Rapid onset gender dysphoria

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 12th of March, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Nobody ever said parenting is easy. But now a growing number of moms and dads face a new and incredibly difficult challenge: a teenager who suddenly announces he or she wants to be the opposite sex.

Researchers call the phenomenon “rapid onset gender dysphoria.”

REICHARD: WORLD Magazine national editor Jamie Dean recently wrote about this trend and joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Jamie!


REICHARD: Well, let’s just start by defining rapid onset gender dysphoria. What does that mean?

DEAN: Well, we know that gender dysphoria is basically defined as distress over one’s birth sex. And for a few years now we’ve been hearing more and more stories stories about children, even young children, who tell their parents they believe they are the opposite sex.

Rapid onset gender dysphoria is different. As the name suggests, this is something that appears to happen very quickly. It’s a phenomenon where teenagers, usually teenage girls—who have never expressed or shown outward distress over their birth sex—suddenly declare they believe they are in the wrong body. And many of them want their parents and doctors to agree to give them cross sex hormones or even surgery to permanently alter their bodies.

REICHARD: Well, you know, some of this just sounds like a fad, if we have clusters. And we know young people can be easily taken in by fads, by what they think is fashionable or valued by society.

Jamie, what makes this especially dangerous?

DEAN: It does appear this happens in clusters – parents report their teenagers declaring transgenderism after a group of their friends declares the same thing. Some therapists have compared this to the clusters of eating disorders in friend-groups that they observed for a time. So several teenage girls who knew each other would suddenly become anorexic.

And just like eating disorders are very dangerous for the body, transgenderism is dangerous for the body too: Trying to alter your body in an attempt to become the opposite sex can do long-term damage to the body and soul.

REICHARD: One researcher you wrote about in particular has shone a light on this development. She even coined the phrase rapid onset gender dysphoria. Who is she and what has her research shown?

DEAN: Her name is Lisa Littman, and she is a researcher at Brown University. She conducted a survey of parents who were concerned about rapid onset gender dysphoria. They reported their teenage children suddenly expressing gender dysphoria after showing no signs of it, and after they had spent large amounts of time online or with certain groups of friends.

It’s interesting that the majority of these parents said that they are not opposed to homosexuality or gay marriage, and many of them consider themselves progressive. So this is not just a conservative reaction to this phenomenon—these were parents basically saying, I’m liberal, but I don’t think my 16-year-old daughter became transgender overnight, and I don’t want her to begin altering her body because she thinks that she is.

REICHARD: Tell us what happened when she published her findings?

DEAN: This study was not done in a vacuum. It was a peer-reviewed study that was approved by a committee and published in an academic journal. So Littman’s methods and questions and goals were approved in advance.

Still, when this study came out there was almost immediate backlash, particularly from transgender activists who said that it was completely invalid and offensive. So basically they were saying, these parents’ observations about their own children aren’t valid and shouldn’t even be heard.

The journal that published the study seemed overwhelmed and within days said they were going to look into the concerns over Littman’s methodology. Brown University didn’t pull the study, but it did pull the press release that publicized it.

A former dean of Harvard Medical School said he had never once seen a comparable reaction from an academic journal within days of publishing a study.

REICHARD: Wow. Some of the parents believe their daughters are suffering from what Littman described. What challenges do they have to overcome to be heard?

DEAN: They have to overcome an overwhelming cultural tide that says you can’t question transgenderism, even for the good of your child. And they have to overcome the fears that even doctors impose on them by saying: If you don’t go along with this your child might commit suicide.

REICHARD: Well, transgender activists don’t see this as a problem and are actively encouraging it. What are they doing to encourage young people to embrace gender dysphoria, rather than consider the long-term effects, in order, in other words, to see the whole picture?

DEAN: There is certainly a shaming of anyone who suggests transgenderism is a disordered reaction to what is often some form of very real distress that teenagers really do need help with.

But instead of encouraging teens to seek help for the underlying issues, whether mental or emotional or spiritual, the push is to only affirm what a confused 15-year-old decides about herself and to do whatever it is necessary to help her alter her body, perhaps forever. There are even guides online for how teens can convince a physician to prescribe hormones on the first visit.

REICHARD: And there’s a push to “confirm” gender dysphoria in young children. Where is this coming from and what is being done? Any pushback to it?

DEAN: The push is certainly to affirm whatever anyone believes to be true, and it seems especially illogical when it comes to young children that we have to guide in every other area of life, down to what they can eat for dinner.

But even doctors are pushing parents to give their children puberty-blocking drugs at a young age and then transition to cross sex hormones at puberty. There are whole wings of children’s hospitals devoted to his, despite the fact that these drugs have long-term consequences, including sterility in some cases.

There is some pushback from a handful of physicians and therapists who say we need to slow down, and realize no one knows what happens when you give a person cross-sex hormones for decades. Those voices are few and far between, but some of them have told me they think that there are lot more physicians and therapists who think this is a dangerous push, but are afraid to say so, which is sad for a profession devoted to the principle of doing no harm.

REICHARD: Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine. Thanks for joining us today.

DEAN: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Photo/Robin Rayne Nelson, ZUMA Press, Newscom) Teens march in a transgender pride march in Atlanta, Ga. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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