Transgender Kids Show Consistent Gender Identity Across Measures

A study with 32 transgender children, ages 5 to 12, 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, led by psychological scientist Kristina Olson of the University of Washington, is one of the first to explore gender identity in transgender children using implicit measures that operate outside conscious awareness and are, therefore, less susceptible to modification than self-report measures.

The findings will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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?”

The idea that young children, who haven’t gone through puberty, can truly be transgender has met with public skepticism and some experts believe the best approach is to encourage “gender-variant” children to be comfortable with their biological gender. In recent years, however, more doctors, parents, and mental health professionals have begun to advocate for allowing children to live as their identified gender.

Olson 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.

Olson and co-authors Nicholas Eaton at Stony Brook University and Aidan Key of Gender Diversity, a Seattle organization that provides training and runs support groups for families of gender-nonconforming children, specifically focused their study on transgender children who were living as their identified gender in all aspects of their lives, who came from supportive home environments, and who had not yet reached puberty. The participants and their cisgender (non-transgender) siblings were recruited through support groups, conferences, and word of mouth.

Finally, the researchers recruited cisgender children from a database of families interested in participating in developmental psychology research studies. These cisgender children were age-matched to the transgender participants for analytical comparisons.

To get a comprehensive sense of the children’s gender identity, Olson and colleagues used self-report measures that asked children to reflect on aspects of their gender in combination with implicit measures designed to gauge the strength of the children’s more automatic gender associations.

For example, one of the implicit measures, based on the commonly used Implicit Association Test (IAT), assessed the speed with which they associated gender — male and female — with  descriptors related to the concepts of “me” and “not me.” The test is based on the theory that people are faster to respond to pairings that are more strongly associated in memory. The IAT has been used in many studies to investigate implicit attitudes related to various attributes, including gender and race, and brief versions of the IAT that use pictures instead of words have been validated for use with children.

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

On the IAT measuring children’s gender identity, transgender children showed a strong implicit identification with their expressed gender. When the researchers looked at the data according to the children’s expressed gender, they saw that the data from transgender girls showed the same pattern as the data from cisgender girls and the data from transgender boys showed the same pattern as data from cisgender boys.

And Olson and colleague saw the exact same pattern of findings when they looked at data from an IAT test that tapped into the children’s gender preferences.

Transgender children also showed the same pattern of results as cisgender children on the explicit measures included in the study. For example, transgender girls, just like cisgender girls, preferred to be friends with other girls and they tended to prefer toys and foods that other girls liked.

“While future studies are always needed, our results support the notion that transgender children are not confused, delayed, showing gender-atypical responding, pretending, or oppositional — they instead show responses entirely typical and expected for children with their gender identity,” the researchers write.

“The data reported in this paper should serve as further evidence that transgender children do indeed exist and that this identity is a deeply held one,” they conclude.

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, launching the first large-scale, nationwide, longitudinal study of transgender children in the United States.

“We have absolutely no idea what their lives will look like, because there are very few transgender adults today who lived as young kids expressing their gender identity,” Olson said. “That’s all the more reason why this particular generation is important to study. They’re the pioneers.”

Comments

It is so heartening to see studies such as being carried out. I hope this only the beginning of many more.

Read this article and its truly amazing how much information gave me as a parent and grandparent too. We need more studies that express that cross-gender in children are real and not part of their imaginative minds but also to show that nor conversion therapy or religious bootcamps can’t change a child’s mind about their gender identity.

Thank you! Merci! I appreciate the work done and findings (Mom of a transgender toddler).

While you are entitled to your opinions, the results of this study are not consistent with this particular one. Ask yourself, when did you know your gender? Odds are you’ve probably always known. Just because you were born with a sex that corroborates the gender you identify with, does not mean this is true for everyone.

In reply to jo Coleman, my friend has a 9 year old son who knew when he was 2 yrs old (he was born a girl) that he was in the ‘wrong’ body. Parents cannot force their children to be one thing or another…they are what they are and need our support & help. Open your minds…

It’s not that parents said explained trans to a toddler it’s that they consistently say that they are a different gender than assigned a birth. Since they don’t know enough to have the exact word of “transgender” that is all the parents do to inform in that sense.
Just like a toddler may not know the word “furious” they can say they are very very mad and a parent can tell them what word they are lacking.

