There is a trend occurring today that you may have noticed: Adolescents and young adults are identifying as transgender in unprecedented numbers. Interestingly, these adolescents and young adults did not show the typical symptoms of gender dysphoria when they were children (thus the late-onset term). In addition, the teens presenting with suddenly and fully-intact transgendered identities (thus rapid-onset) differ in important ways from what we would expect to see in individuals with gender dysphoria. Our clinic has seen a tremendous increase in the number of individuals that fit this description, so I’ve been on a 3-year research journey to be able to step competently into the lives of families who approach us.
Recently, Dr. Littman, a researcher from Brown University, conducted a descriptive study to learn more about the population making up this new trend. It is the first of its kind, which means its purpose is to gather information and develop hypotheses, then it’s the job of science to test those hypotheses and see which seem to be accurate and which seem to be off.
Here is what the initial data seem to suggest:
Social influence can be a key determinant to adolescents and young adults suddenly identifying as transgender. (Social media, friendship groups, youtube videos, etc.)
Rapid-onset gender dysphoria can be a maladaptive way to cope with negative emotions. (If a person has had a painful life, and has a hard time handling emotions, the promise of a new gender and a new life is enticing. The downside is that this way of coping seems to cause more problems, hence “maladaptive”.)
Now, you may agree with these hypotheses, you may disagree. In fact, I’d selfishly recommend that you become a researcher and test them out, because I’d like to know more. Littman’s article presents some evidence that these things may be true for some people who fit this description (Gender Dysphoria, late-onset, rapid-onset). In my clinical work, these elements are common themes.
If you have a trans person in your life, I would recommend that you delve into the research. Start by reading this article, see if it sounds familiar. We want to be supportive of the people we love, but being supportive may look different than what we originally thought. My hope is that our support flows out of an accurate view of the situation, and not be based on pressure to act a certain way. Become well-informed, not merely well-intentioned.
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