After doing a little more detective work, I put together the following timeline detailing the recent history of these concepts and the websites that gave rise to them. This is a lengthy post (for the sake of thoroughness), but there are two main take-home points: First, the notion that "transgender is caused by social contagion" seems to have been invented by a reluctant parent of a trans child in February 2016. It was then reiterated by other parents and posters on these websites, and then was subsequently picked up and parroted by conservative media outlets and gender-disaffirming practitioners as though it were an actual condition rather than mere hearsay. Second, there was a lot of overlap and coordination between these three websites, and eventually with gender-disaffirming practitioners as well, in creating, popularizing, and disseminating these ideas – in other words, this was an activist campaign. There is nothing inherently wrong with activism, as we are all activists to some degree. But what I chronicle here challenges the typical framing (favored by mainstream journalists and pundits) that pits "concerned parents" and "objective scientists" against "biased out-of-control transgender activists." The reality is that both sides have agendas, in that we are both fighting for what we think is best for trans & gender non-conforming (GNC) children. (Although I believe that the existing evidence better supports the gender-affirmative model.)
The timeline is below. But first, two brief preliminary sections (which can be skipped over if you are already intimately familiar with these matters). There will be a brief summary at the end.
[& if you are looking for a "TL;DR" version, some of the major highlights from the timeline are covered in this Twitter thread.]
Note added November 2021: several more entries have since been added to the timeline – they are denoted by an asterisk just before the date. Perhaps the most significant changes are the PLoS One apology and correction of the Littman paper (see entry 3-19-19), three peer-reviewed critiques of the Littman paper (see entries 4-22-19, 8-10-20, and 11-17-20), additional healthcare groups penning position statements refuting the concepts of ROGD and "transgender social contagion" (see entries 8-21-19, 9-12-19, 9-30-19, and 7-28-21), and numerous peer-reviewed studies that directly contradict ROGD and its associated hypotheses (see entries 5-3-21, 11-15-21, and 11-29-21).
CAVEATS & DISCLAIMERS
If you are familiar with my past work, then you will know that I am primarily an essayist and scientist, and not really the type to delve into investigative journalism and/or engage in speculation. However, in this piece, I will uncover some evidence, connect a few dots, and may even make a few educated guesses regarding what may (or may not) have taken place. I have posted this on my blog (rather than on my Medium site, which gets far more traffic) so that no one can attach their own speculations, accusations, and other comments, onto this timeline.
Everything that I chronicle in this post (other than those moments when I explicitly state that I am speculating) is publicly available information that anyone with a google-machine can uncover. I did not "hack" or "stalk" anyone in the process of creating this timeline. While I provide proof (via links) of every instance that I document, it is quite possible that additional important events occurred that are not chronicled here (e.g., because they happened offline, or did not show up in my internet searches). Also, most of the links in this post will take you to the Wayback Machine (which archives webpages from the past) – this ensures that these links will still remain functional in the event that the webpages and tweets in question get deleted, moved, or locked.
The reason why I chronicled all this is because I believe that it is historically important (i.e., to know when and where these ideas originated) and pertinent to current debates regarding transgender health and gender-affirming vs disaffirming approaches. It is *not* my intention to "smear" or "destroy" other people. If I have made any incorrect statements, I am open to amending this post. Readers who have relevant information to add (or subtract) can contact me in a variety of ways, but whatever you do, please do not bother feeding me false information, as I will be reluctant to act upon anything that I cannot further verify for myself.
THE RELEVANT PARTIES
Throughout this piece, I will sometimes refer to the aforementioned websites (4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org) as "the 3 websites." These websites primarily function as blogs: New posts are published regularly, and readers can respond to them (and one another) in the comments sections.
Many of the readers/commenters/posters on these websites might be described as "reluctant parents," by which I mean that they have children who experience gender dysphoria and/or express a transgender identity, but they remain skeptical and/or reluctant to accept those experiences & identities – this is typically what leads these reluctant parents to seek out the 3 websites. People tend to reflexively sympathize with parents of trans children and their concerns, and this is somewhat understandable – even transgender parents of trans children often share these reluctancies, at least initially. But what separates the 3 websites from other support-for-parents-of-trans-kids websites is that they spread blatant misinformation about transgender healthcare and trans people, much of which is not only scientifically and medically inaccurate, but unjustifiably extremist (e.g., including comparisons with cults, predators, eugenics, lobotomies, brainwashing, grooming, etc.).
In addition to the 3 websites, I will also be noting potentially significant events regarding the first (and thus far, only) two individuals to have published papers in academic or research journals proposing "social contagion" and "ROGD" as a cause of transgender identity in children and teens: Lisa Littman and Lisa Marchiano. Littman is an MD and MPH whose previous research has focused almost exclusively on women's reproductive health matters. Marchiano is a LCSW and NCPsyA whose focus has been on Jungian psychoanalysis. While they come from very different backgrounds, they both seem to share two things in common: 1) prior to 2016, neither displayed any public expertise or interest in transgender people or trans health issues, and 2) starting in 2016, both interacted with one or more of the 3 websites, and would go on to play key roles in promoting the concepts of ROGD and "transgender social contagion" in more mainstream settings.
Other groups who will occasionally be discussed in this timeline include social conservatives (who generally oppose all LGBTQ+ identities) and TERFs (trans-exclusionary feminists, who more specifically oppose transgender identities & perspectives for different reasons) – in recent years, these two groups have increasingly worked together in their anti-trans efforts. Further into the timeline, I will discuss gender-disaffirming practitioners (for expedience, I will use the acronym "GDP") who continue to adhere to many outdated theories & practices, such as viewing trans identities as inherently psychopathological in nature, believing that there are "different types" of trans people, favoring gender-reparative therapies, and so on – I discuss some of their beliefs and rationales in other articles (e.g., here and here and here and in Chapter 7 of my book Whipping Girl).
Finally, there is me. Why am I even writing this piece? Well, I am a trans woman who has been participating in, and writing about, transgender communities for close to three decades. As a trained scientist (in biology), I have taken a particular interest in analyzing & reporting on research related to transgender etiology and health over the years – you can access these writings on my trans psychology/etiology webpage. Like most trans people, as well as most contemporary trans health professionals, I believe that gender-affirming approaches are far less harmful and more efficacious than gender-disaffirming ones. If you want to know more about my personal takes on "transgender social contagion," ROGD, and trans/GNC children more generally, I encourage you to investigate those three links.
P.S., if you come across any specific terms that you do not recognize, they are likely defined/described in my trans/gender-glossary.
March 17, 2015: the first 4thwavenow.com post is published.
According to their current "About" page, the blog was "started by the mother of a teenage girl who suddenly announced she was a 'trans man' after a few weeks of total immersion in YouTube transition vlogs and other trans-oriented social media." Their Tumblr byline (yes, they have a Tumblr) begins "Lefty, gender-critical mom..." and describes "TERF and Cis = verba non grata." The first couple posts are explicitly TERFy (even declaring that the site was for "women-born-women"), and the blog would become popular in TERF circles in fairly short order. It is clear that "girls" feeling "pressure" to transition was an early working premise on 4thwavenow (see e.g., March 23, 2015 post "How much pressure are you under to transition?").
November 18, 2015: the first TransgenderTrend.com post is published.
