Dr. Kristina Olson
Dr. Kristina Olson at University of Washington started the TransYouth project in 2013 and has recruited over 300 children as participants

Dr. Kristina Olson has been named winner of the National Science Federation’s Alan T. Waterman Award. It is the government’s highest honor for scientists still in the early phases of their careers. The award comes with a $1 million grant which Olson will use to continue her study of transgender children.

This is important for all LGBT people and our allies. The process of pushing back on superstition with science is as important as the research itself. As I will explain, some people remain confused (perhaps willfully) regarding the difference between faith and science.

Readers of this blog know that I have used some of Dr. Olson’s research to explain desistence rates in trans kids. Suffice it to say they are not what the religious right claims they are.

Launched in 2013, Olson’s TransYouth project has recruited over 300 children, ages three to 12, with the goal of tracking their development over 20 years. Pediatricians are already using Dr. Olson’s findings to better understand gender diversity.

Some of the Olson’s early findings were reported two years ago in the journal Pediatrics — notably that the 73 children being tracked at that time had rates of depression and anxiety no higher than non-transgender children in control groups. These trans children were supported by their families and allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with. Family support is crucial to avoiding mental health problems.

Dr. Olson has her detractors. In the oh-so-credible The Federalist, someone named Julie Kelly wrote:

Set aside for a moment the utterly ridiculous idea that a child who is just learning to use the bathroom, spell his name, and the days of the week would qualify for this project, it is far too early to reach any scientific conclusions about transgender children (the project started in 2013).

Julie Kelly is apparently a food writer who might not have so much as an undergraduate degree. Where does her certitude about transgender kids come from? There is diversity of opinion about when gender begins to form. However, there is a broad consensus that gender is firmly formed by the age of three. So that toddler who is struggling to spell his name can be quite certain of his gender and can express it in many ways. Kelly’s talking points are tall too familiar.

Then there is Andrew Walker. His erudition about gender nonconforming children apparently comes from the fact that he is a PhD candidate in Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the forthcoming book God and the Transgender Debate.

If ever there was a conflict between a belief system (based on faith) and science (based on evidence) it is wonderfully expressed in the title of Walker’s tome in progress. I am sure that it will be a page turner. According to Walker:

I am highly suspect of allowing children to be mature agents in determining this level of self-understanding. That seems to be highly problematic and borderline reckless… putting drastically catastrophic decisions about a child’s life in the child’s hands.

Speaking of the confusion between faith and science, he also questioned the appropriateness of investing federal funds in “what is ultimately an ideological, contestable issue — the notion of gender fluidity.”

Walker obviously has no clue about what gender fluidity means. Translation: “The existence of transgender people does not conform to my religious beliefs. Thus I will deny their existence in spite of admitting that they exist.”

Regardless of the disapproval of Ms. Kelly and Mr. Walker there are children who insist that their gender is incongruent with their natal sex. I wonder what either of these two propose to do about that. Suppose it were one of their children? Do they think that faith inoculates them from having a gender dysphoric child?

Should that occur, hopefully they will find a pediatrician or other clinician who is familiar with Dr. Kristina Olson’s research. It might very well save the child’s life.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.