Why ‘rapid-onset gender dysphoria’ is bad science

Florence Ashley of McGill University and Alexandre Baril of the University of Ottawa explore the questionable research around ‘rapid-onset gender dysphoria’.

A few decades ago, sexologist Ray Blanchard suggested that trans lesbians — trans women who are solely attracted to other women — were in fact men whose misguided heterosexuality led them to be aroused by the thought of being women.

Blanchard’s theory has since been put to rest by careful analyses and scientific studies. Despite being discredited, the theory remains popular among opponents of transgender rights.

Another idea is now making the rounds in anti-trans circles: “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”

The theory suggests that youngsters are being misled into claiming a trans identity before they truly understand what that means. They are supposedly influenced by the internet, social media and peers.

It is presented as a critique of the gender-affirmative model of therapy, which encourages supporting the child through their journey of exploration and affirmation of their gender identities, without expectations as to the result.

Debra Soh and Barbara Kay’s recent pieces in The Globe and Mail and National Post bring this previously underground notion into the mainstream.

They claim that rapid-onset gender dysphoria contradicts gender-affirmative care, which they misleadingly portray as pushing children to transition.

This idea shares much in common with that of Blanchard’s earlier theory.

It conveniently pulls on heartstrings by calling us to defend our children, much as Blanchard’s work appealed to our sexual puritanism. It distinguishes “good,” true transgender people from “bad,” fake trans people, allowing proponents to claim that they have nothing against trans people — well, at least the real ones.

Theories which rely on the idea of “contagion” in order to invalidate marginalised identities are not new. The same has happened with other marginalised groups, such as gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Young people were thought to be misled by the “gay agenda” into mistakenly and rashly claiming a queer identity.

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