Who’s gaslighting whom? Susan Bradley, youth gender dysphoria expert, weighs in

Child psychiatrist Susan Bradley, MD, FRCP(C), founded the Child and Adolescent Gender Identity clinic at the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), originally the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, in 1975. She continued to direct that clinic until 1982, when Dr. Kenneth Zucker took over as head of the clinic after joining as a student in 1977. Dr. Bradley was subsequently employed at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital, where she was chief of the department of child psychiatry. She was also head of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University  of Toronto from 1989 until 1999. She is currently professor emerita at University of Toronto, and is writing a book about supporting youth with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dr. Bradley recently wrote an article for the Post-Millennial about the current political and clinical climate surrounding issues of childhood and adolescent gender dysphoria; highly recommended.

We will be posting a lengthy 4thWaveNow interview with Dr. Bradley in the near future. Stay tuned.

Below, Dr. Bradley responds to a recent paper by Damien Riggs (associate professor of social work) and Clare Bartholomaeus (research associate) of Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia entitled “Gaslighting in the context of clinical interactions with parents of transgender children.”

gaslighting author screen cap

The piece is, in essence, an attack on skeptical parents of trans-identified children, in the form of three “fictionalized case studies.” Riggs and Bartholomaeus characterize parents who do not fully affirm their child as transgender as engaging in “identity-related abuse”; they use the term over 30 times in their paper. According to the authors, “abuse” and “gaslighting” include such transgressions as not using preferred pronouns; cancelling appointments; and not agreeing to medical transition on the timetable preferred by Riggs and other providers engaged in pediatric transition.

The authors counsel therapists to try to see a child privately when parents are not sufficiently obsequious. They even refer to non-compliant parents as abuse “perpetrators”:

gaslighting article 5

Authors suggest therapists should find “creative ways” to make private contact with the child

We have included more screen captures from the Riggs article in Dr. Bradley’s response below. However, we will not be deconstructing the entire paper in detail. We strongly encourage readers to examine it closely.


by Susan Bradley, MD, FRCP(C), Consultant Child Psychiatrist

 Where is Damien Riggs coming from?

That’s what I had to ask myself when I read his diatribe against parents of youth who have recently expressed their feelings of gender dysphoria. His position seems to be this: Parents who are reluctant to simply buy into his belief that anyone who expresses feelings of gender dysphoria must be “trans” and supported in their transition with no questions asked, are not being adequately supportive of their child; further, he terms this parental skepticism “identity-related abuse.” But it’s natural for any parent of a youth expressing such feelings, particularly if they are of recent onset, to wonder “why?” or “how come now?” Such sudden changes in identity would make anyone question what is really going on inside that person.

gaslighting article 1

Parents are “gaslighters” if they question hormone blockers or want to slow down medical intervention

To be a parent of a child undergoing such a radical change in identity is a very stressful experience, with conflicting feelings of wanting to support their child, but also wanting to be sure that what they want really makes sense. If this child has a previous history of feeling rejected by peers, many parents will be aware of the damage that has been done to their self-esteem, and rightly see them as vulnerable to those who offer acceptance, at whatever cost.

But Damien Riggs, the therapist advising us, seems to see things in black and white terms: if they voice any feelings of being “trans” they must be “trans”. What about those individuals who change their minds? Does the therapist know for sure that my daughter is not going to change her mind? How do we know that this sudden, intense interest is different from other intense interests the child may have had in the past? How do we know what impact interventions such as puberty blockers will have on her future, especially if she changes her mind?

gaslighting article 2

“Cisgenderist” parents who misgender their kids should not be allowed to apologize

These are just some of the questions that would go through the minds of any caring parent in that situation. If the therapist does not address these concerns in a straightforward manner, most parents would then begin to wonder if they are in the right place to help their child. Failing to engage wholeheartedly in the “therapy” would be one way of trying to deal with their uncertainty when they sense that the therapist is not open to a discussion about their concerns.

This hardly qualifies  as “gaslighting,” a term defined in the dictionary as “behavior intended to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity” or behavior that “seeks to sow seeds of doubt” about their reality or beliefs. To the contrary, those parents are behaving as most parents would in a situation where they do not feel heard.

