By: Brynn Tannehill
19 Sep 2018
The latest tool in the effort to bring back conversion therapy doesn’t come out of the Bible Belt. Instead, it came straight from the Ivy League.
Lisa Littman of Brown University published an August 2018 article in the journal PLOS One which purports to show that transgender identities are nothing more than social contagion. In “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports,” Littman argues that trans youth who choose to transition at a young age are merely copying their friends in school.
It has attracted a lot of attention from mainstream researchers and trans advocates for its shoddy methodology, biased sampling, and unsupported conclusions. This criticism was sufficient for Brown to pull the announcement of the article from its website and PLOS One to declare that it would be reviewing the paper’s problems.
However, the greatest danger isn’t merely the promulgation of bad science, but the reality that it represents a backdoor attempt to undermine trans lives. Bad science happens all the time. However, this is bad science with an agenda. It encourages parents to reject the identities of transgender youth and to subject them to conversion therapy, the discredited practice of seeking to treat the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.
This isn’t speculative — it is right out in the open.
The study purports to show that transgender identities in teens are caused by interacting with other transgender teens online, referred to as “social contagion.” This erroneous conclusion was based on the observation that children seemed to come out suddenly after meeting other trans youth on social media websites. The article failed to address the much more realistic explanation that transgender teens with anti-trans parents look for support from other LGBTQ youth online because they fear the reaction of their families.
How Littman came to these false, damaging conclusions partially stems from the sources she used. The three websites from which Littman drew her research — 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and YouthTransCriticalProfessionals.org — have ties to anti-LGBTQ hate groups, as well as organizations and figures that promote reparative therapy. This includes the fake medical organization American College of Pediatricians and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, as well as noted anti-trans psychiatrist Dr. Paul McHugh, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins.
Her sources are effectively anti-trans lobbyists. These entities have compared affirming care for transgender teens to lobotomies and Nazi experiments while likening trans people to amputation fetishists. Meanwhile, the trio of websites cited post sponsored articles arguing that discrimination against transgender people is natural, are hostile to transgender youth, and advocate to prevent teens from transitioning.
Littman’s sources also promote the idea that a magic “cure” can change a person’s gender identity.