By Victor Ochieng
A new study report published in the medical journal Pediatrics says a higher number of teens than what was previously imagined identify as transgender or prefer other nontraditional gender terms. In the United States, the number of adults that identify as a transgender stand at an estimated 0.6%, with a previous study saying the number is higher for younger teens between the age of 13 and 17 at 0.7%.
A report by CBS News says the new study reveals that an estimated 3% of teens now identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, which basically means they’re not consistently identifying with the gender of their birth. This encompasses kids who use such neutral pronouns as ‘them’ to avoid ‘he’ or ‘she.’
Should these estimates be true, that basically means younger people are 329% more likely than adults to choose a transgender identity. That would also mean that the number of transgender teens almost equals the total number of men and women who identify as gay or lesbian.
What does the rise in the number of transgender and gender non-conforming young people mean?
Let’s revisit “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” a 1774 novel by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. In the novel, the protagonist portrays suicide as a heroic act, which, as Matteo Savin says, is “proof of the strength of human being, who, oppressed by life unhappiness, is eventually able to perform a last titanic action, just like people rising up against a tyrant.” Werther commits suicide and his move becomes a popular legend story, which unfortunately resulted in replicated suicides across Europe. This even saw the novel banned in a number of countries to avoid further spread of the suicides.
Whether it’s the novel that inspired the increased number of suicides in the 18th century remains debatable, but the fact that Werther’s move was cited puts suicide among social contagions, which are a set of belief or acts that increase based on the publicity they’re given.
Just like copycat suicides, researchers have said attitudes, behavior and beliefs can easily spread as if they’re infectious. “Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur,” research psychologist Paul Marsden says. “This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”
When some things that were initially associated with a small group of people spread to others areas, it most likely happens because of social contagion. The same can be said of homos*xuality, which has received enormous media coverage and has, as a result, become widely considered normal. This influences more people into embracing the act or simply opening up about being homos*xuals.
So, when it comes to transgenderism or nonconformity to either of the two natural genders, it can be said that it’s also because of social contagion.
“I think a fair number of kids are getting into it because it’s trendy,” says Erica Anderson, a transgender clinical psychologist at the University of California at San Francisco. Before transitioning, Anderson was married for three decades and fathered two children. “I’m often the naysayer at our meetings,” Anderson says. “I’m not sure it’s always really trans. I think in our haste to be supportive, we’re missing that element. Kids are all about being accepted by their peers. It’s trendy for professionals, too.”