7 Insights From One Of The Largest Surveys Of Trans Americans Ever
The survey underscores the need for parents to provide unconditional love and support for their kids.
Across the U.S., gender non-conforming people and kids are experiencing significant challenges as legislative attacks have ramped up over the past year. State legislatures nationwide have restricted the rights of trans kids by banning transition-related care, forcing kids to use the wrong bathrooms, and banning them from sports. These efforts threaten to add even greater mental health burdens to a group that already suffers disproportionately from mental health issues like depression and suicide due to their ostracization.
And in March, a poll of hundreds of trans adults in the U.S. conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that many have suffered mental health, economic, and family challenges over the course of their lives. It’s one of the largest of its kind — “the largest nongovernmental survey of U.S. transgender adults to rely on random sampling methods,” and adds to growing research about the lives of trans Americans.
But much of the recent political arguing about gender expression seems to focus on kids, and trans kids are facing some of the most intense rights curtailments. And while the new Washington Post/KFF survey focused on adults, it also revealed a lot about how the respondents spent their childhood years — offering insights on how the country is still often failing trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming kids.
Here are seven takeaways on the experiences of trans kids from the survey:
1. 46% of trans adults had unhappy childhoods
According to the poll, 46% of trans adults said their childhoods were “somewhat” or “very” unhappy, and 53% said their childhoods were “somewhat” or “very” happy. In comparison, only 19% of all adults, in general, rated their childhoods as “somewhat” or “very” unhappy and a full 81% said their childhoods were “somewhat” or “very” happy.
This tracks with other surveys of mental health in LGBT kids. One poll last year found that 20% of transgender or nonbinary youth had attempted suicide in the past year, and a full 60% of LGBTQ kids who needed mental health care weren’t getting it. That same poll found that parental support was one of the biggest balms against suicide attempts: those in supportive families were 50% less likely to attempt suicide than those who were.
2. 30% of trans adults experienced alcohol and drug issues as a child
In addition to feeling unhappy, trans respondents were more likely to report having had substance abuse problems as a child. Nearly 30% of trans adults polled said that they had experienced alcohol or drug issues like addiction as a child, compared to just 13% of adults in total.
Previous research backs this result up. A 2018 study found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning youth were more likely than their heterosexual peers to have used substances as diverse as alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, cigarettes, cocaine, and meth.
3. More than half of trans kids felt that they didn’t have a trusted adult to talk about personal issues with
More than half — 59% — of trans adults in the new poll said that they didn’t have an adult they trusted to talk about personal issues with growing up, while just 40% said that they did. In comparison, 58% of adults, in general, said that they had a trusted adult in their lives as a child. Examples listed by the poll include family members, family friends, school counselors, and therapists.
Feeling supported and cared for by the adults in your life is obviously essential for any child. For LGBT kids, it can also be lifesaving. A study from The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth advocacy group, found that active parental support and openness to discussing issues surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation decreased the likelihood of these kids attempting suicide.
4. 30% of trans kids felt more unsafe at home, and many ended up homeless
Family support isn’t just about actively helping your kid work through the challenges of growing up, either. Sometimes it’s as fundamental as making sure they have a roof over their head and food to eat.
A full 30% of the trans adults in the poll reported feeling unsafe at home growing up, compared to just 14% of total adults. Trans people were also far more likely to have experienced homelessness or get kicked out of their homes as children — 29% of trans adults reported experiencing either, compared to just 11% of adults in total.
5. Almost half of trans kids felt more unsafe at school, in extracurricular activities, and at religious centers than other kids
Of trans adults, 45% reported feeling unsafe at school growing up, compared to 10% of adults in total. In addition, 25% of trans adults reported feeling unsafe in youth sports and activities like scouts or summer camp, and 37% reported feeling unsafe at religious events like church or synagogue. Less than 10% of adults in total reported feeling unsafe during those activities.
Perhaps as a result of that, trans kids reported participating in youth sports less, too. While 61% of adults said they took part in youth sports growing up, only 50% of trans adults said the same.
And a lot of the recent arguing over trans issues has focused on school sports, especially around trans women and girls. According to The New York Times, 18 different states have passed laws restricting the rights of trans women and girls from participating in sports leagues that match their gender identity.
6. Over 65% of trans and nonbinary adults knew their gender identity was different before they were 18
In total, 66% of trans adults reported knowing that their gender identity was different from what they were assigned at birth before age 18 — including 32% said they knew before they turned 10. Another 18% said they knew between ages 18 and 25, and 14% reported knowing between ages 26 and 55.
But just because they knew didn’t mean they came out. Only 30% reported coming out as trans or gender non-conforming before age 18, with 9% coming out before age 10 and 21% coming out between ages 11 and 17. About 32% said they came out between ages 18 and 25, 19% came out between ages 26 and 40, and 7% came out were even older. A full 12% of the trans and nonbinary adults surveyed said they have not told anyone about their gender identity.
A 2021 study found that gender-affirming care can make trans and nonbinary young people vastly less likely to report depression or suicidal thoughts. Despite that, many states are limiting access to that care — according to the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign, 11 states have passed bans on gender-affirming care for people under age 18.
7. 11% of trans and nonbinary kids were sent to “conversion therapy” or religious services in an attempt to change their gender identity
According to the poll, 11% of trans adults said they attended “conversion therapy” as a child, meaning programs that claim to alter or change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. A quarter of respondents said they attended religious services that tried to do the same.
In addition to invalidating their gender identity or sexual orientation, these kinds of programs might also put kids at further risk. A 2021 survey from The Trevor Project found that LGBT youth who had gone through some kind of conversion therapy program were somewhat more likely to regularly use alcohol and marijuana, as well as misuse prescription drugs.
The survey also found that most trans adults were more satisfied with their lives after transitioning.
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