Gender Nonconforming Kids More Likely to Be Abused (By Their Parents)

Health & Wellness on 02.24.12
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Andy has already explored the tough choices parents make with gender non-conforming kids, and Sarah has marvelled at the outrage over whether nail polish can make a boy gay. But while parents may have legitimate concerns about kids being bullied if they exhibit behavior not typical for a girl/boy in public, it is worth noting that the biggest risk to such children comes from within the home.

Toronto News reports on a Harvard Study that shows gender nonconforming kids are at greater risk of abuse, bullying, depression and risky behavior:

"The abuse we examined was mostly perpetrated by parents or other adults in the home,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard. “Parents need to be aware that discrimination against gender nonconformity affects one in 10 kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health,” said Roberts.

“Oftentimes when people think of non-conforming kids, they think of boys insisting on wearing dresses or girls insisting on cutting their hair short,” she said. “But that’s not the type of behaviour we're talking about here. We’re talking about two or three in every classroom. We're talking about a subtle level of non-conforming.” There was little if any correlation between gender nonconformity and sexual orientation, said Roberts. Most children who were gender nonconforming were heterosexual in adulthood.

For the purposes of the study, gender nonconformity appears to have been defined fairly broadly. Participants in the study were asked about their favourite toys and games, and also what roles they assumed while playing and what media characters they were most into.

The reports authors suggest that more research is needed into why gender nonconforming kids experience more abuse than their peers. Butt let's be clear here, trying to discourage such behaviors is no more a solution to the challenges gender non-conforming kids face, than encouraging longer skirts is a solution to rape. The problem appears very explicitly to be the behavior of parents and other family members toward these children. As one of the researchers put it to the Toronto News, “The consequences of intolerance can be quite serious.”

But in a world where parents fear Chaz Bono, and schools spread literature linking gayness to child abuse, it seems we have a long way to go in developing a mature societal attitude to identity and gender - even for kids who just like to play with the "wrong kind of toy".

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