Social Stigma and the Transgender Community

According to AVERT, “In the first stage of coming out, generally a person begins to feel ‘different’ to other people of the same sex. Sometimes they recognise that they are not very interested in people of the opposite sex, but more often they feel they are not really interested in things which are supposed to be appropriate for their sex.” A few weeks ago, Bruce Jenner decided (now known as Caitlyn Jenner) to release herself from the burden of secrecy, and announce her real self to the world; she is transgender, and now identifying as a woman. There has been a large foundation of support for Caitlyn, and people all over the world are commending her for his bravery. This is an amazing thing – however, there is still a very prominent social stigma of coming out as transgender, as well as various implications. According to Douglas Schrock, Lori Reid and Emily Boyd (2005, pp. 317), “Bodies may be our friends or enemies, a source of pain or pleasure, a place of liberation or domination, but they are also the material with which we experience and create gender.” Gender stereotypes have been etched into society since the dawn of time, and although society has become much more accepting of those breaking the stereotypes, a social stigma is still very evident. Many individuals are working to abolish the stigma around identifying with a gender other than a person’s biological one, but despite society’s increasing levels of acceptance, this ideology is still proving quite difficult to grasp for various other individuals. Transgender representation in the media is also an issue that impacts severely on society’s perception of the transgender community;

“Media has a history of telling the world a story that transgender people are always victims or villains, instead of true depictions that show the transgender community as citizens worthy of equality and respect.” – GLADD President Herndon Graddick | GLAAD.org

In regards to transgender characters, GLAAD.org states that out of the 102 television episodes they documented, “…54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing.  An additional 35% were categorized at ranging from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate…” This is a huge problem for the transgender community, as many individuals’ perceptions are influenced by the media on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not. Therefore, inaccurate and unfair representations of transgender individuals, whether it be in TV, film or literature, can have serious consequences within the community, contributing to the negative implications of transgender people “coming out”. In Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, he spoke about not wanting to disappoint those around him, and this is a common fear of transgender individuals. Gender roles present the implementation of expectations upon an individual, and when a person feels as if they are going against these expectations, it is not uncommon for them to fear they are disappointing the people around them, such as their family and friends.

“People look at me differently. They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything that I do in life it is part of me, that female side is part of me. That’s who I am. I was not genetically born that way. … As of now I have all the male parts and all that kind of stuff so in a lot of ways we’re different, but we still identify as female. And that’s very hard for Bruce Jenner today. Why? I don’t want to disappoint people.” – Caitlyn Jenner | Huffington Post

19 year old Elijah Burton came out as transgender because pretending to be someone he wasn’t was resulting in depression, and eventually he decided he couldn’t take anymore of it. “At first I felt dreadful because my mum who I came out to first wasn’t very accepting of it,” Elijah explains. “She cried and told me she felt like her kid had died and there was a stranger living in her house, so that really hurt.” Without the acceptance of his mum, Elijah’s depression worsened, and then his mum realized that “if she didn’t do anything about it she might not have a kid at all.” Elijah claims that once his mum began to become more accepting of his decision, it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. The opinions of others is also of common concern amongst those who come out as transgender. Elijah says, “My main concerns were my parents and family not accepting it. I didn’t think I would have any friends and I was really scared for my safety. The only time people really hear about transgender people is when people have bashed and killed them, so I was just really scared about that happening to me.” Unfortunately, differences usually attract criticism, and it is not uncommon for those who are gay, bisexual or transgender to experience severe bullying. Michele A. Paludi discusses the bullying and victimization towards LGBT youths, stating (2011, pp.6),”…when a White person tells a person of colour that he or she is being paranoid and that racism doesn’t exist anymore, the person of colour’s racial reality is challenged and dismissed. Similarly, when someone tells LGBT people to “get over it” or to “not be so sensitive”, a message is communicated that there is something wrong with them, instead of acknowledging the heterosexism and discrimination that exists.” Therefore, the fear of being victimized for being different than their peers contributes to a transgender individual’s overall fear of coming out, and as a result, this could further impact on their overall wellbeing and mental health. Although society is progressively becoming more and more accepting, there is still a prevalent social stigma around coming out as transgender, making it difficult for many individuals to explore their own sexuality and identity. Many youths are still experiencing severe bullying, which in turn can result in depression and suicide. Although many transgender public figures, such as Bruce Jenner and Laverne Cox, are attempting to explain to society what it truly means to be transgender and show that it does not lessen a person’s worth, society still has a way to go in becoming completely accepting of the different identities and sexualities within itself.

References

Paludi, M.A. 31st October 2011. The Psychology of Teen Violence and Victimization. Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=tueOcNrTzMYC&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=transgender+and+bullying&ots=1zcY_zoKOr&sig=wz3F2mzEi36_9KnHEtRL82efSK0#v=onepage&q=transgender%20and%20bullying&f=false

Schrock, D., Reid, L. & Boyd, E. June 2005. ‘Transsexuals’ embodiment of womanhood’ in Gender & Society. Vol. 19. No. 3 pp. 317-335 http://gas.sagepub.com/content/19/3/317.full.pdf+html

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