How Gen Z Changed Its Views On Gender


When I talked to teenagers for my ebook iGen in 2015 and 2016, most had been skeptical about transgender identities. “They’re simply confused,” stated one. One other stated, “They weren’t born that manner. I really feel like they’re denying their earlier existence. They’re not true to themselves and I sort of don’t prefer it.”

These beliefs, it seems, had been so mid-2010s. In a 2019 poll, two-thirds of U.S. younger adults stated they’d grow to be more and more supportive of transgender rights during the last 5 years. As we speak’s teenagers not solely help transgender rights, however arrive residence from faculty excited when one among their associates comes out as trans.

However how a lot have issues actually modified? After I began writing a brand new ebook about generational variations (Generations), I knew it might be vital to revisit Gen Z’s views round gender, together with nonbinary and transgender identities.

Samuel Rae Bernstein (b. 2002), then a 15-year-old California highschool scholar, gave a TEDx speak in 2018 titled “Transgender Is Not a Scary Word.” He described rising up as a woman, and pondering he was not allowed to be the rest. By 13 he was so sad together with his physique he began chopping himself. Then he examine being transgender on-line, realized who he was, and commenced to really feel entire once more. “Transgender shouldn’t be a scary phrase. No identification ought to ever be scary, or bizarre, or shameful,” he stated. “We have to focus much less on what makes us totally different and extra on what makes us the identical.”

For Gen Z (these born 1995-2012), the entire idea of gender is extra fluid. Not solely can folks be transgender, figuring out with a gender totally different from their intercourse assigned at start, however they’ll establish as neither male nor feminine (usually referred to as nonbinary, typically shortened to enby, the phonetic of N.B.; there’s additionally gender fluid, gender queer, demiboy, demigirl, and lots of different phrases describing self-definitions of gender). Gen Z speaks an entire language of gender usually barely understood by their Gen X and even Millennial mother and father—or by most individuals only a few brief years in the past. There’s cisgender (or cis, somebody whose gender identification is congruent with their intercourse assigned at start—who’s not transgender). There’s AMAB (assigned male at start) and AFAB (assigned feminine at start), phrases meant to precise that intercourse is assigned by others. There’s additionally agender (somebody who doesn’t establish with having a gender in any respect). This rainbow of identities is why Gen Z thinks it is very important state your pronouns (for instance, she/her, he/him, they/ them), because it will not be apparent which set(s) somebody prefers. And if everybody states their pronouns, that makes “it simpler for non-cis folks or associates to then say their pronouns with out having to be the primary to say it,” a younger girl informed the authors of Gen Z, Defined.

In late 2020 and early 2021, Gen Z was the one U.S. technology during which a majority believed there are greater than two genders. As just lately as the primary half of 2020, this was a minority opinion even amongst Gen Z’ers—a outstanding quantity of change over simply six months. In distinction, there was solely a small uptick on this perception amongst older generations.

Notes: Determine reveals % who disagree with the assertion “There are solely two genders, female and male.” Late 2019 knowledge had been collected July 18 to December 26; early 2020 knowledge had been collected January 2 to June 25; late 2020–early 2021 knowledge had been collected July 2, 2020 to January 12, 2021.

Audrey Mason-Hyde (b. 2005) was assigned feminine at start however likes carrying bow ties and different clothes sometimes related to males (in interviews, Audrey has stated she/her pronouns are high-quality, although she doesn’t wish to be known as a woman or a boy). For some time, Audrey recognized as a tomboy, however didn’t really feel that captured who she actually was. At 12, Audrey gave a TED speak about being nonbinary. “For me, gender is a spectrum. My gender identification and expression is fully about me, and never about how different folks understand me. I don’t know the way we take care of that in a world so determined to outline by gender,” she stated. In a later interview, she shared, “Now, being nonbinary, I really feel so comfy to only be that, and so uncomfortable to be a woman or a boy—it’s simply not who I’m.”

Till just lately, it was unclear simply how widespread being transgender or nonbinary was, and whether or not there have been any generational variations within the quantity who recognized this manner. With most estimates suggesting transgender folks had been lower than 1% of the inhabitants, a big pattern is critical to get correct numbers.

That kind of information is lastly accessible. Beginning in June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau supplied 4 choices on its Household Pulse Survey query about gender: male, feminine, transgender, and none of those, the final a tough gauge of those that establish as nonbinary, gender fluid, or one other gender identification. With greater than 1,000,000 respondents, the survey is massive sufficient to supply correct estimates.

The outcomes are clear: Gen Z younger adults are more likely to report figuring out as both trans or nonbinary than different generations. Whereas only one out of 1,000 Boomers report they’re transgender (one-tenth of 1%), 23 out of 1,000 Gen Z younger adults (2.30%) establish as trans—20 instances extra. By this estimate, there at the moment are extra trans younger adults within the U.S. than the variety of folks residing in Boston.

