Who’s gaslighting whom? Susan Bradley, youth gender dysphoria expert, weighs in

Child psychiatrist Susan Bradley, MD, FRCP(C), founded the Child and Adolescent Gender Identity clinic at the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), originally the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, in 1975. She continued to direct that clinic until 1982, when Dr. Kenneth Zucker took over as head of the clinic after joining as a student in 1977. Dr. Bradley was subsequently employed at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital, where she was chief of the department of child psychiatry. She was also head of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University  of Toronto from 1989 until 1999. She is currently professor emerita at University of Toronto, and is writing a book about supporting youth with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dr. Bradley recently wrote an article for the Post-Millennial about the current political and clinical climate surrounding issues of childhood and adolescent gender dysphoria; highly recommended.

We will be posting a lengthy 4thWaveNow interview with Dr. Bradley in the near future. Stay tuned.


Below, Dr. Bradley responds to a recent paper by Damien Riggs (associate professor of social work) and Clare Bartholomaeus (research associate) of Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia entitled “Gaslighting in the context of clinical interactions with parents of transgender children.”

gaslighting author screen cap

The piece is, in essence, an attack on skeptical parents of trans-identified children, in the form of three “fictionalized case studies.” Riggs and Bartholomaeus characterize parents who do not fully affirm their child as transgender as engaging in “identity-related abuse”; they use the term over 30 times in their paper. According to the authors, “abuse” and “gaslighting” include such transgressions as not using preferred pronouns; cancelling appointments; and not agreeing to medical transition on the timetable preferred by Riggs and other providers engaged in pediatric transition.

The authors counsel therapists to try to see a child privately when parents are not sufficiently obsequious. They even refer to non-compliant parents as abuse “perpetrators”:


gaslighting article 5

Authors suggest therapists should find “creative ways” to make private contact with the child


We have included more screen captures from the Riggs article in Dr. Bradley’s response below. However, we will not be deconstructing the entire paper in detail. We strongly encourage readers to examine it closely.

 


by Susan Bradley, MD, FRCP(C), Consultant Child Psychiatrist

 Where is Damien Riggs coming from?

That’s what I had to ask myself when I read his diatribe against parents of youth who have recently expressed their feelings of gender dysphoria. His position seems to be this: Parents who are reluctant to simply buy into his belief that anyone who expresses feelings of gender dysphoria must be “trans” and supported in their transition with no questions asked, are not being adequately supportive of their child; further, he terms this parental skepticism “identity-related abuse.” But it’s natural for any parent of a youth expressing such feelings, particularly if they are of recent onset, to wonder “why?” or “how come now?” Such sudden changes in identity would make anyone question what is really going on inside that person.


gaslighting article 1

Parents are “gaslighters” if they question hormone blockers or want to slow down medical intervention


To be a parent of a child undergoing such a radical change in identity is a very stressful experience, with conflicting feelings of wanting to support their child, but also wanting to be sure that what they want really makes sense. If this child has a previous history of feeling rejected by peers, many parents will be aware of the damage that has been done to their self-esteem, and rightly see them as vulnerable to those who offer acceptance, at whatever cost.

But Damien Riggs, the therapist advising us, seems to see things in black and white terms: if they voice any feelings of being “trans” they must be “trans”. What about those individuals who change their minds? Does the therapist know for sure that my daughter is not going to change her mind? How do we know that this sudden, intense interest is different from other intense interests the child may have had in the past? How do we know what impact interventions such as puberty blockers will have on her future, especially if she changes her mind?


gaslighting article 2

“Cisgenderist” parents who misgender their kids should not be allowed to apologize


These are just some of the questions that would go through the minds of any caring parent in that situation. If the therapist does not address these concerns in a straightforward manner, most parents would then begin to wonder if they are in the right place to help their child. Failing to engage wholeheartedly in the “therapy” would be one way of trying to deal with their uncertainty when they sense that the therapist is not open to a discussion about their concerns.

This hardly qualifies  as “gaslighting,” a term defined in the dictionary as “behavior intended to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity” or behavior that “seeks to sow seeds of doubt” about their reality or beliefs. To the contrary, those parents are behaving as most parents would in a situation where they do not feel heard.

From the description of the process of therapy engaged in by Damien Riggs, there appears to be no attempt to help parents be understood in terms of what most would regard as very normal worries about a process that seems to be moving forward with little thought for the persons involved. There is no evidence of intent to deceive by these parents; only a lack of faith in the person directing their child’s treatment, who after all, has very little prior knowledge of that child, their issues, their vulnerability, or their ability to make a competent decision about life-altering interventions.

I would argue that Damien Riggs’ accusations about the parents “gaslighting” is unethical and lacking in understanding of the relationship between child and parent. Amongst other things it is the parents’ job to protect the interests of their children until they reach an age when they are capable of doing so by themselves.  Riggs appears not to understand the importance of this relationship when he mislabels the rather normal reactions of parents with a rapid onset dysphoric child as “gaslighting”.


gaslighting article 4

Parents who ask for a diagnosis for their trans-identified children are gaslighters.


If Damien Riggs had done a careful assessment of the youth, particularly, the girls with rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), he would have understood that most of these young women had begun to have homoerotic feelings as they moved into adolescence. Experiencing crushes on same-sex peers is not unusual both in individuals who later become lesbian, but also in heterosexual women.

However, if you are a teen who has had social difficulties, it is easy to feel that having these feelings will make you feel more “weird” than you may already feel. Homophobic slurs are common amongst teens, further increasing anxiety about acceptance in these young girls. The process is easy to uncover if you—as a therapist—ask the right questions, in that these young women desperately want friends and someone who accepts them. The internet sites for “trans” individuals are very welcoming of anyone who expresses interest. Because many of these young women are not really skilled at self-reflection, finding a simple solution (“I’m trans!”) that makes them feel accepted seems perfect. Unfortunately, as we all know, life is more complicated and what seems like a simple way of feeling good may not be a good long term solution.

