Gender Development in Transgender Preschool Children
Anne A. Fast, and Kristina R. Olson University of Washington
An increasing number of transgender children—those who express a gender identity that is “opposite” their natal sex—are socially transitioning, or presenting as their gender identity in everyday life.
This study asks whether these children differ from gender-typical peers on basic gender development tasks. Three- to 5-year- old socially transitioned transgender children (n = 36) did not differ from controls matched on age and expressed gender (n = 36), or siblings of transgender and gender nonconforming children (n = 24) on gender preference, behavior, and belief measures.
However, transgender children were less likely than both control groups to believe that their gender at birth matches their current gender, whereas both transgender children and siblings were less likely than controls to believe that other people’s gender is stable.
Gender is perhaps the central way in which children and adults carve the social world into categories (Maccoby, 1998; Ruble, Martin, & Beren- Baum, 2006). Therefore, it may be unsurprising that gender is likely the earliest identity and social category to emerge in development (Lewis & Brooks- Gunn, 1979), and that acquiring gender knowledge is considered a critical component of early childhood development (Ruble et al., 2007).
A pervasive, albeit often implicit, the assumption in society and in psychological research is that one’s gender (one’s sense of identity as a boy or girl) aligns with one’s sex (determined by one’s anatomy and chromo- somes at birth). This belief is clearly grounded in data—for most people, their gender identity aligns with their sex.
However, it is not always the case; rather there are people, termed transgender, whose gender identity and sex at birth do not align. One example is a reality star, Jazz Jennings, who expressed a female identity as soon as she could communicate that information to others despite being born a natal male (Goldberg & Adriano, 2007).
When she was 5 years old, her parents allowed her to begin living as a girl in everyday life (meaning that they used the pronoun “she” and a new female name “Jazz,” but no medical or hormonal intervention occurred at that age)—a process
called a social transition. In the current study, we ask whether children like Jazz show patterns of gender development within the early preschool years that are similar to or different from gender- typical children of the same age.