Most people think of LGBT issues as adult issues. But people are increasingly coming out of the closet when they’re young. And children aren’t just discovering their sexuality at a young age, they’re discovering their gender.
Behind most activism are non-profit organizations and grassroots organizers pushing for change. But the fight to recognize the concept of transgender children is a fight led by academics. Two at the forefront are Natacha Kennedy and Mark Hellen, who wrote an article entitled “Transgender Children: More Than a Theoretical Challenge.” The paper was published in the Graduate Journal of Social Science in December 2010.
Kennedy and Hellen suggest that transgender children develop their identity despite efforts within schools to enforce gender conformity. They argue that if schools introduced the idea of transgender people to children, it would significantly help transgender children as they grow up. The researchers conducted this study by surveying transgender adults about their childhood — they found that past research on transgender children could have been inaccurate because directly observing transgender children ignores the many children who hide their transgender identity through childhood.
Overall, the paper presents conclusions I can agree with. Many transgender people are aware of their gender identity at a young age, and they should know that they aren’t alone and that their identity is valid. And those children around them, who aren’t transgender, need to know that transgender people exist so they can learn to be accepting of such differences. Teaching children about transgender people at a younger age can help prevent future bullying and hate crimes, because it shows that transgender identity is normal.
Kennedy and Hellen prove that regardless of a person’s profession, they can act to help LGBT equality. Sometimes a research paper can influence public opinion and, eventually, public policy. By surveying transgender adults about their childhoods, the researchers are bringing important information to the public. And by publishing their conclusion that young children should learn about transgender people, they’re bringing validity to an idea that may otherwise be considered radical.
Photo credit: Leon Wilson