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Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Littman’s research is academically irresponsible

Monday, September 10, 2018

To the Editor:

I am writing in reference to a Herald article, “Gender dysphoria study criticism,” published Sept. 4. Much of the backlash following the removal of a press release on Assistant Professor of the Practice of Behavioral and Social Sciences Lisa Littman’s “rapid onset gender dysphoria” study has focused on questions of academic freedom and institutional support for faculty who conduct controversial research. In these discussions, the actual content and underlying soundness of this research have largely been considered an afterthought. For me, however, the content of the study could not be more relevant.

Littman’s study directly quotes an article I wrote in 2013 on my experiences of gender dysphoria as a transgender woman. She labels such experiences “vague and nonspecific symptoms called signs of (gender dysphoria)” and implicates my work in her theory that online forums allow transgender identities to spread among the youth like “social contagion.” This could not be further from the truth. The symptoms I described are those of depersonalization disorder, a known condition of ‘feelings of unreality’ that is disproportionately common among trans people and often remits following transitioning. It strains belief that Littman would be unaware of the research on this disorder in trans people.

As a result of this oversight, her study suggests that my own work and outreach to the trans community on this real condition is instead a causative factor in a supposedly new disease. This is more than a question of academic freedom. It is a matter of academic responsibility — and in her misrepresentation of my work, Littman has failed to exercise that responsibility.

Zinnia Jones

Hazel Trans Research Collective

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  1. FictionalCookie says:

    I fail to see how thats relevant to the article?
    Sure she make porn so what?
    Pretty sure most people are in to something that would be considered “weird”

  2. Clarene Wong says:

    Jones is a high school dropout who calls recreational drug use of psychotropic medications “conducting neurochemical research”. It’s shameful that brown would publish the writings of an internet crank with a blog as some kind of authority on psychology, it’s worse that this was done to try and tarnish the reputation of a physician’s peer reviewed research. This is as shameful as when the time cube guy was invited to MIT to discuss theoretical physics.

    • Please tell me why the author of a piece cited in the literature of this peer-reviewed physician’s work cannot comment on how the author used her work? Ms. Jones’s experiences as a transgender woman were directly cited and used in the study, and regardless of academic credentials, I personally think that’s reason enough for her to have an opinion in this matter.

      I also find it revealing that the only possible avenues of attack against Ms. Jones are personal characteristics that in no way relate to the topic at hand. To me, this says more about your argument than it does hers.

      • The “work” in question is a public blog post, which was one of many pieces of writing quoted as examples of the typical content of various transgender related websites. The point of the quotes from various websites was that these websites are interchangeable, Zinnia feeling upset doesn’t change that or change a quote from her blog post into a new academic citation. It’s ridiculous for anyone blogging as a lay person to demand their writing is treated like peer reviewed research.

        Jones is pretending to be a college educated researcher (the “research collective” is a blog ran by Jones’ romantic partners). Jones last completed 9th grade, according to her twitter. Misrepresenting credentials undermines credibility. Jones also refers to gender dysphoria as “a disease” when it is not a disease. Jones says littman “accused her of starting a disease outbreak” when there’s no disease being discussed and Jones is only quoted as a typical blogger of the genre, not a notable figure with culpability. It’s nonsense.

        • So the only path to academic integrity is through the Ph.D? Ms. Jones’s personal credentials are not relevant to what is an opinion piece by Ms. Jones. The researcher in question used Ms. Jones’s blog post to accuse her of spreading “rapid onset gender dysphoria” as described by the researcher in question.

          Given the methodological flaws in the study and the complete lack of representation of trans adolescents in describing their own experiences, rather relying on the perceptions of anti-transgender parents and the mere existence of online trans support communities for children of such parents, I think Ms. Jones has every right to her opinion. She is not cited as an academic, but as an advocate. To claim allowing her a voice on this topic is somehow nonsense is, to be frank, nonsense.

        • Randy McDonald says:

          Littman is claiming to describe the psychological condition of “rapid onset gender dysphoria”, something she describes as undesirable. This may not be an organic disease, but the subject of Littman’s paper is nothing that she or her interview subjects think is a legitimate difference of personality.

        • You do realize that community research collectives were the authors of such important works as “Our Bodies, Ourselves”?

          • Clarene Wong says:

            You do realize that the OBOS workshop took place at a college and was written by scholars in relevant fields of study? The “Hazel research collective” is 99% Jones’ writing anyway, and isn’t actually in the internet anymore, but none of the three members are educated enough to understand the studies and medications being discussed. I’m not saying only college educated people are worth listening to about every topic, but the subject of academic research journals is not something lay people can reliably weigh in on, and only people with medical education should be writing endorsements for off label drugs.

