The Grapevine

Study Links Teen Gender Dysphoria To Peer Influence, Gets Criticized, Being Reevaluated

Much debate has ensued after experts and transgender activists raised concerns over a controversial study from Brown University. The recently published findings dealt with "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" in teenagers.

The paper titled "Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports" was published in the journal PLOS One on Aug. 16. It was solely authored by Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown University.  

The study dealt with gender dysphoria, which describes the distress experienced by someone whose assigned sex and gender do not match their gender identity. Littman sought to investigate the rising number of teens seeking care for this conflict in recent years, with symptoms arriving abruptly at times.  

Over 250 transgender teens as well as parents of teens experiencing gender dysphoria were recruited to fill out a survey, which the findings were largely based on. She believed there were certain patterns among these teens around the time they came out as transgender — some were likely to have friends who were transitioning while others increased their social media use around the time when symptoms began.

Littman's hypothesis was that teenagers who experience a "rapid onset" of their symptoms might be influenced by peers and social media. In other words, it was suggested their dysphoria may not be a sign of their transgender identity but a harmful coping mechanism.

Notably, this is the first academic paper to refer to rapid-onset gender dysphoria, a term which has been heavily criticized by transgender advocates. Symptoms that seem abrupt to parents may have actually been around for longer, albeit hidden well. Another concern revolved around parents who may use the term to dismiss or undermine the gender identity of their child.

The methodology of the study was also criticized since Littman recruited participants from websites like 4thWaveNow and Transgender Trend. These websites were aimed at parents who were concerned about transitioning children, many of whom may have been opposed to transgender individuals in general. While Littman acknowledged these limitations in her paper, the implications of the study were branded as inaccurate and damaging for teens struggling with gender dysphoria.

While the paper is still available online, the news story has been removed from the university website. Some have criticized this to be a form of academic censorship, others have supported the decision citing the aforementioned limitations and biases.

"The spirit of free inquiry and scholarly debate is central to academic excellence," said Bess H. Marcus, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. "At the same time, we believe firmly that it is also incumbent on public health researchers to listen to multiple perspectives and to recognize and articulate the limitations of their work."