The Reality of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: A Personal essay

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) is a controversial concept introduced into the discussion around transgenderism by Lisa Littman in a 2018 study. This phenomenon has been observed among teenagers, generally but not always female, who announce that they are transgender without any history of discomfort with their biological sex. This is often connected to use of social media platforms and can involve multiple people in the same friend group coming out as ‘transgender’ at the same time.

When I recently came across the idea of ROGD, I realised that it applied to my own experiences. When I was 18, I began to consider whether I might be a ‘man in a woman’s body’ despite no previous experiences of gender dysphoria. This was about 15 years ago, however, and so I never underwent any social or medical transition. Unlike the gender identity ideologues’ claims that suffering from gender dysphoria means that you should ‘transition’, I turned out perfectly fine as a woman.

This piece discusses my reasons for experiencing gender dysphoria, my experiences with the concept of transgenderism online, what my experiences actually entailed, and the reasons why I did not undergo social or medical transition. Obviously, my own experiences are my own and I don’t claim them to be universal, but if experience is a valid barometer than mine are as well.

I was always a bit naive growing up and I ended up being behind everyone else when I was going through puberty. I don’t remember experiencing much real sexual attraction until I was 15 or so. I went to a girls’ school and became attracted to some of my classmates around this age. I initially came out as bisexual to several different people and I fortunately did not experience pushback in the form of ostracism or bullying. Obviously the idea of being same sex attracted had not been a positive thought for me when I was younger: I remember being upset by ending up in a lesbian relationship on my friend’s The Sims game. We were also taught nothing positive or even neutral about homosexuality and bisexuality at school because it was the last few years of Section 28 [see note]. Nevertheless I didn’t struggle too much with the idea of being same sex attracted compared to many others who have gone through coming out, though I did fear coming out to my father and didn’t do so until I was in my early 20s. I think being mentally behind other people growing up was also linked to having autism. (I mention same sex attraction and autism because both seem to increase the risk of gender dysphoria and presenting at child gender clinics, even though they were not the direct cause of my ROGD).

When I was 17 or so I was introduced to the forum Gaia Online. For those not familiar with this it is a discussion forum but contains games and the like which you can use to earn ‘money’ to buy items for a customised avatar, kind of like a more grown up version of Neopets. I bring this up because this was where I distinctly remember first encountering the idea of transgenderism. In particular, there was a ‘transgender man’ very active on the parts of the site that I gravitated to the most. I had come to have a nascent interest in politics and issues relating to feminism and women’s oppression and was also a passionate atheist and so ended up on the atheist parts of the site.

This individual – I cannot remember names or handles at this point – discussed (how they saw it) the problems that they faced as a transgender man. The most distinctive thing I remember is that this person argued transgender people are very likely to end up dead by suicide before age 30. This alleged fact stuck with me. I was the kind of person who wanted to be inclusive – unlike those religious bigots who hated anyone different from them! – so I thought it must be terrible what they were going through. I mention this online forum because I do believe that it may have influenced me to see my subsequent feelings of dislike of my body through a transgender lens.

Growing up I wouldn’t say I ‘liked’ having a female body or developing breasts though also would not call my feelings about the issue ‘gender dysphoria’, I would just call it typical teenage discomfort with a changing body that basically all girls experience. I only started upon a phase of privately identifying as a man at the age of 18. The incident that led to my ROGD was a bad sexual experience I had with a man which was traumatising. Shortly after that I began to have experiences of gender dysphoria.

At the time, I did not understand that the incident was the trigger for these feelings. I believe that my gender dysphoria originated subconsciously from this experience because I no longer felt safe as a woman. I wanted to protect myself and I saw being big and strong like a man as the way to do that. I wished I would grow taller and not be stuck at 5′ 5″. I imagined myself being 6′. I created a male identity known as ‘Kirk’ (and a new identity on Gaia Online, this time with a male avatar). And of course I thought about taking male hormones.

This is what I wrote a few months after I first experienced dysphoria. “Lately I have felt so confused. Of course all the normal [self] hatred is still there. […] But there is something else. I don’t know what to do or even if it is my own paranoia…I want to be a man. And I don’t know why. I know I’ve always had ‘male’ traits but I don’t know whether I want to change because they have it better. Or whether it is some deep rooted problem. […] I don’t want to be a pretend man if I know that I’m not. But I never know what I’m supposed to be. Was I supposed to be that way?”

I was very aware of not fitting into gender roles (I always had been) but I was now linking that to the idea of being a man. These excerpts are from a piece I wrote (and rewrote) simply called ‘Testosterone’, essentially a plea to be given the stuff. “People judge me by the shape my body makes/they think they know what I want out of this life.” I also expressed disgust at the idea of sexual penetration and expressed the idea that “I should be the one with the weapon.” I referred to the female body as an “oestrogen prison” and drew it as such: curved prison bars. In another work I wrote I referred to being a woman as “lying to the world”.

In general I didn’t talk about these feelings to anyone, except for one time where I tried to ‘come out as trans’ to one friend in my life (incidentally, the first person I cameout to as bisexual). This was around 6 months after I first started experiencing dysphoria. I remember mumbling the words ‘I’m not really female’. My friend was actually quite dismissive of the idea, and I never mentioned it to anyone else again.

