This article was published on May 26th, 2021
The time has come yet again to redefine gender identity and acknowledge the changing of the guard according to a new survey that is challenging preconceived notions. According to a new CNN study set to be released in June, 9.2% of kids classify themselves as gender-diverse in some way.
Conducted by physician and adolescent medicine fellow Dr. Kacie Kidd at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, she initially thought that the group of gender-diverse kids could be potentially larger if the questions posed about gender and identity had been posed differently. Instead of asking kids if they were transgender, Kidd and her colleagues asked two questions of more than 3,000 high school kids across 13 racially and economically diverse public high schools in the greater Pittsburgh area
The first question in the study: “What is your sex (the sex you were assigned at birth, on your birth certificate)?” The options were either “female” and “male.” The second question: “Which of the following best describes you (select all that apply)?” The options ranged from “girl”, “boy”, “trans girl”, “trans boy”, “genderqueer”, “nonbinary”, and “another identity”. Kidd issued the reasonings behind the two questions:
“Our goal was to understand the prevalence of gender-diverse identities among high school students in our Pittsburgh school district by asking what we considered to be, and what many scholars consider to be, a more inclusive question about gender identity. We came in suspecting that this two-step gender identity question would demonstrate a higher prevalence of gender diversity than in prior studies.”
Breaking Down the Numbers
The question of how many kids identify as transgender has been difficult to answer, partially because the term can mean different things to different people. There are many that associate transgender with gender dysphoria, which is classified as severe psychological distress caused by gender identity and biological sex not aligning – or with medical transition. The term also can include that that veer away from standard gender norms but also don’t want to change anything about themselves, including their names, pronouns, or bodies.
According to Susan Stryker, the author of Transgender History, trans people are termed as those “who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender.” A study conducted in 2017 by health scientist Michelle M. Johns as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that 1.8% of high school students self-identified as transgender, a percentage found once she and her team asked them if they were transgender.
The study also found that 9.2% of high school kids classify themselves as gender-diverse in some way. The data doesn’t make clear, however, whether this diversity is in expression, identity, or other facets of gender. Kidd and her colleagues were expecting a higher number, and there are a number of ways in which to understand the larger number of teenagers that claim new words to describe themselves.
A Call for More Awareness, Understanding, and Exploration
Obviously, these new findings should come with the notion that there be a greater understanding of the naturalness of gender diversity, whether it is expressed in the terms used to define oneself, the way one dresses, or how one sees themselves in relation to culture. According to Kidd, “being gender-diverse is a totally normal part of human experience.”
In just about any culture, there are people within them that veer from the traditional gender roles, and Jules Gill-Peterson is an associate professor of English and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at the University of Pittsburgh, that has studied this area extensively. According to Gill-Peterson:
“Regardless of what kind of sex and gender system existed in a particular society at a given time, there are pretty much consistently always folks who stray from those norms. It’s culturally sanctioned and celebrated for certain people to live lives differently than what we might call the gender they were assigned at birth.”
Dissecting Generation Z
There is a prevailing perception that Generation Z – those classified as born between 1997 and 2012 – are more gender-diverse than previous generations. The fact is that they just may be more visible, and we are looking for them as we have more words, far more options, and more awareness about this part of society. According to Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna, a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Fort Worth, Texas, the job of teenagers is to explore these options. She also added:
“Normal adolescence involves kids questioning everything and trying out new things. Exploring their gender identity can absolutely be a part of that.” Put another way – teenagers today are more likely to explore such concepts and experiment with gender and identity since they are more acceptable than ever before.
Gender Identity or Expression?
None of the terms used in the study’s second question were defined, not even gender identity itself. The authors of the study don’t know what the term “genderqueer” means to those who selected it. For many cultures, it is widely accepted and general acknowledged that biological sex is not predictive of anyone’s masculinity or femininity, who they like to engage with, what they like to do, or who they may be attracted to.
During the feminist-fueled 1970s, these concepts were the primary focus, but that has blurred in the last few decades as more of childhood – from toys and clothes to colors and even personality traits – have been marketed separately to boys and girls.
According to Dr. Ramakrishna, even teenagers may have problems distinguishing between gender stereotypes and gender identity, with some if they don’t fit into certain narrow stereotypes for a boy or girl then they are binary, for example. By claiming that word, kids can live free of stereotypes.
Does Gender Creativity Require Medication?
The authors of the study concluded that because this larger and more economically and racially diverse population of gender-creative kids is not represented in those seeking psychological and medical assistance at UPMC’s Gender & Sexual Development clinic there is a “need to re-evaluate systems and structures that continue to perpetuate inequities in access to gender-affirming care.” Typically, these studies are exclusively geared towards teenagers at higher socioeconomic levels.
The truth is many young people that identify as gender-diverse face significant health disparities compared to their white counterparts, and according to Kidd, this is the population of young people that we want to make sure have access to care and resources. This may include exploratory therapy for those with gender dysphoria, as well as puberty blockers to delay the onset of puberty, cross-sex hormones and, long-term, possible surgeries for those who desire to medically and physically transition.
“Many young people who identify as gender-diverse face significant health disparities,” Kidd said. “It’s that population of young people that we want to make sure have access to care and resources.”
Studies have shown that many young people benefit tremendously from medical intervention, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for everyone. There are a lot of legislative efforts right now targeting this population of young people; the current conundrum is if these efforts are causing more harm to young people as this new study doesn’t measure how many of these kids are in distress because of the gender-creative terms used to describe themselves. No questions on the study addressed impairment or dysphoria.
Support and Acceptance As Forms of Medication
All kids need support and acceptance, and accord to Dr. Kidd, “we know that family and community support for this population of young people also dramatically reduces those health disparities. Gender diverse people exist likely in much higher numbers than we previously were aware of or discussed in the literature. They are all unique individuals who have different needs and interests. We should be supporting them as a community in living their authentic lives, whatever that looks like for them.”