The number of people aged 13 to 25 identifying as transgender has nearly doubled since 2017. Forty-three percent of the 1.6 million transgender-identifying Americans are young adults or teenagers. As the liberal comedian Bill Maher noted recently, the reason the transgender trend is troubling is because it is medicalized and involves “literally experimenting on children.” In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service’s transgender youth clinic saw a 20-fold increase in referrals in the past decade, from about 250 per year to 5,000 in 2021. The UK government recently shut down that clinic over concerns for patient safety. A class action lawsuit has been initiated against the clinic on behalf of 1,000 former young patients harmed by medicalized transition. 

Nevertheless, clinical activists in the United States insist there’s nothing to see here. A new study published in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ flagship journal, lead-authored by Jack Turban, claimed that we can dismiss social influence as a contributory cause of the increase in transgender-identifying youth. But is this claim true? 

‘Social contagion’ is not driving an increasing number of adolescents to come out as transgender.
NBC News

False. Completely make believe.

The shift from mostly very young males to adolescent female patients seeking help with childhood gender dysphoria has been noted by leading researchers and in various international contexts. For instance, the British gender youth clinic saw the the number of females seeking help increase by 4,000% over a 10-year period, prompting a government inquiry. In the United States, figures are harder to come by, but clinical and parental reports have indicated similar findings.  

In the study, Turban et al. rely on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey to assert that, between 2017 and 2019, it was primarily biological males (and not females) who identified as trans. But the CDC acknowledges that the sex statistics it uses are unreliable since there is no way of knowing which participants conflated sex with gender identity. Turban et al. assert that “several studies” demonstrate that transgender identifying youth “are likely to understand ‘sex’ to be sex assigned at birth,” however as Michael Biggs of the University of Oxford has noted in a rebuttal, “the three articles cited fail to support this assertion.” Indeed, Turban et al’s first reference was to a Dutch study and therefore “irrelevant for English speakers,” the second study doesn’t even contain the word “sex” and the third was also irrelevant (it related to a “two step method for ascertaining gender identity).” 

“Unless there is something Turban isn’t telling us,” Leor Sapir writes at City Journal, “he seems to have simply made up this crucial assumption, without which his argument cannot work.” 

But even if Turban had established—rather than asserted—this sex ratio, it is still a giant leap to claim that such a finding rules out the social influence factor. If it were mostly biological boys and not girls identifying as trans, as Turban believes, the next step for a scientifically-minded researcher would be to investigate why—not dismiss this out of hand. Turban’s trouble is that he appears to be more politically- than scientifically-minded. Perhaps he does not believe social contagion should be “used to argue against the provision of gender-affirming medical care” because he doesn’t believe anything should. 

As Sapir writes: “That a study like this can pass the peer-review process unscathed, especially at a time when European countries are shutting down or putting severe restrictions on pediatric transition, is a sorry statement about the quality of knowledge gatekeeping in the medical research community.”