Their founder's name is explicitly stated in their "About" page, their language is not particularly TERFy, and (other than shared subject matter) there is no obvious connection between transgendertrend.com and 4thwavenow.com – i.e., they seem to have started independently. Unlike a lot of TERF rhetoric (which typically depicts trans people as a threat, and opposes physical transition in all cases), this introductory post takes a somewhat different tact, stating: "We’re not ‘anti’ transgender; those who suffer true ‘gender dysphoria’ need access to treatment, understanding and support..." This seems to be an early articulation of an idea that would ultimately form the basis of Littman's ROGD article & future GDP talking points (see e.g., entry for December 7, 2017), namely: while some children experience "real" or "regular 'ol" gender dysphoria, other kids these days are experiencing a new "fake" gender dysphoria that arises due to peer pressure/social contagion or is merely a "trend" (as TransgenderTrend's name explicitly suggests). I discuss the many problems inherent in this false dichotomy (i.e., old/real vs. new/fake gender dysphoria) in my ROGD essay.
December 4, 2015; December 23, 2015; January 7, 2016; January 31, 2016: social contagion "false positives."
I carried out my search on google by typing in a year (e.g., 2014, 2015, 2016) followed by the terms "social contagion" and "transgender." 2014 yielded nothing relevant. 2016 yielded numerous legitimate results (many are detailed below). 2015 yielded two potentially relevant hits, both in December of that year, and both on 4thwavenow.com. However, those posts did not include the phrase "social contagion" in the text; however, the phrase does appear in a tag below the post-proper ("transgender social contagion"). I then examined the original posts via the Wayback Machine (links above) and found that this tag was *not* actually included in the original post, but rather was added retroactively (albeit sometime before or by March 6, 2016). I am including this info here for thoroughness's sake, in the event that others attempt similar searches in the future.
January 28, 2016: Lisa Marchiano's first post on her blog thejungsoul.com.
Neither this piece, nor the first handful of posts, appear to contain any explicit references to trans & GNC kids. That won't happen until August 2016 (as discussed below).
February 20, 2016: Insofar as I can tell, the first ever claim that "social contagion" is turning kids transgender.
It occurs as a comment on the 4thwavenow.com "About" page, posted on February 20, 2016 at 5:27pm, under the handle "skepticaltherapist." Shortly thereafter, 4thwavenow.com turned this comment into its own post, called...
February 29, 2016: 4thwavenow.com publishes "Tumblr snags another girl, but her therapist-mom knows a thing or two about social contagion."
As noted in the previous entry, this is skepticaltherapist's earlier comment, posted along with a brief intro from the folks at 4thwavenow. There are several potentially noteworthy things about it, and the comments that follow it:
o It begins by referencing a Star Trek TNG episode in which the crew becomes addicted to an alien video game, then makes the following analogy: "The alien mind control device made its way into my home about two years ago when my then eleven-year-old daughter begged me for a Tumblr account since her friends all had one."
o In the piece, skepticaltherapist describes herself as a psychotherapist, later adding, "As a therapist, I mostly work with adults."
o skepticaltherapist says she found 4thwavenow.com by searching the internet using the phrase “social contagion trans.” This confused me at first, given that her comment and post are the earliest mentions of "social contagion" in the context of transgender people that I have been able to uncover. Upon further digging, I believe this occurred because three previous 4thwavenow.com posts (August 15, 2015; September 8, 2015; December 24, 2015) all mention "suicide/suicidal contagion" (i.e., the notion that people committing suicide can be contagious); that, plus mentions of "social" and "transgender" elsewhere in said posts or on the site more generally could have easily made it a highly ranked search result at that time.
o In the comment section, there is this brief exchange, which I found intriguing, and which I will reference again in the next entry. Namely, on March 1, 2016, in response to a commenter named "Em" (who describes themselves as an education professor with a similar story), skepticaltherapist replies: "I would love to be in touch and am percolating an idea or two."
o As I mentioned above in the social-contagion-false-positive entry, by March 6, 2016, 4thWaveNow added the tag "transgender social contagion" not only to this post, but to four previous ones that do not explicitly mention "contagion."
March 14, 2016 – youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org web-domain created & their first post is published on the same day.
Several notable points:
o Unlike previously mentioned websites (TransgenderTrend.com & thejungsoul.com), youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org *does* have potential connections with 4thwavenow.com. Specifically, according to Whois.Domaintools.com, they share the same Registrar and Registrant Organization – it is difficult to imagine that this is a complete coincidence. There seems to be two likely explanations. The more sinister one is that the folks from 4thwavenow.com created a "sockpuppet" blog to amplify their own voices and pose as "professionals." The second explanation (which I personally favor) is that the folks from 4thwavenow.com simply helped someone else start this blog (e.g., by recommending their service provider).
o There is also quite a bit of secrecy surrounding this website. For starters, unlike the other websites (4thwavenow.com & TransgenderTrend.com), youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org is currently marked as private and closed to outsiders, even though it had been public as recently as March 2018 (I will return to this point later). When I first noticed this last year (as I was working on my ROGD essay), I assumed that this was in order to protect parents' identities – as a trans person myself, I can certainly respect why a parent of a trans/GNC child might wish to remain anonymous. But when I accessed the site via the Wayback Machine for this piece, I found that they weren't actually a parent's forum. Rather, their main mission was to provide guest-posts from other "trans-critical professionals." While a few of these professionals' names and credentials are shared in these posts, many remain anonymous – they are listed simply as "clinician," "US physician," "UK academic," etc., with little-to-no explanation as to why they are qualified to speak about transgender health or trans & GNC kids. To put this in context, according to two recent polls of people in the U.S., 32% said that they believe society has gone too far in accepting trans people, and 17.8% said they did not believe that trans people should be allowed to transition. Seriously, it is not hard to whip up a bunch of professionals from various (and in many cases, unrelated) fields to say that they are opposed to, or suspicious of, transgender health! So the very premise of positioning these anonymous people as authorities on these matters – for readers who are predominantly parents of trans & GNC kids, no less – is sketchy and dangerous. Not to mention the fact that, because these "professionals" are anonymous, their personas and accounts could be partially or entirely fabricated for all we know – this wouldn't be the first time such a thing has happened on the internets.
o The founders of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org are also anonymous. In an April 5, 2016 4thWaveNow.com interview (see below), they are described this way: "Youth Trans Critical Professionals was founded by a psychotherapist and a university professor just a few short weeks ago." And on their "About" page, it states: "There are two principal authors of this site. One is a clinical social worker, the other is a university professor." Being a professor certainly sounds professional, but... um, what field exactly? Behavioral Economics? Dickensian Literature? Seriously, if their expertise was at all related or relevant to trans health and/or children, don't you think they'd explicitly mention that? And as for the "psychotherapist/clinical social worker," how much experience do they have with trans & GNC children? Actually, not all that much apparently, as during the aforementioned 4thwavenow interview, they say: "I have a private practice where I work mostly with adults, although from time to time, I do see adolescents." So in other words, like most of the "professionals" who guest-post on their site, youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org's founders are apparently unqualified to position themselves as "experts" or "authorities" on this particular subject.
