Puberty and transitioning for trans and non-binary youth
Gender identity and gender expression are just two pieces of the puzzle that make up a picture of who you are. Puberty is an important piece of this puzzle, and it can be a really challenging one to put into place. For people who identify as transgender (trans) and non-binary, puberty can be an especially tough time. Learning about some of the feelings trans and non-binary people may experience during puberty — and the process of transitioning — can help us all understand this puzzle a little better.
What does puberty have to do with transitioning?
Throughout puberty, your mind and body are evolving to prepare you for things you may experience as you get older (e.g. sex, reproduction, etc.). It’s like you’re on the path to reach physical maturity. During this time, certain parts of your body will start to develop and change. These physical traits and sexual characteristics are likely to become much more obvious during puberty.
For assigned female at birth folks, these traits may include:
- wider, rounder hips
- developed breasts
- body hair growth
- growth spurts
For assigned male at birth folks, these traits may include:
- facial hair growth
- body hair growth
- broadened shoulders
- deepened voice
- penis/testes growth
With these changes, a person who identifies as trans and/or non-binary may feel even more out of place in their bodies than they did before puberty. This can happen because the sex they were assigned at birth — and the gender they are inside — don’t line up. For trans and non-binary folks, this disconnect can cause feelings of distress and anguish.
What is transitioning?
One way to help sort out these negative feelings is the process of transitioning. Transitioning includes adjusting how you express yourself (physically, legally, socially, etc.) in order to present the gender you truly are to the world.
Some people transition and affirm their gender by:
- dressing/styling themselves in a certain way
- tailoring their exercise routine to enhance/tone specific muscles
- removing/letting hair grow out in specific places
- changing their first name and/or pronoun
Some people may choose a medical transition. With a medical transition, you can use hormone treatment and/or surgery to change your body, if that’s what feels right for you. Thinking about gender-affirming medical care before starting puberty can be an option for some people — it can be a way to get ahead of the changes that may happen to your body before it matures.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with medical transitioning is unique. Some trans and non-binary folks may choose to transition, some may choose not to transition and some may not be able to transition (due to circumstance, financial situation, etc.). You don’t have to do a medical transition to be who you are.
What is hormone treatment?
Typically, hormone blockers (a.k.a. puberty blockers) are the first line of intervention for trans and non-binary youth who are seeking medical care and have yet to begin puberty (or who are in the early stages of puberty). Puberty blockers are a type of hormone treatment. They can help trans and non-binary youth who’ve yet to start puberty (or who are in the early stages of puberty) take more time to think about how they’d like to express and affirm their gender identity. Puberty blockers stop the release of hormones that initiate puberty, so you don’t have to go through the physical changes associated with it just yet. Use of puberty blockers is usually temporary — trans and non-binary youth may decide to stop treatment and continue with puberty or seek additional hormone therapy and/or gender-affirming surgery.
Hormone treatment can also include the use of hormones (feminizing or masculinizing hormones) to help align your body with the gender you feel inside. You can do some research or talk to a knowledgeable health-care professional to learn more about the different types of hormones available (e.g. testosterone, estrogen, anti-androgens, etc.). Some of the results of hormone treatment can be permanent, while others can be reversible (or partly reversible). Hormone treatment should always be administered by a knowledgeable health-care professional (via an injection, gel, pill, etc.) in a dose that’s right/safe for you.
You can talk to a knowledgeable health-care professional, visit a sexual health clinic or contact your local Ministry of Health for more information about hormone treatment. You can also visit Resources Around Me for LGBTQ2S+ support services near you.
What is gender-affirming surgery?
Like hormone treatment, gender-affirming surgery is another way trans and non-binary folks can change their bodies to match their gender, if they choose to do so. There are many different options available if you’re interested in exploring surgery. Gender-affirming surgeries are usually permanent, so it’s important to make an informed decision that feels right for you. It’s important to do some research into whether the surgery you’re thinking of is covered by insurance or if an application for government funding is available. First Nations youth may be able to receive funding through Jordan’s Principle if surgery is recommended by a health-care professional and they have consent from their parent/caregiver.
Masculinizing surgery involves changing your body to make it look and feel more masculine. Surgical options may include:
- hysterectomy (removal of the uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes)
- clitoral release (enlargement of the clitoris)
- chest construction (removal of breast tissue)
Feminizing surgery involves changing your body to make it look and feel more feminine. Surgical options may include:
- orchiectomy (removal of the testes)
- breast construction (enlargement of the breasts)
- vaginoplasty (creation of a vagina and vulva)
When it comes to gender-affirming surgery or hormone treatment, it’s important to talk to a knowledgeable health-care professional(s) about your options. You can ask your doctor/surgeon/etc. any questions you may have (e.g. about their experience providing health care to trans and non-binary folks, after-care recommendations, etc.). Your health-care provider should be supportive of your choices, make you feel comfortable and know/be able to find answers for you. You can contact a Kids Help Phone counsellor or visit Resources Around Me for help finding a health-care professional(s) and for more information.
Remember, there is no one way to express your gender identity. How you choose to represent yourself is completely up to you. Although going through a transition can be difficult, many trans people experience positive feelings (e.g. a sense of freedom, independence, peace, etc.) when their mind and body are in sync.
If you have any questions about gender identity, puberty or transitioning, you can talk to a safe adult, such as a parent/caregiver, health-care professional or other knowledgeable person you trust. Remember, you can contact Kids Help Phone 24/7 for support.
Updated May 2021