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Indiana and Idaho recently became the latest states to sign laws banning transgender surgeries and treatments for minors. They join 10 other red states to pass such bills this year alone, while at least a dozen more are considering them.
The issue has sparked fierce debate throughout the medical community, with some hospital directors and medical associations demanding more surgical options for children who believe they’re transgender. Many parents and lawmakers, meanwhile, argue that kids are getting caught up in a dangerous, life-altering fad.
But talk to medical professionals privately, and they’ll tell you that research on the impact of transgender surgeries, cross-sex hormones, and puberty blockers on children is extremely limited. That appears to be how trans activists want it.
One of the first major studies on the issue created a storm of controversy when it was released five years ago. Dr. Lisa Littman of the Brown University School of Public Health published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal, “Public Library of Science” (PLOS), that found adolescents who believe they’re transgender are often influenced by their peer group and social media — what she termed “social contagion.” The phenomenon was so different from anything documented in previous scientific literature on transgenderism — in that it came on suddenly in the tween and teen years and was happening to primarily to girls — that Littman, who holds both an MD and PhD, coined a new term for the condition: “rapid onset gender dysphoria.”
At first, Brown was happy to celebrate Littman’s groundbreaking study, highlighting it in on the university’s news site. But when the LGBTQ activists began targeting Littman and the school on social media, they took it down and issued a statement apologizing to the “trans community.” PLOS, meanwhile, took the unusual step of announcing it would be putting the study through a second round of “expert assessment.” As a veteran public health researcher, their reactions took Littman completely by surprise.
“I’d heard some inklings online before publication and I thought maybe there’d be, you know, some people who were not pleased, but that’s nothing new in public health,” she told YouTube personality Marcus Dib. “So at Brown it was interesting that the first emails I received were, ‘Congratulations for shedding light on a very complicated topic.’… There were people who were very upset by the research and were making claims that it was transphobic and they were tagging the university and the journal. …Then it became fraught.”
In order to continue her research, Littman left Brown and formed her own gender dysphoria research institute. But the damage to free inquiry on the subject of youth trans treatments was done. Grove City College sociologist David Ayers told me Littman’s name became a cautionary throughout academia even as other experts verified her findings.
“A psychologist in Psychology Today basically verified everything that she said,” Ayers said. “So what we’re seeing is this pattern that is very real. But [the psychologist] hadn’t gotten the memo yet and didn’t realize that the marching orders were, ‘You have to trash this concept, even though everybody’s literally seeing it.’”
Even today, to mention findings like Littman’s is to face speech suppression. At a March 27th school board meeting outside of Milwaukee, district resident Steve Broadwell offered measured criticism of the LGBTQ curriculum on the basis of expert findings on social contagion and was shut down for spreading “hate speech.”
Thus, few researchers have been willing to take on the subject until Michael Bailey, psychologist at Northwestern, published a study last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that confirmed Littman’s findings.
Working from the largest sample ever assembled on the issue Bailey surveyed more than 1,600 reports from parents of youth between 11 and 21 who felt their child was experiencing rapid onset gender dysphoria. Though it relied on the accounts of parents who were concerned that their child’s claims to be transgender might not be authentic, the majority described their politics as Left of center and were therefore more likely to be in sympathy with the LGBTQ movement as a general principle.
Just like Littman, Bailey found that in most of his cases the children did not exhibit signs of feeling like the opposite gender from a young age and their dysphoria came on suddenly as they entered adolescence. “That is really inconsistent with what we knew about gender dysphoria until about 10 years ago when these cases became common,” Bailey told me.
Another key finding that confirmed Littman — 42% of the youth in Bailey’s study were diagnosed with other mental health issues before they began to feel they were transgender. More than 72% had experienced some stressful event that precipitated the belief, including relationship problems, abuse, or the suicide of someone in their circle of family or friends.
“The most common [diagnoses of the children] were depression and anxiety,” Bailey said. “And on average parents said that the emotional problems preceded any complaints about gender by almost four years. That’s a long time. So it appears that these youth had longstanding issues. And then, for whatever reasons that we’re trying to understand, came to the conclusion that they were transgender.”
Bailey’s conclusions dovetail with anecdotal observations from journalists like Brandon Showalter who has covered the issue deeply for The Christian Post and recently contributed to the documentary “Dead Name,” which explores the impact a child’s transitioning has on his or her family.