o My speculation, based on the previous timeline entry, is that the "psychotherapist/clinical social worker" is skepticaltherapist – the one who invented the "transgender social contagion" idea in the first place. Several lines of evidence support this hypothesis: 1) both describe themselves as therapists who work mostly with adults; 2) "transgender social contagion" – which is a *brand new concept* (merely a couple weeks old at this point!) – is featured prominently in their first post, replete with analogies to "sexual and drug experimentation" in the 1960s and "eating disorders" of the 1980s (the latter analogy will later be featured prominently in many writings on "transgender social contagion," including Marchiano, 2017 and Littman, 2018); 3) the last time the handle "skepticaltherapist" appears on 4thwavenow seems to be in a comment on March 15, 2016. After being so excited about discovering 4thwavenow.com only a few weeks earlier, it would be strange if they just completely disappeared; however, if they started their own similar blog, their absence would make far more sense; 4) in the March 1, 2015 comment I posted in the previous entry, skepticaltherapist mentions that they were "percolating an idea or two" – perhaps one of those ideas was youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org? And who knows, maybe "Em" (the education professor from the previous entry) is the the "university professor"? Or maybe it's some other university professor? I have no hard evidence to prove any of this, but this is my best educated guess for now.
o Finally, if the reason why the founders remain anonymous is because they themselves are parents of trans/GNC kids (e.g., if they really are "skepticaltherapist" or "Em"), I can totally understand and respect that, although I don't understand why they wouldn't be up front about that fact, as it would only bolster their credibility (as they would have first-hand knowledge as parents in addition to being "professionals"). If, however, their anonymity is due to the fact that they are simply "sockpuppets" (i.e., anonymous online personas of other people who are already participating in these debates, thereby amplifying their own voices and creating the false impression that others agree with their cause and positions), well, that would be another thing entirely...
March 16, 2016: TransgenderTrend.com posts "New Site From Youth Trans Critical Professionals."
Basically, TransgenderTrend let youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org speak for themselves about their website and mission. And the "transgender social contagion" narrative begins to be further fleshed out: 'In many cases, these young people come to identify as trans after binges on social media sites such as tumblr, reddit, or YouTube. There is evidence that vulnerable young people are being actively recruited and coached on such sites to believe that they are trans. Social contagion is almost certainly playing a role as well. In many schools and communities, there are entire peer groups “coming out” as trans at the same time. In many cases, these young people may be suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression that leave them easy prey to the cult-like tactics on these online trans activists.'
April 5, 2016: 4thWaveNow posts "Do No Harm: An interview with the founder of Youth Trans Critical Professionals."
This is an interview with one of the founders of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org, presumably the "psychotherapist/clinical social worker" (as she is asked about her clients). The interviewer asks her about "social contagion," and they talk about that for a bit. While the founder makes many misleading and incorrect assertions along the way (which is par for the course on the 3 websites), this particular interview became notorious (in part, because of the next entry) for the fact that she expresses her belief that medical intervention for gender dysphoric people should be delayed until they reach the age of 25. In other words, we aren't simply talking about trans children here...
April 6, 2016: James Cantor promotes the 4thWaveNow/youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org interview the day after it is published.
He did so via Twitter, also adding that he thought the piece was "Daring and important." This garnered some attention in trans circles, as Cantor is a well-known GDP, and some interpreted this as him endorsing the trans-people-should-wait-until-25-to-transition position; however, I have not been able to find evidence of him explicitly stating this elsewhere. On the one hand, Cantor tweeting this interview is not entirely surprising, as he is known to sometimes share anti-trans/TERF articles with his followers. But what is notable is that Cantor is, to the best of my knowledge, the first GDP to be aware of & to promote any of the 3 websites, and more specifically, a post that claims "social contagion" is turning kids transgender.
[note: I have since been alerted to any even earlier tweet (from September 30, 2015) where Cantor promoted another 4thWaveNow post.]
April – June, 2016: I was able to find several more posts on the 3 websites that invoked "transgender social contagion" during this time period – it was starting to become yet another talking point on these sites by this stage. Although as far as I can tell from my searches, the idea still seems to have been mostly (if not exclusively) confined to these 3 websites during this period. But that would soon change...
July, 2016: Recruitment for Littman's eventual 2018 study begins.
As Littman describes in her eventual 2018 paper: "Recruitment information with a link to the survey was placed on three websites where parents and professionals had been observed to describe rapid onset of gender dysphoria (4thwavenow, transgender trend, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals)." Those actual recruitment posts can be found here:
--> July 2, 2016, on 4thWaveNow: "Rapid-onset gender dysphoria: New study recruiting parents"
--> July 5, 2016, on youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org: "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria Research Study: Recruiting Parents to Fill Out Survey"
--> July 18, 2016, on TransgenderTrend: "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria Research Study"
A few things are worth noting here:
o I have not done an extensive web-search of "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria," but my impression is that these posts introduced the term to readers of these websites (as I did not stumble across any earlier mentions of ROGD in my research).
o While Littman does not explicitly use the phrase "social contagion" in her survey recruitment, that is essentially what her survey is setting out to show, using language that we have become quite familiar with on the 3 websites: "We have heard from many parents describing that their child had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria in the context of increasing social media use and/or being part of a peer group in which one or multiple friends has developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during a similar time frame." Her eventual 2018 paper does discuss "social contagion" at great length, hypothesizing that it is a "key determinant" of ROGD.
o Despite my extensive research into these matters (both for this piece, and my earlier essay on ROGD), I have yet to find an explanation for why Littman – whose previous research had been centered exclusively on women's reproductive health – suddenly took interest in this particular project. Normally I do not question researchers' motives for exploring new projects and areas of interest, but in this case (for reasons that will become clear) I think it is warranted. One can imagine two possible scenarios: Scenario #1: Littman suddenly became genuinely interested in the field of transgender health and children more generally, and wanted to explore it; Scenario #2: she came to this field with a preconceived assumption, hunch, or belief that something was wrong with the gender affirmative model and/or allowing children & teens to self-identify as trans, and she was going to get to the bottom of it. If Scenario #1 was true, she probably would have 1) first strived to familiarize herself with the field (including the large body of research demonstrating positive outcomes from gender-affirming approaches, and the negative outcomes associated with gender-disaffirming approaches), and 2) if she were to design a scientifically objective survey for parents of transgender kids, she would surely want to disseminate it as far and wide as possible, both to increase the sample size and to make her study as demographically diverse as possible. She appears, however, to have done neither of these things: Littman 2018 never seriously engages with the body of research described in point 1, and with regards to point 2, she purposefully limited her survey to reluctant parents on the 3 websites. So Scenario #1 seems highly unlikely; in the next few bullet points, I will make the case for Scenario #2.
o Let's start with this question: How did Littman even find the 3 websites? As an experiment, I recently typed (in February 2019) "transgender children" into google on an incognito browser, and examined the first 10 pages of results (100 results total) – there were lots of info/resources/organizations listed, but none of the 3 websites came up. A similar result using the phrase "parents of transgender children" yielded only one result (a 4thwavenow post) on page 9 (roughly ninety results in). And that's now, here in 2019, after the 3 websites have all garnered significant attention (see below). But back in July 2016 (when Littman's survey was posted), 4thWaveNow had been around for a while (~15 months), but TransgenderTrend was only around for ~8 months old, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals had been active for a mere ~3 months – all of them would have been even more difficult to find back then. Honestly, it is hard to fathom that Littman randomly/objectively stumbled upon the 3 websites back then. The most reasonable conclusion is that either someone alerted Littman to the existence of the 3 websites, or else Littman purposefully sought them out (e.g., by actively searching for such reluctant parents/stories, à la "skepticaltherapist" back in February 2016).
