Jake Pyne

Study program:
PhD Social Work and Gender Studies
Current affiliation:
McMaster University

Jake is seeking to establish innovative ways to accompany the parents, caregivers, and health providers of transgender youth during their gender transition.

As an advocate and researcher in Toronto's transgender community for many years, 2014 Trudeau scholar Jake Pyne has worked on projects to create access for trans people to emergency services, health care, and family law equality. More recently, his work has focused on building support for families with gender independent children and trans youth at the local, provincial, and national level. Pyne is a co-investigator on a number of trans health research grants. His doctoral research explores access to early gender transition care for trans youth.

Doctoral research

Our understanding of transgender (trans) youth and of the medical options and futures available to them is undergoing a period of rapid change. Though trans youth have been pathologized for decades under various mental health diagnoses, a movement of trans advocates, health and mental health providers, and family members has made it possible for some youth to suspend puberty and/or to transition to a new gender role while still young. Yet most underage youth cannot make the decision to transition alone, and must instead rely on their ability to move parents, caregivers, and health providers to act on their behalf.  Jake’s research asks how decisions to transition are made and what the human rights implications of the decisionmaking process might be. His research will contribute to new ways of understanding the desire for gender transition and new possibilities for models of response.


Tell us about your research project and its central idea.  

My research focuses on access to early gender transition for transgender youth – the question of who can access the treatments associated with gender transition, and who cannot, and why.  We are currently in a time when attitudes toward transgender people are changing rapidly. Despite many ongoing barriers, in Canada, in recent years, it has become increasingly possible for transgender youth to suspend puberty and/or medically transition to a new gender role while young. A movement of trans advocates, health and mental health providers, and family members has argued convincingly that early gender transition can be life-saving for trans youth – youth who have otherwise been found to have high rates of suicide and self-harm. Yet underage trans youth cannot typically make this decision alone and must rely on their ability to move their parents, caregivers, and health providers to act on their behalf – individuals who might decline to do so. My research asks how decisions about early gender transition are made and what the health and human rights implications might be.  

What led you to choose this research project in particular? 

Not all transgender people seek to transition, but for those who do, it tends to be pursued with great urgency. In my own experience of transitioning, I encountered professionals who supported my decision as well as those who believed I was mistaken in this pursuit. Some experts felt it was their responsibility to advocate for me, while others felt obligated to prevent me from making what they viewed as a grave error. It became clear to me that the matter of who is transgender and who is not, and what ought to be done about that, is a debate that rests not on fact, but on subjective questions of meaning – meaning that shifts across time and place.  Who is a transgender person? What does it mean to change one’s sex? For trans youth in particular, who increasingly seek to suppress puberty and transition while young, the answers to these questions have tremendous consequences. Embedded within these debates are complex questions of human rights and ethics that deserve the attention of Canadians. 

What is new or surprising about your research? 

There has been very little Canadian research about early gender transition, and existing European studies tend to focus on measuring health and mental health outcomes for those trans people who transition while young. This is important work, but my research is interested, instead, in how and whether trans youth gain access to the means to transition. My focus is unique because I address the decision-makers in the lives of trans youth (parents and health and mental health providers) and ask how they make sense of the desire for gender transition, and how they are, or are not, moved to support this path for young trans people.  What is new about my research is that I’m asking questions about the concepts, ideologies, and emotional contexts that frame the debates and decision-making practices with respect to young trans lives.  

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings? 

My findings will be important for the health and mental health providers who work with trans youth, the families of trans youth, and trans youth themselves. I believe the fields of gender studies, transgender studies, and bioethics will benefit from my exploration of the intersection of sex and gender, meaning-making, and medical decision-making.  Lastly, I believe all Canadians can engage with the questions of ethics, autonomy, and choice that I am posing.  

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate? 

In the current Canadian context, more and more clinics are opening to serve the needs of transgender youth who intend to transition to a new gender. These are important sites for meeting the needs of trans youth and the professionals who work in these programs often struggle to balance the desires of the youth and parents they see, together with their obligations as health and mental health providers.  As clinicians develop new policies and procedures to guide their work, I hope my research can invite them, together with trans youth and the families of trans youth, into a conversation about identity, meaning, health and human rights. I hope my research will contribute to new ways of conceptualizing the desire for gender transition and open up new possibilities for ethical social and medical responses. 

Jake Pyne has spent the past thirteen years as an advocate and a community-based researcher in Toronto’s transgender community. Alongside a host of committed colleagues, Jake has worked on initiatives to improve transgender people’s access to emergency services, health care, and family law equality, and more recently, to support gender-independent children and transgender youth.

As an advocate, Jake led a team of trainers and policy consultants from 2001–2008 at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto to improve transgender access to homeless shelters. In 2004, this team received a provincial award for outstanding work on behalf of homeless people, and in 2008, the City of Toronto granted it a Public Service Award of Excellence. In 2012, Jake co-organized the first National Workshop on Gender Creative Kids at Concordia University and helped to establish the national website, GenderCreativeKids.ca. At Rainbow Health Ontario, Jake worked with a committee of provincial stakeholders to develop resources for the families and service providers of gender-independent children, and in 2013, he co-led a national research meeting to identify barriers to these children’s wellbeing.

As a community-based researcher, Jake is a co-Investigator on a number of studies, including Trans PULSE, which the Institute for Gender and Health named in 2010 one of the nation’s top ten success stories in sex, gender, and health research. With the Centre for the Study of Gender, Social Inequities and Mental Health, and the LGBTQ Parenting Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre, Jake launched a study about transgender parents that resulted in a provincial initiative to address family law bias and informed a documentary by filmmaker Rémy Huberdeau that aired on CBC in 2014.

As a scholar, Jake’s work explores what various knowledge systems and social and institutional practices foreclose and make possible for gender non-conforming people. His work has been published in academic journals, edited collections, and online forums, and he has presented to audiences at provincial, national, and international conferences. Jake is the recipient of twenty academic and community-based awards. He holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Ryerson University, and is currently studying Social Work and Gender Studies at McMaster University.