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The 21st century is said to be the age of communication. Various technological advances, particularly the Internet, allowed for the development of a unified global community. We pride ourselves in overcoming the barriers between nations and races, winning more rights for women, and achieving the recognition and freedom of choice for the LGBT+ community. However, in reality, most of these issues are still present. The legalization of gay marriage in many countries did not lead to the eradication of homophobia, protection of women’s rights did not eliminate sexism and gender inequality present in many aspects of life, and the protection of the people’s right to change their gender did not grant the acceptance of transgenders by the community. Transgender people face severe discrimination at work, in healthcare institutions, and in many local communities, which undermines their potential to live a fulfilling life and marks some of the key transgender issues that have to be resolved.
Discrimination at work remains a significant problem for many transgender people. It affects different aspects of their life as they are often unable to earn as much as others and to get the same promotional opportunities (Schilt 473). Schilt explains that the discrimination applies more to transwomen than to transmen, as the latter typically get various masculine privileges at work, such as higher level of authority, respect of fellow employees and management, and faster advancement: “Some posttransition FTMs, both stealth and open, find that their coworkers, employers, and customers attribute more authority, respect, and prestige to them” (486). However, some transmen are denied these advantages and remain confined to their pre-transitional position, as the post-transitional treatment often depends on physical characteristics such as height and skin color (Schilt 475).
Transwomen, on the other hand, become subject to the same gendered disadvantages that apply to most female workers, which include the pay gap, promotional gap, and the lack of respect and recognition of hard work (Schilt 466). Schilt also explains how transmen can get a full understanding of the issue of gender discrimination at work through what is referred to as the ‘outsider-within’ phenomenon where, having transitioned from female to male gender, transmen see the difference in treatment and can evaluate workplace discrimination toward women from a new perspective (473). Thus, transgender discrimination at work becomes part of the larger cluster of gender issues that affect those who transition from one gender into another.
The issue of gender discrimination poses many difficulties for transwomen in particular. It is no secret that gender inequality between men and women affects almost all aspects of women’s everyday life. For instance, violence against women remains one of the key issues around the world and affects the quality of life of many women (Farrior 84). In some countries, patriarchal state systems undermine women’s access to health care, employment, justice, and other basic human needs; in many areas the inequality is often masked by other factors, such as religion or culture: “Religion, tradition, and culture continue to be used as a shield for violating women’s rights, despite strong and persistent statements adopted by states in United Nations’ fora that they are not a valid justification for such violations” (Farrior 84). After their transition from male to the female gender, transwomen find themselves facing all of the above issues. The society shows less acceptance for transwomen than it does for transmen (Schilt 475), and many patriarchal communities openly judge transwomen from giving up their biological gender, which is considered more prestigious. Gender inequality, along with the judgment received from the community, greatly affects the lives of transwomen, making it yet another important transgender issue that has to be dealt with.
Perhaps, one of the most crucial examples of transgender issues is the discrimination in healthcare institutions, which affects transgender people’s access to health care and treatment: as Grant et al. show, “Transgender and gender non-conforming people frequently experience discrimination when accessing health care, from disrespect and harassment to violence and outright denial of service” (1). The discrimination affects all aspects of health care, from preventative treatment to emergency care; in cases where the treatment is provided, however, many transgenders report the lack of knowledge about the specifics of transgender care, which also imparts the quality of health services provided (Grant et al. 1).
Moreover, discrimination in other areas of life frequently results in alcohol or substance abuse, unsafe sex practices, and other types harmful behavior (Winter et al. 394), which also affects the wellbeing of transgender people: for instance, as Grant et al. report, the rate of HIV prevalence is over four times higher in transgenders than in the rest of the population (13), whereas 26% of studied transgender people reported using alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress caused by the social implications of gender transition (14). Another significant threat is the prevalence of suicide attempts in transgenders: over 40% of respondents confirmed that they tried to commit suicide, whereas the U.S. national average of suicide attempts is 1.6% (Grant et al. 14). These health impairments are the consequences of larger social problems related to gender transition: “Transgender people and their needs remain little understood, not only by health-care providers but also more generally in society (including by legislators and policy makers)” (Winter et al. 390).
