(This has been edited since I realized I was trans, but the vast majority of the original content still stands. It's also a work in progress and I'm editing it a fair amount so some parts might feel disjointed or be incomplete.)
I used to have a lot of internalized transphobia.
Transphobia is a term which means dislike of or prejudice towards transgender people. Basically, someone who is transphobic find trans people offensive, problematic, uncomfortable, unnatural, against the will of God, etc. They are also ignorant of trans issues and tend to be unwilling to educate themselves because they cannot get past their prejudice. They consequently act rudely and disrespectfully towards trans individuals. This can include misgendering and deadnaming them, calling them slurs, etc. If the trans person happens to be a relative such as a child, the parent can sometimes disown them and throw them out the house; in best case the parent simply treats the child poorly/disrespectfully.
Internalized transphobia is an extension of transphobia which happens when a trans person is themselves transphobic. Once a transphobic person realises they might be trans, they are unable to accept or acknowledge this, which manifests itself as denial and self-hatred. Hating yourself is never healthy, so this obviously doesn't work well.
I'm really ashamed to say that being transphobic is where I started out. I was adamant that gender and sex were the same thing, and that sex can only be XX female or XY male based on your chromosomes, which you're stuck with forever. Trans people felt so disgusting, like a filthy and unclean gross violation of nature, making them a subhuman or second-class citizen. This viewpoint was transferred down to me from my family, who are pretty staunchly anti-LGBT, and served as part of my core sense of morality for most of my childhood and teen years.
All of this changed in 2015, when I met a trans girl for the first time. She behaved how I expected a girl to behave, which made her claim to be female more convincing. As I got to know her, she seemed to be a perfectly normal, rational girl, and not unnatural at all (apart from the fact she was trans). She definitely didn't come across as a gross violation of nature. This forced me to re-evaluate my views and do research. And when I looked at the situation from a logical standpoint, it became completely implausible to remain transphobic.
But I continued to suffer with transphobia on-and-off for several more years. It was deeply ingrained within me and hard to shake. I still had some transphobic feelings within me even when I started swallowing my first estrogen tablets. It took me until my own dysphoria started to go away for me to finally be able to accept, fully and completely, that I was experiencing gender dysphoria, and consequently that it exists and that the trans experience of it is genuine. Even then, it's difficult to get rid of transphobia.
I will try to share my analysis with you, from a logical standpoint, so you can see my eventual train of thought. Please note that my analysis does not consider religious viewpoints. I'm agnostic, so this wasn't a problem for me. I'm also writing from a scientific standpoint only, so if you prefer a more metaphysical position, you can treat anywhere I say "sex/gender of brain" to be equal in effect to "sex/gender of soul". It functionally does not matter as the end result is the same.
This is also a bit of a ramble, so it might seem disjointed. I'm working over time on improving the text and flow.
Society is really conflicted on the definition of gender. Some insist that gender is some sort of internal feeling which is separate from a person's apparent biological sex (in other words, the brain's internal sense of its own sex). Some people insist that it's a made up societal construct. Some people insist that there isn't any such thing as gender at all (i.e. that it's just another word for biological sex, or more simply that "gender = sex"). These are generally all considered conflicting viewpoints. Up until very recently the dominant viewpoint in society was "gender = sex", which is followed by statements like "men have a penis and women have a vagina" or "men have XY chromosomes and women have XX". Sadly, this is a very narrow understanding which causes fundamental problems when trying to understand and rationalise the existence of transgender people and their reported experiences.
Gender dysphoria is an experience that most trans people claim to have where their innate sense of gender, i.e. their internal feeling of whether they are male or female, does not match up with the apparent sex of their body. It is essentially the experience of a mismatch between brain sex and body sex. In order for this to make any sense, the first definition (gender being an internal feeling) must be true, but this is in conflict with the majority traditional opinion, which effectively stipulates that the true definition is the third one (gender = sex) and does not make room for the brain having its own separate sense of sex. But if it is not possible for the brain to have a different sex from the body, then how do trans people experience the feeling of having incongruity? Most trans people with dysphoria want the complete opposite set of sexual characteristics (or at least a good chunk of them), which implies some sort of dissonance between the brain and those characteristics. If we claim gender and sex to be identical then this dissonance shouldn't logically happen - but it does.
At least if we consider "gender" to mean "the sex that the brain expects the body to be" (i.e. an internal feeling), then we're finally able to make sense of gender dysphoria. In fact, this is really the
But can we prove there is an internal sense of gender?
I could try contributing my own experience, but it's not completely helpful. I know at this point that I'm trans, but describing my internal sense of gender is still really difficult. I just have this innate sense that I'm female, and that my body is wrong, which is something I can't shake. It took me a long time to even realise what it was that I was sensing, but the feeling has always been present to me. Once I knew about HRT, I also eventually ended up with a really strong desire for estrogen, but it's hard to explain why. Repressing my feelings made me struggle, whereas accepting them has allowed me to be at peace with myself.
The problem is that by itself this does not give concrete evidence to the existence of a brain gender that is separate from chromosomes or biological sex. I might just be delusional. But the experience of gender dysphoria is completely real, or at least it comes across that way to me. It's like I'm living in the wrong skin 24/7. It should also be observed that the vast majority of trans people have claimed to experience that same dysphoria. This phenomenon is occurring in maybe as many as 1% of the entire population. Does that make us all delusional? And this is the problem. If you try to look at the situation from any angle which doesn't allow for gender and sex to be separate, you are forced to end up concluding that trans people are mentally impaired and suffering from some sort of delusion.