Caring parents take time to understand and accept mental health issues even when they are more common than the belief that one is in the wrong body. Recent onset gender dysphoria is a rather sudden change in how the youth sees herself, and although some of these individuals may eventually decide that transitioning is best for them, many will realize that they are lesbian and can explore that and find acceptance in a same-sex relationship without having to change their bodies. They need time to understand their feelings and explore ways of finding the best solutions for them. Parents can usually participate in being supportive when they understand what their child is struggling with and how they can help.  For Riggs to blame parents for not accepting his approach wholeheartedly is not what those of us in mental health are trained to do.

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The Tide Pod Challenge: How a teenage self-harm fad ought to be handled

by Overwhelmed

If you haven’t heard, the Tide Pod Challenge is all the rage with teens and young adults. Unfortunately, many of them have bitten into, ingested, and accidentally inhaled the liquid laundry detergent packets, leading to serious medical consequences. Several young people have even died.

Tide bottleWhy has the challenge become so popular? Well, this age group is not known for risk aversion or for considering the consequences of their actions. And many of them have a social media presence and strive to accrue “likes” and gain new followers. So when #TidePodChallenge started trending, some of them just couldn’t resist. They recorded themselves biting into laundry pods and uploaded it to various social media platforms. This in turn inspired more to join in the dare.

I’m sure 4thWaveNow readers can appreciate the parallels between the Tide Pod Challenge and Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.  The same age group is involved. Both are spread by social contagion, which is greatly amplified by social media. And both cause medical harms.

Dr. Susan Bradley, longtime expert in childhood gender dysphoria, as well as autism, had this to say about Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) in a recent article in the Canadian journal Post-Millennial:

In my own practice, I have seen a good many young women displaying the phenomenon known as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” or ROGD, which overwhelmingly affects girls.

Typically, the ROGD teenage girls I see have, wittingly or not, begun to experience homoerotic feelings about which they are conflicted. They tend to be socially isolated, and somewhere “on the spectrum.” They may have histories of eating or self-harm disorders.

They have found companions with the same attributes on Internet sites, which diminishes such adolescents’ sadness over their social isolation, but which can also lead to foreclosure of reflective thinking about their own feelings and situation. Some of these girls are depressed, afflicted with suicidal ideation. Because of the initial euphoria they experience in finally “belonging” to a well-defined kinship group, they tend to embrace the idea of transitioning wholeheartedly as the solution to their other problems.

I’ve been impressed with the actions being taken to stem the Tide Pod Challenge (which I list below). It gives me hope that when the serious ramifications of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria are eventually acknowledged, steps will be taken to curb it as well.

So, how have responsible adults acted to reduce the number of young people being harmed by the Tide Pod Challenge?

  1. Many journalists are reporting about it. The public is being informed of this trend, including the serious medical implications—seizures, chemical burns to the eyes which can cause temporary blindness, fluid in the lungs, respiratory arrest, coma, death.
  1. YouTube (owned by Google) has removed videos that show people taking bites of laundry detergent packets. According to a spokesperson: “YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm. We work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”
  1. Facebook has followed suit, deleting content off its platforms (including Instagram), stating “we don’t allow the promotion of self-injury and will remove it when we’re made aware of it.”
  1. Procter and Gamble, which owns Tide, is trying to turn the tide (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of this social contagion. According to a company representative, “We are deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs and have been working with leading social media networks to remove harmful content that is not consistent with their policies.” Tide has even enlisted a celebrity, NFL star Rob Gronkowski, to appear in a Twitter video informing people that Tide Pods are for washing, not eating. It has already garnered millions of views.

tide podsThis is exactly how a socially contagious craze that is impacting young people SHOULD be handled. I dream of more journalists honestly covering Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria and its associated often-irreversible medical consequences. I wish pharmaceutical companies would speak up and condemn the inappropriate, non-FDA approved, off-label use of their products. I hope social media platforms will restrict content that glorifies tweens, teens, and young adults altering their bodies via binding, cross-sex hormones, double mastectomies, and genital surgeries. It could easily be interpreted that cheering on medical transition already qualifies as a violation of YouTube’s policy of encouraging “dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm” and Facebook’s “promotion of self-injury.”

But unfortunately, the transgender rights movement is overshadowing this epidemic. I think the majority of the public is totally unaware that kids are being influenced, especially by social media, to believe that they are transgender. They become convinced their bodies are wrong and in need of drastic life-long medical interventions. The adults who are aware of this contagion are often afraid to raise concerns because they will be labeled transphobic (and potentially lose their jobs). Of course, this seriously dampens the opportunity for rational discussion on this topic. Mainstream journalists, particularly in the United States, have been extremely hesitant to cover it.

I have no doubt that Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria will eventually become widely known as a disastrous medical fad. Steps will be taken to curtail the damages. It’s just a question of when. In the meantime, parents of ROGD kids and their allies will keep speaking out. They’re doing what they can to reduce the number of young people who may eventually regret how easy it was to medically transition.

Unlike the Tide Pod Challenge, the spread of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria has gone unchecked for several years now. Thousands of young people and their families have been impacted. It has gotten so out of control that serious efforts need to be undertaken to counteract the nearly insurmountable amounts of misinformation, and help control this social contagion. This effort needs to be more than parents speaking out. Medical organizations need to review the science (not rely on trans activist ideology), reevaluate their stance on pediatric medical transition, and rein in rogue practitioners. If we have any chance at stemming this, it will have to be done on a grand scale from multiple fronts.