One of the claims I hear that infuriates me the most is that LGBTQ+ identification is becoming more common because our society is increasingly amoral, and this is somehow fostering a sense that "being gay will get me noticed." This is really just the "LGBTQ+ is a choice" foolishness in slightly prettier packaging, along with the sense that queer people are doing it for attention, and my lord isn't that such an inconvenience for everyone else. I just saw a meme a couple of days ago that encapsulated the idea; it went something like, "We no longer have to explain just the birds and the bees to kids, we have to explain the birds and the birds and the bees and the bees and the birds who think they're bees and the bees who think they're birds..." And so on and so forth. You get the idea.
The most insidious thing about this claim is that it delegitimizes queer identification, making it sound no more worthy of serious consideration than a teenager desperate to buy into the latest fashion trend. It also ignores the actual explanation -- that there were just as many LGBTQ+ people around decades and centuries ago, but if there's a significant chance you will be harmed, jailed, discriminated against, ridiculed, or killed if you admit to who you are publicly, you have a pretty powerful incentive not to tell anyone. I can vouch for that in my own case; I not only had the threat of what could happen in the locker room hanging over my head if I'd have admitted I was bisexual when I realized it (age fifteen or so), but the added filigree that my religious instructors had told us in no uncertain terms that any kind of sex outside of the traditional male + female marriage was a mortal sin that would result in eternal hellfire.
And that included masturbation. Meaning that just about all of us received our tickets to hell when we were teenagers and validated them thereafter with great regularity.
The reason this comes up is because of two studies I ran into in the last couple of days. The first, in The Sociological Review, is called "ROGD is a Scientific-sounding Veneer for Unsubstantiated Anti-trans View: A Peer-reviewed Analysis," by Florence Ashley of the University of Toronto. ROGD is "rapid-onset gender dysphoria," and is the same thing I described above, not only in pretty packaging but with a nice psychobabble bow on top; the claim boils down to the choice of a trans person to come out being driven by "social contagion," and therefore being a variety of mental illness. The whole thing hinges on the "suddenness" aspect of it, as if a person saying, "By the way, I'm trans" one day means that they'd just figured it out that that day. You'd think anyone with even a modicum of logical faculties would realize that one doesn't imply the other. I came out publicly as queer three years ago, but believe me, it was not a new realization for me personally. I'd known for decades. Society being what it is, it just took me that long to have to courage to say so.
Ashley's paper addresses this in no uncertain terms:
"Rapid-onset gender dysphoria" (ROGD) first appeared in 2016 on anti-trans websites as part of recruitment material for a study on an alleged epidemic of youth coming out as trans "out of the blue" due to social contagion and mental illness. Since then, the concept of ROGD has spread like wildfire and become a mainstay of anti-trans arguments for restricting access to transition-related care... [It is] evident that ROGD is not grounded in evidence but assumptions. Reports by parents of their youth’s declining mental health and degrading familial relationships after coming out are best explained by the fact that the study recruited from highly transantagonistic websites. Quite naturally, trans youth fare worse when their gender identity isn’t supported by their parents. Other claims associated with ROGD can similarly be explained using what we already know about trans youth and offer no evidence for the claim that people are ‘becoming trans’ because of social contagion or mental illness.
"This burial [at Suontaka] has an unusual and strong mixture of feminine and masculine symbolism, and this might indicate that the individual was not strictly associated with either gender but instead with something else," said study leader Ulla Moilanen of the University of Turku. "Based on these analyses, we suggest... [that] the Suontaka grave possibly belonged to an individual with sex-chromosomal aneuploidy XXY. The overall context of the grave indicates that it was a respected person whose gender identity may well have been non-binary."
I was an undergraduate when the original Cosmos, with Carl Sagan, was launched, and being a physics major and an astronomy buff, I was absolutely transfixed. Me and my co-nerd buddies looked forward to the new episode each week and eagerly discussed it the following day between classes. And one of the most famous lines from the show -- ask any Sagan devotee -- is, "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe."
Sagan used this quip as a launching point into discussing the makeup of the universe on the atomic level, and where those atoms had come from -- some primordial, all the way to the Big Bang (hydrogen and helium), and the rest formed in the interiors of stars. (Giving rise to two of his other famous quotes: "We are made of star-stuff," and "We are a way for the universe to know itself.")
Since Sagan's tragic death in 1996 at the age of 62 from a rare blood cancer, astrophysics has continued to extend what we know about where everything comes from. And now, experimental physicist Harry Cliff has put together that knowledge in a package accessible to the non-scientist, and titled it How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for our Universe, From the Origin of Atoms to the Big Bang. It's a brilliant exposition of our latest understanding of the stuff that makes up apple pies, you, me, the planet, and the stars. If you want to know where the atoms that form the universe originated, or just want to have your mind blown, this is the book for you.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]