o As an aside, for evidence that Littman might be the kind of researcher to purposefully seek out relatively rare instances (while ignoring far more common ones) because they better fit the story she wants to tell, look no further than her 2018 paper. Specifically, in Figure 1, she provides quotes from Reddit & Tumblr that supposedly constitute "evidence" that trans & GNC kids are being coached to lie and to deceive their parents & health providers. But if you very look closely at the sources from that figure (links labelled "a" & "d") you will find "#bottom-comments" in the links. As Hailey Heartless (who discovered this) explained to me, this means that Littman actively sought out "downvoted" comments on these threads – i.e., comments that other Reddit users had rejected (& which would normally not be seen by most users due to their being downvoted). Someone who would do this sort of thing might also be inclined to ignore all the gender-affirming parents & organizations that exist on the internet in order to find the relatively rarer reluctant parents who are sharing horror stories.
o Finally, as I already alluded to, the wording in Littman's survey recruitment (specifically, "increasing social media use and/or being part of a peer group") is eerily familiar and perfectly fits the "transgender social contagion" narrative that had been burgeoning on the 3 websites (but not yet elsewhere). One would imagine that, since she limited her survey to these 3 websites, she likely read some (if not most or all) of these "transgender social contagion" posts. Thus, Littman's survey & study appears to have been tailor-made to *confirm* the "transgender social contagion" narrative, rather than to critically examine or test it.
August 5, 2016: Lisa Marchiano posts "Divorcing Ourselves from the Feminine."
This is Marchiano's first blogpost (that I am aware of) that explicitly discusses young trans people, and it is framed in a manner similar to that found on the 3 websites, although there is no mention of "social contagion" or "ROGD" in the piece. Around this same time (July & August 2016), Marchiano began retweeting and interacting with the 4thwavenow Twitter account – so she is aware of the 3 websites (or at least this one) by or before this point.
August 2016: Social contagion goes viral in social conservative circles.
At this point (mid-August 2016), the notion of "transgender social contagion" (which is only about 5 months old) starts to go viral, as it is picked up by conservative media outlets. The following entries are but a few examples of how quickly this meme spread through conservative circles and among anti-LGBTQ hate groups, although it is not necessarily an exhaustive list. It is unclear to me why this happened at this particular time. Perhaps social conservative outlets got wind of Littman's ROGD study, or found the 3 websites via internet searches for "detransition" and "desistance" (which were also in the news at this time; see below)? Or perhaps someone from the 3 websites, or one of their readers, alerted these outlets about their presence? It could also be that the anti-LGBTQ group "American College of Pediatricians" (see entry August 19, 2016) sent out a press release to conservative outlets to promote their August 2016 position paper (although that wouldn't explain how *they* found out about them)? Or perhaps some combination thereof?... [Note: some of the articles below also reference related debates about detransition and desistance that were concurrently in the news due, in part, to Jesse Singal's recent writings on these matters, and also because Vox had just published an interview with me (on August 9th) about my essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates.]
August 11, 2016: The American Conservative publishes "Cease That Desistance!"
This piece links to both 4thwavenow.com & transgendertrend.com, and mentions "social contagion."
August 18, 2016: David French of National Review publishes "The Tragic Transgender Contagion."
Not only does "Transgender Contagion" feature prominently in the title, but they also link to both 4thwavenow.com & transgendertrend.com, and misattribute Littman's ROGD survey to the former (which led 4thwavenow.com to post a clarification on their webpage).
August 19, 2016: Zack Ford of Think Progress publishes "Fake Medical Organization Publishes Lie-Ridden Manifesto Attacking Transgender Kids"
As explained in that article, the fake medical organization in question is the American College of Pediatricians – according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, they are "a fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT junk science." As the article details, the "lie-ridden manifesto" (which you can read for yourself) explicitly cites (and reprints a lengthy quote from) "Youth Trans Critical Professionals," and mentions "social contagion" multiple times, including this passage that seems practically lifted from the 3 websites: 'there is also an increasing trend among adolescents to self-diagnose as transgender after binges on social media sites such as Tumblr, Reddit, and YouTube. This suggests that social contagion may be at play. In many schools and communities, there are entire peer groups “coming out” as trans at the same time.'
August 24, 2016: the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom posts (in their Weekly Digest 8-24-16) "On the Danger of 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria'."
This is basically a regurgitation of the aforementioned National Review article, including a link to 4thwavenow, plus the prominent inclusion of ROGD in the title.
After August 2016, it becomes extremely difficult (not to mention pointless) to search for anything involving "transgender social contagion" online, as the concept has become quite widespread by this point. It cannot be stressed enough that 1) this is a mere *six months* after the idea first appeared online!, 2) the hypothesis that "social contagion" causes transgender identities in children or teenagers has never been formally examined or tested, yet it's being discussed as though it were a well-established fact, and 3) numerous people (on the 3 websites and in conservative media outlets alike) are now writing articles about "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria" as though it was a legitimate medical condition, even though Littman was still accepting surveys from parents at the time (and would continue to do so through October 12, 2016). Anyway, from here on forward, I will only mention a few more noteworthy (in my mind, at least) "transgender social contagion" landmarks...
September 25, 2016: Lisa Marchiano guest-posts on 4thwavenow.
It's a lengthy post called "Layers of meaning: A Jungian analyst questions the identity model for trans-identified youth" that does mention "social contagion." Although it's mostly about Marchiano's beliefs that "young people" should not be allowed to self-identify or take any steps toward transitioning (even reversible ones, like social transition or puberty blockers). At several points in the piece, Marchiano makes it clear that (in her mind) this includes young adults, as expressed or insinuated in the following quotes:
o In describing a trans-themed Tumblr page, she laments: "Almost all of these posters are under 25 years of age."
o "Even 18 is probably too young to make such major medical decisions. In cases where the 18-year-old is making medical decisions based on a social transition that she or he began years earlier, it is possibly even more likely that that young person has not carefully considered the consequence of transition."
o "...teens and young adults are more likely to act impulsively, are unable to assess risks well, and are more emotionally reactive."
o "Don’t we owe at least as considered a process to someone contemplating making permanent changes to his or her body, especially when that person is a teen or young adult?"
o In the comment section, Marchiano adds: "To be clear, I do not think that 18 constitutes being a full-fledged adult. I am familiar with detransitioners who transitioned in their late twenties who felt that their transition was poorly considered and very much regret the permanent changes they made to their bodies. At what age is someone capable of making a mature decision about permanent medical intervention? I don’t know what the magic number might be, but it seems as though someone ought to be out in the world working and having relationships for some time before he or she can assess the impact transition might have and whether the changes are worth the losses and risks."
October 27, 2016: Lisa Marchiano posts "Guidance for Parents of Teens with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria."
Unlike the previous post, this is own her own thejungsoul.com blog. From the title, it obviously discusses ROGD, and it describes "social contagion" as its obvious cause.
December 15, 2016: Lisa Marchiano posts "What’s My Agenda?"
Wherein we learn the story behind why Marchiano became interested in this subject: "Until about a year ago, I hadn’t thought much about the issue of transgender teens and kids. I certainly would have agreed that trans teens deserve support and protection. Then an old friend contacted me about her teen daughter. This woman has been a close friend of mine for decades, and I have known her daughter from birth. My friend — I will call her B — told me that her daughter had decided she was really a boy, and was imploring her mother for hormone blockers. She had even done research on getting a mastectomy." And so on...
o For what it's worth, this account differs somewhat from the one she provides in her 2017 academic paper: "This topic first came to my attention in my practice. A patient reported that her daughter was identifying as transgender. I admired the way this mother attempted to support her child, and I marveled at the creativity of youth culture in challenging traditional conceptualizations of gender. My view of this cultural trend as benign collapsed in an instant, however, when I learned that young women were having mastectomies as young as 14."
o It is possible that both accounts are true (e.g., maybe she had the client first, then her friend came to her). Or maybe they are different renderings of the same event. I am not quite sure. For the record, I don't think this is that big of a deal, but I chose to include it for the sake of thoroughness.
February 2017: Lisa Littman publishes "Rapid Onset of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: a Descriptive Study."
This is a "poster abstract" for Littman's study, which appeared in Journal of Adolescent Health, February 2017, Volume 60, Issue 2, Supplement 1, S95–S96. While it is merely a short summary of her preliminary results, it did appear in a medical journal, so it soon became a common citation for those forwarding the notion of ROGD.
March 8, 2017: youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org publishes Lisa Marchiano's "A Letter to the APA."
I don't think that this is an especially important event – it simply came up when I searched all of the youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org posts that I could access with "Marchiano," and it was the only result. It is perhaps worth noting that 1) Marchiano did not post this on her own blog (see e.g., the front page of thejungsoul.com on April 19, 2017). So in other words, this wasn't a cross-post. 2) Marchiano's letter to the APA was dated March 6th – i.e., just two days before it was posted here. This seems to indicate that Marchiano and whoever runs youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org were in contact and coordinated this publication.
June 28, 2017: Katie Herzog of The Stranger publishes "The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren't."
While several news outlets had recently covered the topic of people who detransition, this is the first article (that I am aware of) in a mainstream (non-conservative-leaning) media outlet to mention both social contagion and ROGD as potential causes of gender dysphoria & transgender identities in children and teenagers, replete with a reference to Littman's poster ("...a study published this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health..."). For the record, Herzog requested to interview me for this piece, but I ultimately declined; my reasoning and response to said article can be found in my June 30, 2017 blogpost Stop pitting detransitoners against happily transitioned people.
July 1, 2017: Zinnia Jones of Gender Analysis posts 'Fresh trans myths of 2017: “rapid onset gender dysphoria”.'
This was an early critique of Littman's ROGD poster and methods, and the first article that I am aware of to detail the connections between that study and the 3 websites. Given the timing, I would imagine that Jones published it (at least partly) in response to the aforementioned The Stranger article (which is cited in it).
Up until this point (Summer of 2017), with the exception of James Cantor re-tweeting the 4thWaveNow/youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org interview the previous year (April 6, 2016), I did not uncover any evidence that well-established gender-disaffirming practitioners (GDPs) – i.e., those who have long been contributing to this field – were even aware of the 3 websites, Littman or Marchiano, or the concepts of ROGD and "transgender social contagion." This begins to change in mid-to-late 2017, when it becomes clear that these groups are interacting and (in some cases) collaborating with one another. To be clear, when I discuss these groups & individuals working together, I am not implying any kind of "conspiracy theory" here. To the contrary, these parties obviously share similar beliefs – specifically, that transgender is preventable and a "bad outcome" that should be avoided at all costs. Concepts like ROGD & "transgender social contagion" would certainly confirm GDPs' priors, plus provide a justification for the gender-disaffirming/reparative approaches they favor. So it makes sense that these individuals might choose to work together and further each others' causes.
*July 26, 2017: Lisa Littman poses with J. Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard, and Ken Zucker at the 2017 International Academy of Sex Research conference.
Ray Blanchard posted this photo to his Twitter account, and I deduced the location via the hashtag. I honestly don't think this is that big of a deal – I'm sure I've posed for pictures with people I barely knew or just met at plenty of conferences and other events. But since these 3 notable GDPs begin promoting ROGD in the following months, I thought that it was worth documenting that they had all met Littman in person by this point (if not earlier).
August 25, 2017: Ken Zucker publishes "Epidemiology of gender dysphoria and transgender identity."
Ken Zucker is a GDP most known for his practice of gender-reparative therapy (although he does not call it that). In this journal article (published in Sexual Health 14(5) pp.404-411), Zucker cites Littman's study/poster as follows: "There appears to be a new subgroup of adolescents who self-identify as transgender (and may well meet the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria). This putative new subgroup consists primarily of birth-assigned females, described by Littman as displaying ‘rapid-onset’ gender dysphoria. There is a virtual absence of childhood indicators of gender dysphoria and its abrupt appearance seems to be strongly associated with Internet contact with other transgender youth and a ‘clustering’ of recently ‘out’ transgender youth within the peer group." He goes onto suggest that this "new subgroup" may contribute to the recent increase in people identifying as transgender. It is worth noting that Zucker submitted this paper on March 24, 2017, only a month after Littman's poster was published, and prior to aforementioned photo being taken (see previous entry).
September 8, 2017: J. Michael Bailey and Ray Blanchard guest-post "Suicide or transition: The only options for gender dysphoric kids?" on 4thWaveNow.
While I generally disagree with GDPs' assumptions, approaches, and interpretations of the evidence, most of them at least conduct themselves in a professional manner, and are not explicitly disrespectful to trans people. Bailey and Blanchard are exceptions in this regard, and have a long history of being purposefully condescending and maligning toward trans people (see e.g., here and entry December 4, 2018). So I suppose that it's not a surprise that they would do a guest-post at the explicitly TERFy and often blatantly transphobic 4thWaveNow. This post is introduced as "the first in a series of articles authored by Drs. Bailey and Blanchard," although I could only find one other example (see December 7, 2017).
October 6, 2017: Lisa Marchiano publishes "Outbreak: On Transgender Teens and Psychic Epidemics."
Her journal article (mentioned previously), published in Psychological Perspectives (A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought), 60:3, pp.345-366. It mentions ROGD by name, and is the first academic article (that I am aware of) to formally forward the "social contagion causes transgender identification" narrative.
October 6, 2017: Lisa Marchiano publishes "Misunderstanding a New Kind of Gender Dysphoria" in Quillette.
For those unfamiliar with Quillette, they have garnered notoriety in recent years for publishing anti-feminist screeds, pro-TERF propaganda, "race [pseudo]science," and other alt-right-leaning perspectives. This article was published the same day that Marchiano's journal article came out, which suggests that Quillette was purposefully promoting the ROGD agenda (see also entry for March 19, 2019).
o It is the by-now familiar ROGD/"transgender social contagion" story, but this time with a quote in support of the concept from previously mentioned GDP J. Michael Bailey: '“We think this is an entirely distinct phenomenon from childhood-onset gender dysphoria,” says Michael Bailey, PhD a leading researcher on sexuality and gender, and a psychology professor at Northwestern University. “Indeed, we think it didn’t exist until recently. It is a socially contagious phenomenon, reminiscent of the multiple personality disorder epidemic of the 1990s.”'
o I remember when I read this at the time (before I was aware that he & Blanchard were doing a series of guest-posts at 4thwavenow) being struck by Bailey's use of "We" in that quote. Since the "we" in question is not specified, it makes it sound as though Bailey is speaking on behalf of the entire research community, which is most certainly not the case (although lay readers would never know this). In fact, I remember speaking at a transgender healthcare conference later that same month, and when I mentioned The Stranger & Quillette articles both promoting the "transgender social contagion" narrative, I heard audible gasps, because this was still such an obscure idea at the time. In retrospect (knowing what I've learned in putting this timeline together), I would guess that Bailey's "we" refers to the increasing coalition between GDPs, the 3 websites, Marchiano, and perhaps others (see April 29, 2018 entry).
|from BBC News: “Do left-handed people really die young?”|
One of the most frustrating aspects of "transgender is a trend/caused by social contagion" claims is that they presume that *all* of the pressure lies on the "being/becoming transgender" side. This ignores the far larger systemic pressures placed on individuals to *not* be/become transgender (i.e., transphobia, cisnormativity) – I discussed this in my aforementioned response to The Stranger article. In this essay, I show how the increase in children and adults who identify as transgender (which the 3 websites & GDPs attribute to "transgender social contagion"/ROGD) is more readily explained by the gradual decrease in transphobia over time, which has allowed individuals who are predisposed toward gender dysphoria to be open about their experiences & identities, rather than hide or repress them (as they may have in the past). As part of my argument, I made an analogy to the rise in left-handedness (from ~ 2% to 13.2%) in Western countries over the twentieth century, as stigma against left-handedness abated (as shown in this graph).
December 7, 2017: J. Michael Bailey and Ray Blanchard publish "Gender dysphoria is not one thing" on 4thWaveNow.
o Without getting too "in the weeds" on this: Blanchard invented a theory in the 1980s asserting that were "two subtypes" of trans women, each with a different cause. To this day, Bailey is one of the most die-hard supporters of this theory, even though it has been disproven (as I've written about at great length). This 4thWaveNow post expands upon Blanchard's theory – specifically, Bailey & Blanchard now assert (based entirely on anecdotal evidence) that there are now *five!* different types of gender dysphoria, each with a unique cause. (Ever heard of Occam's razor guys?) And one of these brand new types of gender dysphoria is... you guessed it: ROGD.
o And here is what Bailey & Blanchard tell parents to do if their child "has ROGD": "...do what you can to delay any consideration of gender transition. Of the different kinds of gender dysphoria, ROGD is the type for which gender transition is least justifiable and least researched. Remember, ROGD is based on a false belief acquired through social means. None of the aforementioned factors that have caused your child to embrace this false belief will be corrected by allowing her to transition." Keep in mind that, not only has ROGD *not* been shown to be a real condition, but it cannot be readily distinguished from "regular 'ol" gender dysphoria (most likely because there are not discrete "subtypes" of gender dysphoria). So basically, Bailey & Blanchard are encouraging parents to disaffirm their children's gender identities if they fall into this fairly large demographic (i.e., assigned-female at birth, come out as teenagers, and use social media).
o Way back toward the beginning of the timeline (November 18, 2015), I mentioned the false dichotomy that the founders of TransgenderTrend.com forwarded between supposed old/real versus new/fake types of gender dysphoria. This is essentially the same case that Bailey & Blanchard are forwarding here. And Zucker may have been forwarding it as well, when he described ROGD as a "new subgroup" (see August 25, 2017). Taken together, this seems to point to a concerted moving-the-goalposts-type strategy on their part: As more and more health organizations condemn gender-reparative therapies and gender-disaffirming approaches for kids with gender dysphoria, GDPs are now declaring that there are *brand new types of gender dysphoria* that presumably require different (read: gender-disaffirming) treatments.
Sometime between March 11, 2018 and May 23, 2018: youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org becomes locked to outsiders.
I have no idea why they decided to make the website private after it being public for so long (as I alluded to in the March 14, 2016 entry). Of course, it could be for completely benign reasons. For instance, from what I can gather via the Wayback Machine, youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org experienced a sharp decrease in (perhaps even a cessation of) posts by later in 2017 – perhaps the founders had simply decided to move on? But if so, why not leave the site up for others to find in the future? Or maybe they have since published new posts that they'd rather not allow the general public to see for one reason or another? Or maybe there is something in their past posts they'd rather not have people discover? Like I said, I have absolutely no idea. But in thinking about the timeframe, it strikes me that the site became locked just a few months before Littman's 2018 paper was published. Knowing that the 3 websites were all going to be mentioned in the article, perhaps youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org locked their site to avoid any potential attention or scrutiny? Another possibility is suggested below in the entry for April 29, 2018. Admittedly, all of this is conjecture on my part, and we may never know the answer...
March 22, 2018: Florence Ashley & Alexandre Baril publish "Why 'rapid-onset gender dysphoria' is bad science" in The Conversation.
This article critiques ROGD theory and arguments often made in support of the concept. It seems to be a response to then-recent moral-panic-type op-eds about ROGD published in the National Post (by Barbara Kay) and The Globe and Mail (by Debra Soh).
April 29, 2018: The first two Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup posts are published.
o I am not sure when the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup (gdworkinggroup.org) was first established (as I only learned about them in August 2018, when they posted a response to my ROGD essay), but this is the date that their first two blogposts were published. It purports to be "established as a space where clinicians and researchers can explore the evidence for different models or treatment", although other language on the site, plus their "Who We Are" page, indicates that their intent is to challenge the gender-affirmative model and promote gender-disaffirming approaches.
o The Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup members include: Lisa Marchiano and J. Michael Bailey (already discussed at length here); multiple GDPs formerly or currently from CAMH/Clarke Institute whose work I am familiar with, including Kenneth Zucker, Ray Blanchard, James Cantor, Susan Bradley; Michael. K Laidlaw & Debrah Soh, both of whom are known more for their anti-trans punditry than for any actual research they've conducted in the field. The remaining nine members (Roberto D’Angelo, Dianna Kenny, Tania Marshall, Oren Amitay, James Caspian, Alessandra Cavalli, Robert Withers, Sasha Ayad, Michelle Peixinho) I am less (or not at all) familiar with, although two of the names jumped out at me while putting together this timeline, as they were among the few non-anonymous professionals I saw featured on early youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org posts, namely, Robert Withers (see post on April 4, 2016) and Sasha Ayad (post on November 18, 2016).
o The first two posts on Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup (both on April 29, 2018) are as follows chronologically: The first post is an excerpt from, and link to, Marchiano's 2017 academic paper "Outbreak: On Transgender Teens and Psychic Epidemics." The second post is entitled "Clinical commentary by Robert Withers, Jungian analyst and psychotherapist." As I just said, I am largely unfamiliar with Robert Withers, as he doesn't have much of a history publishing in the field of trans healthcare. IMHO, if this site was spearheaded by one of the well-established/old-school GDPs, I highly doubt that they would lead with these two particular Jungian-themed posts.
o With the exception of a couple posts published by Roberto D’Angelo, all of the posts on gdworkinggroup.org (including the first two just described) were published by someone with the handle "Timetodream." Given that 1) the very first post was Marchiano's 2017 article, 2) it was immediately followed by another Jungian-themed post, and 3) Marchiano regularly writes about dreams and dream interpretation (see e.g., here & here & here & here), it is tempting to speculate that "Timetodream" is Marchiano herself (although I cannot prove this). This also raises the question of why a handle would even be necessary in the first place, given that all the members of the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup are supposedly openly listed on the "Who We Are" page? Perhaps she, or whoever "Timetodream" is, are trying to obscure the fact that they are the main person running the site?
o An alternative theory – which I admit is even more tin-foily – is that Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup is some kind of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org "2.0", albeit with more well-established GDP names associated with it. This might explain why youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org stopped posting regularly, and why that website became locked/private right around the same timeframe that gdworkinggroup.org seems to have become active. If true, this might also suggest that one or both of the founders of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org may be actively involved in creating/running gdworkinggroup.org, which might explain the need for an anonymous handle?
o All speculation aside, what I can say for sure is that the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup represents a confluence of well-established GDPs that many of us have long been familiar with, and relatively new anti-trans/trans-skeptical voices that came out of and/or were amplified by the 3 websites.
June 20, 2018: Zack Ford of Think Progress publishes "Atlantic cover story is a loud dog whistle for anti-transgender parents."
This article critiques a then-just-released The Atlantic/Jesse Singal article “When Children Say They’re Trans” for tacitly forwarding the concept of ROGD (and other 3-websites talking points) without ever explicitly using the term. In the course of the piece, Ford links to a tweet (from @4th_WaveNow) espousing that one of the mothers interviewed for Singal's article ("Jenny") is a part of 4thWaveNow. If you follow that link, then click on Jenny's tweet, and follow that thread up, you will find that the preceding tweet (from Brie Jontry, who 4thWaveNow lists as their "public spokesperson") says (with regards to Singal): "Oh, he consulted. Heavily. Families profiled are 4th families. That was the censors' line in the sand-removal of any mention of 4th." (Jenny further discusses The Atlantic's decision to hide any mention of 4thWaveNow in this post.) So to summarize: a supposedly "fair & balanced" article on trans kids relied "heavily" on parents/families who are associated with an explicitly TERF website (4thWaveNow) that is the birthplace of the "transgender social contagion" narrative, and which has been promoting that idea & ROGD for *two years* by this point, and the mainstream media outlet who published it (The Atlantic) purposefully omitted any mention of that fact (as a supposed "line in the sand"). This is yet another indication that the piece was never intended to be "open" or "objective"...
August 16, 2018: Lisa Littman publishes "Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports."
[*NOTE: the link above will take you to the original uncorrected version of the paper. The revised version, plus PLoS One's apology & explanation for the correction, can be found in entry 3-19-19 below.]
This is Lisa Littman's original PLoS One ROGD study, replete with entire sections on "Social and peer contagion" & "Hypothesis 1: Social contagion is a key determinant of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD)." Having been aware of the ROGD/"transgender social contagion" narrative for quite some time, I had already started working on a (then half-finished) essay about this theory. So when Littman's PLOS One article came out, I doubled my efforts, and ultimately published my essay (Everything You Need to Know About Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria) on August 22, 2018. I figured that there would be significant critiques of Littman's paper amongst trans activists and healthcare advocates, as many of us were already aware of Littman's 2017 poster (not to mention the concept being promoted on the 3 websites, conservative media, The Stranger and Quillette, and so on). What I was *not* prepared for was the backlash to those critiques (much of which took the form of "trans-activists-are-censoring-science!"), and which ultimately became a national news story. I responded to these later developments (and critiques of my ROGD essay) in Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, scientific debate, and suppressing speech, and in a later follow-up piece, Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria fallout.
September 4, 2018: "WPATH Position On 'Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)'."
A couple weeks later, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (who publishes the Standards of Care for Transsexual, Transgender, and GNC People) published a position statement, presumably in response to Littman's article and the many reactions to it. It reads (in part):
The term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)” is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association, nor is it listed as a subtype or classification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Therefore, it constitutes nothing more than an acronym created to describe a proposed clinical phenomenon that may or may not warrant further peer-reviewed scientific investigation... WPATH also urges restraint from the use of any term—whether or not formally recognized as a medical entity—to instill fear about the possibility that an adolescent may or may not be transgender with the a priori goal of limiting consideration of all appropriate treatment options in accordance with the aforementioned standards of care and clinical guidelines.
*November 13, 2018: Psycritic posts "The "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria" Controversy at AACAP's Annual Meeting."
Psycritic (a blog by a child psychiatrist) recounted attending Lisa Littman's session at that year's Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). It discusses the overwhelmingly critical response Littman's talk on ROGD received from other healthcare professionals in attendance, and the fact that she admitted never having worked with transgender patients before.
*November 28, 2018: Psychology Today publishes "Why Is Transgender Identity on the Rise Among Teens?"
This pop-psychology article further promotes the notions of ROGD and "transgender social contagion," while adding further speculation that “Mass Psychogenic Illness” may also be contributing to these recent demographic trends. I critique the article (and especially the latter premise) in my essay Mass Psychogenic Illness: The Latest Make-Believe Cause of Transgender Identity. The Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group issued a response (which I co-signed) to Psychology Today on 12-3-18 critiquing both their article and the concept of ROGD.
December 4, 2018: three members of the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup sign letter applauding the Trump Administration's efforts toward rescinding transgender rights and anti-trans discrimination protections.
The anti-LGBT hate group American College of Pediatricians (mentioned previously in entry August 19, 2016) published this letter, and it is full of pseudoscientific claims, outright denies the existence of gender identity, and encourages the administration to treat transgender people according to their "biological sex" (which would eliminate both legal recognition, as well as access to all trans-related healthcare). Along with notable social conservatives and anti-LGBTQ advocates, three members of the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup (see entry April 29, 2018) – namely, J. Michael Bailey, Susan Bradley, and Michael. K Laidlaw – signed onto that letter, suggesting that the GD Workinggroup as a whole (or at the very least, some of its members) may harbor political ambitions far beyond questioning the gender-affirmative healthcare model.
*January 23, 2019: Mallory Moore publishes "Gender Ideology? Up Yours!"
I found out about this piece from the author shortly after I published this timeline. Moore had performed a similar investigation to the one I pursued here, but instead of searching for "transgender social contagion," Moore searched for the phrase "gender ideology" (which is often used to demonize trans activists) and chronicled its evolution from an exclusively Christian & Catholic meme to one that has since been taken up by gender critical/TERF activists. Notably, this cross-pollination seems to have first occurred around March to August of 2016 – the exact same time period that the religious right began appropriating the concept of "transgender social contagion" from blogs like 4thwavenow (as I've chronicled here). This suggests that these groups (or at least some of their members) may have been in communication, or perhaps even began actively working together, around this time.
January 30, 2019: Jamie Dean of WORLD News Group publishes "Pressure to conform."
This is an explicitly Christian publication, and it has the predictably slanted bias of "LGBT activists are dialing up the heat on parents and researchers who question transgender dogma." I wouldn't have bothered including it here except for the fact that it mentions this regarding J. Michael Bailey:
"Bailey’s working on a study similar to the one Littman released last year. He’s conducting a survey in conjunction with the website Parents of Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria Kids. (He notes it’s possible some of the same parents may respond to his survey as responded to Littman’s study.) He says the study will likely be published later this year, but so far, he says the results are very similar to what Littman found."
Basically, this new Bailey study sounds like a re-hash of Littman's study, with the same fundamental flaw: sampling only parents who already believe that their kids have ROGD, from a website literally called "parentsofROGDkids.com," in order to "prove" that ROGD exists (ever heard of begging the question?).
February 13, 2019: Diana Tourjée of Broadly publishes "New Bill Aims to Prevent Gender Dysphoria 'Disease' From Spreading to Kids."
This article is about the South Dakota House passing Bill 1108, which states: "No instruction in gender dysphoria may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state." The article delves into how a growing belief in "transgender social contagion" has informed this bill, and how it will effectively "prevent [teachers] from being able to support students who identify as transgender."
*March 19, 2019: PLoS One republishes Littman's paper as "Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria."
Along with the revised paper, PLoS One also published Correcting the scientific record on gender incongruence – and an apology, which reads in part: ". . . we have also determined that the study, including its goals, methodology, and conclusions, were not adequately framed in the published version, and that these needed to be corrected. The changes include revisions of key sections such as title and abstract, which required us to republish the paper, allowing us to update the indexing of the article whilst preserving the original citation information." For those who want to get "into the weeds" on the PLoS One review & revision, here are additional links:
o Formal comment on: Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria, by Angelo Brandelli Costa, who conducted the review.
o Correction: Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria – this is Lisa Littman's formal correction notice. Littman also released statements via the Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup (see also entry 4-8-18) and in a same-day interview with the alt-right-leaning/social-contagion-promoting Quillette (see also entry 10-6-17).
o The Chronicle of Higher Education published Journal Issues Revised Version of Controversial Paper That Questioned Why Some Teens Identify as Transgender.
*April 22, 2019: Archives of Sexual Behavior publishes 'Methodological Critique of Littman’s (2018) Parental-Respondents Accounts of “Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria”.'
This peer-reviewed critique was authored by Arjee Javellana Restar; it is "open access," so anyone can read or download it via the link. It thoroughly details the scientific and research flaws in Littman's paper with regards to framework and premise, consent, enrollment, selection and sampling, measurements, and analyses. A mainstream article about the critique and ongoing ROGD debates can be found in the BuzzFeed article Gender Dysphoria Isn’t A “Social Contagion,” According To A New Study.
*August 21, 2019: Brown University School of Public Health Faculty Members Committed to LGBTQI Affirmative Health Research publishes "A Letter on Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria."
This statement from Lisa Littman's colleagues at Brown University expresses their concerns about the "ROGD lobby" and "ROGD agenda," and how such efforts are an attempt to undermine transgender research, healthcare, and people.
*September 12, 2019: The Australian Psychological Society (APS) publishes "APS Refutes ‘Social Contagion’ Arguments."
The Australian Psychological Society released this statement "challenging the unfounded claim that social media influences the gender of young people" . . . “Empirical evidence consistently refutes claims that a child’s or adolescent’s gender can be ‘directed’ by peer group pressure or media influence, as a form of ‘social contagion’,” . . . “To say that there is a trans-identity crisis among young Australians because of social media pressure is not only alarmist, scientifically incorrect and confusing, but is potentially harmful to a young person’s mental health and wellbeing."
*September 30, 2019: The Australian Professional Association for Trans Health (AusPATH) publishes 'POSITION STATEMENT ON "RAPID-ONSET GENDER DYSPHORIA (ROGD)".'
Like the WPATH Position On 'Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)' before it, this statement refutes the notion that ROGD is a recognized condition, and goes on to say: 'Whilst many have a clear picture of their gender from a very early age, for others the journey towards understanding their gender is more prolonged. The timing of when an individual discloses their gender to others is a separate consideration and does not necessarily reflect the development of their experienced gender. Many do not disclose their identity, rather hiding it for fear of negative reactions from others, including family rejection, discrimination, stigmatisation and social exclusion. The term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” is not, and has never been, a diagnosis or health condition but has been used in a single report describing parental perception of their adolescent’s gender identity without exploration of the gender identity and experiences of the adolescents themselves.'
- Arnold H. Grossman, Anthony R. D'Augelli, Tamika Jarrett Howell, and Steven Hubbard, "Parent' Reactions to Transgender Youth' Gender Nonconforming Expression and Identity," Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 18, no. 1 (2008): 3-16. [PDF link]
- Arjee Restar, Harry Jin, Aaron Samuel Breslow, Anthony Surace, Nadav Antebi-Gruszka, Lisa Kuhns, Sari L. Reisner, Robert Garofalo, and Matthew J. Mimiaga. "Developmental milestones in young transgender women in two American cities: Results from a racially and ethnically diverse sample." Transgender health 4, no. 1 (2019): 162-167.
- Kuper, Laura E., Louis Lindley, and Ximena Lopez. "Exploring the gender development histories of children and adolescents presenting for gender affirming medical care." Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology 7, no. 3 (2019): 217.
- Jae A. Puckett, Samantha Tornello, Brian Mustanski, and Michael E. Newcomb. "Gender variations, generational effects, and mental health of transgender people in relation to timing and status of gender identity milestones." Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (2021).
- Julia C. Sorbara, Hazel L. Ngo, and Mark R. Palmert. "Factors associated with age of presentation to gender-affirming medical care." Pediatrics 147, no. 4 (2021).
This timeline chronicles how vague assumptions held by reluctant parents (e.g., that transgender is just a "trend," or that kids today feel "pressure" to be trans) became codified into two medical-sounding "causes" or "conditions" ("transgender social contagion" & "rapid onset gender dysphoria") over a six-month period of time (February – July, 2016) on three anti-trans/trans-skeptical websites. Shortly thereafter, these terms were picked up and promoted, first by social conservative media outlets, then by gender-disaffirming practitioners, some of whom now cite them in their advocacy for gender-disaffirming/reparative approaches.
It is sadly fitting that the last entry upon my publishing this timeline (February 13, 2019) is the South Dakota House passing Bill 1108, as this is precisely what many transgender advocates and healthcare experts have been warning about: If being transgender is presumed to be "contagious" (for which there is nothing but circumstantial evidence, and with far more plausible alternative explanations), then that could be used as a justification for not only disaffirming individual trans kids' identities, but also suppressing or outright censoring transgender voices and perspectives, and "quarantining" or excluding trans children & adults from schools and communities, under the pretense that they are "contagious" and will likely "infect" other people. This is precisely why the idea is being pushed so heavily by social conservatives, TERFs, anti-LGBTQ hate groups, and others who want to "morally mandate" trans people out of existence.
While TERFs, social conservatives, gender-disaffirming practitioners, and reluctant parents may all differ from one another in their presumptions, beliefs, and motivations, this timeline reveals the numerous ways in which they have interacted, enabled, and/or collaborated with one another in their promotion of the "transgender social contagion" narrative, as a means to re-establish gender-disaffirming approaches and to restrict trans & GNC kids' access to information and affirmative healthcare. Even if you think that they are correct, and that gender-affirming practitioners and approaches are incorrect, it is utterly naive to believe (given the timeline I've laid out here) that the latter are "activists" while the former are not.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING (by the author)
- Everything You Need to Know About Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria
- Transgender Agendas, Social Contagion, Peer Pressure, and Prevalence
- Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates
- The Superstition that LGBTQ+ People Are "Contagious"
- Reframing "Transgender Desistance" Debates
- Transgender People and "Biological Sex" Myths