Acquiring knowledge about one's gender is considered a critical part of early childhood development, shows a study. In one of the first examinations of early gender development among transgender preschoolers, it was found that these children were just as likely as non-transgender children to have preferences associated with their gender.
The study was published in journal Child Development. "An increasing number of transgender children--those who express a gender identity that is different from the sex they were born with--are transitioning socially, which means they use pronouns, names, and clothing associated with their identified gender in everyday life. In this study, we asked whether these children differed from their nontransgender peers on basic tasks related to gender development at an early age," said Anne A.
Fast, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington and the study's lead author. The research looked at three groups of children: 36 transgender three to five year-olds, 36 cisgender three to five year-olds (children whose gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth are the same), and 24 siblings (also aged three to five) of transgender or gender-nonconforming children. Children came from across the United States, primarily identified as female, were primarily White, and were from a range of economic backgrounds. In the study, the researchers asked children to complete gender development tasks to gauge their understanding of gender constancy, their preferences regarding gender, and their beliefs about gender. Children were also asked what they feel like they are "on the inside," in their minds, thoughts, and feelings.
Considering stability of gender in others rather than in themselves, while children in all three groups tended to believe that most other people's gender in childhood remained stable through adulthood, transgender children and their siblings were less likely than children in the control group to believe that everyone's gender was stable. And they occasionally indicated that someone's gender could change between childhood and adulthood. Given the small size of the study sample, the authors caution against generalizing from their results.
The researchers also noted the importance considering transgender children. ""We are increasingly aware that there are individuals who identify early in development as a gender other than the one aligned with their sex at birth," shared Kristina R. Olson, associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, the study's senior author. "Such children should be included in work on basic gender development to expand our knowledge of gender developmental experiences and strengthen theories of gender development," she added.