Today, I’m going to tackle a few questions I’ve gotten from parents about Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.
What is Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria?
It’s a term to describe hypothetical teens who have been tricked by social media and peer pressure into thinking they’re transgender.
It has a scientific-sounding sheen. Once you get past the term and look into the actual research, you find that there’s not much there.
What is the evidence for Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria?
ROGD came from a single flawed study - not of teenagers - but of their parents.
What is even more concerning (than not studying teens directly) is how the parents were chosen.
Generalizability and representative samples
Let’s say I was trying to find out how many people in the world like football. I can’t talk to everyone in the world, but I can find a smaller sample of people to talk to.
If I were to survey people at a Texas Longhorns game, almost all of them would probably say they like football. Why else would they be there, right?
If I were to say that this study showed that everyone in the world liked football (and most of them liked the Texas Longhorns), that wouldn’t make sense.
The sample I surveyed at a football stadium doesn’t represent most of the world. If I were to generalize my results (say they applied generally) to the world at large, it wouldn’t work.
I know people at the football game probably like football. When I ask the question, I already know what the answer is going to be.
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria study’s sample problem
Much like trying to figure out the population of football fans from taking to people at a stadium, this study tried to find parents of “tricked” teens by only talking to parents who were likely to believe their children were confused in the first place.
What’s even more troubling is how this sample set of parents was selected: “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).”
In other words, this supposed study of ROGD is entirely based on the opinions of parents who frequent the very same three blogs that invented and vociferously promote the concept of ROGD.
- Julia Serano, Everything You Need to Know About Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria
The parents on these websites don’t represent all parents. Furthermore, they only can speak to their own perspective - not the actual experience of their children.
This study doesn’t show ROGD as a phenomenon. A more accurate conclusion of the study would be:
Parents who frequent anti-trans websites are likely to report that if their teens came out as transgender, it felt like it came out of nowhere.
Parents who frequent anti-trans websites are also likely to say they think the internet and social media are making children transgender.
That’s…not really groundbreaking.
It tells me nothing about parents who don’t visit those websites or about teenagers as a whole.
(The studies that look at a wider selection of parents and at teens themselves show robust evidence for gender dysphoria being an internal phenomenon).
But what if your own experience makes you think that your child might have ROGD?
My child came out all of a sudden, out of nowhere. Isn’t this a sign of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria?
Actually, it is very common for teens to make sudden declarations. It doesn’t mean that the realization is sudden, though.
In my experience, many teenagers sense that there is something uncomfortable about the gender they were assigned at birth. They might feel like it doesn’t fit right - that something is a little off.
Many teenagers go through periods of reflection and exploration before finally coming out to their parents.
Coming out as trans is huge. Most teenagers want to be sure of how they feel before they talk to their families.
My child said she learned a lot about trans stuff from YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram. Could the internet have convinced my child she’s transgender?
The internet can seem to be this big unknown, with temptations and propaganda anywhere. While it’s terrifying to think that our teenagers could have read something and become confused about their gender, that’s not how being transgender works.
Just like sexuality, gender identity does not have a social contagion component.
If you see an interview with a gay celebrity, such as Elton John or Neil Patrick Harris, they might talk about their husband or their decision to come out. If you’re not gay, hearing this interview will not turn you gay. If you are struggling with some aspect of your sexuality that just isn’t sitting right with you, this interview might stir up some feelings.
Teens can learn new things on the internet about gender. If they already have some feelings about their assigned gender not 100% matching their experience, they might connect with what they’ve read.
The internet isn’t planting new feelings, but giving teens a vocabulary to discuss the feelings that are already there.
Does my child have Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria?
While ROGD isn’t real, there are a number of other things that your teen may be dealing with.
In my experience as a therapist, here are some of the things that have been going on when a teenager makes a sudden declaration of gender (that are not ROGD):
Having complicated gender feelings and not knowing how to express them
Having complicated gender feelings and using language they learned online to express them
Concluding that they are transgender after a long struggle that they felt too ashamed or uncertain to talk about with others
Struggling with other depression/anxiety/trauma/body image issues that make it even more difficult to express and think about gender feelings
Being a teen is hard! Being a parent of a teenager is hard, too! There are so many confusing parts and times when it’s nothing like you expect.
Support for teens and their parents in exploring gender
Vered Counseling is a counseling clinic specializing in supporting transgender mental health.
If you want more support helping your family navigate gender issues, you can read more about my counseling for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and questioning teens. You can also read about support for parents of transgender teens.
To get started with any of our counseling and coaching services, please contact Vered Counseling today!
Being a parent of teens is hard, but it doesn’t have to suck forever.