“Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”: Weaponized Science from the Right Wing


Laurie and Debbie say:

Julia Serano is a trans activist whom we have written about before here and (by guest blogger Marlene Hoeber) here.  Now she weighs in on the comparatively new fake science of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” a term invented in 2016 by known anti-trans bloggers:

The term was intended to explain some parents’ observations that 1) their children came out as transgender seemingly suddenly, often during puberty, and 2) their children also had trans-identified peers and interacted with trans-themed social media. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for reluctant parents to presume that their child has adopted a trans (or LGBTQ+ more generally) identity as a result of undue influence from other children and/or outside sources — hence the recurring accusations about transgender agendas, peer pressure, and trans identities supposedly being “trendy.”

While ROGD is scientifically specious, the concept serves a very clear practical purpose. It provides reluctant parents with an excuse to disbelieve and disaffirm their child’s gender identity, under the presumption that it is merely a by-product of ROGD. It also provides a rationale for restricting their child’s interactions with transgender peers and access to trans-related information, as such things are the imagined cause of the condition.

In addition to these parental motivations, ROGD provides political cover for those who wish to rollback trans rights and healthcare.

Serano doesn’t toss around phrases like “scientifically specious” lightly:

To date, only one research study on ROGD has been published — it is authored by Lisa Littman and appeared in PLOS One [in mid-August 2018]. There are numerous problems with this study, as Zinnia Jones and Brynn Tannehill detailed in their critiques of an earlier rendition of this same study back when it appeared as a non-peer-reviewed poster in the Journal of Adolescent Health. For starters, this was not a study of the children themselves, but rather their parents, …

The parents were selected by an announcement on the same three transphobic blogs which coined the term, which can hardly be described as a random, or in any way valid, sampling approach.  And although PLOS One is a scientific journal which publishes some very respectable science , unlike most research journals it only reviews the technical aspects fo the articles it publishes. Its policy of not considering “subjective concerns” may well be how the sample collection mechanism went unchallenged.

Much of Serano’s article is devoted to the scientific question of what would prove that some phenomenon comparable to ROGD did exist, and she does her usual rigorous job of examining that possibility.

Serano also usefully interrogates the question of “trans-identified peers and trans-themed social media.” She points out, as should be obvious, that this doesn’t have to be “if all the other kids jumped off a bridge, …” but can be explained by prejudice, stigma, and peer pressure against coming out as trans:

I can understand how straight cisgender people might jump to the conclusion that A (trans friends and social media) causes B (gender dysphoria and trans-identification). But from a trans/LGBTQ+ perspective, it seems clear that these people are ignoring the crucial element C — the fact that trans/LGBTQ+ people are highly stigmatized, face harassment, and our perspectives are largely discounted and not readily accessible in society at large. This (aka, C) is what leads trans/LGBTQ+ folks to seek one another out (regardless of age) for mutual support, shared understanding, and the exchange of relevant information and ideas.

For the skeptical, she backs up the statistics on trans kids with simple, clear mathematics.  And when she gets into the questions of the increase in trans-identified young people, especially those assigned female at birth, she also puts in some humor by comparing the statistics to data on left-handedness (yes, she does get to Rapid Onset Left-handedness!).

Serano devotes her whole long essay to the specifics of ROGD, the science behind it, and its proponents. What she doesn’t say–because it’s not her point–is that this kind of shoddy, thrown-together science is used as a weapon by all kinds of people with axes to grind, or social beliefs they cherish. Currently, it is frequently used by the right-wing activists of the western world to give cover to exclusionary social beliefs. Serano talks about how ROGD can be used as an argument against insurance and health care for trans people.

We fully agree. This is a tragic example of fake science being used to diminish and dehumanize people.

Follow Debbie on Twitter @spicejardebbie