What parents don’t know: Trans youth study reveals fatal flaw at the heart of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) pseudo-diagnosis (3 of 3)

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If ROGD is fundamentally unsound, what about its related claims?

Zinnia JonesLittman has not sufficiently demonstrated that a syndrome characterized by a “rapid onset” of false gender dysphoria exists as a new entity distinct from classic forms of gender dysphoria. She ignores nearly all existing research on the subject of trans youth’s gender development timelines, the feature that is supposedly key to ROGD’s difference from authentic gender dysphoria.

In light of decades of research in this area as well as more recent studies of both trans youth and their parents, what is proposed as “rapid onset gender dysphoria” based on only parental reports is most likely to be just an incomplete observation of the lengthy course of trans youth’s development that has already been studied in detail – the experience of gender dysphoria throughout childhood.

Littman (2018) goes on to make numerous speculations about the nature and manifestations of the “rapid onset gender dysphoria” condition. But if there is no reason to believe that there even is a “rapid onset gender dysphoria” condition, these notions are nonstarters. This undermines much of the rest of Littman’s paper. Consider how she describes the ROGD condition and its behavior among youth:

  • As a “social contagion”, this rapid-onset false gender dysphoria can be contracted from viewing transgender resources online, such as YouTube videos, Tumblr posts, or social media.
  • The ROGD contagion can also be caught from individuals in one’s friend group who already have this rapid-onset false gender dysphoria.
  • Online transgender communities and resources, as well as offline friendships with other trans people, are comparable to materials promoting eating disorders such as “pro-ana” communities.
  • These youth’s attempts to access gender-affirming medical care are always a misguided and potentially dangerous effort, as they must be mistaken in believing that they are trans.
  • By extension, any clinician’s acknowledgment of these youth’s transness, and any treatment for their gender dysphoria, is incorrect and inappropriate, an unnecessary treatment putting an actually cisgender child at risk.

But you can’t catch a condition that doesn’t exist from your friends or from reading things on the internet. Being trans and the benefits of transitioning aren’t at all like the serious and life-threatening harms of eating disorders; a condition that doesn’t exist isn’t like or unlike anything.

A person cannot be diagnostically precluded from being genuinely trans or experiencing gender dysphoria on the basis that they are instead suffering from this non-condition. These youth’s reported approaches to finding gender-affirming care, whether social or medical transition, therapy or prescriptions, are simply those that any trans person does indeed engage in when seeking out treatment for their gender dysphoria. And a mass epidemic of a nonexistent condition is a mass of nothing.

ROGD: Into the Shrierverse

A substantial gap exists between the strength of scientific support for “rapid onset gender dysphoria” and the vigor of its promotion by anti-trans advocates. Rather than being constrained by the limitations of fact and the distorted scope of their foundational study, proponents of the alleged condition increasingly seem to have freed themselves of any empirical ballast.

What was once a claim of a discrete syndrome is now a loose storyline to an alternate universe inviting personal flights of fancy, akin to a tabletop RPG for cis people whose hobby is treating trans kids like a problem. And it’s difficult to overstate how downright weird the ROGDverse has become:

  • Andrew Sullivan and Katie Herzog invoke a social trend of ROGD when claiming a (nonexistent) decline in cis lesbians is due to this population transitioning as men. Herzog notably asserts she could find little more than a half dozen cis lesbians on the North American continent.
  • Glenn Greenwald has brazenly lied about the lesbian population allegedly shrinking while the trans population is growing, shamelessly distorting the finding that the lesbian population is growing even faster than the trans population. This was something so obviously wrong, the act of asserting it almost seemed like a disturbing power move to see who among the audience will acquiesce to the most overt lies and stick around for more.
  • Debra Soh, a sexual neuroscientist writing for Quillette, misread the Littman study and incorrectly claimed that transition for youth serves as an anti-gay “conversion therapy” as apparent cis gay youth who transition would become straight and transgender. According to the distribution of youth’s sexual orientations as reported by their parents in the Littman study, a smaller proportion of them would acquire the label of being exclusively attracted to the other sex (straight) if all of them transitioned, while more of them would be termed straight if none of them transitioned.
  • “Angus Fox” of Quillette recently suggested that adolescent trans girls are not truly trans but are catching rapid-onset gender dysphoria from a surprising asymptomatic carrier: cis-identified cis girls, who are transmitting the dangerous contagion of calling a trans person by their name and going out shopping together.
  • Chad Felix Greene, writing for The Federalist, asserted that Elliot Page’s coming-out is the result of rapid-onset gender dysphoria. This would mean that Elliot Page, a 34-year-old award-winning actor and household name, who knew he was a boy when he was a toddler and consistently insisted on identifying and presenting as a boy and being addressed as a boy throughout his childhood, was suddenly in 2020 stricken by a rapid attack of Littman dysphoria.
  • Abigail Shrier, author of the pop-pseudosci ROGD book “Irreversible Damage”, is not particularly concerned with shoring up the scientific foundation of her pet theory; instead, she told Joe Rogan that this condition (a parent’s unawareness of their trans child’s gender) is just like other social contagions such as cutting, eating disorders, witchcraft, and demonic possession. Rogan helpfully added that this nonexistent condition is like joining “suicide pacts”.

As any real existence of ROGD becomes more and more tenuous, it’s increasingly treated like magic, taking on the role of an incantation to be applied liberally whenever you need help imagining that trans people are doing bad things. After all, if this were intended as a serious argument, it would mean arguing that a wholly unproven but contagious social epidemic of deceptive gender dysphoria symptoms infecting men in their 30s is more likely than the simple fact that parents often don’t know everything about their children who are in the closet.

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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.
This entry was posted in Family, Gender dysphoria, Hoaxes, Media, Outcomes of transition, Sociological research, Statistics and demographics, Trans youth, Transgender medicine, Transphobia and prejudice. Bookmark the permalink.

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