From the description of the process of therapy engaged in by Damien Riggs, there appears to be no attempt to help parents be understood in terms of what most would regard as very normal worries about a process that seems to be moving forward with little thought for the persons involved. There is no evidence of intent to deceive by these parents; only a lack of faith in the person directing their child’s treatment, who after all, has very little prior knowledge of that child, their issues, their vulnerability, or their ability to make a competent decision about life-altering interventions.

I would argue that Damien Riggs’ accusations about the parents “gaslighting” is unethical and lacking in understanding of the relationship between child and parent. Amongst other things it is the parents’ job to protect the interests of their children until they reach an age when they are capable of doing so by themselves.  Riggs appears not to understand the importance of this relationship when he mislabels the rather normal reactions of parents with a rapid onset dysphoric child as “gaslighting”.

gaslighting article 4

Parents who ask for a diagnosis for their trans-identified children are gaslighters.

If Damien Riggs had done a careful assessment of the youth, particularly, the girls with rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), he would have understood that most of these young women had begun to have homoerotic feelings as they moved into adolescence. Experiencing crushes on same-sex peers is not unusual both in individuals who later become lesbian, but also in heterosexual women.

However, if you are a teen who has had social difficulties, it is easy to feel that having these feelings will make you feel more “weird” than you may already feel. Homophobic slurs are common amongst teens, further increasing anxiety about acceptance in these young girls. The process is easy to uncover if you—as a therapist—ask the right questions, in that these young women desperately want friends and someone who accepts them. The internet sites for “trans” individuals are very welcoming of anyone who expresses interest. Because many of these young women are not really skilled at self-reflection, finding a simple solution (“I’m trans!”) that makes them feel accepted seems perfect. Unfortunately, as we all know, life is more complicated and what seems like a simple way of feeling good may not be a good long term solution.

Caring parents take time to understand and accept mental health issues even when they are more common than the belief that one is in the wrong body. Recent onset gender dysphoria is a rather sudden change in how the youth sees herself, and although some of these individuals may eventually decide that transitioning is best for them, many will realize that they are lesbian and can explore that and find acceptance in a same-sex relationship without having to change their bodies. They need time to understand their feelings and explore ways of finding the best solutions for them. Parents can usually participate in being supportive when they understand what their child is struggling with and how they can help.  For Riggs to blame parents for not accepting his approach wholeheartedly is not what those of us in mental health are trained to do.

27 thoughts on “Who’s gaslighting whom? Susan Bradley, youth gender dysphoria expert, weighs in

  1. This is terrifying. These people are insane and evil and are identifying caring parents as abusers. The only thing these people will accept is immediate medical transition the first second a child brings it up. It is the new Island of Dr. Moreau.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Dr. Bradley,
    I just wanted to thank you for writing this. From looking into this topic I have just seen so much negligent behavior from both doctors and therapists. It’s really quite shocking to me. I just want proper assessment and I really don’t have faith in many of these professionals. This will all result in medically unnecessary transitions.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I’ve seen this happen in other emotionally charged political debates as well. Their definition – ‘attempts to convince someone their thoughts, perceptions or beliefs are mistaken’ is actually closer to a description of most political discussion than it is to what gaslighting originally meant. I’m so tired of gaslighting being redefined as ‘any questioning or disagreement with my beliefs’.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Reproduced from original blog: Who is gaslighting whom? | defytheeconomy

  5. This paper made me more angry and frustrated than anything I have read for a long time. I don’t know whether Damien Riggs is an outlier or the cutting edge of a new mainstream. (He seems to have quite a lot of deconstructionist/pomo ideas and principles, not all of which involve trans issues.)

    Not every parent is a saint, but the arrogance here is stunning. The idea that this new and experimental treatment is the only way to deal with a trans-identifying kid (and promptly, too, and without much questioning) — how the hell has it taken over, so fast? This is the question I continue to ask. I saw he tweeted this week some new research in Australia indicating that no one desists — or, about 4% desist. Did not dig into that but you know and I know that the upcoming NIH study is going to show a similarly low desist rate. The more you affirm and transition kids, socially and otherwise, the less likely they are to go back. At least short term. There’s about zero data on what is going to happen, long term. This protocol has not been in place long enough for us to know.