          • Yes. The workshop took place at Emmanuel College – but the attendees weren’t on faculty there. I think maybe one woman.

            I lived not far from there.

            The motivation was that they weren’t being listened to by medical professionals about their lives. This seems a useful insight for you to consider. Not that you’re either part of the group you seek to speak for or a medical professional.

    • I guess Littman should have based her “study” on a more reliable person.

  3. Amanda Hunter says:

    Some hateful comments here really sad.

    • Unfortunately, many anti-transgender advocates are here in force because one of the only ‘peer reviewed’ research articles of the last few years to claim that being transgender is somehow a ‘fad’ has been thoroughly and rightly criticized for methodological flaws. Fortunately, the vast majority of research – and the lived experiences of trans individuals such as Ms. Jones – show that this is a mistaken philosophy.

      • Unfortunately, many confused young people who think they are “trans” are being hustled into an illusory lifestyle in which they will be permanent patients, taking hormone drugs for the rest of their lives, never far from the doctor; and having drastic, unnecessary surgeries. In addition to breast amputation (“trans boys” in California have this from age 13; see Olson-Kennedy et al 2018), young women will have ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes ripped out. Young men will have their genitals de-fleshed and turned inside out.

        Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you hear about “trans youth” and other such nonsense. NO-ONE IS “TRANS.” It’s a belief system and a behavior. The “science” of “trans” is highly speculative, at best, but activists want everyone to believe it’s “settled science.”

        It’s absolutely bogus and we are going to stop it.

        • The truth is that your argument is entirely based on appeals to emotion, just like the other commenters who feel that Ms. Jones’s personal life somehow negates her lived experiences as a transgender person and advocate. It ignores the lived experience of trans* youth and trans* adults in favor of cisgender perceptions of those experiences.

          You are not the authority on trans* lives.

    • Robert Vegana says:

      Where is this hate?

  4. Zinnia is right. And she doesn’t even mention in this letter that some of the parents of transgender people spoken to for a “study” on trans children are talking about “children” who came out at 27.

    More people need to be willing to say the uncomfortable truth out loud; that the so-called “Gender Critical” movement is just repeating old anti-gay rhetoric that’s been repackaged to appeal to a different set of bigoted parents who value their hatred more than their children. It also needs to be said that a lot of their psuedoscience they use to justify their bigotry towards transgender people is stuff that the literal Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s used to burn books about sex and gender ( and set research in the field back decades.

    tl;dr TERFs are Nazis wearing feminist skin like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.

    • bothandneithernor says:

      Here’s a great analysis comparing homophobia and transphobia: Interesting turnaround on the Buffal Bill trope there.

    • Not "ROGD" Anon says:

      That 27 sticks in my craw. Based on a number of factors, I have a sinking suspicion I was the then-27-year-old “AYA” reported on in this online survey of parents. If so, I would be very interested to see how the information my aggrieved mother provided about me aligns with reality (as determined by third-party observers and data rather than merely her word versus mine). I doubt I have any recourse here, even if every answer provided about me in this survey was incorrect, whether because my mother didn’t know or misrepresented the answer. I’m not named, and it could be another 27-year-old in a very similar boat to the one I’m in. Regardless, I’m still irked.

      I know during the time period the survey was active, my mother was frequenting websites including and similar to the ones it was advertised on and was obsessing over their “trans cult” ideology about how transitioning is unnecessary mutilation or sexual fetishism and so on. I was 27 and recently estranged from her after I’d finally come out to her as trans and told her I was going to start medically transitioning with or without her blessing. This was not only after extensive therapy but some 15+ years of knowing I’d give anything to transition but thinking I’d never be able to and had to settle for repressing as hard as I could. I fell into severe anorexia, which allowed me to look like a little boy, stop menstruating, and hasten my death. While I suppose I can see how the declaration of “I’m trans” may have been “rapid onset” for my mother, given she’s still denial about the whole situation, it’s laughable to suggest this was how I experienced it.

      But I wasn’t asked about my experience. None of the medical and mental health professionals I’ve worked with were consulted. This is a study of parents and how they view their offspring, not of the offspring themselves, some of whom are fully grown adults with developed brains and lives of their own. It’s beyond frustrating to see how this “study” is already being so misrepresented and the kinds of conclusions people are drawing from it.

