It’s not just a phase the child is going through.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Gender identity is a confusing topic for most people, and the lines get even blurrier when young kids enter the arena. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s child, Shiloh, made news when it was revealed that Shiloh identified as a boy and wanted to be called John. Pitt and Jolie have reportedly been very supportive of John, but many were skeptical that a child so young could properly gender identify. However, a new study shows that transgender children identify just as strongly as cisgender kids.
Researchers at the University of Washington, led by psychologist and founder of the TransYouth Project Kristina Olson, found that young people who claim a different gender than what was assigned at birth identify as consistently and innately with that gender identity as other kids their age that are not trans. Their study was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Olson conducted an in-depth study of 32 transgender children who were all living full-time as the gender they identified with and living in supportive home environments. None of them had reached puberty yet, according to ThinkProgress.
The study used an Implicit Association Test to measure the speed in which participants associated aspects of gender with their own identity, often automatically and subconciously. An analysis of the results found no significant difference among any of the kids; transgender and cisgender children identified with their gender identity at exactly the same rates. Transgender girls and cisgender girls identified with being a girl at the same rates; transgender boys and cisgender boys identified as being a boy at the same rates.
In an interview with KUOW in Seattle, Olson clarified that this study was about kids who assert their gender at quite an early age. “Sometimes we hear from parents that the parent says, ‘Well, you could just be a boy who likes to wear dresses,’ and the kid says, ‘No, it’s not the dress. I am a girl,'” she said. “That seems to be the crucial difference between a boy who likes a girly things and a boy who is saying, ‘I am a girl.'” In other words, not every child who explores or experiments with gender is necessarily transgender. However, when children do assert a gender identity, it’s an experience as authentic as those of cisgender kids.
Olson stressed the importance of parents supporting their children’s gender identity and highlighted how many of the parents in the study initially had negative reactions when their kids asserted that they were a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Lack of acceptance from parents and others can lead to serious mental health consequences, including being withdrawn, self-harm, and even suicide. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen, took her life on December 28, 2014 and her death made international news when a suicide note was posted to her Tumblr hours after her death. In the letter, she talked about her experiences growing up in a strict Christian household and how her parents tried to get her to attend conversion therapy. She heartbreakingly wrote, “my death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that's fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
According to a 2007 study in the American Association of Suicidology, nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and roughly 25 percent report having made a suicide attempt. The parents in Olson’s study told Olson that they had other medical professionals tell them, “You’re either going to have a child who’s living and not the gender you thought they were, or you’re not going to have a living child.”