It wasn’t that long after this that I slowly began to move away from transgender identification. My gender dysphoria became less severe and less of a significant factor in my life as I moved further in time from the triggering incident. I did not really do anything specific to overcome it, though I did (eventually) go to the doctors with other issues relating to mental distress. I just gradually stopped using the male persona and name. I also went through a phase of not identifying as either gender, instead calling myself ‘androgynous’ (the 2007 ‘non-binary’). Then, by 2008, I was calling myself lesbian. In reality, I just grew out of it (although I appreciate that not everyone has the same experience on this point). At this stage the trauma wasn’t all gone: this wouldn’t happen for several more years. Occasionally I would get bouts of body hatred from trauma response which only resolved with processing the trauma itself.

Essentially, I dealt with this problem on my own, without any form of affirmation or acceptance from society, nor any kind of understanding what I was going through. In this case, though, muddling through on my own was a far better option than medicalisation.

Here are what I consider to be the main differences between the social climate of today and the one I experienced 15 years ago in terms of the attitudes towards transgenderism – and thus why I ended up making the choices I did rather than making different ones. This is my personal experience, and so it may not be exactly the same for everyone else, but I do think that generally these observations hold.

Gender identity ideology – that is, the idea that all human beings have an innate gender identity – was not accepted and promoted as fact. In all honesty, when I look back on the expressions of gender dysphoria I made a large number of them were about not fitting into gender stereotypes, not about a mythical identity. (Of course, this is what gender amounts to – stereotypes – but understanding of that fact is obscured for many young people today with the promotion of the concept of ‘gender identity’).

It follows then that the idea of uncritical affirmation of ‘all gender identities’ did not saturate the culture 15 years ago. In fact, transgenderism was a rare topic of discussion. I knew no one in real life that even mentioned the idea, let alone identified as ‘trans’. In contrast, nowadays teenagers and even children are encouraged to ‘question their gender identity’. I certainly do not remember the phenomenon of ‘trans role models’, such as Munroe Bergdorf or Caitlyn Jenner, being promoted in the media. Nor was there constant affirmation from virtue signalling politicians and celebrities repeating the mantra ‘Trans Men Are Men’.

The echo chambers of affirmation online, such as certain spaces within the platform Tumblr, did not exist. My friends were all in real life and not online. I believe online forums did influence me and my transgender identification, but those are different in make up to Tumblr or Twitter, as they do not allow for ‘following’ accounts and thus developing attachments to specific individuals. These spaces also make it harder to desist from transgender identification as there is a fear of ostracism and a high level of investment in that identity.

I also had some doubts about being transgender, though I privately referred to myself as such in my diaries. The understanding I had was that trans people were aware from an early age of their feelings of wanting to be the opposite sex, and I did not have any gender issues as a child. Had I been in the modern environment, that repeated the mantra ‘anyone who says they are trans is trans’, perhaps these inner doubts would have been subsumed by affirmation.

I am very glad that I never took hormones or had surgery because I know it would have been a terrible mistake. In truth I was just lucky to be 32 and thus a teenager a bit before the trend for promoting gender identity ideology really took off. Of course, I cannot say for sure that had I had similar experiences 10 years later, I would have ‘transitioned’. But I do believe that outcome would have been significantly more likely based on the evidence I have outlined.

I could just forget the whole episode as embarrassing and not write about it at all. The reason I don’t is because I am concerned about the medicalisation of young people who may have similar transient feelings. These young people have no way of understanding the ramifications of taking something like testosterone (I certainly did not!) and often see ‘transition’ as a silver bullet for their problems – yet medical professionals promote the idea of ‘affirming their identity’ and starting them on hormones rather than an exploratory approach.

The uncritical affirmation narrative does not give any time or space for people to uncover the reasons behind having dysphoria. Transgender ideology claims to represent space for adolescents to be themselves without societal expectations being forced on them. In reality it does the opposite, by fixing a specific identity and ideology in the teenager’s head.  In my case the idea of being a man was not fixed in my mind by affirmation or having started a medical process so I just abandoned it fairly easily when it no longer served a purpose – the way young people generally do with identities.

I might hear the transgender ideologists object that ‘I was never really transgender anyway, what do I know?’ Which is true, I’m not transgender. But the transgender ideologists want to have it both ways on this one. During the period of time I was dysphoric and identified as ‘Kirk’ would or could the transgender ideologists draw any distinction between me and another ‘trans’ individual? On their own ideology – no, because I called myself a transgender man so therefore I was one. Even if you take the definition of trans as meaning someone who has gender dysphoria – then I would also qualify as ‘trans’ by that definition. Yet here I am – as very clearly not a transgender man! Not ‘hiding my trans identity’ like some activists say of those who stop identifying as transgender, but embracing myself as a lesbian. This is where the whole concept of ‘trans’ as some kind of immutable characteristic like sexual orientation falls apart.

I believe that if you hate your body – which many girls and young women do – testosterone isn’t going to ease that pain. Only accepting yourself as a woman and working through any trauma you may have from male violence and homophobic/misogynistic ideology will help you come to terms with your body. It isn’t a magic bullet. But unlike surgery and hormones, it isn’t a false promise.

Note: It occurs to me that non UK readers may not be familiar with Section 28. Section 28 was a law passed under the Thatcher government that banned positive discussion of homosexual relationships in schools. I attended school between 1999-2004 and the legislation was repealed by the Blair government in late 2003.