    I fear it’s highly likely that we will get to the point where children are removed from their families if the families refuse to get with the program, in a hurry. And hey, maybe it’ll all be fine, maybe it’ll be great, maybe none of these kids will evidence adverse physical or psychological effects over the long term. Right? (Not too optimistic re that, considering what blockers/hormones do to a body, but … yeah.)

    Anyway. Dude has quite the attitude, quite a large dose of “I’m the pro and I know best, so no harm no foul if I try to figure out a way to be emailing privately with your 14 year old daughter who’d like to cut her breasts off. You’re an abusive parent so you don’t need to know. Trust me…”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Zucker did a review of the last 4 most recent studies of trans youth and found an average 67% desist rate of children with an actual DSM GD diagnosis. DSM 5 is a little more strict. But under DSM 4 you had to have serious dysphoria. This 4% desist stat (I’ve seen this and it worries me) under an “affirmative model” is actually extremely disturbing. Someone should pressure them to answer how their screening process is so amazing. Because if it isn’t different then in the past the affirmative model is definitely grooming kid for SRS.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Grrr this makes me mad.

    If I had let my daughter who was completely confused go through with all the FtM stuff, and then later she understood that she was actually comfortable in her previous skin, (as some Transitioners have) then surely that would be abusive to allow her to continue in this destructive to body path? Surely if my daughter was anorexic and I stopped feeding her because her anorexia said to her she was fat and ugly and that she should not eat, then surely I would be neglecting my duties as a parent by allowing her to destroy her body in this way? Surely a responsible parent would make sure that their kid was getting fed. Surely they would get help to stop the anorexia taking hold. Same with Gender Dysphoria, however many of us parents are worried because some HCP’s are quite happy to say, yep your trans, let’s change you. I’m sorry I’m not happy with that without proper assessments.

    This Dr whatever his face is, really needs to look at BOTH sides of the debate.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. The level of mistrust toward parents that too many trans activists show is very creepy to me. When I was fifteen, I told my mom I was bisexual and she didn’t believe me; she thought I was “misinterpreting ]my] feelings” because “there’s so much gay and lesbian stuff around in the media now” (it was the early 2000s). I was really angry at her – I was unrequitedly in love with one of my friends, and could have used some parental support – and we didn’t talk about my bisexuality again until I was twenty-one. HOWEVER, if someone had told me that my mom was an abusive gaslighter, I would have told them, “Shut the hell up. She’s totally wrong here, but she’s my mother and she loves me.” I know from reading past comments here that lots of you with children who are showing ROGD symptoms have previously had good relationships with them, and it gives me the chills to think of how cult-like this all is. It’s almost like Scientology and the shunning of “supressive persons.”

    Liked by 6 people

  8. My daughter’s therapist and doctor from her gender clinic in college have advised her to cut relations with me because I am “emotionally abusive” for not calling her by her chosen name and pronoun. I wrote her in a letter that anyone who tries to cut her off from her family is doing it to make her more vulnerable and this will give them more power to dictate what she should do. In the end, it’s the family who will be there to pick up the pieces while the doctors and “allies” will have forgotten about her. I don’t think she understood that now, maybe later she will connect the dots.

    Liked by 9 people

    • I know, right? These ppl have not fought for your kid. These ppl were not there when I was up every night soothing night terrors, up changing sheets during years of bedwetting, when I was there during/after surgeries (not trans surgeries), when I was at every ball game, every teachers’ conference, every fundraising event. They were not there when I was dealing with violent rages and anxiety and depression and … other stuff this kid has been through. They weren’t there, and they won’t be there if there’s vaginal prolapse and lord knows what else as a potential result of transition.

      But they don’t honestly give a damn about your history of supporting your kid. They’re married to their version of the narrative.

      Liked by 5 people

      • I am right there with you Puzzled. Therapists see the narrative of an adolescent as the be-all end-all. My child’s therapist did not even know the legal name of my child. A narrative without context is really silly. No deeper understanding of what is going on in the person’s life. Other family members. Uncles and aunts.

