Society mistreats the transgender community
The U.S. celebrated its sixth annual Transgender Day of Visibility last week. In the trans community, members identify with a gender that is incongruous with the biological sex they were assigned at birth. Their gender identity — their sense of being male, female or something else — and their gender expression — the way they communicate their identity — do not conform to the identity and expression typically associated with their original biological sex.
These individuals experience a disproportionate amount of discrimination.
According to Trans Student Educational Resources, a disheartening 80 percent of trans students report feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression. Similarly, 58.7 percent of gender non-conforming students have experienced verbal harassment in the past year because of their gender expressions compared to 29 percent of their peers.
In a study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 41 percent of transgender individuals try to kill themselves at some point in their lives — compared to the 4.6 percent of the general public.
These numbers are alarming.
Last year, Houston voted on Proposition 1, an ordinance which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the city. The ordinance was ultimately defeated by scare tactics and factually unfounded scenarios, leaving
On a national level, discrimination is still written into legislation. Just last week, the governor of North Carolina passed a law in which people are required to use public, multi-stall restrooms that match their birth sex, regardless of gender identity. This would legally require even fully transitioned women to use the men’s bathroom despite their feminine appearance.
It is clear that the transgender community is largely unprotected from discrimination on a national level. It’s hard not to attribute the higher instances of poor mental health to this widespread prejudice and inequality.
In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This diagnostic tool is regarded as the universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis.
Shortly after the DSM-5 was published, Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the psychology textbook “Abnormal Psychology,” told science news website LiveScience that “the distress that accompanies gender dysphoria arises as a result of a culture that stigmatizes people who do not conform to gender norms.” In other words, those who identify as transgender may or may not fall into the category of gender dysphoria.
Despite this revision, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and current distinguished service professor of psychiatry, still believes that a transgender identity is a mental disorder.
“This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects,” McHugh told Cybercast News Service in 2015. “The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken – it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”
McHugh goes on to report that the suicide rate among transgender people who had reassignment surgery is 20 times higher than the suicide rate among non-transgender people, as if this were evidence to prove that being transgender is a mental disorder. This statistic may have supported McHugh’s claim had the suicide rates been compared to transgender people who had not yet transitioned.
Even if there is a higher suicide rate among fully transitioned trans men and women, there are social factors that may account for that rate. According to the University’s LGBTQ Resource Center, only 43 percent of transgender people maintain their family bonds throughout transitioning. In a 2012 study of 433 individuals, TSER reports that attempted suicide rates among trans youth with unsupportive parents was as high as 57 percent.
Research in the field of transgender identity and its link to mental health needs a control group. It needs a group of transgender individuals who have not experienced discrimination and social rejection, and that control group simply does not exist. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to say with absolute confidence that the higher instances of poor mental health in the transgender community are due to discrimination and social rejection.
But the correlation is clear, and the amount of anxiety and depression present in the transgender community is disheartening to say the least. For whatever reason trans people are at higher risk for poor mental health, major steps towards anti-discrimination must be taken.
Opinion columnist Sonja Aune is a Spanish senior and may be reached at [email protected]