Now I can't consider my own experience on this matter, because I'm biased, but before I realised I was trans, my own observations of other trans people seemed to indicate that they were NOT delusional or generally mentally impaired. The medical profession would tend to agree, given that they no longer consider being trans a mental illness. (It should be observed though that many trans people DO have bad mental health issues - but many comorbid mental health issues seem to crop up as a RESULT of the dysphoria, and can often completely disappear after treatment. This would imply that experiencing persistent dysphoria can trigger some mental health issues, rather than the dysphoria itself being a mental illness.)
But if we want to prove that gender dysphoria is not a delusion, we first have to accept that gender dysphoria does happen (because it's clearly observable that it does) rather than trying to pretend something isn't happening just because it causes discomfort. (If someone breaks their leg, trying to pretend they don't have a broken leg, or that legs can't be broken, doesn't magically stop that someone from having a broken leg. In the same way, trying to pretend people don't experience gender dysphoria isn't going to stop people from experiencing it.) So we do have to accept that it is an experience which happens to some people.
We are therefore left with the reality that "gender is equal to sex" and "gender dysphoria is not a delusion" are mutually incompatible statements. If we can find some way to show that gender dysphoria is most likely NOT a delusion, by providing a foundation upon which it could logically exist that isn't incompatible with other observed phenomenon, this would strongly imply that gender and sex are not the same. This would therefore validate the existence of a separate brain gender.
But can we rationally justify and explain the existence of gender dysphoria, or of the brain having its own separate sense of sex, aside from the reports of those who claim to experience it? The answer is yes, but it requires a long exploration to get there.
Before we try to rationalize gender dysphoria in this way, we should look at the claim that "gender is a social construct", since we haven't addressed this yet. Interestingly, this is not incompatible with the claim that "gender is an internal feeling". It is also not incompatible with the claim that "gender = sex". Therefore this does not help us answer the question of whether or not gender dysphoria is a delusion. But it's still interesting to cover all arguments.
Firstly, it should be noted that modern gender theory (i.e. the one that isn't "gender = sex") distinguishes gender identity (the internal feeling) and gender expression (the way that the internal feeling of gender is externally expressed) as separate things. When we encounter someone for the first time, our brains latch on to specific clues to try to assertain their gender, which can include both things within someones control (like their gender expression) and things outside of someones control (like their body shape, fat distribution, etc).
Secondly, it should also be noted that stereotypes such as "boys should wear blue and girls should wear pink" are definitely not deeply rooted in internal sense of gender and are not biological in any way - these aspects are clearly socially constructed. I mean there isn't any specific common thing in gender dysphoric people where they can't stand themselves for wearing the wrong colour. And you could quite easily come up with another society where the colours each gender are expected to wear are different. In fact, in the past, pink was considered a boys colour!
However, you can definitely say that men are traditionally expected to behave like A and do B, and women are traditionally expected to behave like C and do D. And these expectations are more rooted in gender expression than anything else. Some of them are biological in some way, and some are not; trying to distinguish between biological and non-biological expectations can sometimes be a bit tricky. Fortunately, analysis of trans behaviour can gleam some light on this.
Social expectations of different genders are drilled into the brains of people during childhood, and during gender transition trans people will often adopt the socially constructed aspects of the gender they are transitioning to into their personality, sometimes to avoid gatekeeping (where trans people are required to pass certain criteria to get treatment), sometimes to try to blend in better with other people who match their internal gender sense (either for self-comfort or to improve social situations), sometimes as a form of self-expression, etc. In these cases it is a conscious choice. For example, early in my transition, I chose to paint my nails because I wanted to feel more girly. But the only reason this is girly is because society said so. There is absolutely no reason that men are unable to paint their nails or that this should cause any issue, but in general, they don't, because it isn't something they're expected to do. I got trained to believing that, so then the act of painting my nails is seen by my brain as a feminine action. Doing something I felt was feminine helped me to feel more comfortable and more in touch with my sense of gender. But this is completely socially constructed.
I have also observed some gender behaviours to definitely be hormonal. This is not something that trans people necessarily like to accept or admit, but it is an observed phenomenon. For these sorts of behaviours, a trans person will not unconsciously perform that behaviour until after medical transition, upon which the trans person adopts those aspects of behaviour without even noticing. Sometimes they notice afterwards that they're behaving that way without realising and end up surprised. This is because the sex hormones trigger the brain to engage in specific behaviours. For example, after starting estrogen I found myself engaging in more social bonding, and I had a strong desire to hug people that I didn't have before. Hugs also felt way better. I think this is triggered by a corresponding rise in oxytocin. But I didn't just consciously choose to want more hugs. I just ended up with that need. This was definitely hormonally triggered. It was not socially constructed. Despite that fact, women doing more social bonding is definitely part of societal gender expectation.
The fact that we consider the hormonal behaviours to be gendered effectively demonstrates that someone's gender is not completely immutable, that someone's gender is not entirely a conscious choice under their control, and that biology does play a factor in someone's gender. But these factors are all about external expression and not about internal feeling. So instead of claiming that "gender is a social construct", instead it would be better to say "some parts of gender expression are a social construct, other parts are biological". This is a much more accurate and realistic statement which is less debatable.
