Over the past month, transgender advocates have attacked a Brown University researcher, Lisa Littman, for her article, “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports” published in PLOS One. Littman, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown, looked into the phenomenon of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (RGOD) examining how social media and online videos affect adolescents’ identification with a transgender identity.
As a result of the public backlash against her results, Littman has not only been harassed on social media; she is also being critiqued by her own university and the very journal that reviewed and published her results. Although it initially promoted her peer-reviewed study, Brown University quickly caved to public pressure and accusations of supporting transphobia. It withdrew a news release about the study and replaced it with a statement questioning the quality of Littman’s research, declaring that the university’s decision was “about academic standards,” not academic freedom, and emphasizing its support for the transgender community. Brown’s Dean of the School of Public Health, Bess H. Marcus, stated that concerns over methodology had prompted the university to remove the news article, claiming that members of the university community had “express[ed] concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” PLOS One itself issued a statement acknowledging the complaints regarding the study and promised “further expert assessment on the study’s content and methodology.”
It is a troubling affair when a peer- and ethics-reviewed article is de-platformed by a researcher’s own university because of how the public and those in the field might possibly interpret the study. No matter what Brown’s representatives claim, this is clearly an issue of academic freedom. The purpose of academic freedom is that researchers can raise difficult—even uncomfortable—questions and follow them through rationally to their logical conclusions. In the case of the sciences, scholars conduct empirical research and put forth evidence for the conclusions they draw.
Somehow, the narrative of transgender identity has made an Ivy League institution cower to those who scream the loudest. All of this underscores how profoundly transgender activism has been threatening scientific research in recent years. Lisa Littman’s study is just one of many that have faced threats by these activists, who are well-known for bullying women, lesbians, and scientists alike. Most troubling of all, there is zero rationale behind the criticism aimed at Littman’s study.
Littman’s research passed both peer and editorial reviews, with its research design examined and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY. Littman’s study was primarily attacked for its methodology, which was based on gathering data from interviews with the parents of children with gender dysphoria. Yet the methods Littman employed are quite commonplace in social science studies involving child subjects, as anyone working with the field knows. Just examine any one of these trans affirmative studies that rely on parental reports. Interestingly, the trans lobby failed to harass these researchers, their institutions, or their publishers for relying on parental interviews.
Another point of contention brought up about Littman’s study is this: critics claim that Littman’s findings are skewed because she recruited parents from three websites—4thWaveNow, Transgender Trend, and Youth Trans Critical Professionals—two parental groups and one professional association. This is a patently untrue claim. If anything, there was a concerted lobby to skew Littman’s findings in the opposite direction. The recruitment link was shared and discussed within a Facebook group started by Jazz Jennings’s mother called “Parents of Transgender Children,” which has over 7,500 members. Jenn Burleton, the director of the TransActive Gender Center in Portland, asked the parents in the group to respond to Littman’s survey to throw off results. Clearly, Littman’s study reached the trans-affirming parental groups, and the claim that the survey was only shared in “hate groups” is baseless.
The Treatment of Transgender Children
In a press release issued on behalf of 4th Wave Now, Brie Jontry explains the wider situation, which predates Littman’s study. In her words, “parents are being emotionally blackmailed with the prospect of bad outcomes and threatened with loss of custody or their children’s suicides if they don’t follow these risky and experimental treatment protocols.” What the public and parents are being handed as “fact” regarding the “transgender identity” of children is a complete inversion of what science demonstrates (e.g., that sex is social and gender somatic, that there are pink and blue brains).
Parents are regularly told that they must accept their child’s “new identity” and that questions or any type of cautious approach will lead to suicide. They report being asked, “Would you rather have a trans kid or a dead kid?” by members of their children’s care team. Such tactics are encouraged by experts in the field like Diane Ehrensaft and Joel Baum (Senior Director, Gender Spectrum), who can be seen here at the “Clinical Essentials for Increased Understanding of the Diverse Transgender Community” panel reminding parents that the choice is either to “have grandchildren” (i.e., refuse to sterilize their children) or “not have a kid any more.” Resistant parents are sometimes threatened with Child Protective Services if they don’t sign off on medical interventions. At the 2017 USPATH conference, Dr. Michelle Forcier and Johanna Olson-Kennedy openly discussed how they train family court judges to view parental hesitation as a form of “medical neglect.”
Meanwhile, girls as young as thirteen are being told by American physician Johanna Olson-Kennedy that they “have the capacity to make a reasoned, logical decision” such that if these young girls change their minds and “want breasts later on in [their] life, [they] can go and get them.” The Atlantic reports on University of Washington researcher, Kristina Olson “opposes mandating mental-health assessments for all kids seeking to transition.” She reasons, “I don’t send someone to a therapist when I’m going to start them on insulin.” Olson-Kennedy and others regularly prescribe irreversible cross-sex hormones to twelve-year-olds, children who are far below the sixteen-year-old age threshold recommended in The Endocrine Society Guidelines. Those guidelines also prescribe that youth must be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, be treated by a team of medical and mental health experts, and receive a full and comprehensive mental health evaluation prior to medical interventions.
Dr. Ilana Sherer, one of the founders of the UCSF pediatric clinic, explains in this video captured at the recent Gender Odyssey Conference that she encounters many youth who “don’t have dysphoria, don’t have mental health issues” but who request medical interventions. She reports that it’s “challenging” to ask these young people to produce a letter from a mental health practitioner. Sherer’s answer to this conundrum? She has child psychologist Diane Ehrensaft pop in for a few minutes in order to “rubber stamp” the approval for medical transition.
Pediatric clinics across the globe have noted exponentially higher rates of preexisting mental health and neurodevelopmental diagnoses among young people requesting gender identity services. Yet Dr. Littman found that
For parents who knew the content of their child’s evaluation, 71.6% reported that the clinician did not explore issues of mental health, previous trauma, or any alternative causes of gender dysphoria before proceeding and 70.0% report that the clinician did not request any medical records before proceeding.
Given that puberty blockers followed by cross-sex hormones result in sterility 100 percent of the time, it must be asked if these procedures are medically ethical when given to children below the age of legal consent, many of whom are battling mental illnesses without proper evaluation and treatment.
WPATH and transgender activists have been attempting to suppress Dr. Littman’s research and the voices of detransitioners for some time, and we need to ask why. The criticisms made of Littman’s study are clearly unfounded, and the actions of Brown University are certainly questionable, likely unethical. We need to hold our universities to a higher standard in support of free speech and groundbreaking research, especially when the lives of children are at stake.