Is The “T” Silent In LGBT?: An Exploration Of Transgender People’s Experiences Within The LGBT Community
By Kristen Martinez
You may also download the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
Awareness and acceptance of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) population within the heteronormative United States culture has been steadily increasing. Though only rough estimates of prevalence can be calculated since the current cultural environment of the United States is still not safe or understanding enough for people to come out as sexual minorities, it is known that at least 3.8% of the United States adult population self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Transgender persons account for 0.3% of this estimated 3.8% (Gates, 2011).
Transgender persons “experience a mismatch between their biological sex and their psychological awareness of gender, feeling more comfortable in the identity of the other gender” (Wester et al., 2010). The importance of salient, unambiguous, and dichotomous gender identities and roles, as male or female, cannot be overemphasized in United States culture, but transgender persons, in their essence, do not ascribe to this rigid definition: “Gender roles are socially constructed and as transgender individuals demonstrate they can be transgressed, combined or even ignored” (Melendez & Pinto, 2007).
As sexual minorities, transgender people are included within the umbrella of the LGBT community; however, the rights and equalities of transgender people in the United States fall far behind the rights and equalities given to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. This is not to say that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have not fought tooth and nail for their own statuses as first-class citizens in the United States, but rather that all the progression that LGB individuals have achieved stands in stark contrast to the inequalities that transgender individuals face on a daily basis. According to the American Psychological Association (2011), “Anti-discrimination laws in most U.S. cities and states do not protect transgender people from discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression … transgender people experience high levels of discrimination in employment, housing, health care, education, legal systems, and even in their families” (pp. 3-4).
In addition to experiencing discrimination in society, transgender people may also experience stigma. Stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person” (“Stigma”, n.d.). It can be said that any and all members of the LGBT community experience some form of stigma due to their sexual minority status, so it would seem fair to assume that, within the LGBT community itself and away from the heterosexual outside world, there would exist a widespread feeling of acceptance, inclusion, and compassion toward its members.
However, it seems that this is not so. Indeed, though T is included in the LGBT umbrella, transgender people still experience stigma (Singh et al., 2011). Why, you ask? While lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have been called the invisible minority, transgender individuals may not always share this façade of invisibility in society. “[T]ransgender populations experience more intense discrimination and victimization than LGB populations because they challenge cultural norms related to both sexuality and gender” (Clements-Noelle et al., 2006). Complicating things is the fact that this discrimination may be directed against transgender individuals’ gender identity, gender expression, or a combination of these characteristics (American Psychological Association, 2011). Furthermore, being both non-trans and non-hetero enables lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons to form a close ingroup, whereas transgender persons may remain in the outgroup (Morrison, 2010).
It is noteworthy that those who feel marginalized or oppressed by society can develop mental health complications. The LGBT community, which is still viewed as a group of outsiders within the largely heteronormative, homophobic framework of the United States culture, does experience these mental health issues in great numbers. It may be safe to assume that transgender persons, who undergo even more day-to-day discrimination and stigma than lesbians, gays, or bisexuals, and thus may feel even more like outsiders, need the assistance of counseling services in order to validate their own self-worth as persons of significance within our transphobic culture.
With an understanding of this framework of oppressive circumstances, it is important to investigate whether transgender individuals can lean on the support of the LGBT community as a source of strength and comfort, or indeed whether transgender individuals are met with derision, exclusion, transphobia, and stigma here, as in the larger heteronormative United States culture. Previous research studies may have scratched the surface of the stigma that transgender individuals face, but within the LGBT community the research is sparse regarding the positionality of the transgender identity and transgender persons’ self-perceived feelings of acceptance or exclusion.
Though studies of LGB individuals are common, knowledge and research of the life experiences of transgender persons is needed in order to more effectively counsel these clients. As the cultural fabric of the United States changes to become more inclusive of varied sexual orientations and gender identities, even more individuals will come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and each person who becomes a client will need our assistance, competence, and acceptance as nonjudgmental counseling practitioners.
The researcher is a graduate student studying mental health counseling who self-identifies as a White middle-class heterosexual female, who has ties to the LGBT community in Gainesville, Florida. The researcher will be bracketing her assumptions about the research study as it progresses (Creswell, 2007).
The overarching research question to be explored is “How do transgender individuals experience their positioning within the LGBT community with regard to stigma?” Qualitative research will be utilized as the appropriate vehicle to grasp the perspectives of members of this population, empowering these individuals, who have historically been scrutinized and pathologized by researchers and scientists, to share their stories (Creswell, 2007). Of the qualitative research approaches, phenomenological research design is chosen in order to more fully understand the essence of the lived experiences of transgender individuals as members of the LGBT community (Moustakas, 1994).
Participants will be self-identified transgender individuals, aged 18 or older, living in the Gainesville, Florida, area who are willing to describe their lived experiences in the LGBT community. Ideally 15 to 20 participants encompassing various ages, ethnic, religious/spiritual, and cultural backgrounds would be interviewed to describe their experiences regarding stigma within the LGBT community.
Snowball sampling will be used to identify participants. Participants will provide informed consent before interviewing begins. Participants from the local gay club, UC, and the University of Florida’s Pride Student Union organization will be interviewed, then asked to give names of other self-identified transgender persons aged 18 or older who could potentially become participants. This research study will be reviewed and approved by the local IRB before interviewing begins.
Semi-structured interviews of open-ended questions, 30-60 minutes each, will be conducted, in order to facilitate elaboration on the part of the researcher or participants if necessary. Interviews will take place in the University of Florida’s Counselor Education private counseling rooms. Visual recording will be used to tape interviews. Sample questions include: “How has your status as transgender facilitated your involvement with the LGBT community?” “Do you find yourself a valued member of the LGBT community? Describe what this feels like for you.” “Have you ever felt excluded from the LGBT community? If so, what was this like? If not, have you ever felt that someone else has been excluded?” “Is there a difference with whom you are close with in the LGBT community with regard to their sexual orientations and gender identities?”
After interviewing participants, video copies of the interviews will be sent back to each person to ensure accuracy of statements and provide a means of clarification if necessary. Data will then be examined and coded by identification of themes that will emerge as the research study progresses.
American Psychological Association (2011). Answers to your questions about transgender people, gender identity, and gender expression. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx
Clements-Noelle, K., Marx, R., & Katz, M. (2006). Attempted suicide among transgender persons: The influence of gender-based discrimination and victimization. Journal of Homosexuality, 51, 53-69.
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gates, G. J. (2011, April). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender? Retrieved from http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/how-many-people-are-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender/
Melendez, R. M., & Pinto, R. (2007). ‘It’s really a hard life’: Love, gender and HIV risk among male-to-female transgender persons. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 9, 233-245.
Morrison, E. G. (2010). Transgender as ingroup or outgroup? Lesbian, gay, and bisexual viewers respond to a transgender character in daytime television. Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 650-665.
Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Singh, A. A., Hays, D. G., & Watson, L. S. (2011). Strength in the face of adversity: Resilience strategies of transgender individuals. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 20-27.
Stigma. (n.d.). In Oxford Reference. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20111007171501221
Wester, S. R., McDonough, T. A., White, M., Vogel, D. L., & Taylor, L. (2010). Using gender role conflict theory in counseling male-to-female transgender individuals. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 214-219.