A new article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is causing concern among feminists. The study, which was released in November and has recently been making headlines, found that transgender-identified children express interest in gender-typed toys and clothing at similar rates to their peers and siblings.

Although the authors of this study, led by Selin Gülgöz, a professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, claim that “these data suggest the power of one’s own internal sense of identity”, the results actually seem to imply the opposite — the power of cultural norms in shaping young minds. The authors themselves admit that a limitation of their study is that they only looked at children whose identities were affirmed by their families, meaning these were children living in households specifically supportive of the narrative of the authors.

For those familiar with the social history and science behind gendered toys, this is deeply concerning because it implies that children who express gender non-conforming interests and behaviors are being medically transitioned to a more “appropriate” sex role.

Children who are identified as transgender may be put on puberty blockers, and off-label drug use which has not been tested or approved by the FDA and has unknown risks. At the age of 16, gender non-conforming children may be given cross-sex hormones, which can potentially lead to infertility. This is particularly worrying because many children grow out of identifying as trans — the research is debated, but it appears that anywhere between 65 to 94 percent of trans-identifying children eventually desist (stop identifying as trans). Many turn out to be gay. The stories of these desisters are largely ignored or intentionally silenced in the mainstream gender debate.

A recent report in The Telegraph found that at least 35 staff members had resigned in three years from a prominent UK youth gender clinic, citing concerns over over-medicalization of children and a fear of being labeled "transphobic" for resisting:

"We are extremely concerned about the consequences for young people... For those of us who previously worked in the service, we fear that we have had front row seats to a medical scandal."

Despite the second-wave feminist push-back against gender essentialism, or the idea that men/boys and women/girls are biologically destined to certain roles, interests, and behaviors, gender essentialism has found a new foot-hold in the modern trans debate, but with a slight twist. Rather than claiming, “If a child is a girl she must like dolls,” gender ideologues claim “If a child likes dolls she must be a girl.”

In her book Gender and Our Brains, Gina Rippon details the social and biological influences on toy preference at length. She discusses a study by Nancy Freeman which found that children not only correctly sort toys along gendered lines (compared to adults), but have a clear understanding of their parents’ expectations of their behavior:

“There was agreement about which toys were which, divided along predictably gendered lines, with further agreement of parental approval for playing with matched-gendered toys: tea sets and tutus for girls; skateboards and baseball mitts for the boys (yes, some of these children were only three years old)… These children had a very clear understanding of the level of approval they would get for playing wit a “cross-gendered” toy. For example, only nine percent of five-year-old boys thought their father would approve of them choosing a doll or tea set to play with.”

Girls, in particular, seem to be strongly affected by social signals like verbal information and color cues when choosing toys to play with, indicating that the “preference” in question may be a preference for social approval more than a preference for specifically gendered toys.

For example, four gender-neutral utensils (a nutcracker, a shoe-shaper, a garlic press, and a melon-baller) were presented to children ages 3–5 and painted either blue or pink and labeled as for girls or for boys. Although the designation was at random, girls expressed a strong preference towards gender-compliance. Research such as Freedman’s suggests that the gendering of toys can be completely arbitrary and yet still hold social weight for children.

Whereas most children may find it easy enough to align their preferences with the social expectation of gender roles applied to their sex to gain social approval, very gender non-conforming children may find it easier to align their gender identity with their preferences in order to achieve the desired social approval: If boys play with boy toys, and I want to play with boy toys, I must be a boy. This research stands in contrast to the claims by trans activists that gender identity is not rooted in cultural sex-stereotyping but rather an “internal feeling”.

Gendered toys are both a symptom and a cause of inequality between the sexes. Certain toys, activities, and behaviors are labeled “masculine” or “feminine” based on sex-stereotypes about the appropriate roles of men and women. Dolls and kitchen sets are for girls because girls are expected to grow up and fill the role of mother and caretaker. This, in turn, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, driving men and women into culturally expected roles based on their sex.

The new study by Gülgöz and her team may suggest that children who are most likely to defy these stereotypes (gay, lesbian, and gender non-conforming children), are being culturally pressured into gender compliance through transition.

This isn’t entirely surprising to those who have been following gender trends. In the US, conservative Southern states tend to have a higher rate of transgender-identifying residents than more liberal states. Transgender adults are, on average, more conservative than any other subsection of the LGBT community. Indeed, trans-identifying adults of any sex or identity (including “non-binary” identified individuals) are less likely than women who do not identify as trans to have a strong feminist identity. This is, once again, unsurprising as feminist ideals are inherently in conflict with mainstream trans narratives, like the return to gender essentialism at which Gülgöz’ study hints.

Iran, an Islamic extremist regime, has the second-highest rate of transsexual individuals in the world after Thailand. Recent reporting has uncovered that this rate is not due to a push for liberalism, but rather is rooted in deep homophobia and an attempt to “transition the gay away”. Under Islamic law, homosexuality is punishable by death. Yet, the regime subsidizes sex-reassignment surgery up to £2,250, and then provides additional social welfare funding to these individuals. It’s no wonder, then, that the country is able to claim it has “no homosexuals”. Gays and lesbians are simply transitioning sex to avoid punishment and freely love their same-sex partner.

While homosexuality is legal in the United States, the link between conservative and anti-feminist values and transgender identities should raise questions among child advocates about the value of “affirming” trans identities among young gender non-conforming children. Despite claiming moral high-ground over countries like Iran, it seems likely based on this research that the United States is just as guilty of attempting to “transition the gay away” — and toys are ground zero for the war on gender non-compliance.

Cover photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

CC-BY-SA, M. K. Fain