Looking at Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria as Someone Who Lived Through the AIDS Crisis

I was born in June of 1982, before HIV had even been identified and the condition was still called GRIDS. While most of my childhood was free of any knowledge of the epidemic spreading through the US and elsewhere, I was vaguely aware that if two boys liked each other bad things tended to happen. It was ok for boys to like girls, and for girls to like girls, but boys could not like boys for some reason.

I was in middle school (around 10–13 years of age) when the whole HIV/AIDS scare really started pushing into my reality. It had it’s place in the curriculum of scare you straight teaching right along with Red Ribbon Week (who else remember that?) and other anti-drug programs. While most of us learned about STDs and how using condoms could help prevent them, we also had the whole, “You have to use a specific type of condom because otherwise HIV can get through!” speech. And of course, those condoms that didn’t stop HIV were connected with gay men, adding to the stigma against them that had been steadily growing over the years.

During my middle school years my family became friends with an HIV/AIDS advocate and educator named Matt Hartley, and he would come in and speak at the school on busting the myths about the disease and how we needed to work on education and not fear mongering if we wanted to deal with the issue. He’d talk about how HIV couldn’t be transmitted just from sitting on someone’s desk or touching their hand, and in one case that wound him in a heap of trouble because the desk he sat on was the vice principal’s daughter’s desk. Let’s just say the vice principal wasn’t a good human being and had fully bought into the scare (this guy also told my parents that if I was a good Christian kid I wouldn’t be needing special ed classes or extra help with schoolwork).

People actually believed that just by touching someone you could spread HIV, and even after it was proven false the belief still hung around.

I would like to remind my readers that homosexuality had only been removed from the classification of mental illness in 1974 (but hung around as Ego-dystonic homosexuality for several more years until it was moved into “sexual disorder not otherwise specified” where it’s only an issue if one’s sexuality causes marked distress), so this added to the issue of hatred towards certain people, especially homosexual men. They didn’t want them around other people, near children, in restaurants/stores, you name it. If you were believed to be a gay man you were believed to either be already infected with HIV, or you were going to be infected soon.

But it wasn’t just gay people who were attacked.

Ryan White, a hemophiliac, was infected in 1984 and once it became known that he had HIV, his school flat out banned him from attending because of the belief that HIV could be spread by things as simple as touching someone elses’ desk or being near them. Even in the early 90s when I was in middle school these myths were so fiercely believed that Matt (the family friend) was banned from numerous places, including going to a funeral because it was believed not only that he could spread HIV to others by being in close contact, but that because he had HIV it meant that he’d gotten it from gay sex (he got it due to needle sharing) and thus he could “trick” young people into being gay and thus spread HIV that way as well.

It was only through continued fighting for education and understanding that things began to change where I lived (and by larger extension the country). It was through the constant fighting of myths and bad science that we were able to begin to see HIV was a disease that needed treating and that it couldn’t be spread in the numerous ways people claimed. It took numerous court cases to push back against the bigotry and hatred being spewed at people who had it as well as the discrimination faced against gay men because of the belief that they were the cause of it.

Yet even today we still see remnants of the damage done by those myths and bad science. Even though the Red Cross has loosened their regulation about gay men donating blood, it is still telling them that they basically cannot have sex if they want to donate, which plays back to the belief that HIV is spread through gay sex and therefore gay men shouldn’t be allowed to donate blood.


I grew up in the middle of a hysteria that claimed that people could become gay through exposure to gay literature, gay cinema, or even being around gay people. I grew up in the middle of a hysteria that claimed that HIV could be spread through things such as casual physical contact or even just sitting on someone’s desk and being near them.

Today, I’m seeing the same levels of hysteria when dealing with transgender people. The bad science behind the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria paper (something I’ve covered here) is being used to justify anti-transgender bigotry and in some cases outright hatred towards trans people, especially trans youth. Groups such as the ACP (American College of Pediatricians) have been spreading anti-transgender rhetoric for many years, including a “fact sheet” about gender that I covered in an eight part breakdown (you can find it here), yet with groups such as TransgenderTrend and the groups surveyed within the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria study there are now claims that being transgender is something that can be spread like a contagion.

Claims that trans youth are “learning” how to be transgender through exposure to trans related media via the internet, books, magazines, and the like send chills down my spine because I grew up hearing very similar things regarding gay people or the spread of HIV. People are claiming that their children are being “groomed” or that they are choosing to be transgender to fit in with their classmates, and they’re using pseudoscience and rumors on mommy blogs to justify their actions and refusal to support their children.

I feel like I am watching a rebirth of the hatred and distrust I was forced to watch (and one of the major reasons I didn’t come out when I was younger) as a child.

It’s like the anti-trans groups found the discarded playbook for the 80s-90s anti-gay bigotry and simply changed out gay for transgender.