Gender Analysis in Slate: An interview on trans depersonalization and “rapid onset gender dysphoria”

Zinnia JonesI recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Evan Urquhart of Slate on the controversy surrounding the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study, as well as the larger subject of depersonalization and feelings of unreality in trans people and the study’s misrepresentation of this condition:

But one aspect of the study that has seen little coverage is Littman’s uncredited use of the work of Zinnia Jones, a trans female writer who has reported on the possible connections between gender dysphoria and the psychiatric symptoms known as depersonalization and derealization. These symptoms consist of a feeling of disconnection from oneself or one’s life or that the outside world isn’t quite real. Littman’s paper cited a brief, out-of-context portion of Jones’ writing on depersonalization, describing her research on “vague and nonspecific symptoms” of gender dysphoria.

Littman was wrong to use this snippet of Jones’ work to bolster her questionable thesis. It is, however, notable that depersonalization—which has often been associated with trauma—may also have a connection to gender dysphoria. I spoke with Jones about her analysis of this link and about the importance of transgender people engaging with research that affects our lives and legitimacy.

You can read the rest here. This is particularly exciting for me, as this is one of the few times that depersonalization symptoms in gender dysphoria have been explicitly addressed in the media and recognized by name as a distinct condition. It’s an area of trans experience that I’ve always felt needed more visibility and attention from mainstream outlets, and while I never expected that the “ROGD” hypothesis would present such an opportunity, I’m very grateful that this is in turn raising awareness of a real syndrome that actually does affect many trans people.

Some key takeaways from the interview:

  • Chronic depersonalization can be a constant and unceasing presence throughout one’s life; many sufferers, both cis and trans, may not always recognize this in themselves because they believe these feelings are normal. This emotional numbing and sense of disconnection from the world can have a serious impact on one’s overall mental health and ability to function, and these symptoms had severely affected me for my entire life until I began medically transitioning.
  • Trans people with untreated gender dysphoria experience chronic depersonalization at a rate far higher than cisgender people, and medical transition, particularly HRT, is associated with a significant reduction in depersonalization symptoms. This has been studied for decades – in trans people themselves as measured by validated clinical instruments, and not via secondhand internet survey responses from their unsupportive parents.
  • Hormonal treatment may itself have a direct effect on dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization: estrogen is known to have potentially anti-dissociative effects due to its action on the glutamatergic system, which has also been successfully targeted in other medical treatments for chronic depersonalization.
  • Because of a broad lack of awareness of chronic depersonalization and its symptoms, as well as the difficulty experienced by sufferers in realizing this condition is not the normal state of human experience, many trans people are surprised to find that these symptoms suddenly remit after beginning HRT. The unexpected relief from this pervasive state of lifeless disconnection is often considered a profound benefit of transition.
  • Proponents of the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” hypothesis, including the survey recruitment sites and the sexologists who contribute to them, have largely neglected to acknowledge the ways in which this study misused my article describing depersonalization symptoms in trans people. Instead, they’ve opted for irrelevant personal attacks and a stance of uncritical defensiveness, both of which should be unnecessary among those supposedly interested in the refinement of scientific understanding.

I’d like to thank Evan and Slate once again for helping to bring trans depersonalization, and the stark shortcomings of the ROGD theory, to a much wider audience. Contrary to the study’s claim that the spread of this information influences cisgender people to believe falsely that they’re trans, broader awareness of trans depersonalization has served to provide clarity, understanding, and hope to those who experience this syndrome in conjunction with their gender dysphoria. And within hours of the article’s publication, I had already heard from several trans people who were closely familiar with these symptoms in their own lives, yet never realized that their feelings were indeed part of a real condition. Knowledge: it’s contagious.


Our resources on transgender depersonalization

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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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