‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’ and ‘social contagion’ trans theories dismissed by experts

A silhoutte stands infront of a trans flag.

Major medical experts have dismissed the idea that being trans is a “social contagion” after an anti-LGBTQ+ study failed to get past an ethics board.

The study, titled “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria – Parent Reports on 1655 Possible Cases” and published in March 2023, was retracted in June following criticism from its publisher, who said it violated the editorial policies around consent.

Concerns were also raised by readers in May, who criticised the methodology described in the article, which the publisher said it was investigating.

Sixty-two medical providers in the US, including the American Psychological Association (APA), have previously denounced Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) as a non-legitimate clinical diagnosis.

The study’s author, Michael Bailey, described ROGD as a “controversial theory” that “common cultural beliefs, values, and preoccupations cause some adolescents to attribute their social problems, feelings, and mental health issues to gender dysphoria”.

He also claimed that “youth with ROGD falsely believe that they are transgender”.

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But, in an interview with Scientific American, several experts in the field have agreed that the idea of a “social contagion” among trans adolescents is “a real stretch”.

World Professional Association for Transgender Health president, Marci Bowers, told the publication that ROGD was simply a “fear-based concept that is not supported by studies”.

Bowers said that ROGD was being used to “scare people” or to “scare legislators” into voting for anti-trans legislation across the US.

“It’s cruel, cruel legislation,” they continued.

‘Rapid-onset parental discovery’

The term is believed to have originated from a 2018 paper by physician and researcher Lisa Littman, who conducted a survey of parents of transgender children – which the paper alleges were acquired from anti-trans websites and forums – to describe a child’s “sudden or rapid onset of gender dysphoria”.

Littman later issued a correction stating that Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is not a formal diagnosis after it was used by multiple anti-trans groups to justify discriminatory legislation in the US.

“This is not Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, it’s rapid-onset parental discovery,” Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Child and Adolescent Gender Center, told the publication.

“To talk about what children are thinking, feeling and doing, particularly as they get old enough to have their own minds and narratives, you need to interview them.

Ehrensaft also noted that, for many transgender children, parents can often be the last people they tell about their dysphoria, as coming out to family can be an incredibly terrifying prospect.

As a result, gender dysphoria in children can seem to appear “suddenly” from the parent’s perspective.

“In some ways, [kids] are far more advanced than I am, as somebody in my 70s, about how they live and understand gender,” Ehrensaft continued.

“So if we want to really understand gender, turn to the experts – and that would be the youth themselves.”

The recently retracted paper shared much of its methodology with the original 2018 study, and was co-authored in part by the mother of a trans child under the pseudonym Suzanna Diaz, who has no affiliation with an institution.

The information collected by Diaz was done prior to her collaboration with Bailey for the study. Bailey allegedly did not gain consent from the survey’s respondents, which he refutes.