Trans and gender-fluid teens left with few 'safe harbors'

February 28, 2017 by Yasmin Anwar, University of California - Berkeley
Trans and gender-fluid teens left with few ‘safe harbors’
Study confirms that trans and gender-fluid teens face a lot more hostility than their gender-conforming peers. Credit: iStockphoto

Transgender and gender-fluid teens, particularly those born male, face up to three times more mental and physical abuse at school and at home than their gender-conforming peers, according to a new study from UC Berkeley.

The study is one of the largest national surveys to date of sexual and minority adolescents who have suffered multiple forms of victimization, including , physical and sexual assault and bullying, raising their risk of depression, post-traumatic stress, self-harm and suicide.

"Our results show that approximately 50 to 70 percent of trans and gender-fluid teens reported being exposed to 10 or more different types of aggression," said study lead author Paul Sterzing, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of social welfare. "For these , victimization is happening in the home. It's happening at school. It's happening online. There often isn't a safe harbor for them."

The findings were published last week in the online edition of the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, coinciding with the Trump administration's repeal of federal protections of restroom preferences for transgender students.

The Obama administration last year issued restroom guidelines to safeguard transgender students under Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in schools. The U.S. Supreme Court in March will hear arguments on transgender teen Gavin Grimm's request to use the boys' restroom at his Virginia school under Title IX.

For their study, launched in 2015, Sterzing and fellow UC Berkeley researchers collected data from nearly 1,200 sexual and gender minority teens aged 14 to 19 who identify as transgender (male to female, and female to male), gender-fluid (no fixed gender) and cisgender (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and pansexuals whose gender identity matches their assigned birth sex).

Participants, who were given anonymity, were recruited through Facebook advertisements, an online recruitment video and community organizations that serve sexual minorities from across the country.

Among other things, they reported their experiences with more than 40 different forms of violence commonly suffered by adolescents. They also reported their socioeconomic status, mental health issues and family participation in religious activities.

School-based bullying was the most common form of victimization, reported by 69.2 percent of respondents. Transgender girls (male to female) reported the highest rates of cyberbullying while gender-fluid teens who were born male were more prone to be victims of sexual violence.

Overall, transgender and gender-fluid youths are at greater risk of experiencing multiple, overlapping forms of violence that occur in the home, school, neighborhood, and online, Sterzing noted. "Boys who don't conform to their assigned gender role were the most vulnerable subgroup of kids in our study," he said.

Sterzing is also the author of a forthcoming study that digs even deeper into dozens of environmental factors that make sexual and gender minority youths vulnerable to polyvictimization. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that 41 percent of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetimes, often attributed to high rates of bullying.

"The health outlook for young people who don't conform to socially prescribed gender roles will remain bleak if we look the other way," he said. "We as a society have to propose inclusive solutions to protect these vulnerable adolescents."

That said, Sterzing sees glimmers of hope in the millennial and post-millennial generations whose members are more accepting of gender fluidity.

"Although we have a long way to go, we're seeing important changes in young people's attitudes toward sexual and gender minorities that gives me hope we can reduce rates of violence and create more inclusive and affirming spaces for and gender-fluid teens," Sterzing said.

Moreover, he said, the findings will hopefully motivate politicians, educators and families to show more compassion in the face of what young people who don't conform to gender expectations are experiencing.

Explore further: Study uncovers high prevalence of military sexual trauma among transgender veterans

More information: Paul R. Sterzing et al. Social Ecological Correlates of Polyvictimization among a National Sample of Transgender, Genderqueer, and Cisgender Sexual Minority Adolescents, Child Abuse & Neglect (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.02.017

Related Stories

Study uncovers high prevalence of military sexual trauma among transgender veterans

November 21, 2016
New research found a high prevalence of military sexual trauma (MST) among transgender veterans and an association between the experience of MST and certain mental health conditions.

New study highlights high rates of suicide and self-harm among transgender youth

August 31, 2016
In a new study, 30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting.

Study finds link between discrimination and suicide attempts among transgender people

January 29, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—An analysis conducted by UCLA's Jody Herman and collaborators at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has found that transgender people who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, ...

Is the mental healthcare system meeting the needs of sexual and gender minorities?

January 24, 2017
A study of mental health care and untreated depression among participants in Ontario, Canada, showed up to a 2.4 times greater self-perceived unmet need for transgender individuals and bisexual women compared to heterosexual, ...

The transgender 'bathroom bill': Who wants it—men or women?

December 19, 2016
Most women are not bothered much about the fact that they might at times share public bathrooms designated for females with transgender women who were registered as men at birth. Men on the other hand take umbrage, and worry ...

Family rejection may more than triple suicide attempt risk by transgender individuals

May 16, 2016
Family rejection increases the risk of two critical health outcomes that are common among transgender individuals-suicide attempts and substance misuse-according to a new study published in LGBT Health.

Recommended for you

Self-control and obesity: Gender matters in children

July 16, 2018
A toddler's self-regulation—the ability to change behavior in different social situations—may predict whether he or she will be obese come kindergarten, but the connection appears to be much different for girls than for ...

1 in 9 U.S. adults over 45 reports memory problems

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—If you're middle-aged and you think you're losing your memory, you're not alone, a new U.S. government report shows.

Antioxidant benefits of sleep

July 12, 2018
Understanding sleep has become increasingly important in modern society, where chronic loss of sleep has become rampant and pervasive. As evidence mounts for a correlation between lack of sleep and negative health effects, ...

Footwear habits influence child and adolescent motor skill development

July 11, 2018
New research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to ...

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce osteoporosis

July 11, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean-type diet could reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Extreme heat and reduced cognitive performance in adults in non-air-conditioned buildings

July 10, 2018
Students who lived in dormitories without air conditioning (AC) during a heat wave performed worse on a series of cognitive tests compared with students who lived in air-conditioned dorms, according to new research led by ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.