To the glee of many gay rights and transgender activists, a new study by the University of California has led many to claim that 27 percent California’s youth identify as “gender nonconforming.” The claim, however, is based on how the teenagers and pre-teens think other people feel about their appearance.
Broadly picked up the UCLA study by claiming, in its headline, “27 Percent of California Teens Are Gender Nonconforming”—even though the study is based on what the youth think others think about them (a tricky subject for teenagers and adults alike). Other news sources, such as the Daily Dot, ran with the same introduction. Only the Washington Post included the caveat that “nonconforming” is how the youth reported being viewed as, not necessarily how they chose to identify.
The study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and The Williams Institute took the California Health Interview Survey questions about gender expression to determine that 27 percent California youth are considered “gender nonconforming”—because of how they believe their peers think about them.
The survey question asked:
A person’s appearance, style, dress, or the way they walk or talk may affect how people describe them. How do you think other people at school would describe you?
Then gave respondents five different options:
- Very feminine
- Mostly feminine
- Equally feminine & masculine
- Mostly masculine
- Very masculine
Using those options, the respondents were divided into three categories: gender conforming, highly gender nonconforming, and androgynous.
While 73 percent of respondents fell into the gender conforming category, a whopping 20.8 percent were placed in the “androgynous” category because they responded that their peers probably view them as both masculine and feminine. Only 6.2 percent of respondents were categorized as "highly gender nonconforming."
That means if you’re a girl who happens to like baggy clothing, and your peers consider that masculine, you may be called “androgynous” even if you do not suffer from any kind of gender dysphoria.
For people who believe that gender is all about your choice of self-expression, basing whether someone is “gender nonconforming” on how they feel like their peers evaluate their dress and speech is hypocritical.
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