Our culture is undeniably uneducated about transgender individuals. At worst, this ignorance results in violent hate crimes and murders. In its most benevolent form, transgenderism is viewed as a "phase" or transgender individuals are regarded as "confused." A new study, however, pushes back on these misconceptions by finding that transgender children identify with their gender identity as consistently as their cisgender peers.
"Our study addressed concerns we often hear the lay public and even scientific audiences express: concerns that transgender children are pretending or being difficult or that they don't 'really' believe they are a boy (or girl)," lead researcher and University of Washington psychology professor Kristina Olson told Mic. "We wanted to know what happened if we used measures other than traditional self-report measures — would these stereotypes be upheld?"
The study, which will run in Psychological Science, recruited pre-pubescent transgender-identifying children who were age-matched with their cisgender siblings, as well as another group of cisgender children. The trans and cisgender children's gender identities were determined through measures of gender development such as the Implicit Association Test, which is a device developed to scientifically explore "the unconscious roots of thinking and feeling," according to its website. Olson and her team decided to use such measures because "implicit gender identity and a strong implicit preference for their own gender" is evident in other children at this age and, hopefully, the same measures could be used to assess identity and preferences in transgender kids as well.
The study's findings support what trans advocates have been saying for years: Being transgender is not a phase or a choice, but a consistent gender identity. The study indicated that transgender children's responses were indistinguishable from the two groups of cisgender children, suggesting that trans and cisgender children identify with their gender in the same consistent ways.
It's worth noting that this study's sample was composed of just 32 children, all of whom were fully supported by their families and living as their identified gender in all capacities of their lives, which is not always the case for transgender children. One study showed, for example, that 57% of transgender individuals have experienced significant rejection from their family. Olson acknowledges this limitation, stating that this paper is "very, very preliminary" and hopes that other researchers will expand on her work to "better understand whether the findings we observed apply to other groups of transgender children and to see how the results we found might relate to later life identity."
Nevertheless, Olson's results are an encouraging step toward greater awareness and acceptance of transgender individuals. Considering that studies have found that acceptance can protect against many threats to well-being for LGBTQ individuals, the more research done that bolsters this attitude the better.
Thanks to Olson and the future researchers she has hopefully inspired, perhaps we can consider ourselves one step closer to trans equality.