Nothing here in any way contributes towards counting or discounting an innate feeling of gender. It is plausible to construe that someone could e.g. have innate feeling of being female, but be on male hormones (causing hormonal expression aspects to be male) and also be forced to socially express themselves in a male way even if they don't want to (e.g. because of transphobia). In the context of rationalizing that innate feeling through understanding gender dysphoria, the expression of gender therefore effectively becomes irrelevant. We therefore cannot use it as a diagnostic factor in our search.
(Interestingly though, if we were to make the claim that people have an innate sense of gender that is fundamentally unchangeable, that gender sense must be at least partly triggered by some biological factor. And we accepted now that some (but not all) parts of gender are rooted in biology. So this could be argued to strengthen the viability of the existence of an innate sense of gender in the brain. Unfortunately, you could also argue it the opposite way round if you were so inclined, so this ends up being unhelpful.)
One of the common claims which underpins and justifies anti-trans lines of thought is 'XX is female, XY is male, you're one or the other and that's that'. I wanted to try to find reliable scientific evidence to debunk this claim. I didn't realise how easy this would be. In fact, I came to the conclusion that this claim is not only false, but that it actually causes significant real world harm and distress to keep peddling it, and that the consequences of doing so are far greater than you may realise.
Let's look at intersex conditions, which occur naturally in the real world. An intersex condition is when someone is born who has some combination of sex characteristics which cause their to body fail to fit the typical definition of male or female, at least in terms of sex. By technicality this is considered a birth defect, but it happens more often than you might think, and it's very plausible that you met at least one intersex person in your lifetime without even realising it. (And I know that talking about intersex conditions is a bit of a detraction from the topic of trans issues, but as you'll see, it helps to provide some context as to how we might go about dealing with trans issues, so I think it's worth talking about.)
As some notable examples of intersex conditions which help to debunk the XX-female XY-male hypothesis, between 1-in-500 and 1-in-1000 men are actually XXY and not XY because of the presence of an extra X chromosome, which can cause some minor development problems that the average person might even miss (this is known as Klinefelter syndrome). There are also a stack of conditions which can cause people with XY chromosomes to get identified as female at birth, such as Swyer syndrome (1 in every 100,000 births) or androgen insensitivity syndrome. For the sake of this introduction I really don't need to list the whole lot - the point is that the existence of intersex conditions occurring naturally in live births provides significant cause for alarm over the claim we started out trying to debunk. If we're stuck with the philosophy that XX=female, XY=male, sex/gender is the same thing and is totally immutable, then how the heck do we categorise the people with these anomalies?
Let's take Swyer syndrome as a relevant example, since it's kinda easy to wrap your head around. I think/hope I'm getting this right with the limited research I've done, so bear with me and I apologise if I got the thing wrong (I'm using it to make a philosophical point only). But anyway, if my understanding is correct, then... if you go with chromosomes/sex, people with Swyer syndrome are XY, so you'd identify them as male with that test... but they are born looking female and have a uterus, cervix and vagina. Because of this, at birth they are typically considered female (because we don't usually check chromosomes at birth) and it's only when they hit puberty age and the puberty fails to start that a problem is even noticed. By this point the child has been raised as female, believes they are female, looks female... if anyone were to try gendering the child, they would gender them female, with absolutely no doubt at all. This person is typically given female hormones to complete female puberty and they go on to live the rest of their entire life as female. The fact they were born with female genitalia also means they have normal female sexual experiences. If you met them, you'd say "this person is female" and you'd have no doubt about this at all. You know the old saying... if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.
Unfortunately, if we consider this person under the "chromosomes = gender = sex" philosophy, then you have no choice but to consider them male. Because their chromosomes are XY. And XY is male. And because all three things are the same, their gender must be male too. So they don't look male, they don't sound male, they don't behave in a male way, but they're still apparently male under this philosophy. This seems completely bogus to me. This person is VERY CLEARLY FEMALE.
Some politicians on the conservative side of the political spectrum have repeatedly tried to bring in stuff like bathroom bills where people are forced to go into chromosomally-matching bathrooms. If this sort of bill were to become law, you would suddenly be stuck condemning our aforementioned Swyer person who naturally appears and behaves like a female to either use the men's bathroom for the rest of time (and suffer lifetime humiliation) or to break the law by using the female one. They're obviously just going to break the law, because this is the only way to preserve their dignity. In fact until they even discovered they had XY chromosomes they'd break the law every time they went to use a public bathroom without even knowing it!
And likewise, there are intersex conditions where someone with XX chromosomes can end developing a completely male-looking body and they get raised as male. With a chromosomal bathroom law, they would be forced to use female bathrooms. Women will NOT want them forced into the ladies bathroom.
In either case, can you see how this sort of law would be harmful, and how taking a simplistic approach to these issues can unfairly cause massive distress? These laws would rob people of basic dignity. And to be honest, those sorts of laws have no business being on the statute books.
As you start going down this huge rabbit hole, the conservative philosophy completely falls apart. By making the false assumption that people fall neatly into one of two clear rigidly definable boxes, you consequently fail to deal with all of the outliers in a dignified and meaningful way. You end up writing off those outlying people as faulty subhumans who are not worth caring about - a waste of space not worthy of living - which is exactly how I said I felt before I went digging into these topics. People are raised to think this way and it alarms me greatly - it's a huge clusterfuck of horrible. I don't see how raising people to treat others like scum simply for being their authentic selves can be morally justified, and I now flat out consider this to be awful parenting. I'm forced to conclude that anything along this axis is just a varying severity of douchebaggery which is caused by oversimplification of complex issues and a failure to understand the intricacies of human existence. I am really disgusted at myself for being such an inconsiderate prick, and I'm disgusted at my parents for subconsciously drilling such a nasty and vile outlook into my brain for the entirety of my youth.
Thanks to our analysis of intersex issues so far, we have now identified, with clearly demonstrable and undisprovable evidence, that it is possible for atypical body development to occur in a person, and that this atypical development can result in a failure of that person to conform to standard definitions of male or female. But can we apply those same issues to trans people? Is it possible to extrapolate from the data we have on intersex conditions in order to rationally explain the existence of gender dysphoria? Actually, yes! That part is laughably easy.
The standard claim for gender dysphoria up to this point has generally been something along the lines of "I was assigned male/female at birth, but my brain disagrees with this". I acknowledge though that this is no longer considered so clear-cut. I've also seen plenty of evidence of something closer to "I was assigned male/female at birth, which is okay I guess, but I'd really be happier as the other gender". The latter case could arguably be considered a less aggressive variant of gender dysphoria, seeing as, if the observation is accurate, the happiness of the person should theoretically increase in both cases if they were to undergo successful treatment (meaning they will be more euphoric / less dysphoric than before). Because of this, when I'm talking about gender dysphoria here, I'm attempting to cover both bases.
At any rate, I think we can reliably say that the brain is part of the human body. Continuing down that path, you could also very clearly and rationally make the case that gender dysphoria is effectively a type of atypical body development, given that it happens in the brain and that the brain is part of the body. This train of thought creates a really curious overlap between trans and intersex issues, to the point where I'm having fundamental trouble distinguishing between them. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that the concept of brain and body sex being different, when considered as an intersex issue, is both extremely logical and plausible, and a realistic extension of already well-documented intersex phenomenon. If you were to acknowledge that some function of gender and sex happens in the brain, and that the brain has to develop its sense of gender/sex at some point early in life (possibly before birth), and that intersex issues generally tend to be present from birth even if they aren't noticed until years later, you could essentially use the validated existence of other intersex issues to extrapolate that a mismatch between brain sex and body sex could sometimes occur, and thus further extrapolate the existence of gender dysphoria where such a mismatch would cause discomfort to the person who had it.
This sort of analysis gives strong support not only to innate sense of gender, but to gender dysphoria rationally being a thing that can exist, that make sense, and that fits into existing observable genetic phenomenon where standard definitions of sex do not fully apply.
Assuming that a person with the sense of gender dysphoria is experiencing some sort of persistent or permanent feeling, your options for handling the situation are basically:
A - trying to persuade the person that they're wrong (which generally doesn't work)
B - hoping that it's a phase and that they grow out of it (which also generally doesn't work)
C - leaving this person in internal torment for probably the rest of their entire lives (which is a douchebag-level move not too dissimilar to forcing our female-presenting XY-er to use the male bathroom), or
D - allowing them access to medical intervention to make them more comfortable and gendering them based on what their brain prefers (which reduces the dysphoria, but makes people with the dated chromosome philosophy hurl).
When I say that options A and B generally don't work, I do mean generally. In a very small minority of cases this dysphoria is just a phase or misunderstanding (or at least this is how I have perceived the issue with my research) and in the event that these people go ahead with transition, they tend to be stuck detransitioning later, which can be awkward and painful and for which very little medical help is available. The problem is that A and B have only been shown to work in a very small handful of cases, and that in the vast majority of cases where they don't work, they are extraordinarily painful and mentally abusive/harmful. And for those trans people for whom A and B are not viable options, we're left with either option C or option D. Option C treats them as disgusting filth and leaves them to suffer horribly (with most going on to commit suicide). Option D requires that we actually have compassion and decency and treat these people as sane, rational individuals who need legitimate help by offering to help them transition (which can lead many to leave full, productive and at least somewhat happy lives, with suicide rates significantly reduced).
It is also important to note that the rate of detransitioning is extremely small, and that there is strong evidence that many detransitioners proceeded with detransitioning purely because of external pressures such as transphobia, not because they are not genuinely transgender or didn't experience any gender dysphoria. A lot of detransitioners do end up retransitioning later when they don't have these pressures any more. Intriguingly, female-to-male transitioners are more likely to detransition, with a statistically far higher detransitioning rate, but I'm not sure why this is (although I have some theories).
The big kicker for me which really shaped my opinion of trans people was when, during my original exploration of trans issues, I asked a really insensitive question: "If you had the ability to take a magic pill to make you stop experiencing gender dysphoria (without changing your body at all) would you take it?" I was essentially asking if, given the choice to correct their brain, they would take that choice. The answer tended to be a resounding no, and really this shouldn't have surprised me in the slightest. The people in the LGBT community as a greater whole have the basic fundamental tenet of fighting for freedom of expression of personal identity, and many take great pride in that expression. If a trans person was to take that sort of magic pill, it would be erasing a core part of who they are - it would be a fundamental violation of their identity.