        Liked by 4 people

    • Our children are a part of a family-an extended family, multi-generational, friends, even neighbors. They have a history. This is ignored by therapists who are affirming strangers, our children.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for the post. One thing that I often see written on this website is the notion that people with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (dysphoria – an absurd term for this condition) are perhaps confused girls that are really perhaps lesbian. My situation is that of a person who is a girl who wants to be a gay boy. This is becoming quite trendy for adolescent girls. I am appalled at the mental health profession as a whole and the DSM 5 guidelines. Every parent should be informed that according to western medicine you are now born with a preexisting condition – gender. This circus will go on for decades. Feminism is in a sorry state. Take care everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My daughter used to believe she was a gay boy too. She appears to be exclusively attracted to natal males.

      I’ve learned, however, that identifying as a gay boy can have different meanings. There are also girls who believe they’re boys who are attracted to other girls who believe they’re boys.

      I too am appalled that many in the mental health profession aren’t acknowledging the sudden uptick in gender dysphoric girls (and boys too, but to a lesser extent) could be caused by social contagion. They seem determined to believe that gender identity is innate and impervious to influence. All at the expense of a growing number of confused kids who are misinterpreting their discomfort as being transgender.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In our ROGD support group, there are a number of parents with teen daughters who claim to “really” be gay boys.

        The fact that the medical community offers nothing but affirmation and invasive transition in the face of this obvious social contagion is criminal.

        Liked by 2 people

      • to davek699: The word “criminal” in regards to the endocrinologists is exactly what I feel as well. The difficulty now is how to personally deal with your frustration and especially your anger at the endocrinologists as they ultimately are the ones that are the MD’s and begin the hormones. In our situation the endocrinologist did not even have the decency to meet with me, the father, as she was “too busy.” In the name of protocols she was hell-bent on proceeding while not interested at all about the patient or the context of the ailment. Truly a strange and depressing situation. My advice to parents. Because of the guidelines in the DSM 5, never let your child close to a mental heath professional. If you have to, and you will, experience the digital world as a family, not in private.


  10. Thank you, Dr. Bradley, for writing so much sense. I wish there were many more thoughtful, cautious mental health professionals like you.

    Unfortunately, many parents have had pretty awful experiences. I was relatively naive when I interviewed my daughter’s first therapist. I know better now though. For anyone reading this, please learn from my mistakes.

    I told the therapist that my teen daughter showed no previous signs of gender dysphoria. That a new gender identity materialized only after a traumatic experience. And that she had recently been spending a lot of time on FTM Tumblr and watching YouTube transition videos.

    If a therapist thinks these things are irrelevant, run away. If a therapist mentions that testosterone can be diagnostic (your child feels better using T, they are trans; if not, they aren’t trans), run away. If a therapist tells your child that her skeptical mom has been bamboozled by misinformation online and needs to be “set straight,” run away. In general, if you don’t feel like your concerns are being taken seriously, run away.

    (I ended up firing this first therapist and finding another one who actually explored the reasons behind my daughter’s gender dysphoria. She desisted and is happy now.)

    Liked by 6 people

  11. This Dr needs to be reported to the medical board in his state. Parents who are trying to get their child help shouldn’t have the added stress and fear of being called abusive or having a therapist, that they pay, undermined them. It sounds like predatory behavior to suggest and encourage a child to remain in contact without parental knowledge. Take away the wording surrounding transgender issues in his paper it wouldn’t be published and the masses would be calling for this doctor’s firing.
    Additionally, I’ve been called ‘Cis’ in a derogatory manner by my child and none of us need another buzz word given to our children. Especially one such as gaslighting IMO!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If “cisgenderism” is a thing is the alternative called “transgenderism”? They’re framing “cisgender” to sound like the exception rather than referring to over 90% of the human population worldwide. Ridiculous.


  12. There are certain beliefs or statements about reality that it seems we’ve all taken for granted for far too long. The particular set to which I’m referring deals with the relationships between parents and their children. Most of our laws and social policies rest on the assumptions that parents have their children’s best interests at heart, that parents have a better knowledge and understanding of their children than anyone else, that parents will sacrifice far more than strangers to protect and care for their own children, and the best environment for children is in the arms of a loving and devoted family.

    Are there exceptions to all these things? Of course there are, otherwise we wouldn’t need a child welfare system. We understand that there is “such a thing” as abuse and that there are (hopefully very rare) circumstances in which staying with the natal family is NOT the healthiest thing for a child. But, just as the fact that we have a criminal justice system does not mean that most people are criminals, the fact that we have child protection statutes and personnel does not mean that most parents and families would benefit from this type of involvement.

