Transgender kids aren't just 'going through a phase' and develop like their non-trans peers, researchers say
- In the largest study of transgender children to date, researchers found that transgender children who have "socially transitioned" - or live as the gender they identify as - develop their gender identity just like their cisgender peers.
- Previous studies have pointed to a connection between not allowing transgender kids to socially transition and elevated rates of depression and suicide.
- The findings debunk the idea that transgender children are just "going through a phase."
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New findings stand to debunk the notion that transgender children as young as 3 are just "going through a phase." and so shouldn't be encouraged to live as the gender they identify as.
In the November study in PNAS, which is the largest ever conducted on transgender children to date, researchers surveyed 317 transgender kids ages 3 to 12 who had "socially transitioned," or who live as the gender they identify with. They also surveyed 189 of their siblings and 316 unrelated children who are cisgender, or whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
The researchers found no significant differences between the trans and cis kids' gender development, or how they grew to understand and formulate their gender. The findings also revealed that transgender children gravitate toward the same gendered toys, clothing items, and friends as cisgender participants, regardless of how long they had been socially transitioned.
This challenges the idea that transgender children are "too young" to make the decision to transition socially or medically. And, when transitioning can mean the difference between a slew of mental health issues, trauma, or even suicide and living a healthier, happier life, these findings and their implications are especially important.
Trans children develop their understanding of their gender the same way as their cisgender peers
Researchers wanted to examine preadolescent children ages 3 to 12 years old because of their unique experience with gender, namely that they had lived as both the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they actually are.
Their findings showed little differences between transgender participants, their cisgender siblings, and unrelated cisgender children surveyed.
Stereotypical gender markers like toy choice and the gender of their friends were consistent for transgender children with the gender they identify as. For example, researchers found that trans boys were as likely to prefer playing with trucks and other little boys as boys who were assigned male at birth.
Another main finding was that regardless of how long it had been since a transgender child had socially transitioned, they identified as strongly with the gender they are rather than the one they were assigned at birth.
The findings debunk the idea that transgender children are just "going through a phase"
When a transgender person socially transitions, it can mean changing their pronouns, name, hair, and the way they dress to reflect their gender identity.
According to researchers, this can be an especially difficult process for younger children, who are often the first in their communities to come out as transgender and pioneer fights for bathroom access, sports teams, sleep-away camps, and legal documents.
Another challenge that transgender children face in trying to transition is their age. The idea that preadolescent children are "too young to transition" is one that is so pervasive even other members of the LGBTQ community have pushed back against parents allowing their children to either medically or socially transition.
But the current study supports past research finding that not allowing kids to transition has consequences. Previous studies have illustrated a correlation between transgender children not being able to use their chosen names or pronouns, for example, and higher rates of depression and suicide.
"The present work provides a foundation for additional questions to be addressed in future research on the transgender experience in children," the researchers wrote.
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