Fewer than 1% of Boomers establish as non-binary, in comparison with greater than 3% of Gen Z younger adults. Mixed with the greater than 2% who’re trans, which means 1 out of 18 younger adults recognized as one thing aside from male or feminine in 2021 and 2022. With 39 million 18- to 26-year-olds within the U.S., about 2 million younger adults recognized as trans or nonbinary—greater than the inhabitants of Phoenix, the fifth-largest metropolis within the nation.

Notes: Information collected between July 21, 2021 and October 17, 2022. Primarily based on 1,050,222 respondents

There’s one other key distinction among the many generations in relation to transgender or nonbinary identification. Most Boomer and Gen X individuals who establish as transgender had been assigned male at start. Amongst Gen Z, nonetheless, most transgender folks had been as a substitute assigned feminine at start.

The identical generational shift towards these assigned feminine at start seems amongst nonbinary folks. Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial nonbinary adults had been about equally prone to have been assigned male or feminine at start, however amongst Gen Z younger adults, two-thirds of non-binary folks had been assigned feminine at start. Thus, the most important generational variations in figuring out as both trans or nonbinary seem amongst these assigned feminine at start.

Is that this something new, or are younger folks simply extra fluid with gender identification than older folks? The Family Pulse survey was carried out over a brief time period, in 2021–2022, so it’s doable that the variations in transgender and nonbinary identification might be as a result of age in- stead of technology. Maybe younger adults 5 to seven years earlier than (when this age group was extra Millennial than Gen Z) had been additionally figuring out as trans or nonbinary at related charges.

Notes: Information collected between July 21, 2021, and October 17, 2022. Phrases are from the BRFSS survey, although they’re more and more thought of outdated and are changed with transgender ladies and transgender males, respectively.


To determine whether or not the distinction is because of age or technology, we’d like a survey that requested about gender identification for a number of years, ideally together with a really massive variety of folks. Starting in 2014, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, administered by the CDC, requested about 200,000 Ameri- can adults yearly (1.7 million whole) whether or not they had been transgender, and I analyzed that knowledge with my co-authors Brooke Wells of Widener University and Nic Rider of the University of Minnesota.

The adjustments are hanging. The variety of younger adults reporting they recognized as transgender quadrupled between 2014 and 2021, whereas the variety of transgender folks in older age teams stayed about the identical. Transgender identification was nearly equivalent throughout age teams in 2014, however by 2021 4 instances extra younger adults than older adults recognized as transgender.

In order 18- to 26-year-olds shifted from Millennials to Gen Z, the quantity who recognized as trans skyrocketed. The inhabitants of transgender younger adults within the U.S. grew from about 220,000 in 2014 to about 900,000 in 2021, a rise of 680,000 folks. In seven years, the variety of younger adults figuring out as transgender elevated by the scale of the inhabitants of Las Vegas. This can be a true generational shift, and never nearly being younger.

Notes: The query asks, “Do you take into account your self to be transgender?” with choices of sure and no. “Don’t know/unsure” and “refused” thought of lacking knowledge. Age teams derived from the ages of every technology in 2021 (for instance, Gen Z adults had been 18 to 26 in 2021).

The sharp enhance in transgender identification from 2020 to 2021 suggests the change is accelerating. The Family Pulse Survey confirms this: Amongst younger adults born within the 2000s, figuring out as transgender jumped 48% between late 2021 and late 2022, and figuring out as nonbinary leapt 60%—in a single yr. By late 2022, with greater than 3% figuring out as transgender and practically 5% figuring out as nonbinary, 8% of 18- to 22-year-olds (1 in 13) had been both transgender or nonbinary.

The rise in younger adults figuring out as transgender between 2014 and 2021 occurred nearly solely amongst gender nonconforming folks and people assigned feminine at start, with little constant change amongst these assigned male at start. The variety of gender nonconforming folks elevated by an element of 10 since 2014, and the ranks of trans males greater than quadrupled, with an acceleration between 2020 and 2021. As just lately as 2016, there have been extra trans ladies than trans males amongst younger adults, however in 2021 there have been twice as many trans males as trans ladies. That’s all of the extra hanging as a result of discussions of transgender identification in drugs and standard tradition traditionally targeted rather more on trans ladies, from Christine Jorgensen within the Nineteen Fifties to Caitlyn Jenner within the 2010s. Now the extra widespread expertise goes from feminine to male, like actor Elliot Web page (b. 1987), who got here out as a trans man in 2020. “Regardless of feeling profoundly blissful proper now . . . I’m additionally scared,” he wrote. “I’m afraid of the invasiveness, the hate, the ‘jokes’ and of violence.”

Notes: If respondents recognized as transgender, they had been additionally requested, “Do you take into account your self to be male-to-female, female-to-male, or gender non-conforming?” Though these are the phrases used within the survey, male-to-female and female-to-male are more and more thought of outdated and are changed with transgender ladies and transgender males, respectively.

