Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

I’m annoyed at this term. Annoyed enough that I have to restart this blog. I heard for the first time about a week ago. 

Apparently, defying the realities of human development, people are supposed to be the same at 13 as they were at 3 or will be at 33 or  73. When I first started working exclusively in gender, we used the term consolidation when referring to identity. Is his/her identity consolidated? I’ve come to believe this is the wrong frame and based in inaccurate explanations of human development. 

For years I’ve railed against Erikson, who underpins American psychology and education, that we were all supposed to have achieve certain developmental goals before moving onto the next goal. It assumes a linearity that I do not believe exists for all of us. Erikson and Marcia’s ideas were limited by the times in which they lived.  The world has changed in ways they could not have imagined.

We have inherited an essentialist belief that who you are at 3 or 5 is who you will stay. I remember hearing silly things like that in school.  That people resolve identity crises and then their identity becomes fixed in stone.  Like the binary in gender, some of us find ourselves wrapped snuggly in polarity like a cashmere sweater and for others it’s like wearing fiberglass.

Essentialism was a way to organize information back before we understood what we know now. Any individual is a complex system. What one is at the current time is their current state—this doesn’t mean that a person wasn’t who they were at an earlier time. They have grown and developed based on new experiences, new information.  Who you are at 3 is 3-year old you and doesn’t necessarily predict much about 13-year-old you.

Many humans, who like to organize, categorize and control, like simple answers. The truth is, nature is complex. Life is nothing if not filled with diversity. We try to simplify. How we know how to relate to people is to determine what box they are in and then follow the rules. Those rules have changed over time, too. Men are like this, women like  this, blacks like this, whites like this, Asians like this. It’s culturally informed. It also has changed as we have grown. 

Neuroscience shows us that the brain is constantly changing.  There may be innate aspects, but experience overwhelms them.  Learning matters. And not in the way that many people with a simplistic understand of nature versus nurture think. 

So what does this have to do with the notion of “rapid onset gender dysphoria?” We assume that since a child hasn’t consistently behaved in  gender conforming ways, that they can’t be who they say they are as an adolescent or a young adult. 

As I said, when I was starting out we had this idea of “consolidated” gender identity. Gender was fixed and binary. The concern then was about older people transitioning–why were they suddenly showing up wanting surgery and hormones after having lived decades as the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? It was easy for providers to question and discredit the patients’ experience because it didn’t follow this essentialist thinking. The essentialist explanations–the person must be mentally ill–were the exact opposite of what was actually happening for many people. The assumption was if they were “truly transgender” they would have presented earlier. Generally, people are much more practical and much more complex.

The truth was, there were lots of reasons people didn’t present sooner for assistance transitioning. They had family obligations that were more important than their individual needs. They didn’t know that transitioning existed and they did the best they could to cope before they discovered there was help.  People waited til their kids were grown, their parents were dead, that they had save all the money they thought they would need. That they finally could not live a lie anymore–they tried to make something work that could not work. That they retired and were finally free to be themselves.

Now we are using this same microscope to look at youth. So are there practical explanations for “rapid onset” youth? Probably. Without thinking very hard on this  it’s become easier for youth to come out now–easier than ten years ago. Parents are likely more generous around cross gender play than they were ten years ago. Maybe what felt like lesbian or gay is better understood for the youth as male or female. As the youth becomes more sophisticated in their thinking, they have more complicated identities than they did when they were younger. That parents didn’t observe. Parents often do not see what they do not want to see. We know this about many issues. Parents explain things to themselves from the frames which work for them. Our children bring us new challenges to our thoughts and ideas.

And the bigger issue is that the lens we have is wrong. It isn’t a problem to newly identify an issue or aspects of one’s identity as we grow and change. How a person comes to their gender identity can be different for different people. No one size fits all no matter how much easier life would be if things were so binary–yes/no. gay/straight. male/female. Or American/other. Good guys/bad hombres. Our government wants simple. They don’t want science. They don’t want diversity.  We know that’s off. Build a wall as a solution to a very complex problem.

Our understanding of gender is in it’s own adolescence at best. We have a long way to go as providers and as society. We actually don’t need to build walls to try to control people–that’s more reactionary fear-based ideology.

I’ll write more soon on regret and detransition and how I believe it fits in with these ideas. We’ve already, I think explained, the problems related to desistance language and the flawed studies that are used to support it.  (like misusing gender non-conforming to mean transgender when they aren’t the same at all. they simply overlap)


About gendertherapist

Psychotherapist in San Francisco. I am a gender specialist.
This entry was posted in Gender Dysphoria, Gender Identity, gender non-forming, Mental health, transgender, Youth and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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