A Brown researcher slams the 2018 study — from a different researcher at Brown — which found teenagers were identifying as trans due to “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”
April 22, 2019
A controversial study claiming that some teens abruptly decide to change genders due to peer pressure was deeply flawed, according to a scathing new scientific critique.
The original 2018 study used a new term — “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” or ROGD — to describe certain young adults, typically those assigned female at birth, who develop gender dysphoria due to “social and peer contagion.” The paper has been widely cited, particularly in conservative media, to cast doubt on many gender-nonconforming people’s experiences by framing trans identification as a trend, phase, or disease.
But scientific critics and trans advocates have long criticized the methods chosen by the paper’s author, Lisa Littman of Brown University. Within a week of its publication in August 2018, PLOS One, the journal in which the study appeared, announced that it would seek “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses,” citing reader concerns. This, in turn, prompted Brown to remove a press release touting its findings. Just last month, PLOS One published a correction and an apology, while also noting that the study’s results were largely unchanged.
Arjee Restar, a trans researcher in the same department as Littman at Brown, told BuzzFeed News that even in the corrected version of the study, “the methods remain unchanged, flawed, and below scientific standards.”
Frustrated by how the work was handled by the journal and her own institution, Restar, a trans graduate student at Brown’s School of Public Health, wrote the new critique, the most thorough and damning description of the research to date.
Restar’s study, published today in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, points to several methodological problems, such as relying on survey responses from parents who had visited sites promoting anti-trans views, and biasing their responses with the wording of the study’s consent forms. Littman’s approach, Restar contends, pathologizes trans people. “It’s important to use methods and terminologies that don’t further stigmatize an already disenfranchised community,” she said.
Littman declined to discuss the new critique with BuzzFeed News. But in an interview with the website Quillette last month, she stood by her research, saying, “Overall, I am very pleased with the final product and [with the fact] that my work has withstood this extensive peer-review process.”
Since its publication last year, Littman’s study has reverberated widely throughout many distinct communities, from parenting websites to lawmakers to health care professionals.
Last October, for example, more than 1,000 parents of gender-nonconforming children wrote a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics begging them to reconsider their trans-affirming health care policy recommendations. The letter cites Littman’s work as “a recent groundbreaking study” about trans-identified youth that “finds significant parallels with the phenomenon of eating disorders, and includes social contagion as a key factor.”
The American College of Pediatricians, classified as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, cites Littman’s study to advocate against trans-affirming health care; its representatives recently met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill fight the passage of the Equality Act. And Transgender Trend, one of the sites Littman used to gather responses for her study, has published a lengthy school resource pack that warns a child’s gender dysphoria can be a result of “simple social contagion.”