Examining Victimization and Psychological Distress in Transgender College Students

Article excerpt

Treatment-seeking and non-treatment-seeking transgender college students were examined with regard to victimization and psychological distress. Findings showed that transgender college students had elevated rates of distress as compared with college students who identified as men or women. Results indicated that treatment-seeking and non-treatment-seeking transgender college students did not significantly differ with regard to psychological distress or experiences of victimization, with the exception of rates of suicidal ideation.


The recent Campus Pride National Campus Climate Survey (Rankin, Weber, Blumenfeld, & Frazer, 2010) explored lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) college students experiences of campus climate at colleges and universities across the United States. Findings supported previous research (Dolan, 1998; Noack, 2004; Rankin, 2003), indicating that LGBT individuals continued to experience a "chilly" or hostile campus climate. Notably, transgender students in the Rankin et al. (2010) survey reported higher rates of harassment than did men or women in the sample, and they attributed this harassment to their gender identity. Transgender students were also more likely than students who identified as men or women to have had negative perceptions of campus climate, considered leaving their college, feared for their safety because of their gender identity, and avoided disclosing their gender identity because they feared negative consequences and intimidation (Rankin et al., 2010). These data are consistent with previous empirical research that suggests that transgender individuals' experiences with violence and discrimination have increased over the past decade (e.g., Clements-Nolle, Marx, & Katz, 2006; Kenagy, 2005; Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing, & Malouf, 2001). With the exception of the Rankin et al. study, however, most of the existing research has focused on the adult transgender population. Little empirical attention has been paid specifically to the experiences of transgender college students, despite anecdotal evidence that indicates an increase in the number of students who identify as transgender or report questioning their gender identity (e.g., Beemyn, 2003; Carter, 2000; Lees, 1998). These findings highlight the importance of expanding understanding of this population and the psychological impact of the harassment faced by transgender students.


Transgender is an inclusive "umbrella" term that encompasses a broad range of individuals whose gender identity and expression do not match the traditional gender norms assigned to their sex at birth (Carroll, Gilroy, & Ryan, 2002; Feinberg, 1998). Transgender individuals can be considered gender-transgressive in that they express their gender identity in ways that are not considered socially acceptable or appropriate based on their biological sex (Fassinger & Arseneau, 2007). The ways that transgender individuals express their gender are varied and range from mannerisms and dress to surgical interventions and hormonal treatments (Fassinger & Arseneau, 2007). Individuals who identify as transgender may more specifically identify, for example, as transsexuals, transvestites, bigender people, cross-dressers, or gender queers. Anecdotally, transgender individuals are thought to frequently encounter gender-related discrimination, prejudice, or violence that stems from negative attitudes toward persons who do not subscribe to traditional gender norms (Lev, 2004).

Minority Stress Theory

Minority stress theory can provide a framework for understanding the impact of external stressors, like discrimination, on transgender individuals (Meyer, 1995, 2003). Originally developed to account for the unique stressors that minority individuals experience because of their membership in a socially stigmatized group, minority stress theory posits that the increased stress faced by minority individuals leads to an increased level of psychological distress when individuals are unable to successfully increase their level of coping. …


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