New study supports social contagion theory for surge in teen girls identifying as transgender

Adolescent-onset gender dysphoria disproportionately affects females.

Mia Ashton Montreal QC

A new study examining the recent epidemic of teenagers and young adults identifying as transgender has been published and the findings strongly indicate that social contagion is a factor in this new phenomenon.

The study by Drs. Michael J. Bailey and Suzanna Diaz, published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, examined a survey of 1655 parent reports to further investigate the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) hypothesis first put forward by Dr. Lisa Littman in 2018. Activists at the time accused Littman of transphobia and claimed her study was invalid, but evidence to support her hypothesis has only grown in the intervening years and this latest study indicates that, at least for some, ROGD is a disturbing reality.

The study is much larger than any attempt that has been made to study this cohort to date, and consists of parent reports from an online survey on the website Parents of ROGD Kids. The authors acknowledge the possible bias of their sample, but state that research on “children’s development in many domains has long depended on parent reports."

Notable findings in line with past studies show that adolescent-onset gender dysphoria disproportionately affects females, with the sample showing 75 percent females versus 25 percent males.

These young people had high rates of coexisting mental health issues, with 42 percent having a formal mental health diagnosis. The parents reported that, on average, the child’s mental health issues had started nearly 4 years before the onset of gender dysphoria. The most common issues were depression, anxiety, self harm, and “difficulty socializing with peers.”

Youth with mental health issues were observed to be far more likely to have socially or medically transitioned, which Bailey and Diaz state “is concerning because youth with mental health issues may be especially likely to lack judgment necessary to make these important, and in the case of medical transition permanent, decisions.”

55.4 percent of the parents responded “yes” when asked if their child had friends who “came out as transgender around the same time,” and that response was significantly higher for natal females (60.9 percent) than natal males (38.7 percent).

Social contagions are known to disproportionately affect adolescent girls and young women. Contagions of anorexia, bulimia, and cutting, as well as the contagion of multiple personality disorder in the 1980s, and even hysteria as far back as the late 1800s, all affected predominantly this demographic.

Among those who answered “yes,” the mean number of transgender friends was 2.4, and having friends come out as transgender was significantly related to the likelihood of social transition, particularly for females among whom 73.3 percent with “contemporaneous transgender friends had taken steps toward social transition, compared with 54 percent without such friends.”

Parents estimated that before developing gender dysphoria, their children were spending on-average 4.5 hours per day “on the internet and social media.”

Many ROGD parents report that their children spent hours and hours immersed in transgender culture online prior to announcing a transgender identity, and many detransitioners describe first encountering the concept of gender identity online.

Parents also reported that their child’s psychological functioning worsened after social transition, as did their relationship with their parents.

When asked whether any stressful events in their child’s life may have contributed to the onset of gender dysphoria, 72.6 percent of parents said “yes.”

“Inspection of specific responses suggested that these stressful events varied considerably in both their nature and severity. For example, a number of parents noted that the family had moved recently. Others mentioned the youth’s romantic difficulties.”

“But a few said that the youth had suffered severe physical or sexual abuse, and several mentioned that a friend or relative had committed suicide,” Bailey and Diaz noted.

Natal males began identifying as transgender nearly 2 years later than natal females. The authors offer two possible explanations for this. One being simply that females begin puberty earlier than males and that if pubertal changes contribute to the onset of gender dysphoria, earlier onset for females would be expected.

The other explanation is perhaps more controversial, relating to “the existence of different causes for gender dysphoria in natal females and males.”

“Specifically, one kind of gender dysphoria, stemming from autogynephilia—a natal male’s sexual arousal at the idea of being female—occurs only in adolescent and post-adolescent natal males and does not appear to have an analogue among natal females,” write Bailey and Diaz.

Trans activists will strenuously deny the existence of autogynephilia despite there being abundant scientific literature to support the theory. Dr. Ray Blanchard, the sexologist who coined the term in the 1980s, believes the reason for this denial is because autogynephilia complicates the task of selling transsexualism.

“If a guy decides he’s coming into work as a woman from now on, it’s one thing for him to say: ‘I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ve always been a woman on the inside,’ and quite another for him to say: ‘I’ve moved on from just masturbating in women’s clothes to wearing them all the time’,” Blanchard says in Helen Joyce’s book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of their study, most notably the concerns about the way the participants were recruited: using a website for parents concerned that their children are suffering from ROGD.

Bailey pointed out on Twitter, however, that studies that are supportive of social and medical transition for children are also biased because they are unlikely to recruit the kinds of families who participated in this study.

“The ROGD phenomenon (or more cautiously, the ROGD concept) is so new that nothing is known with much confidence regarding this population,” say Bailey and Diaz.

“Our study relies on information provided by parents who believe their children have ROGD and are thus unlikely to be supportive about their children’s transgender status and intentions to transition. Obviously, it would be highly desirable for future studies also to include parents with differing beliefs and attitudes,” concludes the study.

“Longitudinal data will be especially valuable, because all stakeholders in this controversy ultimately have the same goal: the long-term happiness of gender dysphoric youth.”


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