A century of “contagion”

I’ve written many times about the entirely fictional phenomenon of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” which, despite not existing, is being used by right-wing politicians to justify their hateful assaults on trans healthcare as well as by UK culture warriors online and in newspaper columns and comments sections. This, in Scientific American, is yet more evidence that there’s no evidence.

If ROGD is new to you, the short version is that it’s pseudoscience based solely on interviews with furious anti-trans bigots whose children don’t speak to them any more. And the longer version is that it’s the same old shit that bigots have been churning out for nearly a century now.

Like most anti-trans bullshit, ROGD is a rebranded version of anti-gay bullshit: the belief that gay people were turned gay by “social contagion”. That’s a confection by the religious right, who want you to believe that being gay is not natural, not normal and not innate; it’s a deliberate choice, an immoral, unhealthy and freely chosen sin.

They’ve been banging on like that for nearly a hundred years now. As this paper by Nancy J Knauer notes, the outcry over the 1928 novel The Well Of Loneliness, aka The Well, in which a lesbian character’s sexuality was “depicted as an innate, God-given and potentially noble characteristic” was greeted with “a hostile counter-narrative of homosexuality as contagion, resulting in sensational obscenity trials on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”

Those trials even enshrined the idea of social contagion in law:

Courts in New York and London adjudged The Well obscene under the prevailing “Hicklin rule,” finding that it had the tendency “to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort might fall.”‘” Although the New York decision was overturned on appeal, The Well remained banned in Great Britain until 1949.

As Knauer notes:

The arguments used to suppress The Well are strikingly similar to those used today to silence positive images of same-sex desire, relationships, and identities in a wide variety of contexts including education, public employment, and 6 government-funded programs.

The outcry over The Well established the six principles of the “contagion” argument. See how many you recognise from the anti-trans movement:

  1. Being gay is a freely chosen vice, not a medical or scientific category; nobody was “born this way”;
  2. Gays prey on innocent victims, particularly children;
  3. Gays have no shame and insist on flaunting their sexuality in public, infringing on the rights of others;
  4. Gays demand special rights, not just tolerance;
  5. This is a battle for the future of society, a war between good and evil (with gay people as evil, of course);
  6. Because homosexuality is so contagious, especially for children, any public image of homosexuality that is not negative or the presence of an openly gay person such as a teacher could transmit the contagion and therefore must be forbidden.

Every time you read about rapid onset gender dysphoria you’re reading 100-year-old bullshit reported by people who either don’t know history or do know and simply don’t care.



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