While it takes some people well into adulthood to discover their true sexual or gender identity, others know their true selves at a very young age.
Transitioning at any age can be difficult, as fear of judgement or rejection from family, friends, and strangers can cause extreme emotional distress. This plays into the fact that LGBT children and teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight children. But a new study published in Pediatrics has found that when supported by their families, children who have transitioned have mental health outcomes similar to their straight peers.
"The thinking has always been that kids who are not acting gender-stereotypically are basically destined to have mental health problems," lead author Kristina Olson explained in a news release. "In our study, that's not the case."
Olson is the director of the TransYouth Project at the University of Washington, which is a groundbreaking program dedicated to understanding the science of transgender children ages 3-12, as well as those who do not conform to typical gender roles. Through the evidence they gather, they hope to make the lives of these children easier while advocating for wider social acceptance.
"It is hard to be transgender in 2016 in the United States," Olson continued. "If peers know that a child is transgender, they often tease that child. If peers do not know, the transgender child has to worry about being found out. It's not surprising that transgender children would have some more anxiety, given the state of the world for transgender children right now."
Before taking the legal or medical steps to reassign one's gender, it's common to take smaller steps to transition social attributes, such as preferred name, pronoun usage, clothing, and hairstyles. The study found that this is a critical time when children need support and love from their families.
In the current study, researchers compared the rates of anxiety and depression between 73 socially transitioned children from 25 different states to control groups of gender conforming children. One control group consisted of the siblings of the transgender children, while the other group were unrelated peers.
Those children who received support throughout their transition had depression levels that were nearly identical to the controls, while their anxiety levels were slightly higher. The researchers expected to see a heightened rate of anxiety, but are pleased that family support does make a distinct difference.
"I think they're proof that you can be a young transgender kid today and be happy and healthy and doing just as well as any other kid," Olson concluded. "It's some good news, finally, which I don't think there's much of in what we hear about transgender kids."
Moving forward, the TransYouth Project will seek to understand how support from outside the child's family, such as friends and teachers, contributes to their emotional well-being.