Tag Archives: Julia Serano

“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

Transgender Language Confusions Resolved!


Debbie says:

I could certainly style myself as a radical copyeditor, but somehow until recently I had missed the existence of The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, a genderqueer copyeditor who blogs in the intersection between copyediting and politics, and also sells copyediting services. Believe me, I’ll be taking a deep dive soon. Kapitan says:

I believe that language matters, and that those of us who are working to manifest a better, more just world have a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.

Meanwhile, however, I wanted to introduce our readers to the very comprehensive The Radical Copyeditor’s Style Guide for Writing about Transgender People. You get a hint in the illustration above. Like all good manifestos, it comes with appropriate disclaimers:

A style guide for writing about transgender people is practically an oxymoron. Style guides are designed to create absolutes—bringing rules and order to a meandering and contradictory patchwork quilt of a language. Yet there are no absolutes when it comes to gender. …

There are profound reasons for why the language that trans people use to describe ourselves and our communities changes and evolves so quickly. In Western culture, non-trans people have for centuries created the language that describes us, and this language has long labeled us as deviant, criminal, pathological, unwell, and/or unreal.

… Just as there is no monolithic transgender community, there is also no one “correct” way to speak or write about trans people.

Then there’s How to use this guide and (perhaps more important) How not to use this guide. The how not to section includes links to some fine articles:

words don’t kill people, people kill words”and the glossary introduction “there is no perfect word,” both by Julia Serano. The second link also takes you to Serano’s glossary of trans, gender, sexuality, and activism terminology

I Was Recently Informed I’m Not a Transsexual,” by Riki Wilchins.

Then we get into the main course of the style guide, which is broken into three sections. I’m limiting myself to one example of each.

Correct/current usage:

1.3. Transition is the correct word for the social and/or medical process of publicly living into one’s true gender.

Use: Chris transitioned at age 32; the transition process

Avoid: Chris is transgendering; Chris had a sex change; Chris had “the surgery”; Chris became a woman

Bias-free and respectful language:

2.4.3. Pronouns are simply pronouns. They aren’t “preferred” and they aren’t inherently tied to gender identity or biology.

Use: pronouns; personal pronouns; she/her/hers; he/him/his; they/them/theirs; ze/zir/zirs; Sam/Sam/Sam (and any other pronoun or combination)

Avoid: preferred pronouns; masculine pronouns; feminine pronouns; male pronouns; female pronouns

As J. Mase III once succinctly put it, “my pronouns aren’t preferred; they’re required.” A person’s correct pronouns are not a preference; neither are pronouns inherently masculine, feminine, male, or female: for example, a masculine person could use she/her/hers pronouns and a female person could use they/them/theirs pronouns.

Sensitive and inclusive broader language:

3.2. Do not use LGBTQ or its many variants (LGBT, LGBTQIA+, etc.) as a synonym for gay.

Use: LGBTQ people versus non-LGBTQ people

Avoid: LGBTQ people versus straight people

If you’re using an acronym that includes transgender people, it’s important to actually include trans people in the context of what you are writing about. For example, if you’re only writing about people in same-sex relationships, or if you’re trying to refer to everyone with a marginalized sexuality, don’t use LGBTQ. Some transgender people (15%) identify as straight.* LGBTQ and straight/heterosexual are not, therefore, opposites, and should never be treated as such.

As you can imagine from these tidbits, there is much more. The guide is thoughtful, careful, respectful, comprehensive, informative and — if you’re a copyediting nerd like me — well-written and entertaining.

If you write anything at all relating to these topics, bookmark it and refer to it regularly. I will.