Transgender Children Development Consistent with Current Gender, Not Sex Assigned at Birth

Transgender children show strong identification and preferences stereotypically associated with their current gender identities, not their sex assigned at birth.

Chia Po Cheng
14
2039

A recent article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), presented a comprehensive study of gender development in transgender children from age three to twelve. The findings suggest that transgender children show developmental patterns consistent with their current gender and that neither early sex assignment nor specific gender socialization experiences in the home define transgender children’s gender identity and gender expression later on.

“These findings have implications that may be useful to consider outside of this cohort of children,” write the researchers, led by psychologist Selin Gülgöza at the University of Washington. “Our results demonstrated that transgender children’s gender development does not appear to show a lingering impact of early sex-assignment or sex-specific socialization.”

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Cisgender children, whose gender identities align with their assigned gender at birth, often show preferences and behaviors associated with gender stereotypes of their gender early in development. Starting from the age of three, cisgender children identify themselves as similar to others of the same gender and show preferences for gender-typed toys and clothing. Previous studies in gender development believe that these patterns result from a combination of biological factors, children’s gender cognition, and children’s cultural and interpersonal socialization.

It is becoming increasingly common for transgender children to begin transitioning, including changing names, pronouns, and gender expressions, in the pre-school and primary school years, rather than in late adolescence or adulthood. While more people are viewing children’s cross-gender identification and behaviors as parts of normal gender variations, the current knowledge of gender development among transgender children is limited.

This study was conducted to allow researchers to gain insights into the developmental process of gender development for transgender children. They explore whether transgender children’s gender development resembles cisgender children’s development and how transgender children socialized and associated themselves with their gender identities.

“If there is coherence in measures of identity, preference, and behaviors in transgender children, then this reinforces the idea that self-socialization is an important piece of the puzzle of gender development,” the researchers write.

After analyzing the data, the study found that transgender children showed preferences and behaviors associated with their gender identities instead of their sex assigned at birth. Furthermore, the study observed similar patterns in gender development between transgender and cisgender children.

“These findings, therefore, provide preliminary evidence that neither sex assignment at birth nor direct or indirect sex-specific socialization and expectations (e.g., rewarding masculine things and punishing feminine ones for assigned males) in alignment with early assignment necessarily define how a child later identifies or expresses their gender,” the authors write.

“Further, the lack of differences between siblings and controls, observed across measures, suggests that there likely is not a unique gender socialization experience in the homes of transgender children that is changing gender development.”

However, the researchers caution that their findings should not be misconstrued to suggest that gender socialization is not important to early development. On the contrary, they contend that “it appears that transgender children’s motivation to self-socialize is likely occurring, and the focus is on learning about characteristics of the other gender rather than learning about characteristics of the gender assigned to them at birth.”

This study provides more information on transgender children’s gender development and suggests that transgender and cisgender children show consistent patterns in gender development. This finding highlights the importance of the self-socialization process in transgender children’s gender development. Yet, the study does not imply that gender socialization is irrelevant in a children’s early development but points out the motivation to self-socialize gender aligns with their gender identities among transgender children.

The authors conclude:

“These findings illustrate that children develop a sense of identity at an early age, that this identity is not necessarily determined by sex assigned at birth, and that children may hold on to this identity even when it conflicts with others’ expectations. Why children develop such strong feelings of identity and how identity is maintained or changed when in conflict with other socialization forces are seldom addressed in theories of gender development.”

“Our findings also demonstrate that once a child is living in line with an identity different from the one they were assumed to have at birth and were initially socialized to have, they are likely to show the same patterns of gender development as a child who develops a gender aligning with their assigned sex and socialization.”

 

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Gülgöz, S., Glazier, J. J., Enright, E. A., Alonso, D. J., Durwood, L. J., Fast, A. A., … & Olson, K. R. (2019). Similarity in transgender and cisgender children’s gender development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences116(49), 24480-24485. (Link)

14 COMMENTS

  1. It sounds like these researchers compared the homes of XX female-at-birth children raised as girls, with the homes of XY male-at-birth children raised as girls (and likewise for children raised as boys). They found the parenting styles and expectations similar. So they conclude that environment has little or no role in a child’s developing sense of gender identity – it must be biological.

