On the Science of Changing Sex

The Gender Dysphoria Epidemic in Teens

Posted in Science Criticism by Kay Brown on April 26, 2019

female_scientistIn the media and in clinical circles, there is a perception that there is a growing epidemic of gender dysphoria in teenagers.  But is there really?  A recent paper set out to test this perception using a survey of 318 male and 401 female youth participated in 2012–2013, and 326 male and 701 female youth in 2017 with up to 3.6% of the boys reporting gender dysphoria in the later survey.  That’s twelve of the boys.

Right from the start, I have to question the utility of this study because these numbers are FAR too small to detect clinical gender dysphoria in statistically valid numbers given that we know that only three out of ten thousand individuals experience gender dysphoria sufficient to drive them to socially transition.  And that counts “late onset” gender dysphoria which would not occur in teenagers.  If we count only “early onset”, we would expect to see only one out of ten thousand.  So, with less than two thousand subjects this study couldn’t possibly detect any change in the incidence of severe gender dysphoria.

Lying on survey instruments is common in the general population.  It also occurs in the transsexual population and has been shown to be heavily driven by social desirability bias in which autogynephilia is strongly downplayed or outright denied in the “late transitioning” / gynephilic transsexual population.  But another form of misrepresentation occurs, especially in teenagers, as the authors point out,

“Validity screening is a novel approach in GD research. Social desirability has been recognized as a methodological problem resulting in the concealing of information perceived as stigmatizing in clinical encounters and research studies. Anonymous survey studies appear to offer a forum to disclose sensitive information without such inhibition, but particularly among adolescents, surveys have also been shown to be susceptible to exaggeration of such information. The proportion of those who admitted to giving incorrect responses was low, but missing information on this item was decidedly common. Comparisons between those reporting responding honestly with those who were not honest and those omitting to answer the honesty question revealed first that among male youth, admitting incorrect responding was strongly associated with reporting GD as measured by the GIDYQ-A. Unfortunately, no validity screen was included in the earlier data. The prevalence of GD detected among males in the earlier data may also be an overestimation. However, not responding to the honesty question was likewise associated with vastly increased prevalence of GD. This may indicate that adolescents felt uneasy after mispresenting themselves when faced with the honesty question and chose to ignore it. However, it may also be that adolescents exaggerated their gender-related dissatisfaction due to assuming that such feelings are expected. GD has recently attracted extensive media coverage in Finland. Adolescents may perceive that they should problematize their gender, and this may influence their responses. When confronted with the validity question they perhaps nevertheless hesitated.”

The odd thing about this study is that their validity screening was conducted with just a single question item in the survey at the end, “Did you respond  honestly?”  While one can imagine that some who had previously been dishonest would now admit to “Yeah, I’m just messing with you.”  Can we assume that all who had been dishonest would suddenly be totally honest just because they asked?  Seriously?  Still, answering the question that they had not been honest or not answering that question both correlated with a higher GD score.  This tells us that we can not trust these scores.

Simply put, there is no credible evidence that there is such a serious epidemic of gender dysphoria in teenagers.  Underpowered studies such as this will not answer the question.

For myself, I don’t see any evidence of any increase in the incidence of severe gender dysphoria, only an increase in the visibility and acceptance of transfolk, and of the trendiness of claiming to be transgender.

Further Reading:

Essay on teenagers falsely claiming to be transgender

References:

Katiala-Heino, R., et al, “Gender dysphoria in adolescent population: A 5-year replication study” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2019)
https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359104519838593

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