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‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’

Children play on a giant rainbow flag as they take part in a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan, October 28, 2017. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

A new study published in PLOS One:

In on-line forums, parents have been reporting that their children are experiencing what is described here as “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” appearing for the first time during puberty or even after its completion. The onset of gender dysphoria seemed to occur in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all of the friends have become gender dysphoric and transgender-identified during the same timeframe. Parents also report that their children exhibited an increase in social media/internet use prior to disclosure of a transgender identity. The purpose of this study was to document and explore these observations and describe the resulting presentation of gender dysphoria, which is inconsistent with existing research literature. . . .

ROGD appears to represent an entity that is distinct from the gender dysphoria observed in individuals who have previously been described as transgender.

Indeed, none of the kids “described in this study would have met diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria [earlier] in childhood; “a third of respondents (32.4%) noted that their child did not seem gender dysphoric when they made their announcement and 26.0% said the length of time from not seeming gender dysphoric to announcing a transgender identity was between less than a week to three months.” The kids’ peer groups, meanwhile, often “mocked, teased, or made fun of individuals who weren’t transgender or LGBTIA” and “seemed to focus on feeling as though they were victims.”

The study also provides a list of anecdotes worth quoting:

  • A 12-year-old natal female was bullied specifically for going through early puberty and the responding parent wrote “as a result she said she felt fat and hated her breasts.” She learned online that hating your breasts is a sign of being transgender. She edited her diary (by crossing out existing text and writing in new text) to make it appear that she has always felt that she is transgender.

  • A 14-year-old natal female and three of her natal female friends were taking group lessons together with a very popular coach. The coach came out as transgender, and, within one year, all four students announced they were also transgender.

  • A natal female was traumatized by a rape when she was 16 years of age. Before the rape, she was described as a happy girl; after the rape, she became withdrawn and fearful. Several months after the rape, she announced that she was transgender and told her parents that she needed to transition.

  • A 21-year-old natal male who had been academically successful at a prestigious university seemed depressed for about six months. Since concluding that he was transgender, he went on to have a marked decline in his social functioning and has become increasingly angry and hostile to his family. He refuses to move out or look for a job. His entire family, including several members who are very supportive of the transgender community, believe that he is “suffering from a mental disorder which has nothing to do with gender.”

  • A 14-year-old natal female and three of her natal female friends are part of a larger friend group that spends much of their time talking about gender and sexuality. The three natal female friends all announced they were trans boys and chose similar masculine names. After spending time with these three friends, the 14-year-old natal female announced that she was also a trans boy.

Because the study recruited subjects from “three websites where parents had reported rapid onsets of gender dysphoria” and collected information only from parents, it’s hard to say how common this is, how representative the families involved were, and how trustworthy the parents’ reports are (though it’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the parents support both gay marriage and transgender rights). But it’s troubling nonetheless, and there have been signs of this phenomenon for a few years now.

This also underscores a point I made back in 2016: While I’m highly sympathetic to the idea that sexual orientation and identity are partly rooted in biology, parents should resist doing anything irreversible, such as surgery or hormone treatments, where minors are concerned.

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