      The last time I saw my mother, probably the last time I ever will, was when she, furious at the impropriety and audacity of my persistent transness, tried to kill my beloved dogs and I in a murder-suicide attempt that I cannot even stress how bizarre the circumstances surrounding it were, then lied to police and all of my relatives about the incident. Yet I’m the delusional one, while she’s the rational one being surveyed about her “young adult daughter” and what “she” is up to on social media (she doesn’t even know I don’t have any) and the like. Amazing. And yes, I’m still bitter about all of this and won’t pretend not to be.

      • You’re still ruminating. Settle down. Relax.

        • Not "ROGD" Anon says:

          What a substantial rebuttal to my concerns about this research. Yes, since this study came out, I have often ruminated on it. I don’t think that’s a surprising or inappropriate reaction to the situation, given what I described. Don’t worry, I take time to relax as well as time to address important issues in my life, some of which happen to be unpleasant.

  5. Sheila Gilligan says:

    Hi Zinnia,

    Did you read Ken Miller’s piece on the same subject at this venue? He quotes Jeffrey Flier:

    “As Jeffrey Flier, former Dean of Harvard Medical School, wrote in a recent opinion piece, the stakes are very high for the University at this point. “Its leaders must not allow any single politically charged issue ­— including gender dysphoria — from becoming the thin edge of a wedge that gradually undermines our precious, hard-won academic freedoms.”

    He quotes an endocrinologist, of all people, but one whose specialty is diabetes, which makes him an expert on sociology and psychology I suppose, and also an expert on sex endocrinology, too. Flier uses the expression, “a politically charged issue”. There is so much to unload here. I won’t conjure up “The Invisible Knapsack” because it is not a matter of unpacking but, rather, it is a matter of “unloading”; what I won’t say.

    Since when did politics become the equivalent of scientific inquiry? Are you a “matter of opinion”? Is your human nature and existence a matter for academics to speculate on and debate? Were you born to become a human research subject, a virtual lab rat? Or, do you belong to one of the last minorities allowed to be subjected to abuse and harassment still socially acceptable and a kind of scrutiny no other groups have routinely been subjected to, except for intersex people?

    Littman’s study and Flier’s reaction to the outcry is based far more on authoritarianism than science. You’ve been told by commenters here that you lack the authority to know yourself and understand yourself because why? You’re not and expert on diabetes or you don’t possess an M. D., Ph.D., an MPH or an advanced degree in psychology? There is a term socio-psychs love to use and abuse. It’s called gaslighting. It engenders “dysphoria” but has little to do with gender. Your detractors’ reasoning amounts to little more than arguments from authority. Last I read, argumentum ad verecundiam is considered fallacious in many, if not most situations. Apparently, such appeals allow those concern trolling to find their places in the ivory towers of these Ivy League real estate firms.

    • Worth asking the Prof is whether criticism is part of the peer review process or if researchers assertions are to just be accepted and not subject to testing? Or is freedom of inquiry only allowed to certain people?

      I’d also ask how many studies he authored regarding a population where the researcher gathered no data at all from that population. No interviews- no exams – no verified data.

      This would seem to require heightened skepticism of any claims – especially if one is proposing an entirely new diagnosis that no other researchers with experience with the subject population have identified.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Not a lack thereof.

      • Sheila Gilligan says:

        Ya wanna know something, I’m writing under a nom de plume. Here’s something else, my cousin is one of the current deans @ Harvard Medical School. I won’t identify the person or the person’s gender because I don’t want to reveal who the person is. What I will say is the individual in question has absolutely no background to be able to comprehend what is at stake here. I doubt Dean Flier’s comprehension is any more penetrating. That said, I will also state that the positions taken by some in the trans political movement can be as problematic as some of the most notorious anti-transition clinicians. I try as hard as possible to avoid trans speak, e. g., over used terms such as “trans” and “cis”, “transgender identity”, “trans status”, etc. So called “trans etiologies” are as specific as etiologies described by the medical term vasculitis, that is not at all. There is no “trans community”, only people who make sex transitions and gender transitions and both. The reasons for being impelled to do so are as varied as the people impelled.

        The main problem I have with Littman’s work is its dismissiveness and 3rd person discourse. There may be elements of truth in some of her assessments of certain individuals within the groups she sets her voyeuristic gaze upon. Her reliance upon the work of so called clinicians such as Ray Blanchard, Kenneth Zucker, Susan Bradley, etc. and lack of much needed critical analysis of their work is another huge problem. I don’t use the word “voyeuristic” casually. The aforementioned are people who would spend much of their time pouring through the personal ads of alternative newspapers looking for evidence to confirm their biases.

        • If she had written a study on the problems of unaccepting family members – it would have better suited her methodology. Perhaps she could have even identified a new syndrome in the mix.

