Dr. Ken Zucker, one of Canada’s most prestigious gender identity psychologists, was one of the keynote speakers last weekend at the Free Speech in Medicine conference in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
The three-day conference sought to dissect and scrutinize public health policies that appear too contentious for the mainstream to discuss, such as gender theory, harm reduction/safe supply and COVID-19 public policy.
Dr. Zucker joined Rebel News to expand on the phenomenon of rapid onset gender dysphoria, which involves children and adolescents experiencing a sense of being in the wrong biologically-sexed body.
He explained that this is a fairly new subtype of gender dysphoria that psychologists have been seeing over the last 10 to 15 years. It could be explained by the uptick in the social affirmation of gender-confused youth by affirming new pronouns or names within social and/or school circles.
"These are adolescents who did not show any signs of gender dysphoria as children," explained Dr. Zucker. "They only started to express, question, or [have] concerns about their gender identity around the time of puberty — Grades 6, 7, and 8. These kids are very different from pre-puberty kids who show signs of gender dysphoria and socially transition, [whereas] the rapid onset kids have not socially transitioned when they were younger because they weren't showing signs of gender dysphoria."
Individuals referred for gender dysphoric tendencies often experience more mental health problems compared to non-referred individuals. However, it is still unclear which factors contribute to early onset dysphoria, and further examination is needed.
Dr. Zucker explained that “the difference in part is that the factors that have led these kids to develop gender dysphoria have to be different because one group is early onset and another group is late onset.”
I would say that based on various lines of research, on average kids in both groups have more mental health problems than kids who are not referred clinically. What we don't know yet is whether there are unique differences between early-onset and late-onset gender dysphoria in terms of other mental health issues.
So for example one line of research we could explore is ‘do the rapid onset kids with gender dysphoria have a higher rate of co-occurring autism spectrum disorder or autism traits versus the more classical early onset kids?’ Or, another parameter we could look at is co-occurring depression and/or suicidality.
We don't know yet, but in both groups, it's really important to look for the presence of co-occurring mental health difficulties.
The potential influence of social factors, often labelled "social contagion," is acknowledged, as humans are influenced by their social environment.
Dr. Zucker referred to a 2018 paper by Lisa Littman that hypothesized social influence as a factor in gender dysphoria. “I think it’s a completely reasonable hypothesis,” he said.
The conference centered around government-sanctioned censorship heightened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic handling, but Dr. Zucker is no stranger to how politics and legislation have affected clinicians' comfort in treating gender dysphoric children.
With legislation banning certain treatments for minors, it has had a “chilling” effect on how clinicians approach gender dysphoric youth.
“I think the intrusion of politics into the consulting room actually started on the political left,” Dr. Zucker said.
Dr. Zucker furthered:
The banning of any efforts to treat a minor's gender identity was added on to legislation that initially was devised to ban efforts to change the sexual orientation of adults and I think that that has had a somewhat chilling effect on clinicians comfort in working with little kids who have gender dysphoria because they don't read the fine print in the legislation where it says it's okay to explore a child's gender identity or a minor's gender identity.
The legislation is very ambiguous because it doesn't tell the clinician what exploring actually means and so the average clinician might say to himself or herself ‘Why should I risk it and get into trouble for doing something that I'm not supposed to be doing?’
I think the initial intrusion by politics began on the left and now there's a lot of pushback coming from people who feel that there's been too much intrusion into the lives of their kids; for example in the schools who might be initiating treatments without parental consent, which I think is very concerning because it's splitting families apart by not involving parents and now we have legislation in the so-called red states in the US where they're banning any type of biomedical treatment for minors and we don't know how that's going to all play out.
To navigate the challenge of publicly-funded schools providing psychosocial treatment to minors, parents should consult professionals experienced in understanding gender identity development in children.
“As much as I respect teachers and principals, they know full well that they are not authorized to treat a mental health diagnosis and that's why it would be important to bring in a school social worker, a school psychologist, a school child psychiatrist to come up with a treatment plan,” explained Zucker.
Although schools may not be adequately equipped to address the complexities of an identity crisis, Dr. Zucker emphasized that the primary objective in assisting gender dysphoric children should always be to alleviate their suffering. This can be achieved by connecting them with competent, well-trained professionals and involving parents in the process.
Dr. Zucker was ousted from his position as psychologist-in-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) eight years ago after the centre “modernized” their approach to service delivery for youth. Zucker’s speech addressed this, wherein he mentioned a marked shift from psychoanalysis to descriptive psychiatry in gender dysphoria diagnosis.