I know, right? GASP, trans people are people. But this new study, based on fieldwork with socially transitioned kids as well as a control group, gives us important data.
People seem to dig reporting on scholarship (as with some recent porn studies), so here’s another short piece in that vein. Briefly, Anne Fast and Kristina Olsen’s study of socially transitioned transgender preschool kids demonstrated that by most metrics they act and think like other kids their age.
The write-up in The Daily Beast provides a pretty good overview of the study, so I’ll direct you there if you want another take on it.
Having now skimmed the full article, though, I can say that it provides an excellent lit review of the scholarship on gender socialization and expression at early ages. Most of the research has been done on gender-conforming children, so this is a significant contribution to scientific knowledge. The authors argue that the age group they’re studying (3-5 year olds) provide a glimpse into an especially crucial time of gender development. They worked with 36 socially transitioned children in that age group, and gathered data on their siblings as well (and had a matching control group of cisgender kids).
Fast and Olsen reached these major conclusions:
young transgender children were just as likely as gender-typical children to (a) sh ow preferences for peers, toys, and clothing culturally associated with their expressed gender, (b) dress in a stereotypically gendered outﬁt, (c) endorse ﬂexibility in gender stereotypes, and (d) say they are more similar to children of their gender than to children of the other gender. Transgender children were also just as likely as controls and siblings to say that they identify with their expressed gender, both now and in the future, when given multiple other choices. These ﬁndings suggest that, in many ways, the basic gender development of socially transgender children is quite similar to that of other children. (13)
In other words, trans kids are matching their cis pees in terms of identification with a gender, through clothing and toys, which are thought of as typical markers of “normal” gender identity in children. However, they also displayed more of an understanding that gender might be fluid over time…which, frankly, I wish more adults grasped.
See also: Rethinking the Sex-Gender Connection
Intriguingly, Fast and Olsen found that even though their subjects were in the 3-5 years old age range, some experience body dysphoria. The authors interpret this finding to suggest
that young transgender children actually have a representation of the distinction between sex and gender (i.e., they know that more female-identiﬁed people do not have penises, hence their dislike of their penises). Furthermore, these ﬁndings may suggest that transgender children, and to a lesser extent their siblings, have a deeper or more complex understanding of sex and gender than other children. A more systematic examination of transgender children’s representation of this distinction should be conducted in future work in order to begin to disentangle these issues. (15)
Anyway, I won’t block-quote the whole article at you; I just wanted to illustrate some of nuances of the findings. This seems like a solid study and I hope to see more work like it in the future.
Fast, Anne A. and Kristina R. Olsen. “Gender Development in Transgender Preschool Children.” Child Development (2017). [accessed online; lack of pagination likely reflects that the print copy of the journal hasn’t come out yet]