The Trans Kids Are All Right - Pacific Standard

The Trans Kids Are All Right

Or at least they can be, with their parents' support.
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(Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images)

(Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images)

Transgender kids often have it rough. In a world that isn't crazy about people's differences, and often metes out severe consequences for such dissimilarities, trans children can find themselves targets of mental and physical attacks. (In one of the most egregious cases, an 18-year-old agender child was set ablaze on a bus in Oakland, California.) Fortunately, parents can help, basically just by being parents: According to a new study, trans kids whose parents support them in their gender identity are no more anxious or depressed than the rest of us.

Studies of mental health among transgender people "consistently report dramatically elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality," University of Washington assistant professor of psychology Kristina Olson and her colleagues write in Pediatrics. "These elevated rates of psychopathology are likely the result of years of prejudice, discrimination, and stigma; conflict between one’s appearance and stated identity; and general rejection by people in their social environments, including their families."

Most of those studies, however, focus on adolescents and adults, and research has paid little attention to transgender kids who actually have their parents' support—which, while still something of a novelty, is increasingly common. The question is, could parents' love and support make a difference? That is, could good parenting overcome everything else coming a trans kid's way?

Could parents' love and support make a difference?

Basically, yes. Olson and her team recruited 73 transgender kids between the ages of three and 12, all of whom had socially transitioned—they took names and manners of dress typical of their genders, and had their parents' support in doing so—along with 49 of their siblings and 73 additional, cisgender children matched to the transgender kids' ages and (self-identified) genders. Their parents then filled out questionnaires aimed at evaluating their child's mental health along with their kids' natal sex—technically, the gender assigned by a physician at birth, though for most purposes it's the same as anatomical sex—and demographic information such as annual household income.

Compared to the control group and their cisgender siblings, the transgender kids were just fine. While they were slightly more anxious than national averages, those levels fell well below the standards for clinical, or even pre-clinical, anxiety. There was no difference at all in terms of depression, either between the three study groups or between any of those groups and national averages.

Those results don't necessarily mean all transgender kids should socially transition, Olson and her co-authors write. For one thing, all the kids in the study "transitioned at a time when such transitions are quite controversial and yet did so anyway," meaning that there might be something different and special about those kids—other than their gender identities and parental support—which explains the results.

Still, the results suggest that the kids can be all right. "As more and more parents are deciding to socially transition their children, continuing to assess mental health in an increasingly diverse group of socially transitioned children will be of utmost importance," the researchers write.

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Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.

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