The dynamic development of gender variability

J Homosex. 2012;59(3):398-421. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2012.653310.


We diagram and discuss theories of gender identity development espoused by the clinical groups represented in this special issue. We contend that theories of origin relate importantly to clinical practice, and argue that the existing clinical theories are under-developed. Therefore, we develop a dynamic systems framework for gender identity development. Specifically, we suggest that critical aspects of presymbolic gender embodiment occur during infancy as part of the synchronous interplay of caregiver-infant dyads. By 18 months, a transition to symbolic representation and the beginning of an internalization of a sense of gender can be detected and consolidation is quite evident by 3 years of age. We conclude by suggesting empirical studies that could expand and test this framework. With the belief that better, more explicit developmental theory can improve clinical practice, we urge that clinicians take a dynamic developmental view of gender identity formation into account.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychology, Child
  • Self Concept
  • Transsexualism / etiology*
  • Transsexualism / psychology