Thank you – another nail in the coffin for those who persistently argue that it is the parents who are forcing their child into this and accuse the parent of child abuse by allowing their child to transition. I have always maintained that the reverse is true and that it is child abuse to try and force your child to be a gender that they are not.

Is there a way to share your need for participants in further studies? My hope is for my adult, transgender friends on facebook to share this need for subjects within their own community of transgender people.

… As to contribute to the needed research on this topic!

Are you implying that the transgender children’s identities are invalid because they’ve heard of cis-genderism? Tell me, which of those cis-gender decided not to be transgender? When did YOU decide that you weren’t transgender?

I appreciate that you think you are right here, but unless and until you walk in a parent’s shoes, or a trapped child’s for that matter, please keep an open mind. You said it yourself, that God doesn’t make mistakes so perhaps it is you playing God telling people they cannot grow into who they wish to become? You are very judgmental for someone who professes to be God’s wing-woman.

You do not understand until you see it. My grandchild born as a girl did not want to wear girls under ware when she was potty trained. My grandchild did not want to wear dresses or have hair ribbons. My grandchild only has a sister who was the opposite. Today my grandchild at 11 is the exact same way only shops for clothes in the boys department.

I agree.my 8 year old daughter is transgender and transitioned socially 2 years ago. She has a twin brother…. I could put him in a dress but I could never, ever make a child have the traits and behaviors that she naturally has. She is a girl who was born with a body that doesn’t match

WOW!!! I had no idea nor even thought of this subject. I truly hope research is openly shared. I would not have known about this topic except my professor put it up for us to investigate. Thank you.

As a grandma of an 8,5-year-old AFAB transgender child. I am excited about this project. Our grandson has transitioned at the beginning of grade one and continues to go stealth at school. We have been grateful that we have the support from the school, family and medical team. He received his diagnosis when he was six. Please keep us posted as it will help us on our journey as a family to support him.

This is a great article; provides a lot of hope for the transgender community. I thank you for this on behalf of all the people who are still trying to convince the world that they are not crazy or simply seeking attention. All they want is to live a normal life in the gender identity they recognize so well. God Bless.

The study is still deeply flawed as it assumes that humans have only binary genders. The physical intersex humans or the mental androgynous/two spirit or other 3rd gender identified humans are ignored. These other genders have words describing their existence in hundreds of languages for millennia and some words survived the Christian expansion.

People that measure as 60% male to 60% female are at least 5% of the total population and have terms in our culture as prefixes to the enforced gender such as “butch” or “femm” and the truly androgynous are about 1%.

I find it offensive that a researcher is ignoring data showing that there are more than 2 genders among humans and is using their research to enforce the gender binary.

Failing to understand that gender is not an absolute binary system is the reason our society is failing to grasp why so many trans people are completely happy with their birth genitals and have no desire to ‘transition’ through surgery or why many trans people would refuse hormone treatments. It’s the same pressure that bisexual people get from cis and gay culture; they must choose a side; us or them.

We exist between the poles and society, including researchers, are going to have to open up a place for us in the middle because we are a distinct part of society, we have always been a part of human society, and we are not going to go away.

To the person who said, “god doesn’t make mistakes” sorry. REALLY? Tell that to children who are born without limbs, to children who are born deaf and blind and mute, to children who are born with BOTH gender PARTS, to parents of children born with horrible disfigurements, I could go on and on. Some children KNOW that something is wrong. Certainly they can’t define it, but their behavior does. We are ALL different. And when did God ask ANY human to judge another? I thought he gave that job to Jesus Christ!

wow, some of the comments leave me speechless. as a parent of a daughter that at age 4.5 decided she wanted to be a boy and asked me time and time again to make her one, who refused to wear anything relating to girls clothing and never corrected anyone who referred to her as a boy. I did not have any influence on her. I did what I imagine most parents would do. I took her shopping for the things that made her happy and comfortable. we shopped in the boys section. wasn’t a big deal to me what she wore as long as she wore clothes.
now 28 years later she still dresses the same and no one bothers her.
back in the day we never heard of transgender or anything relating to ones gender. now I don’t quite understand what the big deal is. who cares how one dresses or what their sexual preference is.
people should focus on the more important things in life, such as, drinking and driving, how many people are running around with guns, and how many school shootings there are. it has absolutely nothing to do with transgender… love and be loved people

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