Gender Nonconforming Transgender People Face Greater Discrimination And Health Risks, Study Finds

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Transgender women Brianne Roberts and Sylvia Wojcik work with speech-language pathologist Jean McCarthy at the University of Connecticut on exercises to help them adjust their voices to match their gender identity.

A new study published last month in Sociological Forum has found two important connections that demonstrate how discrimination has a negative impact on the health and well-being of transgender people.

The study from Indiana University involved a new analysis of the data collected in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. It specifically looked at how gender conformity impacted whether transgender people experienced discrimination, and whether experiencing discrimination caused individuals to have more health issues.

Consistent with other findings, the study found that the more everyday and major discrimination a transgender person experienced, the more likely they were to engage in health-harming behaviors, such as attempting suicide, abusing drugs or alcohol, and smoking. This is further evidence that the mental health consequences transgender people experience are not a result of being transgender, but a result of how they are treated for being transgender.

Furthermore, the study found that trans people were more likely to experience discrimination if they were perceived to be trans or gender nonconforming. In other words, the more likely they are to be “clocked” or “read” as transgender, “the more they are subject to major and day-to-day discriminatory treatment.” Likewise, in combination with the first finding, “gender nonconformity predicted greater likelihood of attempted suicide, drug/alcohol abuse, and smoking — a relationship that was partially mediated by major and everyday discrimination.”

Combining these two findings, the study suggests that “gender nonconforming individuals are at greater risk for poor health as a consequence of facing more transphobic discrimination.” The authors conclude that “gender nonconformity serves as a form of stigma visibility” and they recommend that society should work to “expand the possibilities of gender so that transgender individuals may lead more livable lives.” People should not be punished for deviating from binary understandings of gender.

The study confirms previous analysis that discrimination is linked to suicide attempt rates and further counters the argument made by conservatives that transgender people are inherently mentally ill.