first physicians in the world to lead a clinic devoted to gender-distressed youth.
However, Kaltiala had concerns about the so-called “affirming” model of transgender treatment from the start, and now she is warning about the dangers of affirming children’s new gender identities and green-lighting medical intervention.
“I had some serious questions about all this,” Kaltiala wrote in an op-ed in The Free Press published Monday.
“We were being told to intervene in healthy, functioning bodies simply on the basis of a young person’s shifting feelings about gender,” she wrote.
When the youth gender clinic began services, Kaltiala said they expected to see a small number of boys who had persistently declared they were girls. Instead, they saw “droves” of patients, 90% of whom were girls aged 15 to 17, and many of them had “severe psychiatric conditions” she said.
Some of the girls had family issues, and “many” were on the autism spectrum, Kaltiala said. In addition, many had suddenly announced their gender dysphoria in adolescence.
“Now they were coming to us because their parents, usually just mothers, had been told by someone in an LGBT organization that gender identity was their child’s real problem, or the child had seen something online about the benefits of transition,” she said.
Soon after the clinic began offering transgender hormone treatments for youth, Kaltiala and her colleagues began to see that the “miracle we had been promised was not happening.”
“What we were seeing was just the opposite,” Kaltiala said. “The young people we were treating were not thriving. Instead, their lives were deteriorating,” including the youth becoming socially isolated.
Meanwhile, Kaltiala’s colleagues in other countries were seeing the same trend, she said.
Kaltiala and some of her colleagues attempted to bring attention to their concerns, even putting out a study analyzing the gender clinic’s patients, but others in the field continued to work to expand the hormone treatments.
In 2015, the gender clinic started to notice “social contagion–linked gender dysphoria” when groups of teenage girls from the same area arrived telling the same stories about how they realized they were transgender, Kaltiala said.
Finally in 2016, Finland’s two pediatric gender clinics changed their protocols because of concerns about medically “transitioning” young patients. Currently, if a young patient has more urgent issues than gender dysphoria, the clinics refer them to another treatment, such as counseling, Kaltiala said.
Kaltiala said that in the early years, her psychiatric department agreed to help “transition” about half of the youth who came to the gender clinic. Now though, that number has dropped to about 20%, she said.
Some patients have since come back to Kaltiala’s clinic saying they regret their gender “transitions.”
In her op-ed, Kaltiala also sounded the alarm on American medicine pushing the “affirming” model of transgender services for children.
“I have been particularly concerned about American medical societies, who as a group continue to assert that children know their ‘authentic’ selves, and a child who declares a transgender identity should be affirmed and started on treatment,” she wrote.
Kaltiala singled out the American Academy of Pediatrics, saying the group has been “actively hostile” to her message. The AAP is a the largest professional association for pediatricians in the country with 67,000 members.
She added that she is “disturbed” by how gender clinicians warn American parents that there is a much higher risk of suicide if they refuse to “transition” their child, calling it “dishonest and extremely unethical” and saying suicide is “very rare.”
“When medical professionals start saying they have one answer that applies everywhere, or that they have a cure for all of life’s pains, that should be a warning to us all that something has gone very wrong,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, gender identity changes are more popular than ever among children. An estimated 300,000 minors aged 13 to 17 identified as transgender as of last year.