“80 percent change back,” she says.
M.’s dad and I are sitting in the office of the local go-to psychologist for transgender kids.
I sigh, relieved. Our 3-year-old child probably isn’t transgender. It probably is just a phase: The insistence on wearing only pink, the passion for dolls, and the recent announcement that took my breath away: “Mama, I’m a girl.” Despite all of this, the psychologist tells us, our child is still more likely to continue being the boy we thought he was.
I heard that same statistic a lot over the next couple of years: 80 percent. 80 percent of young children who tell their parents they are transgender change their minds.
Frankly, it’s a statistic I wanted to hear. But it didn’t turn out to be the case for my child. And apparently it’s bunk.
At last year’s Gender Odyssey conference, where families with kids like mine gather from all corners of the country, I attended a talk given by Dr. Johanna Olson. She works with transgender kids in Los Angeles. She’s a smart and outspoken advocate for these children, and she’s been featured on national TV talking about her work.
Here’s what she said: “The ‘80 percent’ statistic is based on a flawed 2008 study done in the Netherlands.” She then described the study, explaining that the researchers looked at young children who were initially identified as transgender. It then checked back on them after a year or so. But it lost track of a bunch of those kids. For some reason, these kids didn’t come back for the follow-up research. So the researchers made the assumption that these kids had reverted back to their original gender. These kids were simply assumed to be not transgender, and these kids created the “80 percent.”
Hmmm, I’m no scientist, but that just doesn’t sound like a very sound research model to me. (Or, as M. would say: “Seriously, that is just so ridiculous.”)
Dr. Olson said she hadn’t seen anything like 80 percent in her practice. In fact, with kids like mine, who persistently and insistently and consistently identify as another gender over a number of years, the number was closer to 0 percent. Zero percent deciding that they aren’t transgender after all. (And who would expect a non-transgender child who seemed very happy with their gender to change their mind about this after age 6 or 7 or 8 – or later? Most kids do know their gender by this age, whether they’re trans or not.)
We need good research on kids like mine, and it just hasn’t been done yet. But there are some studies in progress. I recently heard from a woman conducting research on transgender youth at Case Western University. She’s looking for participants. It’s an online study that you can complete on your computer from anywhere. If you have a gender-nonconforming child between the ages of 10 and 17, check it out:
And the Trans Youth Project is seeking participants as young as age three (my daughter is in this one).
If you know of other studies looking for participants, please add links in a comment below. There’s been enough misinformation, speculation, and bad science about transgender people. Let’s get some facts!
You can also watch this cartoon I made about all this bullshit: