9 Case – Influence of the Social Milieu on the Self-Perception of Gender Identity

Among transgender youth, 1 in 3 experienced personal victimization with near half exhibiting depressive symptoms (Hatchel et. al 2018: 2473.) Interestingly, transgender youth not of color (YNOC) were found to experience more distress because of peer victimization. It was suggested that the intersectionality of the transgender YOC has allowed them to develop resilience to minority stress, diminishing the impact that peer victimization may have originally had. However, this comes at the cost of hiding behind other disadvantaged identities and facing discrimination of other means or, what they referred to as, intersectional invisibility. While the transgender YNOC may face greater distress, it is because they do not suffer other forms of discrimination that would “allow them to escape […] more easily.” At face value, this study presents a comforting stance that transgender YOC do not feel increased levels of distress because of their ethnic and racial background. Upon closer inspection, the study reveals the power struggle in intersectionality to be a challenge of the more disadvantaged identities, a vision of intersectionality Kimberle Crenshaw rejected (Coaston 2019).

Outside of school, other interactions impacted how secure trans-POC feel in the expression of their identity. After surveying, 41 LGBTQ+ Latinx adults between the ages of 18 and 25, familial anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and religious pressure imposed stressors and made expressing their identity difficult (Shmitz 2020:832).  Homelife was hetero- and cis-normative. Any “deviance” from this, which would be their true expression of sexual and gender identity, resulted in hostility (Shmitz 2020:838). In the case of Alejandra, a lesbian woman, being LGBTQ+, her father likely insinuated, would only further marginalize their family who already receives discrimination for being Latinx (Shmitz 2020:839). Where the first study saw such intersectionality to reduce minority stress and face less distress as a transgender youth of color, Alejandra’s revelation highlights the disadvantages she faces not only by the different characterizations of her identity, but the disadvantages the different characterizations create for each other.

Kevin, a heteroflexible transgender man, discloses the constant invalidation of his gender identity. Because his family reduced gender to biological notions, they believed that only trans people who have medically transitioned are valid. He expresses frustration with their lack of effort in properly seeing and referring to him as who he is (Shmitz 2020:839).

Sexual and/or gender identity was often dismissed either as either a state of confusion, unnatural/gross, or condemnation to hell. Religious rhetoric was also used to discourage or disparage family members who were LGBTQ+. Given the prevalence of religion in Latin America, it is not surprising that queer adults found themselves being the target of religious harassment. Marcus, a bisexual transgender man, described this exact harassment by his parents. Rather than be a source of support and provide their son with the acceptance he deserves, they evoke fear and choose to condemn him (Shmitz 2020:840). As religious people, they were aware of the fate they were condemning their son to, and yet, they proceeded to do so. Other trans-POC have decided to keep their gender identity secret in fear of the response. Emily, a nonbinary pansexual, who lives with their close-minded and deeply religious uncle, has kept their identity hidden to maintain their relationship and avoid risking their shelter (Shmitz 2020:842). His comfort – which is tied to their safety – takes precedence over Emily being able to freely express themself.  Patricia’s (a lesbian woman) narrative summarizes the intricacies of the barriers trans POC face in their families: “By linking her mother’s Hispanic identity to her heightened religiosity, Patricia conceptualized the impact of institutionalized religion, such as attending private Catholic school, in her life through an intersectional lens shaped by race, age, gender, and sexuality” (Shmitz 2020:840). This is the reality of trans-POC: conforming to gender roles if they want to be validated, facing the pressure of cisnormativity, or forcing themself to go by the gender role pushed onto them for their own safety.

Conversely, solidarity and support systems can help trans people feel comfortable with their gender expression. In a study researching the development of community for transgender and non-binary (TNB) people, shared racial and gender identity, and similar family background facilitated the sense of belonging and community.  The majority of the TNB people who participated in this survey enrolled in support networks with a few stating the importance of knowing someone else who empathizes with the experience of being born in the wrong body (Stone et. al 2019:237). These networks are especially crucial for trans-POC who may feel restricted by their cultural gender norms and the western ideals of gender simultaneously, especially under the weight of familiar tension. Demonstrating that mutual understanding of racial and gender identity can create spaces of solace for trans-POC, specifically trans-BIPOC, Black and/or American Indian TNB respondents highlighted the LGBTQ+ POC communities being the communities they belonged to (Stone et. al 2019:236).  Spaces such as these ease the pressures from gender expectations and allow for a less restricted expression of gender.

In Gloria Anzaldúa’s “La Frontera,” the mestiza consciousness, a “racial, ideological, cultural, and biological cross-pollinization” is explored, denouncing the white-colonialist influence on the expression of identity while in recognition of its presence (Anzaldúa 2007:99).  Anzaldúa details being a prisoner bound by the subject-object duality and having a fragmented sense of self (Anzaldúa 2007:102).  Initially, the dissonance Anzaldúa from her cultural and racial identity seems to have led her to self-rejection as she states “As a mestiza, I have no country, my homeland cast me out.” The ostracization and victimization appear to be like what transYOC experience and because it is in conjunction with her other aspects of identity, resembles the conflicting pressures of minority stressors. But she proceeds, rejecting the institutions that have made her feel invalid and learning to embrace herself, saying,” yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is queer of me in all races. I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbol that connect us to each other and to the planet,” (Anzaldúa 2007:103).  Anzaldúa’s confrontation of the colonialist structures that contribute to a fragmented sense of self and self-rejection allowed her to liberate her spirit and express herself as she desires. Via engagement with the reading, we may learn to deconstruct the double conscience that produces insecurity in expressing one’s identity.


Power: Origins, Instances, and Protest Copyright © by Candy Lucero-Sanchez; Leah Rivera; Leslie Paz; and Liam Madigan. All Rights Reserved.

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