search button
newscenter logo
Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

The project is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The project is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
 


Gay, Transgender Identity May Begin Early

SDSU researchers found that at age 9 or 10, a small number of children self-identified as LGBT.
By La Monica Everett-Haynes
 

As early as ages 9 and 10, about one percent of children self-identify as potentially gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a national study of the sexual orientation and gender identity development of thousands of youth across the nation. 

With the majority of previous studies indicating that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) self-identification generally occurs during the mid-adolescent years, the report by San Diego State University  researchers Jerel P. Calzo and Aaron J. Blashill is providing new insights into early identity development.

“This is such an important stage, biologically and socially,” said Calzo, an associate professor in SDSU’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “At 9 and 10, youth—whether through their peers, media or parents—are beginning to be exposed to more information about relationships and interacting in the world. They may not see any of this as sexual, but they are beginning to experience strong feelings.”

The team’s findings were derived from datasets of computer-assisted interviews with more than 4,500 9- and 10-year-old children for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. Protocols for the overall ABCD study were approved by the institutional review board at the University of California, San Diego, one of 21 institutions recruiting families for the study, and home for its data collection hub. All interviews were conducted with the consent of the parents. 

The findings were published in the current issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Calzo and Blashill utilized 2016-17 data collected from the ABCD Study dataset. The study asked children, “Are you gay or bisexual?” In response, 0.2 percent said “yes” and 0.7 percent said “maybe.” About 75 percent said "no," and 23.7 percent said they didn’t understand the question.

To the question, “Are you transgender?” 0.1 percent said “yes” and 0.4 percent said “maybe.” Some 38 percent said they didn’t understand the question; the rest responded “no.”

“One percent is sizable, given that they are so young,” said Blashill, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. 

“For so long, social scientists have assumed that there is no point in asking kids at this age about their sexual orientation, believing they do not have the cognitive ability to understand,” he said. “This is the first study to actually ask children about their sexual orientation this young. It is important to have a baseline to understand how sexuality develops and how it may change over time.” 

Blashill and Calzo also investigated identity-related stress and how parents perceived their children’s sexual and gender identities. 

More than 13 percent of parents, when asked about the sexual identity of their children, reported their child might be gay and 1.2 percent reported that their child might be transgender, the team found. 

Another finding was that the 9- and 10-year-olds in the study who identified as gay, bisexual or transgender overwhelmingly reported no problems at home or school related to their minority sexual orientation or gender identity, while 7 percent of parents reported gender identity-based problems. 

As sexual and gender minorities experience higher rates of physical and mental health issues than do their heterosexual counterparts, the research may provide crucial insights into resiliency development within the LGBT community. It could also help lead to improved programs and policies to better serve the community, Calzo said.

“If we can understand identity development earlier and can track development using large datasets, we can begin improving research and prevention around risk and protective factors,” Calzo said, adding that he and Blashill purposefully set out to study sexual identity issues among youth at earlier ages than previous research. 

Another key finding is that researchers must identify better ways to explore identity issues among younger populations, as 23.7 percent of those surveyed indicated they did not understand questions about sexual orientation. This will be crucial as researchers seek to explore other issues, such as same-gender attraction and gender expression, in young children. 

“ABCD does plan to include more measures, and other researchers are studying sexual orientation and gender expression,” said Calzo. “We know from other studies that these identities can change over time. This research helps us to understand sexual and gender identity younger, so that we can have a much better understanding of these identities over time.” 

The project is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.