Trans Youth are Coming Out Earlier than Their Predecessors

Trans Youth are Coming Out Earlier than Their Predecessors

There are a few common identity milestones  that transgender or trans people experience across their lives. 

One is starting to feel different than the sex assigned to them at birth. Another is identifying with a trans identity – for instance, as a trans man or genderqueer person, meaning they don’t identify with a binary gender such as a woman or a man. There also is the experience of living in line with this identity, which can include disclosing it to others, and changes to a person’s name, pronouns and appearance. And then there’s accessing gender-affirming medical care like puberty blockers, hormones or surgeries.

These milestones can happen at any age in a person’s life, despite stereotypes that trans people must have always known they were trans. Some people may not go through all the milestones. And although these are common milestones, they are not exhaustive, and no singular narrative captures all trans people’s experiences.

Originally published in The Conversation - USE THIS LOGO

As an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and director of Trans-ilience, a community-engaged research team, I study how stigma and oppression influence mental health, as well as ways of being resilient in the face of such challenges. 

Recognizing that there is no “one way” to be trans, I surveyed 695 trans individuals aged 16 to 70. My collaborators Samantha TornelloBrian Mustanski and Michael Newcomb and I explored how common identity milestones for transgender people may relate to mental health, and how generations experience these milestones differently. Our peer-reviewed study was published in early 2021. 

Baby boomers to Gen Z

Our research showed that Generation Z, born from 1997 to 2012, and millennials, born from 1981 to 1996, are more diverse in their gender identities than older generations. This is particularly true when it comes to identifying as genderqueer, nonbinary and agender. For example, 24.5% of Gen Z participants identified as nonbinary, whereas only 7.4% of boomers identified this way. 

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The Generation X participants, born from 1965 to 1980, and baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, were more likely to identify as trans women compared with younger participants. And overall, trans women reported later ages of starting to live in their affirmed gender and receiving gender-affirming medical care relative to the other gender groups. Trans women were, on average, around 31 when living in their affirmed gender all of the time; other gender groups ranged from 21 to 25 years old.

We found little difference between the generations in when they recognized that their gender felt different than their sex assigned at birth. On average, this happened around age 11, with the youngest age reported for this milestone being 2 years old. 

However, the boomers reported reaching the other major milestones later than younger groups. For example, boomers were, on average, around age 50 when they were living in their affirmed gender all the time. In contrast, Gen X was 34, millennials were 22 and Gen Z was 17. 

Gen Z and millennials also reported much shorter gaps between reaching milestones. For instance, the boomers group reported an average 24-year delay between starting to identify as trans and living in their affirmed gender. There was just a two- and three-year gap for Gen Z and millennials, respectively. 

Notably, there can be many challenges to coming out and living in an affirmed gender that should also be taken into account. These barriers include living with a family that is not supportive, being concerned about violent attacks and not having access to appropriate medical care. 

Gen Z and millennials are more likely to identify as genderqueer, nonbinary or agender than older generations.

Mental health advantages

Regardless of the age at which milestones were experienced, respondents who reported living in an affirmed gender and accessing trans-related medical care also reported less internalized stigma, anxiety and depression, and what researchers call gender non affirmation – such as being misgendered, which includes others using the wrong pronouns for the individual or having their gender disrespected by others. 

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Reaching these milestones is also associated with higher levels of appearance congruence, meaning that a person’s appearance represents their gender identity. This, too, is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Given these findings, supporting trans people in affirming their gender identity can benefit their mental health and well-being. This can mean addressing familyschool and legal realms so that trans people are respected and supported.

Despite the benefits of affirming one’s gender, the younger generations reported greater stressors – such as internalized stigma or invalidation of their gender – and symptoms of depression and anxiety compared with older generations.

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In other words, it appears younger trans people are facing greater mental health challenges and exposure to stressors, even while they are coming out and affirming their genders at younger ages. 

It may be that trans people develop resilience and resistance strategies as they age that help them navigate oppression while improving health and well-being.

Ongoing violence and discrimination

It’s difficult for trans people to come out and affirm their gender identity in a society where they – especially trans people of color– are targets of violence and murder, their histories are erasedand their rights are under attack

In light of my team’s findings, supporting and validating trans people is a meaningful way to reduce the health disparities in this marginalized community.