          • Not "ROGD" Anon says:

            I would like to know how many of these parents are now estranged from their children and, in these cases, how this process was perceived as having occurred on the parent’s end versus the child’s end versus, if possible, the perspectives of third parties. Many of these parents say their relationship with their child worsened after their child came out as trans. What does that look like (again, not just from the parent’s perspective)? Are the respondents all loving, involved, highly informed parents just trying to do everything they can to save their awful, bratty, self destructive children from further harm? Is parental reporting with no verification an objective or acceptable source of information here, especially if intense parent-child conflict is involved?

            I see the “80/90/whatever percent of trans children ‘desist'” line repeated so often, and it seems these “ROGD” parents bank on their children being part of that percentage, however high it is. But what about the others, whatever percentage they make up? Perhaps if parents barrage their children with anti-trans propaganda and messages that being trans is simply not acceptable, if they restrict their internet access, where they can go, what they can do, who they can talk to, etc., the child will eventually just quash their feelings of being trans, or at least never talk about it with their parents, as I did for much of my life.

            It didn’t stick, though; it just made me feel awful about myself and develop other mental health issues while I postponed transitioning and eventually destroyed my relationship with my parents. Based on this experience, I have to wonder what kind of a relationship intensely “gender critical” parents expect to have with an adult or soon-to-be-adult child for the rest of their lives if the child “persists” and chooses to transition once they’re of age. I just know it didn’t go so well in my family.

          • Sheila Gilligan says:


        • Robert Vegana says:

          “so called clinicians such as Ray Blanchard, Kenneth Zucker, Susan
          Bradley, etc. and lack of much needed critical analysis of their work is
          another huge problem…the aforementioned are people who would spend much of their time pouring through the personal ads of alternative newspapers looking for evidence to confirm their biases”

          What is the issue with the work of these professors? Do you know for a fact that this is how they reached their conclusions? I agree that critical analysis of all published studies is an important aspect of scientific rigor, but it sounds like you’re the one making assumptions about the methodologies used by the researchers.

          • Sheila Gilligan says:

            Actually, I went through the bibliography to her paper. Blanchard is not specifically mentioned in the studies but his favorite post transsexual woman is, Anne Lawrence, a favorite at the Archives of Sexual Behavior of which Kenneth Zucker was, or, still is, editor.

            To begin to understand you could start off with Ben Barres’s response to Alice Dreger’s defense of J. Michael Bailey who wrote a pop “science” piece denigrating a certain demographic sample taken from barrooms in Chicago but you won’t get far if you are not an academic. The paywall at the Springer Link can be a huge obstacle to anyone without the means to read what’s behind it. Bailey’s book and “analysis” was based on Ray Blanchard’s theories which are derived from Kurt Freund, his mentor, at the CAMH.

            All the clinicians I mention, except Lawrence, work/worked at the CAMH. You really have to go to Lynn Conway’s pages or Julia Serano’s pages to gather more insight. Lynn Conway and Curtis Hinkle, an intersex man, were threatened with lawsuits by Kenneth Zucker back in 2008. Nothing much has been written since. Just about all of Hinkle’s priceless insights have been taken down from the internet. He wrote from the perspective of a person born intersex and explains how much of this works. To fully grasp a lot of this you would have to familiarize yourself with the Chicago Consensus Statement on the Management of Intersex, in which a nomenclature was cobbled together to cover up the fact that sex is not an exclusively dimorphic phenomenon. The implications are huge. Honestly, I don’t think you are interested in putting the time into what it would take to have a clear picture of all that is involved.

            From the Canadians I’ve corresponded with who tried to access triadic sex reassignment at the notorious Clark/CAMH in Toronto I think just about all were rejected because they did not have enough co-morbities, in other words the samples used were cherry picked to support the theories on sexuality of Freund/Blanchard. One of the people I am thinking of, specifically, was born with ambiguous genitalia and eventually found care from Harry Benjamin who, importantly, was an expert in endocrinology, not psychiatry or any of the social sciences.

            Things really came to a head around 2008 when a patient of Kenneth Zucker’s accused Zucker of, essentially, sexual assault, when Zucker grabbed her genitals to make a “point” about her sex assignment at birth. This happened at a forum put together to try to have “Gender Identity Disorder” delisted from the DSM-V. The Toronto police were called in to monitor what was going on at the forum. When I use the word scrutiny it serves only as a gross understatement, and I mean “GROSS”!

          • Angelina Marie says:

            I love seeing, in the wild, the repeated pattern of the civilized sociopath here, in your soothing attempts to get us to focus on the all-important research of quacks like Blanchard.

