Updated: Jan 17, 2022
For the first in our series Lighthouses of Courage, we wish to draw your attention to a groundbreaking study by Dr. Lisa Littman published in mid-2018 titled Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria. As a physician scientist, she noted an unusual pattern of adolescents and young adults (especially girls) experiencing sudden and pronounced distress with their gender in the context of a peer group experiencing the same symptoms. Following her curiosity and utilizing her professional scientific skills, Littman conducted a formal research study, ultimately coining the term rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) to describe this phenomenon observed by parents. Rather than establishing a new formal mental health diagnosis, this study has laid the foundation for further research on this topic of children, mental health, and the influence of peers on identity development.
Since the publication of this study, the media has dedicated publication space and airtime to bring attention to the importance of Dr. Littman’s work and how it reflects what we are all seeing in our homes and classrooms. In particular, we encourage you to watch this in-depth interview with Dr. Littman, which covers her original work on ROGD as well as her most recent published study on detransitioners. The results of her work should be elevated and amplified, rather than suppressed, especially if you are a person who cares about the health and wellness of children.
When pressure mounted toward Dr. Littman and her work, she noted a few things that you can keep in mind as you may receive pushback on your own work and actions.
She felt compelled to continue her work because she is speaking for people who are being harmed. This is important and necessary work because children, due to their brain and body development, are vulnerable. Yes, they are powerful and amazing in many ways, as we all are, but there is no denying that they are deeply vulnerable in a host of ways. They deserve our protection.
She felt that she had to use her position to speak out because others could not. Each of us has different privileges; we each have something that we can give to the cause of protecting children from irreversible harms.
She recognized that the most extreme assumptions about her as a person—bad or good—were made by strangers, people who do not know her at all. She stayed grounded by taking those opinions with a grain of salt.
She considered the possibility that those who heavily critiqued her work might be doing do because her research findings challenge their belief system. It is hard to hold a belief system in the face of evidence that contradicts it, which is a kind of dissensus, disrupting the current politics of what is accepted to be true. Certainly, her work is disruptive to popular ideas of what "transgender" means, as is the existence of young people identifying as "transgender" without any sign of gender dysphoria.
There was “loud outrage and quiet support.” Those who sent her private messages of support were meaningful to her.
We are grateful to have this lesson in courage from Dr. Littman, and we are thankful to have this study as a lighthouse to demonstrate to parents, children, and those who work and live with them that they are not alone, that what they are observing in their lives is being noted by others. (Listen to this video clip where a parent says exactly that to Dr. Littman when she calls into a TV interview with Littman.) You can learn more about Dr. Lisa Littman’s work on her website and please follow her on Twitter. And please send her quiet (or LOUD) support for her work.
Courage calls to courage. She answered the call. Will you?