How did Lisa Littman choose my “That was dysphoria” article for inclusion in her rapid onset gender dysphoria study?

Zinnia JonesFinding out that my 2013 article “‘That was dysphoria?’ 8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria” was cited in Lisa Littman’s “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study came as a surprise to me last year – not only because I didn’t expect to become personally implicated in what is by all appearances a pseudodiagnosis and a hoax, but because someone working as a doctor, assistant professor of social and behavioral science, and researcher in the area of gender dysphoria somehow still failed to recognize depersonalization disorder as a distinct syndrome (and one which occurs at elevated rates in untreated gender dysphoria) rather than “vague and nonspecific symptoms called signs of GD” as she described it. Such an oversight of an entire psychiatric condition is nothing short of glaring, and Littman herself later backed away somewhat from her characterization of my work on depersonalization as being about only “vague” symptoms.

But maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It turns out that this same misrepresentation and ignorance of depersonalization in gender dysphoria had a history in the communities associated with Littman’s study and the “ROGD” hoax – including several specific references to my 2013 article.

In April of 2017, over a year before Littman’s study was published, commenters on 4thWaveNow – one of three sites where respondents were recruited for the “ROGD” survey – dismissed my 2013 article as being uselessly vague or merely describing symptoms of depression, for the alleged purpose of promoting a “cult”:

Researchers of depersonalization disorder have previously described “a dramatic neglect of DP in clinical routine”, and have taken pains to point out that depersonalization is not a “negligible variant” of depression or anxiety –  it is “a distinct disorder with its own standing, rather than a depressive or anxious equivalent as some clinicians are still prone to thinking.” Nonetheless, in September of 2017, more 4thWaveNow commenters chimed in to claim that my article was “not about gender” and was instead “about depression/anxiety”. Note the context – their child was allegedly referring to my article as a description of how they experience their gender dysphoria:

Other commenters referred specifically to my article as “influencing our kids to think they are trans”, and warned that my work would “lead your child into dark places”:

And in early 2018, the person running 4thWaveNow’s Twitter account (@4th_WaveNow) made the very direct claim that “UNRESOLVED childhood gender dysphoria was previously extremely rare, but activists like Jones are part of making it a contagion“:

The 2018 book “Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body” collected low-quality essays of ROGD-centric perspectives, including writings by frequent 4thWaveNow contributor Lisa Marchiano (who provided feedback on the manuscript of Littman’s study), as well as Stephanie Davies-Arai, founder of ROGD study recruitment site TransgenderTrend.com. In chapter 7, contributor Susan Matthews cites my 2013 article and summarizes it as follows:

Dysphoria (literally just unhappiness) is presumed to be driven by gender.

Multiple individuals who lead or are associated with communities that were consulted for the “ROGD” study have exhibited a pattern of targeting this one article, misrepresenting these symptoms as vague or unconnected to gender dysphoria, and accusing me personally of playing a role in “influencing” cisgender youth to believe falsely that they are gender-dysphoric – all of this before Littman’s study came out, referenced my article, and reiterated these very same unfounded claims.

And so I wonder: How did Lisa Littman arrive at the decision to include that article in her study and offer those same misinterpretations of it? She herself has already admitted that she has never treated any trans patients; that unfamiliarity is prominently on display when it comes to this issue. When and how did she discover my article about this specific profile of symptoms in gender dysphoria? What about it led her to believe that the symptoms being described were “vague” and unconnected to gender dysphoria? And which perspectives influenced her assessment that material such as my article is misleading cisgender youth into believing they’re trans? At this point, I’ve already addressed and rebutted her study on its merits at sufficient length. But this? Now I’m just curious about the process by which a person makes such an extraordinary mistake.

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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 Depersonalization, Gender dysphoria, Hoaxes, Psychology and psychiatry, Trans youth, Transphobia and prejudice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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