Did Lisa Marchiano Invent “Transgender Social Contagion” and “No Transition Before Age 25”?
Since 2017, I have been one of the most vocal critics of the hypothesis that transgender identities are now spreading among children via “social contagion.” I have penned multiple essays critiquing “transgender social contagion” and its more scientific-sounding doppelgänger “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD). Links to all those essays, as well as a slew of recent research studies contradicting the hypothesis, can be found in my recent piece: All the Evidence Against Transgender Social Contagion.
In 2019, as part of that research, I published Origins of “Social Contagion” and “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” which investigated the history of when these terms first appeared online and how they spread. It takes the form of a timeline (which I’ll refer to as the “Origins timeline”) where all of the relevant actors and incidents are chronicled.
In the last week, new evidence has come to light that both supports and expands upon my initial investigation. Here, I will summarize all this evidence in three sections: 1) My Origins timeline findings, 2) Recent findings from the Shupe emails, 3) Did Lisa Marchiano also invent “no transition before the age of 25”?
This post admittedly gets a bit “into the weeds,” as they say. But the possibility that one person may be behind two of the most pervasive contemporary anti-trans talking points hopefully makes this a worthy read.
My Origins timeline findings
Here is a brief summary of the pertinent points of my Origins timeline:
The concept of “transgender social contagion” appears to have been invented by someone who went by the handle “skepticaltherapist” in a comment posted on February 20, 2016, on the anti-trans parent website 4thwavenow. The concept quickly grew in popularity on what I called “the 3 websites” — namely, 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org (YTCP), all of which catered to reluctant parents of trans children who were seeking out alternatives to gender-affirming care. A little over four months later, Lisa Littman — who showed no prior interest in trans children or trans-related healthcare — began recruiting parents for her study on “ROGD” using language nearly identical to what had previously been used to describe “transgender social contagion” on the 3 websites. I made the following case in my “Origins” timeline (see entry July 2016):
How did Littman even find the 3 websites? As an experiment, I recently typed (in February 2019) “transgender children” into google on an incognito browser, and examined the first 10 pages of results (100 results total) — there were lots of info/resources/organizations listed, but none of the 3 websites came up. A similar result using the phrase “parents of transgender children” yielded only one result (a 4thwavenow post) on page 9 (roughly ninety results in). And that’s now, here in 2019, after the 3 websites have all garnered significant attention (see below). But back in July 2016 (when Littman’s survey was posted), 4thWaveNow had been around for a while (~15 months), but TransgenderTrend was only around for ~8 months old, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals had been active for a mere ~3 months — all of them would have been even more difficult to find back then. Honestly, it is hard to fathom that Littman randomly/objectively stumbled upon the 3 websites back then. The most reasonable conclusion is that either someone alerted Littman to the existence of the 3 websites, or else Littman purposefully sought them out (e.g., by actively searching for such reluctant parents/stories, à la “skepticaltherapist” back in February 2016).
In my Origins timeline, I also speculated (see entry March 14, 2016) that skepticaltherapist became one of the co-founders of YTCP on the basis that 1) she mysteriously disappeared from the scene just as YTCP came into existence, 2) the very first post on YTCP mentions social contagion, and 3) two days later (see entry March 16, 2016) TransgenderTrend interviewed YTCP and the latter discussed social contagion in a manner very similar to skepticaltherapist, including a prominent mention of the social media website Tumblr (which will come up again). I also observed that YTCP’s web domain shared the same registrar and registrant organization as 4thwavenow (see entry March 14, 2016), suggesting that they may have been working together in some capacity.
In addition to chronicling early posts from the 3 websites, my Origins timeline also closely follows Lisa Marchiano’s blogposts and developing interest in trans youth. While most people attribute “ROGD” to Lisa Littman’s 2018 paper, the first academic paper to actually mention “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” was Lisa Marchiano’s “Outbreak: On Transgender Teens and Psychic Epidemics” (see entry October 6, 2017). Given this, I wondered whether Marchiano might have been skepticaltherapist (as both are therapists concerned about “social contagion”) and/or the co-founder of YTCP (since both described themselves as therapists and clinical social workers; plus Marchiano seems to have been the driving force behind the short-lived “Gender Dysphoria Workinggroup,” which I described as a “YTCP 2.0”-type organization in entry April 29, 2018). But since I couldn’t make any firm conclusions based upon my internet searches, I simply chronicled what I could find about Marchiano (sans speculation) and left things at that.
