Gender Identity in Transgender Children

By Amanda Ng

Through the last century or so, an emphasis on social equality has brought the plights of many minority groups to light.  In the past, members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community have suffered from severe emotional distress because of the discrimination they face, and many still worry about gaining and keeping the acceptance of their peers and families.  Though they still suffer discrimination to some degree, LGBT individuals are much more accepted in today’s society than in societies past.  However, even with this movement heading in the right direction, there are still unconfirmed ideas that some members of the American population have about LGBT individuals.  Many people seem to believe that children who identify as transgender are too young to even have a concept of gender identity, much less know that their gender identities are different from the sexes assigned to them physically at birth.  A new study conducted by Nicholas Eaton, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, and his colleagues may finally be able to put an end to all thoughts of this nature.

In the first large-scale, nation-wide study of transgender children, 32 transgender children, 18 of their siblings, and 32 controls (gender-typical children) between the ages of 5 and 12 were studied in order to find their perceptions and thoughts on their gender identity.  The children were studied in a variety of ways in order to find out their true thoughts.  They were asked directly what gender they associated themselves with.  Their reaction times to certain computerized tasks were tested as well.  By using these methods, researchers hoped to reveal the children’s attitudes and beliefs without the interference of social pressures.  The study found that children who viewed themselves as transgender were just as certain about their gender identity as gender-typical children.  As Dr. Eaton put it, “Across all these tasks, across the more and the less controllable measures of gender development, our transgender participants look just like other kids, but in the direction of their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth.”

This study provides the evidence needed to support the idea that young children know enough about their gender identity in order to identify as male or female even though their identification may be different than the sex assigned to them at birth.  This study is scheduled to be published in Psychological Science later this month, and will hopefully be the first step toward transgendered children being allowed to live their lives as the gender they identify as.

References:

  1. Almeida, R. Johnson, H. Corliss, B. Molnar, D. Azrael. Emotional distress among LGBT youth: the influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1001-1014 (2009). doi: 10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9
  2. Study finds transgender children are clear about their identity.  2015. Stony Brook Newsroom.
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