Research evidence: Gender-atypical tots likely to become gay or lesbian

by Michael Biggs

Michael Biggs is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Cross College. He researches social movements and collective protest.

Transgender activists insist that children who behave in ways more typical of the opposite sex—a boy who likes dressing up as a fairy princess, a girl who enjoys rough-and-tumble play—are ‘transgender’. Such kids, they argue, must be subjected to medical interventions to make them superficially resemble the opposite sex, and these interventions must take place as soon as possible. The British National Health Service gives puberty-blocking hormones to children as young as 10, while in the United States some surgeons will amputate the breasts of 13-year-old girls.

Many of the kids labelled ‘transgender’ would—if left alone—grow up to be lesbian or gay. This observation has been made by many parents, and sometimes their children who desisted or detransitioned, whose stories are gathered on this website. It is also supported by a growing body of scientific research. Developmental Psychology published an important article last year (Li, Kung, and Hines 2017), which 4thWaveNow has previously highlighted. Thanks to the generosity of Gu Li in sharing some of the data, I will try to explicate the results for the general reader.

The article exploits a survey of exceptional quality, from a well-defined population: mothers giving birth in a county in southwestern England in 1991–2. Therefore it avoids the problem of haphazard sampling which undermines so many surveys of sexuality. The survey is large, so the article analyzes 4,597 children. Because they are tracked over time, we can see how the children behaved just before starting school (at 4 years and 9 months), and then how they turned out by the age of 15.

Gendered behavior

The survey asked mothers (or other caregivers) about their children’s behavior. We are interested in the questions on gender which comprise the Preschool Activities Inventory (Golombok and Rust 1993). This is a standard list of two dozen questions covering toys, activities, and characteristics. For example, the interviewer asks how often the child played with toy guns in the last month, from “never” to “very often.” All these questions are condensed into a single scale, so that the child can be placed somewhere on a spectrum from most ‘feminine’ to most ‘masculine’.

The Preschool Activities Inventory predates the emergence of transgenderism as a phenomenon. Yet the questions bear a striking resemblance to the reasons given by parents for diagnosing their kids as transgender, as catalogued by Lily Maynard. Thus, femininity is elicited by questions about playing with dolls, dressing in girls’ clothes, and pretending to be a female character like a princess; masculinity by playing with cars, or joining ball games. Today’s trans kids, in other words, would be drawn from those on the extremes of the Inventory.

Biggs image 1

The first graph plots gendered activities of the children in the survey. The horizontal axis is derived from the Preschool Activities Inventory, ranging from most ‘masculine’ to most ‘feminine’. Clearly there is a large difference, on average, between boys and girls. But there is also a wide variation within each sex. Indeed, the two distributions overlap at the edges. The mid point between the typical (median) girl and the typical boy is indicated by a vertical line. About 6% of girls behaved in ways more typical of boys than of girls, and vice versa for 3% of boys. A few of these kids were extremely atypical for their sex: girls, for example, who preferred even more ‘masculine’ activities than those chosen by the typical boy.

These atypical kids, incidentally, demonstrate the limits of socialization as the sole explanation for gendered behavior. Parents were not encouraging them to deviate from gender norms, and yet this subset of children were becoming more gender-divergent as they grew up (activities were also measured earlier, at the ages of 2½ and 3½) while most of their peers were gravitating towards behavior more typical for their sex. In fact, analysis of this same population shows that the mothers with higher levels of testosterone gave birth to girls who chose more ‘masculine’ activities, though there was no effect on boys (Hines et al. 2002). As the authors note in the abstract, “nonheterosexual individuals appear to diverge from gender norms regardless of social encouragement to conform to gender roles.”

Sexual orientation

Now fast forward ten years to the children at 15 (in 2006–07). They were asked about their sexual orientation, recording their answer confidentially on a computer. For simplicity we will divide orientation into two groups: on one hand, heterosexuals (“100%” or “mainly”) and on the other, homosexuals (“100%” or “mainly” gay or lesbian). A small number of teens identified as bisexual or asexual; they are excluded from the total.

Only 1.1% of boys identified as gay rather than heterosexual, and 0.7% of girls identified as lesbian. These proportions roughly match the total British population, but younger cohorts—like the millennials in this survey—are more likely to call themselves gay or lesbian than older generations. Therefore one suspects that some of those who called themselves heterosexual at 15 would subsequently come out as gay or lesbian in their late teens or early twenties.