    What we see repeatedly from the trans-lobby is the rejection of these previously-established social norms around the family. Now, for the first time, we’re hearing that parents do not have their children’s best interests at heart. Concepts and notions that entirely contradict what parents know about their children, and the parents’ life experience and understanding, must be 100% taken on board by parents, or those parents are abusive. Worst of all, the activists intentionally alienate children from their parents, severing what are the most important relationships in those children’s lives, and taking away the sources of support, income, and care that parents are happy to expend on behalf of those children.

    To the best of my knowledge, this is a new phenomenon in a Western society. We certainly saw nothing remotely like this in the push for gay and lesbian rights, for instance. The only parallel I can think of would be to instances under Chinese communism or North Korean dictatorship where children were encouraged to denounce and leave their parents behind in service of a greater ideology.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Responding to your last paragraph, “We certainly saw nothing remotely like this in the push for gay and lesbian rights, for instance.” It is my understanding that LGB organizations took then, and still today, take pains to intentionally steer clear of even the appearance of “recruiting” children. Transactivism has not followed this wise tactic, and here we are today with transgender social contagion among tweens and teens, late-transitioning adult males befriending kids online, encouraging them to go behind their parents backs to procure black-market transition drugs; toddlers are treated to transgender puppet shows in preschool, kindergartners are taught at circle time that they can choose to be either sex or no sex at all, and middle school girls are told if they don’t want to undress in front of male “girls” in the PE locker room, that they are hateful bigots.

      To add insult to injury, much of the transactivism directed at young children and teens is sanctioned by our various national governments. These are indeed scary times to be a child or a parent.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes, I was just thinking about this again today.

        The most recent tweeting aimed at children was to inform them of how they could obtain puberty blockers over the internet, in case their parents were “unsupportive.”

        And it dawned on me, by its terms this is directed at children between the ages of 8 and 12, right? Because pretty much after age 12, you’re not going to be so much in the blocking situation. So the advocates are not only telling children of age 8 to go on black-market blockers, but they’re also telling these kids that they: have the right to go online without telling their parents to purchase drugs (and how many kids of this age even have access to a debit or credit card and the necessary funds?), that they can figure out their own dosages and treatment regimens, that they can monitor themselves for side-effects, and that they can, presumably, arrange to have their own blood tested to determine whether they’re therapeutic. Oh, and somehow the kids are going to magically be able to tell by looking at a capsule whether it contains Lupron or rat poison. At age 8.

        Can this be anything besides trolling? It’s so incredibly offensive but also silly that it’s either trolling, or somebody who’s caught in a bubble and can’t get out, and doesn’t realize how bizarre this suggestion really is.


      • I have heard of parents of friends going behind the actual parents’ back and getting stuff for kids. However, if there are authorities we could report these criminals to, it would be good to do so.


  13. Is Riggs FtM? Photos suggest this. Anyone taking such a deliberately political position on an issue and being an academic with influence, must declare biases.


  14. This is all so scary. I do worry about the government getting involved in parental consent rights, and almost want to become a conservative. Which is opposite of what I have been my whole life. I don’t have any moral issue with adults transitioning but I am not on board with transitioning kids. I currently feel grateful that my child has agreed that puberty suppression is undesirable, and wants to wait. My daughter still insists she’s transgender. I accept her and believe that she believes, but I am firm with the boundary of no medical treatment until she can get it herself. She recently told me that no parent would want to see their kid on hormones or have surgery and she knows that I’m just being a mom. It took a year to convince her but I think she knows that I am just trying to make the safest decision. Then she actually told me that she likes TERFs! That they have a point. Hehe I secretly think she’s really a lesbian but that’s not cool enough at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I couldn’t even finish the paper because I’m so mad. There are plenty of kids experiencing real abuse and neglect who desperately need help and these fools wants to make cautious parents sound like psychologically abusive masterminds instead. It’s evil. I’m very careful about protecting my kid’s (real life) identity from the online population, so I can’t publicly say what I want to say to them on Twitter. I had typed it out but didn’t post it because I don’t feel like I can be honest without alienating my child. Or even worse losing my child.

    Liked by 1 person

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