Recent findings from the Shupe emails
In the last week and a half, Jude Doyle has published two articles that shed more light onto this situation and Lisa Marchiano’s potential involvement. The first article (published in Xtra Magazine), The making of a detransitioner, is a profile of Elisa Rae Shupe, a trans woman who worked closely with anti-trans activists back when she identified as a detransitioner. Shupe has since leaked her emails from that time period, which Doyle and other journalists are now drawing from. One passage from Doyle’s article immediately jumped out at me (and not merely because I’m mentioned in it):
Finding anti-trans narratives that would “sell” to the general public was a constant concern for this crowd, and Shupe says it didn’t much matter if the narratives were based in fact or not. Marchiano, for instance, eagerly watched the spread of the ROGD theory — “[transfeminist writer and researcher Julia] Serano has already written a takedown,” she exulted in one August 2018 email. Shupe suspects Marchiano’s role is larger than the public knows: “Marchiano never explicitly said she is the inventor of ROGD, but the evidence points to her, and she’s listed as a contributor to the [Lisa Littman] study on PLOS One,” she writes to me. “My ‘opinion’ is that Marchiano and the 4thWaveNow folks are behind the ROGD study, and Littman merely fronted it for them to make it appear unbiased.”
Yesterday, Doyle published another article drawing from the Shupe emails, Inside the TERF Harassment Machine. It is a horrifying tale of how Marchiano worked with other anti-trans activists to smear trans activist Zinnia Jones by disseminating naked photos of her, potentially even forwarding them to Fox News. So what drove Marchiano to do such a thing? Doyle explains:
On July 2, Shupe sent Marchiano a link to Jones’ blog post telling her “you’ve upset Zinnia again.” (Shupe had a tendency to send Marchiano news of ROGD, and to attribute the theory to “you” — that is, to Marchiano — whether Marchiano was explicitly named or not. In the communications I’ve reviewed, Marchiano does not reject the attribution.) Marchiano responded by saying that Jones had done something to “make her nervous” — namely, she’d dug up a blog post about ROGD that Marchiano had written under her own name.
The blogpost in question (Guidance for Parents of Teens with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria) can be found in my Origins timeline entry from October 27, 2016. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as by then ROGD was widely discussed in anti-trans circles. But if Marchiano was actively hiding the fact that she was the person who invented that hypothesis, then her being “nervous” about this post being discovered would make some sense.
Doyle also explains how his previous Xtra article about Shupe (“The making of a detransitioner”) elicited a “predictably defensive” response from the anti-trans movement:
Less tactfully, that article has enraged a set of movement TERFs who were instrumental in spreading the myth of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” — namely, Lisa Marchiano and the multiply-pseudonymous activist behind 4thWaveNow — due, in part, to Shupe’s speculation (clearly flagged as such in the XTra piece, and in this one) that Marchiano and 4thWaveNow may have invented ROGD wholesale and convinced researcher Lisa Littman to put her name on their bogus claims.
There is one more passage from “Inside the TERF Harassment Machine” that is highly relevant to this essay:
Marchiano ran YCTP anonymously, and was connected with all of the sites in question; in a 2017 email, written under the pseudonym Lisa Bell, she proposed publishing one of Shupe’s essays simultaneously at all three.
If all of this is true — that Marchiano ran YCTP and invented ROGD — then it would follow that Marchiano was also likely skepticaltherapist, the supposed parent of a trans child who invented the idea of “transgender social contagion” in the first place.
The main reason I originally doubted the possibility that skepticaltherapist was Marchiano is that the former described herself as a mother of a trans child, whereas Marchiano always positions herself as an objective therapist describing what she has observed in other people’s children. But now, knowing that Marchiano prefers working behind the scenes, has taken on multiple pseudonyms (see also “timetodream” in entry April 29, 2018), and is concerned with finding narratives that would “sell” to the general public, it seems as though she may have been telling the same story from multiple perspectives. Consider the following three Origins timeline entries:
- February 29, 2016: skepticaltherapist’s original 4thwavenow post: “Tumblr snags another girl, but her therapist-mom knows a thing or two about social contagion,” which is written from the mother’s perspective.
