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Preschoolers may know their (trans)gender: study

For transgender children, Barbies for biological boys and trucks for girls is the norm, US research has tentatively found.

Academics from the University of Washington compared 36 transgender children aged 3-5 to their cisgender cohorts and siblings. They discovered that the transgender kids had the same clothing, toy and peer preferences as their biologically male or female playmates or relatives. So, for instance, those who were born as boys but identified as girls preferred to don pink dresses and roleplay using dolls.

Though the results are inconclusive due to the small sample size, the study’s senior author, associate professor of psychology Kristina R Olson, noted that, “We are increasingly aware that there are individuals who identify early [emphasis added] in development as a gender other than the one aligned with their sex at birth”.

The study’s findings, published in Child Development, support earlier research, which confirmed that children’s gender identity develops from ages 3-5, and is generally concrete by age five.

Elise Brook, from Melbourne’s Gender Centre, is familiar with Olson’s work: “In 2014-15, Olson found equivalent levels of gender stability between trans and cisgender kids”, she explained.

This study, Olson’s third on transgender children, “…addresses fundamental challenges to the legitimacy of transgender kids”, Brook said. “In society, it’s a huge and controversial thing to go against your birth gender. Olson’s research shows children can, and do, do this, not only at ages 11-12, but at 3-5, too.”

Brook said that the Gender Centre sees children “who have strong notions of their gender identity at a very young age”.

According to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne Gender Service, many transgender children experience gender dysphoria: distress about their status. In young children, this often leads to emotional and behavioural difficulties, whereas in adolescents, it can result in self-harm, attempted suicide, depression and anxiety.

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