The National Science Foundation on Thursday awarded a five-year, $1 million grant to expand the first long-term nationwide study of transgender children.
The award was granted to University of Washington Psychologist Kristina Olsen, who was named the winner of the 2018 Alan T. Waterman Award — the federal governments highest honor for a scientist under the age of 40.
Olsen will receive taxpayer funds to further her TransYouth Project, a long-term study of transgender children that is tracking more than 300 transgender children — some only three years old.
The project, launched in 2013, aims to track the childrens development over 20 years. Olsens award from the NSF will allow her to use taxpayer dollars to fund the project as throughout the childrens teenage years.
The NSFs decision to award Olsen the grant was unanimous.
“Transgender children is a category we have so little scientific knowledge about,” the social scientist told The Associated Press. “Im interested in their experience of feeling you are in a social category that other people dont think youre a part of.”
Olsens work has already produced results. Early findings indicated transgender children, whose families allowed them to live openly with their chosen gender identity, had the same rate of depression and anxiety than non-transgender children.
“In a very scientific way, our study shows that this group of kids is doing really, really well,” Olsen said.
“While we are still in the early stages, I believe this work has the possibility of changing societys understanding of gender and identity,” Olsen told the NSF.
Olsenswork will help solve major societal issues across a broad spectrum, she said.
“I believe it is impossible to solve any large-scale social issues without documenting, understanding and ultimately bridging differences in peoples racial, cultural, gender and other identities,” Olsen said.
Olsons “profound” work on transgender children will help adults better understand societal inequality, UW Department of Psychology Chairperosn Cheryl Kaiser said.
“Our childhood ideas about fairness can shape how we as adults understand injustice and whether we maintain or challenge inequity in society,” Kaiser said. “Kristinas work is profound and has implications for how children develop to become change-makers in the world.”
But Olsens work with transgender children has already received criticism.
Olsens work “delegitimizes science,” The Federalist said in 2017, arguing it was “utterly ridiculous” to study the gender identity of young children “just learning to use the bathroom.”
Children as young as three do show awareness of their gender identity through how they describe themselves and what toys they chose to play with, Olsen said, brushing off the criticism.
“People frequently compare early identifying trans children with those who go through phases of believing they are cats or dinosaurs or who have imaginary friends,” Olson wrote. “Yet decades of work on gender development suggests these are precisely the ages at which nearly all kids are coming to understand their own and others gender identities.”
Olsons stance that young children have the capability to change gender identities is “borderline reckless,” Southern Baptist Convention Director Andrew Walker said.
“I am highly suspect of allowing children to be mature agents in determining this level of self-understanding,” Walker said. “That seems to be highly problematic and borderline reckless … putting drastically catastrophic decisions about a childs life in the childs hands.”
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