Reading Tea Leaves

A recent article from The Atlantic discusses the relationship between gender non-conforming children and later social transitioning. Much depends on where one starts. Looking at the nonconforming children, the study finds that some will, some won’t socially transition, that the intensity of experience of nonconformity increases the probability of social transitioning. This suggests that the universe, the meaning of childhood gender nonconformity, is not only larger, but carries other meanings for the children themselves.

However, looking from the viewpoint of one who has socially transitioned, it is clear that the shape of one’s life was there from early on. A useful paragraph captures the reality:

“Implicit in a lot of people’s concerns about social transition is this idea that it changes the kids in some way, and that making this decision is going to necessarily put a kid on a particular path,” says (Kristina) Olson. “This suggests otherwise.” Children change their gender because of their identities; they don’t change their identities because they change their gender.”

A second aspect of the story will be its social location. The children studied are all from the upper middle class. The opening acceptance of gender non-conformity at a young age may be grounded in the advantages and perspectives of this class. Do their advantages and intellectual understanding allow them to respond earlier, in a more open fashion? Does it especially allow them to see? Elsewhere, the evidence is still out whether other children in say, blue collar household, experience their gender non-conformity in the same manner, with the same outcomes in terms of social transition.

Adding to the need for further research is that the CDC now reports that two percent of teens consider themselves transgender. As the early study by Olson highlights, what that means will need to be studied longitudinally.

Finally the question for all of us remains, whether who we understand ourselves to be now is a sort of persona, or the sign of something to become. How do we read those tea leaves for our selves?

Ed Yong. “Young Trans Children Know Who They Are”, The Atlantic. January 15, 2019.

Valerie Strauss. “CDC: Nearly 2 percent of high school students identify as transgender — and more than one-third of them attempt suicide,” The Washington Post. January 24 2019

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