An inexplicably high percentage are self-identifying as transgender, and many more are becoming “trans-curious,” that is, not yet identifying as transgender but experimenting with adopting a “gender nonconforming” identity.
The Story: A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics finds many more teens than previously thought say they are transgender or identify themselves using other nontraditional gender terms.
The Background: In the United States, an estimated 0.6 percent of adults identify as transgender. Previous studies estimated the number was slightly higher for teens aged 13 to 17—0.7 percent.
But according to CBS News, this latest study estimates that nearly 3 percent of teens are transgender or gender nonconforming, meaning they don’t always self-identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. That includes kids who refer to themselves using neutral pronouns like “them” instead of “he” or “she.”
If these new estimates are correct, it means that young people are 329 percent more likely than adults to identify as transgender, and that there are almost as many transgender teens as there are adult men and women who identify as gay and lesbian.
What It Means: In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1774 novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, the protagonist describes suicide as a heroic act and, as Matteo Savin says, “proof of the strength of human being, who, oppressed by life unhappiness, is eventually able to perform a last titanic action, just like people rising up against a tyrant.” In the novel, Werther kills himself, and in popular legend, this story led to an epidemic of suicides across Europe. In several countries, the novel was banned to prevent spreading its destructive influence.
Whether suicides increased in the 18th century because of Young Werther is debatable. But what is not in dispute is the Werther effect—that suicide is a social contagion, and than an increase in suicides tends to follow media coverage of suicides or is inspired by reading about suicides.
Copycat suicides are but one form of the phenomenon social science researchers have labeled social contagions—the thesis that attitudes, beliefs, and behavior can spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. “Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur,” research psychologist Paul Marsden says. “This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”
When we see a rapid increase in anomalous behaviors that were once limited to a small part of the population, it is likely due to social contagion. A prime example is the rise of bisexuality, especially among women. From 2006 to 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted surveys of Americans age 18 to 44 about the types of sexual experiences they have had, whether they are attracted to the same or opposite sex, and whether they identify as being straight, gay/lesbian or bisexual.
During this period about 1.3 percent of women and 1.9 percent of men said they were homosexual, while 2 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men identified as bisexual. However, there was a significant change when the survey was conducted between 2011 and 2013. The percentage of men and women who said they were homosexual didn’t change. But the number of women who identified as bisexual increased to 5.5 percent, while the number of men who identified as bisexual increased to 2 percent. The number of women who reported having had sexual contact with other women also increased from 14.2 percent to 17.4 percent.
Notice that only 6.8 percent of women identified as lesbian or bisexual, yet more than double that number had engaged in same-sex sexual contact. The phrase “bi-curious” has come to be used to refer to such people who are “interested in having a same gender sexual experience without necessarily labeling their sexual orientation as bisexual.”
Social contagion is the only adequate explanation for why so many women have become bi-curious in such a short period of time. The ubiquitous promotion by the media of bisexual female relationships has promoted the idea that such “experimentation” is a natural part of growing up female. Even young men and women who have no desire to actually engage in same-sex sexual contact are encouraged to be “open” to bisexuality.