JKR’s Claims Part 6: Lisa Littman and Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

Recently JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter, tweeted some transphobic statements and dogwhistles on Twitter that I have addressed here. After a few days silence she wrote a lengthy post trying to justify her position on her website. This is part 6 of my series addressing the claims in her piece. You can see the full thing here.

Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.

The claims that LGBT people are confused, or that they’ve been tricked into being LGBT, or that they can be converted out of it are as old as homophobia and transphobia themselves. Not only are these claims wrong and completely unevidenced, they are very dangerous.

“Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” is a buzz phrase for “someone who woke up and decided to be trans”, or who was “persuaded” into it. The World Professional Association for Trans Health (WPATH) notes “The term ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)’ is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association”. There is only one single paper that attempts to provide any evidence for the existence of this phenomenon by Lisa Littman.

There was a lot wrong with Littman’s paper. Firstly the study involved no trans people, just the parents of trans people. Secondly all of the participating parents were found on just a handful of websites such as “Transgender Trend” and “Youth Trans Critical Professionals”, which run forums specifically for unsupportive parents of trans kids. As JKR notes the controversial paper received a lot of criticism from within the scientific community:

The journal took the paper offline and re-reviewed it before republishing it.

But it is deceptive of JKR to describe what happened in this way. The post-publication review resulted in major corrections to the paper and an apology from the editor of the journal. The editor noted “the corrected article now provides a better context of the work, as a report of parental observations, but not a clinically validated phenomenon or a diagnostic guideline”. For a comprehensive takedown of this paper see here.

So what is all this about? The point of this paper was to provide justification for putting trans children through “Conversion Therapy”. Conversion Therapy, or as it’s sometimes called “Reparative Therapy” or “Gender Critical Therapy”, is the idea that you can change an LGBT person into a straight cis person. It has been rejected by mainstream science for decades and is illegal in many countries, there is no evidence to show that it works, and a lot of evidence that it can cause long lasting mental damage. Trying to change who someone is isn’t just impossible, it’s immoral.

Many trans people I know have faced difficulty with their families. Often, like myself, hiding being trans from the world for years or even decades. I’m sure to a lot of parents it does look “rapid” when their trans child comes out, that’s often what coming out is — they are finally at the point where they cannot hide it any longer. To try and disregard the huge struggles many trans people have gone through with their families — often losing everyone — and to say that “no it’s not my transphobia, it’s actually that you were talked into being trans” is disgusting.

Full post | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Katy is a feminist, LGBT rights advocate, atheist, metalhead, insect enthusiast and trans woman