The Conversation
TX Legislators Take Aim at Gender-Affirming Healthcare for Transgender Minors

TX Legislators Take Aim at Gender-Affirming Healthcare for Transgender Minors

Before undergoing gender confirmation surgery at age 17, Indigo Giles had to get approval from a doctor, a therapist and the hospital where the surgery would be performed to ensure there were no options left besides surgery. To even get to that point, Indigo’s father Neil said it took time-consuming research and several reflections as a family before going forward with the process.

The surgery’s impact was immediate, said Indigo, now 19, who identifies as nonbinary. They were able to wear the clothes they wanted to, and their confidence in school and with friends significantly increased. Most significantly, the surgery helped alleviate their severe depression caused in part by gender dysphoria — discomfort related to feeling a disconnect between one’s personal gender identity and the gender assigned to them at birth.

“These lawmakers think that we don’t know what we want with our own bodies…”

But under a slate of legislation moving in the Texas Senate and House, Indigo wouldn’t have been able to make such a decision until their 18th birthday. In fact, no transgender child in Texas would be able to pursue puberty blockers, hormone treatment or surgery for the purpose of gender confirmation.

Transgender Texas children, their parents, medical groups and businesses have vocally opposed  many of the bills lawmakers are pursuing. Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez said Texas has filed more anti-LGBTQ bills this session than any other state legislature.

“It’s insulting,” Indigo said. “These lawmakers think that we don’t know what we want with our own bodies and we’re not able to say what we want and mean it.”

House Bill 1399 would prohibit health care providers and physicians from performing gender confirmation surgery or prescribing, administering or supplying puberty blockers or hormone treatment to anyone under the age of 18. The House Public Health Committee advanced the bill Friday.

Protect transgender kids rally.
Photo credit: Arthur D. Foreman via Wikimedia Commons (image altered by publisher).

Senate Bill 1311 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would revoke the medical license of health care providers and physicians who perform such procedures or prescribe such drugs or hormones to people younger than 18. The Senate State Affairs Committee advanced that bill Monday.

The Senate last week passed Senate Bill 29, which would prevent public school students from participating in sports teams unless their sex assigned at birth aligns with the team’s designation. While that bill would only affect students in K-12 schools, two similar bills in the House would include colleges and universities in that mandate.

SB 29 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which is slated to meet Tuesday and hear testimony on identical legislation that was introduced in the lower chamber. On Wednesday night, the chair of that committee told the Houston Chronicle that the companion legislation, House Bill 4042, is likely dead.

“That bill is probably not going to make it out of committee,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, told the Chronicle. “We just don’t have the votes for it … But I promised the author that I’d give him a hearing, and we did.”

Last session, Dade Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who is now House Speaker, demonstrated a lack of appetite for bills restricting rights for LGBTQ Texans.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said at the time. “This is 2019.”

Last week, Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, tried to amend a bill on the House floor that would fund prescription drugs for uninsured Texans so that it would exclude hormone and puberty suppression treatments. That amendment failed after it was noted that existing bills were addressing such treatments.

Medical Associations Unite in Opposition to Anti-Transgender Healthcare Bills

In public testimony this year, transgender Texans and their parents have testified in near unanimous opposition to the bills. Several parents described their experience testifying as “terrifying,” worrying their testimony would be used against them should the bills’ penalties become law. Under Senate Bill 1646, which the Senate State Affairs Committee passed Tuesday night, they could be labeled child abusers for allowing their children to receive gender affirming treatment.

Click here to listen to a short Texas Tribune podcast featuring Maya Stanton talking about her experience as a transgender 10-year-old. 

That bill comes after Jeff Younger attracted the attention of Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Texas Republicans in 2019 after a dispute between him and his ex-wife turned into a court battle over whether he could oppose his child’s transition. Younger, among others testifying in support of these bills, emphasized young children’s lack of brain development and claimed parents and social media pressure children into identifying as transgender.

But experts say social media and social pressure have nothing to do with it.

“There’s literally zero evidence or research to suggest that that’s true,” said Megan Mooney, past president of the Texas Psychological Association.

According to Mooney, children as young as 2 or 3 can develop ideas about gender identity. By 6 or 7, she said, their sense of gender identity is relatively stable.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 from anywhere in the country to text with a trained crisis counselor. Read our mental health resource guide for more information.