Gender-affirming care (GAC) refers to the social, medical, and legal methods of helping people exist happily and safely in their gender. Studies suggest this kind of care can reduce suicide rates within specific groups.

GAC includes many ways of supporting people, from using their pronouns to providing gender-affirming surgeries. Some people may receive GAC to align aspects of their lives with their gender identity.

Anyone can receive GAC, but having access to it is especially important for many transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people. Research suggests GAC can reduce suicide rates within these groups.

This article outlines types of GAC and covers the benefits of GAC for adults and minors.

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GAC aims to affirm a person’s gender and help them live comfortably and authentically as themselves. While some people may have only heard about GAC recently, people have benefited from this lifesaving care for decades.

A 2022 study focused on the long-term effects of gender affirming surgery. The researchers interviewed transgender participants who had this kind of surgery from 1970–1990.

Even half a decade later, transfeminine and transmasculine individuals still expressed the following:

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Research suggests that GAC can have a significantly positive impact on a person’s mental health.

A 2023 study found that people who underwent masculinizing top surgery, a procedure that flattens the chest by removing tissue, were generally either satisfied or partially satisfied with the results. This included experiencing increased levels of the following:

  • confidence in how they looked in clothes
  • general self-confidence
  • self-acceptance

According to a 2021 study, transgender people who received gender-affirming surgery had significantly lower levels of psychological distress, were less likely to smoke, and experienced lower rates of suicidal ideation.

Even seemingly simple steps, such as the use of affirming language, can have life changing impacts on a person’s mental health.

A 2023 survey from The Trevor Project found that transgender and nonbinary youth experienced lower rates of attempted suicides if the people they lived with respected their pronouns.

People tend to develop their own sense of gender from a young age, with research suggesting this can happen as early as the age of 3 years.

GAC can help transgender and gender-diverse youth do the following:

  • navigate their gender identity
  • feel more comfortable
  • build confidence in who they are

A 2022 study looked at the effects of GAC, such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers, on mental health among young people. The aim of puberty blockers, or puberty suppression, is to prevent the production of hormones during puberty that cause physical changes to the body that are often associated with gender.

The study found that these forms of GAC reduced the likelihood of depression in transgender and nonbinary youths by 60% and reduced the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and self-harm by 73% during the first year of care.

A 2020 study also found that transgender youth who wanted and received puberty suppression had reduced lifetime suicidal ideation when compared with those who wanted it but did not receive it.

GAC can involve supporting people through the many ways they may transition socially, including changing the following:

  • their name
  • their pronouns
  • the way they present themselves through clothing and hair
  • legal documents, to reflect their new name and gender identity

GAC can also involve surgical procedures to help affirm a person’s gender, including:

  • Top surgeries: These are procedures that change the shape of the chest.
  • Bottom surgeries: These are procedures that alter the appearance of the genitals.
  • Body contouring surgeries: These procedures involve accentuating or lessening the curves of the body.
  • Facial gender surgeries: These procedures aim to make changes to the face to affirm a person’s gender.
  • Other surgeries: Other procedures can include hysterectomy, orchiectomy, and sperm or egg freezing.

There are also many nonsurgical forms of GAC, including:

Learn more about types of GAC.

GAC is an important, and sometimes lifesaving, form of healthcare. However, as with many medical interventions, there may be some associated risks.

Some people may hold the misconception that puberty blockers are irreversible for minors. However, their physical effects are reversible and they have been used safely for decades for a range of medical reasons, not just for GAC.

People should be aware of the risks and side effects of any medical procedure they may undergo. A person can speak with their specialist about the risks and benefits of GAC so they may achieve their goals safely and effectively.

Cardiovascular risks

A 2021 review looked at the cardiovascular risks associated with hormone therapy within the transgender community. It found that existing research suggests there may be a higher risk of cardiovascular disease among the transgender community due to hormone therapies.

The researchers suggested that further studies should seek to obtain additional data from larger samples.

Dissatisfaction with results

A potential downside of GAC is dissatisfaction with the results.

However, a 2021 systematic review focused on people ages 13 years and over who received gender-affirming surgeries found that out of 7,928 participants, less than 1% regretted having surgery.

While any medical interventions come with risks and potential side effects, there are significant risks associated with delaying GAC or denying access to this care.

Research from 2020 found that denying GAC to those who need it in the short term can increase the risk of self-medication, which may be potentially unsafe.

In the long term, it increases the risk of the following:

Below is a list of resources that provide support and information for transgender and gender-diverse adults and minors:

  • The Trevor Project offers an affirming, online support group for LGBTQIA+ people ages 13–24 years.
  • GLAAD offers a list of resources including crisis hotlines, as well as organizations that advocate and give legal advice for transgender individuals.
  • TransFamilies provide access to support groups and communities for families that include transgender and gender-diverse young people.
  • The It Gets Better Project also has a list of resources for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

LGBTQIA+ resources

To discover more evidence-based health information and resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals, visit our dedicated hub.

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Gender affirming care (GAC) is an important part of healthcare that can drastically improve the lives of transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Even something seemingly as simple as using someone’s pronouns correctly, or giving a gender-affirming compliment, can have a positive impact.

This form of care encompasses a range of support, from surgeries and hormone therapy to the use of inclusive language.

GAC does not only involve making support available to transgender and gender-diverse people but also having empathy and respect. It is important to treat each person as an individual with their own specific needs throughout these processes.