- December 15, 2016: Lisa Marchiano posts “What’s My Agenda?” on her on blog, which includes this origin story for how she supposedly became interested in the subject: “Until about a year ago, I hadn’t thought much about the issue of transgender teens and kids. . . Then an old friend contacted me about her teen daughter. This woman has been a close friend of mine for decades, and I have known her daughter from birth. My friend — I will call her B — told me that her daughter had decided she was really a boy, and was imploring her mother for hormone blockers. She had even done research on getting a mastectomy.” Marchiano goes onto say: “The more I read, the more worried I became. I learned that kids were often coming out together in peer groups, or after prolonged periods of time on trans friendly social media sites such as Tumblr. In fact, B reported that Amelia’s announcement had been preceded by weeks where she spent days at a time online looking at such sites.”
- October 6, 2017: Lisa Marchiano publishes her aforementioned academic paper, which includes a somewhat different origin story: “This topic first came to my attention in my practice. A patient reported that her daughter was identifying as transgender. I admired the way this mother attempted to support her child, and I marveled at the creativity of youth culture in challenging traditional conceptualizations of gender. My view of this cultural trend as benign collapsed in an instant, however, when I learned that young women were having mastectomies as young as 14.” Later in the paper, when considering factors that contribute to “sudden onset of gender dysphoria,” Marchiano says: “One is social media use. On sites such as YouTube, thousands of homemade videos chronicle the gender transitions of teenagers. The Tumblr blog ‘Fuck Yeah FTMs’ features photo after photo of young FtMs celebrating the changes wrought by testosterone.”
So who is the mother of this supposed trans child? Marchiano? Her friend? A client? Unlike Marchiano, I am not a Jungian psychotherapist, so I’m not about to psychoanalyze why she has shared different renditions of this story (the last two under her own name, and the first one if she is really skepticaltherapist). Nor will I try to decipher which version of this story is “true” (if any of them are). What I can say is that these three stories share the same “easy to sell” narrative: An adolescent “daughter” comes out as trans to a mother, but the mother is concerned and skeptical. And Tumblr always plays a prominent role.
If Marchiano did run YTCP and was behind ROGD (as Shupe has suggested), then it seems likely that she’s also skepticaltherapist — aka, the person who invented the notion that “social contagion” is turning kids transgender.
Note added 3–26–2023: I have since found further evidence to support this hypothesis; you can find it at: more evidence that Lisa Marchiano invented “transgender social contagion.”
Did Lisa Marchiano also invent “no transition before the age of 25”?
Another common anti-trans talking point these days is that no one should be allowed to transition until the age of 25. As someone who has extensively researched the history of trans-related healthcare and gatekeeping for my first book Whipping Girl, I have never come across an old-school psychologist or sexologist saying such a thing. In fact, the very first time I heard this idea proposed (and the earliest instance I have since been able to find) is in a 4thwavenow post from April 5, 2016 entitled Do No Harm: An interview with the founder of Youth Trans Critical Professionals. If everything I outlined above is true, then this too was Lisa Marchiano.
As further evidence that this was indeed Marchiano, on September 25, 2016, she published a lengthy guest-post on 4thwavenow in her own name entitled Layers of meaning: A Jungian analyst questions the identity model for trans-identified youth. In that post, while describing a trans-themed Tumblr page (Tumblr yet again!), Marchiano laments: “Almost all of these posters are under 25 years of age.” She goes on to say “even 18 is probably too young to make such major medical decisions. In cases where the 18-year-old is making medical decisions based on a social transition that she or he began years earlier, it is possibly even more likely that that young person has not carefully considered the consequence of transition.” Latter on in the comments section, Marchiano adds: “To be clear, I do not think that 18 constitutes being a full-fledged adult. I am familiar with detransitioners who transitioned in their late twenties who felt that their transition was poorly considered and very much regret the permanent changes they made to their bodies. At what age is someone capable of making a mature decision about permanent medical intervention? I don’t know what the magic number might be, but it seems as though someone ought to be out in the world working and having relationships for some time before he or she can assess the impact transition might have and whether the changes are worth the losses and risks.”
I never fully understood why the founders of YTCP remained anonymous and so secretive — they even took their site private sometime between March 11, 2018 and May 23, 2018, just before the Littman ROGD paper came out (see timeline). But I suppose it makes sense if the site was run by Marchiano, who was also writing elsewhere under her own name, as well as going by different pseudonyms, in order to create the false impression that there was some kind of “consensus” about completely made up claims regarding “transgender social contagion” and “no transition before 25.”
This essay and the original Origins timeline were made possible by my Patreon supporters — if you appreciate it, please consider supporting me there.