Study: Kids’ Gender Identity Is Just as Strong Whether They’re Transgender or Cisgender

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Nov 29, 2019

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Transgender children who have socially, if not medically, transitioned to their gender identity, have just as much affinity for that identity, along with its associated preferences and behaviors, as children whose gender matches the sex assigned to them at birth, according to new research out of the University of Washington.

Socially transitioning means the transgender children in the study had changed their pronouns and, often, their first names; they also dressed and played in ways associated with their gender identity, not the sex assigned to them at birth.

“There is almost no difference between these trans- and cisgender kids of the same gender identity — both in how, and the extent to which, they identify with their gender or express that gender,” Selin Gülgöz, PhD, the lead author of the study, said in a press release. This is the largest study of socially transitioned children in the world to date.

The finding held true no matter how briefly or long the transgender child had lived as their true gender identity.


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“… On average, most transgender girls, like their cisgender counterparts, wore stereotypically feminine clothing, chose toys such as dolls to play with, preferred playing with female playmates, and identified themselves clearly as girls, and not boys,” Kristina Olson, PhD, the senior author and a professor of psychology at the University, said in the release. “Thus the transgender group looked similar to the cisgender group in both the range of responses and the most common responses.”

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were drawn from survey responses and behavior studies of 300 transgender children in the U.S., almost 200 of their cisgender siblings, and 300 non-sibling cisgender children. One survey question asked children to identify their gender; 83% of cisgender children and 84% of transgender children responded with their current gender. The ages of participants ranged from 3 to 12; among the youngest participants “I don’t know” was a frequent response to this question.) The fact that for a certain amount of their early years, transgender children were treated as a different gender appeared to have little to no effect on their gender identity. Researchers say this suggests transgender children are self-socializing — absorbing from their environment ‘how to be’ the gender they identify with.

“We’re not seeing any increases or decreases over time in how strongly transgender children identify with their current gender,” Gülgöz said.

The researchers add their finding builds on previous research that has found transgender children’s gender identity remains consistent before and after transitioning. Ultimately, it’s one more piece of proof that transgender kids aren’t confused or going through a phase. Rather, just like their cisgender peers, they know exactly whom — and what gender identity — they are.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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