            Just give him one more chance to electrocute trans kids out of their desire to transition. Right?

          • Ignore Angelina Marie, she is A TROLL

  6. Robert Vegana says:

    Attack the idea, not the person. How is the research flawed? Can you offer more than just an anecdotal counterexample?

    • Not "ROGD" Anon says:

      I did my best to spell out my concerns here, but you can dismiss them as mere “anecdotal counterexample” if you like. I just don’t think arguably quite biased (based on the websites the survey respondents were drawn from) parental reporting, especially by parents involved in intense conflict with their (often adult) children, is sufficient if you’re claiming to be studying the children rather than their parents’ reactions to them.

    • Angelina Marie says:

      I’m just going to assume you’re too dumb to comprehend what the problem is, and not worth explaining it to.

      • Angelina Marie is just going around calling people she disagrees with “stupid” and “not worth explaining to”. She’s trying to bully people into silence, i would just IGNORE HER

      • Robert Vegana says:

        You were under no obligation to even reply, but thanks for taking the time to state your position.

  7. Sheila Gilligan says:

    One of the things that disturbs me the most about Dr. Littman’s look at parents of children who reject sex assignments is her comparisons of their needs with those of people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. I would like to share what I have learned over the course of 50 years of personal experience with a person who suffered from both but I cannot do so w/out betraying the person’s confidence. I am aware of the quote from the person who shut down the gender identity clinic at Johns Hopkins who said, “giving SRS to a person is the equivalent of giving liposuction to an anorexic.” He is a well known promoter of “False Memory Syndrome”, a “diagnosis” he used to defend Catholic priests guilty of sexual assault and pedophilia. I’ll just say the assertions of both Paul McHugh and Dr. Lisa Littman are simply outrageously incorrect.

    • Not "ROGD" Anon says:

      Thank you–the “giving liposuction to an anorexic” comparison is just absurd if you know anything about the condition and treatment of anorexia. I’m amazed at how often I see the argument made, though. An anorexic would almost certainly not even be able to qualify as a candidate for liposuction, physically speaking, ignoring the mental health aspect. If someone who was actively anorexic somehow did undergo undergo lipo, without outside intervention to counteract both their anorexia and the effects of the surgery, they would soon die. Not in years from a suicide because they regretted the procedure, not in decades from an increased risk of cancer, but rapidly because their bodies would not be able to sustain life. Not comparable…

  8. Man with Axe says:

    The issue as I see it is that trans people are way too sensitive to research, opinions, or outright facts that don’t support their agenda. It is all too common these days to consider anyone who goes against that agenda, even if well-meaning, an enemy and therefore someone who has to brought low and if possible thrown out of polite society.

    • Shoddy research, bigoted opinions, and lies that are presented as facts, you mean.

      Your post is SO stupid it would be like if you said “Black people are way too sensitive about being shot while unarmed by police.”

      Delete your account.

      • Man with Axe says:

        My point proven. That was quick. You have done nothing but insult the researcher and then me, and you offer zero evidence to support your over-emotional reaction. You are, to put it simply, too sensitive to anything that goes against your agenda.

        And to your supposedly absurd “it would be like” statement: Black people ARE too sensitive about being shot by police, given that far more unarmed white people are shot by police than blacks both per capita and as a percentage of those who have interactions with police; many more police are shot by black people than unarmed blacks are shot by police; and so many more black people are shot by other black people than are shot by police. So, yeah, the hysteria over a handful of police shootings, while the carnage in Chicago is ignored, is overblown.

        I think I’ll keep my account. And you should keep yours. It’s amusing to read what you have to say.

        • “My point proven. That was quick. You have done nothing but insult the
          researcher and then me, and you offer zero evidence to support your
          over-emotional reaction. You are, to put it simply, too sensitive to
          anything that goes against your agenda.”

          Because people smarter and more knowledgeable on the topic than me have already debunked it, but you just dismiss all that, because it doesn’t fit YOUR agenda. In other words, every behavior you accuse me of, you need only look in the mirror to see what someone who would that sort of thing looks like.

          “And to your supposedly absurd “it would be like” statement: Black people ARE too sensitive about being shot by police,”

          And you’re also a racist to boot. Can’t say I’m shocked.

          “I think I’ll keep my account.”

          Much to the chagrin of those of us with empathy.

          • Man with Axe says:

            You don’t know what a racist is. Pointing out facts that concern races is not racism. In fact, I would argue that willful blindness to the real problems of blacks and overemphasizing minor issues is real racism.

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