A Professor at Brown Uncovers a Transgender Inconvenient Truth

Transgender symbol. Trans gender sign. Abstract night sky background

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition supporting a Brown University social scientist who is under fire from activists and her own university for research raising questions about whether social factors, rather than biological ones, could influence young adults’ transgender identities.

Lisa Littman, an Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences, in a peer-reviewed published study based on anonymous survey responses from 250 parents of teens and young adults who had abruptly expressed gender dysphoria, concluded that “further research” is needed to determine if social factors are contributing to the dramatic increase in “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”

Yielding to political pressure from the trans community and its allies, Brown University issued a statement indicating that it decided to withdraw its press release about the Littman study after learning about “concerns over the study’s methodology.”

A letter from Bess Marcus, the Dean of the School of Public Health, claimed that she has “heard from the Brown community members expressing concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” Brown University has not specified the “methodological concerns” in the peer-reviewed study, but it is more likely that the concerns were more political than procedural.

Some of the criticisms of Littman’s study were the “lack of a control group.” This is a spurious criticism considering that she never claimed that her study was anything but a qualitative or descriptive study. Besides, even psychological studies with control groups can be problematic. An article published a few years ago in the August 2015, issue of Science revealed that in an analysis of 100 studies from some of the most prestigious journals in social psychology found that nearly two-thirds of the quantitative – highly controlled – experiments described “did not replicate.”

This means that when scientists attempted to repeat these experimental highly controlled studies—using the same techniques, the same conditions, and analysis—they could not obtain the results described by the original researchers. The authors of the Science study concluded, “This project provides accumulating evidence for many findings in psychological research and suggests that there is still more work to do to verify whether we know what we think we know.” At least in her survey, Littman interviewed real subjects – real parents dealing with the real gender dysphoria of their own children. It would be difficult to find a more valid study.

Besides, PLOS One—the Public Library of Science, a highly regarded journal that “accelerates the publication of peer-reviewed science”—published the Littman study after a rigorous peer review process. The study never pretended to be the “final statement” on the contributors to gender dysphoria. But, the transgender community will not allow anyone even to suggest that transgender identity could be anything other than a biologically determined fact—and it’s certainly not a “fad.” Professor Littman never suggests that it is a fad. She is simply describing what large numbers of the 250 respondents to her survey have told her.

Littman found that the surveyed parents who had been supportive and understanding of their child’s sexual confusion drew the line when their children declared they were transsexuals and wanted to physically change their sex through surgery and/or hormone therapy. The parents believed the children’s quick transition was being influenced by social media and other trends.

  • 64.4% of the female children (the majority) expressed a non-heterosexual orientation prior to disclosing a transgender-identification.
  • 69.3% of children had been part of a group where one or more friends had come out as transgender when they did.
  • 60.7% of children found their popularity increased within their group after declaring their transgender preference.
  • 55.9% of children had high expectations that transitioning would solve their problems in social, academic, occupational or mental health areas.

These observations could never be allowed to stand in the ideologically charged GLBTQ culture at Brown University. Although Brown University’s Dean Marcus claimed that she personally “affirmed the importance of academic freedom and the value of rigorous debate informed by research,” removing the article from the University’s website sends a clear message that there are some research areas that are “off limits” for scholars at Brown University. Faculty know that one cannot question the prevailing GLBTQ orthodoxy.

Alice Dreger, a historian of science and medicine at the Medical and Humanities and Bioethics Program at Northwestern University, and author of Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, asked on the pages of Retraction Watch—a website that “tracks retractions as a window into the scientific process:”

“What researcher would want to work at Brown when the value of your work is determined by political pressure? Is Brown a research institution or a marketing company that accidentally rolled out New Coke?”

