COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Childhood gender nonconformity: a risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth

Andrea L Roberts, Margaret Rosario, Heather L Corliss, Karestan C Koenen, S Bryn Austin
Pediatrics 2012, 129 (3): 410-7
22351893

OBJECTIVES: Childhood gender nonconformity has been associated with poorer relationships with parents, but it is unknown if childhood gender nonconformity is associated with childhood abuse or risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in youth.

METHODS: We examined whether gender nonconformity before age 11 years was associated with childhood sexual, physical, and psychological abuse and lifetime risk of probable PTSD by using self-report questionnaire data from the 2007 wave of the Growing Up Today Study (n = 9864, mean age = 22.7 years), a longitudinal cohort of US youth. We further examined whether higher exposure to childhood abuse mediated possible elevated prevalence of PTSD in nonconforming children. Finally, we examined whether association of childhood gender nonconformity with PTSD was independent of sexual orientation.

RESULTS: Exposure to childhood physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and probable PTSD were elevated in youth in the top decile of childhood gender nonconformity compared with youth below median nonconformity. Abuse victimization disparities partly mediated PTSD disparities by gender nonconformity. Gender nonconformity predicted increased risk of lifetime probable PTSD in youth after adjustment for sexual orientation.

CONCLUSIONS: We identify gender nonconformity as an indicator of children at increased risk of abuse and probable PTSD. Pediatricians and school health providers should consider abuse screening for this vulnerable population. Further research to understand how gender nonconformity might increase risk of abuse and to develop family interventions to reduce abuse risk is needed.

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