The script has flipped

What we once considered gender and sexuality norms are hardly norms anymore. Just ask teens.

Research shows that Generation Z is increasingly living beyond the traditional labels of man/woman and gay/straight. In fact, more than 1 in 4 teens in California reported that they see themselves as gender nonconforming, according to a 2017 study conducted by UCLA (Dowd, 2017).

Phillip L. Hammack, professor of psychology and director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Laboratory at the University of California–Santa Cruz, has made similar observations. Hammack came out as a gay man in the 1990s, and he wrote of some key distinctions he’s noticed in his research with teenagers.

“Between my generation and today's teens, the script has flipped. Today's teens are much more likely to think of themselves outside the traditional binary of gay-straight and male-female. They are far more likely to think of gender and sexuality as existing along a spectrum, with many shades and thus requiring new labels” (Hammack, 2019, para. 10).

Those assigned female at birth appear to be at the forefront of these changes, whether they identify as transgender or have adopted a nonbinary identity, or both. Hammack (2019) noted:

“Teenage girls are challenging the meaning and the traditional constraints of gender in ways I couldn't have imagined, but many boys are still trying to fit into a gender structure that has historically benefited them” (para. 7).


According to Hammack, most of his subjects who identify as nonbinary were assigned female by birth. Here’s a glimpse into what that tells us about gender differences.

Do policies that lessen discrimination have a positive impact on outcomes for gender nonconforming adolescents? It appears to be the case, according to this research from the Williams Institute at UCLA.


Dowd, R. (2017, December 13). 27% of California adolescents say they are viewed as gender nonconforming, study finds. UCLA Newsroom.

Hammack, P. (2019, April 8). The future is non-binary, and teens are leading the way. Pacific Standard.

Watson, R., Wheldon, C., & Puhl, R. (2019). Evidence of diverse identities in a large national sample of sexual and gender minority adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30(52), 431-442.

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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With a sample of more than 17,000 teenagers across the nation, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence offers a comprehensive look at the prevalence of nontraditional gender and sexual identities specifically among LGBTQ+ youth. The authors found that 24% of LGBTQ+ teens held nontraditional identities, such as pansexual and nonbinary. Read a summary of their findings.

Evidence of Diverse Identities in a Large National Sample of Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents

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