Study: Kids Who Are Gender Nonconformists Face Abuse, PTSD

A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics has found high rates of sexual and physical abuse among children who have behaviors that deviate from gender norms, leading to increased risk of PTSD as adults. reports that the study did not track transgendered kids, who believe they were born in the wrong physical bodies, but rather kids who exhibit gender nonconforming behaviors like boys wearing nail polish or girls wearing boys’ clothing:

Gender nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of 10 children, according to the study. A vast majority of these kids do not need medical interventions, because the behavior tends to fade as they grow older.

In the study published Monday, nearly 9,000 respondents were asked to recall their childhood experiences before age 11, including favorite toys, games, roles they took while playing, media characters they imitated or admired, and feelings of femininity and masculinity. When they reached adulthood, the participants were surveyed again — this time about whether they experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and were screened for PTSD.

The results showed “very clear patterns,” said S. Bryn Austin, one of the study’s authors. “The young people who as children were most nonconforming were much more likely to report mistreatment or abuse, within the family, by people outside the family. They were targeted for abuse.”

There should be extra precautions taken to protect them, she said.

“We are concerned about the health and risk of abuse and harassment targeting children who behave in a way, or express their gender in a way that’s not typical,” said Austin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard School of Public Health. “We know there’s a lot of bias about how girls and boys are supposed to behave.”

Image: Little girl playing with a truck, via Shutterstock.

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  1. by Sonia

    On February 24, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    “A vast majority of these kids do not need medical interventions, because the behavior tends to fade as they grow older.”

    I object to this statement. I was a gender-nonconforming child, insisting on wearing only boys’ clothes and always playing the father when playing “house”. I don’t see any problem with my continuing to prefer male clothing; nor do I see any issues with my male friends who like nail polish or take exceptionally meticulous care of their hair. I don’t think we should either have outgrown it or needed medical intervention (what on earth..?)

    It’s because of the assumption that “normal adults outgrow this” that most people who are gender-nonconforming, or identify as something other than male or female, are so heavily targetted for hate crimes. I’ve been a victim of this myself, and am disappointed that an article on this important topic spreads the same misconception.