Common transphobic dog-whistles about trans kids debunked by actual science

Several people in a crowd wave trans pride flags as one person holds up a sign that reads 'Trans rights now'

Claims that adolescents come out as trans to “flee LGB-related stigma” or due to “social contagion” just are “not supported by data”, according to an eye-opening new study.

The research – published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics – examined suggestions that an increase in trans and gender diverse (TGD) youth in the US is because of a “social contagion”, with an “underlying assumption” that those assigned female at birth are “uniquely vulnerable to this hypothesised phenomenon”. 

It also looked at the rates of bullying and victimisation among TGD youth compared to their cisgender peers. 

Jack Turban, one of the researchers in the study, wrote on Twitter that neither of the claims – which have been used as anti-trans dog whistles – were “supported by data” currently available in the US which formed the backbone of the research.

The study examined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2017 and 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey across 16 states that collected data on gender identity. The 2017 survey collected responses from 91,937 young people while 105,437 youth participated in 2019.

However, the percentage of young people who openly identified as TGD decreased from 2017 to 2019, dropping from 2.4 per cent to 1.6 per cent. 

Additionally, the percentage of AFAB adolescents who openly identified as trans decreased over the same period from 1.9 per cent to 1.4 per cent. To this end, the ratio of those assigned male at birth (AMAB) to AFAB youth who identified as trans shifted from 1.5:1 to 1.2:1 in 2019.

Turban, who is also an incoming assistant professor of child psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, hoped the study will help inform legislative discussions on the lives of trans youth in the US.

“This study comes as there are many political attacks against trans youth in legislative arenas,” Turban said. “The social contagion and fleeing LGB stigma hypotheses have featured prominently in these debates.”

Turban added: “We hope these new data will be urgently brought to those legislative discussions.”

The researchers said the reported ratio of young people coming out as trans has been “cited in recent legislative debates regarding the criminalisation of gender-affirming medical care” and believed it shouldn’t even be considered in such discussions. 

“The sex assigned at birth ratio of TGD adolescents in the United States does not appear to favour AFAB adolescents and should not be used to argue against the provision of gender-affirming medical care for TGD adolescents,” the study concluded. 

The research also found TGD youth were significantly more likely to experience school bullying and electronic bullying when compared to cisgender queer youth. 

In 2017, 38.7 per cent of TGD youth reported being the victim of bullying at school, compared to 30.5 per cent of cisgender LGB+ young people. A further 32.2 per cent of trans adolescents experienced electronic bullying while 26.7 of their cisgender counterparts reported the same.

Shockingly, almost half (45.4 per cent) of trans youth in 2019 were bullied at school and more than a third (37.5 per cent) online. About 28.7 per cent of cisgender queer young people said they were victimised at school and a further 24.1 per cent experienced such hatred online.

A person holds up a sign that reads 'Trans lives are not up for debate' with blue, pink and white stripes representing the trans pride flag on the side of the sign

LGBTQ+ advocates have denounced the attacks on the trans community. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty)

The researchers said the “exceptionally high rates of bullying among TGD youth” are “inconsistent with the notion” that young people come out as trans either to “avoid sexual minority stigma” or because “being TGD will make them more popular among their peers”. 

They acknowledged that both claims have “recently been propagated in the media”.

“Of note, a substantial percentage of TGD adolescents in the current study sample also identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual with regard to their sexual orientation, which further argues against the notion that adopting a TGD identity is an attempt to avoid sexual minority stigma,” the researchers said. 

Turban added on Twitter that the researchers hoped there will be “increased attention” to the fact that many states haven’t elected to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data in the CDC surveys.

“We strongly feel this needs to change and that it should be collected by all states,” Turban said.