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Study: Transgender youth aren’t confused about their gender identity

Brennan Linsley, APCoy Mathis (left), a transgender girl, plays with her sister, Auri, 2, center, at their home in Fountain, Colo. In June 2013, the Colorado Division of Civil Rights ruled that a suburban Colorado Springs school district had discriminated against Mathis, 6 , by preventing her from using the girls' restroom.
Brennan Linsley, AP (File)
In this 2013 file photo, Coy Mathis (left), a 6-year-old transgender girl, plays with her sister, Auri, 2, center, at their home in Fountain, Colo.

A new study of transgender youth indicates that the gender identity of these children is deeply held and is not the result of confusion about gender identity or pretense.

The study with 32 transgender children, ages 5 to 12, was led by psychological scientist Kristina Olson of the University of Washington, and is one of the first to explore gender identity in transgender children using implicit measures that operate outside conscious awareness.

The paper’s findings, published in the February edition of the journal Psychological Science, counter the belief that transgender children are too young to understand what gender means.

Olson started the research project, partly out of her interest in how children think about social groups, but also because she’d witnessed the challenges of a close friend with a transgender child.

“Seeing how little scientific information there was, basically nothing for parents, was hard to watch,” Olson said. “Doctors were saying, ‘We just don’t know,’ so the parents have to make these really big decisions: Should I let my kid go to school as a girl, or should I make my kid go to school as a boy? Should my child be in therapy to try to change what she says she is, or should she be supported?”

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Olson said she wanted to better understand gender identity in transgender children, taking a scientific approach to investigating whether their gender identity is deeply held, confused, or simply pretense, as some have argued.

Overall, data from various measures indicated that transgender children’s responses were indistinguishable from those of two groups of cisgender children.

Olson hopes to recruit up to 100 additional transgender children and follow them into adulthood to observe how the support they have received influences their development and whether it translates into more positive outcomes than in today’s transgender adults. It would be the first large-scale, nationwide, longitudinal study of transgender children in the U.S.

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