Yeah, I read a lot of fuckyeahftms.tumblr.com before I came out, and I’m not going to say that kind of thing had no impact on me. Still, I really doubt I would have given much of a shit (or spent so much time on those sites) if it weren’t for the people on that blog looking more like me than anyone at my school, if it weren’t for them describing their dysphoria in language that very much resonated with me, if I hadn’t been looking for some kind of “out” all my life, etc etc.
We all have different stories about how we got here, but none of them (that I’ve heard, at least) are actually as simple as “I saw it on the internet”, even if immersing ourselves in internet subcultures that glorify transition was one factor. This implication is alienating as hell to people who never had their emotional problems validated until they described them using the language of transition.
Behavioral contagion is a result of the reduction of fear or restraints – aspects of a group or situation which prevent certain behaviors from being performed. Restraints are typically group-derived, meaning that the “observer”, the individual wishing to perform a certain behavior, is constrained by the fear of rejection by the group, who would view this behavior as a “lack of impulse control”.
An individual (the “observer”) wants to perform some behavior, but that behavior would violate the unspoken and accepted rules of the group or situation they are in; these rules are the restraints preventing the observer from performing that action. Once the restraints are broken or reduced the observer is then “free” to perform the behavior his- or herself; this is achieved by the “intervention” of the model. The model is another individual, in the same group or situation as the observer, who performs the behavior which the observer wished to perform. Stephenson and Fielding (1971) describe this effect as “[Once] one member of a gathering has performed a commonly desired action, the payoffs for similar action or nonaction are materially altered. … [The] initiator, by his action, establishes an inequitable advantage over the other members of the gathering which they may proceed to nullify by following his example. ”
So… social contagion, as it’s generally understood (to my knowledge; I’m no expert) doesn’t create new aspirations out of thin air. It reduces inhibitions that prevent someone from doing something they kinda wanted to do in the first place, or would once somebody else told them about it. If your kid asked for hormones after spending 3 days straight on FTM Youtube, bad news- blaming the internet is an overly simplistic explanation that erases the complexity of their inner life. Succeeding in blocking them from transition alone will not resolve any of the underlying feelings that motivated them to seek it.
When I went to my little sister’s graduation from a fancy charter school this year, I was really surprised that so many of her classmates were trans. I was the only person who transitioned at my high school several years ago, and I went on independent study to do it. Almost nobody even knew why I wasn’t in class anymore. So why are there so many trans teenagers at this school? Are my sister’s classmates “faking it”? I doubt it. The most likely explanation to me seems like, since the social costs are lower, the strategy of transitioning to cope with certain feelings is being used more widely.
Basically, I would like to see more care taken in these discussions.