Even more data confirms: Trans people’s awareness of their gender long precedes disclosure to others

Zinnia JonesLast month, I looked at the findings of Restar et al. (2019) in Transgender Health, which examined the developmental trajectories and milestones of trans women aged 16 to 29 and found that their own awareness of their identity as women typically preceded their disclosure of their gender to others by several years. This is relevant to the uniquely poor methodology used in the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study, in which reports from parents alone were used, and a child’s disclosure of their transness to a parent was equated with the time at which that child’s transgender identity actually appeared. It also comes to bear on the all-too-common objection heard by trans people from family members that they “never saw any signs” of the person’s transness – when all this means is that the trans person hadn’t yet decided to show any signs.

Findings such as those from Restar et al. overturn the naïve assumption of a developmental trajectory that starts with reading about trans people on Tumblr, continues with self-identification as trans 5 minutes later, and is followed by telling your parents 30 seconds after that realization. And another recent study offers further details on the developmental course of known and lived transgender identity among an even younger age group.

Kuper, Lindley, & Lopez (2019) reported data from 224 children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 who were assessed at a Dallas gender clinic, examining their histories of their awareness of their gender and how they disclosed and lived as their gender. Trans girls reported first self-identifying with their gender at an average age of 9.9 years, while trans boys reported an average age of 10.7. However, it wasn’t until an average age of 12.2 for trans girls, and 13.1 for trans boys, that they first disclosed their gender to their immediate family. While the authors studied different trajectories in disclosure, these only constituted differences in the order in which these youth came out to immediate family, extended family, friends, and school staff – all of which occurred, on average, years after their self-realization as trans.

The authors note that these findings mirror those of several prior studies in this area:

Timing of gender-related milestones was generally consistent with previous studies of transgender and gender-diverse children, adolescents, and adults, with many participants indicating awareness of their gender identity in childhood or early adolescence and starting to disclose their identity and take steps in social transition during adolescence (Grant et al., 2011; Grossman, D’Augelli, Salter, & Hubbard, 2006; James et al., 2016; Olson et al., 2015).

Once more, the choice of methodology in the ROGD study is entirely out of step with what has been known and published in the literature about the course of transgender identity development for many years. This is a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated – but it’s one that a person familiar with the subject likely wouldn’t have made in the first place.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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