Experience of Career-Related Discrimination for Female-to-Male Transgender Persons: A Qualitative Study

By Dispenza, Franco; Watson, Laurel B. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Experience of Career-Related Discrimination for Female-to-Male Transgender Persons: A Qualitative Study


Dispenza, Franco, Watson, Laurel B., Chung, Y. Barry, Brack, Greg, Career Development Quarterly


In this qualitative study, the authors examined the experience of discrimination add its relationship to the career development trajectory of 9 female-to-male transgender persons. Participants were between 21 and 48 years old and had a variety of vocational experiences. Individual semistructured interviews were conducted via telephone and analyzed using grounded theory methodology. The emergent model consisted of forms of discrimination and impact of discrimination. These components intersected with the career development trajectory. Participants provided their own suggestions for improving the workplace environment. Counseling, advocacy, and future research implications are discussed.

Keywords: female-to-male, transgender, career, discrimination, qualitative

Considerable attention has been given to the topic of career-related discrimination for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) persons (Chung, 2001, 2003; Chung, Williams, & Dispenza, 2009; Lidderdale, Croteau, Anderson, Tovar- Murray, & Davis, 2007; Raggins & Cornwell, 2001; Smith & Ingram, 2004; Waldo, 1999). However, research on discrimination is still in its infancy concerning transgender persons, a group that is often linked with LGB persons in the counseling and psychological literature. Individuals who identify as transgender, an umbrella term that refers to any person whose gender identity expression does not align with traditional gender norms, do not necessarily associate with the gender they were assigned at birth (Pepper & Lorah, 2008). In addition, the term transgender is used to encompass other related identities, such as transsexual, cross-dresser, transvestite, gender queer, drag queen/drag king, trans-man, trans-woman, female-to-male (FTM), and male-to-female (MTF).

Pepper and Lorah (2008) asserted that transgender persons are a stigmatized population and that their career development processes are also likely affected by discrimination. O'Neil, McWhirter, and Cerezo (2008) maintained that transgender persons experience sex-based discrimination within the workplace, including hostile comments, employee refusal to use preferred names or pronouns, as well as refusal to allow transgender persons to use restrooms that match their gender identity. Despite the current awareness to understand the career development of transgender persons by career counselors and researchers, the experience of discrimination for transgender persons is not well understood in the context of career development.

King (2005) reported that discrimination is a significant stressor that has been associated with psychological distress and even physical illness. Transgender persons are at risk for experiencing low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, loneliness, substance use issues, and other compromises to psychological functioning as a result of discrimination and oppression (Clements-Nolk, Marx, & Katz, 2006; Gainor, 2000; Irwin, 2002). Rachlin (as cited in Pepper 8c Lorah, 2008) noted that transgender clients seek counseling and psychotherapy because of workplace conflicts and concerns. Thus, as a contextual factor, it is important for career counselors and interventionists to understand the different experiences of discrimination and how discrimination affects transgender clients. In addition, it is important to understand how discrimination outside the work environment could potentially have an impact on the career development trajectory.

Although employed transgender persons work in a variety of settings around the world, Kirk and Belovics (2008) contended that transgender persons also endure vast amounts of employment discrimination and unemployment. Minter and Daley (2003) stated that underemployment is another significant issue with the transgender community, because many of these individuals may not be able to find enough work or earn enough money. A report released by Badgett, Lau, Sears, and Ho (2007) from the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy provided a summary on LGBT experiences in the workplace. …

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