My personal observation is that this whole concept of mind-over-matter, where the internal person is important and valid, and individuality and identity is critical to a person, really extends far beyond LGBT issues. Even before I realised I was trans myself, it's something I felt I could completely understand, as I suffered from the same identity invalidation and erasure problems on a daily basis because of my strong desire for self-expression and unique individuality. And because of that, my brain entered into a state of mind where I stopped seeing trans people as filth - in fact, I actually found that I connected and sympathise with them on a lot of levels, as many non-societally-conforming people share the same problems. Ever since I accepted that I was trans myself, this experience has made even more sense.
People who believe they have gender dysphoria who start hormone replacement therapy tend, within a few months, to have one of two different experiences.
Some, which we will call group A, feel a lot better. This comes across as something like "my brain finally got what it needed" or "it felt like I finally had the right fuel", almost as if a mistake was being corrected. This is exactly what I experienced - it was like a switch flipped in my brain and everything was finally correct for once. I was much happier after changing hormones, smiling and laughing where I'd previously have been miserable, and the world seemed to get way more vibrant. I also noticed that some really bad headaches I'd suffered from for years seemed to completely disappear. Generally the people in this group will pursue full transition and will stay transitioned permanently.
A minority, which we will call group B, have the exact opposite experience. They feel much, much worse. In fact they report feeling like complete and utter garbage. And interestingly they can end up gaining headaches they didn't have before. The people in this group are much much more likely to detransition or to abort their transition early.
The massive contrast between groups A and B, along with the fact that most people starting HRT tend to have one of these two experiences, seems to provide evidence of sexed brains, at least with regards to certain brains expecting and/or functioning better with certain combinations of sex hormones. It also seems to suggest, exactly like the existence of dysphoria does, that brain sex (i.e. internal sense of gender) does not necessarily correlate with body sex. It would therefore be logical to conclude that giving a cisgender person the opposite hormones should cause them to feel incorrect, and given this apparent evidence you would probably expect them to start experiencing gender dysphoria if you were to do that. (I wouldn't suggest it though - it would be very unethical.)
In short, we are able to use these experiences to essentially conclude that a male brain works better on testosterone, and a female brain works better on estrogen. The fact that some people switch to the opposite hormone and their brain function suddenly improves (and vice versa) seems good evidence to suggest that a person assigned male at birth with a female brain (i.e. one that prefers estrogen) can exist, and likewise a person assigned female at birth with a male brain (i.e. one that prefers testosterone) can also exist. This logically bolsters and supports the claim of trans people to experience gender dysphoria where their brain's sex does not correlate with that of their body.
Research and documentation by one of the foremost experts in transgender medicine, Dr Will Powers, showed evidence that being transgender has genetic components and might even be inheritable. For example, there was the case of a single family which had multiple generations of people identifying as transgender. Doing a DNA study showed some uncommon mutations in specific sections of the DNA. Analysis of other trans patients over subsequent period have showed the existence of similar mutations in the same DNA sections.
If this turns out to be a commonly discovered phenomenon, then it clearly demonstrates that being transgender is, or at least can be, a fundamental fact of someone's immutable biology (i.e. proof that they were "born that way"). Providing this sort of demonstration bolsters support for abolishment of transphobia, via the same arguments as the abolishment of racism or sexism - specifically, not to discriminate against people simply for the traits they were born with.
(I'm not able to find this stuff right now through googling, but if I do manage to find it again, I'll try to link or quote here. I wade through so much trans material that I lose things. Sigh)
Rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a supposed phenomenon whereby trans people can allegedly transfer gender dysphoria to others who did not have it previously, thus making transgenderism a social contagion. This hypothesis was put forward in 2018 by an American researcher called Lisa Littman. The paper containing the hypothesis has been heavily disputed and suffers huge controversy.
During the ROGD study, Littman talked to 250 parents about their experiences of their children suddenly showing gender dysphoria where they hadn't done this before. All of the parents were sourced from websites which promoted transphobia, i.e. all the parents in this study were transphobic. The children experiencing the gender dysphoria were NOT talked to at all. This therefore ended up being a one-sided perspective from a group that already had an anti-trans agenda. In short, the paper was biased. There was no real research done into why people who haven't been seen to suffer dysphoria might suddenly come out and state that they have it.
Unfortunately, like the refuted "vaccines cause autism" paper, people have latched onto this and tried to use it as evidence when it doesn't really provide any. There are isolated reports of the ROGD phenomenon being reported in other groups, e.g. several teenage girls in a friend group all coming out as trans men in a short time period, almost like being transgender is perceived as a trend, but these are easily explainable by other more obvious social factors. There is no legitimate evidence that transgenderism is a social contagion.
I would like to put forward my own experiences as evidence to refute the concept of ROGD.
(1): It might take meeting another trans person to realise you are experiencing dysphoria, especially if you were never educated on trans issues. For me, there is evidence that I had gender dysphoria all the way back to early childhood. But I didn't understand that gender dysphoria even existed until I met another trans girl at the age of 23. It took me a further 12-18 months before I started connecting the dots about myself. When you have no clue what gender dysphoria even is, and no education at all on trans issues, it's completely impossible to realise that you have it. You instead just end up with an experience of feeling incorrect that you can't shake and can't understand or explain.
