Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Youth Make Up a Larger Demographic Than Previously Estimated

A new study demonstrates that the population of trans and gender non-conforming youth is “orders of magnitude” larger than previously estimated.

Published this month in “Pediatrics,” the study analyzed a sample of nearly 81,000 Minnesota teenagers in 9th through 11th grades. Researchers collected data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which asks a range of questions about the high school students and their identities.

The University of Minnesota research team aimed to examine the health of gender non-conforming and trans teens, compared to the rest of their peers.

First, the researchers determined how many youth in that sample identified as transgender or gender non-conforming (TGNC). They found that a far higher proportion of teenagers identified as TGNC than previous studies had predicted. In fact, 2.7 percent of youth in the sample said they did not identify with typical gender labels like “boy” or “girl.”

Other research has suggested that as few as 0.7 percent of U.S. teens identify as transgender. While this isn’t a perfect comparison — gender non-conformity isn’t the same as trans identity — it offers an idea of the extent to which we’ve underestimated the size of this demographic.

Previous research has found that LGBT-identifying youth tend to suffer from higher rates of discrimination in schools. Other findings have shown that discrimination — in schools or elsewhere – leads to poorer mental and physical health for LGBT-identifying teens. And this latest study supports those conclusions.

Taking the broadest measure as an example, 62.1 percent of TGNC youth said their general health was “poor”, “fair” or “good”, instead of “very good” or “excellent”. Only 33.1  percent of cisgender youth reported in this way. In fact, TGNC youth were far more likely to report poorer mental and physical health across the board.

Anti-LGBT commentators have often dismissed rejected calls for health interventions targeting TGNC youth, claiming that the population too small to justify the effort. But this study demonstrates quite clearly that trans and gender non-conforming youth comprise a more sizable segment of the population than previously thought.

Of course, when it comes to being compassionate, population size shouldn’t matter. Still, this is a considerably larger demographic than many realized.

As Dr. Daniel Shumer of the University of Michigan writes in an accompanying opinion piece, the population of TGNC youth is “orders of magnitude” greater than previously estimated. Crucially, Shumer says, their poor health outcomes are not a byproduct of their identity but, as the research shows, our own failure to understand the needs of TGNC youth and create interventions that can shield them from harm:

However, research that is focused on well-supported TGNC youth helps dispel the idea that simply being transgender is the cause of poor health outcomes. For example, long-term outcome data from the Netherlands demonstrate that children with gender dysphoria who were treated in a comprehensive gender center with gender-affirming treatment during adolescence and young adulthood grew to become well-functioning adults with an overall mental health status similar to that of the general Dutch population. Data from the TransYouth Project was used to establish that transgender children who have socially transitioned and are well supported in their social environments have levels of depression that are similar to those of cisgender controls, with only slightly higher levels of anxiety than the controls.

Groups like GLSEN have demonstrated that, together with trans-affirmative school policies, teachers can make a real difference in students’ lives by encouraging safe spaces.

Recognizing the reality of gender non-conformity

On a more personal note, I was once bullied in school for my identity. I frequently heard slurs like, ”queer,” “faggot” and “puff” directed at me, and I was even physically assaulted.

As an adult, I’ve spent time in therapy working through the lasting pain from these experiences. One of the surprising things I discovered was that I had internalized a lot of that shame — to the point of developing chronic anxiety. While I have supported other gender non-conforming people, sometimes being kind and accepting of ourselves proves to be the most difficult part of healing.

I’ve finally realized that I am gender non-conforming and that I am not, by narrow definition, male. And that’s okay.

At first glance, I present as a man, but my personality, my soft-spoken demeanor and my talents all tend to read as traditionally female. I’m comfortable — even celebratory — of this reality, but it has taken a lot of years of anxiety and careful work to bring peace to what was once a major source of pain.

All of this to say, no young person should ever feel such pain. Supporting gender non-conforming young people allows them to be all of who they are — and that’s vital for mental health. There’s no evidence to suggest that this exploration leads to distress or gender dysphoria, but attempts to restrict young people to narrow labels causes damage that can last a lifetime.

We owe our young people better.

Photo Credit: Sterling College/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

thanks for sharing

Lesa D
Past Member 11 months ago

thank you Steve...

Angela J
Angela Jabout a year ago


Jetana A
Jetana Aabout a year ago

I love seeing gender stereotyping eroding. And shame decreasing.

Winn A
Winn Aabout a year ago

No Shame!!!

Winn A
Winn Aabout a year ago

And vote too!

Kyle N
Kyle Nabout a year ago

This is why America is Messed up! Answer is simple. Look between your legs. there ya go, that is what you are.

Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a year ago


Shirley S
Shirley Sabout a year ago

Noted with interest.

Mark T
Mark Tabout a year ago