What's to Blame for the Transgender Epidemic Hysteria?

The case of a 7-year-old Texas boy who will begin transitioning into a girl despite his father's objections has generated wide public interest.

A Texas jury has ruled against a father who tried to intervene and stop his seven-year-old son from transitioning to a girl after claiming his ex-wife manipulated the child into wearing dresses and said that "monsters only eat boys".

Jeff Younger and his ex-wife Anne Georgulas have been involved in a lengthy and bitter feud in Dallas as they argued in a family court over whether their son James has gender dysphoria. ...

Arguments over their child's gender began when Georgulas took James to see a gender therapist at the Children's Hospital Center.

She claims she had noticed James requesting girl-themed toys, that the child was imitating female Disney characters and had been asking to wear dresses.

The therapist recommended James start social transitioning by wearing dresses to school and going by the name Luna.

The case has even attracted the attention of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced an investigation. But whatever the actual merits of the case, the percentage of people identifying as "transgender" has skyrocketed. Researchers "note that their 2016 estimate of the percentage of transgender-identifying adults in the U.S. is double their 2011 estimate ... Arcelus et al. also describe a general increase in TGNB [trans gender non binary] individuals in Europe within their study period ... TGNB identification appears to be more common among younger age groups ... 42% of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) were between the ages of 18–24."

The question of why it has that age distribution is interesting. Even more intriguing is why the TGNB percentages depend on factors like race and culture.

Studies evaluating racial and ethnic demographic trends suggest that non-white groups are overrepresented in TGNB populations. Flores et al. estimate transgender prevalence among non-Hispanic whites at approximately 480 per 100,000, lower than the 770 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic blacks, 840 per 100,000 for “Hispanic/Latino” and 640 per 100,000 for “other non-Hispanic” categories

Samuel Veissiere thinks one of the biggest accelerants is social media. After all, if culture can depress transgender identification, it can also increase it.

To meet the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria, a child typically needs to have shown observable characteristics of the condition prior to puberty ... 80 percent of the parents in the study reported observing none of these early signs in their children.

The plot thickens again: First, many of the youth in the survey had been directly exposed to one or more peers who had recently "come out" as trans. Next, 63.5 percent of the parents reported that in the time just before announcing they were trans, their child had exhibited a marked increase in Internet and social media consumption. Following popular YouTubers who discussed their transition thus emerged as a common factor in many of the cases.

The role of peer and social pressure in behavior is significant. Prior to the advent of digital social media, what was called "epidemic hysteria" spread mostly within groups such as Middle Ages villages, 18th-century factories, 20th-century schools and the like. They spread among those who talked to each other. But the prevalence of mobile devices now means that "groups" are no longer physically confined. People are talking to children on social media without their parents knowing who they are.

Psychologist Romeo Vitelli argues that mass psychogenic illness of all sorts have become more common as social media's coverage spread. A 2013 Atlantic article noted similarities between modern episodes and the Salem witch incident, suggesting the same mechanisms were at work. The article said there is "potential for a far greater or global episode, unless we quickly understand how social media is, for the first time, acting as the primary vector or agent of spread for conversion disorder."

“Eerie and remarkable.” ... Bartholomew, a sociologist in New Zealand who has been studying cases of mass hysteria for more than 20 years, was referring to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, the most widely recognized episode of mass hysteria in history, which ultimately saw the hanging deaths of 20 people.

Fast-forward about 300 years to January 2013, when a bizarre case of mass hysteria again struck Danvers. About two dozen teenagers at the Essex Agricultural and Technical School began having “mysterious” hiccups and vocal tics. ...

Bartholomew is not surprised by the outbreak in the slightest. He said that there has been a “sudden upsurge” in these types of outbreaks popping up in the U.S. over the past few years. It starts with conversion disorder, when psychological stressors, such as trauma or anxiety, manifest in physical symptoms. The conversion disorder becomes “contagious” due to a phenomenon called mass psychogenic illness (MPI), historically known as “mass hysteria,” in which exposure to cases of conversion disorder cause other people—who unconsciously believe they've been exposed to the same harmful toxin—to experience the same symptoms.

This is not to say that all cases of gender dysphoria are caused by the media -- especially social media -- but some might be. There have been at least a few regrets. "The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 8% of respondents who had transitioned reported having ever detransitioned, and 62% of that group had later returned to living in a trans gender role. A 2003 German study found evidence for an increase in the number of demands for detransition, blaming poor practice on the part of 'well-meaning but certainly not unproblematic' clinicians."  The highly politicized nature of the condition has made it hard to estimate exactly how big the regret problem is.

There is a lack of legal, medical, and psychological guidelines on the topic of detransition and a perceived atmosphere of censorship around researching the phenomenon. Detransitioners say they have been harassed by activists who view detransition as a political threat to trans rights.

In August 2017, the Mazzoni Center's Philadelphia Trans Health Conference... canceled two panel discussions on detransition and alternate methods of working with gender dysphoria. The conference organizers said, "When a topic becomes controversial, such as this one has turned on social media, there is a duty to make sure that the debate does not get out of control at the conference itself. After several days of considerations and reviewing feedback, the planning committee voted that the workshops, while valid, cannot be presented at the conference as planned."

In September 2017, Bath Spa University revoked permission for James Caspian, a counselor who specializes in transgender therapy, to research regret of gender-reassignment procedures and pursuit of detransition. Caspian alleged the reason for the university's refusal was that it was "a potentially politically incorrect piece of research, [which] carries a risk to the university. Attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher, but may involve the university. The posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university.

There seems little doubt that politics is making it hard to get at the facts. It may also be literally making us sick. Daniel Drezner, writing in the Washington Post, says that despite the booming economy, "according to Gallup, in 2018, more Americans were stressed, worried and angry than at any point in the last 12 years. That is extraordinary when you consider that the past dozen years includes the 2008 financial crisis and multiple terrorist attacks. Furthermore, American stress levels are among the highest in the world. Seriously, Americans were as stressed as Iranians and more stressed than citizens of Rwanda, Turkey, and Venezuela. That’s nuts."

Does Trump have anything to do with this? It is difficult to determine causality, but the data is pretty suggestive. Trump inspires a whole host of negative reactions in most Americans. Pew polled Americans in the spring and asked them to describe how Trump’s comments and statements made them feel. The top seven responses, in order: concerned (76 percent), confused (70 percent), embarrassed (69 percent), exhausted (67 percent), angry (65 percent), insulted (62 percent) and frightened (56 percent). I am not a psychologist, but I would reckon that there might be something going on here. If these are the dominant emotions that Trump elicits, and if Trump is everywhere, then hey, it’s going to stress a lot of Americans out!

Even more concrete evidence has come to light in the past week. As my Post colleagues William Wan and Lindsey Bever reported recently, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.” One disturbing JAMA study looked at premature births, an easily quantifiable metric of stress during pregnancy. After analyzing approximately 33 million births between 2009 and 2017 researchers found 3 percent more preterm births than expected among Latina women in the nine months after the election.

If the sight of Trump alone can cause such a range of ailments, is it not possible that psychology, culture, and viral memes can influence gender identification among impressionable children? Perhaps The Atlantic's invocation of witchcraft isn't so far-fetched. The Texas boy is one of potentially many. The baleful influence of politics should make one extra careful before turning this and many other boys into girls or vice versa. It is likely to be a life-changing decision. We may not think before we tweet, but we should look before our children leap.

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ALSO: My opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal on what lights up the soul. Well, it's a surprise. Man does not live by 5-year plans alone.


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