If these generational variations are actual, they need to be mirrored in behaviors—and they’re. A number of research have reported will increase within the variety of folks coming to transgender medical clinics. For instance, an article in Pediatrics reported that the variety of youth searching for remedy on the Kaiser Permanente Northern California pediatric transgender clinic elevated from 30 within the first half of 2015 to 154 within the first half of 2018—a rise of 5 instances in simply three years. Over these years, 3 out of 4 sufferers had been assigned feminine at start—additionally in keeping with the survey knowledge.

Why is Gen Z, notably these assigned feminine at start, extra prone to establish as transgender? There aren’t any clear solutions, solely theories. It might be that Gen Z younger adults usually tend to know the time period transgender than older generations, however you’d count on that older individuals who establish as a gender totally different from that on their start certificates would know the time period, even when cisgender older folks didn’t.

Maybe the rising societal acceptance of transgender identities has allowed extra folks to come back out as transgender. If rising acceptance had been the one issue, although, the variety of transgender folks ought to have elevated amongst older generations as properly—nevertheless it didn’t. It’s doable {that a} sizable variety of older folks really feel trans however don’t wish to come out after they have constructed a life-time round their intercourse assigned at start. Nonetheless, it might take a really massive variety of trans folks 27 and older who’re unable or unwilling to make such a change to elucidate the massive generational distinction.

As well as, a number of older transgender folks have been extremely seen, which no less than in principle may need inspired older folks to come back out as transgender. Laverne Cox (b. 1972), identified for her performing work in Orange Is the New Black, had simply turned 42 in 2014 when she appeared on the duvet of Time for the story “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” Caitlyn Jenner (b. 1949), whose transition in 2015 is commonly recognized as a catalyst for extra consciousness and acceptance of transgender people, is a Boomer who didn’t transition till she was 65 years outdated. Larger acceptance additionally doesn’t clarify why the change is a lot bigger amongst trans males and gender-nonconforming folks than amongst trans ladies. One would suppose higher acceptance would enhance all sorts of transgender identification, not just a few.

Some have theorized that the rise in trans identification is usually—and even solely—occurring in liberal, big-city, blue-state areas. The info inform a special story: Trans identification elevated practically as a lot in 2014–2021 amongst younger adults in crimson states like Ohio, Wyoming, and Texas because it did in blue states like California, New York, and Oregon.

Rural vs. city location additionally didn’t make a lot distinction. Within the 2021– 2022 Family Pulse Survey, the proportion of trans Gen Z’ers was about the identical in rural areas (2.2%) as in city/suburban areas (1.9%). There was additionally no distinction within the share of transgender younger adults in liberal huge cities (like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco) versus the remainder of the nation.

Thus the rise in trans identification appears to be nationwide fairly than regional, killing off yet one more principle.


Notes: Crimson states are these whose electoral votes had been awarded to Republican Donald Trump within the 2016 election, and blue states are these whose electoral votes had been awarded to Democrat Hillary Clinton within the 2016 election.

It doesn’t matter what the trigger, it’s clear that the tradition round gender has shifted, and Gen Z is on the forefront of that change.

Gen Z can also be main political activism round transgender rights. In 2021, 16-year-old Stella Keating turned the first transgender teen to tes- tify before the U.S. Senate. She spoke in help of the Equality Act, which proposes to bar discrimination based mostly on gender identification. “My title is Stella Keating and my pronouns are she/her,” she started. “It’s the dignity of my lifetime to be right here.” She went on to notice the challenges she faces given the patchwork of legal guidelines in numerous states. “As a highschool sophomore, I’m beginning to take a look at faculties,” she stated. “And all I can take into consideration is that this: Lower than half of the states in our nation present equal safety for me below the regulation. What occurs if I wish to attend faculty in a state that doesn’t defend me? Proper now, I might be denied medical care or be evicted for merely being transgender in lots of states. How is that even proper? How is that even American?” She sees Gen Z because the technology that can battle for transgender folks. “My technology is creating a rustic the place everybody belongs,” she stated. “Each younger individual . . . no matter who they’re or who they love, ought to have the ability to be enthusiastic about their future.”

What’s going to these adjustments round gender identification imply going ahead? It has grow to be widespread to quote the statistic that only a half of 1% of people are transgender. Though that’s true for older adults, it’s not true amongst 18- to 22-year-olds within the U.S., the place 3%—six instances as many—establish as transgender, and practically 5% establish as nonbinary. The previous few years have seen more and more contentious debate round transgender rights, and these numbers recommend that the subject is unlikely to fade in significance. Specifically, the massive generational distinction in gender identification suggests an intensifying want for empathy, understanding, and communication throughout the generations within the years to come back.

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State College, is the creator of Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future, from which this essay is customized.

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