The Littman sudden onset gender dysphoria study fiasco is not over yet. The petition in support of Littman’s research has been signed by more than 4100 people—including some of the parent participants in her study. It asks Brown University and PLOS One to “resist ideologically based attempts to squelch controversial research evidence” and informs readers of the following:

Littman’s study offers, for the first time, a glimpse into families who hold space for their dysphoric children while also seeking out mental health care that focuses on underlying conditions. Consider some of her findings:

  • 204 out of 256 youth reported on in the study claimed alternative sexualities to their parents prior to coming out as transgender
  • Over 200 were supported in changing their presentation in terms of hairstyle and dress
  • 188 had changed their names
  • 175 had changed their pronouns
  • 111 told their parents they wanted to see a gender therapist; 92 were taken to see one

The parents in the Littman study provide the kind of reality that Brown University seems to want to deny. They are simply asking Brown to continue to support the research of Dr. Lisa Littman because her recently published paper “explores the possibility that social contagion may cause some teens and young adults to incorrectly conclude they are transgender, and thereby undertake irreversible medical interventions that they may eventually regret.” It is not likely that Brown will comply. But, it is possible that such strong support for Littman’s research may encourage her to continue to her research.

Anne Hendershott

Anne Hendershott

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction Books) and The Politics of Deviance (Encounter Books). 

4 thoughts on “A Professor at Brown Uncovers a Transgender Inconvenient Truth

  1. So let’s get this straight.
    One can be biologically determined (or predetermined) to be transgender.
    But apparently one cannot be biologically determined to be a given gender at birth.
    It would appear that the only correct gender to adhere to then, is the one that is opposite of what you are.
    I doubt Orwell could have come up with anything more sensational than this!

  2. The inconvenient truth beneath all the diversity smoke and behind all the inclusivity mirrors, locked away in every social justice, “gender is fluid” closet… is that men cannot become women…and women cannot become men, no matter how much they wish it so….no matter how much body redesign they buy….no matter how many drugs they take. A full, utter, and complete transition to the other sex is simply impossible; it cannot happen.

    The question, of course, is whether or not that impossibility is being effectively communicated and understood by the desperately depressed adolescents who declare themselves (rapidly) ‘other’ gendered and demand so-called “reassignment” surgery… driven by the expectation that “transitioning would solve their problems in social, academic, occupational or mental health area(s).”

    Perhaps we cannot say with certainty that gender dysphoria is purely a psychological malady. Perhaps there is a biological basis for the ‘feeling’ that one is wrongly sexed. Perhaps this is, indeed, significantly different from the dysphoria we associate with body identity in which the reported ‘feeling’ is that a perfectly healthy limb is not really one’s own (even to the point of requesting amputation). But clearly what we are considering here is a recognized medical condition which is socially, culturally, emotionally, and psychologically disabling. From Littman’s study alone we learn that of the 250 teenagers completing the survey (average age 16): “62.5% … had been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder or neurodevelopmental disability” prior to the self-declaration of dysphoria. Even worse, it is estimated that the attempted suicide rate within the transgendered/gender dysphoric population (particularly among adolescents) ranges anywhere from 30-50% (compared to 4.6% within the general population).

    This is horrendous.

    So if there is any chance at all that Ms. Littman’s study — indicating that there may, indeed, be a social/environmental driver (as in the stereotypical adolescent need to be peer-accepted) to this self-declared dysphoria – is correct, are we not absolutely obligated to the victims and their families to examine her hypothetical (with all its implications) to the very best of our ability?

    How could we not be?

    To short-circuit the pursuit of Truth because that truth may be ‘inconvenient’ or unpalatable to those who wish otherwise is wrong. And Brown should be embarrassed and ashamed to find themselves declaring that any area of academic inquiry is out-of-bounds and inappropriate, especially when that boundary is being drawn by dogmatic political activists

  3. Littman’s article should not have been removed from Brown’s website. Nonetheless, she has not discovered an inconvenient truth; she has merely opened up a line of inquiry that would take a good deal more research, and more direct research, in order to come up with any settled fact.

  4. “60.7% of children found their popularity increased within their group after declaring their transgender preference. 55.9% of children had high expectations that transitioning would solve their problems in social, academic, occupational or mental health areas.”

    I’d like to know if the same thing is true of declaring an alternative sexuality…

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