Using a Trans Teen’s Chosen Name May Save Their Life

New research confirms what we have suspected for a long time: that using a trans child’s chosen and true identity can dramatically improve their well-being and, potentially, even help to save their life.

Researchers interviewed 129 young trans people from three different U.S. cities at different ends of the country. The youths in this study were between 15 and 21 years of age. The researchers then investigated what, if any, effect could be seen from a child having their chosen name used rather than their birth-assigned name in a school, home, work or social setting.

Publishing in the “Journal of Adolescent Health” the researchers describe seeing marked increases in well-being across all four categories when a young person’s chosen name was respected.

If all four scenarios were gender-affirming, scientists observed a 71 percent decrease in depression, a 34 percent drop in what is known as suicidal ideation (for example, thoughts of suicide), and a 65 percent drop in attempts at suicide. This is compared to those in the study who were not able to use their chosen names.

Trans youth have an alarmingly high suicide risk. There are a number of pieces of research that document this, and a report from the Telethon Kids Institute from Australia that was released in 2017 lays some of those facts bare: over 48 percent of trans kids in the research had attempted suicide, while over 60 percent reported self harm.

This is a trend that repeats across many countries in the West, including the US.

“Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth,” says study author and long-time LGBT issues researcher Stephen T. Russell, professor and chair of human development and family science at University of Texas, Austin. “We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was.”

Russell adds that honoring a young person’s chosen name is “respectful and developmentally appropriate.”

So, what exactly is going on here? Is it just the power of letting children change their name? That’s probably not the case.

Honoring a name change signals a more affirming environment, one that is likely to respect the child’s emerging or asserted gender identity.As a result, use of a chosen name seems to be a good indicator for wider respect for a young person’s self-identity.

As we have seen in wider research into LGBT identity, having affirming home, social, and school or workplace environments can dramatically improve the chances of good mental health, of finishing school, and potentially even going on to hold down steady employment.

Conversely, the higher the levels of bullying and anti-LGBT policies an LGBT youth might face, the less likely LGBT young people will finish their education.

Why does research like this matter when it seems so obvious?

That’s a reasonable question, and there are a few reasons why this is important.

For one thing, trans identity in social contexts is still a significantly under-researched topic, so any scientific insight into this kind of issue is valuable.

Secondly, and perhaps of greater importance, anti-trans groups on both the political right and left continue to make up things about trans identify, saying for example that there is no concrete evidence that affirming a trans person’s identity does them any good. This actually isn’t true.

While there isn’t as much research into trans lives as we would like, there is a significant body of evidence to show that trans experiences are real and not a mental illness, and that affirmation of gender identity can reduce things like gender dysphoria (if a trans person does have that condition, as not all do), help to ease feelings of stigma and reduce other negative mental health outcomes.

Therefore, the chance to once again highlight research into the positive aspects of gender affirmation is critical.

It is also incredibly valuable in our current political climate where the White House is treating trans people as a “distraction” for the military and distorting evidence to support its unethical, unconstitutional and illogical ban on trans recruits. Perhaps even more relevant here, it is also important when the Trump administration is refusing to defend trans students’ rights.

This is further proof that the kids are all right and that it’s we, the adults, who need to step up.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

49 comments

Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thank you.

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Past Member
Past Member 9 months ago

noted

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Jaime J
Jaime J10 months ago

Thank you!!

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Megan S
Megan S10 months ago

The statistic of trans suicide is misleading. Yes, trans people have higher rates of attempting suicide than their cis counterparts and this is heart-breaking. But unfortunately the risk stays the same after they transition; THE FIGUES DO NOT GO DOWN. We need to focus on getting counselling for these individuals to improve their mental health and come to terms with their dysphoria rather than putting emphasis on their physical identity and appearance.

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One Heart i
One Heart inc10 months ago

Thanks!

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Janis K
Janis K10 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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janis keller
janis keller10 months ago

We must do whatever we can to stop trans suicide!

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Craig Zimmerman
Craig Zimmerman10 months ago

There is no such thing as "trans-gender" and it does more harm pretending that it is possible to change ones biological sex.

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Bill E
Bill Eagle10 months ago

Trans people are the most discriminated group in this nation.

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Jetana A
Jetana A10 months ago

Past Member, I like encountering you on articles of mutual interest, but please STOP POSTING SPAM!

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