(2): Trans and gender non-conforming people tend to subconsciously flock together, even if they haven't realised they have dysphoria yet. During my adolescence, way way before I realised that I was trans, I was in a small friend group of less than 10 people. We were all weird/quirky - all the misfits that didn't fit in anywhere else banded together. Since I left high school, one of the other people in my friend group came out as trans, completely separate to me, having drawn her own conclusions without me influencing in any way. It was about 2 years after I started questioning when she came out to me, but she didn't know anything about me questioning, and I didn't come out to her until a further 2 years after that. In parallel, one of the other people in that friend group has been gender questioning and might be trans but isn't sure yet - this questioning also happened completely by itself, without influence from either of the other two of us. But they are at least gender non-conforming in their presentation and I can see evidence of that going back at least 9 years. The likelyhood that three different people from the same friend group would question their gender after parting company, without pressure or influence from the others in that group, and without having told any of the others previously that they felt dysphoria, provides demonstration that trans people can be drawn to each other, even before they realise they are trans. I guess there is some sort of subconscious vibe. I'd honestly argue that the presence of a people giving off and being drawn to a subconcious "trans vibe", years before they realise they are even trans or have gender dysphoria, is demonstration that being trans is an innate and immutable experience and that it can sometimes just take time to understand.
(3): Being raised in a transphobic family can give you internalized transphobia. This was exactly the case for me. After realising I might be trans, it took me 4 years and a suicide attempt to finally get HRT and it wasn't until I started HRT and felt a lot better that I was able to accept my situation. Having internalized transphobia can therefore delay trans people from coming out of the closet. Being around other trans people and seeing they are perfectly normal people can help to reduce internalized transphobia which can make the trans person more confident that they are genuinely trans and more confident in coming out.
(4): Telling transphobic parents that you are trans can make life difficult. There is a strong risk of being disowned, or kicked out of the house and onto the street, if you tell these sort of parents you are trans. Some people can't cope with this and will bury or hide their feelings to avoid making their lives worse. This is why transgender people suddenly coming out to their parents after going off to college or university can be very common, because they are no longer so reliant on their parents. From an external perspective, it can make the coming out seem really sudden and unexpected, almost like the college or university friends somehow triggered the onset of dysphoria.
Considering all these things together, you create a situation where someone has gender dysphoria without realising. They then flock together with other people who also have gender dysphoria without realising. This is an innate behaviour (as per point 2). Eventually one of the people in the group gets exposed to a trans person who explains the feeling of dysphoria to them. This triggers the realisation in the dysphoric person that they are experiencing dysphoria (as per point 1). They proceed to confide in their close friends how they feel, but some of those close friends who they flocked together with were also dysphoric without realising. This essentially triggers a chain reaction where a close encounter with a single trans person can cause a cluster of people in the same social group to realise that they have gender dysphoria and subsequently come out within a short timespan of each other. Some might delay their coming out because of internalized transphobia (as per point 3) or they may suffer transphobic parents who "never saw any signs" and are unable to accept the genuine nature of their child's transness (as per point 4). The transphobic parents then proceed to search online for other people with similar viewpoints to express how their child suddenly thinks they are trans, and that their whole friend group seems to suddenly have gender dysphoria that came out of nowhere. A random transphobic researcher from America then picks up on this and writes a paper with arbitrary conclusions without actually doing any proper research into where the dysphoria might have come from. Cue the belief in the existence of ROGD.
Honestly, points (1) and (2), which are things I've proven to myself can happen through my own life experiences, are really adequate enough by themselves to explain away rapid onset gender dysphoria as a bogus theory. Subconscious flocking, where trans people form friend groups with each other without realising they are trans, and then later are able to articulate their feelings, is far more rational, and also actually observable in reality (I know this because I've seen and experienced it firsthand). I strongly believe that any observable instance of rapid onset gender dysphoria can be easily explained through these four points and that transgenderness is not a social contagion.
I would however like to argue for the record that it is possible to be mistaken about having gender dysphoria, but that this happens very rarely and this is not good justification for gatekeeping people under the guise of claiming they have ROGD. It is instead worth just asking the person who newly identifies as trans to proceed with caution until they are completely certain they are trans. Once the person is certain, it is statistically extremely unlikely they will back out of transitioning or detransition later, and it is also statistically likely that transitioning will make the trans person function better. Transition should therefore be embraced and supported in these cases.
Internal sense of identity is really important, and this is absolutely critical to understand when trying to deal with friends or relatives who are transgender.
Coming out, in the context of being transgender, is when a trans person reveals to someone that they are trans. The act of coming out effectively makes a statement: "I know you thought my gender was X, but my internal sense of gender is actually Y". They are declaring that their internal sense of identity is not what was originally believed.
The first person a trans person has to come out to is always themself. This process essentially requires the trans person to acknowledge that their gender does not match up with their body. From this point onwards, the identity they were originally assigned is not congruous with the identity they hold for themselves internally, which effectively makes the originally assigned identity a non-existent, fraudulent charade.
After the trans person has come out to themself, they will usually eventually start down a path to correct their gender expression in some way over some future period of time to better match their internal sense of self (e.g. via changing clothes or makeup, starting hormone replacement therapy to alter their biology, etc.). Similarly, they are also likely to start working on their social situation at some point (e.g. changing their name and pronouns) in order to be addressed appropriately to their internal identity.
The speed at which the trans person wishes to do any of these things (if at all) is completely up to that person, but these changes are generally intended to make life more comfortable for the trans person by reducing the feeling of gender dysphoria, and by creating an atmosphere in which the trans person is able to express themselves in a way which authentically puts across their internal identity.
It is also completely up to the trans person who they choose to come out to, and at what pace. For example, someone may choose to come out within their immediate friend group, but to remain closeted at work. This can be a good strategy to avoid transgender discrimination in the workplace (which is illegal, but still unfortunately happens due to the widespread nature of transphobia).