    If so, that makes no sense. It assumes that any “nonconforming” boy-child who prefers dress-ups to sports and Disney princesses to superheroes, is actually a girl – and any girl-child whose tastes run strongly in the opposite direction is actually a boy. The researchers also appear to assume that modern medical science either already knows how to identify a child’s “true” gender, or will be developing a test for this any day. And that the answers will come from brain scans and the like.

    This attitude should be uncannily familiar to all of us at Mad in America – and disturbing. At the very least, it should make us stop and think. Is this a liberation movement – or an iatrogenic medical crisis in the making? (Or maybe 25% of one, 75% of the other?)

    Haven’t we all been down this road ourselves? Based on a superficial account of our distress, or behavior, or both, we were told we were biologically different. Our brains were different. And only powerful medical treatments could rescue us, giving us back our “true selves” and a shot at a normal happy life.

    Do not forget that these kids’ path to transgender adulthood will require powerful drugs and surgeries – starting with puberty-blocking injections at age ten or twelve, followed by lifetime medication with cross-sex hormones. All of which have major, worrisome side effects when used for other conditions.

    I get it – we want to be accepting. Yes, all people should be free to define their own identity. And surely there are some people whose inner identity is so at odds with the body they were born in, that only medical transition will ever make them happy. On the other hand, gender-non-conforming behavior is quite common among children, and not a disease. A majority of such kids will grow up to identify with their biological sex. Some will do so as relatively “femme” gay men or relatively “butch” lesbian women. Shouldn’t they be free to be who they are, rather than being pushed from an early age to “transition”?

    We also need to ask ourselves: Why is the rate of “gender dysphoria” among children and teens FORTY TIMES what it was less than ten years ago? If it had merely doubled, I’d say OK, greater awareness. But this is reminiscent of Childhood Bipolar Disorder, which also increased forty-fold within a few years. We all know what a mess that was.

    Just as “stigma” is not the only reason to question drug treatments for emotional distress, so “transphobia” is not the only reason to question “gender-affirming” drug treatments for non-conforming children. This blog, by a woman whose daughter identified as male for two years, is worth a look: https://4thwavenow.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/born-in-the-right-body-introducing-4thwavenows-new-spokesperson-mom-of-a-teen-desister/

    • Thank you for your comment.

      I too, began to really notice the parallels between psychiatric and gender “treatments”. Gender identity is an abstract concept that cannot be concretely measured (just like chemical imbalances can’t be) and is based on the idea that stereotypes (hair length, personality traits, hobbies, clothing style) is somehow innately tied to biological sex (which they’re not). I say; let both males and females dress, behave, have passions in whatever they want. There is a lid for every pot. There is no need to fit a certain box in order to be worthy of love and human rights. NOBODY should be bullied for their appearance or clothing/hobby/job.

      Actually, many psychologists have QUIT their jobs due to ethical concerns about the fact that the NHS seemed to want to railroad children into drugs and surgeries without exploring social factors; seeing that a significant percent of the clientele were gay children and/or children with significant experiences of trauma and gendered bullying.

      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6897269/Workers-transgender-clinic-quit-concerns-unregulated-live-experiments-children.html

      Why isn’t telling bullies to step off a treatment? Why are we drugging the bullied child instead? Seems eerily familiar to how victims of abuse are given psychiatric drugs rather than the violence, discouragement and neglect of their family acknowledged.

      Here is a great video critiquing the DSM: Two Genders? Roles, Identities and Dysphoria-What DSM-5 says.

      https://youtu.be/ffSNr9iycAU

  2. Lol, just another attempt at seeming that we know stuff about the brain.
    We have adults with dirty hands, weird brains, dabbling in stuff that has them all curious.
    Not once have these adults studied the WHY, of how their curiosity seems to create havoc.
    Not once do they wonder what led them from elementary school, their home life, to
    trying to isolate behaviours into neat little disorders that they believe, with strong conviction,
    deviates from their own. And that since it deviates, it must be abnormal.
    And so they continue on, by suggestion of someone, to do a study.
    All droll and boring, they stopped believing it eons ago, yet feel compelled to continue
    the absolute most stupid ideology on the planet.
    If psychiatry is helpful at all, it teaches humanity how crazy we can be, how vast discrimination can infest the minds, to try and make sense of it. To develop drugs based on our own sense making over others lives is beyond crazy.

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