“Rapid onset gender dysphoria” and the preference for psychoanalytic explanations

Zinnia Jones

One feature you really can’t help but notice after extensively reading “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) literature is the prolific endorsement of psychoanalytic explanations for this “new” form of gender dysphoria. “Parents of ROGD Kids” claims:

Typically, the individual is not consciously aware of any psychological reasons for their dysphoria and cannot articulate it beyond “it’s just a feeling I have”. . . . Uncovering the root causes of gender dysphoria is a difficult process and can be emotionally painful. . . .

Careful, in-depth psychological assessment is required to determine the source of an individual’s dysphoria.

This can be a long and difficult process, as the roots can be buried deep in the subconscious.  It requires the skills of a highly-trained, insightful therapist.  Only after this is done can appropriate treatment be determined.

This demand to uncover the “roots” of a cross-gender identity which are allegedly “buried deep in the subconscious” is not well-supported by clinical practice – there is no particular evidence to indicate that finding some deep-rooted, original psychological “cause” of an individual’s gender dysphoria will lead to any better outcomes for that person when transitioning, or that such a cause necessarily exists in trans people at all. But what this notion does is serve to enable a wild goose chase: a potentially unending hunt for the “true” source of one’s gender dysphoria, as a prerequisite before it can simply be accepted that one is indeed dysphoric. And that itself is an illusory goal – proponents of ROGD explicitly acknowledge that this search is meant to find reasons why a trans person is not “really” dysphoric, something to attribute this to other than just being a gender.

It’s not difficult to see who has a stake in this: Lisa Marchiano, a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania who’s made a name for herself as a go-to resource for parents seeking a disaffirming perspective on their trans and gender-questioning kids, specializes in Jungian psychotherapy. In one article, Marchiano uses young Jung’s independent discovery of procrastination naps as a jumping-off point to attack genderfluid youth for “identifying” as “a member of an oppressed minority” and falling prey to an “inducement to victimhood”. She previously stated that “talk therapy” and “emotion-regulation skills” should be among the “range of different treatments before prescribing transition”, and has also published a paper offering a distinctly Jungian take on why more trans kids are coming out now:

When we smugly imagine ourselves above the influence of contents from the collective unconscious, then we are most susceptible to possession by them. . . . Jung discussed the spontaneous manifestation of an archetype within collective life as indicative of a critical time during which there is a serious risk of a destructive psychic epidemic. “Catastrophe can be avoided only if the effect of the archetype can be intercepted and assimilated by a sufficiently large majority of individuals” (Jung, 1970, p. 229). Jung stated that archetypal contents such as anima and animus are liable to escape from conscious control due to their numinosity, and as a result can lead to psychic possession. . . . Currently, we appear to be experiencing a significant psychic epidemic that is manifesting as children and young people coming to believe that they are the opposite sex, and in some cases taking drastic measures to change their bodies.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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