“Detransitioners are now starting to raise their voices and speak about how they were irreversibly harmed,” Showalter told me. “They will tell you, ‘I was actually struggling with a lot of other things, none of which were examined by mental health professionals who I thought were going to help me. Instead, I was just affirmed right away and told that I needed to explore undergoing this kind of experimental medicalization like blockers, hormones, or surgery.”
Showalter said the medical establishment is “failing a lot of vulnerable people who are in very real pain.”
Detransitioners like Chloe Cole say that is exactly what happened to her. Doctors began transitioning her at 12 years old, administering puberty blockers and testosterone. She was then given a double mastectomy at age 15. At 17 she realized she had made a mistake. “I was quite lonely throughout high school, I did end up developing depression. And this was, this is a big thing driving that definitely,” she recently told Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and host of the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast on DailyWire+.
For his study, Bailey went looking for explanations for why adolescents have increasingly looked to transitioning as the solution to their struggles. Once again, his findings confirmed Littman’s hypothesis that children are responding to social influences around them, including peer groups and also social media. That could explain why 75% of the parents in Bailey’s study were seeking advice about their daughters, as girls are historically much more susceptible to peer pressures. And, in fact, 60% of the parents reported that their daughter had a friend who “came out” as transgender about the same time they did.
“Those of us who can remember the 1990s may also remember the epidemic of recovered memories of sexual abuse – these were typically young women, not adolescents, but young adult women,” said Bailey. “In therapy they came to believe that their fathers had sexually abused them despite having no memory of that coming into therapy. Most people now believe these memories were entirely false, but depended on suggestion and social contagion. There was also a related epidemic of multiple personality disorder.”
The one other major factor the parents cited in their child’s desire to transition was the medical establishment itself. Three hundred and ninety parents had visited a gender clinic or specialist and of those, 52% said they felt pressured to treat their child with hormones, blockers, and surgeries. The rest were an even split between saying they weren’t pressured or weren’t sure.
“Contact with the gender specialist was an especially strong predictor of child transition,” said Bailey.
Most alarming about this reality is that another study out of England, published in April in “The Archives of Sexual Behavior” found that the recommendations healthcare professionals are giving parents to transition their children are not improving their well-being.
“It showed conclusively using professional diagnosis that socially transitioned kids weren’t doing any better,” Ayers said. “I’m sure that’s going to be attacked too even though that’s not based on parents’ perceptions, that’s based on political judgments based on referrals of a gender clinic in the U.K., not exactly a bastion of conservatism. Yet parents are still being told they’re not allowed to exercise judgment. They have to basically go along with whatever their child wants.”
Some critics are already arguing that Bailey’s study should be dismissed because a survey of parents who had concerns about their child’s dysphoria represents a biased sample. But Bailey pointed out that studies cited by trans activist groups like The Trevor Project did not recruit families who believe that what they’ve experienced is gender dysphoria.
Indeed, the participants in a study that trans activists often cite were recruited through social media ads targeting youth who already identified as part of the LGBTQ community. And unlike Bailey’s study, it suffered from conflict of interest issues thanks to funding from the drug companies like Arbor and Pfizer, both of which produce off-label puberty blockers.
The issue, Baily said, comes down to whether we believe moms and dads are in a position to assess their own child’s well-being.
“Our sample was biased in that these parents didn’t really believe that their kids had actual gender dysphoria. So our results really do apply mainly to that subgroup,” Baily conceded. “The question is are these parents so biased that they can’t see what’s in front of their eyes watching their children grow up. My inclination is to believe that these parents were on average accurately observing their children. And they saw things that were concerning to them, and that’s very consistent with some other studies.”
Ayers argued that it doesn’t make sense to discount the judgment of the people who have the most sustained ability to observe and report on what’s happening with these children — their parents.
“There is presently no reason to believe that reports of parents who support gender transition are more accurate than those who oppose a transition,” he said. “When the parents agree with the Left, we can trust them but when the parents don’t agree with the Left, even when they’re clearly Left-wing themselves, apparently their views are suspect? Is a 25 year old graduate of a liberal education department at a state university, who’s known your child for two months in a better position to tell you what your child needs and what’s really going on than you, their mother?”
I asked Bailey if he’s concerned that his own research will be subject to the same cancellation campaign Littman faced. He told me serious scientists can’t let the prospect of backlash daunt them.
“One has to have a thick skin,” he said. “And one has to realize that there is a lot of controversy out there and try not to take premature positions. But that’s my foremost identity and goal is to be a scholar.”