Contra James Cantor on desistance

In 2016, James Cantor wrote a blog post about desistance of gender dysphoria, arguing:

Despite the differences in country, culture, decade, and follow-up length and method, all the studies have come to a remarkably similar conclusion: Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks.

However, while this is an accurate summary of the results in males, it is not an accurate summary of the results in females. Out of the 11 studies he cited, 7 studies dealt with males only, 1 study had only a single female participant, and only 3 studies had multiple female participants. Among the desisters, the studies with females got the following results:

Thus, looking over the studies that Cantor cited, there were 41 female desisters, of which 28-31 appear to be heterosexual, 3-5 appear to be bisexual, and 2 appear to be lesbian. This does not seem to match the idea that they generally turn out to be regular lesbian folks; rather they seem to generally turn out to be heterosexual.

Across these studies, there were no persisters in the first study, 9 persisters in the second study, 3 persisters in the third study, and 24 persisters in the fourth study, for a total of 36. In the latter three studies, the numbers of persisters who were exclusively gynephilic appear to be 7, 2, 13-14 respectively, for a total of perhaps 23. (It is worth noting that while 23 is much smaller than 36, most of this gap is due to participants with unknown sexual orientation.)

Overall, persistence among natal females appears to be near-perfectly correlated with sexual orientation. What to make of this correlation is unclear2, but certainly it seems to make Cantor’s characterization inaccurate.

1. It’s a bit unclear to me from the study text, but it seems like possibly this study may have sample overlap with the other dutch study. The “psychosexual outcome” paper got its sample from the clinic between 1989 and 2005, while this study got its sample from the same clinic between 2000 and 2008. This doesn’t seem to change the substantive conclusion of this post, but it may be worth keeping in mind.

2. There seem to be two general approaches; either sexual orientation gets assumed to affect desistance, or desistance gets assumed to affect sexual orientation. For instance, I’d be inclined to think that for someone to desist, some sort of factor must change that makes it more advantageous to live like one’s assigned sex, compared to transitioning. A heterosexual orientation surfacing might be such a factor. But that’s speculative. Another thing that one could claim is that transitioning somehow influences orientation. Alternatively, one might believe that there is misreporting in sexual orientation. Point is, there’s a lot of possibilities here.

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