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Transgender Parents Bring Child Centered Perspective to Parenthood

Author: Penn State
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Published: 2nd Sep 2022 - Updated: 25th Nov 2022
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: Transgender News Publications

Summary: Transgender parents may let children explore gender on their own before labeling child's identity.



Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender, often shortened as trans, is also an umbrella term; in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may also have people who are non-binary or genderqueer. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual. The term transgender does not have a universally accepted definition, including among researchers.

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Many transgender parents with children between one-and-a-half and six years of age hesitate to label their child's gender identity, according to new research from a team at Penn State and Guilford College. In addition, the results suggest that many children with transgender parents play in ways that conform to gendered societal expectations, while others play in more gender-expansive ways.

"Previous research has shown that misgendering, or incorrectly labeling someone's gender identity, often harms a person's mental and physical health," said Samantha L. Tornello, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and principal investigator of the Gender Diverse Parents Study, who noted that gender identity is a person's internal sense of their gender - for example, woman, man, nonbinary, or another gender identity.

"This new research suggests that transgender parents may offer their children supportive environments to explore their own gender identity and expression."

Tornello and lead co-author Rachel G. Riskind, the Christina B. Gidynski Associate Professor of Psychology at Guilford College, also found a strong link between child age and the likelihood of labeling -- the older the child, the more likely parents were to label their child's gender identity. Transgender parents of elementary-school-aged children may be more likely than transgender parents of toddlers to label their child's gender identity.

"This study can't speak to whether transgender parents assign their children gendered names or pronouns or otherwise socialize them in gendered ways," Riskind said. "But it does suggest that transgender parents hesitate to label their child's gender identity before their child can communicate it themselves."

The study utilized web-based surveys of 64 nonbinary and binary transgender parents across the United States. Binary transgender people identify primarily as women, girls, men, or boys; nonbinary people are those whose gender identity is not captured by these labels.

The study measured children's gender expression: their interest in masculinized and feminized toys (e.g., toolsets and jewelry), activities (e.g., climbing and playing house), and personality characteristics (e.g., enjoying tumble play and liking pretty things). Participants rated how often their child engaged with and enjoyed each item or activity.

The surveys also asked parents about the sex their child was assigned at birth and about their child's current gender identity.

The team found that 41% of the participants did not report their child's current gender identity, choosing either "unknown," "choose not to label," or "self-described," with a text field to write in their response.

For "self-describe," parents often described a gender-fluid child or a child who had not verbalized their gender identity. Several parents wrote, "I think it's too early to know."

Although the surveys revealed that, on average, children's play was conventionally gendered, there was a great deal of diversity within the sample. For example, older children of nonbinary parents may be more likely to engage in gender-expansive play.

The study published on Aug. 17, 2022, in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

According to Tornello:

"Some believe that parent gender identity has either everything, or nothing, to do with child gender expression. But this study suggests that the truth is somewhere in between."

"This is one of the largest studies to focus on the gender of young children with transgender parents. It will further broadly inform our understanding of gender development, parenting, and child development."

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Transgender Parents Bring Child Centered Perspective to Parenthood | Penn State ( makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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Alphabetical list of gender identities.

2Transgender Reporting Guide
How to write about transgender people.

3Glossary of Sexuality Terms
Definitions of sexual terms & acronyms.

4Glossary of Gender Terms
Definitions of gender related terms.

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• (APA): Penn State. (2022, September 2). Transgender Parents Bring Child Centered Perspective to Parenthood. Retrieved September 23, 2023 from

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