The openness of younger generations to explore their true identity is fueling a surge in the number of youth identifying as transgender.

A report issued by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, delved into Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health surveys between 2017 and 2020. The report estimated that 1.4 percent of youth age 13 to 17 and 1.3 percent of those age 18 to 24 are transgender, while about 0.5 percent of all adults are transgender. These numbers reflect a significant increase over the last report in 2017.

“Adolescence is naturally a period of change and exploration, and, more and more, younger generations are more openly exploring aspects of their gender identity,” said Derek Fenwick, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with The Right Track – LGBTQ Specialty at the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network.

Society as a whole should follow the younger generation’s lead, he added.

“Society needs to lean in more around gender diversity. We must move away from a gender binary that has never existed. Throughout history, we have always had gender diversity, and as a society we need to openly embrace this so individuals can feel comfortable exploring various aspects of their identity without fear of repercussions or stigma, which sadly we know still occurs,” Dr. Fenwick said.

According to the report:

  • Younger teenagers make up 7.6 percent of the total U.S. population, but 18 percent of its transgender population.
  • Those ages 18 to 24 make up 11 percent of the total population and 24 percent of the transgender population.
  • Only 47 percent of transgender people are age 25 to 64.
  • Twenty percent of Americans are age 65 and older, but they only represent 10 percent of transgender people.

The sharp rise indicated by the report, Dr. Fenwick said, is likely due to several factors, including improved methods of assessing data, the comfort level of younger people disclosing aspects of their identity, and an increase in people feeling confident enough to be their authentic self.

“I think more people are believing that the benefits of being authentic to oneself in their gender identity far outweighs the negative consequences of concealment,” he said, adding that, “this is not always the case for everyone and, at times due to safety risk, one may not be able to come out/disclose their identity to others.”

He also noted that the internet has provided an opportunity for youth who are questioning their identity to connect with people facing similar circumstances.

“I do think the internet has been a tool to help individuals feel more seen and give them fast access to verbiage that can describe their internal experience. Quick access of the internet creates connection for these individuals where they can learn, ask questions of others with similar experiences, and also be truly seen by others pertaining to their gender identity,” he said.