Lisa Littman is an Assistant Professor at Brown University School of Public Health. Maybe you’ve heard her name. She published an article in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE entitled Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Study of Parental Reports in 2018. Here she coined a term that was seen on conservative, anti-trans blogs and website like 4thwavenow.com and Transgendertrend.com – ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’.
The study concluded that transgender children come about as a sort of social contagion or the result of pressure from peers. It likens gender dysphoria to eating disorders or infectious diseases (touching on ‘outbreaks’ and ‘clusters’). Understandably this research, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, has come under a lot of criticism.
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Individuals who reviewed the study felt that it was being weaponized by conservative media to discredit transgender identification in children and people who are gender-nonconforming. There was also a spotlight on Littman’s research methods, which were suspect at best.
She set up her study by putting out a 90-question survey for parents of transgender children. 254 parents filled out this survey, which was found on 3 trans-critical websites (Transgender Trend, Youth Trans Critical Professionals, and 4thWaveNow). What’s worse is that she explains “social peer contagion” before the survey questions, arguably planting it in the mind of these parents before they began to fill it out. Taking your samples from websites that are obviously biased and peddling anti-trans rhetoric seems to discredit the study altogether. It would yield a less biased result if the survey had also been offered to parents who accepted their transgender children or if they reached across a wide spectrum of political association. Even more confounding is that this research focuses on the parents, not the children who are actually going through it. It seems set up to reinforce the parent’s fears.
And PLOS ONE decided to pull the study for post-publication review after readers shared their concerns. Brown University pulled the press release for similar reasons, though it was still available for review on their site. Eventually, a revised paper was re-published in PLOS ONE with a new title – “Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria”. PLOS ONE goes into detail about the changes here:
After publication of this article , questions were raised that prompted the journal to conduct a post-publication reassessment of the article, involving senior members of the journal’s editorial team, two Academic Editors, a statistics reviewer, and an external expert reviewer. The post-publication review identified issues that needed to be addressed to ensure the article meets PLOS ONE’s publication criteria. Given the nature of the issues in this case, the PLOS ONE Editors decided to republish the article, replacing the original version of record with a revised version in which the author has updated the Title, Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and Conclusion sections, to address the concerns raised in the editorial reassessment. The Materials and methods section was updated to include new information and more detailed descriptions about recruitment sites and to remove two figures due to copyright restrictions. Other than the addition of a few missing values in Table 13, the Results section is unchanged in the updated version of the article
Brown University seemed to double down on the research, citing academic freedoms:
[faculty members]…have the right to conduct research on topics they choose. This is the case even for research that leads them into politically controversial territory. Brown gives its full support to this faculty member to conduct her research and publish her work.
They finish their statement by reinforcing their support for the trans community:
Brown is proud to be among the first universities to include medical care for gender reassignment in its student health plan, and that our medical school is a leader in education on care for transgender individuals. Academic freedom and support for the trans community — or any other group—are not mutually exclusive. These values can and, indeed, must co-exist.
Littman was “pleased” to see her work stand up against rigorous post-publication review, but not everyone feels that this study is credible. Since the study seems to insinuate that being transgender is a trend or is a result of learned behavior, it is accused of communicating a few things to confused and frustrated parents:
1. It asserts that the increase in transgendered individuals is entirely different from gender dysphoria experienced historically
2. It gives the impression that if children are ‘shielded’ from transgender children, they will not be influenced to become transgendered themselves
3. It could influence parents to use methods to ‘fix’ or ‘deprogram’ their children, instead of accepting them and helping them
Littman talks a lot about ‘cluster cases’. She muses over the fact that where you see one trans kid, suddenly you see more. She states:
The expected prevalence of transgender young adult individuals is 0.7% . Yet, more than a third of the friendship groups described in this study had 50% or more of the AYAs[adolescents and young adults]in the group becoming transgender-identified in a similar time frame, a localized increase to more than 70 times the expected prevalence rate.
If you do not think too much into it, it’s easy to be surprised by these numbers. But what is surprising about a minority group that is highly stigmatized seeking each other out for companionship, understanding, and social interaction? With the rise of social media, finding other kids who share your experiences with gender dysphoria is easier than it has ever been.
PLOS ONE is a publication that largely lets the research speak for itself through citations and post-publication debate. Unfortunately, those with political agendas will use this study to prove to less scientific or thorough-minded individuals that there IS proof that transgender individuals suffer from a disease of sorts.
One such group has already championed this study in an effort to change pediatric treatment guidelines for transgender children. The American College of Pediatrics, plainly identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is using this study to strengthen their argument about removing transgender-affirmation techniques in pediatric care.
Buzzfeed News expands on the ramifications of this:
“If you’re a trans kid, will parents not let their kids interact with you?” Serano told BuzzFeed News. “People will say ‘Let’s just see what the science says’ … and will be given justification to say ‘I’m not going to allow my children to absorb any information or media that involves trans people.’”
What’s more, Serano worries that defining an entirely new “rapid onset” category of gender dysphoria might inspire different treatments than those currently recommended by the likes of the American Academy of Pediatrics. That could lead some parents to turn away from the “gender affirming” treatments — such as social or medical transition — for persistently trans-identifying youth, and instead try “reparative” gender treatments, which encourage children to feel better in their assigned sexes. For critics like Serano, the latter category is akin to gay conversion therapy.
The last thing this vulnerable group needed was a flawed study that can be used against them by hate-filled propaganda groups.
Reminder: Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) was coined for a “study” on reactionary parental transphobia and loss of control over the identity of one’s child.
ROGD ain’t about trans kids; rather how cis transphobes felt about their trans kids coming out.#TransVisibilityWeek
— Dr. Emmy Zje (@Emmy_Zje) March 30, 2019
What blows my mind is how terfs, and even Littman herself, keep hyping up the original "ROGD" paper and how it got 146,000 views or something. That's over the course of several months. I get more tweet impressions than that on a good *day*.
— Perceived Rapid Onset of Zinnia Jones (@ZJemptv) March 20, 2019
Transphobes: "young kids can't know they're trans! They're just gender non-conforming! We need to raise them without gender roles and stereotypes!"
Also transphobes: "real trans people know they're trans in childhood! HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT ROGD! WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THE KIDS!!!"
— Logan (@ToUnbecome) February 10, 2019