Biggs image 2

The second graph uses gendered behavior to predict subsequent sexual orientation for girls. The horizontal axis is the same as in the first graph. The curve shows how girls who had preferred more ‘masculine’ activities were far more likely to identify as lesbians. As the curve extends further to the right, it is based on fewer individuals (shown as points), and so estimation becomes less certain. We can, however, be confident in the following comparison. A girl who was average in gendered activities has a 0.5% chance of becoming lesbian. For a girl who was midway between average girl and average boy, the probability triples to 1.7%.

biggs image 3

The third graph is the equivalent for boys. A boy who was at the average in gendered activities has a 0.6% chance of becoming gay. For a boy who was halfway between the average boy and the average girl, the probability multiplies eight-fold to 4.9%. Again, we cannot give too much credence to the extreme left of the curve, as it derives from only a few individuals. One final point needs emphasis. While kids who behaved in ways more typical of the opposite sex were far more likely to identify as homosexual than those who conformed, nevertheless the majority of them were heterosexual. As noted already, some of them would come out as gay or lesbian later on. Nevertheless, the majority of gender-nonconforming kids are heterosexual.

In sum, then, girls and boys growing up in England in the early 1990s preferred different toys and activities. To what extent this reflected socialization from parents and television, as feminists emphasize, and to what extent innate sexual differences, remains an open question.

It’s crucial is to appreciate variation and overlap as well as differences. Just as some women are naturally taller than some men, so some girls prefer more ‘masculine’ activities than some boys do. Such girls were far more likely to turn out as lesbian. That was the case, at least, in this survey of children coming of age in a society that was relatively tolerant of homosexuality—and before transgender identities were ascendant in social media and schools. We can only speculate how the cohort born ten years later would identify. But we must realize that the characteristics that now diagnose a ‘transgender child’ are the same characteristics that increase the chances of a teenager becoming gay or lesbian.


Predicted probabilities are estimated from logistic regression. Adding a quadratic term or log transforming the Preschool Activities Inventory does not improve the model’s fit. N = 2,382 boys and 2,141 girls. Data kindly supplied by Gu Li.


Golombok, Susan, and John Rust. 1993. “The Pre-School Activities Inventory: A Standardized Assessment of Gender Role in Children.” Psychological Assessment, vol. 5, pp. 131–136.

Hines Melissa, Susan Golombok, John Rust, Katie J. Johnston, Jean Golding, and Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team. 2002. “Testosterone During Pregnancy and Gender Role Behavior of Preschool Children: A Longitudinal, Population Study.” Child Development, vol. 73, pp. 1678–87.

Li, Gu, Karson T. F. Kung, and Melissa Hines. 2017. “Childhood Gender-Typed Behavior and Adolescent Sexual Orientation: A Longitudinal Population-Based Study.” Developmental Psychology, vol. 53, pp. 764–77.


The Open Society Foundations & the transgender movement

by Michael Biggs

Michael Biggs is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Cross College. He researches social movements and collective protest.

The transgender movement has transformed cultural norms and social institutions at breathtaking speed. Most of us, becoming acquainted with the trans issue for the first time, are astonished to discover the extent of the gender revolution. The movement has accomplished in a few years what the movements for women’s and for gay and lesbian rights took many decades to achieve.

Part of the explanation is the amount of money behind transgenderism. The Gender Industrial Complex, as we may call it, has many components. Lucrative sponsorship comes from pharmaceutical companies and medical providers. Charities originally established to fight for homosexual rights (like Human Rights Campaign in the United States and Stonewall in Britain) wield large budgets. Last but not least, three American billionaires have bankrolled the transgender movement on a global scale: Jennifer Pritzker, whose activities were detailed in another blogpost, Jon Stryker, and George Soros.

This blogpost focuses on the Open Society Foundations (OSF), funded by Soros. This is not easy to discuss because he is vilified by right-wingers, whose criticism sometimes degenerates into anti-semitism (Williamson 2018). Therefore those of us who are liberal or progressive tend to react instinctively by dismissing any scrutiny of Soros out of hand. This is unjustified, as I will show by providing some facts about how OSF has funded the transgender movement.

