Some Transgender Teens Aren’t Really Transgender, Re-Published Study Still Says

Michael Foust | Contributor | Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Some Transgender Teens Aren’t Really Transgender, Re-Published Study Still Says

Some Transgender Teens Aren’t Really Transgender, Re-Published Study Still Says

A controversial academic study that suggested some teenagers self-identify as transgender due to peer and social influences has been re-published following a peer-review process, and it’s reached the same controversial conclusion.    

The study by Lisa Littman of Brown University was published in the academic journal PLOS ONE last year but came under fire from gay and transgender advocates, who insisted children and teens identify as transgender because they are born that way and not because of outside influences. 

Facing criticism, Brown University pulled a press release on the study, and PLOS ONE launched a review process.  

PLOS ONE re-published the study in March with more details about Littman’s research. It emphasized the data was collected from parents. But it said “the Results section is unchanged.” 

Littman told she is “very pleased with the final product” and with the fact “that my work has withstood this extensive peer-review process.” That process included PLOS ONE staff, a statistical reviewer, two academic editors and an external expert reviewer examining her research, she said.

Littman said the study examines a phenomenon whereby teens and young adults “who did not exhibit childhood signs of gender issues appeared to suddenly identify as transgender.” 

“This new identification seemed to occur in the context of either belonging to a group of friends [in which] multiple -- or even all -- members became transgender-identified around the same time, or through immersion in social media, or both,” Littman told Quillette.

The phenomenon, she said, is called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.

“I became interested in studying gender dysphoria when I observed, in my own community, an unusual pattern whereby teens from the same friend group began announcing transgender identities on social media, one after the other, on a scale that greatly exceeded expected numbers,” said Littman, who is assistant professor of the practice in the department of behavioral and social sciences at the Brown University School of Public Health. 

“I searched online and found several narratives of parents describing this type of pattern happening with their teen and young adult kids who had no history of gender dysphoria during their childhoods. … The descriptions of multiple friends from the same pre-existing group becoming transgender-identified at the same time were very surprising.”

One problem, Littman said, is that medical professionals rarely acknowledge the possibility that the self-identified transgender teen may not be truly transgender. Parents told her the “clinicians they saw were only interested in fast-tracking gender-affirmation and transition and were resistant to even evaluating the child’s pre-existing and current mental health issues.”

“I found these stories compelling and heartbreaking,” Littman said. “Gender dysphoria has been studied for a long time, and I recognized that this presentation was not consistent with the existing research. I saw that kids, parents and families were suffering, and I felt that I needed to do something to help. 

“If these descriptions of clinicians refusing to evaluate and treat trauma and mental health issues were true, it means that a vulnerable population was being deprived of much-needed mental-health services.”

More research is needed, Littman said.

“I feel very strongly that this type of research is urgently needed and that continuing to explore this area is the right thing to do,” she said. “I am extremely grateful that I have the flexibility to be able to focus my research on what I believe is timely and important.”

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Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog,

Photo courtesy: Cecilie Johnsen/Unsplash

Some Transgender Teens Aren’t Really Transgender, Re-Published Study Still Says