Research Shows the Risk of Misgendering Transgender Youth

BlogYouth & Young AdultsOct 23 2018

All youth require the support and acceptance of their family, peers, and communities to thrive. Transgender and gender-nonconforming youth are no exception; their health and well-being is heavily influenced by the institutions and communities that surround them. Although youth who identify as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth have among the highest rates of suicide, depression, and self-harm, a supportive and safe environment can significantly reduce these risks. Ensuring that transgender youth are referred to according to their identified genders, and with their chosen names, is a critical factor in establishing this type of environment.

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health demonstrates the power of affirming transgender youth’s identities: For each additional context (i.e., at home, school, work, or with friends) in which a transgender youth’s chosen name is used, their risk of suicidal behavior is reduced by more than half. Another study, published in the journal Pediatrics, finds that transgender youth who have fully socially transitioned to their identified gender, and have been supported in doing so, do not have elevated depressive symptoms compared to the broader population. And in an era in which overall youth suicide rates have significantly increased over the last decade, it is critical to take steps to reduce risk for suicide.

Transgender individuals make up approximately 0.7 percent of the population of youth ages 13–17 and 18–24. Because the transgender community is small, much of the research on transgender youth is either based on qualitative data or correlational in nature; collecting causal data requires a large sample. Even so, the emerging literature paints a clear and consistent message: Acceptance of transgender youth’s identities is associated with better outcomes. The corollary is also true: Denial, misgendering, and misnaming transgender youth can make things worse.