Imagine you’ve been feeling anxious and depressed. You turn to the internet and to your friends and with the help of both you decide what the problem must be. You walk into a psychotherapist’s office and announce your self-diagnosis. Immediately and unequivocally he affirms that you’re correct and takes it from there.
Now imagine that you’re a sixteen-year-old girl and you believe your problems stem from one root cause: you’re a boy in a girl’s body.
Welcome to the nightmarish world of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.
In her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, author Abigail Shrier lays out in tragic detail how both the diagnosis and the craze of ROGD came to be and what it means for the girls who embrace it, to say nothing of their families.
A Brief History
When Dr. Lisa Littman, an ob-gyn turned health researcher, heard about a large number of teenage girls from her small hometown identifying as transgender she became curious. Why was this suddenly happening? And why were they all from the same friend groups?
Littman began a study that would eventually include 265 detailed reports from parents of trans-identifying adolescents who had no history of gender dysphoria. That’s important because gender dysphoria (formerly known as gender identity disorder) typically begins in early childhood in the preschool years. It also usually involves boys, and resolves on its own in the vast majority of cases.
What Littman found astonished her, with two patterns standing out. In 65% of the cases, parents reported that their teens declared themselves to be transgender after a prolonged period of social media immersion. Secondly, the prevalence of transgender identification within some of the friend groups was more than 70 times the expected rate.
Why had the age of onset shifted from preschool-aged to adolescence? Why was this happening so often in groups of friends? Why had the sex ratio flipped?
Littman arrived at a hypothesis: peer contagion. She named this new, atypical expression of gender dysphoria Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.
In the last 10 years the West has seen rates of adolescent gender dysphoria soar. In the U.S. alone it has increased by 1,000 percent.
To understand what’s behind the phenomenon, Shrier provides footnoted statistics that make for a pretty clear answer. From 2009 to 2017, the number of high school-aged adolescents who contemplated suicide grew by 25 percent. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of teenagers diagnosed with clinical depression increased by 37 percent, with girls experiencing depression at three times the rate of boys. Rates of self-harm have increased 62 percent since 2009 among teenage girls. And since 2010, rates of self-harm among girls ages ten to fourteen are up 189 percent. Teenage girls are in pain. They are in the midst of what academic psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls a “mental health crisis.”
When Haidt was asked what’s behind the crisis, he didn’t hesitate: social media.
Spending vast amounts of time on their smartphones makes it difficult for members of Gen Z to escape the relentless ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ pressure from social media sites like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. And for girls who feel they don’t fit in or can’t keep up, who become anxious and depressed, other social media sites help them figure out why. As Shrier writes about ROGD, “It originates not in traditional gender dysphoria but in videos found on the internet. It represents mimicry inspired by internet gurus, a pledge taken with girlfriends – hands and breath held, eyes squeezed shut. For these girls, trans identification offers freedom from anxiety’s relentless pursuit; it satisfies the deepest need for acceptance, the thrill of transgression, the seductive lilt of belonging.”
Shrier tells the heart-rending stories of several girls based on interviews with their parents.
There’s Maddie, who decided at the age of twelve she was “trans” after seeing a school assembly featuring a fifteen-year-old girl-now-boy recounting her gender journey. She explained to her mother that, like the speaker, she’d always felt different, never quite fitting in with the other girls. In seventh grade, at Maddie’s request but without her mother’s knowledge, her school reintroduced her as “Kyle” and told her teachers and classmates she was now a boy. On an overnight trip she was even allowed to share the boys’ bunk. No one informed her mother of that either. Disgusted with medical professionals and educators who encourage it, and with the media who celebrate it, Maddie’s mom founded the Kelsey Coalition, an organisation that opposes transgender ideology.
Joanna’s parents describe her as having been “feminine” through childhood, and “boy crazy” on and off. But in high school, Joanna suddenly announced that she was pansexual and non-binary, eventually settling on “trans” during her senior year. Despite having promised her parents not to medically transition while at college, she got a prescription for testosterone with the help of a college mental health counselor. By summertime she had legally changed her name and during her senior year she had her breasts removed. Her parents are devastated and angry.
In high school Julie was captivated by a friend’s presentation on gender and sexual identity at school. By sophomore year her parents describe her as being anxious and depressed, at least in part by the pressures of being a star ballerina in a ballet company. Without her parents’ knowledge, Julie began to identify as a boy – new name and all — at her all-girls school. They discovered later that Julie had spent a lot of time watching transgender influencers in YouTube videos. When she turned eighteen, she moved out of the house, signed up for Medicaid, started a course of testosterone and eventually had a double mastectomy. Julie has hundreds of Instagram followers; her parents are blocked.
Do No Harm?
Almost as upsetting as those accounts is learning about the role that medical professionals play in spreading the contagion of gender ideology.
Nearly every medical accrediting organisation – including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association – has endorsed what’s called “gender-affirming care” for treating those who identify themselves as “transgender” or “gender dysphoric.” Simply stated, therapists are to adopt their patients’ beliefs of being in the “wrong body;” they are not to examine what led them to those beliefs. Shrier puts it baldly: “Affirmative therapy compels therapists to endorse a falsehood: not that a teenage girl feels more comfortable presenting as a boy – but that she actually is a boy.”
She asks readers to imagine an emaciated girl suffering from anorexia walking into a therapist’s office declaring that she knows what’s wrong with her: if only she weren’t so fat, she’d be happy. Now imagine the therapist accepting her self-diagnosis and affirming that since she feels fat, she is. Case closed.
Remembering that we’re talking about teenagers, Shrier tells a pertinent anecdote about herself as one. When she was a freshman in college she decided she wanted breast reduction surgery. She hated the types of bras and bathing suits she had to wear, and the way shirts pulled too snugly across her chest. But her parents were having none of it. They told her she looked like a woman should, and that she could be putting at risk the chance to breastfeed babies she might have one day. The idea that she might ever want to breastfeed was inconceivable to her. “This wasn’t the Middle Ages, and I would no more forego the magic of baby formula than I would that of vaccines,” she recalls thinking at the time. Little more than ten years later she nursed her three children, an experience she describes as “one of the most profoundly tender undertakings of my life.”
Irreversible Damage is disturbing and frightening. The parents Shrier interviewed were loving, intelligent, well-educated, involved in their daughters’ lives — and they were blindsided. The culture — from society’s casual embrace of transgenderism, to the influence of social media, to educators who claim to know better than parents, to doctors and therapists willing to walk teenagers down a path to self-destruction — conspired against them and their children.
Nonetheless Shrier isn’t willing to give up all hope. “Some small proportion of the population will always be transgender,” she writes. “But perhaps the current craze will not always lure troubled young girls with no history of gender dysphoria, enlisting them in a lifetime of hormone dependency and disfiguring surgeries. If this is a social contagion, society — perhaps — can arrest it.”