‘Social contagion’ doesn’t drive teenagers to convert: study

In what has been described as the largest study yet to address the damaging narrative surrounding transgender health, researchers looked at data on more than 90,000 transgender or non-binary adolescents across the United States. States and found no evidence that “social contagion” is driving conversion rates among adolescents.

The researchers found that adolescents designated as female at birth (AFAB) were no more likely than adolescents designated as male at birth (AMAB) to identify as transgender or gender diverse. .

In the study published Wednesday in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers looked at national data collected in the United States in 2017 and 2019 to challenge controversial theory of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD).

This theory, considered by many experts and critics to be transgressive, suggests that many teenagers suddenly decide to transition into adolescence purely to mingle with friends, like transitioning into a fad. hazardous.

A 2021 stance statement co-signed by more than 60 international health and science organizations, including several Canadian, condemned the theory, saying “there is no real research proper experience of ROGD.”

But there wasn’t much research prior to this one that could directly address ROGD’s claims.

ROGD’s main claim is that young adults assigned to be female at birth are more susceptible to “social contagion”, with proponents pointing to a number of smaller studies as evidence of disproportionate increases in AFAB transgender youth.

However, this new US national study shows that the percentage of AFAB youth who openly identify as transgender or gender diverse actually fell slightly from 1.9% in 2017 to 1.4% in 2016. 2019, and AFAB youth are underrepresented among transgender youth.

Dr. Alex S. Keuroghlian, director of the National Center for LGBTQIA+ Health Education at the Fenway Institute and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

The study also looked at data on reported levels of bullying faced by students, to address another persistent component of ROGD: the suggestion that transgender adolescents may be fully transgender. to escape abuse for being gay or lesbian or for being transgender. social benefits.

Research indicates that transgender teens belonging to a sexual minority, such as gay, lesbian or bisexual, have been bullied more than their average peers.

But transgender students are even more likely to be the target of bullies. In 2019, about 29% of transgender students from sexual minorities reported being bullied at school, compared with 45% of transgender students.

Transgender and gender diverse students were also more likely to have attempted suicide than transgender gender minorities.

“The idea of ​​trying to escape the stigma of a gender minority that causes teenagers to become transgender is absurd, especially for those of us who provide treatment for transgender people. [trans and gender diverse] Jack Turban, Upcoming Assistant Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California and lead author of the study, said in the release.

“The harm these baseless assumptions do in continuing to stigmatize transgender youth and gender diversity cannot be underestimated. We hope that clinicians, policy makers, journalists. and anyone else contributing to health policy will review these findings.”


To get a full picture, the study used data collected in the 2017 and 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial survey of high school students conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Control and Prevention implemented in the United States.

Not all US states collect information related to gender identity, so only 16 states were included in the study, with more than 91,000 respondents in 2017 and over 105,000 respondents in 2016. 2019.

The researchers also looked at age, grade level, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, along with gender identity.

When looking at students overall, the study found that fewer young people identified as transgender or gender diverse in 2019 than in 2017.

In 2017, 2.4% of the sample identified as transgender, while in 2019 that number dropped to 1.6%. In the 2017 cohort, 2.8% of AMAB adolescents were transgender, while 1.9% of AFAB adolescents were transgender. In 2019, 1.7% and 1.4% of AMAB and AFAB youth identified as transgender or gender diverse, respectively.

Because part of the ROGD includes the perception that AFAB adolescents are transitioning at a faster rate, the researchers looked at the number of transgender or gender-diverse students AMAB versus AFAB and found that both every two years, fewer young people convert AFAB.

In 2017, 40.5% of transgender or gender diverse students were AFAB, while 59.5% were AMAB.

In 2019, AFAB rates increased to 47.2% from 52.8% of AMAB students, but this was actually due to a larger drop in the number of AMAB students openly identifying as transgender. There were 876 AFAB transfer students in 2017 compared to 774 in 2019, while the number of AMABs increased from 1,285 in 2017 to 866 in 2019.

When it comes to bullying, transgender students report higher levels of both school bullying and cyberbullying than their same-sex peers who identify as gay, lesbian, or gay. female, bisexual, or another gender minority.

And teenagers who identified as transgender reported much higher suicide attempts.

Although 94% of transgender students said they had never had suicidal thoughts in 2017, only 67% of transgender students could say the same. Nearly 1 in 10 transgender teens reported in 2017 that they had attempted suicide six or more times, compared with 0.4% of transgender teens.

These results are consistent with many previous studies showing that transgender adolescents face hostility from their peers and struggle with their mental health, often due to a lack of acceptance. there.

“This particularly high rate of bullying among [trans or gender diverse (TGD)] young people do not fit the view that young people become GEs to avoid gender discrimination or because GEs will make them more popular among their peers. .

The authors say ROGD has not been accepted as a clinical diagnosis by any major medical or psychological institution, but its influence needs to be challenged.

The concept traces back to a widely discredited study from 2018, which resulted in an apology and correction published by the journal that published it.

Although that study was based entirely on interviews with parents of transgender teenagers, many of them were pulled from anti-transgender online forums and caused condemnation. immediately because of its bias, the concept of ROGD is still incorporated into political and social discourse.

As of March 2022, 15 US states have restricted access to gender-affirmed care for youth or are considering the legislature to do so – with many legislators leading the so-called threat of social contagion in their reasoning.

“This study comes as there are many political attacks against transgender youth in the legislative arenas,” Turban said. on Twitter on Wednesday. “Social contagion and theories of LGBT discrimination on the run have been prominent in these debates.

“We hope [this] New data will be expeditiously brought to those legislative discussions. “

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