Transgender people typically choose a new name that is a more appropriate fit for their internal sense of gender, along with accompanying new pronouns. The choice of a new name and new pronouns is extremely important for a transgender person, because it symbolises the person that they truly are, whereas their birth name and pronouns symbolise the person they were or are erroneously perceived to be. Sometimes they can take a while to decide on their new name, or they may try out a few before they are sure which one fits best. This is perfectly OK - when a trans person chooses a new name, it's generally for life, so it's important they are happy with their decision. You should allow them to work through this until they've settled on their choice. But generally, they will eventually settle on a new name. (I chose Ruby Jane, because I love the colour red, and it's close enough to my birth name that I get to keep my initials).
From this point forward, to those people whom the trans person has come out to, their birth name ceases to be relevant. This is because the identity which it refers to does not exist. It is a fraudulent charade. The only name and pronouns that matter are those which refer to the identity that does exist, which is the one that the trans person internally experiences. The old identity is therefore effectively dead, and the birth name becomes the trans person's deadname. In all situations where it is safe to do so, you should subsequently endeavour to always use the trans person's preferred gender-affirming name and pronouns. To do otherwise is known as deadnaming and is deeply disrespectful.
I say "where it is safe to do so" and that's because the safety of the trans person must always come first, and the trans person chooses when to come out to people based on how safe they perceive it to be to do so. It is not your call to make that judgement, and you should always respect this. There are therefore situations in which using someone's deadname and birth pronouns is far more appropriate than using their gender-affirming name and pronouns, or even completely required - generally because the trans person is around others to whom they are not out yet, and therefore using gender-affirming name and pronouns would inadvertently out the trans person, which could create a situation where their safety is compromised. But, to reiterate, if you're not in one of these situations, you should always use the trans person's preferred gender-affirming name and pronouns.
The process of learning to use the gender-affirming name and pronouns has to happen in your subconscious. Retraining your subconscious may take up to 12 months. During this period, you may often deadname or misgender your trans friend or relative without realising (i.e. you make a mistake, but not on purpose). This is likely to be very common at the beginning when the trans person first comes out to you. In the event that you do accidentally deadname or misgender someone, it is important that as soon as you notice your mistake, you apologise and immediately correct yourself. When you apologise, you should address the person using their affirming name or pronouns as part of your apology (for example, if you were to deadname me, you can say something like "sorry, Ruby"). Doing so acknowledges to the trans person that you do respect their identity and you are making an effort not to deadname or misgender them. Correcting yourself by saying the affirming name as part of the apology also helps to reinforce the correct name in your subconscious, which will reduce the likelihood of you drawing the wrong name from there in future.
In the event that you don't quickly correct your mistake or don't notice it, the trans person is very likely to call you out on it. You may find this annoying, but it helps to drill into your head that the deadname is dead and to stop using it - again, this is intended to help retrain your subconscious. You should try not to get irritated by the trans person doing this. They are simply trying to kill off the deadname and make sure it stays dead.
If you are in a group where the trans person is out to everyone, these actions are even more critically important, because deadnaming without correction can actually help reinforce the deadname in the subconscious minds of the entire group, rather than reinforcing the affirming name. Likewise, every time you use the affirming name in the group, you reinforce it in the subconscious minds of everyone in that group, which helps everyones' brains to become retrained.
It is therefore extremely critical that you put in as much effort as possible to correctly name and pronoun your trans friend or relative.
You may find it uncomfortable or difficult at first to use your trans friend or relative's gender-affirming name and pronouns when referring to them, and would rather continue using their deadname and birth pronouns instead. If you have no prior experience with trans people, this is a completely normal feeling. When the trans person comes out to you, they may not appear any different, and so you logically assume that the identity you associate with them is still genuine. It is very important that you try to look past this, because that identity is no longer considered genuine by the trans person.
When you address a person, you are not addressing their body or the way they look, you are addressing THEM - your target of conversation is their internal self. And the internal self of your friend or relative knows completely that their identity is NOT deadname. They know that deadname is fraudulent.
If they still look identical to the person you knew as deadname, this is typically not the trans person's fault. They are likely to also be working in some way on changing their external gender presentation to match the identity they know to actually be genuine (e.g. via changing wardrobe or by taking hormone therapy) and they will be doing this at their own preferred pace and in their own preferred order. It is important to understand at this point that the way the trans person appears may not be by choice, and regardless is not a genuine reflection of their true self. It is therefore fundamentally irrelevant.
By using the deadname and birth pronouns, you continue to perpetuate the fraudulent identity which the trans person eventually intends to completely abolish, and you also indicate that perpetuating the fraud is more important to you than addressing the trans person in a way they perceive as internally genuine. This is extremely disrespectful. Deadnaming or misgendering may also trigger gender dysphoria symptoms, which can make the trans person extremely uncomfortable.
Here are some general messages that you may put across by consciously choosing not to refer to your trans friend or relative using their gender-affirming name and pronouns:
Obviously, if you do genuinely care about the trans person, these are not messages you want to put across to them.
Some people may argue that e.g. if the person's external gender expression doesn't match their internal sense of gender yet, they shouldn't be addressed using their gender-affirming name or pronouns. This causes a problematic sticking point.