Examples of Legal Discrimination
In many cases, the discrimination of transgender people is supported on the government level. In the U.S., for example, some states’ laws on the use of public bathrooms require transgender people to use the bathroom according to their biological gender, even if they had a full gender transition (Pearce par. 4). This creates many difficulties for transgenders: “transgender North Carolinians interviewed by the Los Angeles Times say that going to public bathrooms has become an inconvenience and a conundrum, a daily choice between risking their personal safety or breaking the law” (Pearce par. 5). By ignoring the gender transition process, the government creates a threat to personal safety, particularly of transwomen who are required to use male bathrooms: as shown in a 2013 survey, “Seventy percent of transgender people have been attacked, harassed or denied access to a bathroom” (Pearce par. 12). It is important to address the legal aspect of discrimination in the first place, as it creates grounds for most instances of social discrimination and, in some cases, poses a threat to the physical wellbeing of transgender people.
Different aspects of transgender issues require different approaches, although there are some general propositions that would affect the discrimination in several aspects at once. For instance, as Winter et al. argue, refraining from classifying transgenders as mentally disordered would benefit their overall image and increase the acceptance: “WHO proposals to abandon the psychopathological model are welcomed by many researchers, clinicians, and transgender communities. These reforms promise empowerment for transgender people, enabling them to exercise greater autonomy in their lives” (397). Legal recognition of transgender people, on the other hand, would also affect the discrimination in healthcare institutions, requiring medical practitioners to provide medical care when needed while also setting a standard for training needed to understand the specifications of transgender health (Grant et al. 17). The introduction of transgender-specific prevention programs would tackle HIV prevalence, attempted suicide, and drug use rates (Grant et al. 17). Given that the victims of work and gender discrimination are primarily transwomen and not transmen, it is also necessary to address gender inequality globally, in order to ensure that women (including transwomen) receive the same treatment as men (including transmen) in all areas of life.
Overall, it is clear that transgender people are subject to significant discrimination by the government, healthcare system, and many communities: “across much of the world, transgender people experience stigma on a daily basis, being viewed by others in society as sexually deviant, morally corrupt, unnatural, or mentally disordered” (Winter et al. 394) Other issues faced by transgenders include increased risk of violence, including physical and sexual assaults, limited access to justice due to harassment by police forces, and increased risk of assaults and mistreatment in educational institutions (Harrison, Grant & Herman 21-23). Altogether, these inequalities pose a significant threat to the wellbeing of transgender people, particularly with relation to their mental health (Grant et al. 14). In order to ensure the safety of transgender people, it is important to ensure that basic human rights are allowed to all people equally, regardless of their gender identification, and this can only be achieved by means of significant reforms of the legal and healthcare systems that would help to change the attitude towards transgender people.
Farrior, Stephanie. “Human Rights Advocacy on Gender Issues: Challenges and Opportunities.” Journal of Human Rights Practice, vol. 1, no. 1, 2009, pp. 83-100.
Grant, Jaime M., et al. “National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care.” National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2010.
Harrison, Jack, et al. “A Gender Not Listed Here: Genderqueers, Gender Rebels, and Otherwise in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.” LGBTQ Public Policy Journal at the Harvard Kennedy School, vol. 2, no.1, 2012, pp. 13-24.
Pearce, Matt. “What It’s Like to Live under North Carolina’s Bathroom Law If You’re Transgender.” Los Angeles Times, 12 June 2016, www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-north-carolina-bathrooms-20160601-snap-story.html. Accessed 28 November 2016.
Schilt, Kristen. “Just One of the Guys? How Transmen Make Gender Visible at Work.” Gender & Society, vol. 20, no. 4, 2006, pp. 465-490.
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Winter, Sam, et al. “Transgender People: Health at the Margins of Society.” The Lancet, vol. 388, no. 10042, 2016, pp. 390-400.