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.”


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).

Transgender toddler? How on Earth does a toddler have any concept of changing gender unless the parents have something to do with it? Either the parents or the group’s the parents put them with have fostered this idea in their head.

Jazz knew her identify at a really young age. I’m not sure how you could possibly assign a transgender toddler. Most toddlers play with whatever toys available and wear what they’re dressed in by parents.

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…

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.

They are who God made them. God doesn’t make mistakes. God gives us children and says if we raise them in the right way they will not depart from it when they are older.

I sure hope you are getting paid to well to be the authority on what God thinks! You are nothing but an ignorant, judge mental, close minded fool.

In general this study is biased because the CIS children that you’re comparing them to have already been exposed to the idea of being transgender and therefore the comparison is invalid.

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.

Parents claim 18 month old infant girl identifies as a boy. How much more dumbing down will it take before people are gullible enough for you to get absolutely anything past them?

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!

Having a deeply held belief doesn’t make it real. What’s the difference between believing you are another gender and being another gender? Probably none, and that’s what these tests conclude. That does not mean that the behavior was not the result of social conditioning.

I am an early childhood educator and I have had the pleasure of working with transgendered children over the years. If you’ve ever worked with children you’ll understand that you can’t force a child to “be” another gender. There’s more pressure to be gender-appropriate. Children want to fit in, not set apart. I’m grateful that more studies are being done so that society can finally embrace our transgendered children, adolescents, and adults.

Gender identity and expression are 99.7% in line with the biological sex of an individual, this dysphoric tendency is so rare it should be considered unimportant. But that isn’t the point of its constant appearance in daily life, is it? Fluid gender identity destroys the innate defence of former LGBT status as something you are born with to a social construct or subjective whim. Considering the rate of suicide for those affected by a transsexual inclination it is very worrying that this complex clinical subject is even discussed with children who are highly impressionable and are now passively coerced towards a state that will render their life very difficult in adulthood. Also,the gender pay gap has been debunked completely by intelligence bell curve and the big 5 personality trait data across cultures, ethnicity and socioeconomic states. The gap is still being desperately pushed by ideologues when all statistically objective data proves otherwise, boys in school are currently subjected to a misanthropic drive to self loathing as having a toxic masculinity which is the actual abuse of gender in current society. Social scientists do not have any clinical basis for their pathologically ideological persuasions since the university system is rife with post modern philosophy that nobody dare question this drive (even if they wanted to) towards unachievable equity of outcome at the expense of their tenured positions. The post modern philosophy that everyone seems to have allied with is reprehensible and incorrect, and serves only to tear apart all functions of society and replace it with…. Nothing! because they never go that far. If this continues, the west is in deep trouble in the future. Those whose wish to replace the evil west and it’s traditions of individual liberty and free markets have no idea of what to replace it with except ‘equity’ which cannot exist. If equity was viable then you better be careful of who your future surgeon or lawyer is since we are all ‘exactly’ the same. Which is also the diametric opposition of diversity.

An exception to a pattern does not refute the pattern. Statistics and clinical data are not open to interpretation.

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 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.

Another strong statement, stuck to the back of a weak correlate, produced by an apparatus that is shaky in its validity. This style of disinformation is toxic to the public and undermines genuine research and expansion on the topic. The IAT has been the focus of concern over its test, retest-retest reliability and validity in regard to bias reduction related to contextual and personal motives(van Nunspeet, 2017). This research sample was selected (cherry picked) from children who had been living ‘every aspect of their lives’ as, “supported” as, their identified gender and were recruited from support groups and conferences. Of course the IAT scores would be presented as they are in this article. However, it negligently omits the many social, environmental, and personal facets of cognitive development that are occurring in a child’s psychology, who was present for this study. I say Poor form, by authors of strong bias.
van Nunspeet, F., Ellemers, N., & Derks, B. (2017). Social Contexts and Personal Moral Motives Reduce Implicit Prejudice: A Direct Comparison. Group Dynamics, 21(4), 207-219. doi:10.1037/gdn0000072

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