Is the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” hoax designed to misdiagnose trans kids?

One of the biggest pitfalls in the research on persistence and desistence of gender dysphoria in youth has been the shortcomings of DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for the condition, which were overly broad and resulted in studies wrongly including children who were merely gender-nonconforming as being “gender dysphoric”. This compromised the value of findings on rates of desistance, as the finding that many youth in this combined group do not experience gender dysphoria means little if they may have never been experiencing gender dysphoria.

Ironically, another poorly-constructed, overbroad “diagnosis” now threatens to compromise our understanding of the development of gender dysphoria in youth, and miscategorizes these youth in a similar fashion. The alleged condition of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”, a hoax launched by three anti-trans groups, is so vague that it poses a risk of improperly diagnosing genuinely dysphoric trans youth as instead having this new fictional disorder. This condition has not been scientifically validated to any degree, with the only known study using anonymous answers online from parents who were part of those three anti-trans groups.

The “rapid-onset” condition has been described by the hoaxers as having an onset after youth are exposed to information online about trans people, or participate in online communities of trans people on Tumblr, Reddit, or YouTube. But how many trans people are you likely to find who haven’t sought out information about transness or reached out to other trans people? This is so commonplace as to be diagnostically meaningless: it offers no way to distinguish dysphoric youth using the internet from “rapid-onset” youth using the internet (nor does it explain how simply reading about transgender topics could somehow cause the onset of dysphoria).

Its proponents also describe these “rapid-onset” youth as often suffering from other mental health conditions or developmental issues, such as bipolar disorder, depression, poor body image, eating disorders, or autism. Yet all of these conditions are already known to occur at elevated rates among people with gender dysphoria – as comorbidities, not instead of gender dysphoria. These struggles, too, are commonplace, so their presence would in no way indicate that someone is not genuinely dysphoric or that they are actually “rapid-onset”.

Instead, what the “rapid-onset” diagnosis seems to offer is a suite of excuses: a way to look at any given youth for things that already occur very often among dysphoric youth, and on the basis of finding any one of them, raising baseless speculation that they are in fact not dysphoric at all. It is a toolkit for broadly and arbitrarily invalidating trans youth – youth who’ve received a diagnosis with far more evidence of its existence than there is for “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”.

About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
This entry was posted in Hoaxes, Trans youth, Transphobia and prejudice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” hoax designed to misdiagnose trans kids?

  1. Lona Gynt says:

    A transgender person seeking information does not cause that person to be transgender, it may help that person learn more about themselves. Likewise opening an umbrella may help keep a person dry, but does not cause rainstorms. Well done.

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