OSF fully supports the objectives of transgender activists. Self-identification is “an essential legal right for trans people” (OSF 2014a). In other words, biological sex must be superseded by subjective gender identity, to include options “outside the binary categories of male and female” (OSF 2014b). Identity should not be “governed by age restrictions” (OSF 2014b). Therefore OSF funds “trans-led or LGBT organizations that promote progressive, rights-based processes for legal gender recognition” (OSF 2014a). It also advocates access to “hormonal therapy, counseling, and gender-affirming surgeries” on demand (OSF 2014a). This includes puberty blockers for youth (OSF 2013).

How much has OSF spent to promote the transgender movement? In 2011–13, it spent $3.19 million, which made it the top funder, followed by Stryker’s Arcus Foundation and Pritzker’s Tawani Foundation (Funders for LBTQ Issues 2015). OSF’s current database includes grants worth $3.07 million for 2016–17 (searching for keywords “trans” and “transgender”). The largest recipients in this current tranche are the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ($642,000), Global Action for Trans Equality ($500,000), and Transgender Europe ($500,000).

open society reception areaThree million dollars on trans issues is a tiny fraction of OSF’s total expenditure, merely 0.3% (OSF 2017). Crucially, however, this funding greatly exceeds the resources given to alternative voices. This website, for example, receives no funding. To illustrate the difference that money can make, consider the commemoration of the victims of violence.

As we saw, OSF gave $500,000 to Transgender Europe in the past two years. Transgender Europe also received $1,072,000 from the Arcus Foundation from 2010 to 2017 (Arcus Foundation 2018). The organization’s projects include the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is underpinned by a comprehensive database of victims throughout the world, Trans Murder Monitoring. This database counted 325 trans victims of violence in year from October 2016 to September 2017 (TMM 2017). The great majority of these occurred in Central and South America. There were only three in Western Europe, and thankfully none in the United Kingdom. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was widely observed in Britain in November 2017. In many universities, for example, candles were lit for each of the victims, the transgender flag was raised, speakers were invited, and services held. Searching university websites (the domain, we find over 2,800 webpages containing the phrase “Transgender Day of Remembrance”.

While no transgender person was murdered in the United Kingdom in 2017, 138 women were killed by men, including murders where a man was the principal suspect (Smith 2018). These data were compiled by Karen Ingala Smith, who receives no funding for this work. She started recording such deaths in 2009, under the rubric of Counting Dead Women. This was developed into the Femicide Census—in partnership with Women’s Aid—with minimal funding and pro-bono support by two legal firms (Femicide Census 2016).

Despite the diligent research over many years, this has left barely a trace in British universities. The equivalent search on their websites yields fewer than a hundred webpages containing the phrases “Femicide Census” or “Counting Dead Women”.

To sum up, more than a hundred women are murdered each year in the United Kingdom at the hands of males, but no day has been set aside to commemorate their deaths. Transgender murders are exceedingly rare—eight in the past decade (Trans Crime UK 2017; Evening Standard 2018)—and yet they have an institutionalized day of remembrance. Even if we consider the homicide rate rather than the number of homicides, Nicola Williams demonstrates that transgender people are no more likely to become victims than are women (Fairplay for Women 2017).

The prominence of transgender victims, compared to the virtual invisibility of female victims, is partly explained by the amount of resources devoted to compiling evidence and promoting commemoration. Thus funding from large American charities like OSF—along with the Arcus and Tawani Foundations—shapes the political climate in Britain and around the world.


All but one (indicated by *) have been archived on the Internet Archive.

Arcus Foundation. Grantees in Europe, Focusing on Social Justice, Beginning with T.

Evening Standard. 2018. ‘Hounslow stabbing’, 22 March 2018. *

Fairplay for Women. 2017. How Often Are Transgender People Murdered?

Femicide Census. 2016. Profiles of Women Killed by Men: Redefining an Isolated Incident.

Funders for LBTQ Issues. 2015. TRANSformational Impact: U.S. Foundation Funding for Trans Communities. *

OSF. 2013. Transforming Health: International Rights-Based Advocacy for Trans Health.

OSF 2014a. Explainers: An Essential Legal Right for Trans People.

OSF. 2014b. License to Be Yourself: laws and Advocacy for Legal Recognition for Trans People.

OSF. 2017. Open Society Foundations 2017 Budget Overview.

Smith, Karen Ingala. 2018. 2017.

Trans Crime UK. 2017. Trans Homicides in the UK: A Closer Look at the Numbers.

Trans Murder Monitoring. 2017. TDoR 2017 Update.

Williamson, Kevin D. 2018. “An Epidemic of Dishonesty on the Right.” National Review, Feb. 22.