Report finds surge in number of transgender youth in US

The number of young people who identify as transgender has almost doubled in recent years, according to a new report that documents a radical generational shift and the emerging societal adoption of a diversity of gender identities.

The analysis, based on government health surveys conducted from 2017 to 2020, estimated that 1.4% of 13-17 year olds and 1.3% of 18-24 year olds were transgender, compared to around 0.5 % of all adults. .

These figures show a significant increase since the researchers’ previous report in 2017, although the analyzes used different methods.

Experts said younger people increasingly have the language and social acceptance to explore their gender identities, while older adults may feel more coerced. But the numbers, which vary widely from state to state, also raise questions about the role of peer influence or the political climate of the community.

“It’s developmentally appropriate for adolescents to explore all facets of their identity – that’s what adolescents do,” said Dr. Angela Goepferd, medical director of the gender health program at Children’s Hospital Minnesota, which did not participate in the new analysis. “And, generation after generation, gender has become a part of someone’s identity that’s more socially acceptable to explore.”

The notion of what it means to live as a transgender person is also evolving. Dr. Goepferd, who is not binary, noted that many teenagers would not necessarily want or need hormones or surgeries to transition to another sex, as was the case for older generations. elderly.

The surveys, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not ask young teens about non-binary or other gender identities, which have also increased in recent years. But nearly a quarter of adults in the surveys who came out as transgender identified themselves as “gender nonconforming”.

“As a culture, we just have to address the fact that there is gender diversity among us,” Dr Goepferd said. “And that doesn’t mean we have to medically treat it in all cases, but it does mean that we as a society have to make room for it.”

Although the estimated total number of transgender people is small – around 1.6 million people aged 13 and over, or around 0.6% of the population – trans identification in recent years has become political dynamite, in part because of the increase in the number of minors seeking medical treatment. Republican lawmakers across the country have sought to ban such care by criminalizing doctors or investigating parents for abuse, which professional medical groups have condemned.

The new data was analyzed by researchers at the Williams Institute, a research center at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law that produces highly regarded reports on the demographics, behaviors and political concerns of LGBTQ populations. in the USA.

The study found that people between the ages of 13 and 25 make up a disproportionate share of the transgender population. While young teens made up only 7.6% of the total US population, they made up about 18% of transgender people. Similarly, 18-24 year olds made up 11% of the total population but 24% of the transgender population.

Older adults had a disproportionately small share: Although 62% of the total population, only 47% of transgender people were between the ages of 25 and 64. And while 20% of Americans are over 65, this age group represents only 10% of the total number of people. transgender people nationwide.

The Williams Institute used data from two national sources: the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, administered to adults across the country, and its Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given in high schools. . The surveys, which were conducted by phone or in person, collect demographic data as well as a variety of medical and behavioral information, such as smoking habits, HIV status, nutrition and exercise.

Starting in 2017, the high school survey included an optional question asking if the student was transgender. From 2017 to 2020, 15 states included this question in their high school surveys, while 41 states included the question for adults at least once during that time.

The Williams Institute used this data, along with statistical modeling of demographic and geographic variables, to arrive at its national transgender population estimates.

“It’s important to know that trans people live all over the United States and are part of communities across the country,” said Jody Herman, senior public policy fellow at the Williams Institute and lead author. of the report. “We use the best data available, but we constantly need more and better data. »

The US Census Bureau only started asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity last year, as part of a new data collection effort. And even national suicide statistics — important in studying this vulnerable population — contain no information about sexuality or gender identity.

“No one knows how many trans people or how many gay or bisexual people died by suicide last year,” said Amit Paley, head of The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group that recently released its own report based on on social networks. media poll, showing LGBTQ youth had high rates of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.

“That data doesn’t exist because it’s not collected by the government from death records,” Paley said. “It’s something we’re trying to change.”

When their previous report was published in 2017, the Williams Institute researchers did not have actual survey data for young adolescents, but instead used statistical modeling to extrapolate based on the adult data. At the time, they estimated there were 150,000 transgender teens in the country, or about 0.7% of teens.

With the inclusion of new secondary school survey data added in 2017, that estimate has now doubled to 300,000.

It’s unclear whether this jump reflects inaccuracies in the previous estimate, a true increase in the number of transgender teens, or both.

“It’s the baffling question of why all of this is happening,” Dr. Herman said.

The racial makeup of transgender adults and transgender adolescents was roughly the same. About half of both groups were white, slightly less than the relative number of whites in the general population, and a disproportionate number of each group identified as Latino.

The data also shows the breakdown of trans people by state. New York has the largest estimated population of transgender teens, at 3%, while Wyoming has the lowest, at 0.6%. Transgender adults showed a narrower range, with 0.9% of adults identifying as transgender in North Carolina and 0.2% in Missouri.

The teen count was based on surveys collected from 15 states: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. The researchers then used this survey data to create a model of how status and individual characteristics affect the likelihood of being transgender. Using this model, along with census demographics, they made estimates for the other 35 states and Washington, D.C.

Experts who work with transgender adolescents have agreed that certain social factors will undoubtedly play a role in their identity, just as they did decades ago when gays and lesbians came out in large numbers for the first time. time.

“It means a new confidence among a new generation to be authentic in their gender identity,” said Phillip Hammack, professor of psychology and director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I think we’ve seen something very similar – maybe we didn’t have the exact numbers to back it up – because we’ve seen more visibility around calling yourself gay, lesbian, bisexual in the years 90.”

Recent Gallup poll data also analyzed by the Williams Institute shows that young adults also make up a disproportionate share of the total LGBTQ population in the United States, which also varies from state to state.

Social media has been a big catalyst for teens questioning their gender identity today.

“I think a lot of this is definitely the internet,” said Indigo Giles, a 20-year-old college student in Austin who has protested Texas state investigations into parent abuse of transgender children.

Mx. Giles said they realized they weren’t binary after finding a community of like-minded people on Tumblr. “People who may have had these feelings for a long time, but haven’t had the words to express them, can finally see, in such an easily accessible way, others who are feeling the same way.” they stated.

And conversely, it can be much harder for older people to explore their gender identity later in life.

Dr. Hammack described one person he interviewed who talked about how difficult it was to come out as non-binary in your 50s because “we look around and everyone is so young.” And others who identified as male or butch lesbians, he said, told him, “If I was so young, I might have gone down this path, but it wasn’t available.”

Dr. Goepferd, of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, pointed to another possible reason for the lower proportion of older transgender people: due to reduced access to health care, as well as high rates of HIV, violence and suicide, transgender people are more likely to die at younger ages.

“The harsh reality is that we don’t have trans seniors because they didn’t survive,” they said.

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