News Detail

Kristina Olson published a story on the development of transgender children in Scientific American.

When Sex and Gender Collide

Studies of transgender kids are revealing fascinating insights about gender in the brain. Many trans children show surprisingly firm identities at young ages, for instance, and important differences divide trans girls from boys who like pink.

By Kristina R. Olson

On arrival at a friend's house for dinner one night in the fall of 2008, I joined the evening’s youngest guest, five-year-old Noah, who was playing on the couch. Little did I know he would single-handedly change the course of my career.

As a professor of developmental psychology, hanging out at the kids’ table is not unusual for me. I study how children think about themselves and the people around them, and some of my keenest insights have come from conversations like this one. After some small talk, I saw Noah glance around the room, appear to notice that no one was looking and retrieve something from inside his pocket. The reveal was slow but the result unmistakable: a beloved set of Polly Pocket dolls.

Over the next few years I got to know Noah well and learned more about his past (all names of children here are pseudonyms to protect their privacy). Noah’s parents had first noticed that he was different from his brother in the preschool years. He preferred female playmates and toys more commonly associated with girls, but his parents were unfazed. As he got older, Noah grew out his previously short hair and replaced his fairly gender-neutral wardrobe with one that prominently featured Twinkle Toes—shoes that lit up in pink as he stepped. Unlike many similar kids, Noah’s family, friends and school fully accepted him. They even encouraged him to meet other kids like himself, boys who flouted gender norms. Along with the other adults in Noah’s life, I couldn’t help but wonder: What did Noah’s behavior mean? Was he gay? Could he just be a kid who paid less attention to gender norms than most? At the time I had no idea that these questions would soon guide my scientific research.

Read the entire article here .