Firstly, you indicate to the trans person that the way they look is critically important and that identity is based on appearance, neither of which are truthful. This is really harmful. The same sort of pressure creates unrealistic goals in many other scenarios, e.g. making women try to be as thin as possible because they believe that looks are critically important, and being thin is important to look good. You do not want to try to instill these sorts of beliefs into the brain of your trans friend or relative.
Secondly, you create arbitrary goalposts. In the case of a male-to-female transition like mine, at what point do you suddenly start considering the trans person's internal gender to be genuine? When their boobs have grown to a certain size? When their skin has softened? When their face starts to look girly? When they get voice correction? When they get a deed poll changing their name? When they get SRS to have their vagina constructed? Many trans women may not even reach all of these goalposts. Other goalposts are extremely inexact, e.g. the feminization of the face happens very very very slowly even from day one, is generally not noticeable for the first 3-6 months, then the trans woman is likely to enter a "teenage boy" phase, before finally some feminine features very slowly show themselves. Changes in day-to-day appearance are generally extremely hard or even impossible to notice, so pinpointing a precise day where their face suddenly changes from being masculine to feminine is not plausible. There would be no real logic behind any specific date that you might choose, since the person would look almost exactly the same on the previous day or the following one. You are therefore just picking an arbitrary date that means nothing. Because of this, you cannot realistically use any specific physical change in your friend or loved one as an arbitrary switch-over point.
It is also worth noting that even if you were to somehow manage to select some sort of method of determining the point where you feel you should change over, you will still have to go through the subconscious retraining period that may last anywhere up to 12 months. If the trans person is working on changing their external appearance to pass as their internal gender (e.g. via hormone therapy) it is plausible that, when the trans person comes out to you, they might look completely unchanged, but that 12 months later they may have enough features of the opposite gender to actually pass in society as that gender. Once they get to that point, they may not look trans. At this point, accidentally deadnaming or misgendering them can actually impact their safety by unintentionally outing them as trans. This can create similar safety issues to using the affirming name and pronouns in unsafe spaces during the early parts of transition. Therefore, if you care about the safety of the trans person, it is imperative that you begin the subconscious retraining process as soon as realistically possible. The only logical time to do this is when the trans person comes out to you.
This section contains personal opinion and may not be appreciated by non-binary individuals.
Gender is normally considered by society as a binary, i.e. that there are only two genders, male and female. However, a small minority of the transgender community do not feel that their internal sense of gender fits the standard definitions of male or female. They may feel that their sense of gender lies somewhere in-between, or that it fluctuates, or that they have no sense of gender at all. These people are known as non-binary because their internal gender sense does not fit within the standard gender binary.
There is no specific way in which a non-binary person may present themself, or in which they prefer to be addressed. Choosing a gender-neutral name and pronouns (e.g. 'they' instead of 'he/she') is not an uncommon choice. In terms of appearance, they may go for a mostly male or a mostly female look, or they may present as androgynous (an appearance half-way between male and female), or they may present in a way that is intentionally incongrous with the gender binary (e.g. beard and breasts).
There is a logical case to be made in support of non-binary gender. We have already made the distinction that the brain can be sexed, and that a person assigned male can end up with a female brain, or vice versa, and that this is where the internal feeling of gender comes from. Extrapolating from this position, it is logical to make the case that multiple areas of the brain could be responsible for the way that it sexes itself. Say, if there were 6 areas that control brain sex, 4 might end up male and 2 female. This would create gender incongruity within the brain that results in the formation of a non-binary gender identity.
Some people who report themselves as having a non-binary gender have attempted to find new words that describe their gender sense. In 2014, Facebook attempted to accomodate this group by allowing from a selection of 56 different gender terms. This subsequently caused a meme where people made fun of Facebook claiming there were 56 genders. This is an example of where the existence of non-binary gender may cause issues for the wider transgender community. Many transphobic individuals struggle to accept that brains even have their own sense of gender, or that people who transition to the opposite sex are actually that sex in the brain. When they hear that Facebook claims there are 56 genders, this may cause the transphobic person's view of the transgender community to shift from "wrong" to "absurd", i.e. that trans issues are a joke. This can make it much more difficult to get the trans experience across to the transphobic person and to eventually rid them of their transphobia.
This is not to say that the non-binary experience is a joke. It seems obvious based on everything said so far that the gender experience of all trans people is fully genuine and this includes the experiences of those who do not fit within the gender binary. Furthermore, society as a whole understands the concepts of male and female, and a case could be made that it could eventually learn to understand the concept of non-binary. Therefore those who do not fit within the gender binary should continue to push for recognition of non-binary gender within society.
However, being realistic, it does seem fundamentally unlikely that society as a whole would be able to learn the meaning of a huge number of different gender terms, or that they would even care to try. It also seems unlikely that the adoption of atypical pronouns like 'xe' or 'hir' would ever gain proper traction. It therefore seems likely for the time being that, while people identifying outside of the gender binary are perfectly welcome to find a unique gender term and pronoun which fits closest with their identity, their 'best fit' in terms of trying to live in a transphobic and ignorant society is likely to be to stick to identifying externally as non-binary and to use either 'he/him', 'she/her', or 'they' pronouns. They are more likely to be treated seriously this way. Support for transgender people within wider society is also more likely to gain traction and acceptance if trans people appear to be sensible and rational and not asking for more than can be plausibly believed by most people. This is particularly unfortunate but a sharp taste of the reality that we live in.